Clearly there had been some mistake. Mark was thirty-four-years old and healthy. He had never even spent a night in the hospital. We had a two-year-old son. We had plans for a vacation and our careers and our family. How could he be having a heart attack and facing open-heart surgery?

Most of what I remember about those days is a blur: A flurry of activity, then waiting. A battalion of doctors, nurses, therapists, then waiting. Waiting for a test result. Waiting to talk to the surgeon. Waiting for the next visiting hour. Just waiting. Too many of us and those we serve in our churches know the chaos of that kind of waiting. There is the chaos of what is going on around you: monitors going off, tubes and cords everywhere, medical terms you can’t understand, finding your way through sterile, unfamiliar corridors, the rush of people who are strangers yet to whom you become inextricably connected. And then there is the chaos in your heart and head. How could this be happening? What needs to be taken care of at home? Should we have done something differently? Did I forget to tell them how much they mean to me? What if I’m not strong enough to handle this? What if the insurance doesn’t cover this? And the “what ifs” so unthinkable one dares not speak them. . . .

What I remember most vividly from those days eight years ago, however, are the moments of peace that broke through the chaos of waiting. There was the reassurance of the nurse, who took my hand and said, “We’re going to take care of him.” There was the comforting presence of Jody and Jerry, who came just to be our pastors. There was the thoughtfulness of people like Emily Henderson and Sharon Boistard who, within an hour of hearing the news, came to the church to pick up the materials for the next week’s VBS and sent word that they would “just take care of it.” There were the people who just showed up, as if they knew precisely the moment I needed someone, like my mother who picked Spencer up from daycare and took care of him for more than a week; like my uncle who drove from Greensboro to spend his birthday sitting with me so that I wouldn’t have to spend the day alone; like Dr. John Sinden, who, though he had never met us and wasn’t Mark’s cardiologist, checked on us daily because a mutual friend had told him we were there; like Louise and Allison Ramsey who, just weeks after his own bypass surgery, drove to Raleigh to offer reassurance the night before the surgery; like James Biggs, who called on the eve of his own mother’s funeral to see how Mark was doing and tell me how much he would miss me at the funeral; like the ladies of Circle 10, who made sure we didn’t have to cook a meal for weeks; and like countless others who sat and prayed and cried and waited through the chaos.

In ways they may never know, and in ways I am still discovering, they became the peace which passes all understanding, the peace of Christ in the midst of the chaos. Thanks be to God!

Elizabeth Edwards is a native of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and a graduate of Wake Forest University and Princeton Theological Seminary. She previously served as associate minister of Rosemary Baptist Church in Roanoke Rapids and as executive director of Christian Women’s Job Corps of North Carolina. Since February 2002, Elizabeth has been associate minister of Lakeside Baptist Church in Nashville, North Carolina. Elizabeth and her husband, Mark, who is an elder law attorney, have two sons, Spencer and Daniel. She enjoys playing flute, cooking, writing, and cheering on her Demon Deacons.