The first time I read the last few pages of this book I cried. Then, when I picked up the book six months later to read it to my children I cried after reading the first page.
My kids looked at me in disbelief. They couldn’t understand why I had gotten teary-eyed after reading a few pages of a book. But, unlike them, I knew how the ending and the deceivingly happy beginning to the story only added to my sorrow. This extraordinary and inspiring book, “A Grace Given” by Kent Gilges, is the only book that has ever made me weep.
“A Grace Given was” originally recommended to me by a friend who told me, while sharing a drink at a bar, that his friend had recently written an inspirational book about the death of his oldest daughter, Ellie. I always take note of book recommendations that come from close associates as I perceive them to be vehicles by which God and the Universe converse with us.
Kent Gilges and his wife had the idyllic courtship and marriage. Predictably, they thought their luck would continue when they started their family, but after having their first child unanticipated struggles began. Lifesaving surgery on their firstborn infant daughter, Ellie, caused brain damage from which she would never recover. Ellie would cry incessantly and it was soon discovered that she had many more problems than first diagnosed. Given the amount of defects Ellie was born with, and the consequences of resulting surgery, she was going to require many operations and round-the-clock care. And so, with limited financial resources, the Gilges’ journey began on how to take care of their beloved little girl in the hopes of saving her life.
Kent’s love for Ellie brought him down a path he never expected to travel. That path stretched out towards faith in God. In a poignant moment detailed in the book, just before the crisis with Ellie began, Kent had asked Jesus for a sign that He was real. Paradoxically, Kent believes that Ellie’s suffering, and ultimate death, was His answer.
This little child, who would never speak, walk or smile would mobilize hundreds of people for her care and show what God’s Grace is really about. Grace as defined by Websters dictionary as:
a : unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.
b : a virtue coming from God.
c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace.
Extended hospital stays were required. The financial burden fell on Kent to mange the enormous bills that were piling up. Circumstances required that Kent need a very flexible work schedule. Though strained by this tragedy, the family was none-the-less were able to manage and meet all the care their infant required as well as meet all of their other financial obligations.
Kent also discuses at length the myriad medical decisions that had to be made, the anguish these decisions caused due to their resulting ramifications, and the seemingly intolerable pain these decisions caused Ellie. With brutal honesty and heartfelt sharing, Kent’s Gilges’ suffering bleeds through the pages and one experiences the anguish he and his family felt.
Looking back Gilges writes “Ellie is the greatest gift we as a family could have received. She made–and still makes– our lives far richer, more contemplative, and full of joy than they ever would have been without her. She was a beloved and essential part of our family and would have been as long as she was with us. Ellie has given us an awareness of suffering’s noble beauty.”
Given the physical world that we live in whereby people are judged by their looks, status and money… it was one little girl with enormous physical defects that brought to this family a sense of hope and community. In the end, her life stood as a testament and reaffirmed to everyone involved what is truly important in our lives: Family, Friends and Faith.
The story is emotionally wrenching but, surprisingly, will leave you with renewed hope and faith. The ending is anticipated. Ellie will pass away. But Kent and his family attribute the many miracles that have occurred in their lives since Ellie’s passing to the gift of Grace that brought meaning to her suffering… and theirs as well.
I have never fully understood Grace and until this moment, as I write this post, I struggle with the concept. But Kent Gilges and his family lived through an experience they never could have endured alone. It was through Grace that they were able to make it though. As he so poignantly surmises, “We had hundreds of people trying to save our daughters life but in the end it was she who saved us.”