If you followed #TeamJustus, then you know all too well our journey with our grandson Justus. Barely four years old he developed an infection of unknown origin that began attacking his brain. It led to 120 days in the hospital, which included over 20 days in a medically induced coma, nearly a month in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), surgery to remove a portion of his skull, multiple MRI’s, blood draws, tests and more tests, EEG’s, EKG’s, and the list goes on. On several occasions we thought we had lost him. Multiple times we were told to prepare for the worst even if he did survive. Needless to say, it was one of the most stressful and exhausting seasons of our family’s life.
I share that with you to help you understand the emotion I felt early on in our journey. My grandson was very sick. His father Jason was worried. But it was watching his mother Alyse, my daughter, that will forever be etched in my mind. She was curled up on Jason’s lap in tears after hearing more bad news about her son. Suddenly, I found myself torn between grieving for my daughter and grieving for my grandson. Not that I had to choose, but I struggled none the less. I seriously wrestled with the tension of who should I be most sad about? I know that sounds ridiculous, even as I write it, it sounds silly. But it highlights one of the realities I didn’t consider when I started down the path of parenthood.
It’s not that I didn’t think anything bad could happen to my kids, of course I knew that was possible. But there was no way I weighed out the level of emotion I would feel when my children began experiencing pain. Thankfully for most parents, like me, it starts small – a skinned knee, a burned hand, or losing a ball game. But as they get older, the intensity quickly increases – a broken heart, surgery, or unwed pregnancy. And for some, it can reach even greater levels of intensity – hospitalization or even the fear death. Here we were at Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital experiencing both! It was excrutiating. And yes, I had moments of thinking, “I wish I had never had children!” Because the pain was too great.
If you’ve experienced something like that, then please know you aren’t alone. Don’t let the enemy of your soul use those fleeting thoughts to bring shame and guilt. Like me, when you signed up to be a parent, it’s doubtful you understood the details of what that meant. At the same time, don’t stay in that place. And quickly I want to offer three strategies to help you remain excited that you decided to have kids.
1. Don’t be like Batman – ok, if you aren’t a comic book fan then I apologize. But Batman, also known as the dark knight is often referred to as a vigilante or a loner. His heroic persona is in part due to his tragic and dark past. The way he chooses to deal with his tragedies is alone! God is all about community. Even in the trinity (the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit), we see a God that chooses to live Himself in community. The bible speaks often of familial references (brother, sister, father, mother). And the new testament directly warns us about neglecting to meet together as a community of believers (Hebrews 10). One of the most important things you can do if you want to weather the storms of parenthood, is to do life in community. I can’t tell you the thousands of people that we invited in to our journey and our pain. YES, it was hard to do at times. But it was part of how God got us through those darkest hours.
2. Don’t be like Superman – Superman is the opposite of the dark knight. He is the shining example on the hill. But, he’s also the man of steel. You and aren’t made of steel and we can’t pretend we are. When you go through those crisis’s in life, be aware of your limits. Self-care is critical if you want to remain excited about being a parent. It was so hard for us to remember this one. In fact, if we had it to do all over again (which we have no desire to do) this would be an emphasis. Because, unlike Superman, our bodies and strength break down. On a side note, Superman gets his strength from the sun (and it’s yellow rays), which is a perfect metaphor for us who should derive our strength from the Son!
3. Do be like Jesus – I know that sounds too obvious, but my point is simply this. Over the course of our storm (and really all of the challenges we had as parents) there was tension in the relationships involved. I remember when we were spending endless days at the hospital with Justus situations when relationships were tense. Often it was little things, leaving a gas tank empty, forgetting to grab something from the house, or being late to relieve someone’s shift. Virtually every time, there is tension, there are going to be some hurt feelings. Sometimes it will happen by accident and sometimes deliberately. Sometimes it will be obvious that someone is upset and other times you will have no idea. Regardless, the goal must always be the same. The bible tells us as far as it depends on us to live peaceably with all (Romans 12). Keep short accounts. Be quick to apologize. Be even quicker to forgive. People are going to hurt your feelings when tensions run high. Choose to be like Jesus and forgive!
As I write this, I’m just returning from the hospital where my brother is having to watch his daughter go through a painful and difficult surgery. I could see in his eyes some of the same feelings I carried watching my own daughter. Thankfully, unlike Batman, for most of her hospital stay my brother has had dozens of family members in the waiting room with him. Thankfully, unlike Superman, people who love him and his daughter are bringing food and drinks to keep him healthy. And like Jesus, it’s fun to see all of the cousins and relatives working so hard to be nice to one another.
Watching his daughter lying on the hospital bed, hooked up to a ventilator, it would be easy for my brother to say, “I wish I would never have had kids.” Instead, he’s weather his storm so well… in fact… better than Batman… better than Superman… and a lot like Jesus!