Going a little further, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, My Father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me…
At that moment, Jesus was anxious and seemingly intimidated by His calling. What a sense of dread at the task that lay ahead of him. In a few hours he would be spit on, humiliated in front of those whose own eyes witnessed His miracles; those who had thought so much of Him, they left family and worldly possessions behind to follow Him. In a few hours his beautiful face would be mutilated, the tender skin on his back would be slashed, split open by rough leather, bone and metal flagrums. Thick nails would be pounded into His gentle healing hands. It was daunting, to say the least, but then He said,
Yet not as I will, but as You will.
How strong in spirit. How obedient. How determined to please God at any cost. When I really imagine it, I can hardly breathe. My admiration for Jesus runs so deep in this moment, I can’t stop the flow of tears. The fear and intimidation of accomplishing the tasks I know God has asked of me is nothing by comparison. When I think of Jesus falling on His face in Gethsemane, tears and blood mixing with the dirt underneath Him, submitting to the Lord’s will and authority with the foreknowledge of all that was to come, I realize that I have no excuse for allowing fear to overpower God’s will.
Thank God that we are not called to be His sacrifice for a sinful world. But God does have a calling for each one of us. Look at all that Jesus was able to overcome! Can we, who’s hearts realize what Jesus has done, not overcome our fear of rejection when the Holy Spirit prompts us to tell a perfect stranger about God? Can we not overcome our own warm beds on a cold and rainy morning to spend time with Him in devotional and prayer? Can we not overcome the selfishness of helping someone in need even when it’s inconvenient?
The Holy Spirit strengthened Jesus and thankfully, He triumphed in His calling. That same strength is available to us. Little by little, God provides opportunities to stretch and strengthen our spirits, shedding light on a path that will reveal our own callings. I pray that we recognize these opportunities as the precious gifts they are and not lose them in a gust of defeat. I pray that we can overcome the petty emotions that slow our spiritual growth and keep us from realizing the fulfilling destiny that He has planned for us.
I was in the process of selling my business and under a tremendous amount of stress when, out of nowhere, the left side of my face began tingling at random times. Not a painful sensation but a strange one as if someone was flicking cold water at my cheek and forehead. I made a doctor’s appointment and after examining me, scheduled a precautionary MRI brain scan even though she didn’t think they would find anything significant.
At the Imaging Center, I undressed in the small stall behind a pink curtain and put on a thin hospital gown. Once inside the examining room, I sat on the edge of the plastic slab that would eventually slide me into the M.R.I. I answered questions confirming any metals in or on my body because the M in M.R.I. stands for magnetic and anything metallic would most likely be ripped from me once I was inside the machine. I gulped and began to shiver, hoping to God that my abdomen was not harboring some stray surgical instrument from my appendectomy a few years back. The technician asked if I wanted a blanket. I nodded and she draped a white sheet over me as I laid back. She snapped a small black plastic cage over my head, inches from my face, like a catcher’s mask and adjusted the camera attached to it aiming it at my forehead. She patted my leg and slid me into the small dark tunnel.
The relaxing music playing on headphones she’d put over my ears should have drowned out the clanging of the machine but they didn’t sit right on my head because of the cage. The music sounded far off and tinny. I felt alone, trapped on a bizarre abandoned carnival ride. The blanket weighed heavy on my body, closing me in and pinning me down. Through a sliver at the top of the MRI tunnel, I could see the room, yellow walls and fluorescent lights. I focused on its brightness and openness.
The outside is right there, breathe in. You are not in a coffin, breathe out.
I was to keep perfectly still for fifteen minutes while the machine captured the images but my teeth were chattering. I tried to relax the muscles in my legs but the more I held still, the more they screamed to shift position. When my left foot moved slightly, the voice of the technician immediately carried through the earphones, small and distant like a helicopter pilot, reminding me to remain still and asking if I was alright. The intrusion broke my concentration and suddenly my stomach lurched. Terror burst through my countenance like an angry river. I was washed away in a force beyond my control.
“No!” I yelped. “I’m not alright. I need to get out of this thing!”
I kicked off the blanket, flinging it onto the floor. The technician appeared in the room trying to rationalize that if we stopped now, I’d have to start all over again and the five minutes I’d already endured would be wasted.
“I don’t care,” I cried, trying to scoot down the slab to escape the cage. She quickly unsnapped it and I sat up shaking. I sobbed while the technician tried to calm me down. I was embarrassed at losing control; an exhausted puddle of defeat and I wanted to go home.
I was bewildered at my behavior. As a Christian, I should rely on God to get me through the shadowy dark valleys of my life and I’d forgotten that. I’d gone to my appointment vulnerable and spiritually unprepared. When I went to the Lord in prayer, He spoke Psalms 121 to me.
I lift up my eyes to the hills-
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip
He who watches over you will not slumber,
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you
The Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
I’d never had a problem with claustrophobia in the past but it seems that MRI experience activated something in my psyche that now causes my heart to beat faster inside elevators, feel dizzy in crowded places and unconsciously begin mapping out exit strategies in small confined spaces. When the enemy comes upon me that way, and I feel the panic rising in my gut, I sail through it every time by taking a deep breath, remembering the promise of my God and I say, I lift up my eyes to the hills…
For the past several months, I’ve developed an annoying pain at the knuckle of one of my fingers. It’s not constant or severe. It’s nothing more than a nuisance really and only hurts when I have to put pressure on it by opening jars or gripping the steering wheel when I make turns, for instance. My husband made fun of me when I asked him if I was old enough to have arthritis. Maybe just a touch of it, I thought.
This morning I was reading my bible, quietly and peacefully, enjoying the last few moments before I had to wake the kids up to for school. I bowed my head in the usual way to close out my study time in prayer. I began formally with, “Father God, Lord thank you for all the blessings…” and then I was at a loss for words. I sat still, in that moment with my eyes closed and a scene entered my mind. It was me, childlike, holding my finger up to God. “Daddy… My finger hurts.”
At first I almost chuckled but then I felt the spirit of the Lord speak to my heart.
“Tell me”, He said gently.
So I spoke it aloud. As I said the words, a torrent of emotion filled my soul and I began to weep. I’m not even sure why I was crying that way but it felt almost like there was a reconnection of sorts, a simple connection in those four words. It is probably what my children feel when they come to me with scrapes and bruises and I tend to their wounds. They know Mommy will make it all better, even if all I’m offering is a kiss. It was a long forgotten feeling of basic security, a recollection of uncomplicated trust. He is great and powerful Lord of all, yes, undoubtedly. But I am so overwhelmed with gratitude this morning, that he is also just “Daddy”.
You are a wonderful God. You have been so good to me and so forgiving. You have been so gracious and kind. You have spoken to my heart with an understanding that is greater than my own. You reveal the vileness of my ways with such tenderness that I can no longer remain in my filth. You lead me along a path to a better and more prosperous life. I am humbled that you even consider me. Even while sin covers me, you pursue me. You court me as if I were the most beautiful girl in the world. When I was broken and walking blindly on a destructive path, you came to get me, to turn me around. You saved me. You comforted me and your love was the soothing embrace of a parent calming a wounded child. Nothing can hold back my tears at the merciful love that you have shown me. When I realize the magnitude of how great you are, I can hardly bare it. I don’t deserve your love but you pour it out to me in abundance. You quench my thirsty soul when lovers and friends have left me dry. Even when I fail you, disappoint you and sin against you, you are patient and still willing to pick me up, dust me of my mistakes and lead me on again. I walk along life, my small hand in yours and I will follow you anywhere.
On the way to the hospital with Sarah, I thought about what life would be like if we suddenly lost her. I have become very loose with my thoughts lately when I get frustrated with the kids. Once or twice in the midst of breaking up one of their arguments, drowning in a chorus of whines about what I’ve served for dinner or picking up and putting away the same toy for the ninth time, I’ve indulged myself, considering what I’d be doing at that moment instead, if I’d not had kids. It’s always something quiet and simple, like reading a novel, working on a novel, meeting a friend for a glass of wine and some intelligent conversation or an evening bike ride. Not one image or another lingers for long but rather they all flash through my mind like a furious Rolodex of someone else’s life. The whole thought is over within seconds but the guilt seeps in, settling into the cracks of my mind and haunting me at times like this. What if this is happening to Sarah because the universe or God was trying to teach me a lesson?
If something happened to Sarah how would it impact not only me but Foster or Annie? Even though she does not have the esteemed title of first-born or the privilege of the constant coddling that “the baby” of the family enjoys, she is the critical link that connects them. Her relationships with Foster and Annie are quite distinct yet the whole thing flows together so smoothly.
Foster and Sarah will steal away in Fosters room and play Star Wars games. She is a good soldier and lets Foster take the lead in mostly all of their games. They giggle at inside jokes at the dinner table. Foster walks her to her classroom in the morning and waits for her in the school hallway at dismissal. Even though he claims that Sarah lives only to annoy him, he has reluctantly admitted more than once that she is his best friend. Foster hasn’t connected with Annie in the same way. From his perspective, the five-year age gap between him and Annie defines her eternally as a baby sister and he treats her so. I’ve caught him showering her with affection from time to time, I doubt she will ever be raised to best friend status.
That doesn’t mean that Annie doesn’t have a partner. She has a best friend and that best friend is Sarah. She always considers Sarah in her daily decisions. If she gets a piece of candy, she must also insist on one for Sarah. She follows Sarah everywhere. They shower together, play dress up, sneakily apply my lipstick on each other inside the confines of their bedspread forts. They share a bedroom and I hear their giggles late into the night, long after I’ve sent them both to bed.
As the middle child, Sarah is in the best possible position. She is a best friend to Foster and a best friend to Annie. If Sarah were to suddenly be taken from us, the void would be immeasurable. Of course losing any one of my children is an utter horror to me, however losing Sarah specifically would completely devastate the dynamics of our family in a way that one could consider the worst possible scenario.
So what now? Waiting around the ER since 8 am while they run test after test I’ve spent the hours counting my blessings. I’ve sat at the edge of Sarah’s bed studying her little purple polished fingernails. I brushed and braided her long golden hair. I counted all the little freckles sprinkling her nose and cheeks. I held my palm over her stomach, quietly begging God to take her pain away and protect her. Even if all the moments from here on out are hard ones, I’ll wholeheartedly take them and ask for nothing else. I stroke her sore arm from where a spiderweb of IV tubes invades and I cant wait to get her home so I can give her a bath, cook her dinner, and pick up her toy for the tenth time.
Sarah and Annie were outside in the backyard playing on the hammock and that’s when it happened. I didn’t actually see Sarah fall because I was in the kitchen making dinner. I heard Sarah crying in the yard but, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, I didn’t pay much attention to it. To be honest, Sarah exhibits a strong flair for drama. She can put on quite a performance when she wants some attention, besides the kids ALWAYS bump into things. They fall all over the place like little drunk midgets! It’s never anything serious. Most of the time if I ignore it, they eventually get up and just start playing again. I continued peeling potatoes and slicing carrots without much concern until Annie came to into the kitchen insisting I come outside to get Sarah. I put down my chopping knife and glanced out the back window.
That’s when I saw Sarah crumpled in the grass under the hammock canopy like a discarded little rag doll. She was lying on her right side and her back was to me so I couldn’t see her face. I ran outside and knelt down coaxing her to turn over and show me where it hurt. When she tried to move she yelped in pain, terror in her little voice. I began to panic debating over whether to try to move her inside. Don’t they always say not to move someone who’s injured? I thought I might have to call an ambulance. My outer self was still rational, accessing her small body, urging her to sit up. Annie was shuffling all around us like a nervous cheerleader.
Finally Sarah slowly sat up, grimacing and clutching her left shoulder. There were blades of grass tangled in her hair and sticking to her wet cheeks. Her face was red and twisted with pain. Through her tearful hiccups and the way her top lip forms a point in the center when she is sincerely crying, I instantly saw her as a newborn again, fragile and vulnerable. I felt calmer knowing that she could at least move on her own but her shoulder was swelling fast. Annie was born with a broken collar bone so I vaguely recognized the symptoms, realizing that Sarah was going to be spending the evening at the hospital getting x-rays. I also surmised that our family has weak clavicles and made a mental note to start serving milk with meals.
Getting everyone out of the house is always a struggle but when someone is injured and I am frantic, it’s nearly impossible! On any given outing, I usually have to add on an extra fifteen minutes of prep time just for the “shoe search”. The kids shoes can be found anywhere from the closet, where they should be but rarely ever are, to the depths of the toy box. On especially exasperating occasions I’ll find one shoe in the house and the other inside the van. Don’t ask. But in the interest of getting Sarah to the hospital quickly, I decided that any shoes would suffice, matching or not, and if the kids got a righty and a lefty, well that would just be a bonus.
Thank God my mom is always available to help me watch the kids otherwise I would have had to drag them all to the hospital with me, which would have been a total circus. My moms’ house is on the way to the hospital so I dropped Foster and Annie off there despite their protests. Little sister Annie is obsessed with having or doing anything that big sister Sarah has or does so naturally she wanted to come to the hospital with us. I noted a flash of betrayal in her blue eyes as I got into the van with Sarah and left her forlornly standing on the sidewalk with my mom. Since then, Annie has been staging accidents in a concocted effort to gain back some of the attention stolen away by Sarah. Last night in the shower she kicked over a bottle of shampoo in a loud ruckus, carefully laid down on the wet tile and began a series of loud caterwauls, lifting her head every now and then to see if I was going to offer a “here now, there, there”. Of course I eventually relented and gave an equally award winning performance of consoling her alligator tears. I hope Annie was satisfied with it.
Thankfully the pediatric ward of emergency room was empty when we arrived and Sarah got right in. After weighing and measuring her, the beefy nurse bent down to ask her what happened. I opened my mouth to begin the run down but quickly decided to let Sarah answer for herself. I’ve seen the shows on TV where abusive parents give canned explanations for their children’s injuries. ‘Uh, she ran into a wall…’ My inner self stood quietly, holding up her hands in a shrug of innocence. Sarah did a very eloquent job of describing her fall from the hammock, of course blaming the whole thing on Annie jumping off unexpectedly, while I silently berated myself for not watching them more closely. Was that an accusatory glance the nurse gave me?
A half hour and two more repeat explanations of how this happened, a radiologist rolled up with a wheel chair to take us into the x-ray room. She sat puppet-like in the oversized wheel chair listening intently to the tech explain the procedures. She has always been extremely brave and while she stood, undaunted, sandwiched between the metal x-ray equipment, I was struck by her strength and courage. The X-ray showed a clean break so no surgery required. The doctor let her behind the nurses’ station to view the digital image of her snapped clavicle on the monitor. Sarah was dumbfounded as the doctor animatedly briefed her on the various bones that make up her neck and shoulders. She is always saying she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Who knows? Maybe this experience will give her an added spark. She will be wearing a sling for the next three weeks and then a follow up X-ray to make sure she’s healing correctly.
The accident is still very surreal to Sarah as she randomly states that she can’t believe she actually broke a bone! I’ve noticed her proudly looking down at the navy blue sling as if she’s been initiated into some elite club of survivors. She eagerly compares broken bone stories with anyone who asks about her injury. Doctor says limited movement which means no swimming, bicycle riding, running, or anything else she might think is fun. The remainder of her summer break is going to be very lacking and I think, to her, that is proving to be more painful than her broken bone…
It was 4 A.M. and I was on my knees in the dark, face to the floor and forehead pressed against the worn leather cover of my bible. In recent months, I’d allowed so many things to take priority over my relationship with God. I was feeling guilty about dabbling in those familiar
destructive behaviors I’d left behind when I began this Christian walk. That old Michelle was beginning to rise up in me again. Through my tears, I begged God to save me from myself.
Do anything it takes to get me back on track, Lord. Turn my focus back to You no matter what.
Eighteen hours later, I was in an ambulance headed to Memorial Hospital where I would undergo emergency surgery. All rational thinking, faith, or peace had evaporated in a sweltering fear when the doctor revealed I would need immediate surgery to remove my swollen appendix. At that time of my life, I was afraid of most things and death was at the top of the list. What if there were complications? Years ago, on some rare lazy afternoon, television on in the background, I’d caught a talk show interview with a patient who claimed that despite the anesthesia, she’d felt every single incision. Something had gone terribly wrong with the dosage or her body’s reaction to it, leaving her essentially paralyzed, unable to convey her cognizance to the surgeon as he sliced into her flesh. Unintended inoperative awareness, they called it.
“That’s not going to happen to you,” consoled my husband.
Even while the staff assured us that it was a safe routine surgery, I was positive I would be dead in a few hours. In a blind panic, I tried to remember every detail of my last interaction with each of my three children. Had I kissed them all good night or yelled at them for not staying in bed? My youngest daughter was still just a toddler. She wouldn’t even remember me. Why had I been so consumed with chores that day instead of taking them to the park when they’d asked? Would my husband remarry eventually? Would she love him and my children the way I did? Better than I had?
I’d faced Goliath sized fear before. When I couldn’t handle the circumstances, I have always been able to fall back on the fortitude of God through prayer and bible verses so distinct, they spoke directly to my heart, reminding me that I am safe in His loving hands. God had always been generous in the way He’s poured peace into my spirit; however this night would be terrifically different.
I wept in my hospital bed, frantically thumbing through my bible, praying for a promise that God would not make, a promise that I could not hear. The words on the page were flat, empty symbols and offered none of the solace they’d generously given in the past. God was silent. He’d withdrawn into an eclipse. It seemed He’d abandoned me, leaving me in total darkness, alone. Desperate, I sought empty reassurances from everyone around me, the nurses, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist. My husband sat beside me, stroking my hand until it was time but it did nothing to tame the wild swallowing dread. Finally, they wheeled me away and I gave myself over to the anesthesia, still silently praying for God to show up.
My first thought when my consciousness re-surfaced was, I’m alive; sweet relief. I lived. I saw my husband leaning over my bed in the recovery room, smiling at me. I was groggy and thirsty but I’d survived. He offered me some ice chips and I gratefully accepted. I closed my eyes and dove back down into the depths of restful unconsciousness.
Later that day, once I was established in my hospital room, my husband left to relieve my parents of their baby sitting duties. Alone in my space, I surveyed my home for the next twenty-four hours. I replayed the night in my mind. I looked at my bible on the nightstand next to the bed.
I reached for it but kept it in my lap unopened. It sat heavy on my thighs like a boulder.
Thank you God for not making me die, but what happened to you last night? Where were you?
His words hit me like a bolt of lightning.
You asked me to refocus your heart. I showed you what life is without Me.
In an instant, I understood it all; the horror of uncertainty, the helpless desperation of having nothing to cleave to, the bleak, looming intimidation of facing circumstance without a savior, without a hero. Allowing me to experience the darkness of His absence was a gentle reminder of the despair He had rescued me from years ago. A momentary glimpse into a future without Him was all the motivation I needed to re-prioritize. Nothing I’d put before Him, sustained me when it came down to the wire. None of it, not friendships or lovers, not drugs or alcohol, not even my family could give the security and peace that comes in Him.
All at once, the betrayal melted away and I sat in awe of how He loved me, how He would fight for me and not allow me to slip away from Him easily. I was a lost child who’d caught sight of her father hiding just around the corner. Relief and gratitude flooded my soul and all I wanted to do was run back into his open arms.
Zephaniah 3:17 says; The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
I leaned back in the bed, closed my eyes and prayed.
I choose you God, only you, first, above everything. How blessed I am that even though my eyes turn so easily to other things, you are so faithful in your love for me. Strengthen me in times of my physical and spiritual weakness so that I can rise up against any distractions that would cause my focus to stray. Help me to always feel your glorious loving presence. Amen