It was the dead of winter with the wind fiercely blowing the freezing cold air around. I ran upstairs to my bedroom, opened the window, and let the air hit my face while I slowly breathed it in.
As much as I dislike the winter and the cold, it was the first time in a couple weeks that I sucked in fresh air and I was desperate for it.
You see, for the first several years after Noah was born, due to his prematurity and his fragile medical condition, we lived in isolation with him. The only time we took him out of the house was for doctor appointments. Randy was working l-o-n-g hours, early in the morning to late at night, trying to get his medical practice established, so that meant I was at home.
Alone with the kids. In isolation.
Being a lover of social interaction, I now felt trapped inside of my own home. I went from working 80% time in a hospital setting caring for others, getting paid and getting thanked, to finding myself alone with a medically fragile son and no adult to talk to.
I knew that Randy was working hard caring for sick people all day, listening to their complaints and trying to make things better for them. I knew he was extremely stressed at work getting his practice established. Then, exhausted, he would have to come home to us, another situation of complaints and sickness. I knew that his job was hard, and I was proud of him, yet I found myself jealous because HE COULD LEAVE. He could leave the house, speak with other peers, and get out each day.
I felt so stuck. It was completely against my outgoing personality to be alone for so long. I actually looked forward to taking Noah to the doctors’ office because it allowed us to get out and I could TALK TO ANOTHER PERSON.
Randy and I found ourselves in a never-ending cycle of medical crisis…his at work and mine at home…with no relief in sight.
When Noah got his trach placed at 9 months old, he was also on oxygen 24 hours a day. We turned our formal dining room into his “hospital room bedroom”, which is still like that today. Since he was hooked to oxygen, a pulse oximeter, and humidity, we were confined to our main floor. So, when I was home with the boys alone, I was unable to even run upstairs to get something.
I could not leave him out of my sight for even 30 seconds. So many times he would plug his trach with secretions and I would have about 30 seconds to do an emergency trach change or suction out the plug before he went unconscious. Before Noah got discharged from the hospital in Minneapolis after receiving his trach, the doctor sat me down. With a very serious tone in his voice and looking at me straight in the eyes, he told me that in no condition what so ever could I let Noah out of my sight. Just prior to that conversation, the doctor had two patients, both babies with trachs who died because one mother went to answer the doorbell and the other mother walked away from her child to answer the phone. Both babies died because their mothers were not there to suction them when they needed it. When a doctor tells you that, you don’t forget it.
Reality hit home quickly.
Countless times, my husband and I found ourselves literally saving his life in a respiratory crisis. The first of those times happened within 30 minutes of coming home after leaving the hospital with his trach. You never knew when you would go from being OK to being in complete crisis mode on any given day. Often, it would happen in the middle of the night and we would go from half way sleeping to performing life saving measures on him in a matter of seconds. Numerous days when he was sick in the early years, he would require suctioning every 5 minutes, and that is ALL I would get done during the day. Essentially saving his life every 5 minutes.
Not going to lie. That was hard.
My mother would come from time to time so I could leave the house and drive to the grocery store or run other errands. There were times when I would leave and come home; park the van in the garage and the next time I got in it would be a couple weeks later.
There were others that came to sit with him from time to time while I was at home. They would be there to watch him and yell for me if he was having difficulty in anyway. Having them there allowed me to at least go upstairs to do some cleaning, or gather a load of laundry. It was during those times when I would find myself at the window, breathing in the freezing cold air…as if trying to perform my own life saving measures from losing my mind.
There were others that came to bring us meals, sent us cards, signed Noah’s Caring Bridge site with encouraging and uplifting words, visited us in the hospital, and I appreciated every single thing that was done. Often times, people would ask me what we needed, and to be completely honest, I had no clue. I wasn’t used to asking for help or even knowing what I needed. I just knew that when people stepped up and did a kind act, I was extremely grateful for it.
But you know what I found over the years that truly brought me joy? It was when I took a moment to do something for somebody else. Despite what we were going through, when I took time to see someone else in need, to write someone else an encouraging card, to sign someone else’s Caring Bridge guestbook, to visit someone else in the hospital, to bring someone else a meal…I was always left with a feeling of joy.
That was a feeling I desperately needed during those hard times and the way I received it was by giving of myself to help others. I also found that it immensely changed my perspective on what our family was dealing with and it prevented me from drowning in my own self-pity.
For those of you who find yourself in a situation of overwhelming sorrow – tears that fall easily and freely – and you just cannot imagine ever experiencing joy again, the Bible has many verses that offers promises of renewed joy. One of the places to turn to is Psalm 126. It tells us, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” Even in your trials, if you remain in Christ…being a witness and allowing Him to work through you and your tears…joy will come.
Proverbs 11:25 says, “The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.” (The Message)
You see – joy is different than happiness. Happiness is circumstantial, but joy is a matter of the heart. When we do things for others regardless of what is going on in our own lives, the fruit of that – a gift from the Holy Spirit – is joy.
Next time you find yourself needing a little joy, pray to God. Ask Him to open your eyes to the needs of those around you and then take a moment to give of yourself to bless that person or family. Volunteer at your church, your local homeless shelter or food pantry. It doesn’t have to be much…even the smallest act of kindness will be rewarded if it is done with the right heart-attitude.
It is a win-win.
The person on the receiving end will be truly grateful. You might never know how much of an impact your small act will have had on their life. Your gift in return will be something that only God can provide – true lasting joy.