by Heidi S. De Jonge
I sat in a chair in the room just off the side of the chapel at the Dominican Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, my back to the window, the light coming in over my shoulder, softly brightening Sister Virginia’s face. I had just poured out my heart to her. I figured that was what I was supposed to do with a spiritual director. I wasn’t quite sure. This was one of our first meetings.
After a long pause, she asked me a question. “How is God ministering to you?”
I had no idea how to answer that question. As far as I could tell, there was no ministry.
My body, simultaneously tight and slack with fear, sunk lower into the chair. I had just told Sister Virginia the story of my week, which included my return to work after being on maternity leave for three months following the birth of our first child, Samara. The evening of the day I returned to work, my husband, Tim, took our daughter to the pediatrician because she was inconsolable. We thought she had a cold. The pediatrician examined her thoroughly and immediately sent her down the street to the hospital for an ultrasound. I joined them. That night we learned that Samara’s liver was enlarged, filling her entire abdominal cavity. And there were spots on it.
I googled the possible diagnosis they had given us: hemangioendothelioma. My eyes rested on the only phrase that mattered: “hemangioendothelioma is associated with high rates of infant mortality.”
I came undone. My mind settled in on the worst possible outcome. She was going to die. The tears wouldn’t stop. My prayers were a stream of “no no no no no no this can’t be happening no no no.” I had a hard time returning her smiles. I struggled to hold her. I told Sister Virginia that holding her felt like holding a cloud. I was so certain I was losing her.
“How is God ministering to you?” she asked.
I don’t know. I don’t think he is. He’s not.
“I want you to give God a crack,” she said. “I want you to open the door, just a crack, and wait for God to minister to you.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I had been directed by my spiritual director and I am a rule-follower, so I told her I would try.
On my 45-minute drive home, I fell right back in to the tears and the no-no-no prayers. And then, less than 2 miles from my house, I simply told God I was opening the door. Just a crack. And I quieted myself. Just for a moment. And God walked in.
I do not know if I will ever again experience the depth of the peace that God gave me at the corner of Lincoln and 40th street in Holland, Michigan, that December afternoon. God calmed me. I do not know if I will ever again so clearly receive a vocational certainty like I did, as I turned west toward home. Toward my baby. God called me to be Samara’s mom. God called me, not to save her from this disease, but to simply give all that I could to her – to feed and clothe and change her, to return her smiles, to hold her with strength – for as many days or months or years as I had with her. I went home and did just that.
The next week, Samara was diagnosed with a treatable cancer. By December of 2007, she was cancer-free and toddling toward her second Christmas. Today, eleven-year-old Samara reads voraciously and wants to be an author when she grows up. Soli Deo Gloria.
All of this sometimes seems like a miracle – though, I must admit, the older I get, the less I understand that word. Was her healing a miracle? I know that it was a gift. And what happened on 40th street was also a gift (or maybe a miracle)… when I opened the door of my heart a crack, turned my car west into the setting sun, and felt the light softly brighten my face as God walked in.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
Psalm 131 – NRSV
Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She has been in ministry for 12 years. Her husband, Tim, is a CRC chaplain, serving in long term care, and together they parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.