Sunday, March 27, 2011

'Cause when a heart breaks... it don't break even

I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing
Just prayed to a God that I don't believe in
'Cause I got time while she got freedom
'Cause when a heart breaks no it don't break even

What am I supposed to say
When I'm all choked up that you're okay
I'm falling to pieces
-The Script, "Breakeven"

Love Love LOVE this song. While it's really about a breakup, I think it works for all sorts of heartache. And it speaks to my experience of falling to pieces.

This morning, I did something that was on the far distant edge of my comfort zone - I spoke in church. (Well, "spoke" is probably an overstatement - "stood up in front of the congregation to read my story" is probably more accurate. Let's face it, I'm a writer not a public speaker.) Each Sunday in Lent, members of our congregation are sharing their personal faith stories. Mine was as much a personal doubt story as faith story. It's tough to stand up in front of your faith community and say that I have more questions about God than answers. Though my hands were trembling and my voice was shaky, I managed to do just that.

Want to read it for yourself?

My life - and my faith - were changed in the early morning hours of August 12, 2010. Last summer, my two year old son Jay had open heart surgery. He came through surgery without a problem. He woke up begging for chocolate milk and begging to go swimming. I cried tears of joy because I thought my prayers had been answered. He was healed, and I was so grateful to God.
Late that night, something went terribly wrong and I got the middle of the night phone call that no parent ever wants to hear. Jay had crashed. His heart had stopped beating and they were doing CPR. They were putting him on life support. As we rushed to the hospital, I prayed over and over “Dear God - please save my baby. Oh God, please help him.” I stood in the hallway of the ICU and watched as the nurses were doing chest compressions on his tiny little body. For an hour and a half, they pounded on his chest to keep him alive.
I have never felt so terrified.

He was on complete life support for a week. A machine known as ECMO would pump his blood because his heart wasn’t beating. The machines kept his body going, kept his blood flowing, kept his lungs breathing. They began talking to us about a heart transplant.

And while he needed physical support to survive, I needed life support of my own. I needed faith support. How could this happen? How could God let this happen to me? My prayers weren’t prayers at all … it was a pitiful kind of begging. I couldn’t get beyond “Dear God - Help him!” Over and over again I said those words “Oh God! Please help him!” I was numb with fear.

But during that time, I saw what it means to live out God’s love. People in this congregation carried me through with prayers for us when I had no words. You prayed for his physical needs. And you prayed for peace and comfort and courage for me and for Derek.

And then the miracle began to emerge. Jay came off ECMO and his heart began beating on its own. He came off the ventilator and began breathing on his own. He talked. He smiled. He showed us that his mind was just as it had been when he woke up from surgery. He again started begging to go swimming.

I’d love to say that having been through trials and heartache, I emerged with an unshakable faith. I wish I could tell you that having been witness to a miracle, I developed a more complete trust in God’s plan for my life.

Instead, I’m left with more questions than answers, more confusion than confidence. I find it even harder to understand God’s plan and God’s role in the world. I find myself asking “Why” more often than I’d like to admit.

At first, I spent a lot of time wondering “Why me? Why my baby? Why should he have to hurt?” But as I watched other heart babies dying around us in the hospital, I began to more fully realize what a miracle it was to have my child restored to life. The other side of that WHY coin pretty quickly became “Why me? Why do we get the miracle? What responsibility comes with this blessing?”

These are not easy questions, but I’m reassured that God wants us to struggle to an understanding of them. The easy faith, the simple faith, the child-like faith has its place. But it’s in the tough places of faith, the times when God’s plan just doesn’t make sense, that we are forced to examine our understanding of Him.

In this community of faith, I’ve been given permission to ask tough questions. I’m grateful that I have people to talk with, to struggle with. Many of you have been generous in sharing the things that have guided you along the path as you search for understanding. Your generosity of spirit is what’s given me the courage to stand up here this morning and say “I don’t have all the answers.”

The lesson I draw from the woman at the well is that God is part of our physical and spiritual healing. She goes to the well in search of water to meet her physical thirst; she finds spiritual healing, too. I believe that God can renew and repair all kinds of broken hearts. He guided the miracle of physical healing that I saw in Jay. And he’s still working on the spiritual healing within my own heart. That may take a miracle too.


In the end, I was pretty proud of what I said. Honestly, I was most worried about bursting into tears and not being able to get my thoughts out. But I managed to keep it together until I stepped down from the pulpit, so I was grateful for that. And afterward, I had a bit of "Wow! I really did that!" kind of feeling.

I am grateful that Jay's story, and maybe even my faith struggles, have been inspiring to readers (and now hearers!) who've followed along on this journey with us. If nothing else, I hope it makes you hug your family a little tighter tonight. Be thankful.


Anonymous said...

You did such a wonderful job!!!!

Anonymous said...

Jen, you did an amazing job yesterday. I'll admit that I was sitting in the congregation with tears running down my face. I had followed your blog and then met you (and the fam) after all the time spent in PA. I have to tell you that you speak for more people than you know when you express that you have more doubts than faith. It was a brave thing that you did and I applaud you.

Anne T.

Jennifer Thompson said...

I am so glad that you posted your comments. I was away for the weekend on a girls trip, and my daughter said as soon as I got home, "Mommy, I am so sorry you couldn't be there to hear Mrs. Foster talk about Jay." So thank you... I so LOVE having Jay in Sunday school. His sweet little personality and completely adorable little face are a highlight of my week! Prayers for continued faith, love, and healing,


Mindy Marshall said...

So very proud of you!

blair said...

Oh so glad I could read it since I wasn't there. I could picture you speaking it as I read it--just wonderful and straight from the heart! I'm sure I would have been a blubbering fool in the sanctuary. Thank you for sharing.


Lisa said...

Yes, thank you for posting and be willing to share with the congregation. Although I am sorry that I missed hearing it, I did enjoy my time with Luke and his cute grin! :)

Ginger said...

Good for you, Jen! I completely understand how you feel about speaking to a crowd - yikes! Very awesome that you shared your story!

Cara Lynn said...

Jen, You did such a beautiful expression of your faith journey. I have begun to realize that it's only when you can recognize (and then even voice) your doubt that your faith has a true opportunity to grow. I don't know that there was a dry eye as you spoke--from those of us who know the story and those who might have only heard bits and pieces. I heard some visitors walking out ahead of me and one said, "Well if we ever move to NC, this would definitely be a church that I would want to attend--what an awesome testimony this morning."
Thanks for risking yourself--at least in THAT way you are like the woman at the well!!

PS. I'm glad the choir had already sung...because we wouldn't have been able to after you spoke!!

Emily Erin said...

You are a beautiful woman of faith, and being willing to 'fess up when your faith is imperfect is what clearly shows that you *ARE* a woman of faith, not just someone going through the motions. Thanks for posting your thoughts for those of us who aren't part of your church.