Had I Known?

I’ve been asked a lot of hypothetical questions throughout all of this. If I would have made different choices had I known what was ahead of me? Insisted Jesse get an MRI earlier had I known he had a tumor growing in his brain? Married him had I known my husband’s body and mind would be sabotaged by a tumor and my family’s life be wrecked with brain cancer? . . .Had I known? The question echoes in the quietness of the night. . .Had I known? Had I known? Had you known? Had we known? Had any of us known the losses we would face, would we have chosen the love we temporarily gained even though pain is woven so intimately into it?

It seems as though most of life’s struggles could be avoided if we could just see into the future. When we come to a fork in the road of our lives and have to make the decision to go right or go left, wouldn’t it be so much easier to decide if we knew what was at the end of each road? “Hey, Ashley, not that guy…he’s going to have brain cancer…pick this one instead. He’ll live until he’s 103 and always be healthy. No pain this way. No daunting surgeries. No cancer. No scared kids.” Sounds tempting, right? It seems, too, that it would be foolish to take on the grief of the sick husband instead of the promise of the healthy one. But that’s the problem with making decisions based on a limited glimpse of the future. We don’t know what we would be missing if we chose the path that seemed the easiest, the most satisfying, looking forward. Jesse’s laugh, his love of life, his love of Jesus, his quiet grace in cancer, his resolve to look on suffering as hope, our kids who favor him so in personality and appearance. What of those things? Would I sacrifice the joy to avoid the pain? 

We can see so many things ahead of time now. We have weather apps and health screenings, a myriad of tools that help us make predictions so that we can have brighter, more regulated futures. Man’s ingenuity has saved us from all sorts of natural disasters and health issues…and it has fastened our mentalities to a feeling of superiority over unknown futures and that superficial sense of control we all love so dearly. I can’t help but wonder this January, as I have been wondering for years and years, what would have happened had I been born in these current days where difference is looked upon as disability, and disability is so terribly inconvenient to our well-planned lives that we cast it aside and try again for perfection? This is old. Written years ago, in fact, but it is still true. And I am still pondering Psalm 139:

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  January always provokes me to ponder life: my life, the lives of those surrounding me, and the sanctity of it all. By the world’s standards, I am disabled. Contrary to the stories I have told, I am not the victim of a shark attack or a vicious anaconda. I am not, in fact, a victim at all. I was formed this way. I was born before the days where ultrasounds were a part of standard care. My disability was a complete surprise to my parents, to the doctors, and to the entire small town where I was born.

I talked with my mom just recently about that day. She told me a story I have heard many times, and I still react with the same sense of wonder when I hear it. I am the third child of five. This was not my parents first trip to the hospital for a baby. They knew the process. This time, though, the outcome was different. They did not give a young mother her baby. Everyone moved in quiet panic around the room, each focused on their designated job. When the doctor finally approached her bed, she spoke words that still resonate in my mother’s mind today….”Before I let you see your baby, I have to tell you that there’s something wrong with her”. I cannot even begin to imagine the sorrow of hearing such words. You see, I have four children of my own now; and, truly, the only thing I wished for them was health. I just wanted my babies to be healthy. They could be bald, look like an alien, have a cone head that never went away, but please Lord let them be healthy. Just imagine what it must have been like to have no idea that there was anything amiss, sitting in a hospital bed with open, waiting, empty arms…..”there’s something wrong with her”. How do you even begin to filter through the rush of emotions that accompany such a phrase? From utter joy to utter despair with a few spoken words.

Of course, as many of you already know, the something wrong is a partial limb on my right side. Nothing major to me or anyone who truly knows me, but that is a lesson learned through years of exposure. No one could be certain that there was not more involved. It is an easy assumption to make. If she is missing an arm, what else may be wrong that we can’t see? The truth is, they didn’t know. No one could predict what I would be capable of doing or whether or not whatever I could do would be accepted by any one. My parents went to the hospital ready to welcome their third “normal” child into the world, and what they got was me.

A whole new world of concerns and fears went home with me from the hospital. There was nothing to be done but wait and wonder and pray and strive to not worry. And so they did. They let out a long awaited sigh of relief when I learned to crawl. They praised God when I learned to tie my shoes, and write, and use a fork and knife at the same time. My mom stood in our driveway, weeping tears of joy in her heart when she realized it was me at my Meemaw’s house at the end of the road jumping rope. Each little thing I conquered was a big deal until everyone grew so accustomed to my adaptations that they ceased to be noticeable. I was just one of those “ol’ Istre kids” like my siblings. Life was wonderful.

There’s that word again: life. It is something we all take for granted. We get older, things get busy and complicated, bills pile up, jobs become stressful, laundry accumulates like snow in a blizzard, cars need repairs….life. We forget that it is a gift. We forget we have a Maker. We forget we have a purpose. We forget to dwell on His good words. We forget that we were knit together by knowing hands. Did you know that you were woven together? I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to knit before, but I have and, let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart….or the short on fingers! You have to know what you are making before you ever start a knitting project. You choose what you want to make and what stitch to use, you make sure you have the correct needles, and you decide on a color scheme. Then, you plan out what color will go where and how big each section will be to ensure you have enough of each color of yarn you have chosen. Finally, after all of your preparation, you start to knit. You have to pay attention to what you are doing, being careful not to drop any of your yarn. If you do notice a flaw in your pattern, you go back and fix it. Like I said, it is not a thoughtless process. It is significant, then, that we are described as having been “knit together” in our mother’s wombs.

I believe with every fiber of my being that I was no accident. God did not look away, drop a thread, and fail to go back and fix a flaw as he was forming me. “Wonderful are [His] works and my soul knows it very well.” God labored over my creation. He had a plan before he started the process. My difference was deliberate. I rest in the knowledge that God created me exactly as I am for His purposes. We don’t always, or even usually, know why things are the way they are, but there is such hope and peace in knowing the care with which we were created.

So, what is the point of this rambling, you ask? It is this. A simple question. If you had been my parents and you knew that you carried a baby with a deformity, a baby who may have other unseen disabilities, and the doctor muttered the words to you “there’s something wrong with her”…….would you have aborted me?

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am human. I am different, but aren’t we all. And I would not be here had I been conceived to different people in a different time who wanted a child without flaw. When you stop and connect a real, living, breathing human being to abortion, things become more complicated. If you think people don’t still opt to abort babies with differences like mine, you are wrong. It happens every day. People look at what they have been given and decide it is not good enough. ‘It’s no big deal. We’ll try again later for a perfect baby. It’s not like it’s a human yet anyway. It’ll never amount to much. Society would reject such a child. Who would marry a person like that? We have to think of our future. We’re really protecting it from a lifetime of struggle. It’s for the best…Isn’t it?’

A disability like mine means certain death to many unborn babies. This is a thought I cannot escape. We were exactly who we are before our hearts ever made a thump, before our mother ever felt us move inside of her womb, before the world knew if we were he or she. We were nameless to our parents, but our Father had already adorned us with the name “wonderful”. We were unknown, but the Lord’s eyes “saw [our] unformed substance”. I am no mistake. My heart grieves for the little ones gone and the mothers and fathers who never held their tiny bodies or kissed their sweet new skin. No earthly thing can fill a chasm so deep as a child lost. The grace of the cross, though, is a greater thing than the weight of our sin, and redeeming love awaits us all. All have fallen short and all can receive salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ. There is hope and restoration in Him, this I know. His promises are good. His words are true. His thoughts of us “outnumber the sand” and they are precious. He makes no divisions of race or ability. He chose life for you.

Think about life, ponder it….Do you take it for granted so much that you would choose to rob another of such an ability? Would you choose life? Would you choose me?

“For you formed my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are you thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” Psalm 139:13-18