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 the 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 asked 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. This Easter is a good time to remember the hard times that stretched our faith and turned to rejoicing.
The thing about miracles is that they happen so that when you are called to tough it out, you 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 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 when faced with a string of challenges, particularly ones requiring the handling of a lot of details, I get scattered, constantly distracted, and overwhelmed. I forget all the miracles, even God’s obvious interventions in similar circumstances in the past. I end up a basket case.
Now once again, I have let my present challenges stress me out, forgetting God’s miracles in the past, doubting His grace, and allowing myself to become paralyzed by imagining worst case scenarios.
So, I’m writing my memories of similar past challenges and God’s visible hand in them to nurture my mustard seed of faith, praying it will free me to trust God even if He doesn’t rescue me from my circumstances this time. So hopefully, I will be able to be open to what God is teaching me or calling me to through these particular challenges.
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 water fall 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 eventually I fell in love with 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 planned 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 a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due. While in the hospital recuperating from my surgeries, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could take possession in a month, which was the week after Christmas. 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 any thing. To top it off, one of my husband’s brothers hired a baby nurse to help me for the first two 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 or climb stairs for another month and answered, “A five bedroom, 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 c c c 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, not now. That fell through and though I don’t want to move the children from their school until we figure out what we are going to do, there’s nothing available to rent around here right now. I’m kind of in a panic.”
“Do you know about the Keck house?” she asked excitedly.
“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, almost 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.”
Three weeks later, we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own hundred acre wood, my husband designed a marvelous house for our family, and nine months later when 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.
Another challenging selling and moving story with surprising happy results will follow soon along with the parallel challenges we are currently facing.
I should believe! I do believe. Help Thou my human fears.
David Hume once said that there really isn’t any way to prove a relationship between a specific cause and effect.
Today, we try to show statistical probability, if we can control all the variables. However, statistics is a much abused tool, because very rarely, if ever, can we be sure we have eliminated all possible causes other than the one we are measuring in a particular relationship.
That said, I’ll be offering several small stories from many unproven, but to my prejudiced mind, probable answered prayers.
Years ago we were a home away from home for young people traveling in a non-denominational Christian repertory theater ministry. Teams of four or five covered different areas of the country, but at Thanksgiving one year three different groups called to ask if they could spend the holiday with us.
We had started a new business the year before in what unfortunately had turned into a recession and work and money were now often scarce. After some serious prayer, I agreed to add fifteen hearty eaters to our family of eight. When I mentioned the Thanksgiving invasion to some friends, they kindly offered a couple of venison roasts for our meal. The next morning an unprecedented gift of several ducks and a dozen quail arrived by mail from a distant relative. We now had the ingredients for an authentic Thanksgiving feast.
What we didn’t have was a chef. My cooking skills are minimal. And I had never cooked any of these before. I did wonder if I wasn’t pushing a bit, but the knowledge that if I ruined any of these gifts, there wasn’t going to be a Thanksgiving dinner, prompted me to ask God for someone to cook our feast. In my experience with prayer, there’s a test of faith before the answer. This was no exception. The first two vans of hungry young people arrived the morning before, none of whom admitted to any cooking experience, but who did pool their resources to buy some pies to add to our meat and vegetables. The last group arrived late Wednesday evening, after I had stepped out in faith and begun thawing all our treasures. I stood at the door welcoming each as they came in the door with the question, “Do you by any chance know how to cook ducks and quail?” The next to last person, replied, “No, but Chris used to be a chef at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. Maybe he does.”
And yes, the very last person out of the van was Chris and he did indeed know how to cook all the wild things God had sent for our Thanksgiving feast.
Luke 12:29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.
I confess that I am a congenital worrier, but the goodie for that baddie is that being a wus leads to constant prayer and prayer kindles an awareness of God.