The next four months were a blur. Doctor visits, echocardiograms, more doctor visits, learning about his defect, a trip to Charlottesville to meet Henry’s heart surgeon and see the hospital, more learning, and trying to keep him away from germs. If he got sick within a month of his surgery date, we would have to postpone the surgery, but thankfully he stayed super healthy the entire time.
At the end of July we made the hour trip to Charlottesville for Henry’s open heart surgery. I will save the entire story of that experience for another post, as it is too much to include all here, but from beginning to end we were in awe of the Lord’s provision. From a rental house for us to stay in, to the doctors and nurses who cared for Henry, to having family there with us, to the day of the operation, to his recovery and then being discharged a day earlier than expected, we could not have asked for anything better.
Henry was a true warrior and champion through the entire process. I am so glad that babies don’t have long-term memory (I certainly don’t remember any of my early major surgeries!), but I look forward to telling him someday how strong and brave he was, how much he charmed the doctors and nurses, how quickly his sass and smile returned, and how proud we are of him.
When all of my ‘what if’ questions were merely hypothetical, it was easy to choose to trust the Lord, but now they had come true. They were no longer simply ‘what if’, they were now ‘I have’. I now have a baby with a birth defect. Ok. That happened. So, what do you do when your ‘what if’ becomes a reality?
4 Reflections on Walking Through ‘What If’
- Have a ‘Person’. Our What If questions usually stem from places of vulnerability, from our deepest fears and insecurities. Our natural tendency when they become reality is to retreat and try to protect ourselves from more hurt. This is definitely true for me. When facing a hard time, however, you need to choose one person to be completely and utterly open with, whether it is a spouse, friend, counselor, parent, sibling, etc. Share all of your feelings honestly – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Allow your person in to your vulnerable places, share your hopes and fears about the situation. Stuffing emotions only causes more stress and greater anxiety, leading to isolation that can be detrimental to both your health and relationships.
- Find Something to be Thankful About. As I learned more and more about Henry’s defect, Tetralogy of Fallot, it made me so thankful that he was born when he was. The defect was first noted hundreds of years ago, and then the term ‘Tetralogy’ was coined by Dr Fallot in 1888. It wasn’t until 1971 though that the first pediatric open heart surgery was attempted to correct a Tetralogy defect. Almost 100 years later. If Henry had been born even 60 years ago, he would not have lived past childhood. Even in the darkest moments, let me encourage you that there is at least one thing you can find to be thankful for. Maybe it is that you are not alone, or that the sun is shining, or you are still breathing, or for doctors with skills to heal, or someone bringing you a meal. Choose to position your heart towards gratitude. It makes a huge difference in the experience you will have walking through the trial.
- Acknowledge the Hard. Being thankful does not mean ignoring the reality of the situation. Recognize the stresses that you are under; physical, mental, emotional, and relational. Give yourself time and space to process what is happening, to work through your own emotions, to be in the present moment, to grieve when needed. Extend grace to yourself and to those around you (This is soooo hard for me sometimes, but I’ve worked on it a lot this year and am getting better!). Know your limits – ask for help if needed, say no to things that will be overwhelming, make space for this new thing, even if it means getting rid of some old things or adjusting areas of your life. If you try to ignore this ‘what if’ or press on as you were before, there is a very good chance you will wind up burned out.
- Make Time to Laugh. One of the things I love and appreciate most about my husband is his ability to find something to make me laugh when I am overwhelmed. My tendency is to put my head down and just press forward, working as hard as I can, quickly and easily losing sight of the joy of life. In the midst of the heavy stresses we were carrying, we made it a priority to take breaks and do something fun. Find something you love and make time for it. Go on a date, watch a movie, go for a walk, tell each other ridiculous jokes, walk around the mall. Do something that has nothing to do with what you are facing. Always remember that this is a season (and the longer the season lasts, the more important this point is), and it will not stay exactly like this forever. It won’t. I promise.
One of the greatest sources of encouragement for us was through the songs on JJ Heller’s lullaby album, I Dream of You. We play it usually at least once a day in our house, even now. Her song “The Sun will Rise” got me through many long, tear-filled nights and hard days. The chorus goes like this:
Sometimes it feels like forever, when it’s dark outside. Baby the sun will rise; Baby the sun will rise; However long the night.
No matter how long the night lasts, the sun will rise. It always does. We may not see it right away. We may not see it until eternity. We live in a broken, fallen world that is full of heartache and hurt, but we have a Savior who meets us in the broken places, who gives peace and rest in the midst of hurt, and who promises an eternal home that is magnificently free of pain and sorrow!
If you made it this far, thanks for joining me on this three-part journey. If you are going through your own difficult journey, I hope you find some encouragement here. Know that you are not alone. It would be a privilege to pray for you as you walk through it – you can leave a comment or send me a message.