This post is dedicated to our son, George, whom I hope will be able to read it one day, and on that day be able to testify to the gift of God's grace working in his life in times of joy as well in times of suffering.
Thank you, all of you, who lifted George, our family, and the surgeon who operated on George up in your prayers last week. We will forever be grateful.
Like most moms in this world, I can tell you what my boys love to eat. I know their favorite snacks, favorite meals, favorite desserts. And I absorb every ounce of glee that bursts forth from their inner being every time they discover that today is the day I've made what they like best.
Tops on George's snack list is pumpkin bread. He asks at least once a week for me to make it for him. He's even volunteered to take the burden of baking off of my shoulders, if only I would show him how to mix up the magic.
I'm gonna do just that, George. Tomorrow, I'm gonna teach you how to bake that bread. Because tomorrow the stints and stitches come out of your nose, and maybe, just maybe, for the first time in years you will actually be able to taste your food.
Such a little thing we take for granted, tasting our food. And also the breathing in of those deep, deep breaths, the ones that fill our lungs with the scent of the foods we can hardly wait to savor.
George has no idea how good pumpkin bread smells as it's baking in the oven. And even though he thinks he loves the famous flavor of fall, I'm pretty sure he's never really tasted just how delicious it truly is.
It was during George's big life as a three year old that we realized he was going to be an allergy sufferer. Within that same year he had his first asthma attack, too. I hated that he struggled so much to breathe, but felt that since Steve had dealt with asthma and allergies for most of his life that we would be able to manage George's care.
After three years of trying every medication, natural remedy, chiropractic care and dietary restriction, we finally decided to take him to see a specialist at National Jewish Hospital in Denver. To make a very long story short, it was made known to us that George had complete blockage (structural as well as tissue swelling) in both sinuses, and without surgery, his condition would not improve.
The doctors recommended that we postpone operating for as long as possible, because any work on the septum prior to the teen years meant an increased risk for interrupted development of the facial bones, which could lead to potentially serious cosmetic issues.
As time passed, however, George's condition worsened. His inability to breathe was affecting his sleep, his mood, his attentiveness in school, his attitude, and his energy levels all around, especially when it came to playing the limited, yet very necessary, sports his cardiologist gave the okay for him to play (oh, the heart condition, that's another story for another time).
After several consultations with George's ENT doc, countless prayers, and hours discussing what we should do, Steve and I decided it was time to proceed with surgery.
So many of you have been in my shoes, caring for children who were not born with perfectly healthy bodies. You've made countless trips to specialists, spent hours researching the latest treatments, dove head-long into natural remedies, diet changes and any therapy that might help your child even just a little bit.
I'm right there with you.
And, I acknowledge that some of you have very seriously ill children, and that my experience with George is but a glimpse into a much greater sacrifice of love and suffering that you endure.
I know this because I saw you there at the hospital where George's surgery took place. You were the ones holding fragile babies, wheeling weak post-chemo children outside to feel the sun on their skin, pacing in the hallway with another cup of coffee waiting for any bit news on your little one.
I suppose, then, what we have in common, is our love. What we wouldn't do to trade places with our children, to take up their suffering and place it upon ourselves. We share the ache that only mothers know, that you came from my womb, you are flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and I would do anything for you feeling that puts us on our knees begging for grace day after day after day.
Despite how raw my heart felt knowing what George was about to go through, I couldn't help but feel comforted by his courage and joy throughout the entire journey. Children are so much stronger than we give them credit for. They are hopeful, optimistic and trusting in a way that is so beautifully humble.
It is our duty to teach our children well, but truth be told, there is an equal amount for us to learn from them.
I'm a little bit of a holy water fanatic. Some people have lucky underwear, lucky socks. I've got Holy Water. Go ahead, call me crazy. I can see the eye rolls now. I can't help it. I love my sacramentals. On the way to Denver I realized I left my Holy Water on my bedside table. In the midst of my lament, George announces, "Don't worry, Mom! I've got ya covered!" He hands me a bottle from his back back, and I love him even more.
I had been asking and asking for friends and family to pray specifically for George's surgeon, because I knew that the operation was going to be complicated, and wanted our son to be in the best hands possible.
Without a doubt, those prayers were answered.
Just before heading into the operating room, the surgeon came in to see if we had any last-minute questions. It was then that he told us that he had stayed up the night before thinking about how to approach the operation, and that he had changed his mind with regards to the incision.
It was revealed to us after the five hour surgery that if the doctor had not changed his approach to the operation, he would never have discovered that George's septum was not only severely deviated but crushed (read: three year old meets baseball bat), and without electing to perform the incision as he did, the surgery would have been a complete failure.
Fuzzy pic of the patient with papa just before surgery. The look on George's face broke my heart. He was saying to me, "Don't worry, Mama! Everything's going to be okay!"
This image of Steve praying over George will forever be pressed into my heart's memories.
Nothing prepares you for what it's like to wait, and wait, and wait for it all to be over, to hear the doctor say it is finished, and everything is going to be okay. And yet, as agonizing as our five hours were, there was a family there whose son was in the OR for twelve hours.
Nothing really prepares you for the recovery period, the time when the pain and anxiety sets in, for the look in your child's tear-filled eyes that is begging you to do something, anything, to make it better.
But you can't. You can't make it better.
Everything about the George's surgery experience reminded me that no matter how hard I try to manage this life of mine, and the lives of six other beautiful children, I am not in control. And, in those moments when I feel helpless, it's literally a second-to-second surrendering of everything to the One who is in control.
Every place we ate, including Smash Burger heaven, we had to send a pic to the brothers back home, you know, just so they could feel extra sorry for us (wink-wink). While Steve and George had a muscle flexing contest at the table, George felt it was necessary to point out how scrawny my arms are, but tried to console me with the fact that I have *huge* legs. I think we are going to have to work on the compliments when it comes to the dating years.
The day after surgery, while we were waiting to check out, a pet therapist came by to see if you wanted a visitor. I knew you would say yes, since you love animals and nature so much.
Even though you could barely eat anything, you requested Panera Bread for lunch. We surprised you with a stack of letters, filled with love and good wishes, sent to you from friends and family. It was the first time I saw you smile that day.
At the hospital, you never once complained. You thanked the nurses and the doctors every time they came in the room and even offered a smile, even though it was painful to speak. Your gentle, patient spirit has continued here at home as you ask for so very little even though I know you are fighting through a tremendous amount of discomfort.
We have talked a lot, you and I, about how pain and suffering can make us bitter, or it can make us better. (The wise words of Father Brett Brannen.) I believe that you, George, will be better because of all of this - better able to understand and comfort those who suffer, who struggle, who need and deserve comfort and compassion.
I've poured over these verses countless times....
...for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)
...we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3)
...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross....consider Him who has endured so much, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-4)
From the first time I read them, I believed these words.
But God decided to put flesh on the words - for me - through the sufferings of my son.
And now they are real. I don't just believe the words, but I trust them, because I have seen them and known them to be true.
Though we may be weary, will not lose heart, we will persevere, and in between the moments of hope and perseverance we will eat bread. Pumpkin bread.
And it's going to be good. So, very good. I promise.