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WIMD Pulse - April 2014

Full Circle
by Aletha Cress Oglesby, MD

As we prepare to celebrate Easter this month, I remember Easter weekend last year. It was special for my family because we were also celebrating my grandson Eric’s second birthday on Saturday and my husband’s Easter birthday, an infrequent occurrence.

However, as we gathered for a family party, I felt more sadness than joy. Eric has struggled with several health issues since infancy. Like his dad, my son, he suffers from atopic dermatitis, an extremely itchy skin disease. Especially in infants, it is almost impossible to prevent scratching, making it prone to infection and scarring. It disturbs sleep and causes irritability. Children with this horrible disease are not happy and smiling; they are miserable. Testing revealed multiple food allergies which along with reflux resulted in slow and even no weight gain; so as a 2-year-old, he was about the size of an average 1-year-old. He requires a daily regimen of skin care and diet restrictions which is laborious and often exhausting to my daughter-in-law, who quit her job as an optometric assistant to be a full-time mom and homeschool my granddaughter who as an infant was diagnosed with a VSD (ventricular septal defect) and has ADHD.

Approaching his second birthday, I had serious concerns about another issue—his speech, or rather lack of. He was not talking, not even single words, much less phrases. As a family physician, I don’t treat infants and toddlers, but I know this is not normal. When I researched “speech delay in children,” the results that came back chilled my heart—terms like “autism,” “mental retardation” and “pervasive developmental disorder” were at the top of every list. My heart almost literally broke as I considered what such a diagnosis would mean to Eric, his parents and his sister.

I was hurt, scared and angry with God. Why would He let a baby suffer like this? Over the last year, several friends have faced serious illness and I was prepared for that. I assumed it might be my husband or me; after all, we are now considered senior citizens, people our age are supposed to get sick, not children. Seeing my children and grandchildren suffer was not something I was anticipating. My image of us as a family with a “special needs” child seemed like a bad dream.

After consulting with his pediatrician, Eric’s parents began visits to a child development specialist, endocrinologist and speech therapist. We were relieved when they all refuted an autism diagnosis. However, his speech delay was significant and qualified him for state funded speech therapy.

Throughout this difficult year, God has sustained my faith in multiple small, unexpected, unsought ways. We shared our problem with our home fellowship group from church and they have prayed for Eric. After church one night, our friend, a speech therapist, asked our son about Eric, shared her insights and made suggestions. At a fundraising dinner, we sat next to a couple we didn’t know who shared with us about their autistic son and the progress he had made through therapy at a local center. (Our grandson goes there now).

Last spring, I led a ladies’ Bible study on the book of Esther. When her family was threatened with a crisis, “...there was great mourning…with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:3, ESV). Queen Esther sought God’s intervention for their salvation.

On the used book table at the library I found a book, The Circle Maker by Reverend Mark Batterson. I had never heard of it, but through it I gained new and exciting insights on the power of prayer in our lives. He encourages people to pray circles around their biggest dreams and greatest fears. He describes three key circles: dream big, pray hard and think long.

My heart was touched by a song, especially after I learned the history behind it. Laura Story wrote the song “Blessings” after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Even though he survived, he is partially blind and unable to work, making her the sole supporter for their family. From that experience, she wrote,

“What if Your blessings come through raindrops, what if Your healing comes through tears, What if a thousand sleepless night are what it takes to know You’re near. What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”

I attended the WIMD Annual Conference last September where I heard speaker after speaker share heartrending stories of facing life crises and being sustained by God’s grace. Even the workshop speakers I “chose” offered nuggets of faith in God’s provision during their times of loss and pain, including two who spoke about their own special needs children. On a medical mission trip to Panama in October, my husband and I heard teammates testify to God’s providential care through serious illness, tragic accidents, sudden death of loved ones and marital betrayal, as we ministered to the hundreds of people who came to our rural clinic seeking both medical and spiritual help.

My husband and I ballroom dance, and it is therapeutic physically and emotionally. It’s hard to feel sad when you’re waltzing across the dance floor to beautiful music. There is “...a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, ESV).

This year Eric’s birthday falls in the middle of Lent. On Ash Wednesday our pastor said Lent is a time to refocus on God, to lay something down and to pick something up. I am trying to lay down control, expectations, fear, self-sufficiency and pride and to pick up surrender, faith, trust, vulnerability and humility. During Lent, our church is emphasizing prayer and studying The Circle Maker together. So, once again, I am being challenged to dream big, pray hard and think long.

I have not had an epiphany when my fear suddenly and permanently changed to faith. But I have had countless moments when a timely sermon, song, Scripture, picture, story or God’s still small voice reminded me to keep walking in faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). I do believe that God can and does use our trials to transform us (Romans 5:3-4) and to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Daily in my practice, seeing the problems my patients face helps me keep mine in perspective. This summer I will be the camp doctor for foster care children, a tangible way to help children who suffer in a far different way than my grandchildren. After nine months of therapy, Eric has made some progress in his speech, although still behind the norm for his age. He does communicate his wants by grunting, pointing and even sign language. After multiple trials, his mom has found products to treat his skin fairly effectively; he is eating more and gaining weight, albeit still slowly. My granddaughter’s VSD has slowly been closing and she is doing well academically as a homeschool student. Eric will occasionally come out of his shell and I glimpse his heart. He will smile at me, let me hug and kiss him, maybe even laugh and play. Those moments are precious to me as I let go of my expectations and just let him be the grandchild that God has blessed me with.

“What if my greatest disappointments, or aching of this life, are the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy? The rains, the storms, the hardest nights are Your mercies in disguise.” (“Blessings” by Laura Story)

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my god, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12).

My thanks to Jana and Michael for permitting me to share Eric’s story.

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