This truth makes me shudder as I kneel beside my son and scrub the leg of his jeans where he points, where some of the toxic sickness missed the bucket beside him and soiled his clothes. Sick Adam is strong, uncomplaining, silent. He looks at me through shadows, his eyes ringed gray, his skin almost colorless. He hardly moves, except to drink something when I offer it, or to lay his head on his arm, or to lean over closer to the bucket. Wordlessly, he chews on his tongue, as though it has swollen, useless. And it kills me, this watching him suffer. It pierces deep.
Adam lives his life as though living were a never-ending symphony, as though moving simply is dancing. He spins just walking through a room. He dances into the hyphenated space around each one of us when he wants our attention, holding our eyes instead of our hands, moving his head back and forth, his smile all bright light. It devastates me to see him fall still and quiet and pale, especially when I know it’s my fault.
Sometimes for all our communicating, for all our knowing each other, I desperately wish it were easier for Adam to tell me the most basic things, like the fact that his toes are beginning to crowd the last space in his shoes, or that he has a headache, or that he noticed his insulin pod will expire in the night. I know he noticed. He notices everything.
I keep a calendar full of reminders, but somehow we missed this one somewhere in the crazy, mixed-up, weary whirl, and we didn’t know. And in the middle of the night, Adam’s insulin pod stopped delivering its medicine. The pod, which looks a bit like half of a white plastic Easter egg attached to his skin, complained. But autism messes with sleep, and when Adam sleeps he sleeps too deeply to hear the alarm. So, when he stumbles into the morning soaking wet and pale, the pod still sounds, shrill. A flurry of activity erupts in our kitchen, where I administer emergency insulin via injection, and Kevin begins the process of adhering a fresh pod. And then the sickness comes, the heaving sign that in only a matter of hours, Adam’s body had begun systematically destroying itself from the inside.
Kevin and I flank our sick, wet son, each working on a different arm, and suddenly Kevin looks at me and says, “This time it’s all our fault.”
“Why is this all our fault?” I feel the color draining from my cheeks, my mouth a hollow space. My voice quavers.
“His pod expired last night. Somehow, we missed it.”
I look at Adam, standing there colorless and trembling, and I think, “I have done this to my son. I have put his life at risk.” But aloud, I groan, and I say, “I can’t believe this,” searching Kevin’s eyes with my own. He knows how I struggle with the too much, with my clay skin, with trusting the One who multiples everything I offer open-handed.
The error was not careless. Emergency is a reality in our lives, as ordinary a possibility as breathing and folding laundry. Unless I’m traveling alone, I carry a purse the size of a small overnight bag filled with emergency supplies: glucagon (emergency for diabetic lows), fast sugars, diastat (emergency for prolonged seizures), new insulin pods, glucose meters, and now needles for emergency injections. I am never far from my cell phone when my kids are not with me, just in case. We live caring.
I am not a person who needs reminding that I am just a person trying, just a fallible mother, just a nothing-vessel unless I am held in Almighty hands. I feel this truth. I breathe it. And I give thanks for the power not my own that gives life to these hands, that does extraordinary things through all our wild ordinary. But honestly, sometimes I catch myself sighing too much. I catch myself forgetting the awe and the mystery and the joy. I stop counting the grace, and I sit down weary, and I wonder how.
I stood there, looking across Adam’s back at Kevin, screaming the how. Just a few days ago, I had collapsed in Kevin’s arms, murmuring into his chest: “I don’t know if I can do it.” Sometimes it takes standing empty to be refilled.
I still my thoughts, the moment too urgent for dissecting. Kevin takes Adam upstairs to clean him up, and I make breakfast for the girls.
Fortunately, we know what to do in times like these. We have done this more than once. We know the signs between emergency and EMERGENCY, between urgent action and ambulances, between home treatment and hospitals.
I toss aside all my overwhelming for the day, knowing that treating DKA is a patient process. I know it will take hours, but clarity dawns in empty, urgent territory, and my singular focus becomes my son and his suffering. I work to hear him sing, to watch him dance, to see rosy color again in his face. Slowly, I give Adam small amounts of fluid. I test his blood sugar every hour and pump him with more insulin. I clean up after him, listening to be sure his breathing remains easy. And by mid-morning, Adam’s blood sugar has come down, and he stops leaning down toward the bucket.
I make him some toast and smile just watching him gobble it down, and when he starts laughing again, I feel full. I think very little of what I have not accomplished during these waiting hours. For just a while, Adam’s smile is everything I need.
And that night, when the weary creeps into my legs and light fades away into darkness, and I stand in the kitchen finishing supper, Adam comes to me, his face at last warm and ruddy. He laughs hard, wrapping his arms around my neck, pressing his forehead into mine as I lean toward him. I put down the things in my hands and hold him tight, showering his face with kisses. And I think, “Nothing is like this joy, the feel of my son, the sound of him happy.” I think about how tall he’s gotten, how angular and lean, how maturity seems to have changed the shape of his face.
And I can’t help thinking of Mary, as I always do this time of year, haunted by the bleeding body of her boy lifted up on a cross. That song—Mary Did You Know?—always brings tears. He was her son. She loved him the way I love my Adam. She knew his expressions, the angles of his arms, the things he liked to eat. I wonder what she thought that day in the temple, when Simeon touched her baby boy’s soft cheeks, looked into her mother eyes, and said, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Not even an angel’s greeting, “You who are highly favored,” or a miraculous conception, or a parade of worshiping visitors (and the shepherds with their tale of multitudes of angels rending the sky in praise) could have readied Mary for the soul-piercing sacrifice required to mother a savior. And yet, she’d stood there on the brink of scandal and the overwhelming impossible, and simply asked “How?”
The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’
‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said (Luke 1: 37,38).’
And there, laid out for me in the consecrated palm, in the Spirit’s conceiving:
the answer to my screaming how, to so much human weakness, to the overwhelming of the impossible.
…the power of the Most High will overshadow you…
And in His shadow I am hidden and my vulnerability sheltered, and I become only the vessel for the indwelling of His glory, His strength. God uses the moldable clay of me to sculpt a womb for His conception. And in my weakness, God reveals the incarnate, living Lord, the one who does it all, the one who multiples and redeems and heals, because I cannot.
And so too, let me answer His miracle while yet I stand not knowing all that it will mean.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
I desire that he may be formed, not as the word in preaching, not as a sign in figures, or as a vision in dreams, but silently inspired, personally incarnated, found in the body, in my body (~Bernard of Clairvaux).
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7).
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).