When my wife, Karra, and I entered into marriage, we had all the hopes and dreams of a family that are typical for a newlywed couple. However, besides the two of us, our family took a little longer than we expected to get started. That was a difficult time for us, and especially for Karra. However, after many prayers and with the blessing of medical assistance, we were finally blessed to have children.
When Jordyn, our oldest daughter, was born, as perfect as she looked on the outside, on the inside her physical body had some challenges for her to face. The first major obstacle was detected on the day she was born when the pediatrician heard a heart murmur while doing a routine checkup. That heart murmur turned out to be a hole in her heart called an Atrial Septal Defect. At first it was recommended that when she was older she would have open-heart surgery to fix the hole. However, by the time she was five years old technology had afforded us an alternative solution that allowed the hole to be fixed without major surgery. Well, to us it was still major, but from a medical standpoint it was a much simpler solution. I believe our hospital stay was only a day or two.
The next major challenge Jordyn faced physically was the result of Congenital Scoliosis. It was because of this experience in our lives that I was drawn to the account of the Shunammite Woman found in 2 Kings Chapter 4.
Jordyn was born with deformities in her spine, ribs, and neck. As she grew older the doctors determined that she would need surgery to correct the problems resulting from her scoliosis. Jordyn was eight years old at the time of the first surgery. The actual surgery went well, and the doctors were encouraged, but it was during her recovery that we struggled.
When Jordyn woke up that afternoon she still had a breathing tube in place. She would try to talk, and I would try to comfort her. It was painful for her. It was painful for all of us. I can still see the tears rolling down her cheek. I remember being overwhelmed and even blaming myself for the pain my daughter was going through.
Prior to the surgery, Karra and I had determined that she would go home and spend the night with the rest of our children while I stayed at the hospital with Jordyn. After an hour or so of Jordyn waking up and me trying to talk to her and comfort her, a wise nurse came in and told me that I needed to stop. I was told that I needed to try and convince Jordyn that she should stop talking and that she should sleep. What we were doing was only causing more pain. I resolved to put my trust in that nurse’s advice.
Jordyn was heavily medicated and she should have been able to sleep, however, from that moment on, and what seemed like every fifteen minutes, Jordyn continued to wake up and try to talk. She was pleading for water or food or anything, and she could have none of it. Each time I would jump to her side and say, “Jordyn. I love you! You need to stop talking. You need to go to sleep.” As the tears rolled down her cheek, my heart was breaking inside. I don’t remember exactly how long I lasted but I remember that just after 11:00 PM that night I had to call Karra. I needed her help. I could no longer do this on my own. Karra made arrangements and soon arrived at the hospital to help. That was a long night.
That was Wednesday. The breathing tube came out the next day. I wished that my little girl’s smile would have returned as easily as the doctors pulled the breathing tube out, but it did not. She just sat there. Her face empty and desolate. The only glimmer of a smile I saw was when her sister, Makenzie, came to visit. Even the recovery dogs that the hospital lovingly provided did not change the look on her face.
Suddenly, I found myself becoming angry inside. I was angry at my Father in Heaven. At least that is what I thought at the time, but it really wasn’t true. I was angry at myself. At the time I was facing a difficult challenge at work as well as a few health problems of my own, but none of that really mattered. I knew I needed to be there for my daughter and I needed to help bring her smile back. But no matter what I did, nothing seemed to work, and the anger inside me continued to grow.
Then, on Friday night, Karra reminded me that I had promised my daughter Makenzie that I would take her on a date night. I had tried to regularly take my daughters on date nights because I wanted to have a good relationship with them. I wanted them to trust me and know that I loved them and that they could count on me. I knew that with this surgery Jordyn was getting a lot of attention and that Makenzie would need some personal time. I was still angry and bitter inside, but I had made a promise.
When I was reminded of my promise to Makenzie, I realized that I had been heading down a dark path with my thoughts. Depression, anger, and bitterness were all stirring within me and growing fast — I knew that I was in trouble. I also knew that there was only one thing I could do. I had already been praying for help. Now I realized that I needed to pray with more purpose. I began to pray for opportunities to serve. I needed to find a way to help someone else so that I could rid myself of the rage that was swirling within me.
For our date Makenzie and I went to a restaurant to eat. She was in need of that personal time. When my daughters were younger and when we went on date nights, all they did was talk. From the moment we left the house to the moment we arrived home, they did not stop talking. On that Friday night, I was not in the mood for talking. Yet, I remember sitting there in that restaurant as Makenzie told me all about her day and week and what she did at school and everything she could think of to say. I don’t know if she noticed that my attention was somewhere else as I tried to visit with her and ask her questions, but mostly I just stared out the restaurant window and peered out into the nothingness outside. I could hear her words, but my own thoughts were too loud for me to know what she was saying. I just kept praying in my mind for help.
When we left the restaurant, I saw a woman standing on a corner on the other side of the parking lot. She had a little girl with her. I knew instantly that I needed to ask them if they needed help. I drove over to where they were standing, rolled my window down, and asked if I could help them with anything. They were traveling and their car had broken down. They now needed money for the car and for a place to stay for the night.
When Karra and I went to the hospital that week, we did not know what to expect and so we had pulled some money out of the bank just in case we needed it. We had used some of that money for our meals during our stay at the hospital, but we had pulled out enough for a small emergency. When this woman told me what she was in need of, the amount of money she mentioned was nearly the same amount that I had in my wallet. This was exactly what I had been praying for. But instead of giving her all the cash that I had, I pulled out twenty dollars, handed it to the woman, and then I drove off.
As soon as I started moving forward in the car that voice in my head came forcefully, “What are you doing? You prayed for this opportunity!” I only needed to be reminded once. I turned the car around and gave the woman all the cash I had.
The next morning I found several other opportunities to serve and as that day went on, my inner turmoil began to dissipate. The anger and frustration were still there, but only faintly. As my demeanor changed, I somehow began to expect that when I returned to the hospital later that day that I would see my little girl again with her bright smile and cheerful countenance. I should have expected differently. My daughter was still not smiling. She was still not engaging those who came to visit her. I was devastated. Any calm that I might have felt was gone and in its place was a familiar feeling of fear and doubt, and even anger. That night, Karra stayed in the hospital, and I went home to be with our other children.
The next day was Sunday. After getting the kids ready we went to church. I did not want to be there. I did not want to be anywhere. I just wanted to run away and hide. However, as I sat there in that meeting, I began to see things differently once again. It was then that I began to reflect back on all the spiritual experiences that we had leading up to my daughter’s surgery. I knew through those experiences that the surgery was the right thing to do and I began to realize once more in my life how grateful I was for the blessings of the spirit and for the love of my Father in Heaven. Sitting there in that meeting, I was reminded anew that I needed to let go of my fears and put my trust in the Lord.
As soon as the meeting was over my phone rang. It was Karra. At first I was startled, wondering what might be wrong. Nothing was wrong. Jordyn was being released from the hospital. I was shocked and surprised. During the week we had been working with the doctors to make sure that Jordyn was doing everything she needed to do in order for her to be released from the hospital. There were checklists and actions that Jordyn needed to complete before the doctors would release her, and we were working on those. However, for me, I still had not seen my little girl, at least not the one I remembered. And somehow in the process of things, that had become my only focus. Yet, the excitement in Karra’s voice told me that there had been a change. I frantically made arrangements for someone to take our other children home from church then left immediately for the hospital. I did not know what to expect but I was excited. When I arrived and saw my daughter, I saw that smile and happiness that I had been waiting to see.
That evening as Jordyn played and smiled and enjoyed the company of the many visitors who came to see her, I pondered over the events of the week. As I reflected on all that had happened, I realized that when I had first understood that I desperately needed to find ways to serve and help others, it was because of the anger and frustration and pain that had begun to develop inside me. What happened as the week progressed was that I then began to expect that my efforts to serve others would somehow be connected to the change that I hoped to see in my daughter. But it was more than that, it was as if I felt that I could control the powers of Heaven simply because of my actions and desire to help those around me, and in this thought I was wrong.
My daughter had enough faith of her own to be healed. I had always known that, and I had always seen that faith in her. However, what my efforts to serve others resulted in was a different miracle. That miracle was the change that happened inside me. My miracle was to have my anger replaced with gratitude. I needed the darkness of anger and bitterness that had come upon me to go away and as I looked to the needs of others, that miracle came. And because of it, I was truly able see my daughter’s smile once again, not because of her outward smile but because of my inner peace.
When Jordyn was sitting there in the hospital struggling to deal with a breathing tube down her throat, I could have let that anger and hurt and frustration grow. When Makenzie needed her date night, I could have ignored the promise I had made and disappointed my little girl. When the woman standing in the parking lot needing help to fix her car, I could have driven away. But I didn’t. I didn’t because I want to be like this Shunammite Woman.
When I read of the Shunammite Woman I read of someone who did not run from her faith. When everything she ever wanted was taken from her, she ran to the source of her blessings, she ran to the prophet Elisha. She did not turn away from her faith or give up on her hope. She may not have known the outcome or what Elisha could do to help her, but she knew where to go to find answers and that is the type of person I want to be.
When I think of the experience of the Shunammite Woman, I think of those years when Karra and I longed for children and yet they did not come and then, when we did finally have children, I think of all the challenges and trials that they have experienced, some of which have been described here. When I think of these things, I appreciate more fully the faith the Shunammite Woman had to accept the prophet Elisha into her life and then, when she was in her darkest moment, she ran to him and not away from him. I love her words as she ran to the prophet on the day when her son had died. Giving command to the servant that would lead her to Elisha she said, “Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me.”
But this is not the only reason I love the story of the Shunammite Woman. During each of Jordyn’s surgeries when we would spend our time in the hospital, we always seemed to notice that there was someone else going though something just a little more difficult than what we were going through. I wrote Hope of Israel: Miriam’s Journey because it is my prayer that each one of us, whatever our faith may be, when we are faced with our trials and challenges, that we will not abandon our faith but instead that we may run to it.