This week marks an anniversary — An anniversary of a story that must be told and retold and retold. And so I tell it, abbreviated, to you.
The technician looked at me, lying on that table, and panned “There are two in there!” The same technician who had seen me through my pregnancy with now-13-month-old twins, Tillman and Celeste – and now a new, unexpected pregnancy brought us back into the familiar room.
I rolled my eyes. “Very funny.”
Her voice took on an edge of earnestness. “No. Really. There are two babies in there.”
And I think, at that moment, the whole world dropped away.
A year and a half earlier, we had heard the same news. My mind had reeled with the magnitude of it, grasping to make sense. It wasn’t until my husband and I reached the car and he took my hands and breathed, “OH! God blesses us!” that my frozen body could thaw.
This time, as we walked out of that office, my husband didn’t say a word. He just watched me warily. “What has God done to me?!” I cried.
This pregnancy had come just as we were wrapping our heads and our hearts around the reality of the diagnosis given to our precious Tillman – those haunting words that spoke of great unknown: Cerebral. Palsy.
And now, with two 13-month-olds and constant hospital therapy visits, I was carrying twins again? I will spare you my treacherous thoughts.
Within a matter of weeks, my body, un-recovered from carrying twins once, began to announce that it had no intention of carrying twins again. At 16 weeks of pregnancy, I was placed on bedrest — with two 14-month-olds in my care and endless doctor and therapy appointments.
Two tiny lives on the line… and the way forward? Shut.
Unless you serve a God who has a habit of opening ways that are shut. Unless you have stepped into the heart of the worldwide, Jesus-following family that God is building… that family called The Church. In this capital-c Church, stones and steeples are irrelevant. Property is immaterial. Titles are useless. A heart transformed by faith in Jesus is everything. And nothing characterizes this Jesus-heart more than love. Love that acts.
For five straight months, from the time my husband left for work in the morning until the time he came home at night, someone was with me. Signing up in shifts… morning, afternoon… day after day. It was The Church who came to our rescue.
Caring for our kids, taking Till to therapy, cleaning our house, cooking our meals, mowing our lawn, keeping me company. Blood family. Friends. Complete strangers. Men. Women. Stay-at-home parents and professionals using vacation time. One after another after another. For five. straight. months.
Again and again we took midnight trips to the hospital as my traitorous body tried to abort our children. And our community gathered around us, taking kids at a moment’s notice and praying fervently.
We marked that season by the week. We knew all of the numbers and developments.
Week 24. “Okay, we made it. We aren’t guaranteed to lose them if they come now. The hospital would try to save them.”
Week 27. “Okay, we made it. If they come now, we have dropped the risk of life-long respiratory diseases by x%.”
Week 31. “Okay, we made it. If they come now, we have dropped the risk of mental retardation by y%.”
Week 35. “Off bedrest!!” And this I remember as unspeakably sweet. The week I myself got to care for Tillman and Celeste. The week I could lift them and place them in a high chair. The week I could pick them up into the little that remained of my lap. The week I could “do bedtime.” The week of calm.
On February 28, 2003 at Week 36, the gracious hand of Jesus brought, healthy into this world, Andrew Charles and Caleb Graham.
Never before, or since, have I been so devastatingly humbled… or so palpably learned the meaning of gratitude… or so grasped what it is to say that The Church is the physical body of Jesus in this world. His very hands and feet.
This week, these rough-and-tumble, hilarious whirlwinds turn thirteen. Thirteen.
And every year, I remember – and I tell them again the story. The story of the ordinary men and women to whom they owe their very lives. A story of The Church.
My brothers and my sisters, my much-beloved, would I have lost my boys without you?
Afterword: Some thoughts
In telling this story over the years, I have heard some honest questions. Questions that deserve some honest responses. They all boil down to these:
“I went through this hard thing (or my family… or my friend…). Why was The Church never there for me?”
- Missed. Truth? Throughout history, you will find no shortage of examples of God’s people missing the action God has called them to. And I KNOW there is no shortage of examples of ME missing the action God has called me to. Perhaps you see it in your own life as well?
- Mobilized. While this story holds true because of the many who stepped up, ultimately it came down to just a couple of people who couldn’t take care of me everyday, but who could mobilize others. People who could create a calendar, make some phone calls, get things moving. Without them, this entire story would have been very different. I would never even have known to come up with the idea! I needed a Mobilizer. Perhaps, out of your own experience, you can now be the Mobilizer for someone in need?
- Mortified. Hidden in this story is an extraordinary amount of gut-wrenching humiliation. I had to expose my need. I had to let people – strangers, even! – into my often unkempt house. I had to allow them to scrub my bathroom and give some discipline to my children. Too many times (for my pride), when someone would cancel last minute, I had to get on the phone, go through my list, asking people if they could come care for my children. And when they said ‘sorry, not that day,’ I had to move down the list and call and ask the next person. And then the next. Gut-wrenching humiliation – but my children’s lives were on the line. Sometimes – many times – living the blessing requires tenacity and comes on the other side of humbling.
- Measured. And, finally – and this one may sound harsh – often it is the scope of our relationships that God uses to create the scope of blessing in our lives. We cannot keep people at arms length – and then be disappointed when they hold back. We cannot dabble with The Church and then be frustrated when she doesn’t recognize us as family. We cannot expect selfless giving if we ourselves haven’t learned to give. Jesus himself said “With the measure you use will it be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38). So I ask you — and myself as well – what step can you take now to increase the measure that you use?
And now the real zinger…
“How come YOU got the happy ending, when I didn’t (or my friend… or my family…)?”
And to this I can only say: I do not know. The day before yesterday, I attended the funeral service of a 14-year-old boy, son of one of those who cared for me back in those days — and to whom I owe the shared debt of my children’s lives. Why were my boys spared and hers was not?
Why, in response to some of our prayers, does God come storming in with a beautiful display of His loving care — and to some of our prayers, just as heartfelt, seeming to be just as right, He seems to turn aside and allow the unthinkable? These are the age-old questions — and I do not pretend to have nicely wrapped answers. I do know that God honors the questions asked with honest heart. I do know that He is near to the broken-hearted. I do know that He Himself is so outraged by death’s hold on His creation that He sent His very own Son to break the hold of sin and death for all who would trust in Him. These things I know. And in the tension of the unknown, there lies an invitation. An invitation that says “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
I cannot say why I get to have my boys. I can only say – Thank you, Lord Jesus. A thousand times over and it will never be enough. Thank you, Lord Jesus.