Every morning I dress my 20 year old son. Wesley was born with significant special needs and is incapable of assisting with dressing himself. My morning starts with coaxing a sometimes cooperative but more often than not uncooperative man to the bed to change. I clean the wound for his g-tube and apply dressing. Next, I change his diaper and place an elastic band over the feeding tube to protect it from coming out either accidentally or being pulled out purposely by Wesley. I dress him in a spandex undershirt to further protect the g-tube. Finally, his second shirt is on and I pull his arms through the sleeves. He is strapped into his wheelchair, ready for the bus. By the time we finish Wesley is usually agitated and yelling. Every. Single. Morning.
Most mornings it is just part of my routine. Some mornings, though, I must remind myself what a privilege it is. I bring to the forefront of my mind the multiple times I held him in hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Units unsure if he would live another moment.
I recollect the first time I found myself in a hospital chapel.
I grew up close to God and went to Catholic School. I clearly remember watching all the Easter specials on TV. I would grab some ice cream and watch with wonder the story of Jesus. I wished I lived then, that I could have followed Him. He was my hero.
But then life happened. Or, rather, I chose different paths each leading me further and further away from that childhood hero. After I married my first husband we moved to a town in South Dakota. His job afforded us a level of prestige that was appealing. We ran full fledged into this world where we had dinner invitations with the Senators and the best seats at the symphony. As my love of this new world increased, my love for God all but disappeared.
Then Wesley had his first major surgery in Minneapolis, four hours from our home. Everything went well until that evening. He spiked a little fever but they discharged him thinking it was dehydration and nothing to worry about. By the time we arrived home his temperature was over 105. Something was terribly wrong.
A trip to the Emergency Room ended in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. He was hooked up to every device imaginable. His little body had no more room for all the probes and wires. Blood was drawn and almost every test came back abnormal. His liver functions were through the roof. Every specialist and subspecialist was called. Each one shrugged his shoulders and deferred to the next specialist until the final physician stopped at the door on his way out.
“If you pray, I suggest you do,” he said as he left.
Oh my heart. I had prayed only once in years. Not a single hello or thank you, just a single “can you do this for me?” And I was back with my hands held out asking for another favor. Would He even know my name?
The elevator door shut slowly and I grew certain God would not know me or worse, would be angry because I only came to Him when I needed something. What once was one of the most important relationships in my life had, over time, eroded to my last resort.
I sat in the little Chapel in silence for a few minutes. Dinner with the Senator didn’t matter. Where we sat in the symphony hall could not help me. The massive money my husband made would not save my son. Only God. And I had ignored Him for nearly a decade.
Are you there, God? It’s me. Jocelynn. It’s been so long and I am so sorry for being away. I need you now. Please, God, let me keep my son. The doctors can’t heal him. They don’t even know what is wrong. But I know You can. Please, God. Please let me keep my son.
I did not try to bargain. I had nothing to offer. I sobbed in desperation and embarrassment. How could I have been gone so long just to approach Him now to ask Him for something, the most important something I would ask? I hoped He would not hold my absence against me. My soul shook violently with fear, regret, and uncertainty.
I walked quickly back up to Wesley’s room and crawled into his little crib and fell asleep.
Nurses came and left through the night checking his vitals and taking blood. His morning nurse came in and woke me with a laugh.
“I’ve never seen that before,” she said about me sleeping in his tiny crib.
A few minutes later a team of doctors came in holding Wesley’s clipboard.
“Good morning,” the lead doctor said. “His blood work taken last night is in. We have no explanation, but his liver functions have returned to a normal level.”
“Is he going to be ok?” I asked crying.
“We think so,” he replied.
Over the years there would be more visits to Pediatric Intensive Care Units. There would be at least three times I would beg God to let me keep my son. All three times He answered yes. However I approached Him as a friend and not a stranger. At times my prayer to keep my son was followed by, “But if I can’t, please give me what I will need to endure.” And I knew He would.
The prodigal daughter had returned.
Changing my 20 year old’s diaper is not a burden. There is necessarily, a paradigm shift that occurs when the only thing one wants is for their child to live. Everything else fades into triviality. Changing his g-tube dressing and diapers every morning is exactly what I prayed for all those years ago in that lonely hospital chapel. I think of all the people I met in those rooms and friends along the way who prayed the same prayer and God said, “no.” I have heard muffled cries to soul wrenching screams from hospital rooms that no actor in any movie can replicate. It comes from a place deep within most of us never have to access. I wish I had the wisdom to know why some people’s children die. It seems horribly cruel. In some way, however slight, I try to honor them by realizing what an absolute privilege it is to change diapers. Even for a 20 year old.