This has been a rough week for our family. On Wednesday our daughter, Evie, had a series of six seizures for no apparent reason. She had been having a run-of-the-mill case of viral gastroenteritis, it seemed, without even a high fever, and then suddenly she was seizing. Neither we, nor the paramedics, nor the ER staff, could find a temperature higher than 99. Febrile seizures may be fairly normal and benign in children, but seizures without fever are scary and concerning. By the third seizure she was exhausted and slow to recognize us or interact with her surroundings. After the fourth she was completely out of it, between the metabolic demands of that much neuromuscular activity in such a short time and the meds they gave her to prevent more seizures. Even with Ativan and Keppra on board, she still had two more.
We got family and friends praying, and I set my younger brother to the task of finding the phone number for Fr. Kyle, the priest on call for our area. He came and anointed her between procedures. Then we had nothing to do but watch and wait.
As my wife, Kathleen, and I knelt there beside our daughter’s bed, watching her sleep, unable to make her wake up or fix whatever was wrong with her, I don’t think we had ever before been more miserable or anxious or just plain helpless. We both know enough about medicine to know a number of really bad reasons why a previously healthy toddler might suddenly have half a dozen seizures in less than 18 hours. We understood all the tests and the reasoning behind them, and when the doctors and nurses left us to go care for other patients, we understood that.
It just hurt. I think it was Elizabeth Elliot who said, “Sometimes there is nothing to do with suffering except to suffer it.”
We wanted our Evie back. So many times, many times a week, even multiple times a day, we look at this gorgeous little toddler and wonder how on earth we came to be blessed with her. The only conclusion is that we don’t deserve her. She is all gift.
She is such a beautiful little girl, with her blond hair, blue eyes, delicate features, and huge, happy smile. More than that, she is smart and excited and curious and sensitive and loving. She has always been quick to notice when other people are sad and give them hugs and kisses and “make it all better.” We wanted her back the way she was, not brain damaged or worse.
But beyond that, we knew that no matter what happened, we would always love her. Her intelligence and even her personality are fragile things, and a virus or bacteria, or a tumor, or just the wrong mix of electrolytes in the wrong place in her brain, could alter them forever. But she would still be ours, and we would still love her just as fiercely and just as tenderly; perhaps even more so.
And then, in the middle of the anguish, the thought came to me, “What about all the others?”
And I realized that throughout this world there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of children who don’t have what Evie has. They don’t have anyone to love them. They could go through seizure after seizure until they died on the floor and no one alive would care.
There are children being abused, or children sick and suffering, or children being exploited, who don’t know what it is like to have parents who would stay up all night crying and praying for their safety. I thought of victims of human trafficking, refugees, children in poverty, and children in war zones. I felt like Jesus was saying to me, “You feel this way about Evie because she is yours. But all these children are mine. Your love for her is a shadow of the Love I have for each of them, and for Evie.”
I remembered Him saying, “Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you did to me.” That brought a sense of trust, which is hard to explain, but was real, nonetheless. I did not have any impression that He was promising to heal her, but rather that He was with her, even as He was with other children in far worse places with far fewer resources. I guess the most accurate way to express it is to call it a strong sense of His Presence in and with the most helpless. Not despite the helplessness, but somehow because of it and through it, as if helplessness were the prerequisite for His most intimate closeness. We and they can suffer nothing that He does not suffer with us.
Even in the midst of it all, I found myself feeling real compassion for these other children, and for Jesus in them, being neglected, abused, abandoned, or exploited.
I really believe that He was present with us in a special way in that moment. I desperately showed Him my grief and anguish for the one child He has, temporarily and conditionally, put in our care. In response, He showed me a glimpse of His own grief and anguish for the uncounted number of souls in His eternal and unconditional care.
Evie got better. She slowly recovered over the next few days. We do not know what caused the seizures, but they have not come back. We have a plan going forward. God has been good to us. But the call remains for us to be aware of the children who didn’t make it, or who are still locked into a living hell of suffering. They exist, and Jesus is with them and loves them and suffers with them, no less surely than He was with Evie; and just as surely as I asked Him to be with my daughter, He has asked us to be there for His children in some way that He will reveal in His time.