It was the perfect temperature. Sunshine, cool autumn breeze. Leaves crunching under my beat-up tennis shoes, I started off walking briskly away from the house, waving to the tow-headed wonders I left reveling in the wonders of our backyard. I turned on my mP3 player. I’d had to dig it out of a junk dresser drawer and make sure it still had batteries. It’s suffered a long nine months of neglect.
As soon as the first song began to play, my plan to walk changed immediately. After a few quick stretches, my stride began to lengthen and my arms began to pump. I couldn’t resist the urge to run. It may as well have been flying. I felt as if I was soaring down the bumpy, bruised sidewalk; gliding through the neighborhood. Freedom… Not that I was trying to escape anyone or anything, but the knowledge that my body was no longer responsible for the tenancy of another person was so liberating.
A block later, though, those late night bowls of ice cream and extra cookies started to make their presence known. My legs were already making complaints and my lungs were not excited about working so hard. But, I pressed on. The music kept me going and I forced my mind to think about something else. Before long, I was somewhere else altogether.
I was standing next to my son’s NICU bed, tears silently streaming down my face, trying not to be angry. Angry that I had not yet seen his face. Angry that I couldn’t hold him. Angry that I was too weak to stand for very long next to him. Angry that I had no child to hold or snuggle or caress. Angry. And then, the music of God’s promises began and my walk of despair turned into running a race of faith.
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14
My hands found my sons and I began to pray in those early morning hours, praising God for the way He had fashioned him. Fearfully. Wonderfully.
My memories were interrupted by a friend’s horn honking as she drove past. I turned and headed out a little further from home. I was feeling good and wanted to go a bit farther. In between songs, I could hear the my rhythmic breathing matching the sound of my feet hitting pavement. Thump, thump. Swish, swish.
The sounds my son first heard were not quiet reassurances of his mama, but dinging bells and alarms and the constant rhythmns of life in the NICU. Those same sounds were present the day we had to go home. Without him. I told my husband we had to leave the same way you take off a band aid. Quickly and without lot of thought. As we laid our hands on him to pray once more, my heart was beating too loud and too fast for me to hear anything my husband was saying. My slipper covered, swollen feet made strange shuffling noises as we walked away from his little bed. It was a quick departure, but I was overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions. In my head, I could reason that we needed to go home. I needed to rest and heal. I needed to let my husband take care of me. But my heart kept screaming, “Please, God, no! I can’t leave him here alone! Not my little one. Not my son!” I managed to maintain some composure until we reached the safety of the car and then I broke down. My husband held my hand and kept saying, “It’s okay to cry. Just go ahead and cry.”
Halfway home, the music began again.
“…I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b
“I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4b
I began to silently thank God for His fellowship in our struggle. Grateful that my God understands the deep pain of separation from a child.
I looked up in time to notice I was passing by the house of dear friends. I thought of their own upcoming joy and paused to pray for each of them, asking God to make us a blessing to them as they have been to us.
Loneliness is written on the faces of many parents moving like zombies through the NICU ward. Fear lives close to the surface, covered by a layer of courage. It’s exhausting to sit and watch your child fight. Fight for life. For breath. For warmth. Fight. And the parents fight, too. Fight fear. Fight exhaustion. Fight despair. Fight depression. Fight. Each time I felt as if I had no fight left, that I was about to tumble over the edge, the Lord would send another believer to grab me by the shirt tails and pull me back to safety. Sometimes it was a phone call or e-mail Other times it was a visit to our son’s bedside. Those believers fought, too. They lifted us in prayer. They filled our fridge and our gas tanks. They held our hands and our hearts. They fought for us when we were too tired to fight. And each time they did, the music would crescendo.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
I was close to home now, my legs and lungs screaming for me to stop, but I had to finish. I knew I had enough will power to make it just a few more blocks.
The last few days at the hospital with Samuel were excruciating. We had been separated from our children for nearly a month. A long month of no peanut butter breath kisses, no sticky fingers intertwined in mine, no sweaty heads to kiss in the middle of the night, no little bodies snuggled up with me on the couch. I was a mom in suspension. My heart ached to hold my babies—all of them together for as long as they would let me. The hours of each day ticked slowly by, one after the other. Each day I would wait expectantly for the doctors to tell me he was strong enough to come home and then cry half the hour-long car ride home. It was agony. I could console myself that my boy was alive and thriving and would indeed be coming home, but it was torture waiting for that day to come. God carried me through those days. And the music soared the day we finally took him home.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
As I slowed to a walk in front of my house, I could see Charlie and all the children romping in the back yard. What a beautiful sight! A wonderful man of God, four healthy, beautiful children. Tears welled and spilled onto my sweaty cheeks as I’m certain the Holy Spirit interceded for my inward groans of joy. Words can’t capture the fullness my heart felt. The sweet melody of His Word can:
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness.
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.