It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I noticed the soft glow of a light coming from the window across the street. It was the summer that we almost lost Elizabeth; that long summer of countless sleepless nights and the fear that sleep would bring the unthinkable.
There is a hallway in the front of the house that divides the bedrooms. It’s not a long hallway, but at times it can be the loneliest walk from my bedroom to hers. I have been single for almost 6 years now and while I have embraced life with just me and the kids there are times I long for there to be someone awake with me during those darkest hours of the night. The house is full of lamps with each one having its particular time to be on. There are daytime lamps to light dark corners that the sun doesn’t quite reach, lamps lit on rainy days that bring comfort to a gloomy outside. And there is one lamp that shines late at night into the early morning hours and even with that light across my den and into the dark hallway I still find myself dreading that walk.
The week following Elizabeth’s birth I was so very sick, so very weak and was forced into a sleep that did not allow me to remember much. The one thing I will never forget was the dark hours of that first night when a picture of Elizabeth was brought into my room and laid on the bedside table. I remember looking at it, holding on to it and I remember the darkness. The first time I was allowed to visit Elizabeth was well after visiting hours were over; the everyday busyness of the hospital had an eerie silence to it as a nurse pushed the wheelchair down a very lonely and dark hallway. There was a soft light that beamed from a glass door that we stopped in front of and I was overwhelmed with the comfort the lamp brought me that night and the months that would follow. Elizabeth was never really awake for quite sometime after she was born although she would require around the clock care. Sleep would be something I would learn to live without, there simply was no time for it. Someone was always next to her bed changing out the dozens of tiny tubes connected to machines that would sound alarms every few minutes; drawing blood from her almost invisible veins; repositioning her every 2 hours and gently tapping the bottom of a foot so tiny that my wedding ring could easily slip over it. As Elizabeth grew and we graduated from the incubator to an open bed her vitals were checked every 3 hours and feedings were given every 4 hours. This would be our schedule for over 100 days and to think that once we got home and settled into life with a preemie this would be any different was something I should have never convinced myself of. Feedings went from every 4 hours back down to every 2 hours. Medications were given in between feedings and adjusting to life outside of the NICU was a challenge I thought I was ready for. I was wrong.
I thought for sure as she became older, sleep would come easier for her. It didn’t. There would be days she would go without closing her eyes and when she finally did I found myself sitting by her bed with my hand on her chest counting each breath even though she had alarms set should she forget to breathe. I wanted to trust that she was in the hands of God but that comes naturally difficult for me. It took me years to give her back to her Maker, to trust that He knew her future and would give me the time I needed with her. I’ve questioned Him time and time again, almost challenging him by taking her back and accusing Him of not taking care of her. There have been countless times I have fallen to my knees asking for forgiveness for such distrust in His plan. I have prayed for sleep, for her … not for me. That He would wrap her in His arms and cradle her for the night. This prayer has been answered, according to His timing and not mine. God has been good to me on those sleepless nights. He has given me the strength I need to stay awake, the energy I need the next day to keep up with kids and their activities and He has provided sleep for me when He knew I desperately needed it. I find such peace in how God provides for our needs when He knows we most crave it.
A few summers ago sleep had become non-existent for Elizabeth. She was restless and unsettled. There were hours of endless crying that I could not comfort. There were times I would just sit beside her, unable to speak. I would just watch as her worn out body would fight the sleep she needed. Doctors were called daily, our team was at a loss. They would diagnose one day, only to take it back the next; they added medication and then decide she didn’t need it. For almost 3 months we went through this. Seven days and nights without sleeping to be followed by 24 hours of a comatose sleep that I would sit watching her every breath just as I had done after bringing her home. It would take a seizure to wake her from this deep sleep then days of being awake again. I had visited every doctor on our team from Fayetteville to Little Rock. They were talking Mayo Clinic in Rochester and hospitals from St. Louis to Atlanta. Her life was hanging by a thread and while I knew it was serious I had no idea we were just days from almost losing her.
It was late August and we had been awake for a week, an entire week. She had lost her color, she was tired and she was giving up. She had not smiled in a month, she was struggling just to keep her head up. I was so tired, scared and alone. I longed for someone to say …
I am here with you.
I knew that I had friends who were praying around the clock for us. My parents had made the hour drive from Fort Smith more times that summer than I could keep up with. The other kids, who had missed out on an entire summer and frustrated in their own ways were doing their best to help in any way an 8 and 10 year old could. But I needed something, someone … so I challenged God again. “Where are you?” I cried out to Him. I put Caroline and Alex to bed and settled down in the chair that had become my bed over the last few months. Elizabeth was next to me in her wheelchair. By this time I don’t think she had slept in her bed in months. She had developed pressure sores that were days away from requiring surgical intervention. She was so stiff from staying in the same position and no matter how I tried to make her comfortable I failed time and time again. The only light in the house was the lamp I had turned on every night since living here. I put my hand on top of hers and this would be the last thing I would remember. I’m not sure what woke me up but when I looked over at Elizabeth I knew something was terribly wrong. She wasn’t asleep, she was lifeless. I had no idea how long it had been since she had taken her last breath. I was surrounded by darkness and I was alone. I began to say her name over and over and over. I grabbed for her hands and begged for her to wake up. I cried her name to the heavens and pleaded with God to not leave me alone. It would take less than a minute for her to open her eyes but I knew she was dying. I was forced to walk through the darkness of that hallway I had come to hate, begging God once again to not leave me alone. As I stood in the open door way waiting for the ambulance I noticed the soft glow of a lamp in the house across the street. We had been neighbors for years, their daughter was our first babysitter. Our children share the same names and we had each borrowed a cup of sugar from one another at some point. But we weren’t close … As I stood in the door I let my mind go back to the rays of light that I had found such comfort in on the other side of that glass door so many years before. It was as if God Himself had turned that light on to say … you are not alone.
I never shared this story with our neighbors. I never thanked them for the light that gave me the strength to make it through that night. But I did begin to look for that light, it lit a path through the darkness of our hallway. I have no idea if anyone was awake or if the light had been left on by accident. For the last few years looking for that light has become a part of my daily routine. We have become close, my neighbors and I. They have become family and I have come to love and trust them. They have supported me as a single mom, always there when I need help and have become a part of my children’s lives as well. There is a chair next to that light now, maybe there always was but sometimes in the early morning hours as I turn to find the light I will see Mr. C there in his chair and I take a deep breath knowing that someone is awake, someone is there. Not long ago I had spent the evening with this great family and they shared with me they would be going out of town for a few days. Without thinking I made a comment about how much I would miss the light in the front room. I am sure they immediately thought I had been peering into their house in the middle of the night! I went on to explain how much comfort that light had brought me over the last few years and how very much I miss it when they are gone. They know when Elizabeth and I are up and keep a watchful eye on us when they are up as well in the late evening and early morning hours. As evening fell that next night and I looked out my front window I noticed a glow coming from the house across the street. I stopped and wondered, was it an accident … had they forgotten to turn the light off before they left? I later learned the light had been left on for me.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven … Matthew 5:16