(Guest Blogger Amy Horton)
There I was, all by myself, hooked up to several monitors, and trapped in a hospital bed. The bleeding had started a day earlier. The night had been terrifying. I had called the doctors and they reassured me, over the phone, that my contractions weren’t real. Thankfully, my mother came and drove me to the labor department to be checked. As I suspected, my baby was coming early. I was told, that after the delivery, he’d be staying in the neonatal intensive care unit. At the time, my husband was four states away from me, and he was speeding frantically to get to us. My mother-in-law and I were in contact by phone. She was weeping and praying. This was not what we had anticipated. In my mind, God had disappointed me yet again.
My bitterness started my Senior in college. It initially started when a group of “godly” friends forgot to include me in their yearly graduation party. Every year the group of friends performed skits that playfully portrayed each graduate. It was something we all looked forward to. We all wondered what personality traits they’d emphasize, rehearsing the speech we’d get to say thanking our friends and God for all we’d learned. My Senior year kept me busy. I had a full course load and an internship. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet up with the Bible study as much as I would have liked too that year. Refusing to believe they would forget me, after the countless parties, late night conversations, shared meals, shared rooms at our Christian conferences…. I went to the party. However, as soon as the Bible study leader saw me, he turned his back, and walked the other way. The skits rolled on, one by one, until the party was over. Not one of them included a portrayal of me. My heart broke. One friend came over and told me how sorry she was, but I wasn’t having it. I left the party saying a whirl of expletives under my breath. I made it to my car before I broke down sobbing. How could the people who I loved, and trusted so much, forget me?
I married my boyfriend right after he joined the Air Force. The first home we moved into was in Germany. At the time, he worked twelve-hour shifts, that rotated from days to nights, including weekends and holidays. It was one of the loneliest times in my life. The nights began early there and our home’s heating was faulty. Cold and dark was an appropriate description of our time there. I attended church there but I never wanted to join studies or Sunday schools. Because I attended alone, I never committed. The times we tried to, my husband would be spurned by members of the church for not being the proper rank. The bitterness in my heart grew as I discovered that I needed to have surgery. My husband was met with resistance, instead of support, when he requested leave to care for me. This caused my heart to become even more calloused. The thought that people didn’t care about us was constantly reinforced by the actions of others. My heart became like a broken bone that never set properly. It stopped working correctly and healed around bitterness, instead of forgiveness.
When our time in Germany had come to end, we moved to Georgia and I became pregnant (which was a miracle in itself.) There I joined a women’s Bible study. I was cautious, convinced they could see right through me. I knew they didn’t want people like me there. They didn’t want someone who couldn’t trust, couldn’t love, and that was afraid to be hurt again. I shared what I knew to be correct answers from my upbringing in church. I hid the sinful areas of my life: my colorful language and my distrust of others. However, from the very moment I met them, I was met with love. Little did I know, that these women were warriors. They were Army wives who had experienced many of the things that I had. They themselves had lived through disappointments, defeats, and heartbreak, all at the hands of others.
My baby came in his own timing. In my perfect birth plan, I would have a safe delivery with no complications. My baby would be immediately placed, on my chest, for beneficial skin to skin contact. He would stay with me in my hospital room, as I recovered, and I would joyfully show him to visitors. Instead he came early. My baby entered this world fraught with complications. My husband barely made it in to see him being born. His birth was an emergency C Section, because I was losing too much blood. I heard him cry and only saw him for a moment before he was immediately taken away from me to be placed on oxygen. The first time he was rolled in for me to see him, he seemed so small. He was way too small for that big-alien-spaceship-warming box that he had been placed in. I was afraid to touch him. He was so fragile. As the nurse placed him in my arms, for the first time, my bitter heart broke again. God had intervened. The next days in the hospital were hard. It was especially hard for me to hear babies crying from neighboring rooms that were born to “lucky” women who had no complications.
For a broken bone, that has healed wrong, to be set properly, it must be broken and set again. This had to happen to me. Visiting my son in the NICU, I walked by babies who were born months early. During one visit, the baby beside my son, started choking and a team of medics had to rush in to save her life. I had often heard the verse, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” At that moment, I know I am there, in the shadow of death. I hear the mother weeping because she is unable to help her baby breathe normally. I keep hearing the baby’s monitor going off. I trudge back to my hotel room, sit, and weep brokenly. Such vulnerability, such pain, such powerlessness. However, even though my heart was hurting, I was assaulted with love. The ladies at my Bible study met the news of my son’s birth with overwhelming joy. They tear up when I tell them my story. Even though we are exhausted and frustrated that we must leave our baby boy in the hands of others, God’s mercy shined through. Hours of donated leave roll in so my husband can care for me and visit our son in the NICU. In addition, meals are delivered to us to feed us.
When I look back on that time in my life, I realize God never failed me. It was my misplaced trust in others that let me down. God in his mercy poured out his love even when I didn’t deserve it. Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. I am saddened when I think of the years of spiritual famine living in Germany. However, I’ll never forget the outpouring of love when I needed it most. Most of all, I’ll never forget God meeting me in the heartbreak and fear, seeing me through it. Fast forward to today… Now I love people. It is a huge risk, but it is one that is worth making. Christ makes the risk in loving us every day. He meets us in our imperfections. It’s our job to love others despite theirs.
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The mother who wept for her baby? She took her home and she’s a beautiful happy, healthy, two-year old. She’s just fine, and you will be too.
Amy Horton lives in Georgia will her husband and healthy son. She’s praise and worship leader at the Protestant Women of the Chapel on Fort Gordon Army Base. She also contributes to devotionals at ZMIinternational.org. In her spare-time she cooks, sings at the top of her lungs, and avoids cleaning her house. She also runs a blog dedicated to dairy-free recipes called “Cooking 1 Handed.”