When God answers a desperate prayer, it’s like heaven on earth. It doesn’t get much better. But what about when we don’t see our prayers answered? How do you feel when some situations never change?
During a FaceTime conversation recently with my daughter, Dawn, and her group home staff, I longed for heaven. In my chest was a hard rhythmic pounding—the meeting couldn’t be over soon enough. I wanted to escape the monotonous sadness and frustration. I’d always been anxious in these meetings. With slight variations, it was the same meeting I’ve had for thirty-eight years.
My mind flashed to Dawn at three. Her mental age was eighteen months, according to the experts. That wasn’t so bad; surely she’d catch up to her true age. In months between meetings, I’d hope for dramatic progress. I’d fantasize that in the middle of a normal day, she’d begin a conversation with me. I’ve always prayed for that to happen.
I’d hold my breath just as they’d assign her disability a category. Profoundly mentally handicapped was the worst label; the one I dreaded. When I heard the word severe I was relieved. At least that was something to be glad about.
As she got older, the mental age of eighteen months became increasingly harsh. I was so tired of eighteen I could scream. “Just don’t tell me, okay?”
Mercifully, as the years went by, her educators began to discuss tangible goals and slight progress. They began an evaluation of her abilities, rather than a mental age. Was she able to feed herself with a fork? Would she carry her bag? Could she operate the faucet?
It was pain avoidance I sought when I stuffed some memories away. If you stow the hard experiences, they’ll come back with all their friends. You may hurt more than if you’d lived with the truth little by little. Avoidance doesn’t work. Even now my fingers strike the keys as though sloughing through mud.
It helps to put painful things out of your mind, at least temporarily. I could, to some extent, leave Dawn’s meetings, involve myself in other activities, and file away my worry, sadness and fear. I’d go on with my life without constant thoughts of Dawn. That virtual file, labeled do not open, became thick over the years. I finally pried it open when I decided to put my flood of memories on paper.
I was a full time mama, wife and homemaker–I didn’t have time to dwell on my problems. I had to hold our family of six together. It seemed natural to lay aside my angst about Dawn.
The questions would plague me at times. Could I have been a better mother or a stronger advocate? Did her seizures develop from the hard fall she took while I taught preschool? Did I do something that could’ve caused her disability?
I learned to celebrate every little accomplishment, as you do with a special child. I noticed each funny or cute expression. Any new action was cause for celebration. When Dawn was twelve, she walked to a bookshelf, picked up a little box and handed it to me, in response to my request. She could’ve run a 5K and I wouldn’t have cheered more. This year, her fortieth, she’s become quite comfortable walking into our house, opening the refrigerator and looking for Coke, her favorite treat. Her independence puts a big smile on my face. These are the things that bring joy.
I felt drained and sad at the end of my recent FaceTime call. I was relieved to have another meeting behind me. We’ve talked about her teeth for years. She can’t brush them independently and she clenches her jaws when someone helps. Cleaning them well is next to impossible, which has consequences. She now has appointments at Chapel Hill every six months for cleaning.
As believers, we live in the “now and not yet” of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is alive and active on the earth. God provides us with unending beauty and joys in our relationship with Him. We pray and often receive the hoped-for answer. Other times we don’t. One day Jesus will reign fully in His established Kingdom on earth. The promise of life forever with Him brings such comfort. Nothing will ever separate us from Him.
We have glimpses of heaven in sunrises and sunsets. We enjoy a sense heaven when we’re with our dearest loved ones. In the midst of these earthly delights, if we could expand the time and circumstance we’d be almost there. We are not deprived, just incomplete. I enjoy beautiful threads of heaven these days: The cardinals’ rich red. Babies’ perfect scent and soft skin. A tight timely hug. A note of encouragement. Cherry trees in spring; sounds of the ocean waves that never stop. The wealth of music; a symphony in perfect sync, songs of worship, children’s voices. Then, in a moment’s time we’re back to loss and brokenness. We remember again, in just a little while there will be fullness of joy.
These glimpses of heaven take us through the hardships and pain as we wait for the perfect world to come.