The passage of Scripture was not new to me. Not new at all. In fact, over the course of my life, I had probably read it and heard it, countless times before.
But last year, on December 17th, 2018, He met me in my dining room…8 days before Christmas. With the 2×4 of His timeless AND timely Truth, He hit my heart in a way that could only be described as Divine.
Sitting at my table with a heaviness in my heart, a weariness in my soul, and a burning, pine-scented candle before me, I cried and cried.
I was frustrated; I was tired; I was overwhelmed; and if I’m being honest, I was angry at our situation, the timing, and the very God who could have changed it all, but had chosen not to.
But before I share the words that changed the course of my heart in the days leading up to Christmas 2018, let me start by sharing a little back-story–a story that God had written from the foundations of the earth–but a story that began in March 2018 for our little family.
In the middle of March, I had received a placement call for a 7 day-old baby who needed a foster family. But since I was unable to get a hold of my husband and because they needed a quick and immediate answer, I had to say “no.” Three days later, they called a 2nd time and asked us to take this very-same baby boy because his other foster family was no longer willing to take him.
On the phone, they had informed me that he had a “minor heart defect” and was currently in the NICU for an indefinite and undetermined amount of time (it could be days, it could be weeks, it could be months). We thought deeply about this decision and painfully declined a 2nd time.
Because we weren’t sure we would be able to adequately care for the needs of this baby while also managing our jobs and two children at home (children who couldn’t come to the NICU with us), we decided to give room and space for another family to care for him.
Our hearts were heavy and confused as it seemed like the Lord was opening a door for us to take our 2nd foster placement only to close it not once, but TWICE. We had been trusting the Lord for the timing of our next foster placement…as only a couple months prior, we had said “goodbye” to our first, foster placement….but we continued to trust in the timing of God, knowing that He would open the door at just the right time. After two calls within one week and after saying “no” twice, I was almost sure that the door for loving this little boy had closed.
But not unlike many other times in my life, I was wrong.
On March 19th, we received a THIRD call from the case-worker asking us if we would (again) consider taking the same, little boy. Since he was being discharged that week and still hadn’t been placed with another family, they wanted to know if we would consider caring for him.
We didn’t consult long or labor over the decision because it truly seemed as if God had swung open the door (very WIDELY) and asked us to walk through it.
There are lots of memories we make during our lifetimes, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the evening that my husband and I walked into the NICU room and saw him lying there ( all alone) in that little bed.
With no nurses in his room and not a single set of arms to hold him, he lay there in the dark…swaddled in a blanket of white…with the grayest color of skin I have ever seen. His eyes were closed, and he looked so terribly vulnerable.
There were NO introductions, and there was NO fanfare.
This baby, lying alone, was waiting for our arms…or any arms for that matter. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I certainly had never experienced anything like it before.
Shortly after we had entered his room, a NICU nurse came into the room and quickly began briefing us on this baby boy, his current situation, and the medical needs and care he would require in the days ahead. I remember the bright lights, and I remember feeling like the floor was moving beneath my feet. I truly believe it was the grace of God and the power of His arm that kept me standing for those next hours.
With graphs, images, and medical terms beyond my comprehension, she began to share the specifics of his “minor heart defect.”
I remember the following snippets:
“He has an Aortic defect.”
“He has Double-Outlet Right Ventricle”
“He also has a hole in his heart called a VSD”
“That hole in his heart is helping to keep alive.”
“If he didn’t have that hole in his heart, his heart would have no ability to pump oxygenated blood back to his heart and body.”
“He is gray because his body has limited blood flow.”
“He is breathing heavily and quickly because he is not receiving adequate blood flow.”
On and on the information came.
He would go home on multiple medications that he would need multiple times a day. Regularly, we would need to monitor both his color and breathing. He would eventually need open-heart surgery and in the mean time, he would need to have very regular trips to a variety of specialists who would monitor his continued heart failure. The more and more she talked, the less and less it appeared to be a “minor thing.”
As I looked at this sweet, very sickly baby boy…a baby who was born a mere 4.2 lbs with a hole in his heart…I had a hard time reconciling that the very next day, we would come back to the hospital; we would pick up this fragile, little life; we would buckle him into his car seat; and we would bring him into our home and hearts for however long that would be.
And if I am being a bazillion percent honest, I was scared. REAL SCARED.
What had we done?
What had we committed to?
How would we do it?
Could we do it?
Did we even want to do it?
The fears swirled as fast as the questions came.
And if I had only known THEN what would come down the pike in the months to come, I am ashamed to admit it…I would have probably run. Because the next 10 months were some of the hardest, scariest, most painful, unknown, and out-of-control months of my 36 years of life.
Pediatrician appointments, blood draws, virus scans, ultrasounds, EKGs, OT and PT home evaluations, cardiologists, trips to the pharmacy, phone calls, weekly weigh-in’s, and medication logs on top of laundry, bottles, midnight feedings, 3 AM feedings, diaper changes, baby baths, and all the other things that come with normal, newborn territory.
We saw a Neuro-Surgeon; we saw Dieticians; we saw an Infectious Disease Doctor; we saw a Cardiologist team; we saw an ENT Specialist; we saw Development Specialists; we saw a Genetics Specialist; and we saw a Pediatric Thoracic Surgeon.
We had a sleep study, a helmet consultation, a tongue-tie clip, ultrasounds, MRIs, and a myriad of other assessments and evaluations to rule out infectious diseases, potential jaw surgery, Spina Bifida, and a Genetic disorder.
For 10 months, I LIVED AT THE HOSPITAL.
And on top of it all, his birth parents were involved every single step of the way (which is a beautiful, painful, and very messy story for another day). It was a physically exhausting, emotionally draining, mentally numbing, spiritually-testing journey.
There were highs and lows, blessings and struggles, and everything in between. As our old friend, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
So when we got to October of 2018 and were finally given a date for his open-heart surgery, we were both exhausted and relieved.
It seems weird to think that we were eagerly awaiting a date for them to cut open his little chest, but OUR hearts ached for HIS. It was a long and dicey wait, so we were thrilled to circle November 12th on our calendars.
But on November 9th, only 3 days before his scheduled surgery date, he came down with a cold.
He hadn’t had a single cold the ENTIRE time we had had him (which was nothing less than a miracle), but after doing a blood draw during his Pre-Op testing, they found that he tested positive for the Rhino Virus. Since the doctors wanted to make sure that he was in the best of health in order to ensure the best-possible surgery and recovery outcome, they called us on Saturday night and told us that we would need to reschedule.
We understood, but we were bummed and disappointed.
As I made the call to reschedule, the scheduler informed me that due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the surgeon would be taking some time off and that we could reschedule for the first, available appointment which would be Friday, December 14th.
More than a month later?! What?! How long could this little boy continue like this? He wasn’t eating well because he couldn’t breathe well and because he couldn’t eat well, he was beginning to lose weight. He NEEDED this surgery. WE NEEDED this surgery.
I am sure she heard the disappointment in my voice as I confirmed the new appointment.
As I got off the phone and relayed the information to my husband, I remember my Polly-Anna self saying, “Well, at LEAST we’ll probably be out in time for Christmas!”
The doctors had suggested that if everything went as planned, he would probably be in the hospital for 7-10 days. December 14th would be cutting it close, but hopefully…we’d be snuggled at home on Christmas Eve with footie jammies, hot chocolates, and presents around the tree. I was hopeful.
In the next month, we worked hard to (again) rearrange our work schedules and to secure care for our two oldest while we’d be gone in the hospital. We rescheduled our Pre-Op testing, re-secured the Ronald McDonald house, and worked ahead to wrap the presents and do ALL THE THINGS so that we could have our “NORMAL CHRISTMAS.”
So when December 13th came and the 2nd round of pre-op testing was over, we were thrilled. WHEW!
In less than 18 hours, our little guy would be in the OR!
I remember breathing such a deep sigh of relief as we pulled out of the hospital parking garage and headed to our hotel.Truly, it felt like the burden of the last months was finally lifting.
Stopping for a celebratory meal and for some last-minute Christmas shopping, we excitedly texted our family and friends.
We were ELATED. Finally, the time had COME!
But sometime between responding to a text and purchasing some tea for my mother-in-law, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but it appeared to be a Cincinnati number. Quickly, I answered.
“Mrs. Buczek, I am so very sorry to tell you this, as I know you just finished the 3 hours of pre-op testing for the 2nd time, but the heart surgery has been canceled for tomorrow and bumped again. The earliest we could get him in would be December 20th. If not, we would need to push the surgery out until the middle of January.”
I don’t remember how I remained standing as she talked, but I did. And I have no idea how the tears stayed silent, but they did.
EVERYTHING WAS NUMB.
Hanging up the phone, I left the tea shoppe and went to find my husband. As soon as I found him, I burst into tears. Recounting the phone call, I sobbed and sobbed between the bits of information.
“Babe, I don’t think he can wait any longer. I think we need to schedule on the 20th.” I knew he was right and yet NO part of my heart wanted to agree.
Through blinding tears and a mob of people, I kept asking, “But what about our Christmas? What about OUR Christmas? I don’t want to be in the hospital (away from our children) on Christmas. I don’t want to do this!”
My tired and exhausted self continued to rant in my head and rave in my heart.
“This sacrifice is too much, God! TOO much! Haven’t we given enough? Why this? Why then? WHY?!?!?”
I wanted to be dancing to Christmas music and clinking mugs of hot chocolate…not sitting in a surgery waiting room!
I wanted to be slowly and intentionally counting down to Christmas in the confines of my cozy home…not living out of a suitcase and eating from a hospital cafeteria!!!
I wanted to be decorating gingerbread houses in Christmas jammies and wrapping last-minute gifts…not huddled over a baby swaddled in ICU clothes and lying in a hospital bed!
Apart from my internal pity party, I don’t remember a whole lot about that drive home from Cincinnati but by the time we had arrived home…I had bitten all my fingernails off and my face was a mess of blotchy red and runny mascara. I was both DONE and UN-DONE.
The days between December 13th and December 17th are both a mental and emotional blur to me, but I can distinctly remember that afternoon at my dining room table. Do you remember? When the Lord met me at my dining room table?
As I read from Luke, chapter 2…the familiar words hit the deepest parts of my tired soul.
“And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”
Did you catch that?
While they were THERE, the time came for her…
Now listen, if God could bring about a miraculous virgin birth, then I believe He was more than able to control the timing of those contractions.
He knew the time; He knew the journey; and He knew the place.
And not just an “Oh, I saw that coming” kind of way. NO. He pre-planned it. Like from the beginning of time, HE KNEW.
700 years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophesies and says in Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from days of old, from ancient days.”
God had big plans to use that little, unlikely town to fulfill His promise. BIG PLANS. And so because He chose Bethlehem as the birthing spot, He knew it would be THERE.
But what about Mary???
How did she feel when she was told that she had to load up, pack up, and head to Bethlehem?
How did she feel when she knew that a 90 mile journey was ahead of her?
How did she feel about leaving the comforts of her home and hittin’ the road on a camel, a donkey, or on her swollen feet (Scripture doesn’t say how she traveled).
How did she feel about taking that journey with a full uterus and a bulging belly?
Now clearly, I’m not Mary, but can we just imagine for a second and ponder for just a moment?
Isn’t it possible that Mary would have wanted to be in the cozy confines of her home (near family and friends) when she gave birth?
Isn’t it possible that she was already “nesting” in preparation for her Savior-son to be born?
Isn’t it entirely possible that she never, ever intended to give birth after a terribly long road trip that would require her to not only pay taxes, but then also give birth where an animal manger was present?
Again, I don’t know how she felt, and I have no clue what she was thinking. But whatever the case, she submitted her will to His and did exactly what she already committed to do in Luke 1:38 when she told the Angel of the Lord, “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Even in the midst of her not knowing, she trusted that HE did.
Again, maybe it wasn’t a struggle for Mary to pack up and head to Bethlehem with a baby in womb (maybe I’ll ask her when I get to heaven), but I think it’s safe to say that none of her journey was expected or went as she had planned.
A virgin birth? A manger? Visiting Shepherds?
A son that would die for her and the rest of the world?
I don’t imagine that this is what Mary had envisioned, and I scarcely believe that ANY of that was “in her plan” when she fell in love with Joseph, the wood-working man born in Bethlehem.
So as I sat at my dining room table, reading this passage with fresh eyes and a tender heart, I could feel the Lord stirring in the confines of my soul.
Jessica, I know it wasn’t in your plans to potentially be in the hospital on Christmas Day with a foster son recovering from open-heart surgery, but can you trust that I KNOW?
I know you didn’t plan to be surrounded by beeping machines, cords and wires, difficult birth parents, and a slew of nurses coming in and out with pain meds. But can you rest in believing that I have a good and perfect plan that was known before you even breathed your first breath of air?
I know none of this was on your timeline and on your agenda, but can you submit to the journey, trusting that I lead as an all-knowing Father? Can you trust that I KNEW even if you didn’t?
Oh, how I longed to echo the words of Mary. “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your PLANS, not mine.”
How about YOU? Where do you find yourself this Christmas?
Are things going as you have planned, or as you desired? Or does this year feel more messy than merry? Or maybe more broken than bright?
Maybe you find yourself entering this Christmas season with weakened health, a job loss, or bills that are greater than your bank account.
Maybe this is your first year (around the tree) without your loved one, or maybe one of your loved ones has been given months to live.
Maybe your marriage is falling apart, maybe your aging parent is struggling, or maybe you have a prodigal child who won’t be at the table this year.
Maybe this is your first Christmas as empty-nesters, maybe you’ll be alone (again) at all the Christmas parties this year, or maybe depression and anxiety has followed you into the holiday season…once again.
Maybe your friendships are struggling, maybe your faith is being tested, and maybe you’re dreading the year of 2020.
Whatever is happening that may or may not be a part of YOUR plans, may I encourage you to remember that from the beginning of time, He KNEW exactly where you’d be and what you’d be facing on Christmas of 2019.
That first Christmas (over 2000 years ago) may not have gone as Mary had planned or desired, but it went exactly as God had planned. At just the right time, in just the right place…God entered into the middle of our mess and into the brokenness of our world. IMMANUEL (God WITH us) came in the form of a baby.
Right THERE. Right THEN.
In the middle of Bethlehem, He came. And in the middle of our Brokenness, He STILL comes.
He came for our sadness; He came for our anger; and He came for our hurt.
He came because of the disappointments; He came because of the difficult; and He came because things in this world aren’t as HE had planned.
He didn’t come because our lives were “put together” or because our plans were “perfect.” No. He came because none of us are put-together and nothing is perfect…and never would be, apart from Him.
He came for ALL kinds of busted plans and broken hearts; He came because we needed rescue; and He came because NO earthly Christmas would ever be perfect WITHOUT the hope of heaven.
He came for all the babies with all the broken hearts because He WAS the baby with the PERFECT heart.
THIS is precisely why He came.
Oh, how I wish I could wrap up your Christmas 2019 season with a big-happy bow…a life filled with comforts and ease and a holiday season where everything is MERRY and BRIGHT, but I can’t.
I can point your hearts to the one who CAN and WILL. Because one day, He will gather up all of His grace-saved children and bring them home to heaven–a place where EVERY day is perfect, ALL plans are perfected, and where EVERY day is a CHRIST-centered Christmas.
But until then, I pray that you will know Him, that you will continually learn to trust HIS plans even when yours differ, and to echo the words of Mary, “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to YOUR word.”