“Home in a boat Mrs Campbell. Nothing wrong with this baby – this one’s perfect!”
The excitement inside my womb was almost as tangible as that outside it, as the baby kicked against the doctor wiping off the ultrasound jelly, causing us all to laugh. As if we needed an excuse! Too often in the past I had left doctor’s appointments clouded by disappointment, even despair.
This time I couldn’t get the words out of my head. Perfect! Perfect! Perfect! If I’d been able to set those words to music I would have. My heart was jumping and my mind was floating. The lurking anxiety of the previous seven months vanished like a vapour. All was well. God had answered our prayers.
As I neared home I couldn’t believe the contrast in the two pronouncements made over our first child and what was soon to be our third child. They were simply poles apart.
“Don’t you realize your little girl is handicapped?” the paediatrician had said when he had finished examining our firstborn. “She will never be normal!” Those words had torn into our lives and literally turned us upside down. For almost six years we had walked a very difficult path; all the while slowly learning the real truth behind the words of 2 Sam 22:31: “As for God, his way is perfect.”
And now here we were with a very different pronouncement ringing in my ears. “This one’s perfect!” Soon we would experience the joy of another baby, and a healthy sibling for our darling son. Although Paul adored his big sister, we feared for the day when Cheryl’s condition would take her from us. This pregnancy was not without risk, but at least Paul would now have a brother or sister to grow up with.
When I arrived home, the smile said it all, and for once the news coming from the Campbell household was good and travelled far and wide. “Catherine’s got the all-clear! The baby is perfect!” And as the weeks moved on towards my due-date, the fact that I was more the size akin to a barrage balloon couldn’t dampen the delight I awoke to every day.
“It’s a girl!” the midwife finally announced one July Sunday morning.
Somehow or other the fact that God had given us another girl added to the thrill of the moment. As her daddy held her in his arms for the first time it was his turn to make a pronouncement!
“God has given us a perfect daughter Catherine; we have to call her Joy. There is no other name we can give her!”
I couldn’t have agreed with him more. Later, in the ward, I got time to examine our precious little bundle for myself. She was beautiful, but… I couldn’t stop a gasp escaping as I noticed how like her older sister she was. For the next few hours I argued myself in and out of various scenarios: rebuking myself for doubting that all was well, and then putting on my mother-of-a-disabled-child cum midwife hat, convinced that all was definitely not well.
It was Joy’s head size that was troubling me. It was small: the skull’s soft spots appeared abnormal. By the time Philip arrived for the evening visiting I felt that I had been in a boxing ring, with myself the opponent. In his calm and trusting way he reminded me of what had been said a few weeks earlier, and then the ward doctor told me I was worrying unnecessarily.
But the concern just wouldn’t go away.
Some six weeks later I found myself sitting in a familiar clinic waiting room, longing to be proved wrong; reminding myself that I was only here to settle my fears, not confirm them. It was a long morning.
“I’m sorry.” Two words… devastating words… life changing words. I wanted to get up and run away from the paediatrician who, because of Cheryl, knew us so well. “I’m sorry,” she continued, “But Joy’s brain has stopped growing: she has the same condition as her sister.” This time as I held our precious baby I knew what the diagnosis meant. Our beautiful little Joy would never walk, talk, speak, sing or even see. In fact she would never be able to do anything for herself, and soon the seizures would start, along with the many other physical features of this disorder.
God hadn’t answered our prayers after all, and Paul would never have a sibling to build Lego with, or share in his secrets.
It just wasn’t fair! And I entered the dark place of disappointment with God. I’d already had six years with Cheryl – of learning that God makes no mistakes; that Cheryl was also part of His big plan; that He gives and keeps His promises of walking with us in our heartaches and sorrows. Six years of profound learning from God. Now, faced with this, I didn’t want to learn any more.
But, one lesson persistently pushed against my disappointment. God is a speaking God, and if I took time to listen He would speak into my heartache. He did just that through a little daily devotional book and in response to one specific prayer: “Speak to my heart, Lord”.
One morning I read of a conversation about the firing of table china. When a customer asked how the design on one set of china was clearer than another, she was told: “This had to be put through the fire a second time to get the design on it.” It seems the pattern only becomes clear after a second firing. I was blown away by God’s clear response to my questioning heart, and challenged by His request on my life to trust Him with what I didn’t understand. As I read I could see that God was reminding me that there was more going on than I could see – a much bigger picture – and that eventually He would produce something beautiful, just like the china.
It was all coming down, once more, to the question of faith. Faith – that hard decision to trust when we can’t see what God is doing behind the scenes. Faith – when He takes us to the end of our extremities and asks us to step off into the unknown with Him. Faith – when we discover that the step into the seeming void always finds the Rock beneath.
“Can you trust Me, Catherine, with this thing that you don’t understand?” He gently asked one more time.
“Yes, Lord,” I replied, as I stepped off the edge yet again, and as I did so the peace of God wrapped itself around my heart once more.
Often life’s not fair, but God is always good.
By Catherine Campbell | Catherine lives in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, where her husband Philip is the Congregational minister. She is involved in ministry to women through speaking and writing. Her latest books are Broken Works Best and God Knows Your Name, published by Monarch, an imprint of Lion Hudson. You can catch up with her on Facebook or at www.catherine-campbell.com