[Note: In March, 2008, we posted an essay called, "Christians Hurt, Too." It began with the story of my first cousin twice removed, Caed Hollingsworth. Here's a more detailed account of the story thus far. At the end, you'll find some thoughts on the subject of suffering and victory.]
On March 1, 2008, four year old Caed Hollingsworth was concluding a visit with grandparents in Idalou, Texas, when a life-threatening intestinal condition, present since before birth, suddenly made itself known. According to his parents, today he's a living, breathing miracle.
Before that afternoon, he showed no symptoms, but at about 1:30, Caed complained that his stomach hurt. Soon, he began throwing up.
Then the severe pain arrived. Half an hour after the first symptoms, they were on their way to Lubbock for medical help.
They went first to Grace Clinic where a preliminary examination proved they needed more extreme help. Caed's mom and dad took him to a local emergency room. By the time Caed arrived at Covenant Medical Center, his body was in severe distress. His kidneys were failing. His numbers looked bad. But no one could see why. They had no choice but to begin emergency exploratory surgery.
After three hours, Lubbock pediatric surgeon, Dr. Jane Goldthorn, reported back to the parents. Caed suffered from a condition called "volvulus," described by Stedman's Medical Dictionary as an "abnormal twisting of the intestine causing obstruction." It can also cause a loss of blood flow, resulting in necrosis of the intestinal wall. The result is sometimes fatal, always excruciating.
In Caed's case, the volvulus also included the stomach, greatly complicating everything he would go through. Dr. Goldthorn removed about half the small intestine and part of the large. She told the boy's parents how lucky they were to get Caed to the hospital when they did, or he probably would have died.
Caed's dad, Todd, serves as the Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church in Celina, Texas, just north of Dallas. Caed's mom, Lori, is also a deeply committed Christian. When they heard the word "lucky," they translated it, "blessed."
How blessed? That weekend, Todd and Lori, along with Caed's three week old brother, Caleb, had driven to Idalou to fetch Caed and his seven year old sister, Reagan, home to Celina. They planned to begin the three hundred mile, five hour plus journey at two o'clock. Caed first mentioned his stomach hurting at 1:30. There are no major cities along the route. If his symptoms had begun a couple of hours later, it's unlikely he would have survived.
Even getting him there when they did, Dr. Goldthorn later told the parents that when she saw Caed that day, she didn't think he would make it.
He spent the first week in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. He was miserable there, and so were his parents as they kept watch over him. ICUs are not much fun for four year olds. On March 8th, he was moved to a regular room where he at least had a window, but was still not happy. At the end of that first week, Lori described Caed, who was usually the family entertainer and clown, as "a very sad little boy."
She was heartened the next day when, for the first time since the ordeal began, she saw him smile.
On March 8th, Lori began her blog. On the 10th, Caed went in for a second surgery. Only the occasional Caed smile broke through the darkness of those early days.
Lori wrote, "If we were seeing lots of progress, I think it would be easier. However, most everything has stayed the same. We knew from the beginning that a big element to this was going to be time. But, when you're in the middle of it, time seems to stand still."
In the days that followed, there was a blood transfusion and many procedures that required full anesthesia. There were infections, complications, repeated setbacks. Then, on April 13, Lori blogged, "Surgery at 1:30!!! Possible partial bowel obstruction. Dr. did not want to wait. Please pray all goes well..........."
The third surgery lasted four hours. The surgeon found lots of scar tissue. She found and removed a couple of partial obstructions. They placed a J-tube for feeding directly into the intestine and a G-tube into the stomach. Following surgery, the doctor put Caed's name on the list for a small bowel transplant . . . just in case.
Lori wrote, "When Todd and I were with Caed in the OR holding room waiting for them to take him back, we had a really sweet time with him. He was joking and being silly. I was laying beside him up on the gurney, and all of a sudden it was time! I had to get down. Immediately he knew . . . and began crying. He held out his arms cying for us as they wheeled him away."
Lori saw in that picture a powerful truth for all Christians. "To this little boy, all he knows is that his parents have abandoned him, he's being taken away by strangers, and pain will most likely be involved! How much did we want to just take him in our arms and not let anyone touch him. However, we knew that he would have to endure some tough pain in order to get well. Is that not like God and us? He loves us so much (far more than we love our own children), and yet He knows He must allow pain and suffering in our lives for us to ‘get well.' He doesn't like seeing His children hurt, but knows it is necessary in order for us to grow and become more like Him. During the times we feel abandoned by God and are crying out for Him to save us from pain, we need to remember He is allowing it because of His great love for us!"
On April 23rd, Texas Tech wide receiver, David Schaefer, stopped by to visit. He brought a football signed by quarterback, Graham Harrell. Caed, always the Red Raider fan, was thrilled. On May 2nd, four more Tech football players came to visit. Lori wrote, "These guys came dressed in their jerseys and had some cool gifts for him. He was excited. He just kept staring a hole through one of them."
Some of the parents' most difficult moments were seeing, not just Caed's continuing physical anguish, but the emotional scars the whole ordeal seemed to have deposited in him. In April, Lori wrote, "I almost can get sick to my stomach looking at Caed and seeing all that he has had (and continues) to go through. If only we could take all this away from him! I think back to Caed pre-March 1st. He had such energy, life, and humor! Now we predominately just see pain, anguish, and fear. We have wondered what he will be like when all this is behind us. How much will he remember? Will there be a day when our lives are ‘back to normal?'"
The four year old developed an intense fear of medical people. He saw even the kindest, most conscientious of them, as a potential threat, the bringer of more hurt. A Pediatric Behaviorist said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and that recovery would take time . . . again.
The Journey Home is one of the fundamental story-types among human beings of all eras. On May 6th, Caed took a big step in that direction. The doctors and parents decided he might recover more quickly in a home environment, so, on a "trial basis," he left the hospital. Still needing to stay close to local doctors and with the family still needing help from their large network of support in the Lubbock area, they took him back to his grandparents' Idalou home.
He was still a sick boy, throwing up many times a day every day, requiring a great deal of care from family and home health professionals, but he was out of the hospital. He wasn't yet in his own bed in Celina, but he was in friendly, familiar territory. And slowly — extremely slowly, with lots of setbacks — things began to improve.
Victories were measured in small ways, but they got bigger. In mid-June, it was still worth noting in the blog that Caed had eaten some Cheez-its and they stayed down. On the last day of the month came this glorious entry in Lori's blog. "He just seemed to want to eat all day long. If he wasn't eating, he was talking about food."
On July 1st, Caed, his sister Reagan, and some friends went to a place Lubbock area kids have delighted in for sixty years — Joyland Amusement Park. They had a great day! An astounding day! A day of victory and celebration.
The journey's not over. He's still recovering. But it seems appropriate that four months to the day after the ordeal began, Caed was relishing a place called "Joyland."
In an email, I asked Lori if she had statistics on the number of people who have viewed her blog. She didn't have them, so we can only speculate about how many people have been directly touched by her work. But there is an intriguing hint. Under "About Me," there is a link labeled, "See my complete profile." The link is part of the blog's standard template and not something Lori set up. In fact, a click on it shows that she left it blank. It also shows the number of times that page has been seen — 1,977 as of the morning of July 5th.
A few people probably clicked on it more than once, checking to see if something new had been added there. But most people probably didn't even notice it. Web site statistics are compiled in thousands of different ways, but one of the most prominent is called "Unique Visitors." It means the number of times people have come to the page. One person visiting each day for a week, would add seven to the total. Extrapolating from two thousand views of one obscure page always left blank, this number could easily be ten thousand or tens of thousands. Those are not Drudge Report size numbers, but they're pretty astounding.
The story above is a little unfair to Lori in that it quotes mostly negative things, and the blog is mostly positive. The "Curious About Caed" blog is, in fact, a tower of faith. As I said in "Christians Hurt, Too," read it and you will be inspired. She not only manages to keep her readers informed on Caed's progress, she finds ways (often without even trying) to teach us the things of God along the way. She expresses her own faith, simultaneously inspiring faith in others.
If the blog consisted only of sweet–and-pious-pastor's-wife-talk, without expressions of pain or fear, the blog wouldn't inspire anyone. Because she's real when she expresses her hurt, we know the faith expressed is also real.
It moves us because faith and fear war within everyone. At no point in our earthly sojourn do we become immune to the debilitating, depressing thing called fear. We don't have to live under its oppressive thumb, but we must be always vigilant in guarding against it.
In good times, fear works to enter our lives in subtle ways. When money's in the bank, it's easy to trust that money. Fear follows the trust of money because money's not trustworthy. The things of this world keep changing, deteriorating. Put your trust in them and it's logical to fear. Rust corrupts. Thieves break in and steal. Economies implode. Banks fail. Things fall apart.
In the last few months, the Hollingsworth family and their huge circle of loved ones have experienced fear's not so subtle side. They've experienced its intimidating side. In tough times, fear gets in your face, enters your bloodstream, strikes at your heart — always tempting you away from faith.
And it usually doesn't come alone. Deep in the valley of the shadow, fear quickly gains an amazingly effective ally — fatigue.
In the fifties and sixties, people would say, "I'm beat." They didn't mean beaten or defeated, but tired . . . bone weary . . . worn to a frazzle . . . bushed . . . bleary . . . done in . . . exhausted.
Really bad times almost always bring us to a state of extreme fatigue so that we face our biggest challenges, not when we're at our best, but at our worst. Yet, for the Christian, that's not so bad. When Paul prayed that his "thorn in the flesh," be removed, the Lord answered, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
God allows all the props to be knocked away so that we will learn where real strength resides. It's not in personal vigor, big bank accounts, or pretty faces. It's not in lands or patents, not in military might or societal traditions. It's in Him.
Faith, too, has a powerful ally. Interestingly, it's the thing that gives a parent so much pain when he sees his child suffer — love. Love makes us vulnerable, but it also ties us in to God's strength. All through the New Testament, we find love linked with faith.
Galatians 5:6 says, "faith works by love."
1 John 4:18 — "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear."
We all suffer trauma — sometimes because we do stupid things, and sometimes just because we live in a fallen world.
We win when we step into Him and invite Him to rise up in us.
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