I believe the doctrine that teaches that we chose to come to earth, that before we came we were prepared for mortality over eons of time by God Himself, and that we were aware of the trials that might come our way. On Spirit filled days I sometimes form a faithful picture of my final pre-earth moments. I visualize receiving final instructions and warnings. I try to imagine what it must have been like to have the King of Heaven and the Prince, His Son, circle me in Their loving arms, kiss me tenderly, and send me on my way, knowing They had done everything possible to ready me for mortal days ahead.
Now that I’m here though, in the middle of hard things, it’s tempting to think, “There’s no way I signed up for this!” Or “Why did I ever sign up for this?” Or “I’m sure this was not what I was expecting! I’m not prepared for this!” The following experience changed my perspective:
A laundry basket and pillow, a small serving tray, a handful of Fishy Crackers, a cheese stick, a sippy cup and the TV remote cued on “Curious George”—These are the things Gracie gathered to “practice”—the things she set up in the family room for her trial run.
“Grandma,” she called across the house as I entered the front door. “Come and see.” I proceeded toward the squeaky little girl voice and found her lounging inside a white laundry basket made cozy by her bedroom pillow. Balanced across the front of the basket was a small serving tray laden with all the snack food she could gather. With remote in hand, she was just finishing up an episode of Curious George. She smiled from ear to ear and with her blue eyes twinkling she said, “I’m practicing for my suguwy. Are you coming to see me at Primaries when I have my opewation? They’re gonna put my name on the door so you can find me!”
The “surgery class” she’d attended had obviously had the impact the doctors, nurses, and social workers hoped. Several weeks before surgery Gracie and her mom and dad were invited to spend the day at Primary Children’s Hospital with other children awaiting medical procedures. The purpose of this class is to educate parents and calm the fears and prepare the minds of little children, well before the “grand opening.”
They go to extraordinary lengths. While there, the children are encouraged to express any concerns and ask any question they might have. Each child is given a “hospital buddy”—a doll complete with hospital gown, EKG leads, a marker to draw on a face and hair, and bandages for “making things all better.” They get to smell the many flavors of “sleepy gas” that will help them take a nap during surgery and pick the scent they like best. They tour the route to the operating room and are shown the exact place they will have their “before” picture snapped, say goodbye to mom and dad, and then greet their parents after surgery. Someone has had the inspiration to paint the ceiling with road signs so little ones lying on gurneys moving from here to there will know exactly where they are in the process. I tell you, they’ve thought of everything. They took Gracie to the room that would be her home away from home for seven to ten days, showed her the TV—her TV—and let her play with the remote, showed her the cupboards where she could keep her things, taught her how to move the bed up and down, and last but not least they introduced her to the menu where she would be allowed to order chocolate milk three times a day if she liked. Gracie was ready!
Weeks passed. Gracie could hardly speak of anything but her anticipated hospital stay. The surgery would address critical spina bifida issues. Her big day finally arrived, and we anxiously awaited permission to visit. When it came we piled in the car, excited to make good the promise we’d made to Gracie, to visit her as soon as possible. Grandma, grandpa, her siblings, two aunties and two small cousins headed down the freeway. Upon arriving, our little entourage made its way toward Gracie’s room. As we trundled down the hospital hallways we peeked into special rooms filled with things to help little ones “wait” and parents survive—puzzles, blocks, dolls, trucks, picture books, Legos, and racks of colored movable beads. We made our way down sea green corridors—walls lavishly splashed with color, friendly whales, dolphins, and all manner of sea life. Every inch shouted loud and clear that this was not just any hospital. From stem to stern, this is a hospital for little children.
Gracie’s daddy met us outside her room. “Things are a little rough right now,” he warned. “We can only take a few of you in at a time.” I was excited to see Gracie and have her introduce me to the fun hospital setup she’d rehearsed at home. I let the siblings and small cousins go first and waited my turn.
When I finally walked into Gracie’s room I was the one who was not prepared. What was I expecting? If you can, cast your mind back to the dear little book “Madeline.” Do you remember the picture in the story just after she’s had her appendix out and everyone comes to visit and there are toys strewn everywhere and she is standing on the bed showing all her friends her scar and the little friends leave the room wishing they could have their appendix out too? I think that describes best the scene I wanted to jump into. I had never seen a child after surgery.
My heart sank at the look of her, lying there like a worn out rag doll, her bright blue eyes now gray, her already fair skin pale against her red hair, dark circles under her eyes, IVs in both of her thin arms, and two sets of tubes going into her tummy. Before our arrival she had experienced a reaction to one of her drugs. It caused her to itch from head to toe, like bugs crawling all over her already traumatized body. The only thing Mom and Dad could do to protect the IV and surgical sites was restrain her flailing arms and legs until prayer and medication took over—a true miracle. Gracie won the battle, but it was hard fought. At one point during the ordeal this sweet little five-year-old yelled at her parents, “Get your stinkin’ hands off me!!!”
There was nothing of the pre-surgery excitement for private TV and a personal remote. A doll house sat on her tray table untouched. The room was decorated with brightly colored gift bags. They were filled with little girl crafty projects from loved ones who hoped to help fill Gracie’s after surgery hours with fun. But as far as I could see there was no room in this room for fun.
At Primary Children’s Hospital they have an amazing plan for preparing little children for surgery. Nothing is left undone. Gracie was prepared in every detail possible. Her parents, the doctor, her nurses, and the staff did absolutely everything within their power to calm her little mind and get her ready for what was to come. But no amount of loving preparation could have prepared her for or saved her from this part of her experience—not even the possibility of all the chocolate milk her little heart desired. No, this was the reality that no human power, no matter how tender or honest could spare her.
That day we took turns loving and encouraging Gracie and her parents the best we humanly could, but grandmotherly concern, a kiss on the forehead, and a gift bag of new nightgowns from the Disney Store only go so far.
As we walked toward the car past the waiting rooms filled with toys and on down the happy sea-green halls, the fish were still smiling. Nothing had changed about the child-friendly staff or environment, but something was happening inside of me. Through the rest of the day my thoughts kept returning to her room and to her suffering little body. As I thought of Gracie’s careful preparation and her at-home rehearsals for this day I felt sad and confused.
“Dear Heavenly Father,” I called out in my mind. “What was the purpose of all the preparation? Was it a trick to get her in the door? How could anyone be prepared for this?!?! I’m certainly not prepared! This mortal estate seems to call for one spiritual or physical operation after another. We hardly recover from one when something else appears on the horizon!”
Then I left this question on His altar: “What should we do when it seems like life is more than we bargained for, when we’re tempted to question whether or not we “signed up” and if we really are “prepared”?
Sometimes when I pray “on the go” as I did that day, the Lord responds “as I go” by placing little thoughts in my mind when He can get my attention, thoughts like these:
You really are prepared Nannette. Gracie is prepared. Preparation doesn’t completely eradicate suffering. Rather it makes you ready in advance to endure the challenging, even heart-wrenching events your very personal, mortal, internship requires. What you experience during earth life has divine purpose and no amount of preparation will ever be allowed to rob you of the pain that brings learning and growth toward Eternal ends.
Think about the caring, detailed “pre-op” experience Gracie had at the hospital. Do you think I did any less for you?
Now picture Gracie sitting in the laundry basket, on the pillow, sipping her drink with remote in hand, rehearsing what she was about to experience to the best of her understanding, in circumstances that couldn’t possibly give her the entire picture. You were a good student like Gracie. You did practice hard. But you were there, not here. You were spirit, not body. The MTC is not the mission field. Basic training is not the front lines. There’s no thing like the real thing, Nannette.
The good news is that in the middle of surgery you can come unto Me, the One who was prepared for His mortal experience from the foundation of the world. Come to Me, the One who admitted to His Father on the brink of surgery, “Would not that I should drink the bitter cup?” Believe that I was prepared and that I did drink it!—recognize that I drank it so that before, during, and after your surgery I can sit with you and bless you and love you and comfort you and encourage you and teach you and heal and sanctify you, purify you and prepare you to go Home. My mortal surgery required that I experience your pain. I have pulled my chair over to your mortal hospital bed and Gracie’s and I will never leave.
Gracie is up and going now and enjoying some of the blessings of her opewation. Before she left the hospital she tried the remote many times, watched a movie of her own choice ten times, and ordered chocolate milk and ice cream for lunch. She’s worn all the pretty new nightgowns, and every gift bag that sat untouched for a time has been opened and enjoyed to the fullest. All the pre-op promises are coming true.
When I become peaceful and observant I begin to notice that the pre-earth promises about the wonders of this life do come true in spite of the pain and sometimes because of it. When I settle into the arms of the Lord and become calm I see that every get-well card in my mortal “hospital room” is signed with His name. Not only will the Lord sit with me, He is also the One who provides the promised sweet and lovely things that help me get through. His promises are sure.
I may not be able to drink all the chocolate milk my little heart desires, but the gift bags in my room are real and full. They are full of snowcapped mountains, brand new babies, beautiful music, kisses and hugs, a wonderful family and priceless friends, learning and progress toward Home—an endless supply of all things that make my earth life hospital stay as enjoyable as possible.
Thank you for the important lessons, Gracie. The truth is we did sign up, and we are as prepared as we can be. The good news is that we have a Savior who is absolutely prepared to see us through.
Posted March 10, 2013
Copyright 2011 by Nannette W. All right reserved. Making or sending copies is permitted if the page is not changed in any way and the material is not used for profit. This notice must be included on each copy made or sent.