01 September 2011

So How Was Your Day...Really?

This post has nothing to do with my time in Africa, but it has a lot to do with how we look at, use, and value life. An email I read when I got home this evening has really given me perspective on what I'd consider a bad day, and I thought it was worth sharing. The following words are from Deb Watters. She and her husband, Mike, have been family friends for about 18 years. Five years ago, their 6-year-old daughter, Corinne, was diagnosed with cancer. While Corinne was undergoing treatment in the hospital, they met a 9-year-old boy named Victor who was also dealing with cancer. Victor had just been, or was about to be, turned over to be a ward of the state. Imagine being 9 years old, alone, fighting cancer. That alone will give you some perspective on your day. To make a long story short, the Watters ended up adopting Victor, and he became one of their 7 (yes, seven!) children. Five years later at 14, Victor is nearing the end of his fight against cancer. Their entire family has been an unbelievable example of faith in the face of suffering, and as you'll see here, Victor's life has been eternally changed by the love and grace of this family and is a testimony to us all. The following is Deb's update from Wednesday night:

"I am convinced that the ‘groanings’ of this world that we’ve experienced recently are all a reminder from God that heaven is the real home that we long for. And we couldn’t be prouder of how Victor and all the kids have handled all of this.

After an extremely harrowing day (few weeks really), Victor rested on the couch while all the kids gathered to listen as I read from a book called ‘Someday Heaven’ that we’ve been working through. It was balm for the soul.

But despite all of our recent conversations about heaven, none of us was prepared for how quickly Victor’s health has failed. After putting the kids to bed tonight, Mike and I had a long quiet talk with Victor as we kneeled beside him on the couch. The reality of the eminency of his death was quite a shock to him tonight, but Mike (as usual) had just the right words to calm and assure him and I struggled to keep myself together. In one moment Victor was anxious (“I never thought it would come to this”, “Should I write out a list of who should get my stuff?”, “I don’t want to be cremated”, etc), and then with Mike’s soothing words (a few from me), he would relax and smile in that wise content way of his.

We talked of having visits with friends and family over the next few days, Mike mentioned that Davis may come for a visit tomorrow. (You might remember that Davis shaved his head for Victor). Victor leaned his head back from exhaustion and pain, but breathed out a shallow whisper in the dark, “He’s been a goooood friend.” I stood up to get more pain medicine for him but he waived me back. “Wait, wait.”

He wanted to talk about a few stories that he’d wondered about. “You remember that story about Lazarus, how he died and then Jesus raised him from the dead?” Yes. “Well, didn’t Jesus have to make Lazarus leave heaven?” “And when Jesus died and the Bible says that people came out of their graves … I always thought it was sad that people had to leave heaven.” We talked about that a bit … not sure we had all the right answers, but he was more concerned about staying PUT in heaven than getting there, I think.

We were a bit exhausted from thinking, talking, crying, and even laughing. Mike got up to get something. I rested my chin on my forearm on the back of the sofa as we both stared off into space for a bit, letting our thoughts turn over. Then he turned to me intently and said, “Mom, if I go … I mean soon … will you tell my family about God, about Jesus?” Then his eyes grew fierce as he clarified, “I mean REALLY try?” And I promised as the tears rolled some more. Then we talked about making a video so that he could say what he wanted to them and others … and he asked if I would help him. Yes sir.

Victor's breathing episode this morning was scary for us all. But it has been a blessing for us to sit back in calmer moments and reflect on how these next days may play out and how we can better handle future episodes. Mike was at a breakfast meeting and I had just pulled in the driveway from a school meeting down the street and was finishing a phone call. The night before, Victor and Eric’s friend Joe had slept over after a soccer game. Although he felt poorly, Victor insisted on sleeping on the basement couch to be with the boys as they watched a movie in their sleeping bags. He slept with a portable phone and called me in the night for more pain medicine. In the dark, he quietly held liquid morphine under his tongue to ease the pain as his brother and friend slept; then he struggled to get comfortable again and drifted off. In the late morning, when Victor, Eric, and Joe climbed the stairs to the kitchen and I sat in the van in the driveway, everything changed.

As he rounded the top of the steps, Eric asked Victor if he wanted some eggs. But Victor gasped that he couldn’t breath and clutched his chest in pain. Later tonight Victor confided in me that what Eric did next made him feel really good: Eric ran screaming through the house in every direction calling for Mom. (I’m smiling now at the thought of Eric’s sheepish grin but it wasn’t even a little funny then.) By the time I got to the kitchen, Victor was seated in a chair gasping for breath with tears and clutching his chest as pain occasionally stabbed at him. Oh, how helpless we all felt, and none more than me. Because I feared just such an attack, I had asked our home healthcare nurse a few days ago what to do if he lost his breath. So I tried everything she told me. First I got the morphine. But he wildly said “no” …he couldn’t hold it in his mouth as he gasped for air. So I commanded Brian to get a fan and we positioned it as his face as I ran for the car to het a 4-year-old inhaler (a new one was coming in the morning with the hospice doctor). I flipped the top up and Victor grabbed it to take a quick breath … then grabbed his chest and yelled as if he’d been shot. He said later that it felt like a stabbing pain and a ‘pop’. Then he looked at me with terrified eyes and said, “Mom, what happens if I stop breathing HERE?!” I said, “Then we’ll do what they’d do in the hospital,” (not knowing exactly what that would be but knowing that when you’re in pain, just being in the hospital is comforting and I tried not to picture myself doing CPR on the kitchen floor). That was the last straw though. The wide-eyed kids in the house scrambled to follow my commands to get Victor’s wheelchair, my purse and keys, phone Dad, clear a path (you’d have to see our garage to understand), and help us get Victor into the van.

I broke several traffic laws on the way to the local Emergency Room as I phoned our Children’s Hospital oncology nurse to prep the local ER folks that we’d be coming. Victor kept up his shallow gulping in the back seat and asked a few times how long it would be before we got there. Then he said that he was scared. Me too (though not out loud). I had planned out a bunch of stuff for my day today, and a near-death experience for one of my children was NOT one of them. But I looked at him in the rearview mirror, then turned to see his eyes, and said what I believe down to the core of who I am (and have said many times before), “Victor, you KNOW that you don’t need to be afraid. The worst thing that can happen to us is the BEST thing…” but he cut me off in a high pained voice. “Mom, I KNOW, but stop. You’re scaring me.” I guess at that moment neither one of us was ready for that moment. But then, after a short silence, at the intersection of McAndrews and Nicollete, time stood still as a wheezing voice from the back seat said, “Mom, I love you.” I’m not sure how I saw to get the E.R. from there, and my mascara was long gone by the time we rolled in and were ushered to Room number 4. The nurses were nice but sure didn’t move fast enough to either of our liking. I had to be clear a few times that he needed more pain medicine, oxygen, and something for anxiety right away. Soon he was hooked to an IV with an oxygen mask on his face, still in pain, I held his hand and recited Bible promises that came to mind as the tears in my eyes echoed the ones in the eyes of the nurse across from me. Everything was better when Mike arrived a few minutes later.

Well, at least better for a few minutes. Victor was just starting to stabilize . We were reviewing details with the E.R. doctor when the kids called from home to tell us that Meghan had fallen from her crib and something seemed wrong with her hand. I said, “You are kidding”, hoping that they were, but remembering how the night before, Meghan had proudly hooked her little leg (up to the knee) over the side of the crib before I tucked her back in. You know the rest … broken arm. Our poor little girl had missed a nap and made it clear (to everyone in the next county I think) that she was in no mood for an oxygen clip on her finger (or her toe), or a name bracelet on her foot, or a scale to weigh her. But she quieted down when Daddy stepped on the scale with her in his arms. And she perked up when we told her that she could see her beloved ‘Di Der” (Victor). My pictures couldn’t capture how cute those two battle-weary siblings were sitting side-by-side in bed together, especially as Victor shared his popsicle with her. Several medical personnel popped their head in just to see the sight.

Yet it wasn’t until I began typing this tonight that it hit me how this all began … with another sibling in the hospital … sometimes sitting side-by-side … comraderie somehow easing the pain. God, were you planning even then, through pain, for our joy … to bring You glory? And as I type I remember how often God uses ‘bookends’ in the Bible to finish his story and to highlight the center.

So what is the center of this story? It’s a sweet little boy who finds new life because of his faith in what Jesus has done. (And he can't help but want to tell others.) It’s the gospel."

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