“Do you know all your letters?” the nurse asked Noah in the hallway at the pediatrician.
“Yes,” he said enthusiastically, and then he began to sing his ABC’s. She interrupted him, pointing again at the vision chart. She wanted him to identify the letters on the wall. In his defense, she hadn’t made that clear.
After the vision test was complete, the nurse looked at me with concern and said, “Does he see an ophthalmologist?” You could tell she was unsure of whether to ask this, as I’m guessing some mothers aren’t aware of the gravity of their children’s shortcomings.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re actually here to get his physical before his vision surgery on Tuesday.”
She appeared relieved as she guided Noah onto the paper-covered table.
I explained about Noah’s vision. I’ve done this with teachers, therapists, doctors and strangers when they see there is something amiss in the way Noah sees the world, in the way he moves intimately close to everything to get a good look, and in the way he calls out to random men in the grocery store and says, “Hi, Dad!” (If you want to watch a grown man run in the opposite direction, I promise you this works every time.) I explained that he has optic nerve damage from a brain injury as an infant and that glasses will never improve his vision. Her eyes grew wide and soft, with the familiar look of I’m so sorry. I smiled and said, “It’s all he’s ever known and he advocates well for himself.” He’s my fierce fighter with special eyes.
When Noah had wandered out of the exam room for a moment, she tried to clarify all the medical information I’d given her. Their computers were down so going down memory lane was the plan, whether I liked it or not. Luckily, after discussing this with everyone from curious strangers to audiences of shocked people, I’ve gotten good at bringing the basic facts of our life into the light. “He was shaken as an infant,” I said, trying to explain the connection between the seizures, brain injury, and the low vision. I’d spoken the words quietly and she hadn’t understood what I’d told her.
“The brain injury is from the seizures?” she asked.
I shook my head.
For years it’s been a challenge to explain what happened to my baby boy when he’s nearby without letting him know the gravity of his past – yet. He knows he was sick and in the hospital for a long time. He knows he nearly died and we prayed to Jesus in desperation. He knows he’s a miracle, though he’d rather just be a regular kid. But he doesn’t know that he was shaken. Living this public life and this public story, this omission of truth has been a challenge. I worry a friend’s parent will tell their child and their child will tell Noah on the playground. I worry that his internal warrior will give up when he learns that his challenges are the result of someone’s actions. I don’t want him to have someone to blame, to be forced at such a young age into the endurance run that comes with trying to forgive. And besides, how can I explain his reality? That someone picked him up when he was crying and shook him until he was quiet. My husband and I have spent nearly a decade trying to unpack the emotional baggage we carry, to move forward with grace and forgiveness and joy. Because no eight-year-old can grasp any of that. Nor should he have to.
The nurse moved her face closer to mine when it was clear my whisper was like a storm gaining momentum. This time I used my hands to help me explain, and as though I was gripping a ball, I moved them back and forth. “He was shaken,” I said. She got it this time; the hands always work. It’s how Mike and I finally understood all those years ago. Before the doctor’s hands moved, we just couldn’t grasp it; we stood there like question marks.
Most people can’t conceptualize the gravity of these words when I tell them. She was the first person in a while who got it. Her face fell and her mouth gaped open for what seemed a dramatically long time. She fidgeted with the papers in her hand, shook her head, and looked at my lanky boy all dressed in purple. I watched her take him in, seeing him in this new light. He wasn’t just a quirky little boy who couldn’t sit still. She saw him for the first time the way my husband and I do, this miracle that stands tall in spite of everything. He is goodness and the glory of God, shaken up and running over. She didn’t say a word, but I saw it etched into her spirit as she took him in, a moment of quiet resonance, that breath of wow.
“He’s our perfect example of God’s goodness,” I said.
“Yes!” she agreed with a warm smile.
Though we’ve prayed for total healing over the last eight years, there are still traces of Noah’s tragedy that color daily life, and it can be hard. Not always terrible hard or unbearable hard but reminder hard. A reminder of what he’s endured, how he’s survived, how he’s thrived in spite of expectations that were bleak and hopeless.
But last Friday, the residual effects of Noah’s triumph over tragedy spurred a conversation that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. If he’d been healed to perfection there’d be no conversation starters, no glimpses into the trampled hearts of our past to juxtapose our joy of today, no chance to proclaim again that Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). I thought the appointment was about getting the “all clear” for Noah’s vision surgery, but God used it to accomplish so much more.
Because of God’s grace throughout the chaos of this life we didn’t choose, a curly-haired nurse spent Memorial Weekend with her family, and in her heart she carried a reminder that we love a God who still does great works. Yes, we’ve prayed for complete healing in all the ways Noah was broken eight years ago, and while he’s received more than we imagined, our prayers are not always cast skyward with vision; instead they can be shortsighted. Because God’s ways our higher than ours. They always will be. Because God’s ways our higher than ours. They always will be. tell a friend
I’ve realized that sometimes the imperfections we still see, the remnants of our brokenness, are a memorial to God’s story of redemption in our lives. They are perfect traces of His grace, even when we still have prayers waiting in His queue.
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