While immersed in the environment that a hospital offers, I (Joy) gained a new appreciation for our very isolated life tucked away in the woods on the farm. Although we, like others who enter the hospital doors, have in common the effects of physical illness or the desire to help those who do, the similarities of our lives stop there.
As I waited in the pediatric unit of the emergency room, I was so relieved that Sullivan wasn't coherent enough to know that we were surrounded by those affected by the evil of the world. In a nearby room, a police officer extracted details of an allegation of inappropriate physical contact and assault of a 10 year old girl. The family members which flowed from the room were an assorted display of dysfunction. I prayed for, and wondered, what would become of this little girl. Would she follow the familiar path of dysfunction so visible in the comments of those who represented her closest family members? Or would she somehow find the love of Jesus Christ and become a trophy of God's grace? Who will reach out to this obviously sin-sick family?
The faces of the parents in another room displayed the heaviness of great worry and sorrow. I watched as they gathered around what appeared to be a young, teen-aged girl who was brought into the emergency room because of an overdose. Whether legitimate or not, the parents seemed weighted down with self-imposed guilt mixed with fear. I wondered what could make a young girl feel so hopeless. Surely, the enemy had told her many lies that somehow found a resting place in her thoughts and eventually in her actions. I wondered which Christian family God will, or already has, placed in their path that might shine the light of hope into their dark lives.
As the action of the emergency room slowed and the hour became late that first night of our stay, I listened to the intimate conversations taking place between the middle-aged doctors and the young nurses. Talk of finances, troubled marriages, and future dreams and goals were interrupted as these mere strangers would join together to save yet another life. I watched as one fully aware of the potential danger of these working relationships. This should be the sort of stuff shared by families - moms and dads joining together to offer life-support for the spiritual lives of their children, parents and children dreaming future goals together. What a deadly concoction this setting offers for the mom choosing to work away from home. Will the adoration of a well-educated, financially secure doctor lure her away from the life of stability and contentment that a loving and faithful husband provides? Should her heart turn away from her humble home and family, will the modern Christian remind her of the truth of scripture - that God prioritizes our holiness over our happiness - or will the church simply encourage her to choose the path of personal happiness?
Having never spent any time on a pediatric floor, I suppose it never occurred to me that some babies and toddlers who are hospitalized must spend their days alone while their parents are working. How sad when I overheard the nurses discuss the tiny baby in the next room who cried inconsolably. She didn't have a daddy and her mother had things to do and would return in the evening. I suppose if I had ever given it any thought, I would have known that the nurses aren't able to transfer babies to a bouncy seat when awake or put them in an infant swing in the nurse's station while they do their paperwork. Certainly the nurses aren't able to sit and simply rock little ones all day. I was suddenly aware of the magnificent privilege to not only have a family that made it possible for me to be right next to Sullivan for his entire hospital stay, but we are also blessed by a network of extended family and dear friends who offer help of all sorts. I asked the nurse if volunteers were allowed to hold the babies. She said that although they were permitted, most volunteers don't want to hold small children. Who will hold the little baby in the next room? What must it be like to be sick and all alone in a strange place in a society where no one has time to hold the weakest and most vulnerable?
Please forgive me if my comments regarding my final hospital observation might seem offensive, but as a mother of daughters, I have developed strong feelings about this topic. Near the end of our hospital stay, a nurse came in our room one afternoon and asked if we might enjoy a famous visitor. While I responded with a smile and appreciation for an impromptu visit by a young girl who recently won a state title for her beauty and poise, I actually was quite puzzled by her father's efforts in promoting his daughter's desire to become Miss America. This little, 7 year old was spending her summer doing good deeds by visiting the sick for the purpose of moving forward in her pursuit of beauty recognition and the furtherance of title advancement. I thought of the irony as she gracefully stepped into our room with her crown perfectly positioned, fancy dress, and sash that proclaimed her title of beauty. In all of her poise, she could hardly contain the shock of seeing a little boy with stitches hanging from his nose, a drain plug dripping blood from one nostril and snot running from the other. As her father explained the supposed life-long dream of this youngster to become known world-wide for her beauty, I could scarcely conjure a look of understanding. When Meredith was young, Timmy and I began the route of most modern-day parents and enrolled her in dance classes - for the poise, you know. But it didn't take long for us to realize the truth of a parenting statement that would serve to guide us in the years to come: "Begin as you intend to go". Although incredibly cute in her tights with her chubby thighs which gained the name "gubbles" that has continued with each chunky-legged sibling since, we soon realized that we didn't really want to encourage Meredith to prance around and focus on her beauty or poise as a female. We weren't desirous of promoting a sport that would focus on her body and ability to move it in a way that would be considered by others to be pleasing to the eye. Sure, it was cute when she was 3, but what about when she turned 16? "Begin as you intend to go" would surely condemn us as we explained that we didn't want her flouncing around in front of a public audience as a young woman. Although presumably seen as radical, we want to encourage, in every possible way, the cultivating of beauty within our daughters and squash the world's attempt to conform them to the pursuit of outward beauty. Because of that, I was dumbfounded by the visit from the little beauty queen and it was notable in my memoirs of Sullivan's hospital stay.
Having been immersed in this other world for a week, I am all the more desirous to return to my busy, but functional and joyful, family-filled farm life where there is much laughter. In that familiar place, there are happy, much-loved children, a mom and dad who enjoy one another's company, and a great, big God watching over and caring for us all. I pray I will not soon forget the cries of the lost and lonely. I pray my family will shine the light of Christ into their lives.