catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 2 :: 2007.01.26 — 2007.02.09


In the difficult moment

I'm standing by Samara's hospital crib to write this, pausing between sentences to shake a rattle, to engage in a baby talk conversation. Samara is a delightfully high maintenance baby—I've heard this is often the case with firstborns, and she's a firstborn of two firstborns.

Samara came into the outside world on the sixth of September.  We chose the name her name because of its meaning.  Samara is based on the Hebrew verb "shamar", which means "to keep, to guard, to watch".  Samara means "watched by God".

On November 23, Tim and I, both ordained ministers in the Christian Reformed Church, baptized Samara Grace in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  A week and a half later, we took Samara to the doctor because we thought that she had caught my cold.  As the pediatrician was examining her, he noticed that her abdomen was distended.  A week later, Samara was diagnosed with cancer.

Why is this happening to us? Tim and I have asked ourselves this question a couple of different times. Tim said he thinks that perhaps it’s because we have such an extensive support network. Within days of Samara's admittance to the hospital, word of her condition had spread around the country, lickety-split. Prayers are being offered by the thousands. I know that God can work a miracle through the quietest and loneliest whispered prayer. But now he's choosing to bring about healing and good news through a tremendous volume of prayer.

Why is this happening to us? Sometimes I wonder if it's because God knows we're able to handle hard things.  Six years ago, at the age of 23, I was widowed after less than a year and a half of marriage. In fact, December 11, the day the CT scan revealed Samara’s cancer, was the six-year anniversary of Layton's death in this very same hospital. He died on Monday, December 11, 2000, as a result of injuries he received in the car accident he had a few days before. As Tim and Samara and I waited for the results of her CT scan, I thought to myself, “This cannot be a bad day. It was already a bad day six years ago. This can't happen again.” But then we were told that Samara might have cancer and that we'd have to be admitted and I thought to myself, “Of course. Of course. It's happening again. And why not? God knows I can handle tough stuff.”

Why is this happening to us? I've actually tried not to ask myself that question very often. Why? Because asking the "why" questions gets me beyond the present moment. And the present moment is where I need to stay.

You see, I have a tendency to catastrophize—to get myself way ahead of the present moment. As soon as we knew there might be something wrong with Samara, I found myself saying goodbye…

  • Looking at her tiny clothes drying on the counter, wondering which of them I'd put in a box to save after her death.
  • Telling myself I might never get to braid her hair or send her off to school.
  • Imagining what it would feel like to walk into her nursery knowing she'd never sleep in it again.
  • Tucking "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" away in my brain as the perfect song for her funeral because she smiles when Daddy sings it to her.

I know, it sounds awful, but that's where my brain goes. It assumes the worst, trying to prepare itself, cushion itself against a blow.

Last week Friday, I brought all of these scary thoughts into a meeting with my spiritual director, Sister Virginia.  She told me that the main spiritual discipline that I have to work on is that of staying in the present moment. I agreed, but how? Sister Virginia told me that I needed to breathe, to pray honest prayers of lament, and to give God a chance to speak to me. "Give God a crack, and He'll come in. He'll minister to you."

So, last week Saturday, two days before Samara's CT scan, I gave God a crack and he turned my scary thoughts inside out. Basically, God told me in the gentlest way possible that I needed to stop thinking about myself—to stop thinking things like, "Why is this happening to me?! Samara is my daughter! This isn't fair to me! I don't want to lose her!"  I'd had these thoughts. I'd screamed them out to God on my drive home from work on Thursday. These thoughts had their place, but I needed to get beyond them.

In the crack that I gave God, he brought me beyond these thoughts and he invited me to something. He invited me to see Samara as a gift from him. And he invited me to a calling. God has called me to be the best possible mom to Samara that I can possibly be.

I am called to feed her when she's hungry.

I am called to change her diaper when it's wet.

I am called to tuck her blankets around her as she falls asleep.

I am called to sing to her, to smile at her, to hold her, to comfort her.

These are the callings that keep me in the present moment, that keep me from catastrophizing. I am called by God to be Samara's mommy. Right here. Right now. Today. This moment.

The God who watches over her will take care of all of the rest, all of the tomorrows.

The more I stay with her and with God in the present moment that he's given to both of us, the more I can trust and imagine…

- Samara at two years old with pigtails and little tennis shoes.
- Samara at five years old with her brand new school bag, heading out the door.
- Samara at ten years old at a slumber party with her friends.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again. As I finish writing, Samara is waking up from one of her tiny little catnaps. Right now, I am called to be there when she wakes up.

Heidi De Jonge is the Pastor for Discernment at Calvin Theological Seminary.  These words were originally written as a post on Samara’s Care Page.  For pictures and for more of the story, visit, Care Page name: SamaraGrace.

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