Helpless

We’ve been sick.  First, it was TL, then MM, then me.  Both kids had croup.  MM threw in some conjunctivitis to the mix, and TL brought it up a notch with some sinusitis.  I’m not sure what I have, but it has rendered me useless (other than holding my kids and letting them rub their snot on my shirt).

Three down.

Smartypants remains impenetrable.  I’ve fallen deeper in love with him over this miserable past week.  There is no greater demonstration of manhood than a willing heart to do whatever it takes to keep the house running without complaint.  What a guy.  Especially when he stocks the freezer with three different flavors of ice cream to try to make me feel better.

None of us are 100% yet, but we’re finally getting a decent night of sleep.  The biggest relief is that TL is breathing normally again.  She had an awful case of croup that kept me up at night wondering if we needed to bring her to the ER.  On one hand, my medical training helps us avoid unnecessary trips to the ER.  There is some reassurance in being able to diagnose and understand an illness.  On the other hand, my knowledge of all those worst-case scenarios makes me doubt my own judgement in the middle of the night.  Of course it is always in the middle of the night when children seem to feel their worst. 

Can it really wait until morning?  Am I being too cavalier?  What if I’m missing something? Are my emotions making me overreact?  Frozen with indecisiveness, nothing feels clear.  Intellect and fear duel all night long and I am a mess by morning.  This is why doctors should not treat their own children… the brain and heart just don’t work well together.

Ultimately, when it comes to caring for your child during an illness, there isn’t much difference between parents with or parents without a medical background.  Irregardless, you worry.  You let yourself do stupid things like snuggle close to your sick child, which then gets you sick as well.  You do all you can to make things better, whether it’s evidence-based or not.  You wait and hope with all your heart that things get better as quickly as possible.

I hate feeling helpless, even in the little things.  In times of illness though, whether it’s mine or my children, the reality of my vulnerability is inescapable.  The illusion of control and strength dissolves around me and I realize how very finite I am.  I remember watching TL breathing hard in the middle of the night with the classic stridor of croup, listening to her lungs every half hour with my stethoscope and feeling the rapid heartbeat of her small chest.  I remember sitting next to MM as he writhed in misery from his fever and cried himself to sleep.  I couldn’t console him because he was so agitated that my touch just aggravated him more.  All I could do was wait for the ibuprofen to kick in.

This feeling of helplessness brings about a humility that is often lost when all is going according to my plans.  In that helplessness, I am reminded to pray.

I pray because I believe that I am finite, but God is not.  Because I trust in my relationship with God made possible by the Cross.  Because I believe there is a lot to life that I don’t fully comprehend.  But let’s be honest… Above all, I pray because that’s all I know how to do in the midst of heartache and suffering, when my pride and self-reliance has been exhausted by my various efforts to figure it out on my own.  My heart was made to pray, but it doesn’t know how without the recognition of weakness and desperate need.

Last night, MM asked me to read a story from his Bible.  After flipping through the pages as he said no to this or that, we finally settled on a page that summarized the story of Samson from the book of Judges.  When it comes to talking about the Bible with my children, I feel completely inept.  However, the story of Samson was just what both MM and I needed to hear that night as we struggled with our own weakness.

Here was a man who, all his life, received remarkable strength and power through his hair and the commitment to God it represented.    “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”  Judges 16:17    Once this strength was discovered, the Philistines were able to capture him with Delilah’s help in shaving off his hair.  Samson is captured in his weakness.  But he prays to God for strength one more time, even though he did not have the hair that was previously the source of his strength.  God does answer his prayer and makes him strong again, and Samson brings down an entire temple filled with the Philistines who ridiculed him and God.

It may seem downright comical and ludicrous that a head of hair, of all things, would ever be considered a source of power.   The thing is, everybody turns to “something” for strength and a sense of control.  Maybe it’s money and financial security.  Or all the latest health fads that promise to prevent cancer and ensure long life.  Often it’s success, be it in career, family, beauty, fame, or all of the above.  For me, it can be the simple belief that I can figure it all out on my own and make it happen, whatever “it” is.

God does give  us remarkable strength through some concrete blessings in life.  Our talents and abilities.  Our home and comforts.  Our family and loved ones.  Our health.  There is much to be thankful for.  But just as with Samson, these  are not secure.  They are finite just as we are.  In the face of illness and death, we see this most clearly.   Only in weakness do we ever contemplate just how much we could lose.  Only in humility do we ever really care to seek a true source of strength that cannot be lost, stolen, or destroyed.

As MM and I cuddled in his bed, we talked about the things that make us feel strong and powerful.  We talked about how weak we felt, just as Samson did when he lost something that he relied on for strength.  Though we talked in simple terms, I realized how much I am still learning right along with my kids.  I am surrounded by good things, even the luxury of diagnosing my own children’s illnesses and knowing how to advocate for what they need.  But I pray that my children and I would learn to see these things for what they are:  finite gifts that are meant to point to the Giver who is the real fountain of infinite strength, life, and hope.  Whether in weakness or strength, I pray that we as a family would trust and believe in all that God alone provides no matter the circumstances.

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