TJ spent the summer of 2012 in Dallas, Texas with his oldest sister Ashley working at Trophy Club Country Club, which his brother-in-law Matt managed, as a cart attendant on the golf course. We were excited that he had the opportunity to spend time with Ashley and her family, which included an adorable, little 2-year-old nephew named Dylan. TJ and Dylan became very close during TJ’s time in Dallas. They bowled, went to Rangers baseball games, and ate at fun restaurants, but their favorite activity together was swimming. Like any 2-year-old, Dylan loved to jump in the pool and have Uncle TJ catch him over and over again, and by the end of the summer, Dylan grew brave enough to jump in, be caught, and then promptly sink to the bottom of the pool with Uncle TJ only to shoot back up again. Dylan loved his uncle TJ and Uncle TJ loved Dylan.
While TJ was in Texas, Travis and I planned to surprise him with a newly remodeled bedroom in the basement upon his return. He had never really had a nice bedroom before, so we were very excited about the opportunity to surprise him. Travis had worked in construction most of his life and could do almost anything, so he spent the entire summer working on it himself to save money.
The room was a large room and was big enough to fit a dresser, full-sized bed, large TV and entertainment center for storing TJ’s Xbox equipment, and his drum set. Travis installed beautiful, dark laminate floors which would make cleanup of TJ’s food and drink messes easy since TJ was a slob. In one corner of the room was a very large closet with a hanging bar and rows of shelves for storing his paintball equipment, and in the other corner on the same wall was a small bathroom with a sink, toilet, and a corner shower. Even though it was small, it was his, and he had everything he needed. I decorated the room with a poster of a Navy Seals Sniper on the wall, a black manly comforter on the bed and black area rug under the drum set, and brown accessories in the bathroom. And the temperature in the basement was just the way he liked it, very cold. It was the perfect space for a teenage boy.
When TJ arrived home, I could barely hold my excitement in. All three of us sauntered down the stairs to the bedroom together to reveal the surprise. When he walked through the bedroom door, his eyes lit up. Of course, being the teenage boy that he was, he didn’t show as much emotion as I hoped for, but I still think he was pleased. We told him we planned on getting him a mini fridge that he could keep water and Gatorade in for him and his friends, and like any guy would be, he was more excited about the mini fridge than the comforter, pictures, and shower curtain color.
Fall and winter came and went and still no mini fridge. When TJ asked about it again, we told him we were sorry, and we reassured him we would definitely get him one soon. In the spring of 2013, TJ was diagnosed with a heart defect requiring surgery, and the mini fridge was then the last thing on anyone’s mind. After a bad surgical outcome which resulted in 2-½ weeks in the hospital in Des Moines with two respiratory failures, a Life Flight trip to Mayo Clinic that resulted in a 7-month hospitalization with another respiratory failure that very easily could have ended in death, and four more surgeries, the mini fridge never crossed our minds again…until one day when TJ was in the general pediatric floor in the Francis Building at St. Mary’s Hospital.
I was sitting in the room with TJ like I did every day when he signaled that he wanted to ask me something. I grabbed a pen and paper, and I held his hand while he finger spelled, “C – a – n – I – s – t – i – l – l – g – e – t – a – m-i-n-i – f-r-i-d-g-e?” All the air left my body. I didn’t know what to say, and my mind raced to come up with an answer. I didn’t want to remind him of all of his deficits and squelch any shred of hope he — or I –had, so I answered, “Sure, of course, you can still get a mini fridge.” But then after answering, I immediately felt terrible that maybe I had just given him false hope. But what else was I supposed to do?
Later in the day, the pediatric psychiatrist and a resident came by like they often did a couple times a week. Their role was to talk with the patients and offer counseling, but since TJ couldn’t talk, they generally ended up just visiting with me. We were standing in the hallway just outside TJ’s door when the doctor asked how TJ was doing. I responded, “Well, he asked for a mini fridge for his bedroom at home this morning.” And then I added, “But I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to put in it because he can’t swallow anything.” And at that moment the ridiculousness of what our lives had become hit me, and I began to laugh uncontrollably. My son who was still cognitively all there but couldn’t swallow, open his mouth, hold his head up, sit up, had minimal control of his arms and was in a wheelchair wanted a mini fridge for his bedroom. A tangled mess of emotions had been swirling inside me for months. I was heartbroken he was injured, thankful he was alive, terrified of the future, hopeful for recovery, grief stricken beyond belief all rolled into one, and that tangled up mess was like an overfilled balloon begging for an outlet.
And as I stood there laughing, the psychiatrist and the resident stared at me with straight faces and never cracked a smile once. I imagined they were either thinking that I was behaving very inappropriately for laughing at my son’s condition or that I was having a nervous breakdown and needed to be thrown in the nearest padded room immediately. Either way, their refusal to join with me in my laughter made me laugh even more. In my exasperation about TJ’s condition, I had come to the place where I knew I could do nothing else but laugh about it.
What about you? Does life ever get to be too much for you and you just feel like throwing in the towel or catching the nearest bus bound for sun and fun? While jumping on a bus may sound like a good idea sometimes, it may end up causing you greater problems in the long run. Try laughing instead. God designed each one of us with an awesome ability to laugh. The old saying “laughter is the best medicine” has been proven to be true, and studies have shown laughter has powerful health benefits. It bonds us with others, lessens pain, decreases stress, and helps us cope with sadness.
Proverbs 17:22 of the New Living Translation says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Scripture teaches that a cheerful heart is more than just great for the personality, it is good medicine for the body as well. But scripture also says that the person who lives with a broken spirit will feel the effects of it right down to their bones as their defeated attitude saps them of all their strength.
Laughter helps us to surrender control and place the outcome of our situation in the hands of a mighty God who truly loves us and knows what’s best for our lives. So the next time life becomes overwhelming and you’ve had just about all you can take, remember to laugh and place your trust in the Lord, and instantly He will give you a new perspective.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”