Monday, January 12, 2009

from the archives: trusting God with the life of a child

It's still tough, watching Lizzy struggle with the effects of coeliac disease. The dietician tells me it will probably be 6 months more before she's herself again. She's a lot better on her new diet - she's lost the dark circles under her eyes, doesn't feel sick at school all day every day, and she's missed 1 day of school every fortnight instead of every week - but we're still waiting for her body to heal. In the meantime, our little gymnast can't get through a 2 hour gym class, her muscles ache when she does too much walking, and she still gets tummy pains and headaches. Here's how it all began:

Last Tuesday afternoon, I sat on our back verandah, looked up at the lemon-scented gums, and sobbed. And no, it wasn't about my father-in-law, who died 5 days before, although I've shed many tears for him.

I was crying out to God for the ability to trust him with the life of my only daughter.

Lizzy has been sick for over a month. Sore stomach, a bizarre headache in the back of her head, aching muscles. She's been dragging herself through school and putting herself to bed an hour early every night, as her skin grows whiter and the circles under her eyes more purple.

The doctor examined her and found nothing wrong. "Try these pills (the implication being they probably won't do much) and come back in 2 weeks if she's still sick." One week later and I'd had enough, so the doctor booked her in for a battery of blood tests last Monday.

The final brick in my towering wall of anxiety came when Lizzy's teacher approached me last Tuesday afternoon, obviously worried about the sick, pale little girl struggling to sit through 6 1/2 hours of school every day.

You probably understand the thoughts that go through a parent's mind at times like these. Thoughts you barely dare to name, certainly not to the doctor, for fear they'll think you're an over-anxious parent (which, let's face it, you are). Cancer. Brain cancer. Leukemia.

And if you give in to the impulse to look it up on the internet (I succumbed after a month of anxiety) you get big medical names for your worries, like slow-growing chronic myelogenous leukemia, with symptoms vague enough for any vague set of symptoms.

So I sat on the verandah and cried out my worry and fear to God.

I committed my children to God years ago. I pray,

Keep them safe. Please keep them safe! But do with them as you will. They are yours, you love them more than I do, you know what is best for them. Watch over them, grow them into the people you want them to be, and use their lives for the good of your kingdom. Even at cost to me - or them.

God's preparation for the times when the pit of fear opens before my feet. So I was able to say through my tears "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). I was able to tell God I love him more than anything, more than life itself, more even than the life of my children.

But I was unable to trust him.

I know God isn't capricious. I know he doesn't delight in hurting us. I know he's no cosmic kill-joy. I know "all things work together for good for those who love God," the good of making us more like Christ (Rom. 8:28).

I've said it myself: "He gives us only the suffering that is needful, no more."

But is it really true? Does God give me just enough suffering to make me more like Christ? Is the Christian who suffers more in need of being made like Christ than the one who doesn't? Of course not! So what does it mean to say God gives us only the suffering that is needful?

Is there always a reason for the suffering of God's people? What does it mean to say we may never know the reason? Does it mean there isn't a reason, or that there is a reason, but it may stay hidden in God? And what kinds of reasons does God have for our suffering?

In other words: can I trust God with the life of my only daughter?

Here's how my wise husband answered my questions: Yes, there's always a reason for our suffering, as there was for Job. But no, we won't always know the reason, just as Job didn't. God's reasons aren't limited to making us Christ-like, so there's certainly no direct link between the amount of suffering I experience and my lack of Christ-likeness. All suffering is used by God to make us more like Christ, but he may have other reasons as well.

For there are many reasons for suffering. God's fatherly discipline for things I do wrong. His training ground to produce greater Christ-likeness in me. An encouragement to find comfort and joy in God. The testing and and refining of my faith. Prying my fingers away from holding too tightly to the good things of this world. Increasing my sympathy for another's suffering. The catalyst to lead someone else to Christ.

Above all, I hope suffering will always be an opportunity for God's great and holy name to be glorified in my life.

And I can live with this uncertainty. I like to know the reasons, but I can live without a reason. I can live with the absolute certainty that God loves me and my children more than I will ever know, that he always has a reason for allowing us to suffer, and that the reason may stay hidden in his loving Father's heart.

I can trust my heavenly Father with my life and the lives of my children.

It turned out that Lizzy probably has coeliac disease, like her father: an intolerance to gluten, which means she'll be unable to eat wheat, barley or rye for the rest of her life. Good news, especially for a family already used to coping with this condition! I am already praying God will use this condition to grow her in thankfulness, patience and self-control.



Jean said...

A comment from Lucy (which I deleted by mistake - sorry Lucy!)

"My nearly 4 year old daughter has just been diagnosed with coeliac disease too... going through the months of knowing there was "something" wrong was so scary. It's so hard to trust God isn't it? I feel like I'm getting ok at it until something like this comes along!"

Jean said...

Lucy, I am so sorry. And yes, the months of uncertainty are very hard to bear. Does anyone else in your family have coeliac disease? How are you coping with the new diet?

Lucy said...

We don't know of anyone else with it, so it was a bit of a shock. The new diet is going ok (I've had my share of truly spectacular cooking failures though!). The intensity of the grief I feel about it has really taken me by surprise... the arrival of our coeliac society welcome package managed to turn me into a teary mess today - thought I was past that stage *sigh*.

It's getting easier on the whole now that she's getting so much better - all the effort seems so worth it :)

Jean said...

It was easier for me because I'm so familiar with buying and cooking gluten free food, which removed a lot of the uncertainty and inconvenience. But I have to be much more careful with Lizzy's diet than Steve's, so that's made it harder.

But there is grief about all the things it will mean for them in the future, isn't there? As well as relief that it's nothing more serious - at least this is manageable!

I ran into a woman in the supermarket whose toddler was diagnosed with coeliac disease, and she had anxiety and fear written all over her face. It's not easy.

The Idle Introvert said...

Hey Jean. I have coeliac disease too, diagnosed about 5 years ago. What a life-changer!

I spent my teenage years going to parties, unable to eat almost anything, and offending multiple hosts/friends by being unable to eat birthday cake, or anything they had prepared.

Numerous friends have attempted to make gluten-free food items for me over the years, but many have inadvertently made the "glutinous", by adding gluten-containing soy milk or corn flower or icing sugar.

The longer one is off gluten, the more sensitive one becomes to it. So we now have a separate margarine, separate toaster and all cutting boards must be washed down thoroughly before I can use them. We also have a bar against "double-dipping" with knives in the jam etc to prevent contamination.

You wrote "she'll be unable to eat wheat, barley or rye for the rest of her life". Unfortunately in Aus, oats also have gluten in them due to the way they're processed. You can purchase gluten-free oats overseas.

We're members of the Victorian Coealic Society, which I can highly endorse. Through their quarterly newsletters, we've learnt things like that products containing "wheat glucose syrup" are fine because they're so processed that the wheat is no longer in it. Also, "maltodextrin", which one would usually exclude from the diet due to the word "malt", is fine unless the product specifies "malt maltodextrin".

Good luck!

The Idle Introvert said...

p.s. If she's still experiencing tummy aches, it could be because she's still intaking small amounts of gluten, through cross-contamination of cooking implements etc (e.g. putting a pasta lifter in one pot and the putting in in the gluten-free pot).

We learnt about this the hard way.

Jean said...

Yes, she's not eating oats (such a pity!). And we're using separate toasters and margarine, and being very careful with chopping boards. The tummy aches have now gone (except the day before yesterday someone - like one of your friends! - fed her some gluten by mistake, so she had a tummy ache yesterday) so we're just waiting for her to get her strength back.

The Idle Introvert said...

great to hear! you're sure doing a great job, and Lizzy will appreciate your efforts for years to come. There's nothing like home-cooked gluten-free food.