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Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Freelance: FORSAKEN

For Good Friday I ask your indulgence for a longer than usual post.

I came to understand the meaning of forsaken on a spring day in 1999. That most difficult day of my life was not a Friday, but I can now call it Good.

The day starts with scarce overnight sleep. I'm one of those "natural" moms who gives breastfed babes access to mother's milk more or less at will during the night. This night, however, precedes a 6:30 a.m. hospital admittance for my seven-month-old son Joshua. He nurses at midnight, then protests when I withhold milk sometime around 3 a.m., per hospital protocol for an empty stomach. Shortly thereafter, our five-year-old awakens us with stomach flu. Once she resettles at 4:30, I shut off the alarm set for 4:45. The day has begun.

My son's rare congenital glaucoma requires a specialist at Ann Arbor, and careful examination inside an infant's eye can only be done under general anesthesia. I expect many trips to the specialist, because I'm familiar with treatment for the hereditary eye affliction. My mother was born completely blind, and surgery restored her ability to see light and color. My brother was born sighted. Despite numerous surgeries, complications took his eyesight as an adult.

Joshua mercifully sleeps for the long pre-dawn drive. But arrival at the bustling and unfamiliar hospital fully rouses him, his hunger, and his anger. Prodding nurses and a long wait aggravate my confused baby, who clutches at me and desperately wails for nourishment. The calm I project to him and to the staff betrays my inner agony.

I finally meet our doctor, who explains that if his exam confirms the necessity of surgery, he'd like permission to go ahead with it rather than schedule it later. I anticipated surgery, just not today. I approve the unexpected but logical request.

Yet the staff denies my own request. I understand I can't accompany Joshua through surgery. I ask to be with him everywhere else, as long as he is conscious. His personality doesn't tolerate strangers in the best of moods. I can't imagine leaving him with strangers in this distress. I'm given no other option.

The moment of separation arrives. My baby boy is surrounded by masked faces, in unfamiliar hands. He looks to me—the constant, trusted presence in his life. I turn away and abandon him. His parting screams pierce my heart.

I go to the recovery area. I ask permission to be with my son the minute he exits surgery. —We'll bring you to the recovery room when he's alert. I explain I'd like to be holding him when he wakes up. —Seeing a patient emerge from anesthesia can be very disturbing. Many parents pass out. I explain that I'll be alright, I've worked in hospitals, witnessed emergency surgery, seen broken bodies, screaming, vomiting. —It's different when it's your own child. You'll have to wait until after we determine he's stable. I ask how long it will be between the time he becomes conscious and the time he becomes stable. I receive a longsuffering smile. —We'll call you.

I retreat to the waiting area. I phone home to inform my husband John about the surgery. He asks a few questions, affirms his trust in my judgment, and says good-bye. I pick up a magazine and glance at pages I can't read. I've had no breakfast and stand before a vending machine. It has nothing I want.

A nurse periodically enters and leads parents through the door that reunites them with their children. Other parents watch T.V., even laugh. Their laughter mocks the turmoil of separation raging within me and I step out into the hall. Within seconds I realize that out here I'll miss the nurse who calls for me and I rush back into the waiting area.

I go back to the phone and call John. He asks how surgery went. I tell him there's no news yet, I'm just waiting. He mentions the five-year-old cries for Mommy between bouts of vomiting, then hurries his good-bye. (Did I mention John will be engaged with the building inspector, carpet installers, and fill-dirt delivery that our remodeling schedule requires today?)

I think about my sister in Colorado. It's two hours earlier there and she's sleeping. I don't call.

I pull out my pocket Bible. I page through several passages but find no comfort. I turn to the Gospel of John, where life spills out everywhere. The words convey neither life nor even comprehension. The paper and ink in front of me are as empty as the magazine was. I stare in confusion at the tiny volume where I've always found solace. I put the Bible away.

Whenever I pray, God feels as if He's simply behind a curtain, unseen but receiving every word. So I try to pray. My soul is screaming inside. But today my words fall to the floor, as if the room is empty. As if a brick wall has been erected between me and God.

In this room full of strangers, I am utterly, agonizingly, unbearably alone.

—My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

The minutes feel like hours. My name is called. I'm led through a door and recognize my son's distant, terrified screams. My insides are churning, but I refuse to show it, afraid that I'll be banished if the staff smells weakness. Mother's instinct demands I run to the screams, but I walk placidly.

We turn into a cubicle and I take in everything at once. A nurse is attempting to thrust a bottle of cold juice into a mouth that never drinks anything but milk from a mother's warm breast. My son's body wrestles against hers. His arms extend straight out at the sides, attached to boards which prevent him from touching his face. Bandages cover his eyes, plunging him into darkness.

I ask to hold my baby. I pull him into my arms, speak Mommy words, and sink down into the rocking chair. When he begins to calm I ask to feed him, allow him to finally nurse, and feel his sobs slowly subside. I don't let him out of my arms until I strap him in to drive home.

The grueling day drags on. Exhaustion begs me to drop, but I must first navigate the crawling construction traffic home. I must comfort the child with stomach flu. I must sort out construction at home. Tomorrow I will drive back to Ann Arbor for an 8 a.m. follow-up doctor visit.

Joshua nurses and sleeps. After two days I'm concerned that he doesn't stay awake. Our family doctor assures me anesthesia has worn off by now. I phone my brother and ask if the anesthesia was a problem after eye surgery, if he had difficulty staying awake. He tells me that the only way to escape the intense post-surgical eye pain was to sleep. —And those eye drops really sting too.

It didn't occur to me that the eye drops hurt. I just figured a baby doesn't like being held down and that's why he fights eye drops. If John's not home to hold Joshua still, my adult body must pin baby arms to the floor with my knees while I gently sit on his thrashing body and use two free hands to force the drops into his eyes. One prescription is twice a day, the other is four times. Now the routine comes with the knowledge that I'm inflicting pain on him.

For several days I'm too overwhelmed to know how to function. I pray constantly to know what to do. God does not fail to answer. —Feed the kids. —Throw in a load of laundry. —Time for eye drops. He gives me only the very next step.

When I can think again I pray with desperation. I tell my God I can accept whatever His will is. I can accept if my son is destined to be blind. But I hate inflicting this pain on him and sending him away from me when he doesn't understand why. I plead with God to heal my son. I beg everyone who prays to ask for healing.

Six weeks later I awaken at 4:45 a.m. and drive back to Ann Arbor. The doctor explains they'll do the same surgery. Future surgeries and ongoing treatment will depend on the level of eye pressure. I tell the doctor I will not wait in the recovery area this time. I will comply with any restriction they want to impose on me, but I will not allow my son to be alone in recovery. The doctor says something about hospital policy. I politely tell him I understand, but unless I wait outside the operating room we're leaving now.

The doctor shrugs okay. It's not a big deal to him. His assisting physician glares at me with contempt. I follow them to an operating room, and sit on a stool outside the door. Several minutes later, the doctor emerges with a puzzled look on his face. The glaucoma is gone. There will be no surgery. I grab him and hug him. I thank him for telling me that God has answered prayer. The assistant will not look at me.

I understand why God hid from me for a few moments in an Ann Arbor hospital. He did not forsake me, but He did give me a taste—a very small taste—of what it is to refuse the pleas of a beloved Son, to hand an only Son over to strangers, to inflict pain on One's Own Son, to forsake that Son so He knows death's full agony. My agony led to my son's divine healing. Greater yet, it gave me deeper appreciation for what Father and Son endured at Calvary.

Long after Ann Arbor I realized God had given me calm before the storm, even though the calm was forgotten amid the storm. In January 1999, as the Y2K scare warmed, I felt distress to think of what desperate scenario could emerge from a computer melt-down in the wake of earth's last days. I talked with God about the conflict between fear of separation from my children, and the knowledge I must trust Him and not fear.

The Lord did not answer in His Spirit's familiar, still small voice. On that extraordinary occasion, He spoke with an audible voice—a voice as clear as if I could see Him. His voice left neither question about who has spoken nor doubt about the words' truth.

God said to me, "You will not be tested beyond ability to stand. My grace is sufficient."

The words stilled anxiety in the moment they were spoken. They will carry me to His throne.

Feedback invited. Post to "Comments" or e-mail to Copyright 2009, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.


  1. Bless you for sharing this dear, love you.

  2. What a powerful story, Anne, on this Good Friday. Thank you for sharing it with such clear, compelling writing.

    God bless you today as we remember how far God and His Son were willing to go to save the lost.

  3. Oh my, my blogophere travels keep bringing on more and more tears this Easter morning. God is truly inhabiting this invention.

    Thank you so much for sharing! Praise God for His amazing presence and the miracles He performs!

  4. While I was reading this, I held my 2 months old boy in my arms.... uh... I am speechless...

  5. Natasa, I had not read this again since I wrote it. I'm sitting here trembling with moist eyes. My son is now eleven. Several return eye check-ups have all been clear. The disease for which there is no known medical cure has not returned.

    The Lord has never again given me a taste of being forsaken. Once was enough to never forget.

    I shall also never forget what my God and His Son have done for me. I live to love Him every day.


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