By Gretchen Crowder
October 21, 2019 — Early on a Tuesday morning this summer, my four-year-old twins and I drove to the local children’s hospital so they could receive some extensive dental work. I was emotional as I drove, but luckily the boys distracted me. “Mommy, when the dentist is done fixing my teeth, can I have some ice cream?” one asked. “Yeah, can we?” the other joined in. They were blissfully unaware of what lay ahead. When we arrived, they jumped out of the car and darted inside. I ran after them as they sprinted down the long corridor toward the elevator.
When we got to the elevator, I moved them out of the way to let a woman and her baby exit. Seeing her reminded me of the other times the twins and I had been at this exact hospital. The first was when they were only a couple weeks old. They had tested positive as newborns for a rare metabolic disease. For the first two months of their lives, I went back and forth to this hospital until a false positive was discovered and we were told we would not have to return. Then, at nine months, one of them spiked a high fever and the left side of his head swelled. So once again, I was back, sitting in this same hospital’s emergency room.
Parenthood comes with unexpected moments just like these — moments that are terrifying, unsettling and often expensive. I find these experiences can lead me to despair if I let them.
The first time we went to the hospital, I remember blaming myself for things that were clearly beyond my control. I remember being filled with self-pity for the trials I was being asked to go through during the first few weeks of my sons’ lives. The boys were small, so they were unaware of what was happening then, but now they understand more. My anxiety can so easily become their anxiety. It is important for me to be able to take the focus outside of myself and see a bigger picture.
Ignatian spirituality gives me a powerful method for reflection that helps me refocus and redirect in situations like these — the Examen. This time, as they wheeled away my twins to surgery and directed me to the waiting room, I paused to go through the steps:
I invited the Holy Spirit into the waiting room with me. I realized that I had forgotten to pray with my sons in the car as we did each morning on the way to school. I forgot to invite God into what we were experiencing. I asked the Holy Spirit to open my mind and heart to what God wanted me to hear.
I expressed gratitude. I thanked God for the wonderful dentist who was taking good care of my sons. I thanked God for the nurses and the anesthesiologist who were caring for each of them right at this moment. I also expressed sincere gratitude for being able to be here, fixing their teeth when it is not a privilege everyone enjoys.
I reviewed my day. Starting with the night before, I reviewed everything that had happened from the time I prepared my sons for this hospital visit to now. I looked for God in each moment. I saw God in how my sons were able to understand as much as they could about what they were going to experience. I saw God in my husband’s generosity to be late for work in order to take our older son to camp so I could focus on the twins. I saw God in the many text messages I received from friends and coworkers letting me know of their prayers.
I asked for forgiveness. I had a few self-pitying thoughts on the way to the hospital. As I reflected, I was able to see how many people were sitting with me in the same waiting room. Some were waiting on children who were having surgery on broken arms or legs. Some were there for one of many surgeries their child would have. Though I had made this experience isolated, I realized that suffering is not an isolated experience. I asked God for forgiveness for the times that I was looking only inward and failing to see those walking this journey with me.
I looked ahead. I thought about when I would see my boys at the end of the surgery. I prepared myself that they would be groggy and in pain. I thought about how they might be upset because they would be experiencing pain they were not totally prepared for. I considered how I could care for them the rest of the day and how I could invite God to help me along the way.
As I ended my Examen, I felt so much peace. I know I do not use the tool as often as I should, and that practicing it regularly in the morning and in the evening can make a profound difference in my life. After a while, they called me back and I could see my boys again, successful operations complete. It’s never a challenge to see God in their faces, but the Examen that morning let me find God in the middle of my waiting and worrying. What a gift.
Gretchen Crowder is the Director of Campus Ministry at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and an adjunct faculty member for the University of Dallas. She has a B.S. in mathematics and an M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. After teaching mathematics for almost a decade, she fully embraced her passion for ministry. She resides in Dallas with her husband and three sons. Read more by Gretchen at gretchencrowder.com.