(Parts One and Two of this series can be found here).
The sunshine after a storm.
Needless to say, Julia’s accident changed my life. The terror of nearly losing a child has left a permanent scar on my heart.
It has also broken my heart for the people I know personally who have had the horrific experience of burying a child.
In fact, the day that we brought Julia home from the hospital, their faces flashed across my mind and I wept for their desolation.
I looked in the backseat at our daughter who was sleeping and alive and knew that I would never stop thanking God for sparing her life.
Here are just a few of the things I have learned throughout this entire ordeal:
1) Jesus is real.
This may sound like an obvious thing for a blogger who is a Christian to say, but I have never felt His Presence more strongly than I did that night and during the days that followed in the hospital. His Presence was as real to me as my husband’s was. His peace literally filled my heart and stilled my churning emotions. I knew that I was being held in the palm of His hand in what felt like the midst of a category 5 hurricane. He gave me the strength to face this situation unflinchingly and with raw courage that could have only come from Him.
2) My faith is the real deal.
This is hands down one of the biggest gifts that this awful situation has given to me.
It is so easy to play church. To say that you believe God’s promises when the sun is shining and life is happy. To sing praise songs in a church service and quote Bible verses.
It is a whole different animal when your life seems to fall apart before your eyes and you can still praise Him and trust Him wholeheartedly.
I did that.
The past two years have been extremely difficult ones for my family. There has been much heartache, many unanswered questions, dashed hopes , betrayal, copious amounts of tears, and tremendous pressure. It is unlike anything we have ever dealt with before; so much so that we have often wondered if there was a conversation in heaven similar to the one that opens the book of Job where God says to Satan, “Have you considered my servants Doug and Susan?”
As Doug and I stood in the lobby of the ER that night, our daughter behind locked doors and out of our reach as she fought for her life, I looked at him and said, “All hell has been unleashed on our lives.”
It was true.
But this I knew, in a moment of wondrous clarity: MY GOD IS GOOD.
No matter what happened with Julia, I trusted Him with all my heart. He can do no wrong. How many times had I read Job 14:5 which declares, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live and we are not given a minute longer.” Or Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”
I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Julia’s days—just like mine—were numbered by an all-knowing, all-loving sovereign God. If she were to only live 17 years, there was a reason and I would trust Him, even though my heart would have broken and nothing would have ever been the same again.
This was astonishing to me.
It does not get any more real than standing before the broken body of your child who is restrained in her hospital bed and KNOW that you have not just been playing church.
I realized that all the heartache of the past two years, where I have literally had to make the choice to believe God’s Word above my circumstances, to cling to His promises, to keep wrestling with Him when I didn’t understand, to simply refuse to let go of Him as the enemy screamed in my ear, “He has abandoned you!”…ALL of that had brought me to this place.
The place where I believed my God and trusted Him with the life of my precious child.
The enemy does not bother with those who are no threat to him, In a way, all our trials and tribulations were a badge of honor. It was a personalized invitation from Jesus Himself to not only show us the reality of our faith but to strengthen those areas in which we were weak and didn’t even know it.
The enemy has failed to move us on all fronts: Our marriage has never been stronger. Our needs are met. We are still in our home. Our relationships with our adult children are good ones. There has been forgiveness over a family betrayal (though things will never be the same again there). We have not surrendered to bitterness. We are not weaker but stronger. Joy abounds in our lives even though circumstances remain hard and mysterious. Laughter rings within the walls of our homes and we have been blessed by incredible friendships.
And if the end result of living through these tumultuous years has brought me to this place of my witnessing my faith being continually strengthened and the enemy of my soul utterly defeated, then I truly do get what James meant when he wrote: “Consider it pure joy …whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4).
I can honestly say that without the trials of the past couple of years, I would not have been prepared to be in that place of watching my daughter fight for her life. It might have broken me because I would not have learned how to fight. Instead, it has made me strong and I am so grateful.
3) During a time of crisis, meals are extremely important.
When my friend Marj walked into our kitchen holding a steaming hot dinner after we returned from the hopsital, complete with appetizer, salad, and dessert, I nearly wept with gratitude. She was truly the hands and feet of Christ to us that evening; the Bread of Life bringing us much-needed nourishment.
On a good day, I am a terrible cook. Throw in a broken air conditioner during the worst heat wave of the summer, the sheer exhaustion of getting about 12 hours to total sleep over a 48 hour period, and a tight budget, and we were desperate for meals.
I will never again underestimate the importance of bringing a meal to someone who is in need. There is something so comforting and soothing about a friend taking the time to prepare a meal for you when you are hurting. It lessens the blow that life has dealt and smooths away the rough edges.
A meal is a tangible expression of love and friendship.
So, the next time you hear of someone who has endured a tragedy, make a phone call. Send a text or an email. Make a meal. And if you can’t cook, pick up a dinner from a local restaurant and deliver it.
It will mean more than you know.
4) Life is fragile, precious, and beautiful, even in the midst of sorrow.
Eternity is closer than we dare believe.
None of us know how long we will have breath and situations like Julia’s accident dramatically illustrate that fact.
For me, it heightens all my senses and ironically, makes me feel more alive. I notice everything, especially the little things that take on added significance.
*The first night in the hospital, I sat in the chair beside Julia’s bed and looked out the window to see the stars twinkling and glittering like diamonds against the black velvet sky. It was a moment of beauty and grace.
“He counts the stars and knows them all by name.” That familiar Bible verse ran through my brain and it gave me tremendous comfort. Since Jesus knows the names and location of the stars, He knows and sees me sitting in that hospital room beside my daughter’s broken body.
*Simple acts of kindess means so much.
On the Dartmouth campus, there is an oasis of comfort called The David House. It is a beautiful Victorian mansion that allows exhausted and frightened parents the warmth of home amidst tragedy by providing delicious food, hot showers, and lovely private bedrooms for blessed rest, mercifully free of the beeping machines and constant hovering of medical staff. This is all free of charge.
The first night I showed up there, totally exhausted and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, the woman who met me at the front desk offered me a warm smile and a hug. She gave me the tour so I would know how to find what I would need and then showed me to my room, leaving with a reassuring pat on my shoulder.
After getting settled in my room, I headed to the kitchen to grab something to eat, as I was starving. Someone had baked cookies for the residents and left them on a brightly decorated plate with a sign that read: “Help yourself and God bless.”
When I finally stretched out on the bed in my room to try to get some sleep, I listened to my phone messages. One of them was from my friend Mary, who had recently moved to Colorado. Hearing her sweet voice from across the country, so full of love, concern, and prayers made me weep with gratitude.
Never underestimate the power of a kind word or deed to another human being. The sheer beauty of such things shines brightly in the midst of pain and can make all the difference. Reach out, even if it is outside your comfort zone.
*My sister-in-law Leslie and her husband Tony came to visit us at Dartmouth and they brought me a large iced vanilla coffee with extra sugar and extra cream from Dunkin Donuts, just the way I like it. It was heavenly. Such a simple thing but it was a wonderful break from hospital cafeteria fare.
*On the drive home from the hospital, I was able to appreciate the sun-drenched small towns and fields of wildflowers. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring for any of us, but today was ripe with possibilities and new beginnings.
Our entire outlook on life has changed.
Every day that is not spent in a hospital is a good day.
I don’t have time for silly drama.
I do not put off doing things with family and friends. Now is the time.
There is no time to waste.
There is no way to not sound like a cliché to say that every day is a gift…but it truly is.
Gratitude overflows in my heart.
I still have my girl.
Go and find the ones you love. Let them know.
Time is precious.