“I felt helpless. Nothing this bad happens to our family. We expected everything to continually get better, but it didn’t. As a father, I wanted to grab my daughter and run away from it all. But I couldn’t do that.”
Jackie Elizalde was only 6 years old. It began as a stomach virus- nothing out of the ordinary for her age; but when the symptoms grew worse, David and Bekah became concerned. Jackie was continually falling down, throwing up, and couldn’t see straight. In a single day, their family went from the pediatrician’s office, to the emergency room, and finally the ICU. They knew something was very wrong when their pediatrician paid them a visit at 10:30 at night. He explained that a scan revealed a large mass in the back of Jackie’s brain that overtook half of her cerebellum, the area that controls speech and movement. The virus had traveled from her stomach to her brain. Bekah recalls, “I was so confused, I didn’t feel like I could wrap my head around what was happening. I was in denial. I kept thinking: ‘We’re going to be out soon,’ but it didn’t end.” By now, Jackie’s condition had caused hydrocephalus (swelling of the head). She was immobile and unable to communicate. David and Bekah were told the virus would have to run it’s course, and there would be no way determine if the brain damage was permanent until the virus had passed. What started as a routine doctor visit turned into a long and uncertain path to recovery.
In the months following, David and Bekah would experience some of the hardest and sweetest moments of their lives. They had always made it a priority to invest in the community around them- on the soccer field, in their neighborhood, and at Doxology. “Our hope was that we could build authentic relationships; for our neighbors to know Christ. Community existed before tragedy happened, and all of a sudden we had the opportunity to share the hope of Christ with those around us in a very real and authentic way” David says. He recalls community group members bringing food to the hospital, friends watching after their other 3 children, and neighbors who had never attended church volunteering to take morning shifts at the hospital so David and Bekah could go to a Sunday morning service. God was opening doors left and right. David says “You can’t love someone and force Christ into their lives. We’d been waiting for the moment when we could transition our conversations to spiritual topics. I just didn’t realize the tragedy of my daughter would be a catalyst for that. In the midst of all the hurt, I could see the fruit of what God was doing. We were able to speak boldly and honestly about the hope we have in Christ in the middle of pain and sorrow- and people listened. These people lived through tragedy with us, so they are more likely to discuss differences of opinion, without breaking our friendship. The moment of pain created a greater conversation.”
The road to recovery lasted nearly 3 months. Yet even in the midst of frustration, they were at peace. Bekah knew that the Lord could take her daughter at any moment. She says: “Jackie is going to die. It may not be today, but it will happen someday. I know that her greatest need is salvation, and that need has been met, and that gave me assurance.” Over the many weeks in the hospital, David came to savor the time with Jackie. “Rarely do you ever get the chance to spend 3 months with your daughter. I learned how to tie a pony tail and I shared moments of laughter with her that I’ll never forget. Our relationship grew closer and more intimate. These are opportunities most dads will never get.” The song “Oceans” by Hillsong became a reminder of God’s faithfulness to Bekah. The song reads: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior.” Bekah says: “God was taking me to the places I didn’t want to go. No one wants that. But your faith IS made stronger. God will take you down difficult paths so that He can show you who He is, and in ways you wouldn’t have known otherwise. I was taken to place where I had no control, and I had no choice but to hang onto Christ.”
Nearly two and half years have passed and Jackie is happy, energetic, excelling in school, and cleared to play sports. In many ways, things look a lot like they did before that day. The Elizaldes continue to worship at Doxology, they’re still involved in community, love where they live, and play soccer with their neighbors. But in many ways, the old normal has new significance.