what it's not

Friday, October 17, 2014

image by arthouse design
My little boy is sick. Really sick. Since last Thursday, he has had periods of intense belly pain and vomiting, followed by hours of feeling normal and asking for food. He was in the ER four times between Friday and Tuesday night, was admitted to Children's Hospital Wednesday, and until yesterday afternoon, when we finally saw a specialist, no one has had any idea why he is so sick.

When doctors don't know what's wrong, they start with what it's not. "It's not his appendix," we heard  all weekend. It seems like it should be, based on where his pain is and the severity of his symptoms, but it's not. Nor is it his gall bladder, liver, kidney stones, or structural blockage. It's not a twisted intestine, it's not an infection, and it's not cancer (thank God). And that's where they stop, because that's all they've got - a list of what it's not.

I've shared a few stories about the past few months here, but I have to confess I've also held back a good bit. Since early May, three out of my four kids have had serious or life threatening injuries and illnesses. We've had two ambulance rides, two urgent care visits, six ER trips, and a police officer ring our doorbell because of my toddler's antics. All within a few months. I would offer a punch line here, but so far it doesn't feel very funny.

I don't understand why so much has happened all at once. I'm not suddenly disengaged from my kids in a way that would put them at higher risk for getting sick or hurt. We haven't taken up any new and dangerous activities. Our lives should be the same as they always were. Yet all at once, my family has been wrung out, our energy squeezed dry by a series of random, very scary events. Honestly, I'm exhausted.

I don't know what any of this is. But I do know what it's not. It's not a test to see how Christlike I can be when an eternal thumb presses down on my life. It's not a tool to highlight my sin. It's not a punishment, and it's not anything my family deserves. At points in my life I believed every one of these things about God and his relationship to life circumstances. No more. I don't believe God harms us (or allows harm to come to us) to show us who's boss. Just like the doctors, I can make a list of what it's not.

That's where I stop, because I can't begin to answer what it is. I can't begin to know why things happen the way they do, to weave it all  together, to turn suffering into some sort of cosmic puzzle. I can't create order and assign meaning to what feels like chaos.

What I do know is this: God doesn't create evil, or filter bad into our lives for a higher good. But if you look, you can find Him wherever you are. God's presence shows up even - especially - in ugly places. In the past few months, I've seen a lot of good. Over and over I've stepped into God's kingdom When friends, acquaintances, and occasionally strangers have offered to help with my other kids. When neighborhood buddies bring cards for me to take to the hospital. When the principal of his school mobilizes the parent committee to provide meals for the next week, and sends us restaurant gift cards to feed us in the meantime.

I've felt God's presence in the ways my marriage is growing stronger. My husband and I talk more, appreciate the other's strengths more, and find more comfort in just sitting in the same room than we have in years. And God is in the soul-bursting gratitude I feel every time I look at my husband and kids. After all that's happened, I've planned zero funerals this year. We are here, we are together, and we are going to be okay. God lives in that simple, blessed reality.

I'm with the doctors. I don't have any idea what this is. A specialist has narrowed down the possibilities in my son, and hopefully by the end of the weekend we'll know what is making him so sick. But thankfully, it's not my job to find meaning in hard things. I can instead look for the good, be thankful for what we have, and hold tight to the comfort in the truth of what it's not.


  1. Praying for you and your family. I think I need a hotline directly to you for you to talk me off the ledge some days. :) Your words are so comforting and always calm my nerves. Thank you for that!

  2. This is a beautiful way to process such a hard truth. Peace to you, my friend.

  3. Good morning ~

    I am a friend of Wendy Callaway. While reading this post I was reminded of the 3 1/2 year struggle trying to figure out what was troubling or son's tummy. After exhaling all (Western) medical options, we went to see a friend who is a chiropractor / kenesiologist. Afterthought we had been told repeatedly that it was not his liver / gall-bladder, that is what it turned out to be.

    I know it is sometimes hard to embrace the "odd" world of alternative medicine, but it is SO worth it for our sweet little blessings. I see that you are in CO as well. I would love to share the name and number of our (Christian) friend.

    Praying for you and your loved ones as you walk this scenic path of life.

    In His love, Carrie

  4. Oh Stephanie, I'm so sorry and am praying for your sweet boy! As the mother of a chronically ill child myself, I understand your anguish. If you ever need to let off steam or chat medical, please look me up!!
    Theresa Nolette Keith

  5. Oh Stephanie. You are in my prayers, and your babies and husband too. I'm so glad you can see (and share with us) what is (and what isn't, as you say!) going on in and around you. We are blessed to read your words.

  6. I would rather be sick every day of the year than my little one sick just one day. I can not stand the look in his eyes when he is sick, especially when the doctor can not understand what is wrong. I feel like I let my child down as I struggle to find out what is the cause of this.

    Scott Cravey @ U.S. HealthWorks - San Leandro



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