Tomorrow morning I’ll get up early, before my two school-aged daughters. I’ll wash my face, brush my teeth, start the coffee. I’ll lace up my gym shoes then make the bed. And I’ll mentally prepare myself for whatever my chronically-ill daughter might look like when she wakes up. Knowing all along that whatever it is, I can’t change it.
You see, she is symptomatic again of a complicated disease that is extremely rare.
Most people never worry about their kid being born with half of a heart. Even that small group of people whose child has undergone three open heart surgeries to live with half of a heart, like Annie does, don’t worry about the symptoms—or the outcomes—of this extra disease.
I’m the kind of girl who thinks I really can change the world. I grew up with visions of feeding hungry children on another continent. Slashing divorce rates across the country. Taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Since I knew I could do it, I wasn’t going to stop until I did.
I think I’m a very effective combination of nature and nurture. Also, I’m an Enneagram 3 through and through, if that confirms anything. But my daughter’s diagnosis proves to me daily that all the nurturing and personality profiling in the world can’t control the things that matter most to me.
And that’s the problem.
Thinking I can change it
I’ve proven my determination, veracity of mind, fearlessness, and ability to positively impact the world over and over in my 35 years. I’ve:
- convinced a scared, expectant mother to keep her unhealthy, unborn child.
- taken the gospel into 68 countries and counting through bravely blogging about a life we never wanted.
- shared the gospel with more than one intelligent (but curious) doctor who couldn’t understand the motivation to say yes to a child with complications.
- drilled fresh water wells in Nicaragua and led vacation Bible school in Trinidad.
- hugged the homeless year after year in their central Arkansas second chance shelter.
- mentored confused high school students, giving them a safe place to feel love outside of their broken homes.
Ahhh. The Enneagram 3 in me is proud of those accomplishments. I like to hold those out to the world, to myself, and honestly, to God to show what a great achiever I am. (All the while, I’m sure He’s waiting on me to realize how none of that was really me at all.)
I want to tout them all to prove why I can be depended on to show up when others can’t. How I’ll come up with the idea to turn the company around and stay late enough to implement it every night. That I can research medical journals till my contacts dry out and network with other heart moms across the world just to come up with some kind of cure for our dying babies.
Since you’re reading this (hopefully) outside of knowing the desperation of saving your child’s life, you’re likely seeing the glaring errancy in my overeager, problem-solving approach. In the end, yes, I’m Annie’s mom and have become well-versed in medical speak.
But I have an English degree for goodness’ sake! What do I know about bypass, Fentanyl, and cardiothoracic surgery?! (More than I did six years ago, thank you very much. Still there’s never enough to change her diagnosis.)
Knowing I can’t
Which was a crushing fact for me to swallow the day the well-meaning doctor told us about Annie’s imperfect heart and her “not worth it” life. How could someone like me—a 3 so ready to take on anything and make the world a better place by it—not be able to help my daughter live?
It’s like our family of four was suddenly locked into a car driving down a one-way road. “Bridge Out Up Ahead” the signs continue to announce. No matter how hard we try, we cannot turn onto another road. There are no exits. No detours. Sometimes we pass a Chick-fil-A and forget for a minute while we enjoy an 8-count nugget meal together.
But sooner or later, we’re going to reach that bridge out up ahead. What a sobering reality.
Looks like all my courage, determination, positivity, perseverance, intellect, and relational clout can’t do a single thing. But I believe in myself! This is ME we’re talking about.
When you can’t either
You might be there too. Surprisingly, at the end of yourself. When you were so sure that day would never come. You’d outwork, out-strategize, and out-hope your way out of any obstacle. This is YOU we’re talking about here.
While I used to wish no one else would ever find themselves at their own abrupt dead end, now I know that “stalled out” is a good and perfect place to be.
Whether the self-sufficient, Enneagram 3 theology has failed you, or is yet to fail you in the future, self-help theology will absolutely fail you. And the sooner you get there the better because then you can rely on the right One. (So 3’s, take a weight off. And a deep breath, it’s not all on you! Even if you’d rather it be.)
A fail-proof foundation
Real, founded theology anchored in a good God who is intricately, lovingly ruling the universe right now won’t fail you. Even when the diagnosis does. The outcome does. When the top doctors at the best hospital only have a few unfounded ideas for treatment. Even when your marriage does. Your job does. When, believe it or not, you finally fail yourself.
I don’t know what your circumstances will be. But I know that whatever our paths, 3 or not, they all lead to finding ourselves helpless in this life, with the only option being full dependence on Him. God is God, and we are human.
While defeating at times, especially as an Enneagram 3, coming to terms with our human limits is right. As badly as I want to and think I can be the solver of all the world’s problems—and certainly the challenges in my own family—the truth is I’ll never be able to pull it off. Because God is sovereign, good, and in control. He has specifically ordered all of our days for His purposes. Even Achievers like you and me can’t unorder or reorder them. It’s hard to swallow, yet that’s good news after all.
So tomorrow morning when I wake up powerless and wait anxiously to see if my 5-year-old rolls out of bed to her 6:40 alarm with puffy eyes, I’ll relax in the fact that her healing is not on me. I’ll wait to see if she shows us for another day that her symptoms are not well-managed, all the while knowing the One who can manage them. And I’ll trust Him to manage my fears and our uncertain future one day at a time.
Copyright © 2019 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Tracy Lane is a writer for FamilyLife. She is the author of numerous articles, coauthor of Passport2Identity, and guest on multiple FamilyLife Today broadcasts. Tracy and her husband, Matt, live in the Philadelphia suburbs with their two daughters. Follow her special needs motherhood journey at HeartForAnnie. Find her on instagram @HeartForAnnie.