Day 45: Empty Beds

December 2014 has passed at break-neck speed.

Will has been on droplet precautions for two weeks; he cannot leave the room at all unless it is for surgery. It is only after midnight when William and a few other night-owls are awake that the hospital calms down a bit. Notice that I did not say quiets down. Children cry around the clock here and pumps are always beeping.  When I need to compose myself and summon resolve I sometimes walk down the long hallway to the designated family room with my electronic window to the outside world. As I pass I can see both darkened rooms and dimly lit rooms with children watching movies while  IV bags drip. Every so often I see something else.

An empty bed doesn’t last long around here. When someone leaves the room is hurriedly cleaned and occupied again. I’ve seen the transition commence in only twenty minutes. A bed that remains empty overnight is somehow strangely peaceful.

Of course, someone leaving a bed empty can mean the worst. Usually the children are moved to the critical unit before that point, but an empty bed stands like a grave, silently reminding us to live life gratefully and fully.

I’ve hugged and celebrated with more than a few strangers as they loaded up the large, white rolling carts full of luggage. It is understood widely that home is a treasured luxury. Whether someone has been here for one night, seven nights or months without leaving, the significant peace of a familiar bed is as understood as a smile. We rejoice because it is excruciating here. The pain may become familiar, but hearts grow weary and tears fall. Our secret to not becoming bitter is simple– we refuse to let the pain be wasted. We will learn, grow, and make the world around us better with our participation. Look outward and toward others while you suffer and most of all, look to God to see what He is doing. That’s the secret.

Tonight I walked the hall; 8 children have been discharged for the holiday.  Four left to be buried last month. A few new children have arrived to fill the beds but three doors open to reveal crisp, white sheets that are turned down to greet new patients. Bold islands surrounded by the cold metal, smells of alcohol based cleaners and the sounds of beeping, the beds are a soft place to rest. Empty beds may mean death, but they also mean hope.

After checking repeatedly to see what day it is, I realize that tomorrow is Christmas Eve. What is here are babies who are unexpectedly in beds that parents never anticipated. It doesn’t feel right to be here right now.  I long to be home, yet that doesn’t seem right either. If we gathered together under a tree and I smiled in exhaustion at working to make everything perfect, cancer would still be looming. A bed would still be waiting for us. For the moment, this ‘unexpected bed’ is where we need to be, even though I longed for a different scenario.

I’ve discovered that there is great comfort in seeing your child in unexpected beds. The peace comes from knowing God is active and doing something extraordinary.  The extraordinary ones are there, in God’s Will and unexpected beds.

I am sure that while a manger was occupied an empty bed was ready for Jesus at the house Mary left behind. Mary didn’t have her family nearby when she wrapped the Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger-bed. Surely she expected a bed to give birth in!  Shepherds from the field joined her in those first hours, which probably wasn’t as pleasant as we make it look in our pristine Christmas cards. (Oops…forgot about those this year!) Then again, Jesus also had the best birth announcement on record. God knew Mary and Joseph couldn’t send out announcements, so He loaned them a star and a host of angels.

An empty bed and unexpectedly full manger-bed is what Christmas is about. More than ever I understand that when the right bed is occupied, real peace and healing can come.

Empty beds mean hope. . Empty beds mean victory in a hard-fought battle. Empty beds are a memorial. An empty resting place means “It is Finished” and “Y’all ready for this? It’s going to be amazing.”

Our hospital bed is full this Christmas, but it is full of good things.

Many of you will have beds and couches full this week. My heart rejoices for you;  Embrace that, moms of college kids and empty nesters! Those with empty beds, whether for sorrowful or for unexpected reasons, take heart. Empty beds can mean something wonderful. Just be sure to look and remember the whole story. The struggle of empty beds are not worth comparing to the joy of an empty tomb. That is how I can rejoice this Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Y’all.


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