My Mama has no legs. And thus concludes one of the most sad and spiritually dry stories of my life. But perhaps I should start from the beginning....
I had always been that girl who was blessed with a beautiful and perfect life. While I had always been so grateful for my simple and blessed life, I found it so hard to believe that things would be that perfect forever. As I entered college and transitioned to grad school, my image of God transformed from loving Father figure to independent and strong woman. And this God was so present with me. And then, when I married my best friend, Mike, my image transitioned again to the Love between a married couple. And THIS God was so present with me. And then, when we became pregnant and I transitioned into motherhood, my image of God suddenly morphed into a Mother with a baby in Her womb and breasts ready with milk to so tenderly nurse Her little one. And yet again, THIS God was so present with me.
Mike and I have two boys now. Riley is nearly two and Hudson is nearly one. Ummm....we have our hands full :) These early years were supposed to be filled with happiness and excitement and unadulterated joy....filled with grandparents who smothered their little loves with gifts and with parents so in love who had endless amounts of time to spend with their babies. My dream was for our babies to know and adore their relatives and to sit down to dinner each night together as a family, and to attend church every together, and to pick pumpkins together in the fall, decorate Christmas cookies together in the winter, grow a garden together in the spring and play in the open air together in the summer. Our little life together with our babies was going to be perfect....and then slowly, and suddenly, it wasn't....
A couple months before we found out that we were pregnant with Riley, Mike's Dad died from stage four cancer throughout his whole body. He smoked....a lot. And then last summer, a couple months before Hudson was born, Mike's Mom died from stage four cancer throughout HER body. SHE smoked...a lot. It's hard to sit with your husband as he buries both of his parents within a year and welcomes two babies within a year that he desperately wants to introduce to his parents. Heartbreaking, really. And then, three months later, on Riley's first birthday in mid October, my own mother would lock eyes with death. On the drive from Toledo, Ohio to St. Louis to celebrate the first birthday of their first grandbaby, my Mama called in tears saying that she was in terrible pain, that she was passing a kidney stone and that they were returning home. I was bummed. But, this was only a kidney stone, a 9mm beast that she would have blasted just like the many before. This was nothing out of the ordinary. By the end of the weekend, however, Mama had multiple organ failure, tubes up her nose and down her throat, IV's in every possible vein, tubes and other things shoved into every other opening in her body. Behind the kidney stone a terrible infection had started and her body went into septic shock, a blood disease of sorts (I really don't understand) that kills nearly everyone it attacks in a matter of hours or days. And with all this stress in on her body, she had a heart attack. We were told that they would try to keep my 49 year mother alive until we managed to drive home to say goodbye. Excuse me, WHAT?!?!?
The next week was horrific. I was due to give birth in a couple weeks, both of Mike's parents had just died in the months before, and I had a brand new one year old who learned to walk at the hospital. My emotions were everywhere. I couldn't lose my own mother as I was just barely beginning to learn how to be one myself. The doctors and nurses were convinced that Mom was going to die that week. With horror, I can recall her mangled body all puffed up with 60 pounds of fluid to manage the septic shock, the baby in my womb gently kicking my Mother's hand that I placed on my belly. Machines regulated her breathing and we searched for any sign from her that she was going to survive. As the septic shock attacked her body, her feet and fingers slowly began to turn black and change to dust. It was horrifying. IF she survived, my mother would have multiple limbs amputated. Caught between the miracle of life tumbling beautifully in my belly, and the death of my spirit as I watched my Mom fight for each moment of life, I left God. Everything was raw and nothing made sense. God just, well, WASN'T. And I was ashamed.
In the following weeks, my Mama would slowly come back to life, one failed organ at a time and would endure multiple surgeries to amputate both legs and her right thumb. And I would burst forth into a stunning birth two weeks early, a story of spiritual beauty for another time. Thanksgiving and Christmas were riddled with deep sadness at the loss of Mike's parents and the slow and very painful recovery of my Mama that sadly, if I'm honest, suffocated the joy of another newborn. I could barely keep up. I was behind in work. I was a distracted and overwhelmed mother. I was a long distance daughter and sister who wasn't in touch with the mess that my family was enduring 8 hours away. I felt like a terrible wife to my wonderful husband, as I navigated my world in a daze, unable to make any sense of anything. And still, God just, well, WASN'T.
And then, God appeared. In a hummingbird.
In May I was on a conference call for CLC with several other campus ministers around the country. And I had the opportunity to share my story...and so I did. And I cried. And I cried. And I cried. And the other ministers cried with me. At the end of the conversation, one minister asked to pray. Her words and prayers were for new life, for a fresh spirit, for God to make Godself present again...or at least for me to know She was there. And I kid you not, the moment she prayed for new life, a hummingbird suddenly appeared and danced among the pink flowers hanging on our back deck. And I wept. The moment the prayer was over, the hummingbird flew away. After the phone call, I googled the hummingbird and learned that it serves as a symbol of new life. SAY WHAT!?!?! The chills come over my body even as I type this.
My spiritual director suggested that I purchase a hummingbird feeder and nurture the symbol of new life that God had offered me. She said that sometimes, God needs to make Herself obvious when we are the most blind or distracted. For me, the spiritual practice of becoming aware of God's presence is slowly taking root again. Emphasis on the word s-l-o-w-l-y. And, although I know I'm a campus minister and I feel like I should have the most amazing relationship and understanding of God in my life, I'm ok with starting over, and redefining my relationship with God. Just like my relationship with my kiddos or hubby, or mama, or brothers, or dad, this relationship takes patience and time and gentleness and vulnerability. I'd be lying if I said that I am aware of God every moment. I'm only human after all. But I'd also be lying if I said that I was ready to give up trying.
Today, 11 months later, my Mama is walking again on prosthetic legs and is slowly re-learning how to do everything minus a thumb and working fingers on her dominate hand. She is a force to be reckoned with. I can't explain enough how much I am inspired by her...and my Dad for so lovingly caring for her every single day...let's just take a moment to talk about THIS image of God.... they will be married for thirty years....and celebrating, as they say, "to life, limb, and love". Please join me in saying a prayer for thirty more years that are simply gushing with extraordinary love. And today, I have two healthy, VERY lively little boys who every day fill my life with happiness. And my partner, Mike, is more than I could ever hope for in a husband and father of my children. And I love my job. And I cherish each moment that I spend with my family. My own spiritual life is slowly embracing that fresh start, and my image of God is constantly redefining itself, although today, She's still a hummingbird :)