Stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s the story of Leah. I really didn’t want to tell it…again….(to those who have heard it before), but every time I sit down to write about some other pressing message on my heart, like the perils of divorce, or surviving abuse, or how you can, I repeat CAN get pregnant while breast-feeding (despite some awful lie started somewhere deep in East Texas!), my heart always comes back to Leah.
I remember quite vividly sitting on my couch in the TV room. I think I had been there for months. I sat in front of the laptop for hours, days, weeks on end. All through the nights while everyone slept, I poured through countless web pages and medical journals and medical records. Our baby was sick. She had been sick for a while, long enough for my husband to reach out to God. We started going to church. He found comfort in God’s presence. He was a new Christian. I wasn’t. For me, the shine of a life in Christ had worn off a bit.
I grew up in church. I consider myself to be pretty well versed in the wrath of God. As a matter of fact, I’m certain the term “Bible-Beater” originated to describe my childhood pastor at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Grice, TX (God rest his soul). I lived my life with the knowledge of God’s love and wrath. I knew the turmoil in my life, at times, was because I wasn’t walking in God’s will. I gave Him glory for all the good things in my life and tried to learn from the hard lessons He put in my path. However, I shockingly am not a good student. It has taken more than a few tough lessons from God to learn to see the blessings and rewards from a close, obedient relationship with Him.
So there I was, on the couch, glancing at my dear husband watching football, and secretly praying… “So, here we are again God. This might be working on him, but this time, it’s not gonna work on me!” I prayed fervently to God. I use the word “pray” here loosely. I called Him out, not my husband, Colin but GOD. I told Him I was onto Him. I knew what He was up to and vowed it wouldn’t work. Leah... was NOT going to draw me closer to Him.! This would NOT be my testimony. He may as well go ahead and pick someone else! I already knew the drill. A sick child…..losing a child……that was going too far!
Leah was only 2 years old when we first learned she had a heart problem. Her first year was great. She was a happy, healthy, although a somewhat weak, little girl. She was our dainty princess. We also had Landry just 11 months after Leah (breast-feeding!), and it wasn’t until Landry started getting really mobile that I noticed Leah just wasn’t keeping up. Then, around her second birthday, she just stopped eating. I spent every waking hour trying to feed her until ultimately she ended up in the hospital with a “Failure to Thrive” diagnosis. No one knew what was wrong. After many tests, specialists, and hospitalizations we came to find out Leah has an “Unidentified Connective Tissue Disorder” and possible “Cardiomyopathy”. Which basically means the “glue” that holds her together is flawed and may or may not have caused or will cause her irrevocable heart muscle damage. Could they be any more vague!? Basically, what we were told and what we’ve learned since is that “There is something wrong, we don’t know exactly what or why. There is no specific treatment. And we don’t know what to expect. Oh, and by the way, she needs open heart surgery to repair a valve, but we’re not sure when, so can y'all just bring her in every few months and we’ll see.”
That was about the time I went to the couch. I ate there. I slept there. Mostly, I researched there. I was the man on the roof in the flood and I wasn’t going to miss my boat! I knew God had His reasons…blah, blah, blah….but I was going to save her. I was trying very hard to maintain this very dysfunctional relationship with God. By that, I mean that I was so bitter and resentful that every time I felt the love and goodness of God I would take the portion of it that I wanted and rejected the rest. I would sit in Sunday service thinking “Yes, Lord!” Then suddenly snap back into reality and want to walk out. Sometimes I would. I controlled the relationship. I felt like if He couldn’t give me my full happiness and contentment, He couldn’t have all my heart. I held firm to my prayer.
I was in a sort of limbo with God. I wanted his help. I prayed to Him. I prayed at Him. I tried to be faithful and put my trust in Him, but I was angry. Angry and desperate for years, two years to be exact; well, maybe a little more.
I can’t even describe the anguish and desperation. What is the word to use to describe the lump in your throat and heat welling up behind your eyes morning after morning as its time to wake her up, and you’re petrified to turn the corner because she had a rough day or was a little blue at bedtime the night before? How do you describe that little bit of mourning you do every day, even on good days, just because of the fear of the real thing.
I don’t know the words to say to my little girl to explain what she is going through. I don’t know the words.
But about two years into the black hole of my heart, a ray of light appeared. Ok, more like a bolt of lightning! I went to the first Women’s retreat. There was quite a comedy of miracles to get me there, but I made it. God literally cleared the way. Before the large group session, I felt certain where this was headed, a good message, but I’ve heard this lesson before. But then, God had one of His ‘gotcha’ moments. He had physically placed me in a room and then mentally turned off my rebellious brain (and my cell phone) and reached into my hardened soul and told me how much He loved me and cared about me. More importantly, He told me how much He loves and cares about Leah. It was NOT the lesson the way I knew it! The next morning, because he knew I probably didn’t really get it yet, He told me again….and again…and again. I finally understood and accepted what I knew all along….This WILL bring me closer to Him! I WILL GLORIFY AND EXHALT HIS NAME! I WILL PRAISE HIM FOR MY BURDEN!
I was quite overcome with emotion and mucus all at the same time! And although God was so patiently waiting for me to humbly fall on my face before Him, I am not so sure 75 ladies from Crosspoint Church were ready for that, so off to the ladies room I went. No sooner than the door snapped shut, there I was, face to the cold linoleum making a puddle on the floor as big as my head! But there on that floor, I came as close to God as I feel I’ll ever be on this earth. He met me there. He listened to my feeble, needless apologies. He let me go through the motions of spilling out my heart and offering up to Him what we both knew wasn’t mine to give. Leah. I finally surrendered her to Him. I accepted that she was His child and not mine. I accepted that He loves her even more than I do. I realized fully for the first time that this is not her, nor my home, and that He has a plan for us. For a brief moment, I understood the depth of the love and anguish that God has for us. And in that moment, I shuttered. A peace and warmth came over me that surely passes understanding. I felt God’s promise. He gave her back to me. He didn’t tell me He would take it all away or that she would be healed. He said that she was my gift. That our journey was a gift….no matter how long our journey is. And whatever path He sets us on is for our good and for His glory.
Needless to say, it was pretty awesome. I carry the peace that God gave me that day always. It never leaves me. Even during the 157 minutes that her heart was stopped for open heart surgery last year. Believe me, it isn’t always easy. I want her in my arms, holding my hand, but if she was to hold His, I will praise Him. I will love Him. I will thank Him. He has given me a precious gift and an awesome responsibility. I have to pray and listen. I have to seek and obey. His promises are always there. He will always love her. His plan will never fail. Below are two verses that I have held on to during this time.:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29: 12-13