Grace for Even Me (Fifty Shades of Grace Series)
Finding Harmony Blog is featuring five guest posts all week as excerpts from a just released book, Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise, published by Herald Press (April 17, 2013). I served as compiler/editor for the book and wrote about that process on Mennobytes blog. Today’s story is by Sarah Ann Bixler; her bio appears below.
Guest post by Sarah Ann Bixler
It was the first day of spring. Bright yellow petals blinked on my giant daffodils as the sun chased the cold chill from the air. Robins flittered around the yard, playing tag and pecking the soft ground for plump worms and bugs. Signs of new life appeared everywhere. I should have been outside relaxing on the porch swing, enjoying the beautiful day, but I was in the dark, damp basement.
Sitting on the hard concrete floor, doubled over as far as my six-months-pregnant belly would allow, I scrubbed brown water marks from the vinyl tile. Two months earlier a pipe had burst in the nearby wall, the disastrous combination of a hard freeze and a garden hose left hooked up to the outside faucet. Gallons of water had come gushing down the basement walls and spread across the first floor, pouring from the ceiling tiles into the basement and bubbling up between the hardwood planks on the floor above. Washing the basement floor was one of the final clean-up tasks, after drying out and removing damaged boards and patching drywall, and before repainting walls and replacing half of the first floor. And my husband and I were doing the majority of the work.
Long before the entire floor was cleaned, my back hurt and my abdomen protested being folded in half with a baby blocking the way. I hauled my aching body up two flights of stairs and called to my husband that I was taking a nap. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
When I awoke, the aching feeling persisted. Not in my back anymore, but in my sides and my belly. I tried to find a comfortable position, but there was no relief. I went downstairs where Ben was preparing supper and tried to smile as our two-year-old, Calvin, pedaled around the exposed plywood kitchen floor on his tricycle.
I knew something was wrong. Ben encouraged me to call the doctor, so I placed a message at the hospital for the obstetrician on duty. But after an hour passed, I recognized that I had contractions occurring every five minutes. We drove to the hospital as the last rays of daylight faded from the spring sky.
The next hours became a blur of excruciating contractions, epidural needle, lower abdominal incision, “Do you have a name picked out?” and a glimpse of a small red mass who was our daughter. For three hours we waited for the report that she was still alive and her breathing had stabilized. We briefly touched a tiny hand, barely visible under a quilted aluminum blanket and tubes coming out every which way, before she was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) an hour away.
The doctors described Susannah Rose as feisty and strong at 13 weeks premature. But within two days, a sudden hemorrhage in her heart sent her fragile systems awry. That first week of spring, we looked at her through tearful eyes and prayed that the bleeding in her heart and brain would stop. Calvin met his little sister at five days old and clasped his small fingers around her hand. And on the seventh day, Ben and I held her in our arms for the first and last time. Shock, pain and grief hung like a pale haze over the beginning of a season meant to be joyous and full of life.
Even easier than extending grace to God was offering grace to others who, along the way, had hurt me unintentionally. I offered grace to the doctor who didn’t return my call. To the entry nurse who wasted twenty precious minutes trying to determine whether I was really having contractions. To the birthplace nurse who cheerfully asked me if I wanted my baby in the room with me, a baby struggling for her life an hour away. To the NICU nurse who coolly snapped photos of Susannah after she pulled out her own breathing tube and gasped for air. To Susannah’s doctor who reduced her blood pressure medication, resulting in her heart hemorrhaging. To my elderly neighbor who brought a meal and said, “It was for the best. She might have been, you know, bad.” To a friend who complimented me on my post-pregnancy figure when all I wanted was to still be pregnant.
I had grace for everyone except myself. I could not shake the thought that I could have prevented Susannah from dying, that I was ultimately responsible for her fate. I could barely look at my shrinking figure in the mirror, a bright red scar in place of where Susannah should have still been growing. I focused my attention instead on the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths that bloomed in my flowerbeds. They were weeded, mulched and blooming vigorously long before my doctor had cleared me to begin post-surgery activity. And as my hands plunged deep into the warm soil, God’s Spirit taught me that Susannah, like a spring bulb, had blossomed briefly, died, but now knows life where she blooms eternal.
The passage of time and summer’s arrival helped me gain a new perspective on Susannah’s brief life. Slowly I came to accept that although I may have been able to prevent her early birth, I was still a mother to Susannah. The grief in my heart turned to gratitude for the few moments we spent together. And the longing for what could have been different deepened my love for the precious girl who will always be mine.
I discovered that there is grace for even me.
Photo by Sweet Amy’s Photography
BIO: Sarah Ann Bixler lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia with her husband, Ben, and two children, Calvin and Eve. She received a degree in English education from Eastern Mennonite University and enjoys creative writing. Sarah has worked as a youth minister, teacher, curriculum writer and administrator in Mennonite churches and institutions throughout her career. Currently, she works for Virginia Mennonite Conference and on Eastern Mennonite University’s residence life staff. Sarah will soon be enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary studying for her master’s of divinity degree.
More stories like this: This story and 49 more like it can be found in the new book, Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise. It is easy reading and inspirational—a great Mother’s day gift or for birthdays, anniversaries, personal devotional, or a book to share with a friend or relative. A 30 percent discount is available until May 1, making the book just $9.09 plus shipping. You can also watch a trailer for the book here and find a news release here.