What We Believe Determines How We Will Live

I had been a Christian for a long time, but nothing made me doubt God’s word more than burying my son.  Once your child is gone, every inch of your body yearns to be reunited with that child again, and it is all you think about.  Thoughts began to float through my head like, “What if he wasn’t saved and I never see him again?” “What if God really isn’t real and when we die we just die and there is no heaven or hell and I never see my son again?”  Deep in my inner being, I know TJ was saved, and I know that God is real and none of these thoughts are true. I have seen countless evidences of Him throughout my lifetime. He’s laughed with me through the good times, held me in His arms through the hard times, and carried me through the really hard times.  “Why am I struggling so much with this?” I thought to myself. I began praying for God’s help to conquer these relentless thoughts that were causing me to doubt.

At the beginning of this year, I was asked to be in a Bible study with some friends.  It was a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year study, and I eagerly said yes. We started reading at the very beginning in Genesis.  Shortly thereafter, we came to the story of Joseph, my favorite story in the Bible.

Jacob was Joseph’s father and he had 12 sons.  Joseph was the favorite, and his other brothers were very jealous of him.  One day when Joseph was 17 years old, the brothers decided they had had enough of this spoiled kid, and they plotted to kill him.  Reuben, one of the older brothers, did not want the boy killed and persuaded the other brothers to throw him into a pit. Reuben’s plans were to rescue him from them and take the boy back to their father, but shortly thereafter, a caravan of Ishmaelites was traveling by, and the brothers sold Joseph to them.  

Genesis 37:31-35

“Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.  They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, ‘We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.’

He recognized it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe!  Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.  All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’  So his father wept for him.”

Meanwhile, Joseph spent the next 13 years as a slave and then as a prisoner, but all the while the Lord was with him and showed him kindness and granted him favor.  After many twists and turns in the story, Joseph was eventually miraculously brought up out of prison by Pharoah and put in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Through another series of events, Joseph and his brothers were eventually reunited and Joseph extended forgiveness to them.  And then the great reunion between father and son took place.

In years past I have always been astounded by the timing of God in this story, by the patience of Joseph and his trust in God through his suffering, and by his amazing forgiveness toward his brothers.  But as I was reading the story this time, I had a thought that I had never had before, “I wonder if Jacob regretted being sad all those years he believed Joseph to be dead? I wonder if he had regrets of not enjoying his life more and not enjoying his other children and grandchildren because of his all-consuming longing to be reunited with Joseph?”  Joseph had been alive the whole time, but it didn’t matter what the truth was. What mattered was what Jacob believed.

I pondered this more, and I then asked myself, “If I believe that my son is dead and in the grave and I will never see him again, then how will I live?”  After thinking about this for awhile, I decided that my answer would be: I will waste my life. I won’t be able to get off the couch most days, and I won’t be effective in winning the hearts of man toward God.  I won’t enjoy my life or the family or friends God has blessed me with, and I will probably one day have many regrets.

I then asked myself, “But if I believe that my son is alive with Christ in heaven like God’s Word says he is and that I will see him again one day, then how will I live?”  My answer: I will continue the work that God has given me to do, knowing that I will receive eternal rewards for my perseverance through suffering. I will have joy and fullness in Christ despite my suffering, and I will enjoy all of the many blessings He has given me on this earth as I eagerly look forward to heaven.

In what area of your life are you having a hard time believing God’s Word?  What we believe determines how we will live.

Hebrews 11:11 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

The Sovereignty of God

Hebrews 11:13  “All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

I lead a group at my church for moms of children with special needs.  At the beginning of each meeting, we read a devotional that’s designed to center us on God before we begin sharing our hearts.  Right now we are reading a devotional called Refresh: Spiritual Nourishment for Parents of Children with Special Needs written by Kimberly M. Drew and Jocelyn Green.  After reading the devotional, we talk through discussion questions and anything else that is going on in our lives that only another mother of a child with special needs would understand.  

Our devotional at a recent meeting for me was very insightful.  It was entitled “Sovereign Moments.” The story begins with Kimberly sharing her story about how her daughter, Abbey, came into the world.  Because of the traumatic nature of Abbey’s delivery, it resulted in her having lifelong multiple disabilities. The doctor had written in his notes that it was because of “poor maternal effort.”  Kimberly said what he failed to mention was that he was asleep in another room for almost the entire delivery and that right at the end of the delivery, he rushed in, looked at her vitals, and yelled, “Now!”  A few minutes later, Abbey needed to be resuscitated. For many years Kimberly blamed herself while her family and friends blamed the doctor. She later came to accept that God could have intervened at any moment during the birth of her daughter and yet chose not to.  Over time she grew to find comfort in the sovereignty of God.

Kimberly closes her devotional with this profound paragraph:  “At thirty-five weeks pregnant, my dear friend Allison woke up from a nap covered in blood.  She was rushed into an emergency C-section for a second-degree placental abruption. It was my obstetrician who saved her life and her sweet baby’s life.  Mere men make mistakes in one moment and rise to do amazing things in the next. God is sovereign over them all.”

For me, prior to TJ’s injury, when a doctor entered the room, the heavens parted and the angels began to sing.  I thought they were the smartest people on earth and knew all the answers. TJ spent more than a year of his short life in the hospital, and during that time, I began to view doctors very differently.  Although most times I was fascinated by their brilliance, I also at times saw them as imperfect human beings like me who make mistakes, who do not have all the answers, who can’t undo a tragedy, who do not control life and death, and who are limited by only the knowledge God allows them to have.  I began to realize that putting lofty expectations on them was unfair and should be reserved only for God. We knew there had to have been oxygen loss during TJ’s surgery, but his strange presentation after surgery along with an MRI that didn’t match his symptoms were a mystery to doctors, and after years of struggling to find answers, I finally came to believe that if God wanted us to know what happened, He would have given the doctors that knowledge.

Like Kimberly, our son’s brain injury and eventual death was caused by, in our opinion, a doctor’s mistake.  Over time I too have also grown to find comfort in the sovereignty of God and that He also could have intervened at any moment during my son’s surgery and yet chose not to.  Through the years, I’ve started to see the lives that could be won for Christ because of TJ’s powerful story, and I could also see God’s presence everywhere in our lives as He lovingly carried us during our unimaginable trial of suffering.

A friend of mine who is a nurse once told me,“Regarding surgeons, always listen to who the nurses recommend because they see the patients coming out of the OR.”  We chose TJ’s surgeon because he was highly regarded in our community. We had heard nothing but wonderful things about him. He had done a lot of good for a lot of people.  During the years following TJ’s surgery, I’ve seen many shocked faces from medical staff upon learning who TJ’s surgeon had been. I’ve come to the conclusion that this kind of surgical outcome was unusual for him.  Even though my son’s surgery had a devastating result, I would still say his surgeon is a good surgeon. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, looking back I can see the look of pain in the surgeon’s eyes that first week as TJ rapidly declined, and even though it has been a process for me, I now have compassion for him.

I believe there were higher forces at work that fateful surgery day in 2013.  I don’t understand it all, but I do believe God was in control that day. And because of the work that Christ did on the cross for me, I am forgiven, so, therefore, I can be obedient to Him and live a life of forgiveness trusting that He will make all things right in His time.  I believe one day we will all see the far reaching effects TJ’s story has had for growing the kingdom of God. My prayer is that God will extract every ounce of good from TJ’s suffering and will use it for His glory.

What about you?  Where in your life are you having trouble trusting the sovereignty of God?  He says in His Word that He loves you and always has your best interest at heart.  Take a step of faith today and trust Him. He will never fail you.

Dr. Brenda Schiltz

On April 22, 2013, my son TJ at the age of 16 went in for heart surgery to repair a newly-diagnosed heart defect.  He woke up from that surgery with an abundance of medical problems. At that time doctors were unable to diagnose him, so my husband and I made the decision to transfer him to a higher level of care hospital.  On May 10, 2013, TJ was flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and admitted to the PICU at St. Mary’s Hospital.

I knew Mayo was one of the world’s best hospitals, and upon arriving at Mayo, I had hope that doctors would quickly figure out what was wrong with my son, fix him, and send him home so we could get back to our lives.  But that is not what happened.

Dr. Brenda Schiltz

One of the first doctors I met was Dr. Brenda Schiltz.  She is a pediatric intensivist at St. Mary’s Hospital. I did not like her.  Every time I saw her coming, I wanted to run. She said things like, “Your son is very sick, and his lungs have taken a beating.”  “We think he may have had a brain stem stroke.” “He may never get off a vent.” Her words felt cold and harsh. Most times after speaking with her, I felt like she had just punched me in the gut.  I wanted to throw up. “Doesn’t she care how much this is hurting me?” I thought. I just wanted her to tell me that my son was going to be okay and he was going to go to college and get married and have children like I had planned.  But she didn’t do that. No matter how hard I tried to get her to tell me that everything was going to be okay, she just wouldn’t say it.

After a couple of months in the PICU and many ups and downs, TJ started to improve. During evening rounds, I walked into TJ’s room and found Dr. Schiltz throwing a ball back and forth with TJ.  She was laughing, and I could tell she was delighted to see his progress. My heart started warming up to her just a little.

One evening I had questions for her that I didn’t want TJ to hear, so she took me into another room.  She spent quite a bit of time explaining to me what had happened to him. By this time I had started accepting TJ’s brain injury, and I was beginning to handle bad news a little better.  I could now talk more openly without getting defensive. I appreciated her spending so much time with me and teaching me about my son’s medical condition.

Over time I could tell that she was genuinely sad about what had happened to TJ.  When she learned he had been a drummer, in an effort to bring him some quality of life, she had her husband come in and play his guitar for him.  My heart warmed up to her a little bit more.

Finally, after 2½ months TJ was getting well enough to be discharged from PICU and transferred to the rehab floor.  The medical staff told me that in order for him to be discharged, I had to change his trach three times, clean the trach, and know how to suction it.  I absolutely did not want to learn. I had never wanted to be a nurse in my life. I had watched TJ have three respiratory failures, and I was terrified of his trach.  I wanted them to fix him and get him back to the way he was. So I half-heartedly tried to learn. And when the nurses noticed my lackluster efforts, Dr. Schiltz then showed up and had a talk with me.  She said, “You need to learn. You have it a lot easier than some of the other parents around here do. They’ve got babies with trachs and the trachs are tiny.” After that I decided I didn’t like her anymore.

Soon after eventually learning all of my tasks, TJ was finally discharged to rehab.  When we were leaving, Dr. Schiltz said, “TJ, I don’t want to see you again until you walk through that door.”  I made a mental note of it and was determined that when he was up and walking again, we would come back to the PICU and show her how much he had improved.

However, we did not stay in rehab long.  TJ became very ill, and we were sent back into the hospital.  After two more months of bouncing around the hospital and many peaks and valleys, we finally made it to rehab and ultimately stayed in rehab.  And then TJ really started to improve. He was now up and walking with a walker, so toward the end of our three-week stint in rehab, TJ and I, along with his physical therapist, trekked down the hall to the PICU.  When TJ walked through the door, we saw Dr. Schiltz standing on the opposite side of the room. Upon seeing him, her jaw dropped to the floor. She came straight to us and exclaimed, “I’m so happy for you!” There was much joy and excitement.  And I began to really like her again.

A couple of days before TJ was discharged from rehab to home, Dr. Schiltz was sitting at a desk outside of TJ’s room.  I was excited to see her sitting there, and I went out to talk to her. I told her, “You used to make me so mad.” “Why?  What did I do?” she asked. I said, “You told me the truth and I didn’t like it!” She laughed. I then told her, “Many times I would ask you a question, and when I didn’t like your answer, I would walk away muttering to myself, ‘She don’t know everything.’”  With that, she jumped up off her chair and hugged me.

And from that day forward, she became my most favorite doctor ever.

The Quick Head Turn

My son TJ was born a typical child.  At the age of 16, he sustained a brain injury that left his body severely disabled but his cognition intact.  He thus became a child with special needs. During the five years that TJ lived with his brain injury, one of the things that became glaringly obvious to me was how much of a lack of education there is in the community in general about how to treat people with special needs.  Many, many times my heart was broken for TJ and for myself because of hurtful comments or actions that were made from the Christian community and the non-Christian community alike. After struggling with anger for a time, I began to realize it was really just a lack of education, and I felt a burning desire to do something about it.

First, let me start by explaining what “typical” means.  “Typical” refers to basically any person who doesn’t have special needs.  Many people in the special needs community are offended by the word “normal,” and rightfully so; therefore, the word “typical” is used in its place.  For me the word “normal” does not bother me when referring to TJ in particular because who he was after his brain injury was not his normal. However, it is very understandable why the parent of a child with Down’s syndrome would be offended by the word “normal” because their child was born with Down’s syndrome which means God created the child that way and that IS the child’s normal.  Labeling a child as “normal” or “not normal” can be very hurtful, so to be safe, it is best to stay away from using those terms.

Now that our vocabulary lesson is done for today, I want to share a story of my mindset of special needs prior to TJ’s injury in 2013.  A few months before his surgery, I was at a craft show with a friend. As I came through the door into the room, I saw a young girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, with special needs in a wheelchair.  After seeing her, I quickly looked the other way and pretended I hadn’t seen her. After meandering through the craft tables for awhile, I came back around to the entrance of the room and saw the little girl again, but this time a woman was standing right beside her.  The woman was caressing the little girl’s face and talking softly to her. As the little girl was leaning into the caress, a look of pure pleasure spread across her face from the love and attention this woman was showing her. I immediately felt ashamed. “Why didn’t you acknowledge her?” I thought.  “Why didn’t you at least just smile at her? Why did you just pretend she wasn’t there? I’m supposed to be a Christian,” I told myself.

Tom playing cards with TJ at respite care at Valley Church

Now fast forward four years.  One Sunday morning we were attending church.  Generally TJ went to his own room where Tom, a very kind man with a servant’s heart, taught him a lesson from the Bible, but on this particular Sunday, Tom was gone, so TJ stayed in church with us.  Toward the beginning of the service at our church, there is a meet-and-greet time. During the meet-and-greet time, while I was shaking hands, I kept my eye on TJ and noticed nobody came to shake his hand or greet him.  I immediately felt very sad for him and ran to be by his side. I then saw a woman a few rows in front of us scanning the room looking for another person she could greet. When her eyes landed on TJ, a look of uncomfortableness flashed across her face, and she quickly turned around.  My heart sank. I was now on the receiving end of the quick head turn, and it didn’t feel good.

Even though the woman’s failure to acknowledge TJ hurt, I understood what she was feeling that morning because I had felt the same way years prior.  I assume that like me before TJ’s injury, she probably had no experience with special needs and didn’t know what to do. She may have had thoughts like, “If I approach him, will he get scared and start screaming?”  “If I greet him and he can’t greet me back, will it make him uncomfortable? Will it make me uncomfortable?” “Maybe he really just wants to be left alone.”

What the person with special needs and their families want everyone else to know is that as much as it is possible, we just want to be treated like everyone else.  If it’s the meet-and-greet time, greet us and shake our hands. If the person with special needs can’t shake hands, give them a gentle touch on the shoulder and tell them you are happy they are there.  If they are nonverbal and can’t respond, that’s okay. Tell them anyway, smile, and then move on like you would with everyone else. You never know how much a person with special needs is capable of understanding by looking at them.  Some are way more capable of understanding than you think they are, and even if they aren’t capable of understanding your greeting, their families are and they notice when their child is being acknowledged and they do feel loved by it.

I am convinced that it was not a coincidence that the event at the craft show happened just a couple of months before my son became a person with special needs.  I believe God had me experience both sides of the quick head turn so that I could help build a bridge between the general community and the special needs community.  It really is just a matter of education.

I’ll never forget what my friend Kim did for TJ the first day he was healthy enough to return to church.  She was so elated when she heard the news that he was there that she made a beeline to him and fell all over him telling him how happy she was that he was there and how much she cared about him.  After having experienced so much rejection, her kindness still brings tears to my eyes. Kim didn’t seem to notice that TJ was drooling all over himself or that there was a gurgling sound coming from his trach or that he couldn’t focus his eyes on her when she talked to him.  What Kim saw was a person who had been through a terrible tragedy and was heartbroken and needed to be loved. That day she made him feel like he was a little bit more of a person and a little bit less of an outcast.

Whenever I see someone at church or in the community with special needs, I remember what Kim did for TJ and how it made us feel.  As best as I can, I try to imitate what she did that morning to other people with special needs so they will also feel a little bit more like a person and a little bit less like an outcast.

Job 6:14a “To him who is afflicted, kindness should be shown by his friend…”

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Thank you for checking out my blog.  Let me tell you a little bit about how this blog came to be.  In April of 2013, my son TJ sustained a severe brain injury at the age of 16, and during the course of his illness, I inadvertently discovered something about myself: I like to write. Through the pages of a Caring Bridge journal that spanned almost five years, writing became an outlet for me, a kind of place where I could pour out my heart about the joys, struggles, and heartaches of living life with a brain injured son; a place where I could be creative; and most importantly, a place where I could point others to the only hope there is in this life, Jesus.

My beloved son passed away February 27, 2018, at the age of 21.  Our five-year journey left me trauma filled with a brokenness that I knew would never be repaired until I get to heaven and God makes me whole again.  How do I go on?  Everyday I am learning. Everyday I am taking small steps toward finding joy in life again and learning to live with this hole in my heart.  

At my son’s death, I also had to say goodbye to my steady and constant friend Caring Bridge.  I had just lost my child whom I had fought so hard to save, and now I was losing my creative lifeline as well…….until my friend Barb suggested in a Caring Bridge comment that I should start a blog.  “A blog?” I thought. “I don’t know anything about blogs. I would like to start a blog, but I don’t know how….. and I’m scared. What if I fail and my heart gets even more broken? I’m not very good with electronics.  In fact, I hate electronics. I’m 47 years old, and I don’t want to learn. Isn’t there a saying about that??? You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  No, I don’t think that’s going to work. I don’t think that’s what God wants for me.”  So I talked myself out of it and went back to folding laundry, mopping floors, and waiting for God to show me what He wanted me to do with the rest of my life.

When we hit the one-year anniversary mark of TJ’s death, I noticed I had begun getting restless.  “What am I going to do with myself? Do I get a job? I really don’t want to get a job. I want to be home in the summers with Aiden, my adopted 9-year-old  grandson.  I need to make some money but what am I going to do?” I finally began to fervently pray to the Lord about giving me direction on what to do with my life.  I brought it up in my Bible study group during prayer requests, and out of the blue my dear friend Beth said, “You should start a blog.”

There was that word again.  Blog.  B-L-O-G. “I think God is telling me He wants me to start a blog,” I thought.  I really wasn’t quite sure what a blog even was. I had been taking care of a sick kid for five years and was completely out of touch with society, so I googled the definition of blog, and it said, “A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.”  

“Well, that’s simple enough,” I thought.  “Maybe I can do this.” So I enlisted the help of my friend Lynne who also has a blog.  She helped me get set up and showed me the ropes, and now I am up and running, at the beginning of another journey.  I can’t wait to see what God does……