The sweltering sun of the humid summer days of North Carolina snatched the energy from us as we cooled ourselves under the monotonous twirl of the ceiling fans in our cozy cottage home, built in the 1930’s in Hamlet. People think small towns are mundane. Yes, life in Hamlet can be as monotonous as rounds of the ceiling fan, but the simplicity of every day life in a small town is just what the Stark family needed. We understood clearly why the Lord sent us to my “home.” The beauty of growing up in a place “where everybody knows your name” is just that. For me, Hamlet is a haven of safety, of belonging, of being known. I like to think of it as a glimpse of what Heaven will be like one day. Those who are in Christ will “know fully” and be fully known…one day, and each person has an appointment with “one day.” (“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” I Cor. 13:12)
Again, my heart pounded as the helicopter flew away with Avery. She arrived, per our request, at Wake Med Hospital in Raleigh. This time we stayed with family, not the Ronald McDonald house or a nearby hotel. We rested in Burwell’s childhood home with his mother. People also say grandmothers are a gift from God. Lindy Elize is named for her grandmothers, Linda and Elizabeth, Granzie and Grandma Boo, gifts from God. Once again in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), Avery really struggled.
Crammed together in a tiny bed, but feeling so comfortable with family, Burwell and I prayed for Avery. Then, he said it first. I wanted to say it, but I didn’t have the courage. Being from small-town-South, “grown men don’t cry” is well-known. More than that, we knew “Jesus wept (John 11:35).” Through the tears, Burwell confessed that maybe God wanted to take Avery home, and release her body from the suffering. How difficult it must have been to utter those words…to say that God might be calling his child to leave this earth, but he said it. That peace engulfed me…that one that passes understanding. “I think so, too,” I said. “I don’t want that to be true.” We finished our prayers of healing for Avery and of surrender to God’s will above all else.
Thankfully, Avery rebounded. After so many visits to different hospitals throughout the state, it made sense to return to Raleigh to be near one major hospital because the new norm involved hospital stays. So, we embraced a new year of new schools for both girls and a new job for Burwell. A few months passed. For the Fall Festival at church, we dressed Avery as a bumble bee. Then, friends brought a birthday cake to our place and celebrated Avery’s fourth birthday with us. But a week later, Avery didn’t have her best day at school with tummy issues. Lindy and I sang with her at bed time…”Jesus Loves Me.” Avery always smiled a huge grin when we sang that song. I asked her, “Avery, do you know Jesus?” She smiled even wider.
“There is a Name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in my ear,
The sweetest Name on earth,” (Oh, How I Love Jesus, Frederick Whitfield, 1855).
There was no doubt in my mind that Avery loved to hear the name of Jesus.
That night, Avery’s breathing labored. Burwell arose. As was his nightly custom, Burwell awoke and checked on Avery. Years had passed since either of us slept through the night. “I am taking her to the hospital,” Burwell stated as he rushed to the van. I prayed. Lindy slept.
In my mind, all over my body, I knew. I knew. I knew. Late in the night, calls went out to the grandmothers, to Rexie, and to Sue. All of the ladies, our mothers, my “spiritual mothers,” prayed with me. They knew. They knew. They knew. The phone rang. News. Critically, Burwell had stopped the van on a major road (Six Forks), put on his hazards, and through CPR, revived Avery. She had seized and it stopped her heart. He raced onward. Next, with our weakened child lying limp in his arms, he burst through the ER. A scene from the movies played, except it wasn’t a movie; it was our story, the one God wrote. Friends drove me to the hospital. The doctor spoke. Burwell and I bowed our heads, and asked for wisdom from the Lord. The decision was easy to make, but difficult to apply. We would not ask the doctor, who tried everything through the night, to do any more. Avery survived only by machine. Entering the room, we gazed at Avery while the medical staff surrounded us. By now, they knew us well. Staring at our little family unit, they wept.
I held Avery. Burwell held me. Jesus held us all. And then, God graciously lifted the burden of the decision we made from us. Astoundingly, without stopping the machine, we glared at the stats lowering as Avery joined Jesus in His throne room. Freed. Healed. Whole. Knowing Christ in full.
When we returned home, we scooped Lindy into our arms. “Sissy went to the hospital,” we stated. “Yes, I know,” Lindy replied. As noted, this was normal. “Avery went see Jesus today.” Lindy smiled with joy for her, and then, she realized. Lindy cried. At five-years-old, it hit her. She understood. We shared, “Avery isn’t coming back to our home, but we will see her again.” The greatest thing to Lindy at that time was for God to answer the prayer she asked for Avery every day…for Avery to ride a bike. Very seriously, Lindy peered at us and said, “I bet Avery is riding her bike on that street of gold right now.” I said, “I bet she IS biking with Jesus, Lindy. I bet she is.”
While this is a very emotional scene that I share, I want to be clear that Christ is our Comfort. He is our Peace. He is our Hope. I don’t want to leave you, the reader, our friends, feeling emotionally drained from participating with us in this suffering through reading my story, our story. I write because I am compelled to testify of the great love of God. And His love is for all of us…for you, for me! During this storm, Jesus steered as Captain of the boat that held our family. He remained fully in charge. He gave me joy! He gives me joy!
Oh, I struggled (and still struggle) with Him, trying to take control over and over again, but He is so faithful. He is not an angry God pounding His fist over you, subjecting you to suffering, and delighting in that. He is Love. He is a Father, your Father. If you do not know Him intimately, as I describe, He wants a unique and personal relationship with you. The way is through His Son. People, who place their trust in Christ, suffer; and people who do not believe, suffer. People, who place their trust in Christ, rejoice; and people who do not believe, rejoice. You and I fail. We sin. We were born that way. Our Holy God abhors sin, yet He loves you and me enough to make a way to live in fellowship with Him. He provided Christ, the Lamb of God, His Son to be the offering, the sacrifice, the substitute for sin. He provided a way for you to come to Him, to receive forgiveness, to receive eternal life. You only need to ask, like I did. He died, and He arose, and He knows the outcome of every situation. He gives the strength for any situation, for any trial, for any struggle…the strength to overcome. I am weak. I do not have that strength within myself. It is His and His alone. He is willing to give you that, too. Ask and receive.