He first broke apart right under my heart, this one with the broken heart.
And there was nothing I could do about it.
We mamas, we are made to shelter. Our babes make their first homes in us before we are even aware, the date on the calendar known only to the One who wrote it in His own before the earth's first turn. Once they are not, and then the next moment they are, an invisible dot full of concentrated, particular potential. And then the dot expands, and each child grows, pushing organs aside and enlarging our ribs and causing our own hearts to expand in return, the blood pounding heavier in our very veins.
But first the breaking.
As a mama, I'm wired to surround and protect. We spend lifetimes building foundations of love, shaping and crafting outer walls of security, layering on roofs of understanding. We want our children shielded from all that could harm, and we're determined to build that shelter out of our very selves.
Yet each person begins as this split right down the middle. All human life, then, is built of breaking. One combination, and then hundreds, thousands of splittings--millions and billions over time. Every scraped knee accelerates the process, every new thing learned, and it doesn't stop until we die. We grow, not because our cells enlarge, but because they break.
He was born in our little house on a cloudy Monday morning after hours of erratic, irregular labor. We'd called the midwife to our home and then sent her away once already the day before, sent the kids away to a friend's and brought them back home again as hours ticked by with no baby. Finally, there was no question the day had come, but after many hours of labor, he still hadn't. It took all my strength and a word from his daddy to finally free him from a tangled cord wrapped around his neck and chest, ten pounds and two ounces wedging shoulders in tight. I'm not sure who cried hardest when it was all over, but a few hours later we all realized it wasn't.
We'd wrapped him in a blanket, wondered at his size, his deep blue eyes. Passed him brother to brother and back to mama. He'd nursed and slept, and everything looked good ... except the thermometer. He wasn't holding his temperature, no matter how we wrapped and snuggled him. And when he cried, his color looked off to me. Finally, we headed to the hospital knowing something was wrong and we had no idea what. I didn't cry then until my best friend from high school called as we got into a hospital elevator and asked if I was okay.
They weren't quite sure what to do with us since he hadn't been born in the hospital, and when it was obvious to everyone I wasn't letting this baby out of my arms they finally tucked us into a children's room where I could climb into the bed, though he was the patient. Doctors flurried in and out looking at this and that, running this test and the next. Tests finally showed what was going on; the hole between the chambers of his heart had not yet closed. It happened occasionally, and they expected it would close on its own in the next day or two.
But there was something else on the ultrasound that we would have missed otherwise and maybe never known: he had a bicuspid aortic valve. Normally three leaflets, his was made up of two. It appeared to be functioning well, but the cardiologist explained that one day, it wouldn't. He couldn't tell us whether we'd be back in two weeks or fifty years, but at some point, that valve would give out. We'd need to monitor it weekly and then monthly for awhile so we'd know when the deterioration began and replace it before that giving out happened.
Two weeks after he was diagnosed, the valve currently in use as a replacement in newborns was recalled. Apparently, it had a tendency to stick shut. My own heart stumbled over the words. Because what do you do when the thing you've used to fix your baby's heart sticks right shut?
The hole closed on its own within the first 24 hours, we brought our perfect baby with the hidden broken home, and God and I began wrestling. What on earth was this about? Why was this happening? And what on earth was I supposed to do about it? Because if there was something to be done, I was going to do it. I was on a hunt for answers, and I wanted them now.
Most of the wrestling matches took place late at night and early in the mornings, coffee on the table and open Bible and often Josiah himself on my lap. The first clue came from a passage in Exodus chapter four. After being called to speak to go back to Egypt and plead with Pharaoh for the release of his people, Moses argues with the Lord about that calling ...
“Please, Lord, I’m not eloquent. I never was in the past nor am I now since you spoke to your servant. In fact, I talk too slowly and I have a speech impediment.” Then God asked him, “Who gives a person a mouth? Who makes him unable to speak, or deaf, or able to see, or blind, or lame? Is it not I, the Lord?"
I unraveled a little. Because I'd been looking for someone to blame.
What had happened? Was it the devil who had gotten in somehow and caused this problem? He'd certainly be the convenient one to pin the problem on.
But here in Exodus, God upset that idea. Right here He took ownership of the situation, reminding me that He was the One who had made Josiah. Which could mean only one thing ... this broken heart in my precious baby? He'd made it that way.
So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"
Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life" John 6:67-68
There was nowhere else to go, so we'd have to get through this together.
Somehow brought to my attention next came the story in John 9, where Jesus heals a man who was blind.
"His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?'" Looks like I'm not the only one looking for a place to lay blame. Jesus replies... "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:2-3).
All right; so God also would get glory somehow from this situation. That was a bit easier to get my head and heart around; light at the end of this tunnel. Every week we brought him in and the doctors stuck the monitors onto his little chest, passed the monitor over a baby ribcage throwing pictures onto the screen, and told us what we could see without them--Josiah was doing fine; this broken valve looking strange but functioning perfectly.
Finally, I went back and read the scriptures which had given our Josiah his name; the ones about Josiah the long-ago king of Israel. Their words described him like this: King Josiah “walked before the Lord with his whole heart.” That's what we wanted: I told the Lord that obviously, Josiah would have to HAVE a whole heart in order to walk before God with it, so that was what we would believe for.
And so we have. Eventually the visits were stretched to every two weeks, then once a month, and for many years we only made an annual trek to the hospital. His heart continued to work well without surgery, without medication, without any of the expected interventions.
Until about two years ago, when things began to change.
Fifteen years had gone by since we were first told a breakdown of the valve was inevitable, and one day he began to have some chest pain. Over the next few weeks and months, occasionally his heart would pound hard, and exercising could make him a bit light headed. We found his blood pressure had started to go up. Doctors frowned at the screens during his checkups, noting some leakage of the valve, a bit of bulging of the aorta itself. "Aortic insufficiency," they called it, and called for an MRI. Six months later, numbers showed progression of both issues, plus an enlarging left ventricle. Our recent move brings us to Tennessee, to Vanderbilt and a new doctor, and someday has finally become an actual date on the calendar.
We're not really ready. I wonder if it's possible to be prepared for such an unnatural thing?
How's a mama desperate to shelter supposed to wrap her mind around knowing her child is literally being built of a zillion tiny breakings she can't even see?
My baby towers over me now, and confides that he's anxious mostly to have it over with, and I can relate to that. To have had this hanging over his head for many years has been a weight I understand only from a distance.
And so the unimaginable imagined is about to happen. We'll report for pre-op on Tuesday morning, May 23rd, and I suppose they'll tell us then all the details we've heard from far away and tried not to pay too much attention to. We're still watching for a creative miracle as I know God is capable of showing off. However, if that's not the story God's writing here, surgery is expected to be an all-day affair May 24th, with two or three days in ICU and a few more on the cardiac floor to follow, probably a week total, before they send us home for several weeks of quiet recovery.
I still wonder if I'll feel the blade from the waiting room.
"It's not that your heart isn't going to break; it's how you let the brokenness be made into abundance afterward." ~Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way
And so, we wait a couple weeks to be broken and remade. The calendar is thankfully full of events competing for our attention; we've had graduation and there's a dance recital for his sister this weekend, and then we'll all escape to Florida to dip toes in the sand and splash in the ocean, squeezing in a week of vacation and one last bit of hyper fun at the cusp of summer so we don't lose all of the season to recovery.
If you think of us, we would certainly appreciate your prayers. And if you see me, you might remind this mama to breathe. And to keep watching for the glory I know must be coming.
"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" Numbers 23:19
Pray that our Josiah comes out of this experience with a truly whole heart. And that my own would expand in the breaking.