I stood shivering in the ER the night my 4-year-old daughter whacked her head on a slide. The doctor’s words sank in as I looked through the window at my child, wondering how this could be. A mass the size of a grown man’s fist was found in her brain. We were being immediately transferred to the closest children’s hospital.
As I held my breath, I considered the fact that there may not be any more birthday parties, Meg may not grow older, and she may suffer…. When I finally inhaled, a realization flooded through me: if she wasn’t in my arms, she’d be in Jesus’. She would never be lost. He would always have her. And he already did.
The surgeon diagnosed the mass as a cyst that had grown dangerously finger-like into Meg’s brain. Arteries and her optic nerve were intertwined in it and there was no way to remove it. Without enough room in her head, her brain pressure was high. The medication she received removed some of the pressure, but left her sleeping like a newborn throughout the day. When she was awake, nothing made her happy. As weeks dragged on, her blood levels were watched closely. When the medication interacted too negatively, it had to be withdrawn.
It wasn’t long before one side of her face slumped. The pressure against her brain stem made her mouth so numb she didn’t know when to swallow and became unable to eat. Open brain surgery was scheduled and my prayers lost their words.
At night I’d lay my hand on my chest and feel my heartbeat. I wondered how it could go on beating as though life hadn’t come undone. I didn’t understand how my heart could be so strong and steady when it felt so broken. As a single mom, I spent all my time caring for Meg and watched my retirement account drain away, never feeling more alone. There was nothing left of the life we knew. The only thing longer than the days were the nights, and I wondered how we’d ever live again.
During this time, I was reminded of the story of Jacob, of how he struggled with God in his pain:
“This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!’
But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ ‘What is your name?’ the man asked. He replied, ‘Jacob.’ ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob’” the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.’ ‘Please tell me your name,’ Jacob said. ‘Why do you want to know my name?’ the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there" Genesis 32:24-29 (ESV).
I wondered if Jacob limped the rest of his life after his hip was dislocated. Did he wake up every morning feeling its stiffness and ache? Did he feel the cost of God’s blessing? Was it worth what he paid every day after?
It had to have been. Jacob had wrestled with God. And won. This man who had yet to cross the river and face his fear in the morning. This man who had no idea how the day would play out and what would happen to him and his family. He won — before he faced his battles — because he refused to let go of God.
I held on when Meg was unable to move her arms and legs following open brain surgery. I held on when Meg’s eyes looked at me, full of fear and tears just before her CT scan. And I knew God was holding onto us when her hand squeezed mine three times — the family code for “I love you.” I knew then she’d be fine, and she was.
We’ve faced the everyday battles. We've discovered what brain surgery recovery, complications, and the diagnosis meant for our life; the headaches, sensitivities, and high pressure still remain.
It has been a choice throughout every one of our days to believe in the blessing. In the midst of trials and tears, the only way we make it is because we’re holding onto Christ. He has already won. And with him, we have too. Christ reminds us that the pain and suffering are worth the blessing of knowing him. In it, we experience God.