Opening the Case
Letting go of past failures to embrace the Savior.
by Lynn Hare
He’s about to die — and it’s my fault. I hung up the phone and shut my eyes. My face burned and jaw clenched hard against the impact of the news. A sick panic surged in my stomach while a mallet pounded against the bass drum in my chest. That only urged the crescendo higher.
At my home in California, I winced, shifting my cast-bound foot on the small bed in the middle of the living room where I lay. Across the room was a photo of my beaming baby. But today he wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t even conscious.
Ben lay in the ICU at the San Jose Medical Center in an induced coma, seizures wracking his body. The image of the accident two weeks ago thrust a furious finger in my face.
If I leave that rattle in his hand, the noise will wake him up, I told myself. With the best of intentions, I reached across the infant seat of the baby sleeping beside me in the car — my son. I wrestled the rattle from his tiny fist.
My eyes snapped back to the road as I felt the wheels hit the curb. A metal light pole came hurtling toward us. Bam! Metal struck angry metal as our compact car wrapped around the pole, leveling it.
Ben’s explosive cry pierced the July morning, but I couldn’t move to help him. My right foot was trapped, crushed in the floorboards of the car.
Rescue and surgery
As one passing motorist pulled over and called for an ambulance, another prayed with me that Ben would be OK.
But the right side of Ben’s head quickly swelled like a watermelon. Soon paramedics arrived to extract us from the wreckage and rushed us to the medical center. Ben was immediately swept into surgery to relieve the building pressure of fluid on his head.
Meanwhile, I had surgery to repair a badly fractured foot and was treated for chest, neck, and back injuries. The next afternoon, Ben’s doctor stopped by my hospital room.
Heels on hard tiles telegraphed his arrival down the corridor. The steps hesitated, then turned into the room.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hare,” the surgeon said. “I’m afraid I have some bad news. Your son has sustained a fractured skull and brain damage.”
I squeezed Tim’s hand. “How bad is it?”
Frowning, he glanced at his clipboard. “Damage to twenty-five, maybe thirty-three percent of the right brain.”
I drew in a sharp breath.“Is he going to be OK?”
“We’ll do more tests to determine the next step. His left arm, leg, and eye are not functioning.”
The color drained from Tim’s face. After the doctor left, we prayed briefly and Tim went to visit Ben in ICU.
Two weeks later, I was released from the hospital but was disheartened to hear that Ben was far from ready to join me. I’d have to get updates from home.
Five days later, I got the call.
“Your son’s battling high fevers and seizures,” the doctor said. “We need to check for meningitis and operate immediately.”
I hung up, the mallet pounding a thunderous pulse in my chest. There was no denying it. It was time to look past my own injuries and consider the incredible ordeal I’d put my baby through. Now he might die.
Prayer and power
During the four intense hours of neurosurgery to repair the lining of Ben’s brain, friends, family, and I prayed in unison for a miracle.
Amid those prayers, God’s power was released. Over several days, Ben’s temperature and seizures dropped off. The swelling came down. His eye, arm, and leg returned to normal. The thirty-two staples anchoring the incision on the side of his head were removed.
But as we thanked God for His goodness, the scene of the accident played over and again in my mind. What mother could bring such senseless pain to her baby?
Not long after the surgery, Ben’s improvements earned him a release to come home. His appetite grew, and he began to crawl. He became stronger by the week.
And so did I. Six weeks after graduating from a wheelchair to a walker, I hobbled about on crutches. Soon I used a cane to get around. Llife returned to normal.
The carousel of seasons spun past one year after another. As Ben hit each milestone — first step, first tooth, first animal cracker — I enjoyed watching him grow. Before I knew it, five-year-old Ben was getting ready for school. As he climbed into a chair at the children’s hair salon,I thought, Another trim, another chance for the whole world to see the huge scar on his head.
The hairdresser held up her scissors, “How do you like the cut?” The incision arching over his right ear was plain as day. I swallowed hard.
“That will be fine,” I mumbled. Taking Ben by the hand, I beat a hasty retreat to the car.
As he grew, Ben took a liking to flat caps. They not only looked good on him but also covered up his scars. But then, no one could see mine, either. How will I ever be able to forgive myself for the accident?
It seemed that wherever I went, I packed a suitcase with an enemy inside that only I could see. An insidious guilt trapped and choked me, at times clamoring away. I shoved it back into the suitcase, slamming the lid shut.
How can I drown it out? I found dozens of things to do. Volunteering at church. Leading Bible studies. Taking my kids on excursions. Buying Ben small gifts. And it worked for a while.
I’ll never lose my temper with Ben, I vowed. We’ve been given a second chance.
But there were muddy footprints on the rug, dried chunks of Play-Doh on the couch, and toys left about in unlikely corners of the house. Sometimes I found myself roaring at Ben for torn pages in books and stalling to stay up past his bedtime.
What happened to the perfect mother-son deal we had going? The suitcase popped open, and my enemy leered in my face. I slammed it closed. Bang! went the latches. Slam! went Ben’s bedroom door as I yanked it shut.
Often Ben struggled with debilitating headaches. Guilt leaned over, hissing, “Sssee what you’ve done? Irreversible. Unforgivable. I shoved the unwelcome feelings into a corner of the case, but some of it hung out through the cracks like edges of a sleeve.
For twenty-two years, I wrestled to stuff those emotions back inside and to keep them hidden. No one could see. No one would understand.
I sought pastoral counseling for other matters, and in the course of processing past traumas, the car accident came up. I talked around it, over it, and beneath it.
But the counselor drew me out. “What’s going on?”
“Tim’s been patient with me.” I paused. “I even think Ben loves and forgives me.”
“Is God angry with you?”
“No,” I whispered hoarsely, twisting a sleeve. “It was a bad call. I blew it, that’s all.”
“So how does He see it?”
“I’ve been reminded of the awful mistake over and over, but God accepts me. Doesn’t matter what I’ve done.”
“You’ve got it. So who have you been up against all these years?”
Release and forgiveness
Sobbing, I confessed my secret battle with the cruel adversary. One enemy, many names: self-accusation . . . self-condemnation . . . self-rejection.
“Let it go,” she urged softly. “It’s time.”
Indeed, it was — time to quit tearing myself apart and open up my brokenness to Jesus Christ. It wasn’t a task I could take on myself, but God could do it.
Shame could not hold the case shut this time. A wall of emotions came roaring out and blew the lid clear off its hinges. But instead of overpowering me, they washed past and drained away. Amazed, I watched them go.
And shame was gone, too — this time for good. Forgiven! I was free.
A year later, Ben stood in a tuxedo beneath an arbor of burgundy and white roses. A bride with a matching bouquet approached down the aisle. Tim and I sat in the front row, approving vows to love and cherish, for better or for worse.
I held Tim’s hand as tears came. I knew everything was going to be all right. Ben had found healing and a new companion.
And so had I: the forgiveness of God and newfound self-acceptance. Would there be times I’d blow it again? Of course. But God would be in those moments.
And I was ready for that, because I was ready for me — inadequate, failing, hurtful. Forgiveness precedes every mess I can and will make. In the future awaits a Savior who understands. And beside Him, a newfound ally with a heart to forgive herself even the greatest harm.