My mom often told me the story of when I was about 15 months old and had to be rescued by firemen.
It seems I had squeezed my toddler-sized head through the slats of my crib and no amount of pushing or pulling would release me from its grip.
I have zero memory of this event, but after so many retellings of the story, I find that I can imagine what it must have been like for baby me in those moments.
I can take an aerial view and see myself trapped in what was meant to be a place of rest. I can see me screaming and inconsolable while my mom did everything in her power to release me. I can see her crying and saying my name over and over and over again – “Kaysie! Kaysie! Oh, baby, hold on! I’m so sorry! I’m going to call for help!”
I can feel the fear explode in its intensity and take over my body.
And I can imagine terror really setting in as strange-looking men came in to rescue me.
The whole thing probably lasted about 30-45 minutes, but I’m sure to both my mom and to me it felt like an eternity had passed by the time the firemen cut me out of that crib.
With the crib now destroyed, I was moved to a big girl bed…which I’m guessing I was all for. I have always preferred wide open spaces, and regardless of its actual purpose, I can imagine that the crib made me feel confined rather than secure. The vastness of my new bed, while also rife with its own share of complications (Hello alligators living under big beds just waiting for your feet to hit the floor, so they can grab you and pull you under…amirite?), made me feel one step closer to being all grownup and FREE.
I was pretty confident that adulthood came at the age of 18 (🙄); that it would provide me with all the freedom I craved; and that it would allow me to escape from the responsibilities and burdens of being my parents’ daughter. In fact, I so looked forward to this time that I announced my departure plans to my parents at the age of five. I thought it was a pretty solid plan.
I’m going to move at least 750 miles away from my family – probably to Liberty University so I can sing with the traveling ensemble there.
You guys, I was a baby. A teeny, tiny indoctrinated Southern Baptist baby. Don’t judge.
I bet that was hard for my mom to hear. Hopefully, my charm and precocious nature made up for my lack of tact.
As an adult hanging on to childish notions about autonomy, it’s oppressive and isolating to experience limitations – to feel like my wings are clipped just as they’re about to spread wide open because my circumstances keep me trapped and unable to live my life freely.
I’ve had a lot of independence as a grown-up girl, but the vast majority of my experiences with freedom have come from internal states of heart and mind rather than from my circumstances. In fact, when I’m unable to access freedom despite my circumstances, I’m unable to experience freedom in any circumstance.
Unless I choose to define freedom in some other way.
In July of 2007, I found myself trapped in Houston.
A week had passed since the day Molly and I attempted to drive dad back to Tulsa following major surgery at MD Anderson…only to find ourselves right back there as dad was re-admitted for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – a highly contagious staph infection resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat infection.
My brother had flown in to join me, and we spent our first few days there walking the halls, visiting Dad in his isolation room, and asking #allthequestions of the doctors, but never getting any real answers. Finally, we decided it was time to take matters into our own hands. We both had families with young children at home, spouses shouldering it all on their own, and Patton needed to get back to work.
We couldn’t afford to be stuck in Houston indefinitely.
But discharge from the hospital was nowhere in sight.
And the staff of doctors treating my father couldn’t seem to get on the same page in order to make a united decision on when and how to release him.
I think everyone was tiptoeing around for fear of some sort of liability after the disastrous discharge we’d experienced before.
But we didn’t have time for that nonsense. We needed to go home.
Dad was better. I mean, he was better from MRSA. He was still a very sick person, but he was getting stronger. Patton and I felt pretty confident that he could withstand the drive back to Tulsa, and his doctors at home were ready to take over his care.
And still the staff at MD Anderson avoided a decision.
Plus, my dad was living his best life – waited on hand and foot by nursing staff, both of his children there, visiting him dutifully, and responsible for his care. He wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere.
It felt like I was destined to be trapped in my father’s brokenness for decades to come. I believed freedom lay in one of two outcomes – with my dad’s death or with my choice to cut him off completely.
My brother and I called for a meeting. We asked for the entire team to be present because from our perspective, the real problem was that there were so many various doctors caring for our father – oncology, pulmonology, cardiology, infectious disease, speech and physical therapy. It was a long list because pretty much every bodily system in my father was the squeaky wheel trying its best to get all the attention. We all gathered around a conference table in a painfully bright hospital room, and Patton and I insisted they work together to come up with a discharge plan or – if they felt dad needed to remain in the hospital – a transfer plan to a Tulsa hospital.
It must be hard to work in a cancer hospital, constantly confronting death with grit, hope and persistence in the face of formidable odds. It must be hard to accept defeat when the inevitable is upon you – upon the patient you’ve been trying to save. It must be hard to acknowledge when death is winning the fight.
I know it is.
I’m confident my father’s medical team was deeply committed to continue fighting for him to live and not die. It also makes sense that sometimes doctors feel trapped by the fight for life when death is actually the more humane choice. Oh, how we needed just one of them to tell us that we could shift out of fight mode and into release mode- to tell us we wouldn’t be trapped there forever.
As it was, dad’s medical team was convinced that they had saved him, and all he needed now was time to recover. They also had no idea that their belief that he would recover and continue to live was devastating to us. It didn’t instill hope. Only dread.
This promise of recovery bestowed upon us felt like a death sentence to me. I knew that whatever recovery he achieved would be fraught with pain and suffering – physically, yes, but the real pain lay in the sickness of his heart and mind.
And even though the little girl in me still hoped her dad could become whole and healthy here on earth, the grown-up me knew it was never going to happen.
God – ever the Gentleman – would never force Himself or His ways upon us, and my dad was not going to be the exception to this rule. Dad had been given more opportunities than most to turn his life around, and he just could not do it.
This was a devastating conclusion, especially in light of the medical team’s promise of more life for dad. More life for dad felt like it meant less life for me.
Friends, that is a horrible space to live in. I don’t recommend it.
I sat in that meeting with dad’s team of doctors and felt the familiar weight of unwanted responsibility wrap itself around me.
I felt trapped.
It took all of our powers of persuasion, but we were able to convince the medical team to allow us to take dad home to Tulsa. I was given a crash course on changing dressings and IV bags. The sweet nurse who taught me all the things deserves an extra set of jewels in her heavenly crown for putting up with the sudden onset of childish behaviors from Patton and me (mostly Patton, of course). We collapsed into hysterics as practiced the procedures for dad’s care on a medical dummy and were reminded of all the mischief we’d created with tongue depressors, ear and eye examination lights, and gauze and bandages when we played doctor within the various doctor offices we’d found ourselves stuck in through childhood and adolescence.
Or maybe she understood that it was better for us to laugh than to cry because once the tears started, we were afraid they would never stop.
Either way, I was grateful that she was cool with it. I felt more at home as a child in the situation than I did as my 38-year old self. My child self had lots of experience with those feelings of entrapment…and still believed they would go away at some point.
A couple of days later we drove dad home to Tulsa, and Patton flew back home to Colorado. Life became consumed with raising my three children and taking care of the ongoing needs of my dad…and I often found myself struggling against the chains of these responsibilities.
Thankfully, I had people in my life who reminded that freedom was possible even in the midst of great burdens. Even with a life filled with constricting circumstances.
I can experience rest in whatever place I find myself by leaning into the One who is my refuge and my strength.
It wasn’t nearly as pretty as that last sentence makes it sound. It was a season filled with heartache, disappointment, exhaustion, anger, frustration and enormous stress.
Honestly, much of life feels designed to keep us constrained. It feels like the slats of your crib are only there to keep you in your place, and you forget that you are standing on an actual bed complete with mattress, sheets, cozy blankets and maybe a stuffed tiger or a Pooh bear.
Freedom comes when we shift our perspective and remember that even when we are trapped behind the bars of our circumstances, God’s design includes a place of refuge in Him where we can lay down and rest.