Stress is like a great weight. A confusion, leaving your brain feeling like it is not quite fully functional. "I don't even remember what I did yesterday." Is what my husband said. "Like I need to start writing down who I see and what I do." Stress affects the mind. I, on the other hand, feel like what I imagine 70 to be like. I wake up and my entire body feels horribly heavy. My joints ache, my muscles seem fatigued. Apparently, my husband is losing his mind and I'm losing my ability to move. Grief will cause the stress that will do this to a person, sure. But it seemed like more than that.
A couple of nights ago, we were driving. Suddenly, my husband said, "It's really no wonder we're seeing the physical effects." He went on to remind me of the things that have happened to our family in the past twelve months.
Last winter, I alluded (here and here and definitely here) to that fact that our family was going through some stuff. I wanted, so badly, to write about it because I thought that, somehow, the pain would release through my finger tips. I didn't, because it is not my story to tell. But the weight of the ongoing stress, and how it has changed my own family, is my story. Last year, we found out that some people we dearly love and whom we are very close to were the victims of ongoing, horrible abuse. I wouldn't have ever even written that last sentence if, recently, one of them hadn't broken the silence by putting it on social media. (For which I believe that person should be HIGHLY COMMENDED. Seriously. Person, if you ever read this, I want to put you on my shoulders and carry you around and celebrate every incredible thing that makes you who you are. I LOVE YOU.) While absolutely nothing changed regarding my own little immediate family we have experienced a deep loss, betrayal, confusion, anger, grief, and an overwhelming desire to do whatever we can to help.
Our youngest son knows nothing. Our oldest son knows just a very small amount. He was way too perceptive and way too concerned to not give him something. The information we did share with him manifested in ways that involved consultation with a child psychologist and a lot of sensitive love and care and time. My then seven-year-old didn't want to leave my side. He sobbed when it was time for school. He clung to me. Once, he nearly got hit by a car when he sprinted into traffic to try to get back in the van. It was an emotional time for us. It didn't last for very long--praise God--and he is so much better now, but I still see the effects on him, under the surface, behind the eyes. His pain, and ours, is only a small fraction of the pain experienced by the victims and, for a year, we have felt such a devastation, and such a rage, over the entire situation.
This is probably the most stressful, deeply disturbing situation we have ever dealt with. I will not give more details, because, as I said, this is not my story, but living life and being involved in ministry have been particularly challenging because of it.
Just a couple months later, I took Garrett to the doctor for persistent neck pain. An x-ray revealed that he'd suffered a skull fracture several months earlier. You can read about that experience here and here. We also didn't know if he had damaged a ligament in his neck. While he ended up being completely fine, we had no idea, for several weeks, if he would need major surgery. We knew that, before discovering the fracture/possible ligament damage, we'd taken him to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm and allowed him to ride all manner of roller coasters. We knew he'd wrestled an entire season. Any of these could have caused permanent paralysis had there truly been something wrong with his neck.
For a couple of weeks, we were terrified that our very energetic, athletic, elementary aged son might have his life forever altered by the repercussions of these possible injuries. It was incredibly stressful. In the end, he was given a clean bill of health (and a confirmed fracture of his skull).
Four months later, I chose not to blog about being all but told that I had breast cancer. One day, just before climbing into the shower, I found a visible lump. It had just, suddenly, appeared. But, weeks before, one of my very best friends had been diagnosed, at age 31, with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and I was being an incredible hypochondriac. After all, it's not every day (thankfully) that women in their early thirties are given cancer diagnoses. So, I'd been stressing out over every itty bitty abnormality on my body for a good three weeks. I stared at this bump in this mirror. I felt it's borders. I tried to move it but it seemed stationary. I called my husband into the bathroom. "I know I'm being a hypochondriac, but you can see this, right?" He nodded. "And you can feel this, right?'
"You should call the doctor tomorrow," he said.
And I did. I went in that day to see a physician's assistant. To make an incredibly long story short, she reprimanded me for taking so long to find it. She told me that they would only order an ultrasound with a mammogram if they suspected it was cancerous. She left the room. Then she came back in and informed me that she'd ordered an ultrasound and a mammogram. Then, while the nurse was scheduling said procedures, the P.A. got on the phone and explained that it was immobile and irregular and she suspected it was attached to the chest wall. IN FRONT OF ME. Naturally, I went home and googled all these things and all of them yelled, "CANCER!" The excellent part was the fact that I couldn't get in for the mammogram and ultrasound for two weeks. So, for days that felt like a lifetime, I waited to find out if my entire life was going to change.
Finally, the day arrived and my husband and I went to the breast care center. I had the mammogram and then I had the ultrasound. I was completely prepared to schedule a biopsy for further testing. The ultrasound technician came in, declared that it was two cysts, side by side, and that I was fine and GO HOME AND LIVE YOUR LIFE BECAUSE YOU DON"T HAVE BREAST CANCER AT ALL. They were not irregular, they were not attached to the chest wall and I will never see that P.A. again.
We found out, just after we were matched with Kate's mother, that the adoption tax credit no longer benefits those who are self employed and typically only owe self employment taxes. We decided that God was calling us to the adoption despite this information and that He is bigger than our finances. People rallied around us and we raised an incredible amount of money. It was still flowing in at the time of Kate's death and it continued to come in as memorial money after she passed away. However, even with the wonderful partnership of our friends and family, we spent many, many thousands of dollars from our savings account to fund the adoption. It was a financial hardship we were more than willing to take on.
Raising and loving a daughter for life is definitely worth many thousands of dollars.
Burying a daughter you never laid eyes on is still worth it because every conceived human deserves to be loved and honored, even in death. But it makes the financial loss sting in ways it wouldn't have if she was with us now.
And then there is the actual loss. Which is simply indescribable.
The baby who won't be in my arms in two weeks. The tiny footprints in the shadow box at the end of my hallway that will never learn to walk. The lump in my throat when I see babes in arms and long for that little girl to be alive still. The closer the due date gets, the harder it seems to be. Because we should be down to 13 days on the paper chain. We should be getting SO excited. Instead, we are trusting God's plan and praising Him in the storm.
But I'd be flat out lying if I said that this particular part of the plan doesn't hurt like crazy.
Abuse. Extreme medical concerns for our son. Breast cancer that wasn't but we thought was. Devastating financial loss. A daughter I only held in death. It's not altogether surprising that sometimes we feel like we're going to collapse under the stress of this past year.
But we know that God will see us through it all. We know that this world is not really our home. We know that in all the pain and the death, He is sovereign and He is good.