Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Very Different Christmas

jesus_manger_1 Once again I find myself posting my blog from a hospital room. Only this time the stay will be much longer and the circumstances have brought me to the point of discouragement.

On Monday Joshua was able to go home from the hospital after a five day stay following his back surgery. While he had to remain flat until Wednesday, he was very happy to be home again. On Thursday and Friday we were slowly allowing him to get up and around with the use of a walker, and on Saturday we were able to go to the mall as a family with Joshua in his wheelchair.

Then, last night, we found a problem. As we were getting Joshua ready for bed we discovered a large pocket of fluid under the skin on his lower back. I suspected that he had a spinal fluid leak and called the hospital to speak with the on-call neurosurgeon. He suspected the same and had us bring him to the emergency room this morning where he was waiting for us. Our fears were confirmed and they rushed him into emergency surgery.

Over the next 5 to 6 hours they worked to repair the grafts in his back. The surgery went well and he is now in ICU recuperating. But with this unexpected series of events comes some serious changes in our Christmas plans. You see, Joshua will have to remain flat in bed and in the ICU for the next 5 to 6 days, with a few days in a regular room to follow. So this years Christmas will be very different for our family.

We had been planning to celebrate this season to the max. As you probably know, this will likely be our last Christmas in the States before our move to Guatemala, so we had numerous plans for our immediate family on Christmas Eve and Day, and travel plans to spend time with our extended family in PA and NC. Everything is now changed. Our trip is now cancelled and our time at home will be radically different. Wanda and I are currently working to find ways to make this holiday special for both Joshua and the rest of our children.

So, at the end of this whirlwind day, I find myself struggling with discouragement. Being the family-lover that I am, combined with the Christmas fanatic that I am, I am reeling from the reality that our family will be separated for most of this season. Wanda will likely spend most of the days here at the hospital while I take the night shift. We will occasionally bring the rest of the kids down for a visit and some time together, but Christmas will be very different this year.

I find myself wondering what God is up to. I have been a Christ-follower long enough to know that the ups and downs of life are not arbitrary, but a part of His divine plan. And I have found that  is especially true of the times in which I most questioned his ways. So, I wonder why God would want us to spend our last Christmas in America like this. As of now, I have no answer to that question. But I do have a few guesses:

  • We have always told our kids that Christmas isn’t about family traditions, decorations, or presents, but about God becoming one of us in order to save us. We have said many times that even with all those things stripped away we could still celebrate the intended focus of it all…Jesus. Maybe God is wanting us put our money where our mouth is and find the joy of this season without the normal things that fill this time of year.
  • As I look around the PICU, I realize that we are not alone in our discouragement. There are many families here who are facing similar (or far worse) situations. Some of these parents are wondering if their son or daughter will live to see Christmas Day, and many of them are facing these fears and challenges without the comfort of Jesus. Maybe God has brought us here to be a source of light and hope for them.
  • There is no doubt that I often seek to find the reason and design behind everything. I guess that is a trait I inherited from my dad…always wanting to know how and why everything works. Maybe God is trying to deepen my trust in Him without knowing the reasons behind the scene.
  • Or maybe it is a little or a lot of all of the above.

Lord, please help me to trust you through this time. Help our family to find the joy and depth of this season through these circumstances. And please use us to show you to those who need you the most.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Worst Kind of Pain

IMG00006-20091210-1841 I am writing this from a hospital room at Dayton Children’s Medical Center where my son, Joshua, is recuperating from surgery. In the last two years since we brought him home from China he has gone through so much. He has been hospitalized five times and undergone four major surgeries. He lived for eight weeks with a Spica cast that completely immobilized him from the chest down. And he has had more IV’s, needle sticks, tests, and painful procedures than I would care to list.

Through all these ordeals he has been a stoic little guy. He endures it all with only the occasional tear and very little complaining. In fact, he has had several experiences that would likely have left me in tears, and he has endured them with quiet dignity. But with all of this heroism, he was reduced to sobbing by an event early this morning that shows what really scares him.

After surgery he was placed into the PICU here at Children’s for close monitoring. This is a wonderful hospital that is extremely friendly to the families of their patients, but the PICU is less friendly than other areas of the hospital out of necessity. Since that ward focuses on more severe cases, the rooms are set up for monitoring equipment but very few conveniences. Refrigerators and bathrooms are not in the room, but down the hall. This is understandable, but difficult for the parents who are staying with their children.

This morning, Joshua was resting comfortably and watching TV. I explained to him that I needed to go down the hall to use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and wash my face, but I would be back in a few minutes. I left, took care of that business, and returned to the room about seven minutes after I left. When I was 30 feet away from the room I heard his cries and rushed to his side.

It turns out that he fell asleep and awoke a moment later, but in his medicated state he thought that he had been asleep for much longer. When he realized that I still wasn’t back in the room, he thought that I had left him there alone and gone home. He was sobbing and it took a little while to calm him down and assure him that I was only gone for a few moments and would never leave him alone and go home.

After he was sleeping peacefully again I had time to reflect on what had occurred. Joshua, who had endured so much pain and trauma without complaint or breakdown, was reduced to sobbing tears because he thought he had been left alone. And, once again, I realize how important family is for all children.

Children can learn to survive and endure through adversity and pain. They do it every day. But no child should have to face those things without a family. No child should have to live day after day without someone who cares about them and shares their trauma. No child should ever wake up and know they are alone. And the Church of Jesus Christ should not rest as long as there are children who are experiencing that worst kind of pain.

Jesus, please hold those children who are without a family. Comfort those who will awake alone and afraid tonight. And please awaken and empower your church to be your hands, arms, feet, and voice.