All hospital hallways look the same. Long. Sterile. Bleak. All hospital examination rooms look the same. No outside windows. Institution furniture. A bed/examination table with paper on it that can never be mistaken for other than what it is.
Recently the news I have heard delivered in examination rooms at the end of bleak hospital hallways has all been the same. Bad.
Unless it was worse.
The dreaded test result was indeed worthy of dread. The options were all bad. The predicted outcomes didn’t have anything positive in them. The results were always the worst of the bad options. Then the final awful stretch. Chaos. Hard decisions that had to be made fast. Terror. Pain.
Funeral home. Papers to sign. How does one choose a grave plot? Arrangements to open a grave. Arrangements to close a grave. Choices. What, exactly, are the right words to put on the grave stone of twins who never saw the sun?
Six Hard Months
The last week has been the worst week of my life. It was the final act of a six month trial that started with surprise, changed briefly to unexpected joy, plunged into tragedy, changed into constant worry, and finally slid into the final unhappy ending. A delivery with no living children. A recovery room with no babies to care for.
I am paused here, in this hospital room at the end of the hallway, reflecting on those last six months.
Unexpectedly my primary thought is that suffering is too much feared and not enough appreciated.
Fearing the Worst
I spent a lot of time fearing tragedy and pain. Many a joyful moment in my life has been diminished because in the back of my mind there was this evil little thought: “Things are going too well; you’ll have to pay for this in some way. Something terrible will be around the corner.”
The truth is that we will always turn the corner. In a fallen world all of us will experience tragedy, pain, loss, and heartache. Life includes suffering.
What I have recently learned is that suffering can improve life.
Redeeming the Pain
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not hungering for sorrow. I would have chosen a different path these last six months if given the choice. But I was fed sorrow and there was no choice.
I have learned that there are some things that can only be learned through suffering. I have learned that there are some things that can only be revealed through suffering. I have learned that joy can be more fully appreciated because of suffering.
A Crying Two Year Old
Two nights ago my two year old was wailing an hour and a half after bedtime. My nerves were already stretched thin after a terrible day and I was exhausted and desperate to go to sleep myself. Upon my arrival in her room I discovered that she was in her sister’s bed, yelling about something that didn’t make sense, and definitely not tucked in like she was supposed to be.
Six months ago my frustration would have had me blistering her ears, issuing awful threats about what would happen if I had to return, and none too gently returning her to her own bed.
Instead I thought about how blessed I was to have a two year old, even if she did make a lot of noise after bedtime. When I picked her up and gently asked her what was wrong she babbled something about needing a light to make notes. I had no idea what she was talking about, but tucked her in and told her that lights, or no lights, it was time to go to sleep, or at least be quiet. She quieted down and I didn’t hear her again that night.
The next day was the delivery day at the hospital. My wife and I found notes of encouragement and scripture verses from all of our children, including the two year old. With a start I realized that this was what all the talk about lights and notes had been about the night before. An hour and a half after bedtime our children, even the smallest one, were still up secretly writing notes of love and encouragement to help us through a terrible day.
Suffering had taught me in six months patience and perspective to deal with a crying two year old at night in a way that I hadn’t learned after fifteen years and six children. Suffering had revealed caring, love, and thoughtfulness hidden in our children’s hearts that I may never have recognized in happy times. Suffering had bent my heart so that my first reaction to a wailing child was appreciation of the blessing of having a child to wail, rather than frustration and anger at the wailing.
How Long Will it Last?
Sadly, I doubt the lessons I have learned will be permanent. Some will be. I know this period of our lives has altered my heart, my mind, my attitude, and my spirit in ways that will remain. Unfortunately, I also know that it is likely that a few short months of happiness will result in my temper being shortened, my realization of my children’s love becoming dimmer, and my appreciation of the blessings I have been given fading.
Is it good then that this truth remains? I will suffer again. When I do I will learn more. I will see what is revealed to me. I will appreciate again what I should treasure. As all of that happens I will be aware, through joy and pain, that I am alive and living.
A Lasting Lesson
If there is something I can seize from this that would be permanent, it would be to always remember one moment where all of these lessons and revelations and appreciation came together.
Five days ago. The final diagnosis had been made. There was only a mother’s beating heart where once there had been three. The doctor delivered the news. The nurse handled the paperwork for scheduling the delivery. We would have a few days at home to wait and prepare. We returned home, shared the news with the children, and all of us grieved together.
A few hours later we sat down to a meal together. I looked at a table with food on it. Under a roof that was shedding the rain as it came down. Looking back at me from the table were the faces of six priceless blessings. At the other end, returning my gaze was my companion, best friend, wife, mother of eight, smiling through her tears.
As I bowed my head to return thanks to Him we praise in all circumstances, this thought burned brightest in my mind: The first question should not be, “Why did a bad thing happen to me?” The first question should be, “Why have so many GOOD things happened to me?”
May I not forget that. May it be that in that in reading this you may learn it in an easier way than me.
May that be part of the legacy of the lives of Alaina Katherine and Blessing Lee.