Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Shepherd

This weekend I went on the Women's Retreat with our church. It was so very refreshing. Do you ever think that God chooses speakers/teachers/pastors sometimes for just one person in an audience? Sure, everyone enjoys the teaching and gets encouraged by the Word of God, but maybe God chose the speaker to touch the heart of one particular person in the room, one person who really needed to hear a specific something that they wouldn't have heard otherwise? This is probably a really naive view of things, because God is so big and His Word so deep that He can use a speaker to touch the hearts of every single person in a room in a multiplicity of ways. But it makes me feel special to very occasionally feel like God chose a speaker especially for me. Anyway, the point of that ramble is that I feel like this weekend's speaker was just for me, if even for the few minutes that she shared one particular verse.

Please forgive the lengthiness, and let me share with you how my heart was touched...

The speaker (Shirley Bryan) was talking about the 'pictures' God gives us that can sustain us through difficult times, i.e., a child and her Father, the indwelling Word, putting on spiritual clothing, etc. And the picture that touched me most was the picture of the Shepherd. This is why God had me go on this retreat. He reached down and spoke directly into my heart, and I am changed.

"Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes." (Isaiah 40:11)

The past year and a half has contained both the greatest joys and the deepest sorrow of my life. In the past year and a half I got engaged and married. My first child was born. These are joys that will forever stand out as the happiest moments of my life. But the darkest days of my life are also contained in the past year and a half. They are recent, actually- just five and a half short months ago my precious Eli was born two months premature and spent six weeks in the NICU fighting for His life.

I was very sick with Eli's birth. My blood pressure had sky-rocketed to 200/150. My kidneys were shutting down. My liver was swelling and causing unbearable pain. I was on magnesium sulfate and was unable to move my legs or get out of bed for 52 hours. I was swollen so much that I didn't even look like myself. I had an emergency c-section and was incredibly sore.

But all of this discomfort pales in comparison to the fact that my little baby boy was taken out of my body and placed not onto my chest but into an incubator and rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. I kissed his little head, but then I didn't get to see my son for 48 hours. I didn't get to hold him for 52 hours. He was on a ventilator, under UV lamps, attached to an IV, heart monitor, blood pressure monitor, respiration monitor, and feeding tube. He weighed little more than 2.5 pounds. His lungs were immature and unable to work on their own. His heart had a valve open that was supposed to be closed at birth. He cried out in pain, but no sound came out because of the tube in his lungs. He had tape covering most of his face, holding in the vent tube, and his eyes were shielded with "sunglasses" so that they would not burn under the UV lamp. His skin was transparent. You could see his ribs and his heaving chest with every breath. Sitting there in a wheelchair, looking at my son in this condition, I felt the most intense pain I have ever felt in my entire life. And when they placed him in my arms hours later, along with all his tubing and little monitors, I sobbed. Part of my tears were joyful- I was holding my son!- and part were tears of intense pain.

Three days later Eric and I drove away from the hospital without our baby. We left him in the NICU. I walked into the house and unpacked my things and went to bed, and the nursery was dark and quiet. Every day I drove to the hospital and sat for hours on end staring into Eli's incubator, stretching my arms through the little windows so that I could touch his head, singing quiet lullabyes so that he would know my voice, rejoicing in every opportunity given to me to take his temperature or change his diaper and even hold him for an hour or two every few days. Some days we received good news and some days we received bad news. Every day I walked out of the hospital with tears in my eyes because I was leaving my baby, going home to an empty nursery. Every day I ached to have him in my arms, and most days of those first few weeks the most that I was allowed was to hold his hand.

The upshot is that right now as I write this I am listening to the sound of my little Eli's breathing through the baby monitor. He is sleeping in his warm crib, listening to his sound machine, snuggled in his soft blankets and waiting to wake up with a smile so that I can feed him and rock him back to sleep. And while I rejoice daily in the miracle of my son, my little Eli, the pain of those first months is still so fresh in my heart. I am crying even as I write this.

And the verse above touched me this weekend right in that painful place. I had memorized it years ago, but I forgot all about it until the speaker read it again. In speaking of her own experience with her premature and sick son, she said that she didn't need to worry that she couldn't hold her tiny baby, because the Shepherd was holding him close. And just as He was holding her baby, He was holding the baby's mommy too, with gentleness and love. And my heart broke under the power of God's word.

I couldn't hold Eli. I couldn't help him. I couldn't take him home with me and put him to bed and give him a bath and get him dressed. I couldn't even nurse him. I couldn't even get out of bed for those first days, could do little more than lie in pain. But my Shepherd was with me, because I am of His flock. He was holding my baby in His bosom. And He was gently leading this tired, sick, grieving mommy. All the way. Through the bad news and the good news. Through every labored breath Eli took. Through every tear that ran down my face. Through every night that we spent away from each other. Through every silent cry that escaped his lips and every sob that came through mine. Through every ounce Eli gained and every test he endured. Through every moment I longed to hold my baby and every moment when I could do little more than look at him through the incubator wall. Through it all, my Shepherd was there, carrying my little lamb in His bosom and gently leading this nursing mommy. And feeling our pain. And seeing my sin, and the days when I didn't even feel like I could pray. And loving me anyway. So faithfully.

I have been meaning to write a "tribute" to the Lord for all that He has done for us in the miracle of Eli. But I feel that this verse is tribute enough. And there is nothing more perfect than His Word. What more can I say but that He is my Shepherd. And I never knew what that meant or how it felt until this darkest time of my life. But I will forever have a deeper understanding because of this time. I am deeply thankful. God is my Shepherd. He is good all the time. I will teach my son this truth and will pray that each member of our family walks faithfully with the Shepherd who tends to each member of His flock with exactly the kind of care they need, from the lambs to the ewes, and everyone in between.