Friday, July 26, 2013

Surrounded. A bit of grace in difficult times.

You know what the most redemptive thing about last year was?  The feeling of being surrounded.

When we had our second child, we had just moved into town. A friend moved with us -- her husband (also a good friend) had gotten a job at the same place as Steve -- so we weren't entirely alone, but I felt isolated.

After our move and after Mimi's traumatic birth five years ago, we all got the sickest we've ever been. Almost as soon as I recovered from my c-section, Ella got the first of what would be four ear infections -- all in one winter.  We finally got tubes in both ears. Steve had five bouts of pneumonia (no, not just bronchitis -- full blown pneumonia) and I had strep so many times that I ended the season in April with a tonsillectomy.  Only Mimi seemed unscathed, although she too got her fair share of sniffles that winter.  I joked with Steve that if he didn't shape up, they'd talk about removing his lung. Ella, after all, had had surgery, and so had I.  He came back from his pulmonologist and said I wasn't as far off as I'd guessed.  It never came to that, but things were bad.  (Martie, I know you want me to fit in the story about the fan blade and garage door here - but I can't. Not only would the story take too long, but that would be me airing my lowest-of-low moments from that winter, and I'm not sure the world is really ready for that.)

We found a church home about three months in, but we were still so new. I spent a lot of Sundays crying to songs in the pew because (a) I felt alone and (b) I was alone, because Steve was at home battling another round of pneumonia. At one point I was so embarrassed by my lack of spouse, snotty nosed kid, and tendency toward tears that I purposefully went to a different church so that I wouldn't have to answer questions again. Well meaning people who were virtual strangers knew that my husband wasn't there, and I didn't have the energy to look like I was alright with it.

I wanted friends, and I wanted folks to surround me and celebrate with me the new life that was my little Mimi. I wanted folks who knew us, and knew that this life of illness we were living wasn't normal for us. We weren't making this up. We had left a terrifically supportive community in North Carolina, and I feared I'd never get community like that again. We broke hospital visitation rules with the number of people that came to celebrate Ella's birth.  After Mimi's birth it was just me, Steve, and then eventually Ella and my mom who had driven in to town. And our two friends who'd moved with us. And a few parents of friends we'd had in North Carolina, but they didn't want to intrude, and we barely knew them.

I cried when the hospital staff presented me with a hand-made hat for Mimi, a donation to the the hospital. To me it signified that someone cared. Someone, a stranger, was glad that this new life was here, and wanted us to feel special.

I had naively decided that this third child would redeem that horrid year. I wouldn't feel alone this time, I wouldn't have a traumatic birth. This is part of why I wanted so badly to deliver VBAC. We'd finally gone through one or two winters without getting sick, so things would be better. I had friends and community now, so I wouldn't feel alone with this baby.

A year ago I was telling this all to Cindy, the stranger-become-friend who was on bedrest down the hall from me and delivered her micro-preemie less than a week later. She is a woman of God and an inspiration. I was having horrid hospital coffee with her in the family room of the NICU.  "I wanted this birth to redeem all that" I said, "but I didn't have that easy third birth that I wanted. It was even more traumatic than Mimi's birth. But at least this time we're not alone.  We have so much support, so many people praying for and remembering this little guy."

"That experience has been redeemed" she said.

And as I thought about it, she was right. We didn't get the easy birth we'd wished for, but we were surrounded in ways we'd never experienced. You'll see that throughout this blog. Our friends hurt with us, and upheld us, and prayed for us, and spontaneously sent us gifts. We were worn, thread-bare, but we were not alone.

We learned much about community, and about the Christian community to which we belonged. We learned what it was to sit with someone who was hurting. I had known that sitting with a hurting person was never comfortable, I always felt so awkward, like I stumbled over all the wrong word all the time. Like I didn't care enough or I cared too much. Like I could never get it quite right.

I learned from being that hurting person that all that didn't matter. The fact that the friends were there, the fact that they cared, that is what mattered more than the words or fumbles (or, heaven forbid, inappropriately placed spiritual incantations).  I would take 1,000 foot-in-mouth comments, because the fact the wrong thing was being said meant that there was someone saying it. This time we weren't alone.

I don't state this to say this is why he came so early. This is not tragedy making up for hard times. But it is a bit of grace in the hard times.  And it was a lesson in how to love and be loved in hard times. Those lessons are important.

If you have friends who are preemie parents or parents of kids with cancer or just going through a hard time -- they can't be loved on enough. They will have nothing to give, they may not even have energy or time to spend with you, but do not forget them. It is a long road, and they need every ounce of support you can give. Just be sure your support comes with forgiveness when we don't send you the thank you card or don't have the energy to show just how much it means to us. Trust me, it means the world. You touched us, even if we're too worn to show it.

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