Friday night, after almost three weeks at the hospital, I came home. Kendrick and I traded places for the weekend so that I could spend some time with Carter. It was something Carter and I both needed and, yet, it felt painfully wrong to leave Izzy behind knowing she wasn’t even able to leave her hospital room. As I walked through the front door one of the first things my eyes landed on was a picture of Izzy and suddenly a multitude of emotions began to wash over me. The guilt of leaving her behind was the first to assault me. In her photo, that stared at me sitting comfortably on the couch, her hair was long and it reminded me that there was life before this. A stabbing pain similar to the one I felt the day I first heard her life was threatened was next. That feeling was quickly over powered by the horrific fear that someday I would walk through the front door without her forever. That I might go to the hospital with her but leave the hospital one final time alone, coming home to see that picture as soon as I walked through the door. I quickly closed my eyes to make my mind stop and remembered she was okay. She was healthy and safe back at the hospital and I would bring her home in a few days. I opened them thankful of the reality I was in.
The truth is that in those three seconds that I sat on my couch starring at Izzy’s picture I allowed myself to feel more emotion than I have in three days. In December it will be two years since this wild ride began and since then I have spent most of the time in a valley or occasionally on a mountain top. There has been little emotion felt that has not been extreme. As I now find myself nearing the end of this season there has been a gradual transition that has occurred out of autopilot. I have been slowly learning how to do more than just survive but how to actually live again and I found myself in the midst of this current admission with emotions I could not handle. As a result, at some point in the past three weeks I found myself simply turn my heart off.
Friday night I lay in bed long after Carter had gone to sleep and wept. My soul cried but because of the disconnect between it and my body no actual tears ever left my eyes. I cried for my own daughter who I longed to bring home. I cried for the other children on her floor who I knew wanted desperately to go home as well. Pictures of each face flashed through my mind. I saw their faces. I saw their parents. I cried for the families whose journeys have been so long and I cried for the ones that have only just begun. But mostly I cried because I now knew so intimately a private place where broken hearts linger. Two years ago I never knew places like the fifth floor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital existed. Now it was a place I would never be able to get out of my mind. Friday night I cried myself to sleep and a single tear never hit the pillow.
As a result of shutting my heart off I have spent little time talking to The Lord the last few weeks. Fortunately, He has been faithful to speak to me in a way that only He can. You may recall a post I wrote last summer entitled, “A Parked Boat.” It was about how the Lord confirmed a word someone gave me by giving Izzy the same picture. A friend had described to me a picture she had been given while praying for our family. It was a picture of a boat on rocky waters. Though the waves crashed around, the boat stood perfectly still because The Father was cradling it in His hands. The next day, while painting at an easle in the hospital playroom, Izzy strayed from her normal paintings of rainbows to one of a boat. When I asked her what it was she specified, “It’s a boat, mama. A parked boat.” I stood frozen, knowing The Lord was trying to get my attention.
We had a similar experience just this week where God spoke to me through something Izzy drew. When the Lord speaks to us it can be through the simplest thing. It is not the ‘thing’ that is important but what happens when you see or hear the ‘thing’. There is a stillness in your soul, a chill up your spine, an intuition bigger than one you could have come up with yourself. There is a difference between seeing a beautiful mountain range and thinking of God’s majesty and hearing the Lord say ‘I made that’ when you are looking at one. If you don’t know the difference you should ask Him, I promise He’ll show you.
Last week I was making a list of things we needed from the store when a nurse walked in the room. When I set the pen and paper down Izzy picked them up and started to draw. I started talking to the nurse about the Chicken Pox and her dropping counts.
“Mama, look,” she said, after the nurse had gone. I looked at the shapes on the paper trying hard to decide what I was looking at and then, like any good mother, complimented her. “Wow, babe…what is it?” I asked.
She pointed with the pen to the object on the right side of the page, “That’s a fire pit.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to looked engaged though my mind was wandering.
“And that’s a leaf,” she said pointing to the object on the left of the page.
“That’s great Iz,” I said and here’s my parental confession: I wasn’t that interested. And I’m guessing the look on my face showed it because she started shouting at me.
“But mom, look at the leaf! The leaf never goes in the firepit. It never does. It just always stays right here. Always.” And at that moment I knew God was speaking to me. I cannot explain to you how I knew, but I did. “Why doesn’t it go into the firepit, Iz?” I asked. Now she was really fired up, waving her hands around as she talked.
“It just doesn’t mom, ever. It always stays right there. It can never go in.” And just like that she handed me the paper and went on to something else. I held the page tightly in my hands and couldn’t help but sense The Lord wanted me to know that Izzy was protected. That He was protecting this delicate, frail, beautiful leaf from the fire that was trying to destroy it. What else could I think from a drawing like that?
At our house fire pits are for burning leaves – specifically. For that reason, Izzy drawing a leaf that does not go in has significance to me. Why in the world would she draw it? Well, I asked her and this is answer I got.
“Well,” she said, pointing to the leaf, “that was supposed to be something different but then I decided it looked like a leaf. So, then I just drew the firepit about how the leaf doesn’t ever go in.” Okay, glad that’s clear.
Some might say it was a random thing she drew but I don’t do random. I believe God inspired her to draw it to communicate once again that He is in this with us and He is protecting her from the blaze. Our God is a God of provision and sometimes that provision looks like deliverance and sometimes it looks like reminding us of that deliverance which may be just the thing we need when we have our heart shut off.
The day Izzy drew the picture, her blood pressure was continuing to get higher and higher. It was the first time since stem cell transplant that she has required medication to bring it down. That evening one of the doctor’s told me they were concerned Izzy was developing the same kidney problems she had right after transplant. This was a severe problem I knew could lead to kidney failure. They would do labs in the middle of the night and have answers in the morning. It was the worst news I had heard in months. I texted only my closest friends the details before bed and curled up in her hospital bed next to her.
I drifted off to sleep that night afraid of what I would learn the next morning but equally at peace because I wholeheartedly believed God had prepared me for whatever I would find. As it turned out, the next morning I discovered Izzy’s kidney function looked pretty good and after a few days of monitoring it, it bounced back to perfect.
Two years ago I didn’t know about this place on the fifth floor of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where broken hearts linger. I never knew about this place where pain and suffering are so vivid. Today I do. And today I also know Jesus more intimately than ever before because I encounter Him every day. Find the broken hearted and there, too, you will find Jesus. Find those that are suffering and there, too, you will find Jesus. Because He’s here, walking every step of the way with us. Because you know what? Jesus lives on the fifth floor of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and I had no idea.