28 January 2008

Watching My Weakness Unfold Before Me

I slipped in the shower yesterday morning. I could feel my feet sliding right out from under me, and I was sure that I was going down, but then I didn't fall. Somehow I managed to catch myself. Or, better to say, the Lord's holy angels held me up, lest I trip and hit my head against the tub. The moment came and went like that, and life went on; I finished my shower and went about my day without any further adieu. It does give me pause to wonder how often it happens, in the course of each day, that the holy angels restrain the devil, the world, and the curse of my own sin from wrecking havoc upon my body and life.

It does not embarrass me to think of holy angels in the shower with me. After yesterday morning, I'm actually rather glad of that fact. I am far more ashamed to consider that the angels attend me, also, when my words and actions are not what they should be: when I am speaking and acting in ways that do not hallow the Lord's Name. Yet, they are not ashamed to serve me even then, to guard and protect me for Jesus' sake, who forgives all my sin. He has named me with His Name; He has signed me with His Cross; He has anointed me with His Spirit. Thus, His righteousness covers me, His holiness adorns me, and His holy angels honor Him by serving me, His poor and weak and lowly brother. For He, too, has borne this mortal flesh and blood of mine, in which He now dwells with His own holy Body and precious Blood. In this there is no shame of mine, but His divine glory at work for my life and salvation.

I thank God for His holy angels and their powerful protection, for I have come to know my own frailty.

As I was growing up, as a little child and as an adolescent, in particular, I would often imagine situations in which I would be called upon to rescue myself, my parents or my siblings, from some dire threat or emergency. As an adult, I have imagined similar such things involving my children. In my mind's eye, I picture some danger, a car heading for them or a robber in the house, and I mentally rehearse the heroic actions I would take to save them. Maybe it comes from reading too many super hero comic books, or from watching cartoons and actions movies, in which the good guys are always somehow able to prevail and save the day. When I was younger, it rarely ever dawned on me that I might be insufficient to meet the need, to confront the crisis, to protect my family.

As a parent of nine children, with aging parents and my siblings now dispersed across the country, I am more and more frequently reminded of how little in "control" I am (or ever have been). I'm not there with them to snatch them from harm's way. Nor do I have the means or wherewithal to keep them always healthy, safe and sound. More often than not, it's altogether out of my hands. That harsh fact confronted me again yesterday, not only in the shower when I came so close to falling hard, but even more pointedly a few short hours later.

Zach and Bekah both gave blood after church, as they have done in the past. I waited for them, visiting with Bekah's Mom and other folks from the congregation. One man was sharing the story of his little boy, who was born with a serious heart defect and, already at the age of two, has undergone seven open heart surgeries (the first when he was only three days old). My own paternal heart is deeply moved by such things, and I could not help but contemplate the health and safety of my sons and daughters, young and old. My Freddy and Baby G are close to the same age as that man's son. It fleetingly occurred to me that even my Zach is not impervious to harm and danger, though I surely could not have guessed the events about to unfold.

Bekah walked over with her drink and snack in hand, and Zach was not too far behind with his. As he approached, I could see it in his eyes and on his face that he was feeling dizzy and light-headed after having given blood. I'm famous for my parental paranoia, but I can't help myself. I got up and took a step toward him, and I asked if he was okay. My sons probably get tired of hearing this question from me, as I'm always asking, always checking. Normally, the answer is a simple "yes," even if it isn't quite the truth. This time, though, Zach said "no," and then I could see what was going to happen before it did.

He was moving toward me, and I was trying to reach him. Everything seemed to slow down to a crawl, but still I couldn't move my body fast enough. I watched my big strong boy, my tall and young and healthy son, crumple in front of me like a deflated accordion. I stretched out my hand, but I might as well have been in South Bend; a couple feet were as far distant as a thousand miles. I know I yelled his name, but that too seemed to get swallowed up in the slow motion of the moment. The whole scene has replayed itself in my head a dozen times or more since then. He didn't bend his knees or lower himself to the ground; his normally sturdy legs were suddenly like those of a rag doll, and his whole body simply descended to the ground in an eerie sideways swan dive. He must have hit his right elbow on the ground, which probably slowed his fall, but all I saw was his head hitting the hard gymnasium floor with a loud crack. And then he didn't move.

I think I finally know how my Mother felt when I had major surgery the summer after I graduated from high school. I was young and athletic then, like Zach is now, but I was reduced to nothing by that traumatic ordeal, and I've often heard her comment on how hard it was to see me lying in the hospital afterwards. LaRena was there with me then, too, and she and my Mom kept up a constant vigil while I was recovering. It's a hopeless feeling to watch someone you love in that kind of situation. And it's scary.

I was there by Zach's side in a moment, after it had happened and everything sped back to normal in a loud rush of panic. I could feel that hard knot in my chest that I experience whenever the false gods I make of my children are threatened, and the false god I make out of myself is so instantly dethroned and helpless. I gently lifted Zach's head a little from the floor to see his face, and it was obvious that he had passed out. Even after he opened his eyes, they were glazed over without any focus or comprehension. Bekah was there by his side, as well, and we spoke his name gently to call him back to us. I watched as his brain "rebooted," and I could see the clarity return to his face; his eyes zeroed in on me, but with evident confusion and alarm. Even his lips were drained of color, all but white, his body limp and crumpled on the ground.

There was help for him right away. The nurses who were doing the blood drive were there on the spot and began caring for him within a minute or two of his fall. They had ice for his head, and they knew what to do, what to look for. All I could do was stay with him, talking to him, helping to make him as comfortable as possible there on the floor in the middle of the gym, answering questions, and clutching his hand to hang on to my son. I wanted to scoop him up and make everything right, as though I could even begin to lift him anymore; he's bigger and stronger than I am. I wanted to hide him from the world, to protect him from the embarrassment that I knew he'd be feeling as he became more and more aware of where he was and what was going on. More than anything else, I wanted to rewind the clock just those few minutes it would have taken to prevent him from falling, to catch him in those moments when I could see it coming but hadn't been able to move fast enough to stop it.

The reality is that, even when I'm with my son (or any of my children), I'm not the Author and Giver of life, nor the Maker and Preserver of all things. For a certain number of years, and in a limited number of ways, I am given to serve my children and care for their needs, but their bodies and lives are always really in the care and keeping of their Father in heaven. I am but His instrument and mask, whereby He feeds and clothes and shelters and teaches them for a while. Though I do sometimes wonder why He would rely upon a tool like me, more often I forget that I am a tool at all, and suppose myself to be responsible for more than I am given.

It appears that Zach is going to be fine. He's got a bump on the back of his head and a sore neck, but he doesn't seem to have suffered a concussion. His body is young and strong and healthy, and it'll bounce back much faster than I would anymore these days. There's more to it than that, though. I don't know why the holy angels didn't prevent him from falling, but I have no doubts they did have a hand in preventing him from greater harm and danger. The wisdom of God is wiser than man, and He deals with us graciously under the crosses of affliction. Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord's. Zach's own health and strength will not save him, no more than I will be the one to save him. If I had been back home in South Bend when it happened, I would have wished with all my heart that I could have been there with him, supposing I could have stopped it from happening. But I was there, mere feet from him, and I couldn't do a thing.

That's the way it always is. We can do only as much we are given to do, and even that we do not do as faithfully or as well as we ought. The Lord is always covering our faults in mercy and sustaining us in our weakness. Whatever is lacking, He supplies according to His steadfast love and faithfulness. Beyond all that, He remains the Lord our God, and He alone. The difference between life and death can seem entirely precarious, a matter of chance or aimless accident. As a Christian, I know better than that, but I don't always trust the One who has created me and mine for life with Himself forever. Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!


Debbie Theiss said...

I too am glad for the attending angels! My heart was racing as the events unfolded yesterday. I was watching and realizing Zach's life could have changed drastically in those few moments. Indeed, I was feeling for my own daughter as her life could have changed as well. I am so grateful our Heavenly Father was there to attend to Zach, as well as his dear earthly father!

Debbie Theiss said...

BTW, I was unaware of your almost fall in the shower! It is the darn water softener. We suffer for the soft water around here!;-) We just had all kinds of angels around us yesterday and Saturday night as well!