Three Years Ago

Last week I woke up to this on my Facebook feed from my niece, Sarah:


And suddenly, it all came back in a rush– the 16 hour surgery, the waiting, the prayers, the fear… My family.

This week I heard that yet another one of our friends lost their oldest son, at 27. Once again my heart knotted and I was absolutely gutted at the unimaginable pain and horror of what they have gone through and will continue to go through. And once again, in this season of loss, I am struggling mightily to try to be at peace with the fact that sometimes there just aren’t any answers– not any good ones, anyway.

Sarah survived and is thriving, thanks be to God.

Others don’t.

And though ‘thanks be to God’ is probably the correct good-Christian response to that also, I certainly can’t say it with any honesty, so I’ll just have to figure God’s OK with that. TRUSTING in the love and care of Someone you can’t see isn’t easy at best, and makes absolutely no sense at worst. But sometimes it’s all we’ve got– that, and each other.

So here’s what Sarah’s life looks like now:


And here’s something I wrote and posted three years ago– it still rings so true and it seems appropriate to revisit it this week:

(Annnd it’s long. Pack a sandwich.)


 We have our own private waiting room.

I think that’s because Sarah is having such an extremely long, complicated brain surgery, but actually it could be because last Wednesday when they first brought her into the ER she had a seizure while they were waiting and my sister Liz went all “Terms of Endearment” on ‘em and grabbed the wheelchair and started barreling through closed doors to get some help despite more than one nurse yelling, “YOU CAN’T GO IN THERE!” as Liz whizzed by. They got their own private room after that.

So now that we’re going to be waiting here for hours and hours, the powers that be probably figured they’d be better off kind of sequestering us from the get-go. This shows tremendous foresight on their part. My family is an extremely polite and well-mannered bunch—unless you happen to be moving too slowly while one of us is having a seizure—but if you assemble a gaggle of us all together in one place it can get kind of loud.

Mostly laughing.

Even under these conditions.

Which is just one of the many reasons I love being a part of this family.

As I sit and look around this crowded waiting room, I’m struck by two things: one is that there are currently no less than 5 laptops being balanced precariously on various and sundry laps—all of them Macs of course (apparently our family tree is an Apple), with the glaring exception of Liz, the rugged individualist. Her husband John, Sarah’s daddy, is sitting quietly beside her, one eye on the door. Every couple of hours a woman comes in with a report from the operating room—maddeningly vague, basically, “Things are fine, they’re still working”—and it’s almost time for another update, so John is watching closely. The second thing that strikes me about this scene is that my brother Jonathan is leaning against the wall with his eyes closed, sleeping standing up like a horse. He’s been here almost 12 hours now. When Liz and her family brought Sarah to the hospital in the pre-dawn hours of this glorious spring morning, Jonathan and his wife Cyndi and their daughter Caroline were already sitting outside on the curb waiting for them. Sarah’s brother Zach in Nevada, and her other two uncles and their families, Matt in Nashville and Joel in L.A., are keeping a long-distance vigil, checking in by phone and Facebook, anxiously awaiting news.

The rest of us have been steadily streaming in all day. There’s Leah, Sarah’s beautiful younger sister up from Houston, ensconced in a pleather recliner with a red fleecy throw draped across her legs—it’s kind of cold in here. Her husband Craig and 2 ½ year old daughter Perri arrived a little while ago. Craig took off work and he’s on Daddy Duty so Leah can be here around the clock. Perri is watching Barney on an iPad, and as I watch Liz watching her I can see that her face has relaxed its tightness for the first time all day. Just for a minute she’s a doting grandmother instead of a worried mother.

There’s my nephew Daniel the Computer Genius sitting over there in one of the two nylon portable sideline chairs he brought in from his car trunk to handle the overflow. He’s eating wasabi peas one by one out of a plastic Fresh Market container and scrolling around on his computer with the other hand, looking for a funny website that he wants to show us. His brother Andrew is here, too, straight from work and still wearing his motorcycle leathers, which never fails to unnerve his mom, my other sister Carolyn. He may be a 36 year old man, but she can’t get over the fact that he still occasionally rides that dang motorcycle after having not one, but two wrecks all those years ago. She’s done some time in hospital waiting rooms herself, so she can’t help scolding him a little, then just sighs and shakes her head—whaddya gonna do. He smiles and hugs her; they’ve done this dance many times before. My Madi is perched on the arm of the not-very-comfortable two-seater sofa languidly leafing through a magazine, pausing only to look up and laugh at something funny someone said, while simultaneously carrying on a nonstop texting conversation with her friends back in Nashville. I’m so glad she insisted on jumping in the car and driving down here with me when we got the phone call about Sarah—it’s comforting to have her close.

There are two faces conspicuously missing in this room—mom and dad, both 95 now, waiting prayerfully at home for some news. Mom would probably prefer to be here with us, but she has to take care of Daddy these days. Her tiny, barely-90-lb. self walking right behind him as he slowly shuffles from the bedroom into the living room, one hand protectively hooked onto the waistband of his pants—like she could do anything about it if he fell! Heart of a lion, that one. We’re taking turns checking in with them regularly, standing out in the hallway when we call them on our cellphone because even though they always put us on speakerphone, we still have to talk REALLY LOUD.

This is the gathering of the tribe, the circling of the wagons. I’m proud to say I would expect no less of us, and I know we would be doing this for any member of our family. But here’s the thing: we’re not the only ones crammed into this waiting room. I’m watching a phenomenon unfold here that both humbles and astounds me. Apparently we have another ‘family’ that I wasn’t even aware of until today. There’s a community of people out there who are connected to us—some directly, some tenuously, and a sizeable contingent who are actually total strangers.

Many of the local ones have shown up in person. Sarah’s fiancé Tom has had several of his co-workers come and sit here with him for a while, bringing homemade cookies and good wishes from the other ones that couldn’t get away. His mom and sister brought pizza and hugged all of our necks, wiping away a few tears and saying how they felt like they already knew us. The woman who owns the company where he works has dropped by twice today. She’s responsible for the wasabi peas we’re all passing around. She brought in a big bag full of healthy snacks to keep us from just eating junk all day, and two cold jugs of sweet tea, the elixir of the South, complete with plastic cups and a big bag of Sonic ice. There are two of Liz’s long-time friends, Nena and Susan, looking around for a clear surface to set down a colorful stack of magazines and one of those fancy edible bouquets of fresh fruit—that’s gonna hit the spot. These two women probably helped change Sarah’s diapers when she was a baby. They’ve had a front row seat as she grew into adulthood—she might as well be one of their own. Susan brought her own place to sit, a rolling walker chair that she’s used since her bout with surgery a short time ago. She sits quietly chatting with Liz, and a couple of times when no one is looking, her head bows and she nervously twists a Kleenex around one of her fingers.

All day long they come and go. Neighbors, couples from church, people from work, parents of children Liz taught in preschool, the mother of the girl her son Zach dated in high school—friends, and friends of friends. They suit up and show up, bringing food and encouragement, sharing smiles and stories of how such and such had almost the exact same surgery and everything turned out JUST FINE.

And from the screens of those five laptops come more messages of hope and love and concern. People from all over the country and even around the world have somehow heard about Sarah and are sending encouragement. Maybe they go to one of the churches where Russ is friends with the pastor– he called a bunch of them to ask for prayer. Or maybe they read about the surgery on Facebook or Twitter, or my blog. For whatever reason and by whatever means, we share a connection now. And because we are connected, these people, known and unknown, stop in the middle of their day and offer a prayer for Sarah—my sweet, courageous, about-to-be-a-bride, 29 year old niece with the big blue eyes and the I’m-gonna-kick-this-tumor-in-the-butt attitude.

This is the body of Christ in action.

This is what community looks like.

Love poured out, running down the sides of my soul like butter on pancakes.

And it’s gorgeous.

5 Responses

  1. auburn60

    I’m so glad Sarah is doing well. I remember that night. I went to bed with my phone in my hand. I would doze and wake, check for updates and pray. The surgery was so much longer than anticipated.

    I’ve sat vigil in those hospital waiting rooms; thankfully not for anyone close to me (yet) but simply because no one should go through that time by themselves. I’ve felt the Spirit of God’s people there probably more than at any church service. Praying, waiting and sometimes just walking the halls with families. God hears His People. Thanking Him for Sarah.

  2. rachelbaker

    3 years?! It seems like just the other day, and your writing is still as beautiful as the first time we read it.

    Too often we don’t have any answers, but the knowledge that the one who does is right there beside us is enough to sustain us.

  3. tori

    Auburn60: Yes, you have done more than your share of vigils in waiting rooms– because you are a good friend to so many! There are probably a legion of people that can testify to your loving support in times of need.

    rachelbaker: I couldn’t believe it had been three years, either! But when I’m home and see Sarah, it’s almost like it never happened at all…

  4. LindaB

    DANG, YOU WRITE SO GOOD!!! I felt like I was right there with you all! I almost stood up to give someone my seat who was standing……and asked someone to pass those wasabi peas!

    Love your family! And that Liz—-bless her heart, I’ve been her a few times in the hospital ER waiting room. Somebody has to!

  5. tori

    LindaB: You would fit right in with my crazy family! And yeah, I bet you HAVE been ‘that mom’ in the ER waiting room before– and thank God.

Leave a comment

If you have already registered an account with us, log in to post a comment.

If you do not have an account, please setup a username to confirm you aren't a devil-spammer-from-Hell. A password will be sent to the email address you provide.