Today I will make my son vulnerable to attack. Against all my maternal instincts, I will withhold his protection.
My son has asthma, a diagnosis he recently earned in somewhat dramatic fashion. Until last month, I knew next to nothing about asthma. It didn’t seem like a very big deal. The few people I had known who had it seemed well controlled. With the exception of the little boy in the movie “Signs,” I had never seen anyone in real respiratory distress.
That changed one morning in August when my son couldn’t stop coughing. He coughed until his stomach heaved. And when he wasn’t coughing, he was “retracting.” That’s the fancy word I learned for it later, but at the time all I knew was that my son was pulling so hard for air that his ribs were protruding. With every breath, he sucked in so hard that I could clearly see his heart beating below his breastbone.
When you’re holding your frantic child, watching his lips turn blue, unable to do anything to meet his most basic need, you learn how powerless you really are.
After three days in the PICU, I went home better educated and my son went home better protected. We were armed with a controller medicine, a rescue inhaler, and — because we live in the Ohio Valley, where nature continually flings a potent asthma trigger concoction into the air — a good, strong allergy medication.
Two weeks later we were back in the ER.
At that point, my son’s doctor recommended that he see an allergist. We need to figure out what his triggers are — identify them so that we can avoid them or at least control them.
And that is why today I must remove his protection. For seven days, no allergy medicine. As fall allergy season hits its stride and weathermen discuss the pollen count in grave tones, I must leave my son exposed. A month ago I would have shrugged at that, scoffed at the idea that it was worrisome. That was before I watched my son’s ER doctors look at each other with raised eyebrows and call for an epipen.
Asthma is a battle against the unseen. For all I know, the air I’m breathing with complete ease in my home right now is beginning to inflame the little lungs in the next room. Enemies that I cannot see, taste, or smell can show up anytime, anyplace.
The word that keeps coming to mind in all this is control. It’s even in the name of my son’s medicine: controller. We’ve tried to get his asthma under control with medications and by avoiding triggers. But until we can change the fact that he needs air to live, we cannot absolutely control what enemies slip past the gate.
And now I cannot control the fact that in order to find out exactly which enemies we’re fighting, I have to let down my son’s defenses.
I keep thinking that this is why health problems so often lead to a crisis of faith. We can suddenly no longer pretend we’re in charge. I can delude myself for a while by making sure my family eats well, exercises, and rests. But a few minutes next to a hospital bed quickly remind me of how much I cannot see, know, or control. And because our health is so personal and necessarily dear to all of us, the loss of it puts us in a state of desperation faster than almost anything else.
Before my son’s hospital stay, I had entertained notions of how I would respond to a health crisis in our family. I had tried to guess whether I would be steadfast in my faith or whether I would falter. I had hoped to be one of those people of whom others say, “She’s always so joyful and peaceful no matter what happens.”
When my son got sick, I got my answers. I’m a lightweight. I had more than one moment of self-pity. I flung my hot questions to the sky. Then I forgot to pray, and worried instead.
But in the course of the past month, I have learned something else, too — something I’ve been trying to understand for a long time. But until a moment of desperation, I wasn’t ready to grasp it.
I’ve learned how to relinquish control. And not just to give it up, but also to trust Another with it. For years I have known that I should do this. But I had to be faced with my utter powerlessness before I understood it.
I have learned, or at least I’m learning, that many times a day I need to hand over my delusions of control to the only One who can handle being in control. And that’s not just true for the unseen physical battles. An invisible war rages in my heart and all around me constantly, and all this is teaching me to trust the Lordship of my God over that realm as well. I’m learning how to believe that it’s really, truly going to be okay in His hands.
And that is why I can leave the antihistamines in the cabinet today without hyperventilating. It’s why I can let my son play outside during allergy season without a hazmat suit.
He’s got the whole world in His hands.
But I’ll still be glad when the next seven days are over.
“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” – Col. 1:16-17
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Image by Paul Boekell
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