It was, by far, the longest August day ever recorded, the day our Christina rolled off to the operating room to get her tracheotomy tube and feeding tube placed. I had been dreading it for weeks, the weather was dismal, the plastic vinyl chairs were hard and squeaky, and the surgery more or less took several eternities. Or so it seemed. When the surgery team wheeled her back into her room, there was the usual post procedure hive of activity. People darting here and there, reconnecting monitors, getting vitals, passing off information to each other, someone’s face in front of mine telling me how great the whole show had gone. I’m sure we said the usual appropriate things. My first glimpse over someone’s shoulder of my newly improved child did not leave me feeling charmed. I was in fact, thoroughly and completely horrified to put it bluntly. Of course I had seen pictures of a baby with a trach before, but they were not my baby, and nothing quite prepares the mind to accept seeing the real deal on your own kid. I didn’t want to look at her. I didn’t want to touch her. I didn’t want to learn how to take care of that thing. I wanted to go home, and not come back until it was gone. I had been the mom whose previous medical experience consisted of lolly pops, and kitty cat bandaids (preferably placed on the offending spot by the child, not me). Naturally, with so staunch and fearless of a mother, the girl was in great shape and totally set for success.
Just a few months they said, some babies only need the trach’s help for just a few months. Back then I was still quite gullible and readily accepted that statement with great hope…I have since learned to accept that my youngest two children were born hardwired to be difficult, random, and under no circumstances will they be content to do what is expected. Some moms are just lucky like that. Such cherubs. Anyway, I won’t attempt to understand the mind of God, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, while her lungs would need the time to heal, He knew that her mother would need the time learn. It seems that some lessons are learned in the church pew, some in the Bible, and some through the unlikeliest of teachers. God seems quite skilled at finding very unavoidable, very noticeable teachers of all shapes and sizes…like the thirteen year prison cell of Joseph, the forty year daily rain of bread bits for the Children of Israel, the little boy’s lunch that fed five thousand people, and the mud that healed a blind man’s eyes. It turns out that the things which are common, sometimes boring, possibly painful, and often not very welcome, are the peepholes into Heaven. They are the chimes of glory, they are the trophies of Grace.
My favorite example of an unlikely teacher is Jonah’s humble little worm. A worm that killed the vine, that was giving him shade, while he pouted about God’s mercy to a people Jonah wanted destroyed. Stupid worm. Stupid mercy. “Doest thou well to be angry?” God asked calmly. Well obviously it made more sense to be more upset about a dead vine than a city of dead people. Obviously. Jonah had already forgotten what is was like to be on the needing side of mercy, like that whole surviving the whale’s belly business that had happened a few days back. Jonah also forgot that God does what He does so that someone who needs Him can find Him. In this case, a whole city of someones. Yet here we find that the God who could have rained down fully deserved judgement onto Jonah’s ungrateful head instead sent a worm. A small thing, a common thing, just enough of a thing, to snatch a ray of the dazzling brightness of God’s love and sling it right into Jonah’s eyes. There was no judgement in the worm, just the quiet searching question. The whale ride had been the judgement for rebellion, which had ended in God’s mercy. The worm was not judgement. The worm was sanctification. That “common, sometimes boring, possibly painful, and often not very welcome” process of teaching our mercy drenched hearts to understand the absolute lack of our own goodness, and the absolute perfection of the great love that keeps us.
I am certainly in no position to poke too hard at Jonah, not when I have owned his same sandy seat on a hot sunny day too…or a cloudy August day, rather. Stupid trach. Stupid mercy. I want what I want, and I want it as comfortably as I can get it. Of course I like mercy when it gets me out of a tight spot, but don’t expect me to like it when it when it becomes inconvenient. I don’t want to consider too closely that God does what He does so that someone who needs Him can find Him…and I am just a small part of a much larger plan. I actually am not that interested in His plan at all, not when mine is so much better. Obviously. I don’t care to consider too closely what sort of heart-ugliness this worm is showing me I have. God’s question still echoes from the past “Doest thou well to be angry?”
Worms are everywhere…the expectations that aren’t met, the annoying job, the irritating person, the things that keep going wrong, the unfair situation, the less than optimal living situation… whatever “the worm” is that makes us uncomfortable enough to finally hear the complaining, the discontent, the lack of faith, and the love of self simply streaming out of our heart. The worms eat away our flimsy goodness until we can see ourselves as God sees us, completely lacking and needing Him. It is love that sends the worm, to show us our need, to teach us God’s strength. Because sometimes we just won’t get it without that worm. Stupid worm. Stupid mercy. “Doest thou well to be angry?” is still the question of the hour. Angry at what exactly? That I am not as good as I think I am? That God is better at being God than I am? That His love is stronger than my rotten heart? I think it is a great relief to know that sometimes, most times, God is kind enough to send worms when He could very easily just let us alone to have what we think we want to have.
The Bible does not really tell us the final ending to Jonah’s pity party, but I like to give him the benefit of the doubt in my imagination. I like to think that when he stood to go, after shaking the sand from his sandals, he dropped that little worm into his pocket and took it home. Maybe he put it in a jar on his desk…maybe whenever his kids saw it, or a friend wondered about it, maybe he told them about a sunny day, a dead vine, a city of people who found God, and mercy bigger than a whale, wider than the ocean, and as small as a worm. I don’t know if he did. But I like to think so.
Our trach journey traveled through two and a half years, through some “this kid might not make it through the night” times, through some “I really cannot take another day of this” times, through some “God is too good for words” times, until the day we pulled out of the hospital parking garage with a trachless, independently breathing little girl. We didn’t, we don’t, deserve a single act of kindness God chooses to show us. I really can’t say that I have any more liking for that little plastic tube than when I first saw it, but I have one sitting where I can see it every day and one on my key ring. For now, I’d just as soon keep my worm where I can see it. I don’t know, but that those worms don’t have a couple cousins somewhere whose names are goodness and mercy. They are my reminder that God does what He does so that someone who needs Him can find Him, and I am just a very small part of that plan. They are my reminder that God’s grandest display of love is often missed, because it may come in a plain package of the ordinary, looking slightly disagreeable, and possibly very much like a worm.
1 John 4:9-10 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.