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On the Side - October 2015

Miry Swamps and Higher Ground

Carol Mason Shrader

We have had a rocky start to our new move. What initially felt idyllic – neighbors greeting us with goodies, old friends welcoming us with open arms, and close proximity to our beloved alma mater – took a hard turn when first Benjamin was emergently hospitalized for kidney stones and then a few weeks later our nine year old, Cate, developed an osteomyelitis  (bone infection) in her ankle that required emergency surgery, a week in the hospital, and antibiotics for six weeks.
Boxes were not completely unpacked. There were projects that came to a screeching halt. And many, many, new colleagues of my husband whom I met with hospital-chair-hair and a severe lack of make-up. Please, girls, y’all need to envision this one. I had been sitting in a straight chair beside Benjamin in the emergency room all night. He was finally admitted to a room at 5:00am and I changed from the clothes I had worn all day, to comfy-take-a-nap sweats that my girls had thrown into a bag along with my favorite comfy Christmas socks (yes, it was mid-July but they wanted to make me smile). I knew I should wash my face but frankly didn’t have the energy and didn’t want to disturb my finally-sleeping son. I sat down to close my eyes in the slightly more comfortable bedside chair and the door opened -- Wade’s partner stopping in to check on Benjamin before rounds. Then the door opened again – Wade’s new boss, the CEO of the hospital – wanting to see for himself that Benjamin was getting good care. And they were just the first two of many. Nurses, scrub techs, nurse managers – all people wanting to express concern – stopped by and were welcomed to Benjamin’s bedside by an over-exhausted, crazy-eyed woman.
It would be funny, except that three weeks later I would be right back there again with Cate. And this time it would be more serious than kidney stones and my worry would outweigh my vanity even further. And more and more of this new staff would get to meet me at my very finest. Eye roll. Cough, cough.
Did I mention that on top of all this, while Cate was hospitalized Benjamin started college, Mason moved on to his campus and Claire had to move in the day after Cate’s release?
Emotions were running high in our house – from outright fear when Cate’s temperature reached 104.6 two days after surgery and all feared the infection was still raging and she might be transferred to the PICU; to anger as to why God would allow this timing during our last week before the triplets moved to college when so much needed to be done and so many memories still needed to be made; to pure, all-out exhaustion that made putting one foot in front of the other so challenging, much less the ability to unpack the remaining boxes and settle into this new home.
The Psalmist understood: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.” (Psalm 69:1-3a)
You have been there, right? In a simple survival mode, marking time to get from day to day all while trying to keep your head about the water?
Even as I dog paddled through the crisis, one of my college kids was feeling the weight of all the weeks of stress plus the added-issues of starting college for the first time. As I listened, counseled, prayed for and talked to this amazing young adult I heard the lessons God was trying so hard to relay to me: Only keeping your daily appointments with God will allow you the strength to juggle all that is going on.
And of course, get beyond the “I”. Stop thinking I want life this way; I want my roommate that way; I want my classes exactly like this….
Oh, I knew the moment when my counsel to my child was God’s exact counsel to me. I knew.  Stop thinking, Carol, that I want my house this way; I want my husband’s job that way; I want I want I want….
It wasn’t an easy lesson. If I am honest, it wasn’t what my throat was parched from crying out for. I wanted an easy fix-it answer from God. I wanted him to swoop in and make the way smooth, the path easy.
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61:1-4
I wanted the refuge. I wanted to burrow down beneath the wings of God and sleep for a month or two. But I keep coming back to the first part of the verse: “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” There is so much truth packed there, I think.
We are Star Wars fans in this house. Such Star Wars fans that when we discovered Cate was a girl, my boys said she was the one to bring balance to our force. (You might need to watch the movies to understand that one!)
And so as I read this verse, I see Obi Wan Kenobi fighting with a dark Anakin Skywalker. Anakin has turned to evil and is attempting to kill his former master and friend. Obi Wan takes the higher ground literally and is towering above Anakin in the battle, warning Anakin all along to remember he cannot defeat someone who has the higher ground.
When the Psalmist cries out for God to lead him to the higher ground, it is because he knows that to do battle we must rise up from the miry depths – the swampy quicksand of self-pity and doubt. And while I still desperately call out for God to give me refuge in His wings often, I know that victory lies in allowing Him to lead me to high ground – his refuge is there, his victory there. Wallowing in the miry pit is not where I will find refuge. And you won’t either.
Oh dear ones, our husbands cannot pull us up from the depths of despair.  Our friends cannot do it. Only, only by calling on the name of the One who can offer perfect refuge can we gain victory by reaching the high ground. My prayer for you is that whatever season you are currently facing, you will allow God to draw you up, up, up to victory and refuge with Him on the highest ground.

Carol Mason Shrader can be found stalking her triplets at their respective colleges this fall and missing them like crazy. She, her wonderful Wade and their 9-year-old, Cate, live in Jackson, Mississippi where Wade is the chief of pediatric orthopedic surgery at Children’s of Mississippi.