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The Great Gentling

When Jude arrived home from the pediatric intensive care unit in September of 2015, he was greeted by a very happy sister and balloons from Ascension Lutheran School.

Note... this piece was written in September of 2018 on the third anniversary of my son's diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes. A friend recently asked if they could have a copy. I am posting it here and find it personally helpful to revisit this piece on occasion as a reminder to keep being gentled.

I wrote recently about a friend who had cupped her hands on my cheeks and said, “Sweet mama, life has aged you.”  Let me now explain why she spoke those words with all love and tenderness and grace. 

My friend had not seen me for nearly a year.  She knew me before and after my son’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes.  When she softly touched my cheeks and lovingly looked into my tired eyes, I knew she saw beyond the deepened wrinkles on my brow and the faded luster in my cheeks and the hunch in my loaded shoulders.  The depth of her understood for a moment the depth of me, my weariness, the hard work that life had been of late.  Yet in that moment, she did not pity me nor judge me.  She simply saw with love the truth of my days.  In that moment of gracious gentleness, she helped make my shoulders a little straighter and my eyes gain back a little sparkle.

Life can deal us hard hands.  We pastors hear countless hard stories.  In fact, we often find ourselves right smack dab in the middle of them.  I have sat at the bedside of the dying – the old and the way too young.  I’ve cradled sick babies.  I’ve held sobbing parents.  I’ve heard people scream from the depths of their souls.  I’ve heard stories of rape and abuse.  I’ve seen marriages fail.  I’ve seen friendships shattered.  I’ve seen jobs lost and bankruptcies claimed.  I’ve seen addictions of all kinds.  I’ve seen people deal with lots of hard things.  I’ve seen that sometimes those hard things have made a person bitter, angry, vengeful, hopeless, tragic, or anxious.  Yet others have had a very different response.  The hard things have somehow left them kinder, warmer, stronger.  In a word, the hard things have gentled them. 

The word gentle and its various forms – gentleness, gentled, gentling – has been the word that has become my guide, the word I keep holding on to and returning to, the word I wrote on a small stone and sat on the windowsill above my kitchen sink so that not a day would go by without me remembering. 

This Sunday, September 9, 2018, will mark our son’s third year anniversary of his diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D).  If I had to title these last three years, I would call them “The Great Gentling.” At one point on this journey, as Jude and I were driving in the car, I said, “We need to let this experience gentle us and not embitter us.”

What does it look like to let the hard things gentle us?

I think to be gentled means that we don’t let the hard things make us an angry person, but a kinder person.  It means accepting with grace that there are some things that we can’t change, like having T1D, but that we can control our attitude about it. 

To be gentled means to have a growing empathy for others who are hurting and struggling with their own challenges.  

To be gentled means that we educate with patience. We explain, for instance, that nothing Jude ate or didn't eat caused Jude’s T1D.  Doctors aren’t sure what “flips the switch” to turn on T1D, but they do know it is a hereditary auto-immune disease.  Jude’s pancreas simply doesn’t work like it used to. 

To be gentled means we meet people’s curiosity as an opportunity to share.  Like that thing you see stuck to his arm… that’s his constant glucose monitor.  It lets us all know every five minutes if his blood sugar is in range or is too high or too low.

To be gentled means we know that it is our choice what we want to share and what we want to keep private and we learn to live in those boundaries we make for ourselves and don’t let others break into them.

To be gentled means that we don’t play the victim card, we don’t let our hard thing define us, but we define it. 

To be gentled means that we don’t let the hard thing take up more space and time then is necessary.  As Jude’s endocrinologist rightfully said, “T1D is relentless.”  There is really not an hour in the day that he and we as his parents can’t think about it, but our life isn’t T1D… our life is so, so, so much more.

To be gentled means that you let yourself cry when you need to cry.

To be gentled means that you let yourself swear when you need to swear.  It means that sometimes you need to wear the shirt that says f-diabetes because expressing anger in healthy ways is key.

To be gentled means that you don’t carry around the anxiety.  Is T1D sometimes scary?  Absolutely.  Life threatening?  Yes, too true.  But Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

To be gentled means that you take charge and responsibility for what you can do.  Jude does pretty much all of his own shots and insertions.  I do pretty much all of the pharmacy orders and pick-ups and paperwork and doctor appointments.  The big brother checks on him at high school.  The Delks Five unite to know emergency glucagon pens and what to do if things go south.

To be gentled means to accept help from the people who are truly helpful to you.  It means, for instance, in trusting in my soul friend who has had Jude stay nights at her house so that I could rest.

To be gentled means to forgive yourself when you forget to be gentle.  It means remembering again to live into that gentleness.

To be gentled means to live in gratitude, to find joy, to find the goodness even in the midst of the hard things. 

I truly give thanks for these last three years.  It has gotten easier for us.  We have learned the new normal.  In just this short span of time, the medical technology has advanced.  But most importantly, I think we have let this hard thing gentle us.  I sing within me the closing lines to the song “For Good:”

“I do believe (we) have been changed for the better… (We) have been changed… For good.”

For good, as in permanently, but for good, most importantly, in that we are better for what this journey has taught us.

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