Below are a selection of the quilts featured in Julie's book Bearing Witness: Quilts and Stories Honoring Life in a Children's Hospital. The quilts and stories are available for exhibit. There are fourteen quilts and stories in all.
“Boomer, the chaplain is here. Come out from under the covers!” his mom instructs. I smile and look down at the squirming mound hidden beneath the Veggie Tales blanket. Giggles erupt as Boomer peeks out revealing his tufted hair and big eyes. He submerges, covers his head, and then peeks out again. “Boomer, don’t be rude,” his mom commands. “Come out now!”
Boomer emerges giggling and immediately begins playing with the switches on the electric hospital bed, moving it up and down. I can’t help but laugh even though I can see that this behavior irritates his mom. She asks Boomer if he knows what a chaplain is. He mumbles no, looks disinterested, pulls out his iPad and begins playing computer games. Over the drone of the video game noises, I tell Boomer how good it is good to meet him. Mom says that he has an infection and has been running a high fever the past couple of days. I’m delighted to see that he is feeling more like a typical nine-year-old with lots of energy and mischievous behavior.
Boomer’s mom invites me to sit down and begins to ask questions about my denomination— are Quakers Christian? How do we worship? Are we similar to the Mennonites or Amish? What do we believe? I sense her seriousness and wonder what’s behind it. I also want to address each question, but they are coming rapid-fire and I’m not given time to respond. Suddenly, she looks me square in the eye and reveals that she’s been in the military a long time. She’s known a lot of chaplains and wants to know more about me before we petition God with prayers on behalf of her son. Ah, I now have a glimpse into why she is questioning me with such fervor. She wants to know if I’m safe. I take a breath, smile gently, and begin to tell her about my faith. She breathes more easily and tells me about her relationship with God.
A technician arrives to wheel Boomer to the x-ray room. Mom asks the technician to please wait a minute, and asks Boomer if he would like to pray with me. I sense it is mom who desires the prayer, but she encourages him to pray for quick healing so that he can go home sooner. Boomer nods yes. I ask him what he would like to pray for. He would like pray for his pain to stop… and, looking directly at me, for an X-Box. We both grin from ear-to-ear. The four of us—Boomer, mom, the technician, and I—join hands, bow our heads, and lift up our prayers. I silently hope that the X-Box arrives soon.
On a pre-dawn winter morning, I enter the hospital chapel to center myself, meditate, and lift up prayers before starting rounds for the day. In the gentle glow of the chapel’s low lighting, I see an older woman sitting in a chair quietly weeping with her hands clasped over her heart. I sit next to her in the otherwise empty room, silently breathing a Tonglen practice—inhaling her pain and suffering, exhaling relief and peace. She takes my hand and together we sit as the sunlight begins to fill the room.
Her name is Rachel. I learn that she and her husband have adopted several special-needs children of various ages. They felt a calling to adopt after their own child was grown and off to college. Nine months ago, they adopted another child who had been abandoned by her methaddicted birth mother. Tabatha, or Tabby, was admitted to the hospital once again last night and Rachel is exhausted. Still, her face brightens as she tells me about Tabby and invites me to meet her. We leave the chapel and head upstairs to Tabby’s hospital room.
Tabby is a miracle baby like so many children who live through seemingly impossible illnesses. She was not expected to survive more than a few days, and here she is almost two years old, grinning from ear to ear. Tabby is as cute as can be. Visually, only her constant and unsynchronized eye movements, like marbles rolling every which way, reveal her challenges. Mom hands Tabby to me to hold and I drink in her preciousness. She tells me that Tabby swims between this world and the next, and she is thankful to have been given such a gift. Mom is grateful for every day she has with Tabby.
I am in awe of this woman—her commitment and strength and love in the midst of her deep, penetrating exhaustion. I ask her what moved her to adopt these children, how she finds strength to keep going, and where she learned such love and compassion. She responds with one word—faith. We sit in silence together, letting “faith” sink into our bones. As I pass Tabby back to her, I know that my life has been transformed.
Charlie is five days old, a plump baby boy who mostly sleeps. This morning at 6:30 am, Charlie and his family are in the pre-op Day Surgery unit. Dressed in blue and yellow jammies, he is peacefully sleeping in his mother’s arms. Charlie’s dad and big brother (four years old) are watching TV. I sense it is a distraction to help them cope with the uncertainty this day will bring. Charlie was born with an illness that compromises his heart. In an hour or so, Charlie will receive the first of a series of complicated surgical procedures to address his condition.
The family asks for prayer before the surgery. We petition God to guide the hands of the surgeon and nurses, to heal Charlie’s heart, and to give them the courage and strength to manage this unexpected crisis. I learn that Charlie’s family lives four hours away, that dad will lose his hourly-paid construction job if he misses work, and that mom has no one in this area to call on for support. They wear the weariness of these added stresses visibly on their faces. Even big brother is exhausted from the early morning drive.
Unfortunately, Charlie continued to decline. Since his family was only able to visit on Sundays, his nurses stepped in to give Charlie essential love and support. Each day when I visited Charlie with prayer and spiritual presence, I would find his nurse by his bedside tending to him lovingly. The dedication, energy, and skill of these nurses touched me deeply. I had observed their sophisticated medical expertise, but now I also witnessed their tenderness and affection for Charlie.
At 22 days, Charlie drew his last breath. The nurses and I circle around his tiny medical bed holding hands, shedding tears, and loving him into his next journey. I am grateful for the presence of such love in his short life.
Annabelle is a beautiful, tiny three-month-old infant, with fuzzy blond hair, a crooked smile, and gentle snores. Her peaceful smile and sleepy eyes melt my heart the first time we meet. Alone in her crib without any family present, Annabelle lies quietly, barely aware of the medical devices surrounding her. My heart reaches out to her as I hold her tiny hand, sing to her, and remind Annabelle how much she is loved. I offer this reassurance to Annabelle every day, and encourage her to heal and grow stronger.
After a week or so, I finally meet Annabelle’s mom, a young woman who is struggling to learn how to bond with Annabelle. She is reluctant to hold or feed Annabelle or even sit near her, and seems incapable of connecting. When I am present, mom is often trying to reach Annabelle’s father, who cannot visit because of previous episodes of domestic violence. I wonder if her identity and self-worth are wrapped up in his approval of her since she fears being without him. I feel compassion for mom and sadness for how this may affect her relationship with Annabelle.
Fortunately, the next week, I meet Annabelle’s aunts, one by one. These beautiful women recognized mom’s inability to care for Annabelle at this crucial time. They take turns sitting with and loving Annabelle 24-hours a day. Each shares with me that Annabelle is a precious gift for the entire family and that they have all fallen in love with her. They look forward to loving and caring for Annabelle throughout her life. I am relieved and trust that this love extends to mom, too.
I am forever shaped by the determination of these collective women, the love they showered upon Annabelle, and their willingness to step in while Annabelle’s mom struggles through her own issues. My prayer is that Annabelle will continue to thrive in the midst of this love.