"A lay Catholic perspective"

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Though the Fig Tree Blossom Not

by Mark Fetherston


ALTHOUGH FAITH ASSURES us that God does not withdraw his blessings during times of suffering or destitution, our feelings are bound to go up and down quite a bit. In addition, concern that others are taking a judgmental stance against us or using our misfortune as a subject of gossip can make us feel even worse.

There is a beautiful passage in the book of Habakkuk that offers practical guidelines for facing adversity with faith. The prophet's trust and love for God resound through his words:

For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment;
Though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet will I rejoice in the Lord
and exult in my saving God.
God, my Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet swift as those of hinds
and enables me to go upon the heights.
(Habakkuk 3:17-19)

I was sitting in my office at home one beautiful day last September. Having had surgery less than a week before, I was grateful to have a business I could work with a combination of a computer and a telephone. Another week or so and the stitches in my trunk should be dissolved and I could get back to normal.

David, a young friend of ours, came in. "Elaine wants you in the backyard," he said.

I replied, "Sure, tell her I'll be out in a couple of minutes."

"Uh. Mark, she says she thinks she has a broken arm."

I looked up from my work and saw the tight expression of worry and concern on David's face.

Racing past him, I ran to the backyard to find Elaine lying on our cement driveway, holding her right arm. Due to extremely low iron in her blood, Elaine's thinking had been confused lately. Seeing a ladder set up by roofers who were installing new shingles, Elaine had climbed up onto the roof thinking she would trim back some tree branches, lost her balance and toppled down. She missed impaling herself on a pole by perhaps a foot.

As I knelt by her side, I could see the fractured bone pushing against her skin. She said, "Hi. I think I should probably go to the hospital."

O Jesus, look at poor Elaine! Her body is all broken up. Thank you that she missed that pole! Thank you that David was here. What was she doing up on the roof anyway? Show me what to do and give me the strength I need to get her up without hurting her too much or tearing my stitches.

I carefully eased Elaine into the car, discovering, in the process, several more injuries than either of us had originally thought. Elaine was concerned that she was bleeding internally. As we drove along, I used my cell-phone to call the doctor's office to find out which hospital to take her to. Of course, when I finally got through, it turned out I was headed to the wrong hospital. A quick U-turn, and off we went to Seven Oaks Hospital. I fought the temptation to drive like a maniac, reasoning that ambulance drivers probably have special driver's training to go along with their lights and sirens. I do admit, however, I am just as glad that I didn't go through radar on that trip.

Wow, God! Elaine could have been paralyzed! Thank you Guardian Angel. Please God, I don't want to lose her. I'll do everything I can, but Jesus, I trust her into your hands. Whatever is going to happen from here on in, I beg you, hold us close to you. Elaine is such a precious gift. Surround her with your healing love. Comfort her and protect her. Jesus have mercy on us.

When we arrived at Emergency, Christine pulled up right behind us. I was disoriented and not sure how to get Elaine out of the car and into the hospital, so Christine went in and got a nurse who helped us figure out: a) that a wheelchair would be good enough and, b) how to get Elaine into it without hurting her worse.

The intern couldn't set Elaine's arm because one of the fractures was so severe there was a danger of her bone severing a nerve. All he could do was set it approximately to where he thought it should go. Also, her elbow was broken into five pieces, a rib was snapped in two and she had torn some ligaments in her hips that made it impossible for her to walk. He did not think she was bleeding internally, but it would take a couple of days to be secure about that. Elaine's main concern was that they set her arm — she didn't want any painkillers. Although she was very calm and focused throughout, I think she must have been in shock quite badly.

I spent most of the next 36 hours at the hospital, sitting with Elaine. She sat propped up in bed with the raw ends of her bone rubbing against each other as we waited for an operating theatre to become available so that Dr. Baria could do surgery to repair her arm.

Sitting beside her bed, I was surprised by a deep sense of peace and a conviction of the Father's loving presence. I started to pray; not prayers of anguish or confusion, but prayers of gratitude for the richness of Jesus' blessing to me in Elaine. Ever since we first met, she has always been a part of my new life in Christ.

In the opening days of 1972, a young alcoholic wandered into Saint Paul's Cathedral in Saskatoon. Overwhelmed by Jesus' love and mercy, I collapsed onto the floor, delivered from my compulsion to drink and consumed by a new thirst — a thirst for God's mercy and peace. Elaine happened to be in the church praying, and we met when she came over to see if I was okay. We were married on that spot, two-and-one-half years later.

Elaine was so much a part of my coming to love the Catholic Church. She spent hours and hours helping me work through difficulties I had with faith. I don't think I have ever met anyone with more courage. She was going to need that courage in the pain-filled days and months of healing ahead.

When Elaine went into surgery, our daughter, Nicole noticed that I hadn't eaten since the accident so she took me to Sorrento's for a salad. There we prayed together for Jesus to guide the surgeon's hand and to stay very close to Elaine throughout the operation. We were comforted during our meal by a number of people who shared with us their experiences of Dr. Baria's competence.

In the 4 hours she was down in surgery, Dr. Baria put a steel rod inside her humerus bone, from her shoulder to her elbow. He said that when he started to repair Elaine's elbow he was surprised to see that, "The elbow has somehow set itself — perfectly. Far better than I could ever have done."

As I sat beside Elaine through this night I was so relieved that the first hurdle had been cleared. Although it was not yet clear why she could not walk and we didn't know if she would regain the use of her right hand and arm, at least the bones were set and healing could begin.

Once again, I could sense God powerfully present in the hospital ward, and started praying:  Jesus, how much you love us. You have made Elaine's and my life together one of indescribable blessing. How precious you are. You are the Author of Life and I worship you. Send your Holy Spirit to Elaine and surround her with your healing light. How beautiful it is, not to have to be afraid at a time like this. Our lives are in your hands. They have always been in your hands. Whatever you have in store for us, whether it is hardship or plenty, I know you will be there because you are completely reliable.

Over the next several days we waited to see the severity of the nerve damage and were thrilled as Elaine regained the ability to move her fingers.

On Thanksgiving, when she was finally able to walk a little with the aid of a crutch, Elaine was ready to come home. We set up the living room as a bedroom because she wasn't able to climb the stairs to our second floor bedroom. The first few weeks were long days and nights of taking care of physical needs and helping her gain back some of the strength and weight she had lost. Gradually, Elaine became stronger and was able to participate in normal daily activities.

Today, six months later, Elaine's bones have healed beautifully. She is walking normally and actively building up the strength and flexibility in her arm.

I am grateful for so many things Jesus. Thank you for protecting Elaine, even during the fall; for healing her through the intervention of the surgeon, the work of the physiotherapist, and the prayers of your people. Thank you for bringing good out of tragedy, for giving Elaine and me this time when I had opportunities to serve her in ways that I would normally never have had; for letting tenderness and love blossom between us in unexpected, delightful ways; for the loving interventions of so many of our friends and especially Nicole, who showed enduring love throughout this whole period in her dedication and sacrifice. And thank you most of all for you. Precious Jesus, you are so wonderful, there is no tragedy too awful for your love and no sin beyond your mercy.