Friday, May 30, 2014

Holy Ground

I remember the Sunday I wept in the darkness of the Omaha Playhouse.

As the lights had dimmed, the music had swelled, and I had come undone.  When my voice gave out, my heart had groaned along as the worship pounded from the stage.
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name
And I thought of my own painful offering.  I thought of my baby’s back being ripped open, of the words “we think he will live,” of the longest day of my life.

At the time, we were sandwiched between surgeries – two complete, and one on the horizon.  Each day we cleaned his picc line and swabbed his back and coaxed him toward health, knowing that once he was healthy we had to go back and do it all again.

So that Sunday, in between surgeries, I sat in the playhouse where our messy, honest church met and I let my heart break with the worship.  Though there’s pain in the offering, Blessed be Your Name.

A few minutes later, our pastor opened the Book and led us to the desert with Moses.  He painted pictures of this shepherd, hiding in the hills, spending his days with his sheep.  Then, out of the normalcy and hiding, a bush erupts and God speaks and nothing is ever the same.

And he asked us about burning bushes.  “What holy ground are you missing because you haven’t opened up your eyes to the fire of God in your everyday?”  So I grabbed my pen (as I do) and scribbled out the request, “I want a burning bush.  I want holy ground.  I want more of You.”  And even as I wrote the prayers, I felt the anger rise.  Finding burning bushes felt as obtainable as climbing Everest.

Because when your child is being held together by wire, it’s hard to do much more than just survive.

And then, as soon as I wrote the prayer, I forgot it.

The days turned into weeks and Caleb’s frailty turned into strength.  Slowly, the calendar ticked its way towards June and the onset of surgery #3.  The other two surgeries had been emergent – we checked in to the hospital with no idea of the danger and pain that was ahead.  We hadn’t had any time to prepare, to imagine, to think.  We just had to act.  And while that was unnerving, the plus side was that we hadn’t had any time to prepare or to imagine or to think.

The night before the third surgery, I laid wide awake in bed imagining all the potential outcomes and pain.  I thought of Caleb being sedated, of kissing him goodbye, of the scalpel.  Even as he woke up, jovial and cheery and reaching for me with those pudgy baby arms, I imagined how differently he would look after a day of sedation and slicing.

As we sat in the waiting room and watched the impossibly slow clock mark the hours that Caleb had been in surgery, I felt more peace and presence.  The prayers almost seemed to take tangible form and sit next to us, the unseen but ever present companion.  And then those merciful words, “They’re closing him up.  It went really well.”

I paced by the elevator doors, waiting to be allowed to go to him.  But a different door swung open as a quietly resolved nurse grabbed me by the arm and whispered, “We need you, Mom.”  Briskly, we rounded the corner in the OR to find Caleb on a gurney, writhing and moaning and wailing.  I gaped at him – this was so unlike our other surgeries.  His health had actually heightened his awareness of his pain.

His health had actually heightened his awareness of his pain.

The nurse whispered, “We can’t get him to settle down, and we really need him to be calm.  We tried a paci, changing his position, even morphine.  But nothing seems to be alleviating the pain.  We need you, Mom.  He needs you.”

She hadn’t even finished her sentence before I was throwing back to blankets, pushing aside the spinal drains, thrusting my hands into the bloody sheets, and climbing into the bed with my son. 

Propped up on his side, I wrapped myself around him as he writhed and wailed.  I pulled his head in to my chest and started humming our favorite lullaby.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.
They wheeled us – tangled up together and weeping – from the OR to our private room.  I hummed in the darkness with the monitors keeping time as his wailing turned into moaning and his frantic breathing slowed to a regular, sleepy rhythm.  Listening to my heart, feeling my warmth, he drifted off to sleep and the nurses exchanged satisfied smiles over my head.  “He needed his mama.”

I had done my job but I couldn’t move.  I felt glued to the bed, watching my son’s anesthesia-swollen face, listening to him moan in his sleep, feeling like my heart was shattering.  Sometimes, “pain” just doesn’t do the feeling justice – it was stronger, rougher, more consuming.  I gasped under the weight of it.  There was something deep inside me that couldn’t settle.

And that’s when I heard it, not with my ears in but a place much, much deeper.
Take off your shoes.
Without thought or even consideration, I latched my toes around my heels and kicked my flats to the floor.  And then He spoke again.
This.  This is your burning bush.  This is your Holy Ground.
And quietly, I felt the edge of my covers being pulled back.  I felt Him climb into the bed with me and wrap Himself around me and sing me lullabies and shush me with His presence.
All that you feel for your son, I feel for you.  You are my baby.  My heart breaks for your pain and for his.  And right now, I am the only thing that will settle your restless, grieving heart.  You need your Papa.
As He pulled me in to Him and I listened to the rhythm of His heartbeat, my tears slowed and my heart quieted.

Nothing had changed.  I was still wrapped around my broken son in a hospital bed.  But so was He.
The three of us were all tangled limbs and broken hearts and blood stained rags and comforting songs.  And somehow that made all the difference.  He is not absent from our pain.  He is not far removed or apathetic or indifferent.

He is the moaning mother, who climbs through the blood and wounds and groans to be close to her child.

He is the ever vigilant father, who records breaths and watches relentlessly and drips tears onto the face of his son.

He is the man of sorrows, immersed in the pain and sorrow and aches of his babe.

And He is the heart of hope – who stores our tears in bottles and promises that one day every one will be wiped away.
20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”John 16:20-22

Maybe burning bushes have to live in deserts.  Maybe Holy Ground and suffering go hand in hand.  Maybe that’s what makes the Promised Land so sweet.

And maybe that’s what changes everything.
Blessed be Your Name
when I’m found in the desert place
though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your Name.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Just finished a Bible session with ten women about "God knows your pain." How beautifully Laura describes the love and comfort of our Lord in our suffering. It touched my heart. Thank you.