8 Years Ago Today
On a bitterly cold and rainy afternoon eight years ago today, we buried our daughter. She was 14 years old. Her name was Sarah. Her life was hard, yet beautiful. Her death broke our hearts. But God is nigh unto the brokenhearted. And thus I introduce – as odd and as unsettling as it may seem – a story intended to inspire.
In 1996, I lay on a table in an ultrasound room. I was 7 months pregnant, excited, and eagerly anticipating the birth of our first child. My husband stood at my side. We were hoping to find out if we would be having a girl or a boy. I, like most pregnant women, was frequently asked during my pregnancy if I wanted a boy or a girl. I, like most women, answered the question with the typical response: “It doesn’t matter as long as they are healthy!” Oh, bite my tongue! My words today, if asked this same question, would be starkly different. The truth is, not all babies are born healthy. Sitting in that darkened, quiet ultrasound room, we were soon to find out that ours would be one of the babies born for whom this would be the case….a baby born without the good health most take for granted. The doctor stepped into the room. I will always remember, he gently lay his hand on my leg, and said, “Honey, your baby is going to be born with some problems.”
It doesn’t matter as long as they are healthy!
And so she was. Our sweet Sarah was born on a sunny day in June. I will forever remember those memories in the delivery room, the first time I heard her cry, the first time I looked into her eyes. The diagnosis didn’t matter in those sacred moments. Just like the mom of a healthy baby would, I fell instantly head over heels in love with this child. I loved her so much I could hardly breathe when I saw her for the first time. She was lovely.
Our Sarah was born with Down syndrome, a heart defect, and hydrocephalus. She spent 88 days in the intensive care nursery before finally coming home. When she was almost 2 years old, Sarah suffered a stroke from a rare neurological disease called Moyamoya syndrome. The stroke was devastating, leaving Sarah in a body that daily battled spastic quadriplegia, a body that would never function normally, arms that could not move without support, and legs that would not walk. Never would I hear her speak. Sarah would struggle to even hold her head up without help. In the years following the stroke, Sarah began experiencing seizures. Every day. When she was 7 years old, she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Two years and nine months of chemotherapy and all its awful side-effects followed.
By the time Sarah turned 14, she was weary. On April 3, 2011, Sarah was admitted to Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. Pneumonia. Ten days later, my husband and I stood at Sarah’s bedside and listened as the critical care doctor spoke words that would forever change our lives. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to bring her out of this.” As he said these words, there was a team of doctors and nurses surrounding Sarah and performing CPR on her lifeless body and tired heart that had, moments earlier, stopped beating.
The Lord had given. The Lord had taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
And here is where I hope to inspire you….I want you to know that it was worth it. Every joy. Every sorrow. Every laugh. Every tear. Every lonely moment. Every full moment. Every day. It was worth it.
I used to tell her that there are people too BIG for God to use, but no one too small.
I have shared with you a snapshot of Sarah’s struggles and challenges. Now let me share with you a snapshot of Sarah. She was much more than her many diagnosis’. Our Sarah lived life with a joyful spirit. She appreciated simple things…holding my hand….watching TV with her Dad…spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house…rocking with Grandma….dancing in the arms of my brother, her Uncle Bear….playing silly games, like peek-a-boo, with her cousin, Emily. Her favorite food was spinach. Her best friend at school was a handsome boy named Ryan. She loved to sit in front of me and ride on the four-wheeler. She despised the heat of summer, but loved the chill of winter….she would laugh when I would pull her on the sled through the snow, and let her rush down the icy driveway on the sled. And, just like all kids, Sarah had her irritable moments. She was always annoyed with me when I washed her face and brushed her hair, and although she had no words, she had expressions…and there was no mistaking the meaning behind them!
Sarah was more than a person with disabilities. Sarah was a human being made in the image of God. She was a person with likes and dislikes, joys and sorrows. She was a person who loved and was loved. She had a personality. She had a purpose. Her life mattered. And this is true for all mankind. This is true for babies born healthy and for those born with challenges. Human life is special and meaningful. We are each fashioned in the image of the great Creator Redeemer God, and for each He has a plan, a purpose. We are designed by the hands of Deity, knit together for a greater reason than we can comprehend….but every once in a while we catch a glimpse of the bigger picture. Linger long whenever you catch that glimpse.
"Thank You Lord for both Sarah’s life and her death."
Sarah loved her life. She knew, despite the daily challenges, how to be content. Her life was a fruitful life of joy. In the quiet and small place God gave her, she served Him well. I used to tell her that there are people too big for God to use, but no one too small. She, in her weakness and dependency, willingly did the work He called her to do, despite being unable to work at all. Indeed, it is God Himself who works in us and through us, and it depends not on our strength.
It is always all about Him.
Thank You Lord for both Sarah’s life and her death. Use Sarah’s life. Use Sarah’s death. Use my life and my eventual death to proclaim Your truth and goodness to those around us. Lord, You are worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. You are sovereign. You are Lord of lords and King of kings! Be exalted, O Father, above the heavens and certainly above my circumstances, of which You are the blessed controller.