Monday, October 31, 2016

When the Bottom Drops Out

Earlier this week, I was talking with a sweet friend last week about things suddenly going very wrong. I recounted for her the moment five years ago when I was wobbling from the bathroom into a wheelchair, my legs still numb from the epidural they gave me during Caden's birth. Just as I gently and triumphantly lowered myself into the seat, Adam walked in with tear stained cheeks and a look in his eyes that I immediately and instinctively recognized as the bottom dropping out.

It's his heart, he said.

We agreed that when you have experienced these moments where the bottom drops out, the problem becomes that now you know it can. No longer can you mistake the ground below you as firm or unyielding to sudden catastrophe.

Our alarms go off at 4:30 Tuesday morning, and we leave the house just after 5am. By 7:30am, they are wheeling Caden away from us down the hallway, while my hands tremble and I grip Adam’s arm. We blow out a breath, agreeing we actually feel a little better than we expected.

And yet, we sit in the same seats we sat in five years ago, waiting for the bottom to drop out.

Friends bring us food, people text me. They ask questions and offer prayer. We bow under the weight of knowing and not-knowing all at once. Over carrying too many stories of when things went wrong, and clutching too tightly the casual assurance of the doctor who will cut through and sew up our son’s heart.

I find my faith, of course, on neither end of the spectrum. Not in talking myself out of anxiety, convincing myself it's “no big deal” because we have been through this already, but worse. I also do not find faith, however, in the gripping fear, in my inability and/or stubborn refusal to surrender my son.

We sit in not-cushioned-enough chairs for six hours before they take us to go see Caden, whispering and tweeting updates as we get them. We shake with relief when the doctor tells us his chest is closed, everything went well. He says the surgery was much easier than last time, that he jammed an adult-sized valve in his little heart (his words, not ours), explaining that Caden might not even need another open-heart surgery (he will need a new valve, he is just hopeful that his next replacement might be by catheter rather than surgery). Everything is smooth sailing, basically. We are skeptical, seeing as our only reference for open-heart-surgery is Caden’s last one, when we found ourself on a roller coaster of a recovery that was anything but certain.

It feels like we might have PTSD. The first notes of the beeping song of monitors only barely begin when my heart beat quickens and my nose twitches with the smell of antibacterial soap and the undulating lines marking Caden’s life that pulse alongside bubbling chest tubes.

I can't stop crying upon seeing Caden, big tears roll down my cheese while quiet sobs shake my shoulders. His perfect lashes lay dark against his pale skin and a tube is snaked down his throat so he can breathe. In the next bedspace, alarms keep going off and I am undone with each one as I read all Caden’s numbers in frantic succession, trying to make sure the alarm isn't his. With near alarming speed, he wakes up and panics to find the breathing tube down his throat. We reassure him the best we can while gulping back our own tears. Sooner than we imagined, they pull it out and his tiny raspy cry and the fear in his eyes is enough to unravel me completely.

Within twenty-four hours, he is oxygen free. He cries quietly with pain and they pull out his catheter and chest tubes, and quite honestly I can scarcely believe all he has been through and overcome in such a short amount of time. I am shaky with adrenaline and fear and relief and exhaustion, and I stroke his forehead and pray while Bethel music plays over him and Adam sneaks in a few hours of sleep.

After forty-eight hours, and more middle of the night needle-sticks and temper tantrums than we care to recall, we are heading home. It seems like a marvel of modern medicine, even daresay a miracle. I credit the prayers of our community of friends and strangers. Adam and I lock eyes, shocked by the outcome and our shaky faith alike, while the nurses tell us how even they are surprised by his quick recovery. I joke about how they probably drew straws to see who got stuck with Caden since he refuses to answer any of their questions, and develops a quick habit of attempting to kick anyone who tries to give him medicine.

Once we settle into our thoroughly disinfected house and snuggle Caden into his own bed, where he immediately falls into deep sleep, we collapse on the couch with our fingers entwined. I let out a slow breath, unsure how long I have been holding it.

Literally until we actually left I was expected something to go wrong, I tell Adam. And then, I was sure we would get in a car accident on the way home. 

Me too, he admits.

We sit quietly for a few minutes, and then talk about how we can’t keep living waiting for the bottom to drop out. We can accept good gifts from a good God without the anxiety and fear that they will be lost down a gaping hole in the very next breath. Because that’s the thing about the bottom dropping out, and about knowing it can: we can actually accept it as a gift. As an invitation into a life built on a deeper foundation. An invitation to live without anxiously worrying about when catastrophe might strike again, but to live instead resting our feet on the only thing that can never drop out from under us. An invitation to live firmly rooted on the solid rock of Christ, so that no matter our circumstances and the outcome of heart surgery, we remain unshaken (which is different than without questions, I'm learning).

This is easier said than done, of course. We are at home, and still I wait for the bottom to drop out. For something to go wrong (infection, bleeding, fluid on the lungs, every risk they warned us about): surely it can’t just be this easy? Living without constant fear, while acknowledging the solid rock beneath it all, doesn’t come easily for me, riddled as I am with doubts and brokenness. But it is nevertheless the only way to make it through this busted-up world. To understand that the bottom can, and probably will, drop out. That elections might not turn out the way we hope. That churches and friends and family might disappoint us. That our boys might all end up in prison and another sixteen year old will come over to tell us she's pregnant. That sickness and even death may come knocking at our door. But with our feet planted firmly on the solid rock that will never ever drop out, we can face whatever comes with strength and a steady peace that the world will never understand and nothing can ever take away. 


  1. Becca, your posts (both wonderfully and scarily) so often feel like you can read my mind/heart. I was just telling a friend last night that I don't know how to not expect the worst after a season of so much loss. I'm thankful for the Lord using your words to whisper what I need to hear. And thankful for the pieces of your wrestling and writing that you post. Continuing to pray with y'all for speedy (and thorough!) healing.

  2. Your title for this post took my breath away, and then I was so overcome with joy to see Caden's smiling face at the end. <3

  3. Amazingly written as usual! Praying for you guys for an event free recovery (minus those popped stitches!)


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