Sunday, February 16, 2014
How Caleb's Incontinence Taught Me Servanthood
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45
Many, many years ago, when Caleb was still very young, I witnessed an amazing exchange between a caregiver and their adult child. I was in the restroom at a shopping plaza, when I overheard a conversation in the stall next to me. The parent was cleaning up the adult child who had soiled himself. The parent spoke with such grace and kindness that I was struck with the thought that I was truly witnessing the love of God being played out right before my eyes. I felt it was a beautiful picture of the servant-hood that Christ has called us to exemplify. I was touched and moved by the experience but never imagined that I would one day be asked to become that servant…
From the time Caleb was an infant, he has experienced complications with his bowel movements. By the time he was one, he had already undergone surgery to correct portions of his colon that weren't working properly. Therefore, we weren't surprised when potty training needed to be delayed by a couple of years.
But as Caleb neared school age, we really buckled down to get him out of his pull-ups before school began. Although we had some success, he continued to have many accidents a day. We ended up sending him to school in a pull-up, but continued to work towards continence at home. As the years progressed, Caleb became completely continent of urine but would still have occasional accidents of stool. By the time he was in middle school, though, we felt confident enough in his ability to make it through the day without accidents and started sending him to school in "big boy" underpants. The teachers were tolerant of Caleb's accidents because the nurse that accompanied him to school would always clean him up. But as middle school ended and we entered into high school, the new school was much less tolerant of the contamination that would occur if Caleb had an accident. The accidents became a big deal to school safety. Any time that Caleb was incontinent, the janitor would need to be called and the chair that he was sitting on and the floor at his feet would need to be cleaned and sterilized. The cleaning solution that was used was so strong that the whole class would need to evacuate the room. Therefore, we soon received a call from the school stating that until Caleb was wearing a pull up, he would not be allowed to return to school. I was angry. I didn't want my high school son wearing a pull up to school, and I also had the fear that if we put Caleb in a pull up, he would regress and just start using the pull up rather than the bathroom. Initially, I planned to fight this injustice, but as I realized the way his accidents were affecting the other kids in his class, I relented. I have sent him to school in a pull up ever since. Not only was the school having more difficulties with Caleb's accidents, but that summer we also experienced problems of our own.
The summer between Caleb's freshman and sophomore year was an especially difficult time for us. Caleb was frequently getting into the cupboards and the refrigerator and eating foods that he shouldn't have been eating. This led to very frequent bowel movements. Because we were at home, Caleb would go down to the bathroom and shower in order to get cleaned up, oftentimes showering 6-8 times a day. Because Caleb was taking so many showers, he started to fool around in the shower and began putting things down the drain. One day, I went in the bathroom to find the floor completely flooded. Caleb had put an entire roll of toilet paper into the drain. There was no way to remove the toilet paper, and so showers were off limit until further notice. This was supposed to be a punishment for Caleb, but it became more of one for Bob and me. I now needed to go down and clean Caleb up after every accident. It is one thing to clean up a 2 year old, and a little more difficult a 5 year old, but by the time Caleb was 15, I was not happy having to do it. After one especially trying day, Caleb alarmed that night and Bob went down only to find Caleb needing to be cleaned up again. Because the shower was out of order and Caleb was such a mess, Bob had Caleb come upstairs to our bathroom. The only problem was that anything Caleb touched was now covered in poop. The poop was also dripping down Caleb's leg and therefore was also all over the carpet. By the time we got Caleb cleaned, the bedding changed and the carpet scrubbed, I knew something had to change.
The next day I called the doctors and requested an appointment. We were seen originally by a GI but then referred to a surgeon. Because all testing came back normal, no one could tell us why Caleb was still having so many problems. The doctor shared several options with us, but we decided to go with a procedure that would insert a port into Caleb's intestines. We would use the port to flush Caleb every evening. The goal was to have Caleb "cleaned out" until the next flush the following evening. We were so hopeful that this would fix everything. But, to our dismay, the procedure caused more complications and did not eliminate the accidents. Therefore, 6 months later we had the port removed and were back to where we had started.
This past summer, when Caleb was once again home from school and I was in charge of cleaning him, it struck me how often I was lecturing him about his accidents. The lectures weren't a new thing; I had been giving them for many years. They would often sound like this. "Caleb, you are (5, 7, 10, 13, 17 years old). You need to start using the toilet. If you want to come with us to - the movies, the mall, the amusement park, you need to stop pooping in your pants." But at that moment, when the realization hit that I was doing it again, I remembered back to the example I had witnessed in the bathroom many years before. I realized that nowhere in my lecturing was I acting with a servant’s heart. The lectures were about me. I didn't want to clean up the mess, I didn't want to leave whatever activity we were engaged in and help Caleb, I didn't want to accept this part of who Caleb is. At that moment I realized (or perhaps accepted) that my son is a 17 year old young man who is incontinent. He does not just occasionally have accidents, he is truly incontinent. As this realization settled on me, a new freedom began to seep in. I no longer needed to fix this problem or my child. I no longer needed to be surprised or disappointed each time Caleb had another accident. And I could stop giving lectures because they weren't changing the situation. A new way of living was possible.
Perhaps it has taken me 17 years to allow my heart to be broken and changed so that I am now able to willingly become the servant that Christ has called me to be. And who knows, the next time I am in the bathroom helping Caleb get cleaned up, perhaps in the stall next to me will be a mom who will be touched by Christ living through me as I show the love and grace to my child that He has worked out in me.