NOTE: This is part ONE of Jennifer and Austin’s #IKnowHim story. Part Two is coming to the blog next Monday, April 25, 2016.
My son Austin was shaken to death at 3 months old by his daycare provider. He was able to be revived by first responders, but he had massive trauma to his brain and would never be the same again. As the next year unfolded after that happened, it was clear that I would never be the same again either. I saw God, and got to know his heart that year. I learned and grew spiritually in a way that would never have happened outside of such extreme circumstances. The most immediate thing that God did was surround us. We had love, friends, support, provision, everything we could possibly ask for. My job was 2/3 of our income, and needless to say, that was the last day I ever worked full time. We had a long recovery ahead of us and my husband was not about to leave our side so he took some leave from work as well. Money poured into a bank account set up for us from every direction to use as we needed to to live and to take care of our family needs in this totally unfamiliar territory we found ourselves in. Resources were piled into our laps to make sure Austin would have everything he needed to have the best chance possible at a quality life. During those weeks in the hospital I couldn’t have cared less about any of that, my husband and I were wrecked. Our whole life had been turned upside-down. All I could do was sit with him, watching for the tiniest signs of improvement and healing, and during the moments I was alone, I cried and prayed the most raw, undressed up prayers I’ve ever prayed. I pleaded with God to “fix my baby, Kara broke him, pleeeeaasse please please”. I know he was closer to me in those moments than any others in my entire life. In fact just writing this brought me back there and I feel him close again. But this was only the very beginning of how He would show himself to us in the coming months.
Austin made incredible progress, and our prognosis of a 6 week hospital stay turned out to be only 16 days. We brought him home on an entire pharmacy of meds and hearts full of hope, wishing for perfection but also ecstatic over any small improvement. At the same time those moments would easily nose dive with any set back or unexpected problem such as a seizure, or the fact that he didn’t look at me or smile anymore….because he was completely blind. I spent a lot of time in agony and prayer over his vision, and God showed me his heart. He sent prophetic words to my friends assuring me he would see again, and not only that, but that he would look so deeply into my eyes and smile in a way that I would know his little heart and soul on a level that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. If you’ve ever met Austin you will know just to what extent that prophecy was fulfilled.
A few months after Austin came home he began experiencing a type of seizure that I had previously been made aware of and it was my worst fear at that time. They are called infantile spasms, and they are 1-3 second long seizures that come in clusters of anywhere between 1 and 100 consecutive seizures. The reason they are so dreaded is because the brain doesn’t have any time to recover between seizures and so it causes further brain damage. I couldn’t even come to grips yet with how much of our boy we had lost to brain damage and now here he was having the most devastating type of seizure there was, threatening to take the rest of him and potentially reduce him to a vegetative state. As soon as I recognized them we were headed back to Cook Children’s hospital where they did an EEG and confirmed the diagnosis. I couldn’t even stay there in the room. It was night time, and there was this garden area outside the front doors, and I found myself there, again pleading with God, but the hopelessness of it all was crushing any faith or hope I had before. I remember asking him “HOW MUCH MORE, GOD?? HOW MUCH MORE UNTIL THIS IS OVER, UNTIL IT STARTS GOING THE OTHER WAY? ………….Are you going to take him from me?” This was a moment I did NOT know God’s heart. I didn’t understand and I don’t think i was capable. All he would tell me was this: My tears and pain would not be wasted. I’ll be honest, at that time that was not a comfort at all. I still had an ugly reality upstairs waiting for me to face it, intense fears over Austin’s future, and questions that nobody could answer, and all i had to hold on to was that all the pain and tears wouldn’t be wasted, whatever that meant.
After 2 of the longest weeks of my life of watching helplessly as he had clusters of seizures day and night, injecting him with drugs that had some pretty scary side effects to try and stop them, and laying hands and praying over him during each cluster, they finally stopped. It’s been almost 5 years, and it’s been a hard road, dealing with the loss of the child I gave birth to and dealing with the challenges of the special needs world. But it’s been a blessed road too, with every evidence that God has gone before us with an enormous amount of provision for our needs financially, spiritually, and emotionally. And, as he promises, He has taken this horrible circumstance and used it in innumerable ways. I have been able to speak about our spiritual growth through this, demonstrate faith while still being real about the struggles we faced, pour into other families dealing with special needs, but most of all, I have had some profound moments of realization and understanding of God’s heart, two of which I’d like to share most.
The first is the answer that came as I questioned why God allowed this to happen. People ask all of the time why bad things happen to good people. In our situation, I don’t believe that God WILLED this to happen, because sin was involved on the part of Kara, the day care provider. I think that is a good guideline to decide whether God authored a hardship in our lives or not, by deciphering if sin was involved. But I do know that sometimes he does author hardship in our lives (for example Joseph) because He has a bigger picture and plan than we can perceive, or perhaps like Jonah, we have stepped outside of His will. If he sees that a hardship will ultimately align you back into his will for you, you better believe He will use it to put you there. He is a father to us and uses discipline, allows natural consequence of our decisions, and hard situations to grow us and teach us. Our situation falls into a couple of these scenarios, but ultimately I do know that there was a much bigger picture and that my tears and pain have NOT been wasted. He has held us and paved every step before we took it in the last 5 years, and we have been freed from the bondage of unforgiveness, we have been provided for, and we have been given blessing upon blessing through Austin.
NOTE: This is part of a two week series. PART TWO of Jennifer and Austin’s #IKnowHim story will be coming to the blog next Monday, April 25, 2016. Check back to see how God gave this mom the courage to do the unthinkable, even while still in the trenches of heartbreak. Jennifer Westbrook is a 32 year old momma of 3, married 12 years to her husband Chris. She has followed Jesus since she was 12 years old. She works part time as a dental hygienist and stays home with her kids the rest of the time. She loves crafting, family time, traveling, and being surrounded by friends. You can follow their journey and partner with them in prayer HERE.