A phone ringing in the night wrecks the silence and with it, my peace. Like Pavlov's dog, that ringing sound has trained me. I don't salivate, though; I worry. The jangling noise jolts me and clumsily juggle my phone trying to decipher the names or numbers displayed in the little window while waves of unease wash over me. Is it one of the kids? What's happened? Who's area code is this? I don't want to answer it.
I have a right to worry. I think so, anyway. These days my mobile is the only way bad news is delivered. That horrible electronic chirp woke my wife and I eight years ago with news that would forever alter the course of our lives. I could only hear my my wife's side of the conversation and it was a little confusing at first, but as I put the pieces of what I heard together, I felt the weight of the ceiling come down on my chest. I was the father of a pregnant, eighteen year old, unmarried daughter.
A year and some months later, another late night phone call jarred me out of a sound sleep. My daughter's number appeared in the caller ID. Her chilling words will always haunt me: "Dad, you have to pray! The baby isn't breathing."
My little granddaughter, Allie, less than a year old at the time, was shaken and squeezed by her father and hadn't taken a breath for several minutes. Paramedics administered CPR in the back of the ambulance while she was rushed to the Emergency Room.
That night, Allie didn't regain consciousness. She remained in a coma on a machine that did her breathing for her for the next seven days. After that, she started breathing on her own but remained in a coma for several more days.
I traveled across country immediately to be with Allie in the hospital. My wife Susan joined us ten days later, and Allie began to emerge from her coma that day. She was released from the hospital eight weeks later. She has severe disabilities from brain damage resulting from the shaking and lack of oxygen. She is a quadripelic with cerebral palsy.
My wife and I adopted Allie. But to do it, we had to leave a good job, friends, and family and move to a different state.
As much as we wanted to adopt Allie, I also wished for an easy way to fix this. I wished I could wave a wand and make it all go away.
I can't run away no matter what my instincts tell me to do. There are no short cuts. I have to walk all the way through this situation. I've learned I don't have what it takes.
Am I allowed to feel this way? I used to be able to look at somebody else's tragedy and just say, "Trust Jesus. No trial will come upon you that is too big for you to handle." I look back on that and think I've been walking around with a foot stuck in my mouth.
I'm grateful David had the spiritual insight to write down what he experienced while wrestling with his understanding—or lack of it—of God. We call these themed writings "Psalms of Affliction." What's consistent is a sense of forsakenness and abandonment, isolation and loneliness.
I'm also grateful because through this experience, encouragement and love flowed from my friends through phone calls and emails. These friends were sent by Jesus, Himself, to lift my soul out of darkness.
You can't do this life on your own. The stuff the world shovels your way will bury you if you don't have friends around to help dig out.
Good days and bad
We have good days and not so good days.
Years ago, I worked in Northern California's Redwood forest as a tree faller. It was hard, dangerous work. Bringing monster trees to the ground can be daunting, dangerous, and stress-filled one day and unbelievably—euphorically—satisfying the next. My foreman had a saying: "sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you."
That's just the way it is.
My theology doesn't always answer the questions I ask. Instead, Jesus says, "don't worry about tomorrow... each day has enough trouble . . . " So we do what we can to make it through the day without having our deepest questions answered. That's all you can do.
Susan and I fight, we blame shift, and then when we feel better, we treat each other better. Not exactly textbook marriage therapy, but this isn't an hour on a pshycologist's couch, this is real life.
I wish I could say we handle the stress well. All I can say is that we're committed to seeing this through. If we think about the future or the past or what someone else has done to make this situation this situation, we're overwhelmed. It's too much information to process.
But there's grace for today. Today is all we're expected to handle; just today. I might have goals and expectations and hopes for the future, but I honestly think, according to a loose interpretation of Jesus words, we're only accountable for the moment. When you think about it, that's all we have control over anyway; this moment. The past has slipped away and the future isn't ours to control. It's scary.
But there's freedom in living this way.
God has been faithful to provide everything I need to daily live in grace and obedience. But I seem to only get enough for the day. I find when I want more, I'm neither graceful nor obedient.
There's no such thing as easy, but that doesn't mean this story can't be written with a happy ending.
This post is adapted from a combination of an article written for the Good News of South Florida in 2008 and a previous blog post.