Illness, Injury, Addiction… Prayer. When we go to Christ with these we do so with the heaviest of hearts. Perhaps because these things we have little control over. Perhaps because they can threaten everything. Sadly, we all have our season-finding ourselves here.
I’ve asked Him to guide the hearts of his Doctors and Nurses. I’ve asked for healing through medicine and in their hands.
I’ve been broken and empty with no accord left on my own. I’ve called on Him to pick me up and move me forward.
Healing comes in so many ways.
From my book, Embracing Charlie, Chapter Titled “Talking to God”
“Have you been home yet?” Karen asked from the other side of the Isolette. Karen, Charlie’s nurse, was with us for most of the time we spent in the NICU. She even volunteered to work double shifts in order to be with Charlie. She knew cardiac care. She was confident and skilled, and had a less flowery, no-coddle approach. She was single, full-figured, and somewhere in her thirties. She had short, blonde, heavily styled hair that somehow suited her no-nonsense attitude. I became attached very quickly. I was thankful for her, less flower and all.
“Not yet,” I replied, “but we talked about going home today to get some clean clothes and things.”
“You need to prepare yourself the best you can for how difficult it will be to go home without your baby,” she said. “Parents don’t always anticipate the emotional impact of going home with empty arms.” I heard her, but I was quick to dismiss it. How much harder can this get? Besides, we had known for months now that having to leave him at the hospital would be a real possibility.
A few hours later, Paul pushed open the heavy hospital door leading onto the top level of the parking ramp. We stepped out into the day, and I instinctively took a deep, cleansing breath of fresh air. I stood with my eyes closed and my face toward the sky, the cool spring breeze on my cheeks. I had gone days without stepping outside.
I heard it in the distance at first, the whooping, repetitive sound of a helicopter’s propeller. It became louder and louder. I opened my eyes and, still gazing skyward, saw the halo effect of the circling propeller above us. The red emergency cross came into focus as the helicopter gently landed on the rooftop next to us. It was an impressive sight. Paul and I looked at one another with sadness. Somebody’s baby was in that helicopter. Maybe their baby was fresh and new, or maybe their baby was fourteen years old. It was someone’s baby all the same, and their lives were upside down too.
“It’s not the first one I’ve seen land,” Paul said to me. “I’ve seen them come and go a few times when I’ve been out here talking to God.” “Talking to God” meant a little more than prayer for Paul. I don’t mean to imply that he wasn’t actually doing that—talking to God—because I am sure he was. It’s just that if he went out to “talk to God,” he did so with either a cigarette or a cheap cigar.
Paul had confessed to me how his nicotine relapse occurred. It was late in the evening on the day of Charlie’s birth. The dust had just started to settle from the chaos of the day. With his nerves unhinged, Paul walked out the front doors of the hospital, cut across the traffic on Chicago Avenue, and walked into the convenience store kitty-corner to the hospital. He walked up to the cashier, who sat behind a heavy pane of bullet-proof glass. Without hesitation, he asked for a pack of Marlboro Reds and a lighter. It was his first pack of cigarettes in more than two years, an addiction he had worked tirelessly to overcome. He didn’t even make it back across the street; instead, he sat on the curb, gas pumps behind him and city traffic in front of him, tapped his box of Reds on the cement, and lifted his first cigarette from the rest. He sat, he inhaled, and he talked to God.
Each mile we drove away from the hospital felt like twenty. I stared out the car window, watching the world move by. Our world had suddenly stopped, while the rest had the audacity to keep humming along. Half an hour later, we walked into the silence of our empty house. I sat on the staircase leading up to our bedrooms while Paul busied himself with our bags and mail.
I was attentive to a hollowness tucked deep inside me. It was the same place that had whispered for life when I knew I wanted my babies. Now there was emptiness, and it intensified with the absence of Sophie’s footsteps. I was exhausted in a way I’d never experienced. The middle of my chest was heavy, as if something were pressing on my heart. The heaviness had come the moment Charlie was taken from me, and it had stayed with me ever since. Paul looked over to me from the stack of envelopes and said, “It’s going to be okay. He’s going to be okay.” Then he set them down, came over, bent down, and held me. I sobbed, and I sobbed, and I sobbed. I told him that I knew he was right, Charlie would be okay. Still, I expressed how awful the pain was, how the suffering seemed unbearable, how I felt helpless in his suffering because, even though I was his mom, I couldn’t make it better. I was broken too. I sobbed until my eyes ran dry and I’d flooded Paul’s broad shoulders.
As Paul eased away from me, I continued to lie on the stairway. I pushed on, inviting Jesus to heal me, to give me strength. I asked him to embrace me in my brokenness. My body was limp and heavy with exhaustion, just like a sleeping child who is scooped up into her father’s arms. I recognized his presence, not by his scent or the softness of his shirt collar. I recognized him by the calm that blanketed me. My eyes opened and closed drowsily until, finally, I surrendered to the fatigue. This is the part where, as a child, I would let my head drape heavily over his shoulder. There was magic here. He was strong and steady under me. His strength moved us. I was just along for the ride. It was the safest place in the world, the embrace of my Father. He took me up, readily and gladly.
I gathered myself from the staircase and moved forward. I washed clothes, gathered some things, and avoided the stillness of my babies’ bedrooms. Then we hurried back to the hospital, where everything was just as it had been upon our departure. I sat at my son’s bedside and asked Jesus to scoop him up, to embrace him in the same way he’d embraced me.
This human experience is mysterious at best. Perhaps after our petitions we are still stricken. Maybe our loved ones still suffer even after our endless requests. Maybe we experience miraculous healing. Perhaps our healing comes after years of prayer.
Maybe we are left scarred.
Some things leave hurts so deep that only Jesus, who can give sight to the blind and heal the unclean, can reach in and fill those deep empty spaces. We aren’t likely to be the same. I would dare to say that I am more than I ever was before.
One of my favorites,
Psalm 147:3 He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.
Burdens are sure to come. Let us turn to Him with our petitions and our broken hearts. Let Him bind up our wounds.
Deep Empty Spaces was also published for Easter Praise.