The quote above comes from one of my very favorite books, the autobiography of Darlene Deibler-Rose, a missionary to New Guinea who was taken captive during WWII and held in a series of Japanese prison camps over 4 years. The story of her life and her faith through those circumstances is stunning and inspiring.
This quote was something she spoke about another man who she saw suffer greatly in the prison camp. It has been a prayer that I have offered with fear & trembling during many seasons of life -- "God, would you make me someone who you could trust with pain?" I think it is likely true that the depth of pleasure and delight that God can trust a person with is in proportion to the pain he can trust that person with. This month was evidence of both of those. Even as we celebrated the closing of our new house and all of the delight wrapped up in God coming through for our family in such a miraculous way, so very much else of this month has been marked by the experience of pain.
June 1st was closing day, and my mom had arrived the day before to help us with childcare, packing & moving, as we hoped to be settled into the new house within a couple of weeks. As it turned out, we needed her help and presence so desperately, but not to accomplish the work at the new house or the packing & moving as we had hoped. A few days into the month Clementine began complaining about stomach ache, and what seemed to start as a simple GI bug became more and more extreme pain, sleepless nights, days with more pain instead of improvement, and fear about what could be wrong with our girl. We ended up in the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania emergency room not once but twice that weekend, and she was diagnosed with an intususpeption, a rare condition where the intestine telescopes in on itself. Thankfully it didn't require surgery and was expected to resolve on its own, but without any remedy but time we just had to wait and comfort our sweet girl as best as we could while we waited for her body to heal itself.
Through the distress of seeing my girl in pain, I could only think of parents whose children diagnosed with terminal illnesses who couldn't expect an eventual reprieve. With the love and care of my mom and our friends & church family Clementine finally started to improve with fewer, less extreme and less lengthy episodes of pain.
We hoped that we were out of the woods, but after no more than two days of Clementine making great improvement, both Selah and I came down with this same bad GI bug. As with Clementine, the main feature was extreme abdominal pain. Experiencing it first hand, at its worst the pain rivaled that of labor contractions, but without the break that comes between contractions, and without the reward of a baby. For me, the illness was compounded by extreme dehydration, and I ended up with my own visit to the ER. Again, the care of my mom being present in our home and the support of friends, in particular my friend who insisted that I go to the emergency room, ended up being a saving grace.
Now that we are finally all well, simple things like normal eating, drinking, working and playing seem utterly blissful. When I look for God's presence and truth in the experience, I can see how he was so gracious to care for us, even while not removing or relieving the pain in response to the prayers of so many. Over and over we said how perfect it was that my mom was able to be with us to help us, even though her purpose for visiting ended up being so dramatically different. Also, because we purchased the new house in such a whirlwind, we had to cancel a trip that we had planned to Vermont. It ended up being essential to our well-being and recovery that we were home and near to top-notch medical care and a 24 hour pharmacy instead of hours away from home in rural Vermont.
Even before Clementine became sick, there was another providential aspect to my mom's visit. On the day after we closed on the new house, Frank needed to be there to meet a contractor, and I planned to be there with him to get busy cleaning and preparing the house for our big move. While drinking my morning coffee, the direction of the day utterly changed when I read a Facebook post from a friend who works at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Special Delivery unit. It said, "Hi all...Need a last-minute doula for a couple who were planning a homebirth and instead ended up at CHOP with baby who is no longer living. They will have an induction today and would really like a doula."
The moment I read it, I knew that God had prepared me and called me to respond the the needs of this family. Entrusting Clementine into my mom's care, I was able to drop everything to be beside this couple and support them through the unparalleled pain of a labor ending in the birth of their baby who they had already lost. It was heart wrenching and not at all what you would wish for any family to have to endure. And yet to be there felt like a tremendous honor. God could trust me to be in the presence and to hold the space in such horrific pain.
Daily, we are bearing witness to all sorts of pain. People who we care for are burying their children, their siblings, their parents, their friends, who have overdosed on heroin. We had to miss the memorial service for the mother of some of my dearest Philly kids who passed away unexpectedly because we had already made plans to be at the funeral service of a young mother who died of an overdose. As overwhelming as our pain was in the midst of illness this past month, it has healed and past, and yet there are people who God has put into our lives (or whose live He has put us into) who are suffering pain that they will not see resolved this side of glory.
I don't have a tidy bow to put on this, except to say that God is honoring us by trusting us with pain. And instead of shying away, we are hopeful that we can be brave and mighty to bear the truth of God's love and goodness and to represent the sweetness of His presence as we hold space and care for people around us in great pain.
We are only able to have this availability and to do this work, to be Jesus to people in painful places because of the love, care and generosity of those of you who support and keep our family here. Thank you for caring for us, praying for us, giving on our behalf so that we can obey in these hard but beautiful ways.
Frank, Elizabeth, Selah, Callum & Clementine