[ Godsends ]

Journal of Hope

The hospital chapel was softly illuminated by the light from a stained glass window. It wasn't a real window, only a large window-like frame encasing a cut-glass tree with brightly colored pheasants nestled in its branches. The window stood about seven feet high by five feet wide, and was lit from behind by fluorescent lamps. The lamps buzzed monotonously and I didn't like the sound they made. Strangely, their low, unvarying pitch intensified the quietness of the chapel, and my aloneness.

Exhaustion and sadness hung heavily on me as I sat and gazed at the artificial window. Though my eyes were focused on the tranquil scene, a more tumultuous scene played through my mind. Three floors up, my mother was battling for her life, and the painful images of her suffering intruded upon every thought and prayer.

Nearly five years had passed since mother was first diagnosed with lupus, a chronic illness that causes the immune system to go to war with the body. Though I suspected from the beginning that her disease was terminal, I never envisioned the long series of incapacitating illnesses and surgeries she would face. "Lupus can be a brutal and unpredictable disease," one of the doctors had bluntly told me. "Some patients go fast. Others struggle with the disease for years." In mother's case the disease was slowly taking its toll. It had been relentless and shown no mercy. Preparing myself for her death was a difficult process, and watching it slowly take place was immensely painful.

It was nearly midnight as I sat in the vacant chapel and recalled the events of the day. Mother was finally resting after a turbulent eighteen hours of pain, brutish nurses, needles, tubes, monitors, and blood transfusions. The prognosis looked bad and I was preparing for the worst. "Maybe tonight," I found myself whispering in the silence. "Maybe tonight God will call her home." But it wasn't the first time I'd voiced the painful thought.

Many times in the past I had been summoned to the hospital to see my mother a final time, to tell her goodbye. And more than once I had stood helplessly at her bedside and sensed impending death. But somehow, mother faced death with an obstinate determination beyond my understanding, and clung ferociously to life like a wounded sparrow tossed about in the boughs of a storm-whipped tree. How she survived those storms was still a mystery to me. It was a mystery to the doctors as well.

The tears came quickly as the images of mother's suffering tormented me, and as sorrow wound itself tightly around my heart. Raw emotions could only be expressed in whispered prayers. "How long must she suffer?" I questioned God, longing to be comforted by His voice, but not sure if I really wanted to know the answer. Heartache and compassion for Mother quickly refocused the prayer. "Comfort her somehow through all this wretched pain, no matter how long it takes."

Nearly three hours of tearful prayer passed before I noticed an old and tattered journal lying on the pew several feet from where I sat. I removed the journal and searched inside the cover for the name of its owner. No name appeared. Curious, I paged over to the last entry to see when it had been written. Surprisingly, the entry was nearly seven months old. Certainly, I thought, someone should have come back to the chapel to claim the journal after all that time. I allowed my eyes to wander beyond the date to intrude on the private thoughts of a stranger, to see what matter had warranted an entry in the journal. For a brief moment of time, I forgot the sorrow of my own world, and vicariously slipped into the world of another.

From that entry, a story unfolded of a middle-aged woman who had come to the hospital that day to meet her first grandchild. The entry told of her excitement in seeing the new baby for the first time and in the joy of seeing her own daughter attain motherhood. The woman went to great lengths in describing every detail of the newborn -- his eyes and nose; his tiny, wrinkled feet, his little fluff of hair. But interspersed in all the details of that first encounter, the anonymous grandmother included words of praise to God for His goodness in the creation of her new grandson, and in his safe delivery into the world. "Protect him always," the woman wrote. "And as he goes through life, help him always remember that You are there."

In my mind's eye, I envisioned that happy grandmother meeting her grandchild for the first time. In the mental scenario, I could see her radiant smile and the tears of joy glinting in her eyes. Perhaps she had been allowed to hold the newborn and had gently traced the line of his cheek with her forefinger. Outside the nursery viewing window, she had probably stood and dutifully pointed him out to all other window gazers. No doubt, God's precious gift of life had brought her tremendous joy that day. And as the abandoned journal now bore witness, it seemed she had come to the chapel to record her secret thoughts, and to acknowledge God's hand of blessing.

After reading the entry, I was suddenly struck by the irony of the moment. How odd it seemed that the events in a hospital could evoke such extremities of joy or sorrow, as had the birth of that grandchild or the illness of my mother. Still, the response to those events had drawn two individuals to the same lonely chapel to pour out their hearts before God. And though time and circumstance stood between that grandmother and myself, the same God heard our prayers and understood our hearts. It didn't matter that one came to Him with a joyful spirit, and the other with a grieving heart. And it also didn't matter that one prayed for a newborn and the other for a dying woman. The same God that could comfort and protect one, would do the same for the other. And the same God that tenderly brought one into the world would just as tenderly carry the other through death.

Somehow, the insight strengthened me that lonely evening as the minutes slowly passed and I awaited word on mother's condition. I had no doubt that God directed me to the abandoned journal and used the words of an anonymous grandmother to remind me of His ever-present love. Little did I know, however, that another five months would follow before mother would finally be released from her pain and suffering. But during that time, I frequently reflected on my night in the chapel and the insight God gave me. At the same time, I knew somewhere out there God was tenderly caring for a young child just as He was tenderly caring for my mother.

Joy S.

Norfolk, VA