This post is for you. These are the things I really want you to know.
Part 1 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations
Part 2 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 2
Part 3 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 3
Part 4 - Staph infections/sepsis/hospitalizations - part 4
Part 5 - Provision
Part 6 - A second staph infection
Part 7 - Third hospitalization
Part 8 - Getting ready for my parents' surgeries
Part 9 - My father's surgery - part 1
Part 10 - My father's surgery - part 2
Part 11 - My father's surgery - part 3
Part 12 - Help arrives!
Part 13 - A child is born
I spent the first two days following Gabriel's birth quietly resting. Other than attending to his needs, I didn't do anything. The nurses were a little frustrated by this, they seemed to feel that I should be turning on the lights, sitting up more, walking the halls. I'm sure they were worried about post-partum depression. I didn't have that, I was just exhausted. If they had known how I had spent the day before I gave birth, or better yet, the months leading up to labor, they would have surely understood.
Once home, things quieted down for awhile too. (Well, if you don't count a boy's sprained ankle, my mother's pain crisis, and a severe cold that spread through the house...) I was able to calm my mother by phone, and for the most part we simply stayed in as much as possible. We were focusing on healing.
If I am honest, I was still upset at God. No, I had not gone through the losses that so many have. I suppose that in comparison I did not really have a reason to be angry. To me, though, it was as if I was standing at Point B, looking back at the last few years (Point A,) shaking with the traumas we had been through. I wanted to know why God felt it necessary for us to go through all of that. We felt that we were doing our best to follow Him. We tithed. We submitted our desires (and even where we wanted to live) for the good of others. We spent our lives in providing and caregiving and ministry. We were almost debt-free, mortgage and vehicles included. (Although that is not spiritual, I want to convey that we were doing our best to be "responsible" people. We've...uh....heard before that some people think that we are not, you know, with nine kids and a sick daddy.... so thought we would offer a disclaimer. ) We loved Him and wanted to serve Him with all of our hearts. We were not concerned with status quo and material things, we were listening for the Lord's voice and calling in our lives - but it simply seemed that we could not escape the cycle of BIG BAD THINGS.
Up until a certain point, we simply accepted all of this with quiet hearts. The Christian life is not supposed to be a ride on Easy Street. We knew that. We'd never expected "easy." Our lives had never been easy. At some point - and I think it was with Jeff's second staph infection, I became so overwhelmed that I lost my perspective. I eventually stopped asking God for anything. I knew that I could not manipulate Him, but also finally came to the point that I didn't believe anything good could happen, anyway. Apparently this was our lot in life. Perpetual doom. My spirit was wounded. It felt like I imagine it would feel to be separated from a husband that you loved more than life. Quite possibly, it was post-traumatic stress.
My quietness finally ended; then came the vocal part of anger. God and I were speaking again, but it was not necessarily pretty. Sometimes, I just screamed silently in a hot bathtub. (In a house crowded with children, it was difficult to find a place to process.) "WHY did we go through this? What was that all about? You could have stopped this! At any point You could have stepped in!"
And it wasn't just our traumas I was asking about, giving voice to. It was the questions of the ages, in response to the suffering I saw all around me. "Why such suffering? Why evil? Who ARE You, God? What are You really like?"
And amazingly, astoundingly....
He let me do just that. Like we hold our children when they cry and sometimes while they rage, God did that for me. I know that we are taught that we are to never question God, never to be angry with Him, always walk in fear that we are offending Him.
But I did not offend Him. He understood, and He just let me get it all out. He didn't strike me dead. He loved me like a good father would.
And He kept loving me, loving us, kept telling us that He loved us (often through our friends and people He had placed in our lives.)
Eventually, I (I want to say "we," for it is hard to know where one of us in this large family ends and another begins, yet I'm the one writing so I will speak for myself) began to breathe again. Once the spasms of pain and anger began to subside, I began to see God's hand in our lives, everywhere. It is not mere drama to say that I stood at the edge of the abyss and stared into the darkness, contemplating all that had happened and what it meant and where I would go from there. The darkness, the flirting with the idea that God simply did not care and did not intervene in our lives hovered near for a time. I looked it over and chose with cold, hard lack of emotion....who could live that way? Not me....I could not continue to raise children without hope.
One day, while driving somewhere alone, it was as if the diamond shifted and I saw an entirely different side of our struggles: What if all of this is not so much about "what we've been through," but rather "look at what He's brought us through!"
It was as simple as that, really, the shifting of how I saw things: Yes, things were hard, but He never left us and there never was a time (even at the lowest point) where He had not been carrying us.
(*disclaimer: our difficulties were not actual "losses" such as some of you have endured. I am certain that I would have required decades to grieve and rebuild if things had turned out differently, if Jeff had not lived or if our baby had not survived. Those circumstances are much, much different and difficult and tragic than ours. I have many friends who have endured great losses, and I know that the situations are not the same. Even then, though, I have come to understand and believe that God carries us through the worst of times. What it comes down it is this: Whether we live or we die, we are His. Romans 14:8)
Gradually - life began to improve. Gabriel grew fat rolls and Jeff regained full strength. My parents healed from their surgeries, the pain subsided. We began to sort through the emotional trauma that our children suffered. We began to make changes, repairs in our relationships with our children, things that were lacking due to our being so consumed. The winter is a time of dormancy for God's creation, and it was for us too. But dormancy does not mean that nothing is happening. Underneath the surface, God was moving and healing and restoring, awakening us to what the Holy Spirit was doing in our hearts. Through all of this, He was growing us up and growing us deep.
I am most surprised to look at myself a year out and find that I have less fear and more hope. Who woulda thunk it?
We learned a few more things through our trials:
- God loves us. Every one of us.
- God doesn't fit our platitudes. Some of our thoughts about how He works in this world need to be re-examined.
- He isn't boxable. We can try to define Him, but we can never completely do so.
- Apparently, God is not as time-obsessed as we are. Sometimes God works slowly - so slowly that it seems He's not really working - but He is. We can have confidence in that.
- God is much more patient than we thought. Much more merciful. Much more content with mess and untidiness and seeming chaos than we ever thought.
- But through these things, He is always, always working for our good and redeeming us.
- God does not cause horrible things to happen to His children. He does allow them.
- Whatever you may question in the dark, His character is good.
- He is trustable with the things we can not understand or explain. That doesn't mean that we can't ask or explore or doubt or that we won't grieve. That doesn't mean that it won't be horribly painful at times. Sometimes, our lives here just hurt. We suffer. We have horrible, unimaginable losses. But big picture - either He is trustable or He isn't. (He is.)
- God will use our trials to mature us, to increase our spiritual beauty, our long-suffering - and even, our hope. He will use our experiences to make us more valuable in His service, His Kingdom. We become more useful to Him, to those around us, to those who go through their own trials. Who better to hold your hand than one who has endured and persevered? The friends who ministered the most to my bruised heart were those who had gone through the worst kinds of suffering there is. Someone who has been wounded and endured knows how to stand by your side.
- By allowing us to go through earthly trials, there is the potential that we will be allowed to see His redemptive work. If we endure, if we will stand, we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13) We will see how He works in our lives, in our world, for this is His Story, and it is all eventually for His glory. If our lives were always easy, where would the glory be?
- The Church - the community of those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ - is still alive. Divided in many ways, yes. Problems? yes. Alive, compassionate when needs are made known? Absolutely. And in Christ - we are all united.
- are so much more grateful for each new day.
- are aware of the way time rushes, and how we must capture it with gratitude.
- are closer to each other.
- appreciate the gift that each child is.
- want to make the most of our days - even if we have not accomplished much (workwise,) have we served Him and accomplished His purposes for that day?
- have a strong awareness of His presence in our lives.
- are more thoughtful, more compassionate.
- are more outward focused, rather than inward focused.
- love better, have more peace and patience.
- foster hope, both present and future.
We have been changed, we are grateful, and we will never be the same again.