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Finding Peace through Painful Experiences

Acceptance isn’t defeat; it’s the path to victory.

Finding peace through pain

My family depends on me and that’s the way it should be. I like taking care of them. Still, there comes a time when you need a little help, even if you don’t want to admit it.

Usually I’m a good sleeper. Lay my head on the pillow, and I’m off to dreamland. But one night I couldn’t stop tossing and turning. I tried to be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb anyone in the house. Not my husband, Frank, asleep beside me, or my daughter Anita, who’d been helping out while I recovered from surgery for torn cartilage in my knee. Something’s wrong, I thought. I can feel it in my whole body. This was more than just my knee.

I glanced at the digital clock on the bedside table. Almost midnight. Should I wake Anita? I felt guilty enough already. She was single, entitled to a life of her own. Yet she’d been staying over nights, helping me make dinner and take care of Frank. He’d been a truck driver till he got debilitated by emphysema, and now he had a hard time just walking. He depended on me for almost everything.

Earlier that evening I’d been watching TV. There was a commercial for a retirement community, one of those places that looked like a resort. I’d stifled a laugh. When would I ever find time to retire? With Frank on disability, we needed my paycheck. I’d worked at Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store nearly 20 years, scooping ice cream and unloading trucks filled with grocery supplies. I was the assistant manager, on my feet all day. The older I got, the harder the job became. I was 60, and by closing time I felt every single year.

Frank wasn’t the only one who needed me. Our other daughter, Juanita, and her husband, Terry, who live down the street, liked for me to babysit their three boys—my grandkids.

I tossed and turned some more. Lord, I prayed, you know I can’t afford to get sick. There are too many people who depend on me. Usually, prayer relieved whatever ailed me. Not this time. I just felt worse—nauseated, woozy. Finally I got out of bed and limped down the hall to Anita’s room. “Honey, I think I have to go to the emergency room,” I said.

Anita immediately jumped out of bed, alarmed. We got dressed quickly and told Frank where we were going. “You’ll be okay, honey,” he said, like he was trying to convince himself.

I didn’t want him worrying. “Of course I’ll be fine,” I said. But I wasn’t so sure.

At the hospital, a nurse took my blood pressure. “One hundred and ten over forty,” she said, frowning. She led me to an examination room. I lay down on a gurney while a technician administered an EKG and a phlebotomist drew several vials of blood. “I’m so sorry to have to bother you with this,” I told Anita. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Mama, you’re not bothering me. I want to help.”

Just then a doctor strode in. “Mrs. Parker,” he said, “we have to admit you for further tests.” The news only got worse. An angiogram showed I had blockages in four arteries. “It’s a miracle you haven’t had a heart attack,” the doctor said. I needed bypass surgery. Soon.

Bypass surgery? The doctor drew a diagram of my heart and explained the procedure, but I barely heard him. My thoughts raced. Who would take care of Frank? Look after my grandkids? Cover for me at work?

The doctor gave me some medication and sent me home. We agreed he’d do the operation in two weeks.

I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. Frank was distraught. “You’re not going to have it done,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. He was terrified I’d die on the operating table, and to tell the truth, I was worried too. We’d met when I was four, and we had been in love ever since. Our lives were intertwined. Without me, he would never survive. But without surgery, the doctor had warned me, it was almost certain I’d never survive. Lord, I prayed, I’m so worried!

The Sunday before my surgery, I went to church as usual. Sat in my pew, sang hymns, tried to immerse myself in the pastor’s sermon. But I was so distracted, I could find no peace.

After church, the whole family came over to our house for Sunday lunch. I was about to start clearing the table when Anita said, “Mama, that can wait. This can’t.”

Then she, Frank, Juanita, Terry and my three grandsons stood and gathered in a circle around me. Juanita spoke first. “Lord, send your healing power and protection over Mama.”

Anita went next. “Tell Mama not to worry about us and Daddy. Tell her to put herself first for once and depend on us—and on you, Lord.”

Anita’s words cut right through me. She’d been trying to tell me that for weeks, but this time I heard her. How can I care for my family, I thought, if I don’t take care of myself?

I went into my surgery with a sense of peace and trust. Five days later I was back home. Recovery wasn’t easy. I needed a lot of rehabilitation. It took some months, but I went back to work at Braum’s. But now when I returned home, Anita, Juanita and the grandkids were often there to greet me—and to help. Yes, they still depend on me too, and I like that. But we’ve all learned to depend a little more on the Lord. I like that even more.

This story first appeared in the November 2009 issue of Guideposts magazine.

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