The Middle of a Messy Story

Family. I’ve always longed for it.

My dad left when I was one years old. It was always just me and my mom. I didn’t care about family then – only success. But then Christ grabbed my heart in college, and my dreams changed.

I remember working summers in a Christian bookstore. In the “family” section was a book by Ruth Bell Graham. It was always turned so the cover faced out, and on it’s cover was a picture of family. Her family. I wept every time I passed that book. The longing for a family of my own was so deep. I learned not to walk through the “family” section that often :-)

God was gracious and granted me a family. One husband and two kids later, I longed for more. Just one more child to make us a bit more messy. A family of four was just too neat for me. And God was gracious, and gave us Kate.

I tried to savor the early years. Not being one who really enjoys babies, I think I did a pretty good job. But my eyes were always looking forward to when our youngest, Kate, would turn 4. By that time, the kids would be 8, 6 & 4 – and we could create moments that only independent children can.

Spontaneous moments to the beach, or quiet moments reading together at home. Moments building forts out of cushions in the living room and moments throwing rocks in the stream. I dreamed of my three little disciples – walking, chattering, laughing and living life with me.

But as is often the case, dreams don’t always come true. God had different dreams for us. 6 weeks before Kate was to turn 4, our family was in a horrific automobile accident. Kate’s older sister, Anne (5 at the time) was critically injured.

I remember calling our pastor’s wife from the ambulance. I calmly told her that I didn’t think Anne was going to make it.

“No, Kathryn. That can’t be true.”

“Sharon, Listen to me. I. Don’t. Think. She. Is. Going. To. Make. It. Please. Pray.”

Miraculously, by God’s mercy, Anne lived. We spent 73 days in the Children’s hospital. When we left, Anne was a shell of her former self. She sustained a severe traumatic brain injury. We are now a family marked by disability.

Anne cannot walk. She must be carried or wheeled everywhere we go. On the other hand, she is extremely talkative and loving. But the downside to that is that she has no inhibitions. She asks every stranger, “Can I sit in your lap?” It’s fascinating to watch people’s reactions… but that’s a different blog post :-)

I struggle with the demands of caring for a disabled child. And because Anne’s needs are so great, I struggle with how to make moments with my family. I wrestle with our new family. It’s not what I had dreamed for.

I’m in the middle of my story, and it’s all very messy! I don’t have the advantage of hindsight to say,“Oh, that’s what God was doing!” But God does give me glimpses.

My children are growing up in a home that demands great sacrifice. They are constantly giving up their own desires to serve their sister. Our oldest, Canon, can breathe life into Anne just by sitting beside her. I watch her soak up his presence, and they always laugh together. He spends time with her because he loves her, passionately. He defends her. He is forever changed… for the better.

Kate, our youngest, is now put in a role of caregiver. She dotes on Anne. She helps her buckle her seat belt, and helps her eat her meals. Kate’s life trajectory was drastically altered the day of the accident. She doesn’t have the luxury of being the carefree youngest of three. She is also changed… for the better.

And Anne. Sweet, precious Anne. Her life will always be hard. But her Spirit is strong. She is learning to depend on God in ways that us “healthy” folk can’t comprehend. She is also changed… for the better.

The moments in our family are characterized by hard physical nurturing and care for Anne. We live in heavy moments. Lightheartedness is a luxury. But we also experience profound moments of joy that can only be appreciated when you are in the midst of great trial. I treasure the joy. It is of the Spirit, a rare find in this world… And a gift I could not have experienced apart from the heart-brokenness of losing the little girl I knew to brain injury.

God is good. And the family he is building is good. Much, much better than the family I ever dreamed of. It’s just so much harder. But isn’t that true of anything worthwhile?