Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Though He Slay Me

Have you ever done something so impossibly difficult that you thought it might break you if you attempted it? I don't know, maybe running a marathon or hiking some colossal mountain or baking Grandma's ten-layer cake that involved dental floss and some crazy kind of magic? You stood there at the task before you and thought, "I don't think I can do this. I really don't think I can do this." 


This is where I am today.

I'm sitting here wondering how I can do this thing that I feel so compelled to do, to share with you, but I'm battling the urge to close my computer and say, "To hell with it." I suppose I'm afraid of what I'll unleash inside of me with these words, what emotions I'll have to wrestle with in the telling of this unfolding story that's been handed to me. I'm afraid I won't do justice to any of it or steward it well or that I'll dig deep to draw it all out only to find that I'm no better off, and neither are you.

Words are powerful. For better or worse.

But I'm so painfully stubborn that I refuse to let fear get the best of me, no matter the outcome. So I'm going to reach down, dig it all out, throw it together and see what happens.

If you read my post from several months ago here, then you know that my third son, Lincoln, has the same rare genetic orthopedic condition that I have. It causes early onset childhood arthritis and almost always requires surgical intervention in order to keep walking and not be bound to a wheelchair. Lincoln had his first leg realignment surgery on his right leg in November, and he will have his second later this week.

The news of Lincoln's diagnosis brought about a painful reckoning for me with my own past suffering, with the wounds and abandonment of my childhood, and with the God that I love. He and I went to battle, God and me, and over many months, He worked in my heart and stitched up some very broken places in me to produce in my ripped open heart what suffering often does - a holy, grief-laden surrender to his will, his ways, and his goodness and love. I was, after some time, able to see how God could and would use this in Lincoln's life, in the lives of my other four children, in my marriage, and in my life and heart.

And then, just as I was coming up for air from that wicked, brutal storm, a tsunami hit. And I was drowning again.

Why is it that when we are already suffering, already knocked down, desperately pleading for some peace and good news that another catastrophic blow seems to follow? Wasn't my last hellish bout with grief enough to be some kind of teacher that I needed or whatever?

Do you ever feel this way about your life? If so, can we be friends?

A few months after Lincoln's diagnosis, we began to notice that one of our other kids was having some trouble walking and keeping up.

Our Holly. Our beautiful and only girl.

I made her an appointment with Lincoln's orthopedic surgeon to rule out that anything orthopedic was going on with her. She's been growing and I knew, I was certain she was just experiencing some growing pains. I made the appointment for when Jason was out of town with a few of our boys and I knew I could sneak her out of school and spend some special girl time with just her.

Lincoln's doctor examined her and found her to be strong and healthy, and sent her off for x-rays and she and I giggled about what we were going to do while the boys were away. "Painty nails, Mom?", she laughed. "And a movie night in your bed." This girl. The delight of my heart. How easy does the word "Yes" fall off my lips when she asks me for something?

Her doctor returned to the room, this man that has become a friend as much as a doctor. He has seen no small number of my tears fall onto Lincoln's copied x-rays in my lap and I have seen and felt true compassion from behind his eyes.

"Sarah, she has Lincoln's same diagnosis. Only her condition is much worse."

I was in disbelief. Pushed unexpectedly off a cliff and in a free fall to a pit of despair. And I was swallowed whole in an immediate wave of grief.

My God, why? Why would you ask this of me? Of her?

If the moment I heard Lincoln's diagnosis cut me to the core, this one clobbered me to black and blue and ripped back open my freshly healed and still tender wounds. In an instant, I could feel hot rage and desperate tears welling up right to the surface. I knew from the pain in my chest that my heart was in shatters. It was so achingly familiar. Only this time, there was no dam of drummed up bravery to contain the flow of tears, no shield of summoned strength to protect me from feeling the blows.

I just put my head down in defeat and let the tears fall. I was crushed.

My girl. How can this be?

Her doctor put his hands on my knees and looked at me and said, "I'm so sorry, Sarah. I know this is so hard."

Holly sat blissfully on the paper covered exam chair in a world of her own playing with the toys in her candy shaped purse and I wanted to trade places with her. I wanted to throw up, throw the chair across the room, and throw my fists in the air and scream at God in heaven. And I wanted to run away, just like I did when I heard Lincoln's diagnosis. Only this time not alone, but I'd take her with me. She and I would go live on some island somewhere and forget all that I'd just heard about her and I'd never tell her that she isn't perfect in every way. I'd tell her every single day that she is the best girl I know, full of life and spirit, and we could spend our days on the beach where our legs don't hurt and we don’t have to keep up with anyone who walks fast and we don't care if people stare at our scars and she'd never know. She'd never hear that she's broken like I am. Silent accusations flew around the spinning room and pierced my breaking heart:

"She's like this because of you, Sarah."

Mom guilt is a powerful tool of the Enemy because it takes an element of truth and twists it into a devastating weapon of lies and shame.

My only thought was to protect her. Only I knew I couldn't. Not from this. I didn't get to choose.

How much do we want to choose?  

I looked at her doctor and told him, "I cannot do this with Lincoln AND with her. How am I supposed to do this?" I like to make things about me on the regular, but turns out, I especially like to do that when I'm desperately hurt and feel helpless. It's a real problem.

"Why don't we revisit this in six months? I'll x-ray her again and see where we go from there", he suggested somewhat matter of factly.

Oh, ok great. I'll just pick up the pieces of my heart you've stomped on, try to find a parachute somewhere here in mid-air, and be on my way.

I was so ... everything. Angry. Desperate. Flailing. I wanted someone to blame. Someone to punch. Someone to punch my ticket out of this black hole where 'Why, God?' reverberates against the cold, dark walls of my broken heart. Where ache and sorrow meet and are met with silence. We walked, hand in hand, to the car - me and my girl. She hadn't heard much and I wasn't about to tell her.

How could I ever tell her? Her dream is to be in the WNBA. Recess is her favorite. Her two football-playing older brothers are her heroes. She is the epitome of a girl boss, made strong and tough by four brothers who refuse to go easy on her, and have taught her not to take shit from anyone. So instead of "Mama", I can be "Dream Crusher"? What an absolutely shitty deal. I was so mad and heartsick.

Jason, on top of Mt. Summer Camp with our older boys, was unreachable for most of the day. When I finally got him later that evening, I could hardly speak about it so I just gave it to him straight all blunt like:

"Holly has Lincoln's same diagnosis but it’s worse. Don't ask me how I feel."

After twenty years of marriage, I still want to hide and push him away when I can't get it together and can't find my footing and my faith is hanging on by a thread. Marriage is so weird and complex and also humbling.

He listened and knew within an instant the pain I was in and as always, he was calm and compassionate. He reminded me of what is true about our girl - that she is a beloved daughter of the King, fashioned in the image of the Imago Dei, and loved by her Creator and her family and our community of friends. That none of that changes with a diagnosis. That her suffering won't get the last word on who she is and that it will never define her but that God would use this in her young life to mold her into a beautiful reflection of His goodness and faithfulness.

He told me he'd seen God do that with me. He is such a good man and the best truth-teller and I didn't believe a single word he said but it didn't matter because I was running away with Holly to The Beach of No Worries.

I told you last time that I'm a horrible fixer. I also have no money and have never planned a trip in my life and Holly would choose Jason and her brothers over me anyway so I'd be solo like Castaway somewhere trying to spear fish and find my medicated chapstick. Just a bad idea all around.

Earlier this year, we had her follow up appointment. Her doctor ordered an MRI and when we met to discuss it, I knew what was coming, because I had seen her steady decline.

Doesn't a mama just know?

"She will need surgery on both of her legs and pelvis. And we need to begin as soon as Lincoln is finished."

I immediately tried to summon numbness and set it onto my heart because it was the only way I thought I could handle those words. I had just sobbed my way through 2021 with Lincoln and I was hell bent on not being reduced to that again. And I knew what would happen if I let myself feel it all. I would have to grieve it, face it, come to terms with it, wrestle with God and weep and cry out and I was so tired of that. I was so tired.

Is this really what my life will be now? Tears on tears?

We just celebrated Easter. And I looked at post after post about how we as Christians, because of Easter and the resurrection, we have hope. And yes, we do. We serve and love a risen King who defeated death and took our place and we put our ultimate hope in that.

But, this year, more than ever, I needed Good Friday. The day it all fell apart. I needed to know and believe and remember that Jesus looked at God and asked him if there could possibly be another way. Just like I was. I needed to be reminded that there is no sin, no shame in the asking "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me." I needed to be close to Jesus when he was heartbroken, when his friends were sleeping and he was crying out in agony with bloody sweat falling from his face because the surrender required in "Not my will, but Yours" is so gut-wrenching and painful.

I needed to sit in the knowing that I have a Savior who has scars like I do. Who has scars like my son has, like my daughter will have. Who knows what deep grief feels like, all alone in the middle of the night. I have never had a hard time understanding the beauty of Easter. It is our victory song. 

But this year? The agony of Good Friday felt like a balm to my weary soul. I feel understood in a nighttime garden, praying, begging, grieving. I have a Savior, Jesus, who knows what it means to suffer. Who bears scars on his body, even his post-Easter, resurrected one. He did it all for me so that I can ultimately, one day, be free from the agony of this world. Somehow, this year, I love him more for it.

Tomorrow, Lincoln will have his second set of surgeries, go into his long leg cast for several weeks, then a boot, then several months of physical therapy. We will rally. We will love him. I will be his mama - present, loving, nurturing, caring. I will meet his every need with joy at the privilege of being his.

It has been beautifully redeeming to be the mother to him that I didn't have.

And at the same time, I will be here wrestling with what lies ahead for my baby girl. And, she will watch it all with eyes that know this same kind of suffering is coming for her. She is scheduled to have her first set of surgeries in the early fall, when we have, I don't know, little to nothing going on. Just Jack's senior year of high school and all that comes with those lasts, two boys playing varsity football, Lincoln starting high school, and Whit entering middle school. I am having to dig deep as I desperately cling to the God I love and practice, every day, the holy and hard work of trusting Him. Yes, with my own life and heart. But, in a desperate plea for my children:

"Yet not my will, but Yours."

My life is surely marked by the beauty and celebration of Easter Sunday - the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus, and the redemption of my sin. I am determined to live a life of joy and gratitude for the blessings that have been lavished on me and I never want to miss any of them. I want a life marked by worship through grateful tears because I was bought at a high price.

By his stripes, we are healed. Oh, how I see that differently now

But my life is also marked by the sadness and loss of Good Friday - it's marked by Jesus' suffering. The agony of a mother laying at the foot of the cross as her son suffers unimaginable pain. The desperate prayers of Jesus in the middle of the night: "Father, take this cup from me." His scars. His suffering has broken my heart and I know my suffering breaks his.

So many of you have come alongside my family this last year as I've wrestled with this new story being written on our life. You have loved me, loved my kids, loved our whole family, showed up, sent me messages of encouragement, sent cards and gifts for my kids, and I could cry a thousand tears over your generosity and love.

Thank you. A million times. Thank you. Please keep loving us, encouraging us, loving my kids. I cannot tell you how much your many kindnesses have blessed us.

The most beautiful, compassionate, kind, empathic and God-honoring people I know have been marked by suffering. They are also some of the most hope-filled people I know. Suffering has a way of softening us, making us tender to the plights of others, and it opens our eyes to see people with understanding and grace.

Page by page, I know and trust and believe that God is writing a good, good story with this ragtag family of characters over here at the Shorts. He is molding us, He is. Through my tears, I praise him often for the ways he is shaping my kids through this story. 

A friend recently shared with me that if we think what God has given us isn't good, then instead of questioning God, maybe we need to question our definition of 'good'.

"Though he slay me, yet I will put my trust in him."

God, use our suffering to do a good work in us: Jason, Sarah, Jack, Max, Lincoln and Whit.

And Holly.

May her scars, like her mama's, point her ever more to you. 

4 comments:

  1. Lifting you all up in prayer. I cant pretend to know how hard this is, but we each have those moments that God calls us closer to Him and we just have to cling. As a dear friend told me so often through our long adoption journey, “just take it one day a time. God has already written this story and He just asks you to live it one page at a time trusting He’s already at the end!”

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  2. Sarah! I’m so sad you are walking this road marked with suffering. Thanks for being real and raw; for laying it all out there. Knowing how beautifully you & Jason parent your children, it’s hard to make sense of the suffering. BUT, in the end, we must each say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” In this, we surrender to a wisdom higher than our own…and ultimately, a reward greater than we can imagine. Sending heartfelt prayers your way for Lincoln and for precious Holly!

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  3. Your post landed in my inbox this week and I needed it. I saw the heading and only read it now. God knows, life can be hard. Thank you for sharing your journey, your pain, AND your faith through it all. God be with us all.

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  4. Sarah, thank you for sharing this part of your (and your children's) journey even in the midst of overwhelming pain. I can't tell you how encouraging and shaping your words have been for me as a wife and mother. My first baby was born in 2008 and I found your blog shortly after. One of your posts stands out the most, when you shared the one thing you want your kids to know before they leave home. It is knowing WHO they can run to in any season of life. Success, failure, triumph, sin, pain, and celebration. Learning to take each moment to the arms of our loving Father. I have been so touched by that over the years and I thank you for expressing it so genuinely. I also was reading Hosea 6:1-3 this evening and thought I would share it with you and let you know I am praying for you, for Lincoln, for Holly, and for your whole family. Love in Jesus, Beth H. from WA

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