When my children were young, one of my most dreaded duties of responsible parenthood was taking them in for their immunizations. There was just something about intentionally inflicting undeserved pain on these little innocent beings that made me cringe. But, knowing that a few moments of pain could protect them from serious illness later, I did it anyway. My first experience with this duty was definitely the worst.
Spring and early summer of 1977 was a time of major transition for my husband, Craig, and me. I had been teaching English and reading at the middle school in Napoleon Dynamite’s hometown of Preston, Idaho, while my husband finished his degree at Utah State University. (Go Aggies!) Our first child was due in early April, so I left my teaching position around the middle of March. About the same time, Craig finished his degree and obtained employment with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. I gave birth to our oldest daughter on April 4, and shortly thereafter we moved to Fort Worth, Texas, for six weeks of training and then to Killeen, Texas, where Craig managed a couple of stores on the Fort Hood army base. Because of all the moving around, we missed having a two-month check-up for our daughter. By the time we were finally settled enough to get to a doctor, she was behind on her immunizations. Consequently, she had to have three injections at the same time. Her little blue eyes opened wide, startled, when they gave her the first shot. She started to cry when they administered the second injection. When she saw that third needle coming, she knew what was up and started screaming and trying to get away long before the nurse got close to her. By this time, she wasn’t the only one who was traumatized—Mom was in tears as well.
I’ve often used this story as an example of why God allows us to go through trials, especially those that are not the result of our own choices. Because His perspective is eternal, He sees the tribulations of mortality differently from the way we do. For God, all suffering is intended to be instructional rather than punitive. Often the lesson is that all choices have consequences; we can choose our actions or our consequences, but not both. Other times the lesson to be learned is the development of a God-like quality such as faith, hope, charity, kindness, patience, endurance, or other disposition important to our eternal progression. Thus, although He suffers with us in our suffering, as I did with my daughter, He knows that our pain, which often seems intolerable in the mortal present, is, in the economy of eternity, invaluable.
For me, this story has yet another lesson, one drawn from a series of “heavenly immunizations.” On July 1, 2010, my dad fell head first down a flight of 15 stairs and suffered a traumatic brain injury from which he never recovered (“It’s Hard, But That’s Okay,” “Unwanted”); Halloween of 2012 brought a cancer diagnosis for my husband (“Praying for Peter Prostate”); and April 2013 found me in the psych ward of the hospital (“Psych-ick Fruit”). Additionally, in the past year we lost my father-in-law, a nephew, and my dad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not reciting these trials as a bid for sympathy, just as context for what I am learning.
Sometime in the last couple of months I realized I have been holding my emotional breath for the last year waiting for the next life-changing tribulation to make its unwelcome appearance. And I have been doing so in the company of the ubiquitous pair of fear and trepidation. Before Dad’s fall, my unconscious take on life was that, although we have had our trials, really bad things didn’t happen to my family. I prayed for people who experienced things like traumatic brain injuries and prostate cancer, but the idea that I might be the one needing those prayers simply wasn’t on my radar. I was wrong. Although I don’t comprehend fully God’s purposes in subjecting me and my family to the hardships and duress that we have experienced, I do see positive changes in myself as a result of suffering through these ordeals. Primarily, I better understand that nobody gets out of this life without facing some kind of significant pain and loss along the way. Consequently, I feel like I have more sympathy and empathy for others in their distress, qualities I couldn’t have developed unless I had also undergone these kinds of circumstances.
On the negative side, however, I have also learned to look at life through the lens of fear. There was a kind of innocence in my life before these transforming trials occurred, a sense of immunity from the devastating storms I had seen rage in others’ lives. No more—I often find I no longer feel safe. Most distressing is the feeling that my hope for good things in this life has been taken hostage and is being held captive in some dark corner of the universe, and I have no idea what ransom is required to set it free.
Strangely, I find that the simple recognition that I have been approaching life from a fearful, hopeless perspective actually creates a flicker of hopefulness in my heart. Identifying this distortion in my thinking has given me a sense of strength and defiance. Somewhere in my soul I am no longer willing to submit to the bully called Fear. I am learning to trust God more fully. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but He does. From past experience I know that He will provide the strength and resources I need to get through whatever comes my way.
This lesson is emboldening me to fully accept that God wants my happiness just as much as I do. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer to stepping into the unknown and, like Sarah, “[judging] him faithful who [has] promised” (Hebrews 11:11) and allowing Him to bless me with that which He knows will truly make me happy. In my heart there is an emerging fledgling willingness to release the death grip I have on fear and doubt and cling instead to faith and hope. This is likely not the only lesson God intends me to learn from my immunizing experiences, but it just might be the most important, and, I think, is the price I must be willing to pay to reclaim my hope from its dark prison.
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