Blooms of life amidst the darkness: September 23rd

A couple of weeks ago, in the second week of our daughter Hannah’s life, an idea began to emerge for us.  I had been trying (as I have since Bethany’s water broke) to pay close attention to the comments and reflections of persons who have joined us in prayer and mindfulness in our crisis.  I have catalogued many of those comments along the way for personal reflections later on.  But I also have listened intently to what we’ve been hearing because of a deep belief that I carry:  discernment of truth is best done in community.

In keeping with that belief that discernment is best done in community, ever since mid-July and the beginning of our lives being thrown violently out of whack (up until Hannah’s birth), we held intentional times of communal prayer twice a week.  People gathered in our hospital room, and we would spend about an hour placing Hannah and Bethany before God, spending much of that time listening for God, letting our imaginations roam, responding with requests to God, and debriefing with one another what we saw/impressions that we gathered.  So we listened deeply to one another and to God.  Along the way, we observed people’s lives being transformed and hearts being softened in the times of prayer, and we also heard some very specific words from people about where God was at work.  We sought to imitate Jesus’ mother Mary during a time of crisis and confusion in her life.  She committed herself to a deep listening, and in response to good news communicated by shepherds, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Since Hannah’s birth, our practice of twice-weekly communal prayer has cut short out of necessity, with extremely limited visitation and concern for infection in the newborn ICU.  But this practice of listening for the voice of God in those with us on the journey needed to continue.  So a friend set up a page on Facebook to centralize news and prayer for Hannah, and this became an important forum to call persons to mindful prayer and to listen to what they were sharing.

Early in the week of September 18th-24th our friend Sarah Ross had an impression that arose in her times of prayer that we may need to fast together.  In hearing this, the story of Jesus healing the child afflicted by a demon came to mind for me.  The disciples were upset that they weren’t able to help the child in Jesus’ absence, asking him “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  Jesus responded, “This kind can only come out by fasting and prayer.”  Her impression struck me as important, and so we set aside Friday, Sept 23rd as a Day of Fasting and Prayer.  Little did we know what Friday would bring, and how timely a day of fasting and prayer would be.

Over the course of the week, Hannah had been very up and down, but in the middle of the week seemed to be making slow, incremental progress in weaning off her oxygen on the machine.  We were hoping Friday would be an opportunity to focus our prayer towards that same end.  But we entered the ICU Friday morning, and things were not well.  Hannah’s oxygen level on the respirator was up about 15% from when we had left (in the mid-60% range), and in the span of the next hour-and-a-half, jumped up to 75%, then 100%.  It was like the bottom completely dropped out.  We hadn’t seen 100% oxygen on the respirator since Hannah’s  first day of life.  It was a gigantic punch in the gut, and brought the question, “Why?  Why on this day?”  Some may suggest the “Why?” question isn’t helpful, that sometimes things happen and life is full of coincidences.  I am that person from time to time.  But on that day?  Something seemed different.

I responded to the horrible turn of events by trying to do my part.  I got on the other side of Hannah’s bed, laid my hands on her, and began pleading with all of her might for her.  I wept as I prayed and sang songs of hope in desperation, leaving smears of snot and tears on the plastic cover of the bed.  For about fifteen minutes, her vitals spiked upwards and held steady during the time of prayer, but as I continued praying and singing to her, everything moved slowly right back down to unsustainable levels.  Hannah’s skin began to turn ruddy again; like the first couple days of her life.  What could we do?

That question, “What could we do?” is a prominent one that has shown up over and over again in this timeI entered the crisis believing that God made creation to be one where humanity cooperates, co-labors with him for the world to be the world it was intended to be.  God never intended the world to only run only His own initiative, but rather that we would obey Him to join His work of healing and joy.  I did not believe God has an unchanging will, and I did not believe the solution to the crisis was all on God’s shoulders.  And so I proceeded accordingly with times of intentional prayer, we went on a crash course of figuring out what natural supplements would ensure Bethany’s immune system remained strong and would create lots of healthy bacteria in her womb,  and Bethany committed to drinking lots and lots of water to stay hydrated.    All of this came out of a desire to cooperate with God in giving Hannah the best chance possible.  And, as it happens, nothing has happened in this crisis that has challenged that belief.  The pinnacle of this came on the fateful day of Hannah’s birth, when all seemed lost at 2 am.  Instead of being hands-off and “letting go, letting God,” we bucked the medical staff’s two options, choosing the third option to held Hannah.  That night was a beautiful example of the power of human touch and the power of God’s touch uniting to bring about healing.  God used us, used our voices, our song, our struggle, our pleading, our smiles, our action in spite of feeling empty and spent, our touch on Hannah’s forehead and hands…all of these things!

What we did mattered, deeply so!  What an important lesson, and an important gift!  And so  on the crushing day of Sept 23rd, that was all I knew to do.  “What can I do, Lord?!” my inner being screamed.  And as Hannah’s vitals remained low, my spirits sunk further and further down.  Bethany came in and with one look, told me, “You need to get out of here.  You need to know this doesn’t all depend on you.  God made a promise to us, and today we need to trust Him with that promise.”  Her words brought a jolt to my reality.  I realized that the awareness that God does call us to work with him in relationship is not the only truth.  God also has revealed himself to work many times by His own raw, unrivaled power; so that humanity is reminded who is the Creator.  Bethany reminded me of this; that when God promises, God can be counted on.  I had turned God’s use of us into a rigid law; that because our presence had worked in Hannah’s healing, that we needed to be there all the time to ensure the healing continued.

Bethany and I took a walk across the street to Burnet Woods Park, and sat on a bench.  We prayed together, and I repented of twisting God’s invitation and God’s desire to work with us into a fundamental distrust, a disbelief that God would follow through.  This also brought tears, and Bethany held my hand through it all.  She was a clear voice of truth that day, and set me free from the shackles of desperation and distrust.  We returned to the hospital, and though Hannah’s vital signs remained desperately low, the situation felt fundamentally different for me.  I continued to pray, but my mantra over and over and over again was the lesson Moses and Joshua had to learn; “Only be still.  The Lord your God will fight for you.

We had set up the day of fasting and prayer to run roughly from dawn to dusk (8 am-10 pm specifically).  At 7 pm, a new nurse named Jan relieved the daytime nurse.  She was a nice lady, but sensed the tension in the room immediately.  When she saw that the machine was turned up to 100% already, she knew much of what nurses can do to bring ease to the baby (bumping up the level of oxygen to give them greater comfort)  was out the window.  But she told us she practices “Healing Touch,” (an intentionally broad term she uses with the wider public) which as we talked further is for her, as a committed Catholic a form of prayer.  It involves a deep discernment of where the pain or discomfort is in the patient’s body (negative energy) and focusing healing in that area (positive energy).  I was a little put-off at first, but I said I was ok with it, and sat by the bedside observing her in action.  I even put my hand over Hannah’s head between Jan’s hands and was surprised to feel a distinct heat there.  I’ve often associated a mysterious heat with the work of God in prayer, and so I quietly sat in prayerful silence.  Again, nothing really fundamentally changed.  Hannah seemed to like it, but her vitals didn’t tick upwards in any consistent way (this may have been related to the baby crying in the station right next to us).

Little did we know how quickly things were about to turn for the better.

At about 9:30, I turned toward the computer to read email for a little bit, and came upon the following story from a friend, Amanda Wheelock;

“I have been praying today, on & off all day. But this evening Matthew had me go out to get some coffee while he put the little ones to bed.
While I was driving & praying, specifically for Hannah’s lungs to grow, to not stop, and for protection over various parts of her body, I kept seeing an image of her lungs on fire. just flaming.  And then, while I was praying, in an instant so quick I had to actually stop the car for a minute, the image changed into bright, blooming lilies (specifically pink ladies, otherwise known as surprise lilies). They are absolutely beautiful & pink, actually. It was so powerful I had to stop & collect myself for a minute, and there was also the words “heaven stands” that came to mind immediately after.”

I just wanted to share this image — it was very powerful & encouraging, and a reminder to me that there is a chance every second, every minute, every hour & every day for change, for growth, for Life! And sometimes it comes when everything looks like it’s dying. My aunt Jan planted these 30 years ago, and these lilies always show up in our garden after everything else has bloomed & is getting brown, and all the foliage is starting to turn.”

And then Amanda showed us a picture of those beautiful flowers in their own garden that I’ve placed below.

What a timely word to receive from Amanda!  The sentence, “These lilies always show up in our garden after everything else has bloomed & is getting brown, and all the foliage is starting to turn,” struck me the deepest.  I was reminded that the present circumstances and everything seeming to descend further into chaos was not the final word.  This was a part of the process, and had not become a definite conclusion.  I read the passage out loud to my mother, and Bethany messaged me that she had read it at home.

If the encouragement we received from the note was the only purpose it served, it served a tremendous purpose.  But also present in Amanda’s prayer story was the powerful and sudden shift in images that took her breath away, and caused her to pull the car over to try to assimilate what she had just heard.  “I kept seeing an image of her lungs on fire. just flaming.  And then, while I was praying, in an instant so quick I had to actually stop the car for a minute, the image changed into bright, blooming lilies.”

Was that image just a helpful one to guide Amanda’s prayers for Hannah going forward?  Was it coincidental?  Did her subconscious knowledge of her lilies and her deep desire for Hannah’s healing create an image out of desperation for her?  Or had God given Amanda an image to show what He was going to do?  Could the transcendent God of the universe have given an intimate message straight to Amanda?

I read Amanda’s story for the first time shortly after 9:30, and by 9:45 had shared it with my mother and Bethany.  I told Jan too what Amanda had seen, and we both found it interesting that Amanda had the image pretty close to the time where Jan had focused her “Healing Touch” as well.  I sat back down, wondering if God was going to give a gift to us at the end of this day of fasting and prayer at 10 pm.  All day long, Hannah’s oxygen saturation levels were very low, ranging from the 50s to the 70s for the most part, only venturing into the 80s for short periods of time.   But as my mother and I sat there, and as Jan watched, Hannah’s oxygen saturation levels steadily marched upwards into the mid 80s, then the upper 80s, then the low 90s, then the mid 90s, and then the upper 90s!  And they just sat there at 98 and 99, not budging.  Jan waited a bit to see if it was a lasting phenomenon, then turned Hannah’s oxygen down to 98%.  She left to go to another baby, and when she came back, Hannah was again “satting” in the high 90s.  As I sat there in disbelief, I remembered the moment the night of Hannah’s birth where I looked at Bethany and said, “This could be our miracle!”  Jan turned her down to 96% on her oxygen, and she stayed steady with her oxygen saturation in the low 90s.  We had agreed to leave at 10 pm, but this was such great news that I stayed a bit longer as mom and day waited out in the waiting room.  After whispering a short prayer of thankfulness, I left Hannah’s bedside, met mom and dad, and we headed home.

Early in the morning (about 3:30 am) when Bethany needed to pump breastmilk for Hannah, we called into Jan to check in on Hannah.  Jan said, cheerily, “I’ve made an agreement with Hannah that I won’t turn her oxygen down until she’s consistently satting about 96%! I’ve already turned her oxygen level on the ventilator down to 86%, and I’m about to turn it down again.”  We were tired and bleary-eyed to be up early, but Bethany and I both had grins on our faces as we got off the phone.

God has a way of bringing hope, of bringing brilliant colors of beauty and goodness, into very dark times.  Those times, while we may not choose them ourselves, have a tremendous capacity to bring about personal transformation.  We desperately need others around us (whether they share impressions in prayer or strong words to keep us accountable) to be able to discern what is true and good in any given situation.

And, beauty has a slow, inexorable way of breaking into the darkness, but it takes time, patience, eyes to see, and ears to hear.

2nd Day of Fasting and Prayer for Hannah, Sept 30th


Hannah is saying, “”Join me!!!!! Let’s dance with God together!” 🙂

We would like to invite those who are able to join us, like last Friday, in a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Hannah tomorrow, September 30th.  It will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (roughly dawn to dusk).  Some will choose to spend the day fasting, others will take a meal, and others will find a chunk of time during the day to devote to prayer.

We seem to have emerged from the worst of the crisis with Hannah over the last week, but as many of us have learned from experience and growth, our capacity for prayer, for deep communication with God, is handicapped when only practiced in times of deep crisis. Or, said differently and more bluntly, if we primarily pray in deep crisis, our relationship with God will constantly be at the level of a baby crying in distress to a parent. The baby doesn’t know how to communicate well and is frustrated, the baby lacks the ability to listen because they only know what they want, and the parent is frustrated and frazzled by the constant noise. It’s important that the baby is communicating, and the parent hears, but neither wants to stay there.  When we move out of immediate crisis and into less traumatic times, the child can either take things for granted or choose to settle into the strong arms of their parent.  And there’s just as much communication in that eye contact and soft embrace as the fearful cry.

I suspect, personally, last Friday God may have been a bit frazzled by me. My experience on Friday involved needing to learn the lesson of easing off the throttle, quieting my voice, and allowing myself and Hannah to be held by God. After all, God did make a promise to us. Would I learn to rest in it, to trust His power? For others, on Friday, you may have needed to learn the lesson of stepping up. One friend mentioned the phrase, “praying back the darkness.” As was said earlier, “Our prayer in this crisis will sometimes be more offensive, other times actively trusting God’s unrivaled power, but NEVER will be passive.” For each of us, the following words of Richard Foster in his classic work Celebration of Discipline are timely:

“Although the physical aspects of fasting intrigue us, we must never forget that the major work of scriptural fasting is in the realm of the spirit. What goes on spiritually is much more important than what is happening bodily. You will be engaging in spiritual warfare that will necessitate using all the weapons of Ephesians 6. One of the most critical periods spiritually is at the end of the fast when we have the natural tendency to relax. But I do not want to leave the impression that all fasting is a heavy spiritual struggle- I have not found it so. It is also “…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way. It is a means of God’s grace and blessing that should not be neglected any longer. Wesley declares, “…it was not merely by the light of reason…that the people of God have been, in all ages, directed to use fasting as a means…but they have been…taught it of God Himself, by clear and open revelations of his Will…Now, whatever reasons there were to quicken those of old, in the zealous and constant discharge of this duty, they are of equal force still to quicken us.”

Now is the time for all those who hear the voice of Christ to obey it.”

Thank you for joining us however you may, and may the experience be a part of the transformation God desires to bring about in you, and in our world!

Holy moments…

Here’s a couple of glimpses into Hannah’s journey in the NICU I thought would serve as an encouragement:

“For the typical baby at 26 weeks, the chances of survival are about 75%. Because of what she has been through, and our concerns about her lungs, I would put her chances at about 5%.” The doctor giving us a pre-delivery consultation.
“She’s exceeding all our expectations” Two different nurse practitioners

One nurse practitioner’s face showed her amazement on day 3 as she sat with us looking at Hannah.  She had overseen Hannah’s care the first night at the worst time.  She didn’t say much, but her face said it all on that third day.  Intermittently, she would shake her head in looking at Hannah and smile.  I hope this experience renews her passion for why she’s a nurse; that nursing is a holy vocation, a wonderful opportunity for hands-on love; especially with the children in the ICU who are visited very little.  As I’m writing, there’s a nurse sitting in a rocking chair to my left with a child we have not seen visited once.  The child often cries, but the nurses come by to touch and to let the child sleep on their shoulder, and he calms right down.

“We want her to get to 40% oxygen or less on the ventilator, but her lungs just can’t support her” a nurse said the first night when she was at 100%.  Hannah hit 40% oxygen early Saturday morning, with a low of 38%.  She’s bumped up and down a bit from that point, but she’s generally holding steady at 40-42%.

“We’d like the ‘mean’ of her blood pressure to be at least her gestational age (26), but we’d love for it to be at 30 or more” spoken the first night when her blood pressure mean was in the mid-teens.  Hannah’s blood pressure rose after the first night, and now the “mean” consistently measures anywhere from 38-43, excellent for her age.

“We’re going to start feeding her breast milk today.  Don’t be surprised though if she doesn’t digest it, or has significant problems.  Almost all our preemies have trouble from the very beginning.”  Said on Thursday.  She’s been fed 15 times since then, with only two times where she didn’t digest the milk because she was on her back.

And below I’d like to share a little summary of quotes, encouragements, and other words from friends affected by this crisis.  Each of these are reminders we are always changing (for better or for worse), and crises have a way of sharpening that change; who we become results from the decisions we make.  I’ve seen many people growing in their ideas and practice of prayer especially.  People have realized that prayer, seriously practiced (especially when carried by a community), changes the world.  Period.  Here is the summary:
“God is showing you Himself in your suffering and prayer and you’ll never be the same again.”
“Each day of Hannah’s life, we praise you! we praise you!”
“I’m so thankful that we serve a God who can wrap us close and give us comfort in times like this.”
“I have lost 10lbs and dropped 20+ points on my bottom number for blood pressure… Lord, I’d like to donate those pounds and points to Hannah Myers. Thanks & Amen.”
“She was swaddled in a blanket, but I think just being that close to our voices and feeling our breath….there was just something supernatural about it! God is faithful!”
“The night she was born God had me read Exodus 14:13. It’s talking about the Egyptians. Moses had brought the children of Israel out and they were asking him, “Did you bring us into the desert just to let us die?” He told them not to be afraid. The egyptians they saw that night they would never see again. God told me that was for Hannah and her situation and that what we were seeing that night we would never see again.”
“May these tough days soon pass into weeks and months of steady growth, and later become a powerful story of God’s strength and mercy.”
“Prayers flow with tears words cannot express.”
“I am sitting in Bethany’s hospital room after having just spent some time with our precious Hannah…. She was ever so sweetly laying on her side, spontaneously grinning and it was the sweetest thing you’ll ever see….”
“I woke up at 3 this morning and prayed for Hannah. I trust I’ll get to meet that little miracle someday.”
“Life has a way of feeling ordinary. But this situation makes everything brighter.”
“They said they were losing her and wanted to know if Nate and bethany wanted to hold her before she passed away…. well, God wasn’t done yet…”
“How this situation appears does not dictate the outcome. “No, despite all these things, OVERWHELMING VICTORY is ours through Christ who loved us.” Romans 8:37″
Before Bethany’s water broke, when she was experiencing serious bleeding and complications, in a discussion in a men’s group about intercessory prayer, a friend shared: “I’ve never really practiced, or felt drawn to using the imagination in prayer.” About an hour later, after fifteen minutes of quiet prayer together, he said, “I don’t really know what to do with this, but while we were praying, I saw two people. One was definitely Bethany, the other I assumed was you. Bethany had a round, full belly, and all I felt was joy, joy, joy.” (this experience is where Hannah got her middle name)

And now, for you. What are you learning through participating in a proactive way in this crisis?

Hannah’s Birth Story: Questions, and Answers

*This is the story from Nathan’s perspective, as I experienced the time spoken of here*

Very late Sunday night, Bethany began to have pain sharp enough that she couldn’t sleep. It didn’t feel like it was coming really regular, so she had questions about whether it might be contractions. But mysterious pains have been a part of our life now for the past eight weeks in our journey with Hannah and Bethany on hospital bedrest, so we tried not to fret too much. The pains would not go away though. Finally, Bethany called her nurse in and they put her on the contraction monitor. That nurse monitored and said she didn’t see anything. But the next shift nurse that came on the shift change works a lot in labor and delivery, and said she definitely had seen a pattern. We were troubled. We wanted labor to wait, and buy Hannah another couple weeks!

We had a diagnostic ultrasound at 9:30 in the morning, and we wheeled Bethany down for the test. From the very first image, Dr. Smith told us that Hannah’s head was WAAAY low and that she wanted Bethany checked right away when she went back to the room. We wheeled back upstairs with hearts pounding, and waited. The doctor came in, examined Bethany, and dropped the news on us, “You’re four centimeters dilated and I can see Hannah’s head.” Bethany just emotionally fell apart at that point. All those weeks of waiting and hoping that she would not go into labor had taken a huge toll. Her reserves were completely dry. We were at the destination of Bethany’s pregnancy, whether we were prepared or not.

Bethany was promptly wheeled over to labor and delivery to watch and wait for how things would progress. At periodic intervals, Dr. Smith or our wonderful nurse Donna would check on Hannah’s progress. After receiving an epidural and being placed on other IV medicines to protect Hannah in her delivery, Bethany progressed very quickly. We began to grow worried that the medical team wouldn’t be there in time. Dr. Smith came in and prepared for the delivery, and there was a brief moment, a calm before the storm, when it was just Bethany, me, Donna, and Dr. Smith. Then all of a sudden staff started pouring through the doorway and the room became a sea of blue scrubs.

After four big pushes, Bethany birthed Hannah at 4:56 pm. She came out so small and so purple, and the team of nurses and doctors immediately brought Hannah to the other side of the room, where they worked to resuscitate her. They immediately put tubes down her throat for breathing, and the first one wasn’t where they wanted it, so they had to pull it out and put another one in.

The minutes crept by with Hannah not responding to their work. It was the most terrifying, most traumatic time of my life. As I stood off to the side of the team of people working on Hannah, I felt utterly helpless. Utterly, utterly helpless. I’ve learned in those times of my life that I need to draw on the resource I have of great help in crisis: prayer with the Creator of the universe and our friend. And as I stood there, holding my breath and trying to whisper out prayers, our nurse Donna came over behind me and wrapped her arm around me and held me the entire time they worked on Hannah. Her touch anchored me when I felt like I was endlessly drifting. Her hand held my side and wouldn’t let go. As I told her afterwards, she was “God with skin on for me” during this experience.

One of the measures they use to determine the viability of a child is something they call an Apgar number, which varies from 1-10. The 10 means the baby is strong and vigorous, with a 0 meaning lifeless. After the first five minutes, Hannah was a 1. After the second five minutes, Hannah was a 1. After the third five minutes, she was a 3. And after twenty minutes, she was a 5, at which point they decided she had enough of a chance to take her to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

I kissed Bethany and followed Hannah as they took her to the ICU. As they transferred Hannah over from the bed into the isolette bed in the ICU, I again found myself standing by the side in what seemed like a beehive of activity. It seemed like chaos, but everyone clearly had a role and were functioning in it very well; except me. So again I in desperation fell into the pattern of prayer; speaking what I could and letting my emotions do the rest. Hannah’s blood pressure was perilously low, and they decided to go to one of the last resorts they use, which was an epinephrine drip. Hannah’s blood oxygen saturation was very, very low as well. They like it to be near 100, and she was in the low 60s, with a bit of variability up to the low 70s and down to the 50s. That low number meant that oxygen likely wasn’t getting to the organs in need; most especially the brain. And the medical professionals told me Hannah’s lungs were very, very, very small and weren’t big enough to support her. They expressed great doubt that her lungs would be able to grow enough to be able to progress, and even worse, her lungs weren’t absorbing the oxygen the machine was pushing in. The respirator was maxed out at 100% oxygen, the epinephrine was maxed out at the furthest point they felt comfortable, and she was limping along with very, very low blood pressure and very, very low oxygen saturation levels. The prognosis was not good. The nurse practitioner told me they wanted the respirator to be down to 40% oxygen output or below, and that a prolonged period of time on 100% oxygen with such low blood saturation levels would over time become counter-productive.

I had several responses that kept cycling through me in those first few hours. In my better moments, I had two big questions for God based on what God shared with us last Wednesday. I said in those times, “God, are you going to save Hannah, turn things around in a big, miraculous way? Or are you going to do this in a slow incremental way upwards, with your love and healing communicated through touch and care?In my lesser moments I just begged for something, anything to happen. I kept saying, “God, be our salvation. Please, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do what you said you would. Your integrity is at stake as a God who does what you say you will. If she dies, I will look like a fool and you will look powerless, and there are people following this story who will have varying responses. What about the people whose spirituality has been awakened by our story, God? Do you want that crushed? Shattered? Is that what you want? Stand up and be counted! Be the powerful God you claim to be!”

The rest of the evening I spent shuttling back and forth between Bethany (who was still in labor and delivery waiting to deliver her placenta), our friends the Rains’ and Erin and Robert who were committed to being a praying presence, and the ICU. Bethany’s mom had driven down from Michigan and did the shuttling work as well. After over two hours, the medical staff determined Bethany wasn’t going to deliver the placenta, and they prepared her to have a surgical procedure to remove it, which took place at about 7:30. She was very much in shock and emotionally struggling, as the last sight of Hannah she saw was Hannah being wheeled out to the ICU. About two hours after her surgery and over four hours after the birth, Bethany was able to be taken down to the ICU to see Hannah for the first time. This was very, very hard for her. In addition to Hannah’s vitals being so low, her face was very bruised from being the first part of her that moved down the birth canal. We sat with Hannah. The medical staff switched Hannah to a different ventilator called an “oscillator” that breathes in and out for the baby, and Hannah’s vitals crept up just a tiny bit. After awhile, I left Bethany with her mother in the ICU to go out and eat with the folks in the waiting room.

Later, we moved Bethany upstairs to the 13th floor where she would be staying. Her pain had increased significantly from her epidural, and they gave her a strong dose of pain medication. I shuttled back downstairs to report back and to pray with our friends. We had a very meaningful, heartfelt time of prayer there together. After we said our goodbyes and they headed home, I went back upstairs and Bethany and I tried to process where we were at; to listen to one another and talk out what we were feeling. We both were deeply struggling, both with Hannah’s appearance because of the bruising, and with what seemed to be zero progress in her vital signs. We both felt completely exhausted as well.

Shortly after 12, we all (Bethany, Dorene, myself) decided to come back down to the ICU. We each struggled with how to be present in the situation. Bethany especially was very groggy and completely spent from the journey of the last 24 hours. As we sat there, Hannah’s vitals stayed so very low, and the nurse practitioner told us several times, “Her lungs are so so small, and they’re just not absorbing the oxygen.” The situation was very dire, and then it turned much worse.

At about two o’clock am, when being administered a pain medication to sedate her, Hannah’s vitals plunged down even further. This started another rush of activity from the staff. They shut down the pain medication drip, and decided in desperation they would switch back to the first ventilator. During this rush of activity, the nurse practitioner came to us and had the first very serious death conversation. She told us, “We’re switching her over to the first ventilator, but we’re not sure if she’ll make it in the transition. Would you like to hold her? We don’t want to have Hannah’s last moments just be spent with us trying to work on her.” This new situation sent me spinning out of equilibrium. It’s enough to try to be present with a sick and seemingly dying baby, but what we had heard last Wednesday of the promise of her survival presented a crushing, arduous situation. “WHAT IS GOING ON?!?!?!” everything within me shouted in desperation. The two questions of “God, how are you going to save Hannah?” together with needing to be present with the reality of a dying child spun through my head over and over and over again.

As we dealt with this new reality, a short breath of fresh air blew in. In the transition between ventilators, as nurses took over the regulation of breath for Hannah, all her vital signs shot upwards. Her blood pressure went above the target minimum, her oxygen saturation levels sat in the mid 90s; all while her heart rate remained solid as it generally had. These were numbers we had not yet seen. Even more, they were numbers we were never even remotely close to. I looked at Bethany in astonishment. “This could be our miracle, Bethany!” I said. I asked the nurse practitioner what was happening. She didn’t have an explanation other than to say that the nurses were just doing what the ventilator was doing. She reiterated that this wasn’t a game-changer, though, and she ended up being right. After Hannah was transferred back to the first ventilator, she held her numbers for a bit, and they regressed back down to perilously low again.

A doctor came and had a serious conversation with us similar to, but more crushing than the nurse practitioner. She told us that we had now entered into another phase where Hannah’s consistently low oxygen saturation meant her organs were at great risk, and the longer the oxygen stayed at such a low point, the more her organs would deteriorate. They had done everything, they were maxed out, and had no other options. Essentially, she was presenting us with the “life” issue in its most heartwrenching form. Is a respect for life shown by desperately hanging on to a machine keeping someone “alive” when the other signs show a body incapable of progress? Or is a respect for life shown by doing everything you can, and acknowledging that the most compassionate and courageous thing you can do sometimes is to stop and to let the person pass with respect and honor? We felt increasingly crushed in an irresolvable dilemma. On top of the life issue was this belief we maintained against all present signs that God had spoken and said He would save Hannah. I knew that faith sometimes leads us to “foolish” decisions in others’ eyes, but should not lead us to decisions completely out of touch with reality.

I walked to the other side of the ICU with emotions and questions raging inside of me. “Is this it, God?” I screamed on the inside. “Is this a big cosmic joke? Are you just playing with us? Wednesday was you, there is no other explanation. I would have to be insane to explain that all away. But now we’re here. Where are you?” Everything I prayed came out in a torrent; all the tension, all the struggle, all the pure anger I felt at the situation. My words in this time were much saltier than what I wrote, but you don’t need to hear that. I just felt like my soul was howling with a pain I couldn’t hold back. I came back from my quiet scream session with God, talked with Bethany, saw the desperate desire to cling to life in Dorene’s eyes, and approached the doctor.

“How long can a child go along with such low oxygen saturation without destroying the possibility of the other organs functioning?” I asked.
“We don’t really know,” she said. “But we’re in desperate territory right now.” She then asked, begged really, for Bethany and I to sign a “do-not-resuscitate” paper, making the case against chest compressions and a line into Hannah’s chest that would simply make her last minutes extremely painful before death. We complied and signed the document, and decided we would neither take her off the respirator nor keep her on.

In an act of complete desperation, we asked to have Hannah removed from the isolette bed for us to hold her still attached to the respirator. We felt death was imminent and were emotionally and spiritually devastated, but Hannah needed to be held no matter what. Our nurse Patrick swaddled Hannah in blankets as we moved Bethany up in a chair to the bedside, and Patrick handed Hannah to Bethany to hold. I scooted up a chair behind Bethany, and I held Hannah’s head while Bethany held her hand. We began to weep, to sing, to pray, and to speak to Hannah. Bethany kept saying over and over, “God, be who you are. Be strong and mighty for us.” We sang Tom Wuest’s song with lyrics, “Your song will go with us, your wings will cover us, hope thou in God my child…all through the night.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, against all reason, as we wept and prayed, Hannah’s vitals began to climb, and climb, and climb, until her oxygen saturation levels went up to the 90s and her blood pressure stabilized above their target for her. After about twenty minutes, the doctor (mystified by this change, and gaining a small shred of hope) came to us and said, “The only option we have left is to get to the 12 hour mark, and we can give her more surfactant in her lungs. She might respond well, and she might crash. But that’s all we have.”

We nodded, and realized we needed to get Hannah to 5 am. That gave us a target to work towards, and so we moved forward. Bethany was utterly exhausted and only had the ability to hold Hannah and keep calling God to be God. I entered into an interesting form of prayer as Hannah’s vitals rode down into valleys and back up again. As her oxygen saturation levels would begin to drop, I would pray for specific numbers from God. If her “sats” were at 74, I would pray for 75, saying, “God, let’s get to 75. Let’s get there, God.” And when Hannah bumped back up to 75, I would say, “Thank you, God! Now let’s get to 76. Can we get to 76?” And we rode this rollercoaster ride of her vital signs. Again, against all odds though, with our medical team out of options, Hannah kept returning upward after valleys. Several times, she spiked her “sats” at 97 and 98%, and they began to turn the oxygen down, first to 98%, and then to 96%. We held at 96% for a long time.

I want to stop and say that Bethany is my hero. After all that she had been through, with significant pain from her epidural in her back, she held Hannah from the moment we were able to hold her until 4:15 and it became too much for her to handle, and she needed to go upstairs for more medication and rest. She has been a model of perseverance for me to follow.  She has chosen to be courageous all through the extended hospital rest, and this situation did not change her witness at all. She stuck it out beyond the point where she had nothing left.

We carefully placed Hannah into my arms, and I took over the task of prayer, speaking God’s words over her, singing, and weeping for her. I got to tell her that God had created her in His image, that God had created her with great joy, that God rejoices over her now, dances with her and sings to her, and that her life is worth it. I got to repeat that time and again, picturing God holding her close and dancing around in circles, with her giggling and knowing she is at home.

At 4:35, Patrick noticed that Hannah’s core temperature was beginning to drop, so he politely told me that we needed to get her back in the isolette. I did so reluctantly because of her response to touch. So we put her back in the bed. I moved the chair back away from Patrick so he could get her settled in. I asked the question again, “Is this God’s miracle?” We had already experienced the dramatic, unexplained turnaround. All the medical team had no explanation for it. We all were astonished. But would it last? Could she get to twelve hours, the first big milestone?

As I sat there with a great degree of struggle over what might happen next, the Scriptural passage of the Garden of Gethsemane came to mind for me with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Could you not watch and pray for even one hour? Watch and pray.” I didn’t know whether to interpret that as a command from God or an encouragement to keep going from God. Either way, the result needed to be the same. I felt I needed to be present and praying until Hannah’s “sat” numbers got up to the 90s and stayed there.  So I committed to following this course.

At 5:15, Patrick administered hydrocortisone to help her blood pressure, and at 5:30 Patrick and the respiratory therapist administered the surfactant. This was a few minutes of fear and trembling, as I remembered the words of the doctor that the surfactant could make Hannah go one way or another. With great thankfulness, I saw that both medications gave more of a degree of stability to Hannah’s vital signs.

From that time on until 7:30, Hannah’s numbers did less of a roller-coaster, but did ride up and down. I engaged in the “auctioneer” kind of prayer again, and if it hadn’t been as deep of a crisis time, I think I might have had fun with it. It was exhilarating to see the numbers go up; and my gratefulness at each tick up gave me more courage and more energy to keep going. At around 7:30, I found myself nodding off, coming to and trying to keep praying, then nodding off again, then back. Each time I awoke from nodding off, I noticed Hannah’s numbers working their way upwards until she held steady at 92 for a good long time. I felt released to go upstairs, and so I went up to Bethany’s room. She had been so amped up with adrenaline and pain and emotional struggle that she hadn’t been able to sleep at all. Dorene was there too. They were both grateful to hear the news about Hannah, and we were able to celebrate, in a really really tired kind of way.

So, to sum up our experience from those first 12 hours, we got to see some of the best premature infant care possible, and we got to experience the hand of God in a miraculous way. Without the work of the very competent staff of Good Samaritan at the delivery, Hannah would not have survived the transition. I weave my view of their role into God’s promise to us by being thankful for how human wisdom and creative abilities play a role in bringing about what God accomplishes. The ventilator, the medications, and the wisdom and loving hands of the nurses played an essential role, and continue to. But there remained a point, and it was HUGE, where human wisdom and creative capacities could take Hannah no further. It was in that moment, where all seemed lost, that God stepped in and carried Hannah; carried us all. So we got the answers to my two big questions. In response to the first, “God, are you going to do this in a big, miraculous way?” God answered with a resounding, shattering “YES!!!!” delivered with joy and power. And in response to the second, “God, are you going to do this in a slow, incremental way, with love and care communicated through touch and attention?” God answered with a comforting “Yes!” delivered through the wonderful staff of Good Samaritan. Our experience reminds me of the verse in Psalm 86 where “righteousness and peace kiss each other.” For us, “medical science and God’s unique power kissed each other” on Hannah’s first night, and for that, we are truly grateful.

Word of knowledge, word of healing…

I share the following story for two reasons.
One, I feel I must share God’s word that Hannah will survive in an open way to testify to a healing, compassionate God who works miracles. This is an act of trust, especially that those who read this and desire to believe in God do not get their hopes up only to have that fragile hope crushed by a different outcome. I’m very sensitive to this concern, and only very rarely take this step as a result.
And two, this open sharing is in the tradition of Scriptural authors who had an experience with God, and responded by openly and publicly calling on God to complete the work he promised. They told God his good name was on the line, and this is my way of acting in that tradition.

*************************************************************

It had been an up-and-down day at work today. We weren’t particularly busy, and I was hoping for a little more to hit a financial goal that I’ve set. I was scheduled to work until 4, and two tables came in just before my shift ended. The first came at 3:35, and the second came at 3:45. Both tables had people that I would consider “characters;” louder, engaging people.

The second table had been eating for a bit when I greeted the second table. It was an African-American couple. I mentioned my name and that I would be “taking care of them.” The man (with a striking resemblance to Al Sharpton) laughed and said “Where I come from, ‘taking care of us’ means you’ll be paying for our bill!” We both laughed again and bantered a bit about Cracker Barrel’s food. He got our “country green beans” as a side and asked if that meant he needed to go out in the country to get them. I said yes, that it was our way of getting people to burn calories before they consumed some, and we both laughed again. I share these details to highlight that we talked a bit, but not about anything significant…nothing to do with our lives.

After I delivered their food, the two tables began to talk to one another. I retreated to the kitchen to get end-of-the-shift things done, and only stopped by twice to drop some things off at the table.

In one visit, the African-American man was talking to the other table and said, “Sure as rain, you’ll be going to Ireland soon!” The way he shared it was somewhat cryptic, like he was “prophesying” that the man would go.
The man at the other table said, “I won’t be traveling there any time soon! I don’t fly on planes, sorry.”
He responded, “Well, it’s going to happen.”

As I walked away from hearing that exchange, I inwardly groaned a bit and thought, “This guy sounds like one of those kinds of charismatics who tells people what “God” is telling them and it’s just used like a weapon to put people under their authority as a “spiritual” person or something.” What he was sharing just seemed…off. I typecast him as a religious quack. But I shrugged it off and focused on finishing up my work.

I returned to the table to drop off the check, and the man shook my hand…and proceeded to rock my world.
He looked at me intently.
“You’re worried about a baby,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied, instantly floored.
“You’re at work but it irks you to be here because of the baby. It eats you up inside to be away, doesn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“I see a blond-haired woman, your wife? I just want you to know that God is saying that your baby is going to be just fine.”
Me: stunned silence.
“You’re in school, aren’t you? You’ll be finishing school soon. And you’ll be moving into a new residence too. Things are about to come together for you.” (I’m in school at Xavier, and Bethany and I have been very serious about buying a house very soon, so these details were further confirmations of something special here).

Reeling, I simply said, “Thank you,” and walked back to the break room. I immediately called Bethany’s cellphone. She didn’t answer. I then called her hospital room phone. She didn’t answer. I called her cellphone again, desperate to process with her what I had just heard. She didn’t answer.

I hung up the phone and felt an impression to try to track down the couple before they left and express my thanks for his courage to say what he said. I caught up to them on the front porch.

I expressed my thanks to the man, and asked
“Do you have the gift of discernment?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“I love seeing people operating in their gifts,” I said. “I just want you to know that what you shared was exactly relevant to what we’re going through.”
He proceeded to rock my world further in response.
“Your wife, she had trouble with bleeding? Your baby, I’m seeing tubes. I don’t think those tubes will be on her long, if at all.”
I asked him his name, he gave me his business card from his church, and finished with a bang, saying, “Tell your wife she doesn’t need to cry. Everything will be fine. And tell her to put her feet up.”

I think I mumbled some form of “Thanks” and walked away, immediately back to the break room, and called Bethany.
“You have no idea what just happened to me,” I said, and proceeded to tell the story of my last twenty minutes. I heard her begin to cry on the other end of the line as I told the story, and she said, “I didn’t answer the phone before because I was in my bathroom crying. I just felt like I didn’t have the energy to keep going, and I went in the bathroom so the nurses wouldn’t see.” So as this man told me to tell Bethany not to cry, she was crying across town.

Astonishing! My brain exploded on site, and continues to be overwhelmed by the power of this experience. The chances of even one of the details of our story being identified by this man would be very, very slim. The sheer accuracy of the scope of all he shared with us means that outside of divine intervention, the chances of the things he said being accurate were 0%. I’ve only experienced this two other times in my life; one of those coincidentally also being at a Cracker Barrel in Staunton, Va.

God sees us, God hears us, and God is faithful to respond in powerful ways when we seek Him.

For the sake of my integrity and God’s, I have not made up one single word of this story, either to embellish it or to make it say something that did not happen.

*I will be adding to this story over the course of the day today, Thursday, September 8th as I recall details, but will cease after today*

Let go? No, Fight!

It seems as if our society
when aware of Death
does not deal with it directly
seeking to place it
forgetfully
in the corner of the attic.

But Death will not be forgotten
so easily.
Death rears its head
in the most, seemingly,
inopportune times.

And we,
because we are death-deniers
because we are well-trained at looking the other way
because we are cowards
are not prepared for death
to become our companion,
are not prepared for death to leave the third person behind
as in “The concept of death scares me,”
and become first person, like
“I hate you death, and your works.”

Because of our denial of Death
we have no way to fight it.
We are not prepared for a battle.
Therefore,
We simply believe we must
grudgingly
accept Death as our abusive companion.
Unwelcome,
but inevitable.
The final word.

Our theologies,
whether thought about in normal times,
or primarily in times of crisis (for most)
lead us to this conclusion too.
After all, how can one fight Death?
So we baptize Death and call it God.

“It is God’s will,” we say
“If it be your will,” we pray
“Let go and let God,” we counsel,
wishing for healing
like an older child on Christmas Eve,
wishing for a glimpse of Santa,
knowing better than to maintain that foolish hope.

“It is unrealistic,” we say
so it
seems to comfort us to chalk up the supposed inevitable conclusion
as the foregone will of God,
any testament to a different approach
be damned.

Yet I read of Jacob,
who would not let go until God blessed him.
I read of Hezekiah,
who refused to accept the word of Death as final,
turning over in the most basic, most seemingly weak form of protest,
saying, “Remember me? I love you.”
Those names are far from isolated in the annals of the Scriptures.
I read, in a different encounter with death,
of an early church,
persecuted
suffering
refusing to let other’s hatred determine their course of action
and in the face of great suffering
losing brothers and sisters right and left
continuing to choose love and truth,
to fight for a different way
with no weapon other than their example of sacrifice and selfless service.
These people shout at me loudest now,
when Hannah’s life hangs in the balance.

Who will you listen to, Nathan?

“Let go and let God”?
No,
for now,
until the final word is given,
we fight,
the dirty kind,
tooth and nail,
scratching,
clawing,
weeping,
begging.
There is no pride too essential to lose,
no good name more important
than fighting for the value of a life.

I will kill you,
old cowardly theology,
old cynical perspective on life.
Death, you may win battles from time to time,
but you will not win this war,
because I vow not to quit.

Let go?
No,
Fight!

Imagination in prayer for Bethany and Hannah…

I wanted to update everyone involved in the work of prayer for Bethany and Hannah in a way that may bring you focus.

Frank Laubach in his “game of prayer” he played with God often used his imagination to lift others before God.  On his days off, he would simply ride a city bus or tram around town.  He would often sit in the back of the bus so he could see all the persons ahead of him.  And he would engage in the work of prayer.  He would focus on each person, sometimes choosing to pour as much love as he knew how into that person through prayer.  Other times, Frank would imagine Jesus walking down the aisle of the bus, stopping by the person Frank was praying for to place a hand on their shoulder to encourage them and bless them.  Many times, Frank saw no discernable change in the persons he prayed for.  But many other times, Frank would see the persons jump as if touched, or look around to explain the feeling they had.  Some would turn around and engage him in conversation about spiritual matters seemingly off the cuff.  Others would smile or relax tensed shoulders.

The long and short of this is that Frank practiced this habit of continuous day-long prayer enough that he saw substantial confirmation of the worthiness of his effort.  God blessed his commitment to bless others.

Bethany and I had one such blessing today.  I share this because of how encouraging it was for us, in order that others may be encouraged to use their imagination to pray along with us as we pray for Hannah’s life.

I was away from Bethany for a couple hours today with my mother and father getting some shopping done.  After we finished up at Whole Foods, I chose to walk across a larger parking lot to Yagoot to get some frozen yogurt to bring back for Bethany.  You know, encouraging digestive health and all. 🙂  As I walked across the parking lot, I remembered Frank Laubach and his practice of prayer, and chose to follow his lead.  I imagined our hospital room and the chair beside Bethany’s bed.  I then imagined Jesus sitting in that chair and placing a hand on Bethany’s shoulder; a strong, healing hand.  I held that image in my head for awhile as I entered Yagoot, then re-focused on it after exiting and continuing to walk across the parking lot toward my parents.  I have struggled with guilt when being away from Bethany even for short periods of time, and this gave me something proactive I could do when away.  I found peace in praying for Bethany in this way.

I returned to the hospital room with partially melted frozen yogurt in my hand for my bride.  She was in bed with red eyes and had clearly been crying.  She has appreciated times she could be alone to listen, to take a deep breath, and to pray.  Bethany told me that while I was gone, she was trying to pray, struggling through her emotions.  In the midst of her struggle, she felt a strong impression to get off the bed and on her knees.  She felt she needed to obey this impulse, and did.  While there, she simply prayed over and over, “Please, please” with many tears.  And while on her knees, she felt a strong sense that God was deeply present in the room, centrally in the very chair I was imagining Jesus to be as I prayed several miles away.  She felt assurance from God that she was not left alone, and rose from her knees to come back into bed.

This was confirmation for us of God’s provision for us, and presence with us in the midst of our crisis.  I share that with you to encourage you as it has encouraged us.  I also share that with you because I took a picture of that very bedside chair in our room and I would like to invite you to join us in using your imagination to pray for Bethany and Hannah.  If you could, imagine Jesus entering the room, and settling down to sit in that chair beside Bethany, with a comforting, strong, healing hand on her back.  Hold that image and settle your focus there and imagine God’s love and healing flowing into Bethany.  Anchor yourself in that place and join Jesus in loving Bethany and Hannah for as long as you can hold your focus.  Return to this imaginative prayer when you feel like you don’t have words to pray, or if it becomes the most natural way for you to pray for Bethany and Hannah.

This practice is not a magic lesson or escape from reality.  Frank Laubach did not see God as a genie (in a bottle).  No, that God is too small.  Frank Laubach saw God as far bigger than he could imagine  yet deeply intimate in his caring.  Frank saw using his imagination in prayer as a way to join God in loving others with all of his heart.  And Frank saw results.  The picture is pasted below.

I invite you to join us in this holy, worthy use of imagination in prayer.

 

Jesus, thank you for your deep love for Bethany and Hannah.  Would you come by their bedside and speak words of healing, of hope, and of assurance?  Would you fight for Hannah’s life with your strong hand?  Would you ward off brokenness and unhealth by focusing your healing on Bethany’s womb?  Heal the amniotic sac and fill it, Lord, so that your daughter Hannah may grow strong.