Four or five days after Ethan's injury, my sister wanted to get me out of the hospital. Everyone encouraged me to go. Jim was with Ethan in his ICU room, and the waiting room was filled with family and friends. Everyone said that nothing would happen. No one would even know I was gone.
The thought was appealing. I wanted to breathe some fresh air. I wanted to smell some different smells, and to hear something beside the voices of strangers over the intercom system and the sound of the ventilator helping Ethan to breathe. I wanted to hear something other than the whispers that said, "How could this have happened? How will they survive?"
I wanted to be in a place, even for a few minutes, where no one knew me. In a place where no one would know I was the mother. Not because I was ashamed. But because the pain I saw in the eyes of others was also pain for me. I wanted to be the one showing compassion instead of the one receiving it. I wanted to be in a place where no one would ask me if I was okay. A place where there were no tears. For a few minutes, I didn't want to be me.
So, I decided to leave the hospital for a little while.
When we first got the call about Ethan, Jim and I were Christmas shopping about an hour from where we lived. Ethan was in Gainesville, 300 miles away from us. Because home was in the opposite direction, we would have lost valuable time back-tracking to go home and pack. When we headed to Gainesville that Sunday afternoon, we only had the clothes that we were wearing, my purse, and a few Christmas presents for Ethan in the trunk of the car. That was it. When Seth, my sister, and brother-in-law came the next day, they did bring me a few things. But no one was thinking clearly enough to know what we needed, or to even make a list.
Ethan's ICU room had once been used for an isolation room. It had it's own heating and cooling system. It was no longer used for an isolation room, but it still had the same system. And it was either unbearably hot, or freezing cold. We usually would choose the cold because it was better for Ethan, and the nurses and therapists who worked with him.
Consequently, I needed some undershirts and some sweaters. My sister Debbie and I decided to run into Dillards at the mall to get what we needed. She let me out at the door while she went to park the car. By the time she reached the store, I realized I had made a mistake.
The sounds and smells of the hospital came rushing back. The compassion and concern I saw in the eyes of others as they looked at me. The pain I saw in Jim and Seth's faces that mirrored mine. All those things were better than being around people who were celebrating the holidays like nothing had happened. People who were buying presents for their children. People who were doing exactly what Jim and I were doing just a few days before. And, the worst part was, that I was separated from Ethan.
I started having trouble breathing. I just wanted to go back to the hospital as fast as I could. What had happened to Ethan, was now a part of me. There would be no escaping it. There would be no running away from it. It was in everything I saw. It was in everything I heard and smelled. It was in every breath I breathed.
As we were heading back to the hospital, we found ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Was it caused by Christmas shoppers? Was it students heading back home after classes? We would move a few feet and stop. Move a few feet and stop. It was unbearable.
I do remember while sitting in the traffic, Debbie and I talked about tears. Would a person finally run out of them? Would you ever get to a place where your body just couldn't make them any more? How many tears did she think we had cried since Sunday? I told her if I ever wrote a book about all that had happened, it would be when I couldn't cry anymore, and I would name it, "No More Tears."
It was getting harder to breathe. I wanted to call and check on Ethan. Because there wasn't a phone in Ethan's ICU room, Debbie said to call Gabe, my nephew. As soon as he answered the phone, I knew something was wrong. He couldn't talk. I told him to give the phone to my cousin, Mary Jo. She was a mother. She would tell me the truth.
The first thing Mary Jo said to me was, "You need to come back to the hospital ." When I asked her what was wrong, she said, "You need to come back to the hospital." When I insisted that she tell me what was wrong, she said, "You need to just come on back to the hospital" and then her voice cracked. She promised me that Ethan was alive, but told me that I needed to come quickly.
As we drove past the campus of the University of Florida, I could see the tall, red brick hospital. We started turning, left then right. Then we lost it. We went the way we thought we were supposed to be going, but we found ourselves driving in the opposite direction. Between the one- way streets, dead-ends, and buildings that all looked alike, we found ourselves driving in circles. Wasting time. We would go to a place where we could see the top of the hospital, but as we got closer we would lose sight of it.
We saw Seth in front of us. He was going to the hospital from the opposite direction. We stopped next to each other, and the minute he saw my face he knew something was wrong. He said to follow him, but by the time we were able to turn the car around, he was gone.
My sister reached into her purse, got her cell phone, dialed a number and as she handed it to me she said, "It's 9-1-1."
The lady on the other end of the line said, "9-1-1. What's your emergency?"
I said, "My baby is dying at Alachua General Hospital, and I can't find the hospital. I am lost."
Her first word to me was, "Stop."
"Stop right where you are. Don't go any further. Pull off the road, and tell me where you are. Look at a road sign. A building with a name on it. Tell me what you see."
Then she started giving us very simple directions. As we followed them, she told us what we would see next, what would be ahead. And she was right. We followed every one of her directions, without question, and within minutes they took us to the front door of the hospital.
The lady on the other end of the phone had a map. She could see where we were, and where we wanted to be. She could see the quickest and safest way to get us there. She could see when we couldn't. She had a different view. A better perspective. For us, the way to get where we wanted to go was blocked by other things. Houses, trees, buildings. We couldn't see it clearly. But she could.
I didn't question any of the directions she gave. I didn't say, "Well, are you sure? That doesn't look right. How long have you been on the job?" I trusted her completely. Debbie and I had both given up. Our desperation caused us to trust.
I can't tell you how many times over the last five years I've thought about that 9-1-1 call. And how many times I have wished I could pick up the phone, make a quick call, and have somebody tell me to go left or to go right. Someone that knew the way. Someone who knew where I was, and someone who knew how to get me where I needed to be. It may not be buildings, houses or trees that block my view now. But my view, my way, can still be blocked by other things. Like fear or pain. Pride or rebellion. Or maybe something as simple as being physically and emotionally exhausted. It's easy to be blinded.
But, praise God that He is always there. He's waiting for the call. He's One who never sleeps nor slumbers.(Psalm 121:4) He knows the way. Every way. In fact, He said that He is The Way. (John 14:6)
When Debbie and I saw Seth that day, we thought, "Finally. Somebody that can help us! We'll just follow him. He knows the way." And Seth did know the way. He drove straight to the hospital. But like what happens so many times in life, we couldn't keep up with him. The traffic, stop signs and red lights got in the way. They separated us from the person who we thought would guide us to the hospital.
Seth didn't know how long we had been driving around. I had tried to hide some of my panic from him. He had his own need. . . to get to Ethan. Seth, like most people we want to help us find our way, was doing his best. He couldn't have anticipated all the things that would get in the way. God sends people to help, but they are never The Way.
I'm amazed when I find myself wandering around lost. Trying to figure it all out. Looking for a path on my own. Crying because I don't know what to do. Wringing my hands because I am so confused. When all the time, my God sits above it all. He sees every way I need to go, to get me where I need to be. He has a map in front of Him, and it's not just any map. It's the map of my life. The way He has ordained for me. And He is more than ready to lead me. He is just waiting for me to call.
He sits above the circle of the earth. (Isaiah 40:22) He has the view. He created it.
He's waiting even when I have wandered off His path. When I wouldn't listen to His directions. Maybe I wandered because something looked better over here or something looked pretty good over there. Maybe I wandered because I thought the path was just too hard, or it was taking too long to get where I wanted to be. Maybe I wandered off the path because I started doubting that I had really heard His voice. But even then, His Hand will gently bring me back.
God's first words to me when I call are a lot like the 9-1-1 operator's words were that day in Gainesville.
But instead of saying, "Stop." He says, "Be still. Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
The 9-1-1 operator needed to know exactly where I was. God already knows. But I think for my benefit, not His, He tells me to "make my requests known to Him." (Philippians 4:6) He knows that when I speak my needs to Him, that it transfers the burden off of me and onto Him. He wants my burden to be light. The yoke to be easy. (Matthew 11:29-30)
The 9-1-1 operator in Gainesville didn't ask me if I was sure I needed her help. She didn't ask me if I was sure I wanted to get to my son. She didn't ask me if maybe I wanted to go somewhere else. She knew it. She heard it in my voice. She heard my desperation. She heard my humility as I told her I was lost and needed help.
God knows when I am desperate. He knows my heart and when I'm finished with myself. With my way. And when in obedience and humility before Him, I cry out to Him, He will hear me and show me the way. Step by step He will lead me. He tells me to trust Him with my whole heart. . . even when I don't understand. And when I do, I'll have peace. Regardless. (Proverbs 5:3)
He has promised me that His ways are not my ways. His thoughts about my circumstances are not the same as my thoughts about them. (Isaiah55:8) He reminds me that the path on which He is going to take me will probably not be the one I would have chosen. But He also has promised me that He is good. And that His love for me is unfailing. And that He is the best Shepherd I could ever have in this thing called life. (John 10:11)
When Debbie and I got to the ICU waiting room that day, we were told by the doctors that Ethan's brain was swelling and that it would continue to swell until it put enough pressure on his brain stem to cause his death. They had talked to several other specialists and in this particular case, there was nothing that anyone could do. They promised us that He would be in no pain and that his death would be peaceful.
Jim and I, with family and friends, stood around Ethan and told him good-bye. I remember telling him that I wasn't mad at him. That I was proud of Him and that I had loved him every minute he had been a part of me. And that nothing, not even his death, would end that love.
But for Ethan to die that day, or the next or the next, wasn't the path God had ordained for him. When Ethan, because of his condition, couldn't follow anyone. . . the Father came and carried Him through and put Him back on the path of life. We thank God every day for that path of life. But most of all, we thank God that He made a way through Jesus Christ for Ethan.
For all of us. God has made a way. The way is Jesus.
Someone told me the other day that they were just too tired to find their way. They were just too worn out to look for it. That's okay. He knows.
If He didn't carry us when we couldn't walk, I wouldn't be here.