My daughter, Michele, turned seventeen this week. I don’t know how that happened. It wasn’t that long ago I was holding her in my arms and rocking her to sleep. On her birthday, my wife posted a picture on Facebook of a time I took Michele canoeing and the paddle was as tall as she was. I know that was just last autumn even though the date on the picture said it was more than a decade ago.
Time moves only one way, it marches forward. Though our perception of time changes, it moves at the same steady pace it always has. One moment flows into the next, the sun rises and sets, today becomes yesterday and tomorrow becomes the present moment. Our children don’t stay little. They grow into adults and have children of their own, who, likewise, won’t stay little. And no matter what our mind tells us about how young we think we are, our bodies remind us that each day we are getting older. One exercise I take couples through in premarital counseling is to imagine that they are at their twentieth wedding anniversary and what they would like for their relationship to be at that point. I asked that of a couple recently and the prospective groom said, “Man, I’ll be almost fifty years old then. That’s hard to even think of myself as that old.” I told him that I was already past fifty and it wasn’t quite as bad as he was fearing.
Time passes and there is nothing we can do to change that. All any of us can hope to do is to use the time we have to the best of our ability, to live life to its fullest and seek to make the world a better place. My daughter, in her seventeen years of life, has taught me one very specific way that I might use my time. Michele has Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disorder that causes her intestines to swell and ulcerate. The disease causes a loss of blood and prevents the absorption of nutrients into the body. So those with Crohn’s are often anemic, which leads to a lack of energy, and usually have difficulty growing because their bodies are not taking in the nutrients from what they have eaten. As a fifth grader, right before she was diagnosed, Michele weighed just slightly more than 50 pounds. Left untreated, Crohn’s can be a devastating illness, even beyond devastating. Though there is no cure, Michele has responded well to treatment. Her illness has stayed in remission and she has grown into a healthy young woman.
Here is the lesson that my daughter’s illness taught me. Before she was diagnosed, Michele, would hardly eat anything at all. I thought she was just being a difficult nine year old who only wanted to eat certain foods. So I would make her sit at the table and eat a lot of the food on her plate. She would even say with tears in her eyes, “Daddy, it hurts when I eat.” I would say, “Oh, it doesn’t hurt. You just need to eat.” I’ve always been a “rub some dirt on it and keep going” kind of person. Thankfully, my wife began the process of trying to find out why Michele wasn’t growing. There were a series of tests done and I remember the day the doctor brought out the pictures of her intestines taken with a scope. The doctor showed us the pictures and said that Michele has a “severe case of Crohn’s” with ulcers, hundreds of them, from the top of her esophagus down to her anus. Her entire digestive track was ulcerated. She had been telling me how much it hurt and I did not listen. I thought I was doing the right thing by making her eat. I couldn’t see inside of her, so I didn’t think anything was really wrong other than she just didn’t want to eat. The truth, the painful, awful truth for me, is I was causing her more pain. After the doctor showed us the pictures and we agreed to a course of treatment, I went off by myself and cried for quite a while, kicking myself for not being the parent I should have been.
I have learned, however, from this experience with my daughter the importance of truly listening to people. And of realizing that so much of who people are and how they act in the world is often the result of things we can’t immediately see, experiences they bore as children, grief they suffered as an adult, chemical imbalances that even the latest medicines have trouble equalizing. Because of my experience with my daughter, I have learned to not be as judgmental of the behavior of others and try to be more grace filled as I encounter people who see and experience the world differently than I do. I’ve learned the importance of these powerful words, “Be kind for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden.”
A number of years have passed since Michele’s diagnosis. Every day she has to take more pills than I can keep track of – though she knows them all. And every eight weeks we have to spend a day in the hospital as she has chemical infusion therapy. At least as of now, the pills and the infusion will always be a part of her life. Michele’s diagnosis has changed our lives in numerous ways. We have joined the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Through it we receive a lot of information about the latest treatment options. We also offer our help with various events and fundraisers. Michele has determined she wants to go into the healthcare industry, possibly as a physician. And I have learned that grace isn’t just a concept we preachers talk about. It’s a reality that each of us should extend to one another because so often we don’t know what’s happening inside a person.
As time passes and I grow older, my prayer for myself is that I have more grace toward others today than I did yesterday, and even more tomorrow. It was a tough lesson to learn, so I’m bound and determined to try and get it right in whatever time I have left.