Have you ever experienced a miracle? I believe I have, and two days ago my wife and I brought him home from the hospital, praise God! After an ultrasound at 32 weeks revealed two serious issues in our unborn baby’s brain, which doctors were powerless to do anything about until he arrived, our world was in many ways turned upside down as a whole swathe of possible outcomes presented by neonatologists and neurosurgeons bounced around in our heads. You can read more about that stage of our journey here, as we sought to depend on God to get us through, but I’d be lying if I said the prognosis didn’t make the last few weeks of our pregnancy quite different to the unrestrained excitement we’d experienced with our first pregnancy.
Thursday the 7th of June 2018 (37 weeks and 5 days) was the day we were to meet our new baby via caesarean, which had been arranged due to the fact that the swelling in the brain was causing the head circumference to measure over the 99th percentile making natural birth dangerous as contractions would put too much pressure on the brain. At 3.19pm, a baby boy – a brother to our first son, Asher – entered our family, causing us to simultaneously give thanks to God while buckling up for one of the most intense weeks of our lives. The obstetricians and neonatologists had prepared us for the fact that the baby may need to be rushed to neonatal intensive care, would likely need help feeding and need to be fed via syringe, may have a visibly disproportionate head and could have a number of other complications, with the possibility of further symptoms developing down the track. There were between 15 and 20 people in the operating theatre… not exactly a reassuring sign, but they all played their role and we were relieved to hear the first cry as this little life entered the world outside the womb.
Having been prepared for panic stations (or some more restrained medical equivalent, but that’s what I pictured based on the information we’d been given), I was surprised at the apparent positivity of the anaesthetists, midwives and paediatricians after the baby was born. They checked him over, weighed him, wrote down his measurements and asked me to cut the cord… all standard post-birth happenings. We held our baby as the anaesthetists and midwives asked for our phones and took photos for us… which was kind of an unusual experience, and unexpected given the meetings we’d had leading up to the birth.
In recovery, we were really excited that our son was able to breastfeed straight away before being taken to the Special Care Unit (a step down from intensive care) for monitoring. My wife was taken up to the Postnatal ward to rest, still numb from the waist down, while I went back and forth between Special Care and Postnatal sort of unsure where I should be and when. I wanted to be with both my wife and son at the same time. The initial signs and conversations we’d had in the operating theatre were good, and some of the worst case scenarios we’d been briefed on started to seem a little bit distant from the reality we were experiencing. The baby’s oxygen saturation levels dropped while he was sleeping a few times in the first 24 hours, so they monitored him full-time during that first day post-birth, but we were delighted when on the evening of Friday the 8th of June he was able to leave Special Care and ‘room up’ with my wife in the Postnatal ward. As well as a safe delivery and positive news so far from the medical team, we were also thankful to God that the head circumference at birth was less than previous scans had shown, now measuring between 90 – 97%. Thankfully, it has remained stable ever since.
With the knowledge that so many Christian brothers and sisters had been praying with and for us, we were encouraged by positive signs in our son’s behaviour/demeanour, not to mention the happy but surprised looks on the faces of the doctors and nurses who saw a baby with such concerning ultrasound results acting so normally. We began to thank God for the way He had already been at work in this little boy’s life and decided to name him Josiah (God heals) Reuben (a son/our son).
Over the next few days Josiah continued to do well and surprise paediatricians, midwives and neurosurgeons who visited regularly to check his head circumference and for signs of pressure build up within the skull. As well as blood tests to rule out possible blood-related causes of the bleeding in the brain (like haemophilia), a cranial ultrasound showed that the hydrocephalus and category 4 bleed were still present (though the bleed was gradually clearing). This was followed by an ultrasound of the liver and other abdominal organs. Thankfully none of these tests and scans showed signs of a sinister cause. The last major hurdle was an MRI which took place on Wednesday the 13th of June, searching for an underlying cause. Thankfully no tumour was found below/behind the bleed, and since Josiah was still behaving like any other baby would be expected to behave, and his head circumference remained unchanged, we were able to make our way home from hospital to begin life as a family of four the following day, one week after we’d arrived.
There are many appointments still to come, including specialised hearing and sight tests, regular cranial ultrasounds and a follow up MRI. The doctors will want to keep a close eye on the fluid build up and see whether it increases (hopefully not), remains stable, or decreases over time, but I must admit it has been encouraging to watch them scratching their heads at how something can look one way, medically speaking, and look another way functionally, without them having an explanation. The word miracle comes to mind, and we give God the glory for who He is and what He has done. We aren’t getting ahead of ourselves – we know there are risks associated with what has occurred in the brain and we will certainly keep praying for healing, monitoring Josiah’s progress and working with medical staff in the weeks and months ahead. Meanwhile, we are also praising God that Josiah is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-16) and know that God’s plans and purposes never fail, and that His knowledge and power surpass even the greatest human intellect and the best medical knowledge available (Isaiah 55:8-9). We are thankful for the work of the medical professionals, but we are even more thankful that we belong to a God who loves His people, who hears our prayers and who works all things for our good and for His glory, even things that we would not choose to go through if we had our own way.
‘Asking boldly and surrendering completely’
As we’ve approached some of the heavier moments in this journey I’ve spent some time searching for wisdom in terms of how to pray and how to walk faithfully as a citizen of heaven living in this time of ‘now but not yet’, when Jesus is on the throne, but his kingdom has not yet fully been revealed on earth as we await his second coming. The following excerpts of prayers from The Valley of Vision – A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions – were particularly helpful when I felt like all I was doing was repeating myself and I did not know how to pray as I ought. I believe it is times like this when the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:25-27), and I was also thankful to be able to echo the prayers of believers who have gone before me.
Teach me to be resigned to thy will, to delight in thy law, to have no will but thine, to believe that everything thou doest is for my good. Help to leave my concerns in thy hands, for thou hast power over evil, and bringest from it an infinite progression of good, until thy purposes are fulfilled. … Give me the confidence I ought to have in him who is worthy to be praised, and who is blessed for evermore.
– From ‘Divine Promises’ (Holy Aspirations), The Valley of Vision, p.130.
That might seem like an obvious prayer to pray at any time, but when the rubber meets the road in a situation that seems completely out of your hands, it is both terrifying and comforting, seemingly almost in equal measure at times, though the comfort drawn from God’s sovereignty is honestly one of the greatest blessings I believe we can have in the Christian life and so it outweighs the fear of things not going according to my preferred plan.
Another prayer that brought comfort after the birth, especially as we waited for test results and for the MRI (which sought to determine whether a tumour had caused the bleed), was the following excerpt from a prayer titled ‘Blessings’:
I bless thee for tempering every distress with joy; too much of the former might weigh me down, too much of the latter might puff me up; Thou art wise to give me a taste of both … Thou art all I need. Let me continually grasp the promise, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’
– From ‘Blessings’ (Gifts of Grace), The Valley of Vision, p.157.
One of the big takeaways from this situation for me has been a reminder to pray often, to pray honestly, and to pray trusting in God’s goodness and His sovereignty at the same time. My prayers are not meant to twist God’s arm, to try to convince Him of my level of faith or of my desire to claim a certain level of authority over my situation. Instead they are an offering, a drawing near to Him, a way of relying on Him and His word in good times and difficult times. As I pray, I am changed – I am pulled closer to God, the giver of peace, even when my circumstances may not necessarily immediately seem, from my perspective, to be completely altered. I don’t perfectly live out the call to ‘pray continuously’ (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18), but I hope I’m getting better at it. This journey has also been a real-life reminder of the need to bring my requests to God and trust that the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:4-9). Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life has this to say about praying in times of trouble:
“You needed God ten minutes ago; you need him now. Instead of hunting for the perfect spiritual state to lift you above the chaos, pray in the chaos. As your heart or your circumstances generate problems, keep generating prayer. You will find that the chaos lessens.”
– Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p.72.
At church recently we have been working our way through the book of Daniel and I was struck just a week or two ago by the example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they faced the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down before Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar. Again, Paul Miller does a great job of explaining why their example is so helpful for those of us who believe:
“They respond to Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow before him with the identical balance of Jesus [in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane]. They tell the king, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king” (Daniel 3:17). They avoid the cliff of not asking by boldly declaring that God will rescue them. Then, in the next breath, they say, “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods” (3:18). While this sounds like a contradiction, these men are asking boldly and surrendering completely. They avoid functional deism or separation from God by their bold statement of God’s deliverance; then they avoid living selfishly by their complete surrender to the story God has placed them in.”
– Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p.133.
That place of asking boldly and surrendering completely is exactly where I want to be. That is absolutely one of the key lessons I have taken from this journey so far. I serve a God who is powerful, loving, deeply involved in the world he created, and certainly able to heal. He is sovereign and holds all things in his hands, and yet He invites us as His children to pray to Him as Father. When we do pray, He listens and He answers – whether we can see clearly through the fog of our circumstances at the time or not.
When you think about it, every child – every new life made in God’s image – is a miracle. We will continue to praise God for blessing us with two children, and for the way He has already been at work to bring Josiah safely into our family. We will also continue to pray for full healing for our son – that his life may continue to be a testimony to God’s goodness, mercy, love and power, as it already has been in his first week with us. Finally, at the same time, we will also seek to surrender to God our Father who knows the desires of our hearts even before we utter a word, whose plans and purposes cannot be thwarted (Daniel 4:35, Psalm 115:3) and whose promise in Romans 8:28-29 of working all things for our good and for His glory is an enduring promise, and one worth holding on to.