Elisabeth Elliot has an absolutely heart-wrenching essay called "In a Hospital Waiting Room" in her book, Twelve Baskets of Crumbs. Her second husband, Addison (Are you noticing something about the names in her family and my daughter's name? Not a coincidence--I'm a stalker-level fan of Elisabeth's. Or Betty's, since that's what she goes by. See I told you I'm a fan!), was dying of cancer, and she spent many hours in waiting rooms with him as he went for treatment. I read this beautiful work on waiting and have never forgotten it.
That particular essay stood forefront in my mind Wednesday, as I sat in the pre-registration center before Addison's surgery. Chris sat next to me as tears poured down my face, not for Addison, but for the other children there: a 7 month old little girl whose intestines hadn't migrated to the inside of her body before birth. A tiny little boy whose head was held tight to steel rods with large pins, also connected to his cheeks and neck. A toddler with a tube connected to his throat. And a baby girl whose face was terribly malformed.
I cradled Addison in my arms, dreading her open-heart surgery the next day, my own heart feeling ripped to shreds at the sight of these kids. I've gotten a tiny glimpse in the last 13 weeks of how they and their parents are suffering, and the pain I felt for them was overwhelming.
After just a few minutes, I fled to the bathroom for privacy. I stood in the stall and cried, wondering how parents deal with such disfiguring, devastating problems. There is something so sacred about our children; I could easier stand being disfigured myself before I could accept that with my own babies. As I later sat in the waiting room during Addison's surgery, I fervently wished it could be my chest being broken, my heart being cut open, and not hers.
I don't know why God chose to allow this for our family. I don't know what His plan is, and why He's allowing Addison to have to undergo open-heart surgery, kidney issues, and other ramifications of her syndrome. I don't understand how this could be part of a perfect plan. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's part of living in a fallen world. Either way, sometimes I feel like my own heart is going to break with the tremendous weight of it all. It's not only the weight of what our baby is suffering, but also the knowledge I've come to of so many other children who are going through worse.
As I stood in that bathroom stall, I kept repeating to myself, "I didn't sign up for this. This is not what I wanted when I became a parent." I didn't want a high-risk labor and delivery, or time in the NICU, or genetics consultations, or brain scans, or physical therapy, or kidney ultrasounds, or catheterizations, or open-heart surgery. I didn't want to be exposed to the bleeding hearts of parents all around who are devastated--and coping with--syndromes, diseases, accidents. I didn't want to hurt so badly. I didn't want to question God or be afraid of tomorrow or have to walk on under such circumstances.
In the PICU, where Addison spent her first two days after surgery, I spent a lot of time in the waiting room. We can't talk on cell phones or eat in the PICU rooms, so we'd all congregate in the waiting room and talk about our children. We threw around medical terms with finesse and compared syndromes, heart defects, and insurance details. It was an odd sort of fraternity, really.
Chris and I have become terribly attached to a family here whose daughter, Catherine, has Down Syndrome. She has been in the PICU for 13 of the last 16 weeks, on and off. She has had three surgeries. Yet her parents and grandmother are the picture of peace. It was instantly obvious they're believers, and as we began to talk, their peace felt tangible to us. It even rubbed off on us, I think. August 8th will mark one year from when they found out their unborn baby had Downs, and as Catherine's mom talked about that day, I could identify with so much of what she said. She didn't sign up for this, either. But oh, the peace she has. Her smile is so gentle, and so genuine, and she ministered to me so deeply, without even knowing it. We both talked about this new awareness that not all children are born healthy, or stay healthy, and that before our daughters came into this world, we were both blind to that fact. What was superficial compassion has become deep empathy. My daughter may not have some of the problems other children have, but I can identify with the mind-numbing shock, gut-wrenching sorrow, and utter hopelessness their parents feel when confronted with a diagnosis.
I wonder what lessons Elisabeth Elliot learned in that waiting room, as she sat by other husbands and wives whose loved ones were wasting away from cancer. I wonder if she sat there, thinking, "I didn't sign up for this. I may have said 'in sickness and in health,' but this isn't what I meant. The hurt is too hard." I wonder if now, many years later, she still remembers the raw empathy she likely felt for those other families sitting there, also waiting. I imagine she does.
My eyes have been opened. My heart has been enlarged. If Addison had been born healthy, I may never have experienced this. While I never would've chosen this for our family, I'm beginning to see that God has amazing plans for us. Amazing plans, indeed.