The Wonders of His Love, Part 2
31 Days of Reflection
|Emily Sue Allen||Jan 1|
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf.” Hebrews 6:19
(6/31) - I shuffled out of the hospital in sandals to a warm and breezy September afternoon. My husband carried my belongings beside me as I hobbled along to the car. I focused my eyes on the ground, carefully placing each step in front of me with hope a slow pace and short, shallow breaths might keep intense pain in my right lung to a minimum. Unfortunately, every third breath necessitated a deeper draw to keep me adequately oxygenated, even if I had to wince through it. I was on blood thinners and pain meds, but I still felt like I had been hit by a truck, and then a train, and then a bulldozer.
The three-minute walk from the hospital doors to our dusty, white minivan winded me and prompted a relieved fall-sit into the front seat. I buckled my seat belt for the ride home, and simultaneously, for a crash course in the aftermath of a catastrophic health event.
Five minutes and a few traffic turns brought us to the front of our house, where I re-entered the life I knew before hospitalization, but as a new person—one who could no longer do anything I used to do in the same way I used to do it. Not only was I in excruciating pain, I was unprepared for the emotions that came with the sudden shift from having been an able-bodied mama to the limitations of a seriously compromised convalescent.
No one offered up a manual about how to put on a brave face for my six wide-eyed children, or how to talk to them about my health without scaring them. They approached me timidly, their faces full of questions. I could not throw my arms wide and scoop them close. All I could do was gingerly take my seat in the corner of our living room where I would sleep, sob, and surrender my plans again and again for months (years?). I held their hands and stroked their faces one by one, saving the heaviest of my tears for when they were down to bed.
Life was instantly different for all of us. I wanted to bounce back quickly, but my arrival home was just the beginning of many months of slow unraveling, deep excavation of the soul, and mercifully—eventually—restoration like nothing I could have ever anticipated.
“I wait for the Lord. My whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5
(7/31) - I could not do anything but sit and watch my family carry on without me. It turns out when your lungs are compromised, so is the rest of your body. Oxygen is required to run all the things, and laboring to breathe means everything slows down. I could not lie down without pain for five months. I slept upright on the couch, propped by a collection of pillows stacked just so. I was not able to stand for more than five minutes at a time without becoming what I can only describe as “winded” but a little different. Lifting my arms in the shower to wash soap out of my own hair was hard. I couldn’t stand to do dishes. I couldn’t flip laundry loads because those tasks required bending and lifting—two things I also couldn’t do.
A hundred percent of my energy was required to do the most basic things. I had no reserves, and my limitations were maddening. I mothered from a place of total weakness—literally always sitting, straining to give exceptionally clear, detailed, gentle instructions to my children for things I might have previously done on my own. My kids were 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12—not yet independent ages. I wept often for the hole created in our family by my inability to physically serve them the way I used to.
I had to learn how to receive care. From God, from everyone. My husband did double parenting duty, and tended my every need even though I was not able to reciprocate. I had to look in the mirror and accept that this was where I was at. Broken, barely able to function, and still beloved.
It has been a painful, but powerful lesson regarding a line that previously felt like an empty platitude: “You are loved just the way you are”. That’s easy to accept when “the way you are” isn’t a burden on a lot of other people. It’s much more difficult to accept when you are in a season of deep need.
I still feel needy…or tender, at least. I’m physically “recovered” from the clot, but some of my lung tissue is scarred for life. I feel the unique, particular pain where the clot was sometimes when I breathe—a reminder of a messy season when love became real to me in new ways.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
(8/31) - It was day-to-day. One step at a time. I had a baby to grow. A lung to heal. Kids to teach and love. A whole bunch of kids. And I had no physical strength to offer. None of the typical ways a mama loves her babies were available to me, so I had to find other ways of mothering.
I was stationary most hours of the day, and I observed them closely. I could see exactly when an interaction turned slightly sour; when a misunderstanding took place. I connected dots I probably missed when I was busier and more on-the-go.
Words became more important than ever before. What I said. How I said it. I started to understand how whispers reach the heart more effectively than a raised voice. How a child’s cup can be filled with simple time close by my side. How responsive my kids could be to gentle explanations, curiosity-driven investigation of the happenings between siblings, and creative solutions to problems. I realized I was able to be a committed, intentional mama even from a limited and compromised place.
It was a gift to realize that, truly, God fills in the gaps. I bring what I have with open hands, and I offer it. He makes it enough.
I started seeing from-the-heart compliance in my children, which had not always been a thing prior to the hospitalization. Servanthood and cooperation, tenderness and understanding.
I cried literally all the time. Long sessions of ugly, snotty sobs. I can’t say this happens less often, even now. But they’re not always tears of sorrow or pain. Sometimes they’re tears of gratitude I simply can’t contain for what I’ve been given.
My weakness was at first frustrating for me, but I learned a valuable lesson for life: weakness is an advantage. Weakness is not failure. Weakness is the most direct route to Jesus and the fullness of His love.
Tears are part of healing; part of dealing with the inertia of a life-altering experience. I’ve welcomed weakness into a place it might always be…at the forefront of things. I’m beginning to think God designed it this way, so my heart and my family might be soft and pliable in His hands, able to be artfully shaped just the way He wants us to be.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
(9/31) - Recovering from the embolism was as much a mental task as a physical one. Every twelve hours, I had to muster a hefty show of willpower to best the part of me that wanted to skip the next injection. It was not exactly enjoyable to stab myself with a one-inch needle designed to deliver a pre-loaded dose of blood thinner into the soft skin around my abdomen, but there were no alternatives. This is what continuous blood-thinning during pregnancy looks like.
A new injection site was needed for every dose, and doses happened twice a day, so I quickly developed a strategy to alternate sides—left in the morning, right in the evening. Sometimes more toward the center, sometimes closer to the hip. Each injection produced a dark purple bruise that slowly turned various shades of lighter purple and green as it healed over a week. With fourteen shots every seven days, I sported an alarmingly colorful midsection throughout the pregnancy and for six weeks beyond.
It felt uncomfortable and unnatural, but these injections were 100% necessary for survival and healing. To maintain therapeutic blood-thinning levels that would protect from the formation of new clots, the medicine had to get under the surface of my skin so it could enter my bloodstream and do it’s job.
Some of the things we need for healing are counterintuitive.
It was counterintuitive for me to go to the ER; to give myself daily injections; to gratefully receive the care and generosity of others. It was counterintuitive to embrace a new, humbled existence. Still, all of these things made way for God to begin teaching me what it looks like to live deeply nourished in my spirit, mind, and body—something I did not know I was not doing so well before all this crazy stuff went down. I’m still learning, but I’ve tasted it. I know God is good. I know peace is available. I know He is in the business of restoration and is the giver of good gifts. I know the very best thing I can do is inject His Word into every part of my day. The big challenge is recognizing what is from Him and opening my hands for all of it, even while still in a season of suffering. I guess that’s counterintuitive, too.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17
(10/31) - I felt alone in every possible way, even though many people offered various measures of support after the hospitalization. I felt alone at night, alone in my painfully slow recovery, alone in an increasingly complicated pregnancy, alone even in social interactions with friends.
It’s not that I was actually alone…I wasn’t. But there was a chasm between what I experienced and what I was able to articulate about it. Case and point: most people outside of my immediate circle of support are hearing this story for the very first time—two years later.
My soul felt like a cavernous pit—with needs bigger than I could see ever being filled and a desperation to look like anything but a total wreck when I was around other people. More than once, I showed up to a ladies’ event at church, desiring the simple joy of managing a whole evening of smiles and laugher in light-hearted conversation. Inevitably, I’d squeak out a few words about how I was doing before buckets of tears (and snot) would start falling out of my face. I knew others wanted to help, to take just a little bit of the heavy stuff from me, but there was no way to offload the work God was doing in my soul while I was in the thick of things. The thin places of my soul were there precisely so God might break through—to punch a hole in the self-protective layers I’d piled on so He could pour the good stuff in. Not saying it didn’t hurt, just saying it was well worth what I gained.
As an aside, I’d like to say: If someone is privately suffering, they may not be able to tell you so. If they do share a sliver of it, they may not have the words or the heart to ask for what they need. Those who helped me most in those months made it easy to accept their help. One friend sent me an email with a detailed list of everything she’d be glad to help me with on short notice if I needed. It was a gift to know what she was up for without me having to ask out of the blue, and as a result, she became my first-call person. Always kindness, never pity. It’s the only reason I could accept her help.
“All my longings lie open before You, Lord; My sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pounds. My strength fails me: even the light has gone from my eyes.” Psalm 38:9-10
(11/31) - My husband wasn’t able to be with me at doctor’s appointments. Someone had to be the adult supervision for our six little rascals at home, and he was it. Super dad. I had appointments weekly—or sometimes every other week—which meant he had to work from home to be with the kids so I could get to appointments on time, by myself. Blood draws, pulmonologist follow up, maternal fetal medicine, ultrasounds, and later on, non-stress tests. I am a person who tries to be as low-maintenance as possible at all times. This was not my favorite situation.
At 28 weeks, I went in for a routine glucose tolerance test and walked out with a gestational diabetes diagnosis on top of the other high-risk pregnancy considerations. Sucker. Punch. With it came another layer of stuff I would have to stay on top of. Added to my already twice-daily injections: finger sticks, tracking blood sugar values, logging food and making stringent food choices. Despite my best efforts over a few weeks, I was not able to get or keep my sugars down, and ultimately added insulin injections to the equation. Even following the strictest eating plan, my doc kept bumping the insulin doses up until I was on 90 units daily (10 units is the starting point). Discouragement frosting on discouragement cake.
I cried while driving home from nearly every appointment. My doctor wanted me to come in for non-stress tests twice a week, induce a week early, told me I could expect a highly managed delivery due to possible complications. Aside from the good news that my baby was developing well, most visits were full of angst, question marks, and the aforementioned crushing and constant loneliness. I was looking ahead to the birth, hoping with all my might that it would be some kind of finish line. That everything would be better after that. I’d be on my way back to my “normal” life again. That’s not how it went.
It was true survival mode for months. We hobbled things together at home. The kids carried on with resilience that would make anyone cry (or maybe just me), and my husband was as steady and selfless as I have ever seen a man. Bless him. By some miracle, we finally made it to induction day.
“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11
(12/31) - I hadn’t wanted an induction at first, but having a marked date helped me see light at the end of the tunnel. After Saturday, there would be no more insulin injections. After Saturday, there would be a baby in my arms. After Saturday, I would be able to start a new, different season—whatever that might look like.
In the week leading up to the induction, no fewer than 20 people reached out to me with prayers and meaningful messages of support. I was large and in charge. I felt ready, excited even, highly motivated to put this pregnancy behind me. The peaceful runway ahead of childbirth felt like extravagant grace.
My care team was great. There were a dozen small details that needed to gel (getting blood thinners out of my system so I could get an epidural) which I’d stressed over for weeks, but mostly went smoothly until a twice-failed epidural had me white-knuckling the side of the hospital bed. My L & D nurse was a mom of 6 kids herself, and she advocated for my needs all through the night, compassionately comforting me through the worst of it. Even when attending docs acted quite casual about the epidural problems, she persistently spoke up for me. I was grateful.
By early morning, my little guy arrived. The moments of delivery (with a third, finally working epidural) were blissfully peaceful. Like. Weirdly. He didn’t cry and neither did I (this is not commensurate with my childbirth history). It was a sacred pause. A breath. A miracle this baby and I had survived many dark and heavy months. Peace is what I had prayed for. Peace is what I received. I needed the breath, because a whole lot more hard stuff was on the horizon.
This is an excerpt from my journal a week later:
“It has been a slog, and even now, on the other side of the birth, I am coming to terms with just how hard the whole pregnancy has been. I am more physically broken than I’ve ever been in my life. Humbled. Weary. Worn. My midsection and thighs are minefields of bruises and scars from almost 1500 injections since September. I am tender and vulnerable—aware of my weakness and the many ways I cannot do what I want to. I may not be able to for a long while.”