Monthly Archives: September 2021
Helpless to help those we love seems like the worst suffering in the world. And the more people we love, the harder it is. I cannot imagine knowing and consciously loving all those suffering in our world.
I got a Christmas card from a beautifully spiritual priest friend of Julian’s. We’ve been exchanging Christmas cards and notes from a long time ago when Julian designed a very contemporary Church for his congregation . An amazing man, who even fills in for Protestant preachers and works with all sorts of other religions for the poor. I look forward to the card each year because his hand written notes usually have insights that speak to me. This year his card had the words “I want to see like Jesus” across the front over a silhouette of the Baby Jesus in the manger. I started thinking about what Jesus sees and got overwhelmed. He sees the children in war zones, the hungry ones, the abused ones, the lost to drugs ones, Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting everyone, even good people throwing out the baby Jesus with the dirty bath water…
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To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 9
Reposting this as part of my series on Prayer.
Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her…
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Daffodils, a Sign of Hope
That evening after the doctor’s appointment, Tommy’s fever broke. His eyes sparkled and he was his funny independent little self again.
“Everybody start looking for pots and vases,” I said cheerfully, as I organized the older children and my husband into a treasure hunt for containers for the daffodils. We found dozens in diverse sizes and appearance and brought all the beautiful golden blooms inside the house. Everywhere you looked, it was Easter. Everywhere you looked there was the love of God and hope for the future.
The year continued with Tommy still succumbing to frequent illnesses, but I clung to my sign of hope, believing that God would heal him without surgery. Tommy turned four in November and a week before Christmas I took him to the heart specialist for his yearly tests. I had been told in the beginning, that sometimes these heart valve defects closed on their own, but that it was almost always by the time they were two years old. Still, I fully expected to be told that his heart had improved.
After hours of going from labs to X-rays to offices all over Vanderbilt Hospital, Tommy and I waited wearily, but hopefully, to hear the results from the heart specialist. By the time our name was called, Tommy was asleep in my lap, his head on my shoulder. He didn’t even wake up when I carried him into the office.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Norman,” the doctor began. My heart broke at the words and I fought back tears. “The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. We need to do a heart catheterization in preparation for surgery right away.” Looking at his calendar, he continued, “You have several other children, don’t you?”
“Well, we’ll schedule it in the week after Christmas then. December 27th is clear for me. Does that work for you?”
Speechless, I nodded my head. I drove home too shocked to cry or even pray.
That night, when everyone else was settled down to sleep, I sat at the kitchen counter with my Bible and a cup of hot chocolate. Praying, “Lord, help me. I do believe; help my unbelief,” I just opened my bible randomly and began to read.
My heart almost stopped, when I realized that I had opened to the story of Abraham taking Isaac up on the mountain to sacrifice him to God. I wept, thinking like Abraham, that God was asking me to let go of my child. Finally, I reached a point of deciding that God knew what Tommy’s future might be, and if He wanted to take Tommy now, He had His reasons.
I prayed and struggled until I could say, “Everything in me is screaming in protest, God. I can’t control my feelings, but with my will, I choose to trust you and to place my son and my heart in your hands. Your will, not mine.”
An amazing peace came over me and I recognized that letting go is part of everything in our journey. And that once Abraham had let go, God did not take Isaac. I knew that part of the story, but remembered only the letting go part, until I had done that myself.
The next few days, I called every person of praying faith, that I knew of any denomination, and asked for prayers for Tommy.
Christmas came and went, and we prepared to take Tommy to the hospital. I clung to my faith that God was with Tommy. The morning he was scheduled, the doctor’s office called and postponed the procedure, because the doctor had an emergency surgery. She rescheduled him for the following week. Then the day before the appointment, Tommy began to run fever, so we had to reschedule for two weeks later, hoping he would be well enough then. But the next week, they called to say that the doctor was going to be out of town, so we made it for two weeks later again. I called everyone on my prayer list each time we rescheduled. By the time we finally managed to get Tommy to the hospital, I was a basket case.
I was numb as they rolled him away, but a very kind young intern went with him, keeping him smiling by pretending Tommy’s sock monkey was saying funny things. A gift from God.
I don’t remember much of anything from the waiting. But the bright smile on the Doctor’s face when he came out, was enough to make me begin thanking God right then.
The hole in Tommy’s heart had closed enough to be so tiny, that surgery was not necessary. The only difference it would make in his future life was, if he had any other surgeries, he would have to make sure he was put on antibiotics before them.
But even more amazing to me was that, literally overnight, he became a normal healthy child, no longer catching every germ that came by. In fact, he was often healthier than his siblings.
Easter can come in our lives at any time. Now is a good time to remember and celebrate the hard times that stretched our faith, but turned into rejoicing.
God’s Presence in a Child’s Suffering and a Mother’s Heartache.
My heart sank and I felt a wave of nausea as I read the thermometer. One hundred and four degrees.
“Oh, God. Not again please,” I whispered, as I coaxed medicine into my feverish son. While I was fixing him juice, the telephone rang insistently until I finally answered it.
“Eileen,” a neighbor said, “you need to get over there to my granny’s old home place and get yourself some of those daffodils. They’re just coming up. If you plant them now, they might go on and bloom for you next month.”
“I can’t take Tommy out today, Mae. He’s running fever again. Besides are you sure it’s not stealing??
“Naw. There are thousands of them now, all from the ones my granny planted years ago. They need thinning out, so they’ll keep blooming. I’ll come over and watch Tommy for you.”
“Well……Okay,” I answered hesitantly. “I’m just putting him down for a nap. Come in about twenty minutes.”
I sighed as I hung up. I didn’t really feel like going out in the cold January weather, but I couldn’t think of any more excuses. I picked up my three-year-old son and began to rock him to sleep. His face was flushed and his thin little body felt hot against mine. Poor Tommy. I hope this isn’t going to be another long siege, I thought silently.
“I love you, little one,” I said softly.
“Love you,” he whispered hoarsely, patting my face gently as his eyes began to close.
As I carefully put Tommy in his bed, I heard my neighbor come quietly in the front door.
“Hi, Mae. Thanks for coming. He’s restless, but I think he’ll sleep,” I greeted her. “But I don’t have anything to put dirt in. How will I carry the daffodils?”
“They don’t need dirt. Just put some newspapers down in the back of your station wagon. Get yourself a lot. They’ll look great along your driveway and out front of the house.”
A few minutes later I gasped and shivered when the cold wind hit me, as I got out of the car. I wished fervently that I hadn’t agreed to do this. I started digging as quickly as I could, eyes tearing from the wind. I dug for several minutes, then thought about giving up and going home. Each time I’d begin to straighten up, I’d see another thick clump just barely pushing through the frozen ground, seeming to beckon to me. I kept going until I had almost filled the back of my station wagon with hundreds of bare bulbs.
When I finally got back and sent my neighbor home with thanks, I went to check on Tommy. He tossed restlessly in his sleep and when I touched his forehead, it almost scalded my hand. Tommy had taken a turn for the worse, so I forgot all about the daffodil bulbs, as I spent the next two weeks caring for him and making trips to the specialist fifty miles away.
With trembling voice, I finally admitted to the doctor how frightened I was, when Tommy’s fever ran off the thermometer and there was no way to know how high it was.
“Don’t try to bring it down below 104 degrees,” he advised me. “If you do, it will shoot back up fast and that can cause a seizure. He catches everything because the hole in his heart valve lets blood circulate without being purified by the lungs. We’ll try another antibiotic. If he has a virus, it won’t help, but we can’t risk this going into pneumonia. We’ll consider surgery when he’s four, but we need to get him stronger first. Bring him back in two days, if he’s not better.”
I drove us home through a flood of tears. Tommy whimpered listlessly, his eyes too bright and his skin too pale under the flush of fever. My spirits matched the bleak January landscape.
I spent the next two days and nights struggling to keep his fever down. Sometimes he lay in my arms limply. Other times when the fever shot beyond the measure of the thermometer, he would chatter brightly, using words far more complex than his normal vocabulary, reminding me of the possibility of brain damage.
Two days passed and his fever was still shooting back up off the thermometer. Trying yet again to bring it down slowly, I put him in a tepid bath, that seemed to hurt his hot skin and make him shake with chills. He looked like pictures I had seen of war orphans with their ribs showing and their sunken eyes pleading. He looked at me like he was asking mutely, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting me? Don’t you love me?”
As I wrapped him in wet sheets and sat rocking him, both of us were sobbing. I even yelled out loud, “Where are you, God? I pray and pray and you do nothing. This is an innocent child. Why do you let him suffer? What kind of God are you? A cruel God? An impotent God? Where is the loving God of Jesus? Have you abandoned us?”
As, I exhausted my anger, memories of God’s many gifts of grace in my life flooded my mind and I began to pray again, “You are my God, the only God I have. I have seen Your awesome glory in the beauty of Your creation and I have felt the depth of Your love through Your son, Jesus. So, I, like Paul, will try to praise you at all times, in joy and in sorrow. Right now, I can’t feel it, but with my will I praise you. I thank you for the many times you have blessed me and for the grace you have poured into my heart even in my darkest moments. But, please God, help me know you are with us in this. I feel abandoned.”
Then I began to dress Tommy for another trip to Nashville. As I carried him to the car, I was stopped in my tracks by an incredible sight.
Hundreds of bright yellow daffodils in full bloom completely filled the back of my car. It looked like Easter morning! I felt like God had put His arms around us and whispered, “See, I am with you always. Don’t despair.”
I drove to the doctor’s singing hymns of praise. That night Tommy’s fever broke and we filled the house with vases of Daffodils, my sign of hope was everywhere I looked.
The thing about miracles is that they happen so that when you are called to tough it out, you can know that there’s a reason, even if you don’t get to see what it is in this life. I’ve experienced miracles, so you’d think I’d be cool when I’m facing a challenge. NOT! A spiritual counselor once told me that I have spiritual Alzheimer’s. I was very distressed over that at the time, but I have to admit, it’s true.
Life is hard. PERIOD! And different kinds of hard will defeat different types of people. Most of the time, when I’m faced with a serious life crisis, I pray, gather others’ prayers, then focus, rally my inner resources, and stay functional at least until it’s over. But sometimes when faced simultaneously with several challenges, I get overwhelmed. I forget the answered prayers and the miracles of timing and want to curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb. But writing down and rereading my memories of God’s visible hand in my life helps my mustard seed of faith to grow when new challenges come.
I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years old until I was thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten-story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a house in the country. As our own family grew, we spent many weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred-year-old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and beauty of a bygone era. It also had a two- hundred-acre rural setting of forests with a river like creek, a waterfall and swimming hole, fields of peonies, horses and barn, a pond, and a historic ruin of a civil war powder mill. At first, I had followed my mother-in-law on explorations to look for Jack-in-the-Pulpit and tiny wild Iris with a city dweller’s trepidations, “snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after experiencing the love of God, I began to see it in nature, from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section which would include a necessary hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, tenant house, and thirty-five acres for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, this was an incredible financial offer. Our home was a pleasant four-bedroom two-story house in an area of wonderful public schools, but Birdsong was twice its size, beautiful, historic, and unique with a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. After prayerful discussion, we decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market. While in the hospital on Thanksgiving recuperating from my surgeries, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could take possession on the First of January. To say the least, it was a somewhat daunting prospect in my post-operative condition, with a new baby, and four other children under ten. But again, it seemed a miracle to sell so quickly and I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, one of my husband’s brothers hired a baby nurse to help me several weeks, so it seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately my new son needed a hernia repair shortly after we had come home from the hospital. The night before his surgery, the doctor discovered that he also had a heart valve defect. The defect didn’t appear life threatening and it was one that sometimes is outgrown, so they only did his hernia surgery. The day we brought him home, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted another offer for the whole two hundred acres and Birdsong. So, we ended up two weeks before Christmas having to be out of our house in three weeks with nowhere to go. I was pretty much in shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling realtors turned up nothing to rent until we could figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools unnecessarily, but there simply wasn’t anything available. At that time the house market in our area was no better. I sat on the couch after I had called the last realtor with tears running down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, a middle-aged black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around me.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive a car or climb stairs for another month and answered, “A five bed room, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That would give us time to decide where to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A ca-ca-ca-can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes, we have to take the baby back to the doctor tomorrow and I’d rather drive my car, but it needs a can of oil.”
I tried to not look incredulous, as she began to pray specifically. When she finished and we said “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman I knew from our school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but my car has stopped running at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get the mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.”
After her phone call, she joined me for coffee as we waited for the mechanic and the oil.
“I hear you’ve sold this house,” she said. “And you’re moving to the country.”
“Well, we sold our house, but moving to the country fell through. I’m kind of in a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools, until we figure out what we are going to do. But there’s nothing available to rent around here right now.”
“Do you know about the Keck’s house?” she asked.
“No. Where is that?”
“It’s one street over and two houses down. You can see the back yard from here. They are going as missionaries to the Philippines for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first week in January if they can find a renter. They are trying to do that by word of mouth, because they don’t want just anyone to move in since they are leaving all their belongings.”
“What is the house like?” I asked, holding my breath.
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms, a study, and a nice den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “We have a large basement at our office where we could store their belongings, “I said excitedly. “With our having five children, that would probably be safer for their furniture and happier for our kids.” It turned out we had mutual friends with the Kecks. Three weeks later, we moved a block away.
I admit that even though I understood the practicality of my in-laws’ decision, I really resented what seemed like a very casual attitude about the predicament they had put us in. Facing our move and Christmas bills, I was trying to find money for a new coat for my no longer pregnant body. As I was pondering the problem, my doorbell rang and my mother-in-law came in with a large Dillard’s bag. She was running late for an appointment but as she handed me the bag she said,” You may not need this or even like it, but I was in Dillard’s and something just said, “Buy this for Eileen.” It was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen and a perfect fit. As I prayed that night, it seemed to me that if God could lead my mother-in-law like that about my coat, maybe God was in the whole house sale and unexpected move. So, I was able to let go of my hurt and disappointment. And after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own “Winnie the Pooh” hundred-acre wood. My architect husband designed a perfect house for our family. Nine months later as school was starting, we moved to a county with a much better school district than the county where Birdsong was. We lived there for twenty-seven years.