My kitchen counter explains the past three days. Pale drifts of formula, an empty Calpol bottle, a smattering of tissues, and one sticky spoon.
On Sunday night, E-B developed a cough. It was small and unobtrusive, and J and I, now seasoned parents, made comments to the effect of, “oh she’s picked up the sniffles”.
In fact, we were hit by the kind of bug that makes you dream desperately of an unclogged nostril. “I’ll never take it for granted again”. Sore limbs and a sharpness which climbs into your throat. And as the sickly ache lodged in my chest, I realized I’d never been ill at the same time as my baby.
There’s a moment before I wake that I consciously let go of intention. A cup of tea, a fledgling plan to tidy the living room. My daughter has an ability to stir within six seconds of me, so I’m in the habit of laying my instincts aside. When she was born, I’d spend each day fighting for a coffee. It took one year to realize it was easier to follow her pattern. But when you’re sick, your body screams to follow its own routine. A rhythm of lying in bed and swallowing hot lemony drinks. And of course, this didn’t happen with my wiggly 17 months old. She had developed a scream to rival my internal one. It came out every time you moved her a little, tried to encourage medicine into her throat, tried to get her to lie in bed with you. All she wanted to do was sit burning up on the sofa watching Noddy. Oh, so many scruples teetered on the edge and went out of the window that week! Limit your toddler’s screen time? That was the week she learned to say “oh, no” in the space between one Youtube video and the next. Don’t give your child sugar? I offered her a slab of chocolate when she wouldn’t eat anything else.
All the while, I bore my unfinished essays at the back of my head. I turned them over like leaves, uneasy things which crept up from between my shoulder blades and stung my eyes. In term time, the vacation represents some sort of timeless holy land. To the student, and especially the student parent, its the time where you recover what’s been lost in the tightly strung term. Except it never happens that way. One bout of illness, one down day and the annual nursery closure and you’re sifting time through your fingertips, scrambling for enough hours to make a whole day. The emails start: “Dear … I’m sorry, but … unfortunately… an unexpected…”, when what you really want to say is, “Look, just LOOK at my life! Spend one day with my sick child and the despair in my head. I’ve worked since the beginning of the vac, just not the work a report card recognizes”.
In the end, I reached a state of self-centeredness so intense I knew nothing but my own discomfort. I expected God to realize I was pushed beyond capacity and arrange a break. I waited for the stuffiness and sickness to lift, for E-B to develop a capacity for self-guardianship so I could sleep. But God didn’t need to ‘realize’ my situation. He’d never left it. Someone told me once, in one of those deep car conversations, that we associate God with expectations of circumstantial change. But actually, she said, He’s vitally interested in you and in your heart. Of course, God does work in our situations, but His power is not primarily in furniture rearrangement. He’s there, your author and Great Love, far closer to you than the ache in your body or throat. What joy. I didn’t need God to remove a cold before I could be with Him. When J’s temperature soared to 40 degrees and E-B woke screaming six times in an hour, I turned in desperation to the recommended section of my NIV for those “ill or in pain”.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. (Corinthians 12: 8-10.).
I looked for a brief reprieve and had stumbled upon everything. I’ve found few more accurate descriptions of God than “my power is made perfect in weakness”. I don’t read that as God revelling in weakness, but God showing us that when it comes to Him, we have nothing more to acquire. We may naturally stretch and pray and cry, yet knowing God isn’t a journey of finding Him, but a discovery of how we’ve always been Found. And this is true strength. Not that God will necessarily lift us out of every situation, but that
neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).
There is no situation in which He is not radically present.