He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
John 15:2 NIV
Pruning means cutting; an act of abrasive pain and change in order to keep healthy fruit alive on a tree. Have you ever felt like your life was a tree getting snipped and snapped at? Let me tell you about a dear friend, Meekah, who has endured tragedy after hardship after tragedy these last few years. Despite the major pruning that has happened in her life, she endured and now thanks God for the pain she went through because of the closeness she now has with Christ.
After intently listening to Meekah’s story in preparation for this series, I was left completely speechless - More speechless than I have ever been in my life. In fact, it’s taken a month of praying and waiting for the words to come. So, as you read her story, I urge you to take in the depth of her hardships and then step back in awe at God’s wondrous work.
It all started in January 2018, during the training period leading up to Ian’s, Meekah’s husbands, deployment to the Middle East. When Ian left for training, Meekah thought of this month as a preparatory period to figure out how to do life on her own with her three girls before the deployment actually begun.
One ordinary day, Meekah paused in the car to cherish a moment of peace while the girls slept in the backseat. Eventually, she carried the girls in one by one, saving Mary Kate for last. Meekah paused in the doorway with Mary Kate draped over her arms and felt this nudge to lay Mary Kate on the couch instead of taking her to her bedroom with the other girls. Meekah was doing the laundry when Mary Kate’s snoring suddenly stopped and silence filled the living room. Meekah rushed in to find Mary Kate purple in the face. She immediately called 911 and started CPR. Compression after compression, she kept going until EMS arrived and saved Mary Kate’s life. After an emergency tonsillectomy, Meekah breathed a sigh of relief; all is well. Or so she thought.
Weeks after Mary Kate’s episode, Ian came back. It was a long month; the reality of raising three under three alone hit Meekah like a brick wall. Meekah was losing weight, barely sleeping, and carrying the burden alone. Though her body was struggling, her ego kept telling her that she could continue doing everything perfectly with no help. She had nine months to go after all - she had to find the strength somewhere.
Ian left for war in March. It was a painful goodbye. Meekah was already weary from Ian being gone earlier that year; between Ranger School and deployment training, he had been gone 7.5 out of 9 months of the year. But what choice did she have? Instead, she continued to face the upcoming year relying on her own strength to get her through. With time, Meekah and the kids got in a good routine and things were going well; she felt in control. Daily, she would repeat her mantra “I got this,” as she tried to do everything and keep everything the same for the kids even though Daddy was gone. She had a calendar for the coming months with activities planned and events to keep time moving. A few weeks in, realization hit that she was doing too much, barely sleeping, and carrying this false sense of control around with her.
“I’m not meant to fill Ian’s shoes,” Meekah realized, “and I’m never going to.”
This was the beginning of a major realization: I alone am not enough - God will have to fill in the gaps.
With this new mindset, Meekah began simplifying. Over the next two weeks, she found a “new normal” until Mary Kate got sick - like, really sick. Mary Kate suffered through a high fever, reaching 106-degrees at its peak, for a week! Urgent care said it was viral. The ER ran a gamut of tests that showed low platelets and very high inflammation. But no one was quite sure what was wrong. The doctors pondered the possibility of it being an immediately life-threatening condition, but they didn’t know for sure so they sent her home.
This continued for two weeks. Although Mary Kate was very ill, there was no specific diagnosis. Since they weren’t sure if there was an imminent risk to life, Ian’s unit wouldn’t send him home. At this point, there was no energy left to fight for Mary Kate’s life and fight the Army at the same time.
Fear and helplessness engulfed the family. There was nothing Meekah could do to help her little girl but trust and wait.
This was the beginning of a new mantra: “Why God? Why me? Why now?”
Mary Kate’s fever finally broke but came back the same night. Meekah took her to the hospital again, but they didn’t want to admit her for fear of exposing her to more germs. After being in and out of the hospital countless times, the physician gave Meekah his personal cell number because of their situation.
Meekah was consumed with taking care of Mary Kate, her other two kids were being bounced around from friend’s house to friend’s house. They began to fall apart.
Again, Meekah knew she couldn’t fix their situation. Control was the last thing on her mind now. She prayed and prayed, “Give me the strength Lord and be there for them because I can’t.”
She felt like she couldn’t share the burden with Ian because he was dealing with his own issues in combat; this just wasn’t the time for her to share her burdens with him. Really, all she had was God. She had to learn what that really meant.
One day, Meekah and the girls were sitting in the Starbucks drive through when the doctor called. “You need to come back to the hospital right now. All I can tell you is that Mary Kate’s lab work shows that if she regresses this fast, she could die any minute now. We need to fly her to Atlanta immediately.”
Meekah rushed to the hospital to deliver her daughter. As they life flighted her to Atlanta, Meekah was left behind to find care for her other daughters. After getting them situated, she made the long drive to Atlanta alone wondering whether her daughter would be alive when she arrived. She fervently prayed and gripped the steering wheel as she rushed to be by her daughter’s side.
Shortly after Meekah arrived, they told her Mary Kate had Macrophage Activation Syndrome - a disorder where you have so much inflammation in your body that your body starts shutting down and attacking itself. They had to sedate her to turn off her immune system while they put her on a heavy dose of steroids and medications.
For the first time in months, Meekah didn’t have anyone else to care for; Mary Kate was sedated in the ICU and the other girls were in the care of a friend. The hospital brought in the chaplain and they prayed as the hours passed on. The hospital staff asked if Ian could come home but he wouldn't have made it in time even if he had permission. All she could do was wait and pray as the hours drug on forever. In the middle of the night, Meekah bargained with God trying to make sense of it all and God spoke to her, “You can’t fix anything right now, all you can do is serve Mary Kate however you can in the moment.”
The next morning, bloodwork showed that the medicine was working. They woke Mary Kate up and that high-spirited little girl stood in her crib and the first thing out of her mouth was, “Get me out of here, I’m not an animal!”
More clearly than ever before, Meekah felt God and his direction for her life. He was calling her to serve and love her children - not to control their lives and make everything perfect. She couldn’t fix them, she could only love them.
Mary Kate continued outpatient chemo and steroid treatments for the next few months. The medicine made her behavior unbearable but Meekah took it in stride and just loved her daughter. Mary Kate improved but still showed signs of sickness, but the doctors believed it was the side effects from her medications. Meekah was careful with her but was overall hopeful and believed that everything would be ok.
Meekah and the girls went home to Oregon to have the much needed support of family. Mary Kate’s treatments continued at a local hospital where the doctors continued performing tests over the course of a few weeks. Through those tests they discovered they were treating the wrong illness. Mary Kate had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, a slow-developing disease that usually only occurs in elderly patients. Just as they received the news about Mary Kate’s new condition, there was a death in Ian’s unit.
Death was repeatedly knocking at Meekah and Ian’s door but by God’s grace and mercy, continued to graze over them. By the end of July, Mary Kate was cleared to leave the hospital in Oregon and Meekah and the girls finally headed back to Georgia.
Finally home with Mary Kate on the road to recovery, they reestablished a routine to include soccer, school, managing the house, and even trying new recipes. It was time to start focusing on the other two girls and eventually herself.
On Meekah’s birthday weekend, three weeks after returning from Oregon, she finally decided to go to the doctor after weeks of not feeling right. Her arm was hurting and swollen and it was starting to become hard to breathe. As the nurse was doing routine work, Meekah said, “Can we make this quick? I have a lot of things to do today!”
The answer was no. After sending her to the ER, they discovered she had blood clots in both lungs. Inexplicably, the medical staff said they couldn’t do anything for her so they discharged her. She drove herself to a nearby hospital where they immediately performed emergency surgery on her and removed as many blood clots as they safely could. Shortly after Meekah woke up, Ian was there; the army finally decided to send him home to tend to his family.
As Meekah began her own recovery, all the tests came back great, but something still wasn’t feeling right. She went back to the hospital to see what was wrong and she was sent home again.
4 days later, she had a stroke at home. Thankfully, Ian was home and called 911. This time it was Meekah that was being rushed to Atlanta for what would turn into months of rehab.
By God's grace alone, Meekah made a full recovery.
There are countless thoughts and lessons to unpack here but Meekah says it best:
“Part of being human is suffering - suffering is not something to be avoided. Truly living through it is where we find God. There is beauty in the suffering and the pain and in the face of loss because we’re never able to be close to God without it.”
When asked, “Have you ever asked yourself why God allowed you to go through all of this?” Her answer was remarkably simple, yet profound.
“It’s not so much as God allowing it but working through it all to help me find Him. Sanctification is found through suffering.”