Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

“Don’t worry, Salem, you won’t have any shots at this appointment,” I said confidently, as I told him about his upcoming appointment with the endocrinologist to check on his growth.  Salem, my 7-year-old son with a chromosomal deletion and autism, has extreme anxiety over doctor appointments.  The unknown of exactly what they’re going to do, being touched during all the various measurements, and the hated vaccinations, cause his anxiety to skyrocket.  I was certain he wasn’t going to get any shots at this appointment, though, and I was thankful that I could assure him of that. 

            When we arrived at the appointment, Salem calmly endured the measurements of height and weight.  He teared up quite a bit when they took his blood pressure, but he got through that without any explosive behaviors.  What a gift that he’s not getting any shots, I thought in relief.  You can imagine my shock when the nurse informed me that Salem would need to get his blood drawn.  “He needs to get his blood drawn?!” I asked in disbelief.  That’s much, much worse than shots, I groaned inwardly.  “I can ask the doctor if it’s absolutely necessary,” the nurse said kindly as she looked at Salem’s uneasy countenance.  The blood tests were quite important, I came to find out, and before I knew it, I was putting a numbing cream on Salem’s arm and the nurse put a plastic band aid over it as it needed to stay on his arm for several minutes.  Salem burst into tears as he looked at the band aid on his arm.  “How many minutes, how many minutes!” he yelled over and over again.  This is his way of asking how long something will last.  The endocrinologist was certain that his small stature was from his chromosomal deletion, but the blood tests would confirm that there was nothing else stunting his growth.  If his slow growth was caused by the deletion, she explained, the only option to help Salem grow would be to administer daily growth hormone shots from now until puberty is over.  I looked at the endocrinologist with a you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me look as we listened to Salem moan and cry over the band aid.  “I know,” she said sympathetically, “you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”

            My life often feels like a hard place.  I often question the leading of God in my life in combination with the unfortunate things that have happened, and I wonder if he really thinks I can handle it all.  Recently, our family went on a week-long recruiting trip for our summer camp with some other events that Nick was helping lead thrown in.  I had been sick for a week leading up to this trip and was still struggling with an ongoing allergy reaction in both of my eyes.  In the days leading up to our trip, Bible verses kept coming up that just seemed so timely.  “In this world you will have trouble. But…I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds because…the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).  “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). “I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand…” (Psalm 73:23).  The night before we left on our trip, I had a dream about people who received the Holy Spirit.  They were told that as they followed the Spirit’s leading, although it would be difficult, they would receive a double portion of joy.

            The recruiting trip proved to be very, very trying for me.  I still didn’t feel well, my eye allergies got worse, and I struggled to help Salem feel comfortable and calm.  I was so grateful that I got to spend a little bit of time with my dear friend, Dana, and she graciously listened to me as I told her about my recent struggles and resolution while Salem and Judah (my 14-month-old) consistently interrupted us.  “So, basically,” I concluded after a long monologue, “I sense that God is telling me that it’s just going to be hard, but I will experience joy as I continue to follow his leading, and He will always be with me.”  Dana then told me a very similar message that God had recently shared with her.  Dana was struggling with resentment in her life as she has followed the path of obedience.  While pouring out her heart out to God and reading Hebrews 12 about Jesus enduring the cross, she explained to me, “I never realized before that it says that Jesus despised the shame of the cross.”  She shared that it wasn’t a sin for Jesus to hate how he was mistreated, misrepresented, abused, and bullied, but he kept going “for the joy set before Him.” We also can despise the things that we go through as we follow Him, and as he stayed on the path of obedience and came out victorious, we can too, experiencing joy along the way.

            On the final day of our trip, my family and I went to a large youth event that Nick was helping lead.  I was so ready to go home to fully recover and have Salem be back in his usual environment.  When we arrived at the event, they were serving lunch in a noisy, crowded gymnasium.  A woman who I’d met before greeted me warmly and mentioned that she and her husband were now caring for a grand-nephew with autism.  “How do you do it? It is so hard!!” she exclaimed before she rushed back into the kitchen.  In the meantime, Salem was standing at the front of the food line with his eyes fixated on the food.  He was trying to take in the entire, overwhelming situation, and figure out exactly what we were eating so he knew what to expect.  Although he was in the food line, he was not moving through the line.  This annoyed one of the people serving the food and he said in irritation, “if you’re not going to get food you need to get out of the line.”  I was holding Judah in one arm, so with my free arm I grabbed Salem’s coat and pulled him slowly as I said, “Let’s move out of the way so people can get their food.”  “Noooooo!!!” Salem yelled, throwing himself onto the ground kicking.  A man who was walking by said matter-of-factly, “you’d better get up or people are going to step on you.”

            Nick soon swept in, picked up Salem, and found a table that our family could sit at.  Salem immediately laid down on the hard bench seat as he often does when he gets overstimulated.  A woman nearby saw that I was frustrated.  She looked at me holding Judah and came up and said, “Hey, you’re doing a great job.  This is the hardest season of parenting.  How old is he?  Oh, 14-months?  Yup, that’s the hardest stage.  Don’t worry, you’ll get through it and you’re doing a great job.”  I tried to smile and show gratitude to the woman even though she was completely wrong about the situation, but my effort came out in a whispered “thank you” on an unsmiling face.  This was the moment that I could not keep it together anymore.  Nick was striking up a conversation with everyone at our table, getting to know them, and being his friendly self, while I barely acknowledged them, and bolted for the door still holding Judah.  I walked around outside in the snow crying and crying.  No matter how hard I tried to stop, I just couldn’t.  I knew all those people didn’t know Salem or his struggles and weren’t trying to be rude, and I felt bad that I’d seemed so unfriendly to the people at my table, but I just couldn’t anymore.

            On the drive home, I sobbed as Nick held my hand.  He didn’t know everything that had happened and all I could manage to say through my stuttered breathing was, “Some—times—it’s—just—really—hard.”  Aside from my crying, our minivan was almost silent.  My older two kids, Eden and Ezra, were sitting in the very back listening to music on a portable CD player.  Salem was watching all the cars drive by and Judah was falling asleep.  I told God again, as I have many times before, that He’d gotten it wrong.  He was wrong about me being the mother of Salem, He was wrong about me being the wife of someone in ministry, He was wrong about us only having one income with a family of six who regularly have medical bills galore, He was especially wrong about the combination of them all.  He’d picked the wrong person for this life because clearly, it was too hard for me.  My mind was full of noise as I laid out point after point of how God had gotten it wrong.  Suddenly, I heard something out of the silence of our van that stopped my constant thoughts.  It was Eden, and she was singing.  At first, I couldn’t tell what she was singing, but her voice got clearer and louder until I heard,

“If you could just let your guard down, if you could just believe in Me now

I swear that I won’t let you go

If you could just let go your doubts, if you could learn to trust Me somehow

I swear that I won’t let you go

I won’t let you go” 

When I’m caught between a rock and a hard place, I have a choice to make.  I can focus on all the hard, choosing to see things through the lens of doubt, listing all of my trials and fixating on how unfair life is.  Or I can focus on the Rock, choosing to see through the lens of faith, remembering all the ways He has delivered me before, listing all of the things I am grateful for, fixating on Jesus and all that He endured for me, and constantly looking to His word to keep my perspective on Truth.  I choose to be like the wise man who built his house on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27).  Building a house takes daily choices and hard work all in the direction of building a house.  I vow to trust Jesus again and again. Like the Psalmist, “I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 146:2).  I choose to believe that joy will come.  I choose to hear God’s word and obey it.  I will, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself is the Rock eternal” Isaiah 26:4. - Deanne Snell

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