Father God in the ER

Father God: A name of God used in the Bible. A metaphor. A role.

First there was the thud, then the screaming.

Three measly stairs. Maybe four. I can’t remember exactly, but they were linoleum and unforgiving, and Liam was marked by one of them, a mean red gash across his smooth, baby forehead.

This is the cruel irony of parenting: you watch them for a hundred thousand seconds all strung together and nothing happens. But look away for a second, half a second, and suddenly, your kid is at the bottom of the stairs, bleeding like a geyser all over his 12T Avengers t-shirt.

When the ultrasound technician said “Boy” for a second time, I knew that these sorts of things were coming. Broken arms from poorly executed bicycle stunt-jumps. Welts from paintball guns. Black eyes from living room wrestling matches. Scraped elbows and skinned knees and Band-aids and Neosporin.

But there is something jarring about holding your split-open son as he bleeds and flails. Something about pressing a washcloth to his head as he whimpers in his car seat, about walking into an emergency room with your boy in your arms.

In our curtained-off ER cell, the doctor comes in and speaks to us in a southern drawl about stitches. I ask if there will be a scar and he nods, and it makes me cry again. I know that Liam is young. That scars fade to almost invisible. I know that he’s a boy and that war-wounds are cool.

I know, too, that the world is a sharp, hard place. This is not the first time he will be broken by it, not the first time he will be scarred. But it feels so early. So young to have this truth written upon his forehead.

They put a monitor on his toe and some numbing cream on his wound, and they manage to scrounge up a Spiderman storybook for us to look at. He doesn’t cry at all until they come back with a torture-tool called the Papoose, which is a nice name for a straightjacket. Then he goes totally ballistic.

He is strapped to the emergency room table, and his dad and I are bent over him, hands on his him as he fights the constraints with his whole body. We are watching and trying not to watch as our child is stitched back together.

And the truth is, I don’t understand the relationship between bad, painful things and a loving, all-knowing, God. Ask me about earthquakes. Ask me about cancer. Ask me about starvation and genocide and those beautiful Invisible Children, and all I can do is shake my head and cry and not know.

All I can say is this: the God that I believe in calls himself Father. Calls us his children.

What I know in the ER is that pain and love are not separate, but rather a kind of continuum. They are the two sides of the same beautiful thing, and I stand at that precarious edge where they meet. I feel the weight of them both.

I love, and I ache all the way to the bottom of my Mama soul. Dad aches right next to me. We watch the doctor loop, pull, loop, pull, five black stitches into the forehead of our youngest child, and we feel every prick, every tug, every long, hard moment of it.

There is a lot that I don’t understand. I won’t pretend that any of this is easy. But this moment in the ER feels a little like a glimpse into the wild, beating, parent-heart of God. It feels like truth, like a whisper, like him saying, I feel it all too. I feel every last bit of it.

When we get home from the ER, Dane is waiting freshly bathed and in only a diaper. “Liam’s got an eyebrow!” he says, and we laugh, and it feels like release.

We sit him in his high chair and he eats like a mad man and then toddles toward the matchbox cars, oblivious to his stitches, already over the whole hospital trauma.

We watch him, smiling, our hearts heavy with that love-ache that will never go away.

31 thoughts on “Father God in the ER

  1. God never promised all of the answers, but he promised his love. What a joy it is to step into his love and accept it. Glad your little guy is up and at ’em again.

  2. It’s really good for me to read this perspective, Addie, since it’s pretty different from mine.

    We made it 22 months with our twins (a boy and a girl) before my son gashed his forehead open on a heat register. I jumped up, stopped the bleeding, called my wife (I was at home while she was at the store with our only car) and took him to the ER. 4 hours later I walked out with him glued up. I never experienced quite the emotions that you did, though I didn’t have him strapped into a straitjacket and they were able to get away with glue instead of stitches to close it up. I held him tight so he couldn’t move his head and yes, it sucked, but I guess I was pretty matter-of-fact about it. Since then I’ve been pretty anal about keeping a hat on him since they say keeping him out of the sun for the first year makes all the difference for whether it scars or not. But I never entered into any sort of anguish (maybe that word is too strong?) over it.

    Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up in a family with 8 boys and 3 girls and saw this kind of thing a lot. Maybe it’s that I’m a guy and just handle it differently. But for me, there’s a bit of an emotional detachment from the situation. I took it rather matter-of-fact.

    But I did have to wrestle with some of those “Why do bad things happen?” questions when our little girl was stillborn over a year ago. I’d actually wrestled with those questions over the previous year as part of a larger time of questioning my faith, so I didn’t face a huge faith crisis when we lost our daughter like what I otherwise may have gone through. But to be honest, my answer in the end was more or less, “I don’t know why bad things happen.” I just know that bad things do happen and I don’t believe God is the author of those bad things. I believe that he can stop those bad things from happening but, just as I let my son run around in the basement 10 feet from me with the potential of falling and getting hurt, God doesn’t always intervene in our lives to change the inevitable fall we’re going to take. He does, however, remain with us, care for us, and heal us.

    Perhaps that’s flawed theology, but that’s where I’ve come to.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience and your heart. I can’t imagine losing a child like that. It’s one thing to ask those questions when the hard things are happening to people around you; another thing when it’s your own child. I love the way you are able to live in those questions and keep hoping.

  3. Love this post. I am in the middle of that same tension, just from another angle. While it doesn’t take a lot to make me cry these days, yours made me cry in a good way. Glad Liam’s all right!

    1. Thank you. Praying that you have a sense of God’s love and presence as you navigate through this hard time. Love you.

  4. Addie,

    I know at times I have an overwhelming desire to know why things happen as they do. I think if I know the reason then I will be able to deal with it. I think I am wrong. I think even if God laid it all out for me then a lot of the time I would still be “damn.. I do not like this” Then the questions would turn into why now, why this way, why me, seeking more answers that I think would salve my soul… but they most likely would not.

    The salve that is offered is always there and while I do not always like it and trust in it I know that it is there from me. The salve that God loves me and he has my back no matter what……That when all is said and done if I trust him I will be ok and those I love will be too….


  5. Oh, Addie. That image of God in the room, feeling it all, brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully, powerfully written. Some scars, literal or otherwise, fade over time to the point of not remembering and others remind us of what we’ve overcome and how we’ve been shaped. I find comfort in knowing God has been with me every step of the way, even when it didn’t feel like it.

  6. First, I am so sorry that this happened to Liam! Last year, Cameron ran into a garbage can and split his face open near the cheekbone. There is something head and facial injuries that feel particularly nerve-wracking and sad for parents, I think. (And your reaction to hearing “boy” for the second time? Me too. Me too.)

    Second, I am with you on all your thoughts about God as a Father. To me, it even helps my thoughts about how human free will and sovereignty weave together into their complicated tapestry. My primary aim as a parent is not to protect my children, but to help them grow. Sometimes I do things that offer them protection and a sense of foundation. But other times, I do things that let them take risks, explore, and learn to make their own choices. It is because I love them that I do both. Too much control would lead to less pain in the short term, but less well-being in the long term. And when less control means more mistakes and bumps and bruises, I love and guide them through it.

    Beautiful reflection, as usual Addie!

    1. Love this: “My primary aim as a parent is not to protect my children but to help them grow.” Beautiful. Thanks for this insight.

  7. I love and ache about this all at the same time. Elizabeth Stone wrote: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” and that’s how we feel about our children, we not only acutely feel our pain but theirs as well.

    For me I spent a long time bartering with God over my kids, “ok God, since I’ve already had so much pain, can I get a safety guarantee on my kids? Because this heart can only handle so much!”

    But ack, I can’t. I am always climbing to that high place where I can truly say that all I need is Jesus.

    1. Yes. I never knew I had a capacity for so much worry until I had babies. Thanks, Leanne.

  8. 3 things (took that much for me to be brave enough to finally comment):
    1– Wow, there is some major power and beauty in your words. Both WHAT you’re conveying and HOW you convey it. Your faith journey seems similar to mine, and I love to read how you put into words what I can barely even put into thoughts.

    2– I have a 2.5-year-old and just this last week I realized I have NO idea where to take her if she needed stitches. I guess the ER? Or maybe little girls don’t ever need stitches? 😉

    3– I was reading my latest MOPS magazine and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw your name in the article byline. You’re everywhere these days! I’m so glad. More people need to read you.

    1. So glad you commented, Asta, and I’m so glad you’re here. 🙂 I love finding other people who are going through the same sort of stuff; it reminds me of how connected we all are.

      Yes, I wouldn’t have really known what to do about the stitches either if I’d been alone. Luckily, we were at my in-laws house and my mother and sister-in-law are both smart, calm women who knew exactly what to do. And my husband was there to drive us. It really was best-case-scenario kind of stuff…if you have to have this scenario to begin with.

      And yes, I was excited that MOPS picked up article. (It was originally written for this blog…the Proverbs 31 Woman (Reimagined) post.) It makes me happy that you recognized me there!

      Thanks so much for all your kind words, Asta. They mean a lot.

      1. MOPS! Sweet Addie! Judy speaks for MOPS all the time, all over the state. That could represent a push into new territory. But your “edge” might be a little much for that crowd!

  9. This has almost nothing to do with this post 🙂 but I’ve recently discovered your blog, and the more posts I read the more I need to tell you: how are you doing such a good job of writing down what’s going on in my head and soul?! I am stunned at the similarities of our thoughts, struggles, hopes and pain.
    So glad I’ve found you!

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you’re here and that this is resonating for you. Love to hear that!

  10. Beautiful post. I still remember the first trip to the ER with my oldest son. I rarely open my Twitter, and rarely follow links, but today I followed yours and was glad for it. You expressed the large problem of suffering so well, a problem that has led many to question God. I wrote a few posts on the subject myself at my blog about mystical living (www.giveupanddie.com/2011/07/why-do-we-suffer-mystic/) after reading a great book by Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman. His whole problem started with saying grace at dinner. If I thank God for my bounty which he has bestowed on my family, am I presuming that the starving masses did not deserve God’s care? It’s a mystery you stated well. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. I’m looking forward to checking out your blog…and potentially that book (after I make some headway with the giant pile already sitting on my bedside table. I have a problem.) Thanks so much for stopping by.

  11. I wish I was the first to respond to this post. That way more people would read it and react to me! I’m really interested in testing a theory borne out of years of “faith light” and an ever-growing respect for what “Sovereign Father” really must mean.
    So don’t report me to my denominational officials. Or hate my guts. Here goes…

    I am glad Liam got hurt. I think God made it happen. He didn’t allow it. He orchestrated it. He did so BECAUSE He is good.
    Talk to me…

    1. Hi Neal-

      The way God’s sovereignty and human free will weave together is a complicated topic. Christians who authentically believe in God and authentically hold up the authority of Scripture disagree mightily on this topic.

      Views range from the open theism of Greg Boyd (http://marcdav.wordpress.com/2006/08/28/greg-boyd-explains-his-open-theism) to the strong Calvinism of John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/ten-aspects-of-gods-sovereignty-over-suffering-and-satans-hand-in-it). Many fall on the spectrum somewhere between. Sounds like you might be more in line with the Calvinism side.

      My view is, in a sense, to not take a stand. I believe that humans have free will and I believe that God is sovereign. I’m not sure how these things fit together exactly, but I’m okay with that. As I described in my comment on this post, seeing God as my Father actually helps me see both sides. Sometimes as a parent, I protect my kids, other times, I push them. I try to do what is best in each situation. And I do both out of love. (I resonate deeply with 1 Cor 13:12 “ For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I think there are some things we cannot fully understand in this life.)

      I think what is most important is to obey what we do know clearly. The greatest commands of Scripture, Jesus said, are to love God and love others. No matter what our theological stance, we should make the choice to love God, love others, and to trust in God’s love for us. And this is where I disagree with one thing you did here: I do not believe engaging in this debate as a thread on this post was an act of love. I have seen you post on Addie’s words before, so I do not believe you meant any ill will towards her. But, as we debate theological issues, I think the context is just as important as the content. To debate the issues on a theology blog set up to moderate it (such as Rachel Held Evans rachelheldevans.com) is one thing. To specifically say to someone with a hurt child, “I’m glad your child got hurt.” is another. Though in a sense Addie opened herself up to this with the direction she took this post, I still find myself troubled by using that kind of language directly with her situation.

      I think of 2 Cor 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Perhaps when the situation has passed further into memory, and the wounds are not fresh, it would be a discussion that could be had with her. But in this post, I still hear open wounds that would benefit from comfort more than debate.


      1. Thanks Steph for this deeply thoughtful and kind comment. I appreciate it!

        I do know Neal quite well. (He’s my uncle, in fact!) I know him and his heart. He possesses a confidence in God’s goodness that I aspire to. Because I know this about him, I understood that this comment was not meant to be hurtful. I think what he was trying to do was to spark discussion.

        That said, I do think the “I’m glad Liam got hurt,” sentiment could have been phrased differently. I’m okay with theological discussion here. I want people to get new glimpses of God and to find new ways into his heart.

        What I DON’T want, though, is to minimize the reality of pain and struggle. While I acknowledge that God’s purposes are higher and more beautiful than we can imagine, I think too often Christians are quick to dismiss our woundedness as if it shouldn’t matter. There’s a sort of subtle message that if only we had more faith, we would be “over it.”

        Here, at this blog, I hope we will rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, and work to validate each other’s specific journeys toward God.

      2. Thanks, Steph, for your heart for love and truth. Most of our fellow-readers, it appears, have moved on, rather than joining us in this discussion. Perhaps that’s just as well. I was brief since resisting many words is not my typical approach and brevity often offers space for others to interpret and comment. As you have.
        I, too, have avoided the labels of systematic theology, opting for an honest understanding of each biblical passage as it presents itself. And taking life on life’s terms. We respect that Scripture interprets Scripture, but sometimes the more raw realities of what a given text presents is best taken on its own: feel, chew, swallow, and then, for me, surrender to it.
        In that spirit, here’s my general heart for dealing with pain and loving my sweet niece and her incredible son!
        I start with God is good. This life is not all there is. God, in His goodness, chooses “good” and “evil,” using both, on purpose, to loosen our grip on this life, while firming up our grip on Him. It’s a gift, wrapped sometimes predictably and sometimes unpredictably.
        When my second son was little, we had him in the ER 4 separate times one year for stitches above the neck. His high pain threshold contrasted with my near fainting during one poke, loop, and pull surgery.
        I get “not taking a stand” since we dwell on this side of incomprehensible. But my peace rests not in understanding the actions of my loving Father, but in my loving Father’s unlimited power, presence in my present, and orchestration of my future, regardless of its content.
        Believe it or not, I’d have been pretty helpful, loving…even pastoral had I been with Liam that day… 🙂

        1. I love what you said about God using pain “to loosen our grip on this life, while firming up our grip on Him.” I want to think like that when hard things happen.

  12. I could share some stories too, Addie, about gashes, bumps and emetic treatments. You are right: you’re never ready for it when it happens, no matter how much you’d expected it.

    However I do have a helpful tip from my sister the surgeon: strap that scar, even after it’s closed, until there’s no more healing going on. Let all the fibres come together, and knit tightly, supported externally. That way they won’t stretch and the scar will be minimised.

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