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Tuesday
Jul212009

Sparklers

It was a warm evening in July when I handed my two small children sparklers to hold. Their eyes grew wide with the excitement of being in control, sort of, of the little explosion of color and light bursting out of a skinny stick.

Then Chara turned away from me just as a spark ignited her flowing cotton dress, and it took a moment to realize that she was screeching not from delight any more but from terror.

John was quick... he turned on the hose and squirted her, rolling her on the ground to extinguish the flames. But the damage was done, and she kept screaming as we, two novice parents tried to figure out what to do. John has always been better at emergencies and he filled the tub with water and dunked Chara. He called a friend who was a paramedic, who told us to go to the emergency room.

My mind was numb with guilt, after all I had given her the sparkler, and fear of what would happen. John managed to drive us to the hospital where it felt like a desperately long time until she was seen by a doctor. My mind still reeled with the unknown, as he started scraping the last remnants of fabric from her charred skin. Watching her cry was incredibly agonizing as I faced the cavernous possibility that I might lose her. Then I overheard the doctor talking to a nurse who came in to assist him. He said the words, "second degree burns..." Second degree burns? I didn't know much but I knew that people have survived second degree burns! I threw off the smothering fear and became empowered to comfort my little girl, who WAS going to live.

One of the most crucial shifts for me was knowing that the trauma had a name and a recovery plan. I had never dealt with burns like that before, but I was more than willing to leap on to the experience of people who had.

The next days and weeks still had a difficult regime of changing the dressing, and the gradual miracle of new flesh, but for me it was a path that I now believed had a happy ending, and I could take each step as it came. Chara still has a scar, but her belly healed and she has even been known to hold a sparkler. In marriage there are unexpected explosions, that leave emotional scars and painfully charred parts of our being. We make accusations, and do things that hurt each other.

Sometimes I talk to couples who feel like I did in that emergency room two decades ago.... the injury is terminal. The backlog of lost trust, and stonewalling seem too overwhelming for this marriage to survive. They feel as if they know no one who has ever sustained such injury and healed. But there is a voice of hope from someone who has offered us genuine healing.

O LORD my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. Psalm 30

Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. Psalm 103

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147

In fact there is a name for a breach of marital health. It is called a cold. I like that there is a name, and that there is a strategy for recovery. The book Conjugial Love has a chapter on colds, not unlike the chapter in my home health reference books for the aches and fevers of childhood illness. Having a chapter in black and white does something to erode my sense of self pity and loneliness, when I am overwhelmed by a child wheezing in the night.

There is comfort in knowing not only that someone cared enough to articulate what an anxious parent can do, but that countless other mothers have opened to this page in their own moments of desperation... and seen their child live to smile again. The Lord has written down His prescription for colds in marriage, not only because He suspects you may come down with one, but because He wants to assure you that you are not alone. Husbands and wives without number have found their marriages wheezing in the night, and wondered if their relationship would live to see the dawn.

One of the blessings of a scar is that it reminds you, for as long as you tread this earth, that you will heal. You can sustain fire, and fear, and walk again. There are couples living among us who carry scars, tucked beneath their breast pockets. They have endured loss, outlived the darkness and smiled again. I am grateful to walk in their wake.