When Love Is Not Enough

A year ago today, we sat by Tarica’s bed at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, waiting for the MRI results. We did not know what was wrong with her, and we prayed for strength to face the verdict.

Today, another set of parents sit by the bedside of another little girl in another hospital. Shianna had a severe seizure last night and was airlifted because she was unresponsive. I don’t want to think about the terror her parents felt. And her story strikes closely home: She is my cousin’s daughter.

After I heard the news, I put my head down on the table and cried one big gulping sob. But no more. Tears would not help. I sat up, wiped my eyes, and reached for the words.

This one is for Shianna, for all the little ones who fight battles bigger than they are, battles that break our hearts.

* * *

When they were small and sad, I held them until they smiled. When they fell in those first toddling steps, I scooped them up and kissed away the hurt.

Our world was little and safe and predictable. I doctored scrapes and colds, and I made oatmeal and promises, and we all lived as happily as if Ever After was now. I loved my children so strong it felt as if nothing could touch us.

But reality pricked holes into my cocoon of safety. There was the burn on Jenica’s face, scars she still wears. There was Tarica’s colic, and there was Micah’s repeated bronchiolitus/asthma attacks during his first year. There was the challenge of helping our daughters negotiate broadening social worlds and the difficulties found outside our sheltering walls.

My children faced problems I could not fix. I was helpless to counteract their pain, and it hurt. I wanted nothing more than to preserve our safe little world.

And then came—not a pinprick, but a slash, a tear, a gash through my world. Epilepsy took away my safety net, and I fell and fell and fell.

I could not love her enough to protect her, to heal her, to make promises, and it was a slash, a tear, a gash through my heart.

I think all mothers face this sooner or later. Some lose that safe cocoon on the day they find the unmistakable stamp of Down’s syndrome on their precious newborn’s face. Some lose their safety net in weeks spent in the NICU or in the wreckage of an accident or in the irrevocable words of a medical diagnosis. Social rejection. Academic failure. Marital conflict. Brutal words.

My love is not enough to keep my children safe.

What does a mother do when love is not enough?

She cries. She worries. She fears. She hugs them until they squirm in protest.

She alone is the mother of these children. No one else has loved them as she has, and who else feels this pain so deeply?

But if she is to be comforted, she also prays, because who else but God can comfort?

Lord, be for my children what I cannot.

And love—His love—is enough to bring us safely home.

* * *

P.S. I talked with Shianna’s aunt this morning, and it sounds like she is doing better. They suspect it was a febrile seizure.

No matter the diagnosis, it will be a long time before her parents forget the terror. I pray they will know God’s peace and comfort in the coming days.

In Which Our Faith Is Strengthened by Unexpected Visitors

Read In Which Our Faith Is Strengthened by a Friend first.

* * *

Throughout Saturday afternoon, I kept checking the two fifties to make sure they hadn’t disappeared. Every time, they were still there. Every time, I was amazed all over again.

Several hours after the mail came, an unfamiliar car pulled in the drive. Jenica bolted for the door, curiosity flapping in the breeze behind her, followed by Tarica. Linford went after them, more slowly.

I was putting some laundry away upstairs, and by the time I peeked out a window, the car was already empty. Probably Jehovah’s Witnesses, I thought. Whoever had come was standing on the porch out of my sight. I gave in and went downstairs.

Linford met me on my way to the door. “You need to come out here,” he said, an odd look on his face.

I stepped outside and saw the most unexpected people on our porch. Remember the doctor that took x-rays of Tarica’s elbow? I called him “almost a friend.” Well, I was wrong. It takes more than almost-friendship to show up on a Saturday afternoon with what they did.

I looked from Dr. Chris and his wife, April, to the basket on the porch. The girls were already rummaging through it, pulling out treasures and exclaiming over them. The basket held chips, granola bars, travel games, a lap desk with coloring pages, crayons, fruit snacks, and caramel popcorn.

“It’s for your trips to and from Pittsburgh.” Dr. Chris pulled an envelope out of the basket and handed it to me.

I tucked it under my arm and groped for words of thanks. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: It’s humbling to receive. We don’t deserve such generosity, such thoughtfulness, and if I cry at all these days, it is tears of incredulous joy.

We thanked them. We talked, of epilepsy, of Christmas. We thanked them again. They left.

“I can’t believe they did this,” I said to Linford as we looked over the basket.

“What will you do with it?” he asked.

“Save it. For Pittsburgh,” I said. “It’s why it was given, and I want to honor that.”

Back in my kitchen, I remembered the envelope still tucked under my arm. When I pulled it out, I noticed its curious fatness. I tore it open and found a Christmas card. I opened the card and—

“Linford,” I said, “you need to see this.”

The card held $200 in cash and a $50 gift card for Sheetz, a common gas station in our area.

I swallowed hard. My chest felt constricted, as if the breath had been slammed out of me. “I can’t believe this,” I whispered around the tightness.

Above all that we ask or think. 

I groped for words of thanks, knowing it’s not enough, knowing, too, that He understands.

* * *

I tell you this story because I don’t want to forget it. Sometime in the future, when I feel like God is ignoring our distress, when the darkness is thick on every side, when it seems as if epilepsy has swallowed us whole—I want to come back and read this story of God’s extravagant provision.

If He could do it once, He can do it again.

He will do it again.

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

In Which Our Faith Is Strengthened by a Friend

Read In Which Our Faith Is Strengthened by a Stranger first.

* * *

When I went through the mail this past Saturday, I was pleased to see a package from a writer friend of mine. I had recently edited her latest project, an informal compilation of stories, and she had promised to send me a copy when it was completed.

As usual, she had included other interesting pieces and the latest issue of the magazine she edits; getting a package from her is as much fun as Christmas. All this stuff to read when I should have been doing the dishes—it was a temptation worth yielding to, so I did. Because the words absorbed my attention, I didn’t see the money until I was hastily scrambling the papers together before going back to my pots and pans. Two bills fluttered out of the stack onto the table.

I froze. Blinked. Sure enough, they were still there. Two fifties. One hundred dollars.

God had covered the remaining $99.24.

Wherefore didst thou doubt, Stephanie? 

The money, my friend said, was payment for the editing I did for her in the last six months or so.

The timing, I thought, was God’s alone.

* * *

I sat, ignoring the dishes, holding the money, trembling inside.

My friend had included an accounting of the projects I had edited for her and the payment for each. Twenty dollars for this one, twenty-five for that one, and so on, for a total of ninety-five dollars. She had then added five dollars, marked it “Christmas gift,” and made it one hundred dollars even.

Her generosity had turned payment for services rendered into a miracle. Had she given only what she owed me, it would have been $4.24 short of our need. Details, insignificant and inconsequential, perhaps—after all, we could afford to pay $4.24 toward a medical bill—but my God is the King of Insignificant Details, and nothing is too small for His attention.

It shook me to my core.

Generosity begats generosity, and we had already been so blessed. Perhaps I could use some of this money to buy birthday gifts (very belated or very early, depending on how you looked at it) for my sisters. Both of them had frequently helped us with their time and resources during the last year. In February, one of them was taking off work for the entire ten days Tarica would be in the hospital so she would be available, either to help my mom take care of Micah or else to come out to Pittsburgh and assist me with Tarica.

It humbled me to always be the recipient. Perhaps I could find a special gift for them, an inadequate but heartfelt expression of my gratitude. I had wanted to buy them birthday gifts earlier in the year, but money for such extras had been and would continue to be scarce. But this—I could not hoard this generosity. Surely we could spare a little. I’d see what Linford said about it.

I returned to my dishes, still astounded by God’s attention to detail.

But the King of Insignificant Details is also King of Exceeding Abundantly, and He wasn’t finished.

Come back tomorrow for the next installment of grace.

In Which Our Faith Is Strengthened by a Stranger

“Did you pay that bloodwork bill?” Linford asked.

“No, not yet,” I said, resisting the urge to make a face. Or maybe I did make a face. Sometimes I don’t resist the urge.

Linford normally paid the bills, an arrangement that suited me. Bookkeeping bored me enough that I tended to put it off, and procrastination and bill paying do not peacefully coexist. But medical bills required at least one phone call to negotiate our self-pay discount. Linford was on the road all day with his job as an appliance repairman, in and out of cell service, in and out of customers’ homes. Since he could not easily make the calls during business hours, the responsibility became reluctantly mine.

“Just put it on a credit card,” Linford said. “I’ll figure something out by the time the bill is due.”

We had grown accustomed to bloodwork bills for two and three hundred dollars. Tarica’s anti-epilepsy drugs required periodic blood tests to ensure that the drugs were not damaging her body. But Tarica had recently been put on Depakote, which required more extensive testing. This last bill of $856.05 had dropped both our jaws.

The discount would bring it to $599.24. Not much, compared to a hospital stay, but we didn’t have an extra $600 sitting in the checking account. We aren’t poor—anyone with enough food to eat, enough clothes to wear, and a solid roof overhead has abundant wealth. What we don’t have is a lot of extra cash. However, each month we paid our credit card balances in full, and somehow, surprisingly, we always had enough to cover the additional medical bills.

Once more, we would charge it in faith.

* * *

Linford looked at his paperwork before jumping out of his truck. This job was an LG dishwasher that wasn’t draining. He grabbed his tool bag and clipboard and followed the sidewalk curving up to the rancher’s recessed front door. A fluffy white dog rushed at him across the lawn, yapping hysterically.

A grey-haired man in his 60s or 70s came to the door. He stooped to hush the dog, saying as he straightened, “I don’t want my wife to wake up.”

Wife? Linford looked around and saw a woman sleeping in a hospital bed in the middle of the living room.

“She has Alzheimer’s,” the homeowner, whose name was Gregory, said as he led the way to the kitchen. “Diagnosed sixteen years ago, and she’s been dying one cell at a time the last six.” His voice was matter-of-fact in the manner of one who has long ago stopped looking for pity.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Linford said. “May God bless you as you care for her.”

The dishwasher was complicated. Linford had to uninstall it to reach the drain pump, and as he worked, the two men talked. A younger woman and her daughter stopped by briefly. After they left, Gregory said, “That was my daughter-in-law. Between her and my other daughter-in-law, there is a crisis every day, a flat tire, a headache, and I tell them to calm down, it’s not Alzheimer’s, it’s not cancer.” He paused before explaining. “Two years ago, I had cancer, the scariest kind, and I should be dead. But the Lord healed me, and here I am.”

“I needed to hear this right now,” Linford said as he did something unexplainable in the guts of the dishwasher. “Our five-year-old daughter has epilepsy. Her seizures aren’t controlled by medication, and she might be going for brain surgery in the future.” He looked up at Gregory standing by the kitchen counter. “It’s good to know that someone else is facing difficulties with courage.”

The job took nearly three-quarters of an hour. The two of them continued talking, exchanging pieces of their lives as strangers do when thrown together in close quarters. When the dishwasher was finally reinstalled, it hummed and drained as a well-behaved dishwasher should. Linford filled out the paperwork and handed the bill to Gregory.

When Gregory returned to the kitchen, he held a check and a bank envelope in his hand. He held out both to Linford. “Jesus of Nazareth is a healer. I feel like I’m supposed to give this to you.”

Linford looked at the envelope, at the money inside it, and said, “This is not why I told you my story.”

“I know it isn’t. Take it and use it and God bless you.”

Back in his truck, Linford pulled out the money and counted the bills unsteadily. Twenty-five twenties. Five hundred dollars.

Through the hands of a stranger, the Lord had provided.

* * *

This gift left $99.24 for us to cover. We could do it.

Except the windows of heaven were still flung open. God wasn’t yet finished pouring out His grace.

I’ll tell you more tomorrow.

Learning to Put Trust into Practice

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you an update from the current situation on the front.

* * *

First, you should know this: I am doing surprisingly well. Mostly, I feel incredulous. It’s like a badly written story in which improbable illnesses and accidents happen in rapid succession. To the same person.

God is good. I’m not sure how that truth applies to this situation, but I believe it.

* * *

I wasn’t planning on being tested so soon.

A few weeks ago, after that thunderstruck incident in church, I had decided that the next time I was faced with an overwhelming difficulty, I was going to focus on the grace and promises of God rather than on my feelings. That difficulty, of course, would likely be Tarica’s next hospitalization, so I had time to prepare and grow stronger.


On Sunday evening, Tarica fell off her bed. She has a platform bed, so she fell about three feet. Onto the elbow of her left arm. She said it hurt (that is so much an understatement, it’s nearly unforgivable). But she could move her fingers, and we couldn’t feel any dislocated bones or joints; so we gave her Tylenol and hoped for the best as we tucked her into bed.

It was a rough night. There were the times she was awake crying, and then there were the times she was crying in her sleep.

I hated digging her out of bed early the next morning, but it was my turn to take a vanload of children to school. I carried her out to the van in her pajamas and strapped her in. She huddled in her seat, her arm snugged next to her body, half-asleep.

Right after we dropped the children off, she gave a strangled cry. I looked back and saw she had toppled sideways and couldn’t get up, helpless as a fish on a river bank. I pulled off the road and climbed back to help her.

“Mom,” she said through her tears as I sat her up, “is it my left arm that has the seizures?”

My shoulders tensed. “Yes, it is.”

“I just had a seizure, and it hurts.” She sniffled. “How many days is it going to hurt?”

“I don’t know, sweetie,” I said as I got back behind the wheel. So that was why she couldn’t get up. Following a seizure, she often has what is known as Todd’s paralysis on her left side, a temporary loss of muscle tone and strength.

Tarica subsided and was asleep within minutes. Micah hummed to himself, thumping his heels against his seat, and I threaded our way home through the streets of Altoona and stewed.

How many times can a little girl be hurt? Was her arm broken, fractured, cracked, sprained? It was swollen and hot to the touch. What should we do next? Another decision to make.

Discouragement flumped over me, a wet blanket of despair. Don’t we have enough to deal with, God?

And with the thought of God came the memory of my resolve to trust Him. And with the memory came the verse “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Discouragement whimpered in protest. I felt its weight ease a little.

Another verse popped up: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

My shoulders relaxed. Despair is a choice, not an inevitable conclusion.

I went home and called a doctor we know who is almost a friend—you know, the way doctors should be but usually aren’t. He has the equipment to take x-rays, and he allowed me to bring Tarica in right away. The x-rays revealed what might be a slight line through the joint, but it wasn’t definitive, what with the swelling surrounding the area. The doctor, not being an orthopedic, wasn’t comfortable with saying it looked fine.

“Take her home and put ice on it,” he said. “See how she’s doing in the morning. If she still is hurting and refusing to use it, you should get it checked out.”

By late afternoon, it was clear to me that Tarica was still in considerable pain. I rigged a sling from a dishtowel; that seemed to ease a bit of her discomfort. Then I called our pediatrician’s office and told the story. They said they would contact a local orthopedic doctor to set up an appointment. (Apparently, orthopedics accept patients mostly by referral.)


When I put Tarica in bed last night, I surrounded her with large pillows to keep her from rolling onto her arm. She slept all night, and so did we, undisturbed. This morning, her elbow is still swollen and painful. She won’t use it, but at least she is eating today and a little bit braver.

I hope to hear from the orthopedic before too much time passes. Wishful thinking, but it would be nice to resolve this today.

Poor girl.

Today is her birthday.