Finding Gratefulness in the Midst of Suffering

I spent most of  last night in the ER with my oldest son, while medical professionals attempted to troubleshoot what was causing his 106.5F fever. He had spent most of the day sleeping, waking occasionally to down some Gatorade and painkillers and complaining of a headache that was worse than any he’s ever had. My thermometer was broken so the prompting I had to take him to STAT Care on a beautiful Saturday evening when most people were outside grilling their dinners was definitely the voice of God.

At STAT Care he shivered in a blanket, head on my lap, while we waited for an hour to be called back to a room. When the nurse took his temp, she went into a very professional panic mode and he was led immediately to see a doctor. After a negative strep test and high doses of painkillers to bring down the fever, we were sent to the ER for an IV and more testing.

On the way there, we passed a homeless couple, begging by the side of the road, same spot they had been when I passed by earlier in the day. The brief exchange we had under the quiet dark summer sky, waiting for the light to change colors, stayed with me long after we checked in to the ER. As the hours passed, they ran many more tests; an IV,  CT Scan and X-ray. The plastic chair became too hard to sit on and I paced the tiny cinder block room, with noises and beeps all around, sirens letting me know that more and more folks were being brought in until all the beds would be full with many people still left waiting. We finally received the news that I was most hoping for – he did not have bacterial meningitis. They said that it could be viral meningitis or just a really nasty virus, but either way the treatment was going to be the same, so we could go home.

Gratefulness got me through the night.

We live in a land of incredible blessing. Our hospitals are not being bombed. Kids in this country don’t have to die for lack of medical care. Tylenol and Ibuprofen could have saved my son’s life, they certainly brought his fever down nearly 7 degrees in less than an hour.

Support. I lost track of how many friends who were reaching out in the middle of the night to let me know they were praying or taking care of my youngest son.

Technology. It allowed the doctors to diagnose relatively quickly and kept me connected to my husband on the other side of the world.

Humor. My son had me laughing out loud as we waited through his pain. He joked that he was turning into a super-hero, the Human Torch. He was sure that the fever had burned up all of his calories and he was starving, searching in vain for a food option on the call button but finding only water and toilet.

Kindness. When we finally got to the ER, another mom let me turn in my paperwork ahead of her when she saw my desperation. She also happened to be a Muslim, a distinct minority in this Midwest city I live in, and she was extremely generous.

Authenticity. I saw it in the eyes of the man by the side of the road. A mixture of suffering, strength, gratefulness, humility and dignity. A window into the human soul of all of us.

Peace. I’m a worrier. Anxiety is very familiar to me. Usually it’s for things I find later I didn’t need to worry about.  But in moments like last night, when I really have reason to worry, I have discovered a peace that comes from God alone. There’s no other way to explain it.

Home. It never looked so good. The reality of life’s unfairness is not lost on me. Around the world, many other parents have no hospital to take their feverish child to, and no home to come back to after a long night.

I hold these blessings in my hands, mindfully giving thanks.

 

 

 

“Loadshedding” and Lent

CandlelightLent is a bit foreign to me. It’s not something practiced in my home as a child. In fact, I was an adult before I really heard about it. The usual things I hear that people give up for Lent – coffee, chocolate, sweets, meat, Facebook, etc. don’t really jive for me. I’m glad if it works for them, but for me it has felt like a drudgery, reminiscent of periods of my life that brought more harm than good to my soul. I’ve tried, for a couple years now, to add something to my life during lent, instead of taking something away. This year caught me off guard and I realized that Lent had already started without my giving it a second thought. I don’t want to do something just to “do something”. It must have meaning or it won’t last more than a couple of days.

So the other day, during my morning coffee, I remembered a phase of our life in Bangladesh, when the power would go off every evening for about an hour.  At first it was source of great frustration, then we began to expect it and almost look forward to it. We would be forced to stop what we were doing, gather around in the dark and talk together as a family. No electronics. No work to distract. Just sit in the dark. Together. We would talk about what we missed from home and what we loved about our new host country. We would remember, laugh, share sadness and embrace hope.

I got to thinking about “load-shedding”, the term given to those periods of power outage. There was not enough electrical power for everyone, so section of the city would take turns doing without, so someone else could have power and the whole system would not become overtaxed. Why not practice load-shedding for lent? It might be a little quirky but I must say it is meaningful to me. Maybe it will last more than a couple of days. After all, if we give up anything at all, wouldn’t it be so much more meaningful if it actually helped someone else?

After dinner and dishes, we turn off the lights, set our electronic devices aside and light a few candles. The furnace is turned low so it won’t run and we sit in our quiet house and share stories. We remember the past. We go on rabbit trails in the present. We laugh. We tell more stories.

Then we shift our focus, because this whole “load-shedding” idea is not just about us having warm and happy memories. We talk about others who are carrying a load and need help to carry that load. Sitting in the quiet glow of a few candles, we pray for them. We carry their loads in our hearts. We love. We share. Stories from China, Korea, Bangladesh and Egypt surface. We remember that the world is big. We remember that God is good. We remember that human greed has corrupted the abundance that was meant to be. We remind ourselves that the story is not yet over, that there is still abundance to be had. And we set our hearts to live lives of generous hope.

-Marita Miller