Experiencing prayer…

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I’ve had the impression over the last several days that I need to pray for my daughter.  To be more specific, that I need to sit beside her, place my hands tenderly on her head and her chest, and quietly, expectantly, seek God’s healing for her body.

I’ve wondered why the impression has been stronger here recently.
Is it because I’ve drifted away from more intentional times of prayer with her like this and I feel guilty?
Maybe.
Is it because I believe that God’s power makes a real, fundamental difference in people’s bodies, and Hannah has some areas of great concern?
Most certainly; always this.
Or is it because God wants to use me to do something more powerful in Hannah than in normal times of healing?
Am I being led to obediently pray out of respect for the leadership of the Spirit in this specific circumstance?

Questions like these continue to be important for me in my life, especially as I’ve recently been focusing more on the leadership of the Spirit in how I go about my day:
As I walk or bike to teach at Withrow High and pass people along the way, how do I bless them, hold them in the love of God?
As I observe students acting differently today then yesterday, how can I quietly pray for them, knowing they have unique challenges at home and outside of school that impact who they are at school?
As I walk through Kroger, how might I be led to pray for the people in my aisle, in my checkout line?

These questions are more broad, overarching life questions that sharpen my focus on listening and obediently praying.  These questions help me to to practically, expectantly go through my day turning my attention toward God.  They help me to abandon my functional atheism that I am so familiar with to live as though there is a living God who needs me to step up and serve Him so that certain things can get done in the world.  I have a small, but essential role to play in God’s expanding kingdom in this world.

I find great meaning in those broad, overarching life questions.

But this nagging feeling that I needed to pray for Hannah?  I came to the conclusion this was not a broad, overarching reminder that as a father I  should pray for my daughter.  I felt this needed to be done as soon as possible.   Last night I returned from work at Cracker Barrel, communicated to Bethany that this was my impression, and later in the evening, I went upstairs by Hannah’s bed, and began to pray.  After about a minute, nodding off twice, and my arm falling asleep from the bed railing, I realized then wasn’t maybe the appropriate time, promised God I would pray in the morning, and fell asleep.

This morning, as Bethany prepared to worship with our church family, since this was my morning to stay home with Hannah, I realized that with coffee in hand and a night of sleep behind me, I was more ready than ever to obediently say “Yes” to God and pray with Hannah.

While we waited for Bethany to leave, I popped in a DVD of Francis MacNutt I wanted to review for our upcoming healing prayer group in our church.  Francis spoke about “Baptism in the Spirit” with some bracing words about its importance in our life. I was reminded of my own experience of baptism as a teenager; how God showed up that day in a unique way.  Francis reminded listeners that the baptism of the Spirit, as Peter preached, empowers us to “go around doing good and healing all who (are) under the power of the devil.” (Acts 10:38In short, instead of standing at a distance and pointing out that Jesus did crazy things, we are to, obediently, seek to do the same things he did.

I was reminded by Francis to be courageous, step out, and do what Jesus did because that is what he expected his disciples to do. Period.

What better opportunity to practice than with my daughter!

So I brought Hannah up to the bedroom, laid her down on Bethany’s side of the bed, placed a hand on top of her head, another on her chest, and began to pray for her.  Like the MacNutts suggest, I prayed with my eyes open; communicating the love of God in meeting the gaze of Hannah, and looking for ways Hannah was responding to prayer.

I noticed after a bit that Hannah’s demeanor was changing; that she was smiling much more broadly, meeting my gaze and holding it for long stretches of time.
As I continued to pray specifically for the development of her lungs, the strengthening of her esophageal muscles, and the removal of psychological barriers to eating, she grasped my hand on her chest,  lifted it up to play with, and I could feel her hands shaking.
As our prayer progressed, Hannah’s gaze, instead of looking directly at me, or wandering around the room, seemed to consciously and specifically focus in one specific area off to the side and behind me.  I looked behind, and followed her gaze to see it was just a blank piece of ceiling.  Yet she seemed to be interactive with her gaze, smiling and showing some form of acknowledgment of something.  Because she was peaceful and happy in this, I welcomed it, believing God was comforting her with some sort of vision, remembrance, or an angel.  I rejoiced that children in their simple acceptance can lead adults to abandon supposed maturity and turn to God like a child.  I acknowledged I let so much stuff get in the way and let Hannah lead me to enjoying the presence of God.

As I prayed with Hannah this morning, I felt noticeably lighter.
I felt that God was encouraging me for having responded obediently (however slowly) to praying for Hannah.
I was glad for this quality, loving time I could share as a father with my daughter.
I thanked God that I could participate in my small way in “doing good and healing all” as Jesus did.
And I prayed that the Holy Spirit would continue to move in power in Hannah in the specific ways that I asked.
I felt honored to collaborate, to work together, with God for Hannah’s health and wellbeing.

Thank you, God.

Sermon, 2nd Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 4th, 2011 Vineyard Central Church Norwood, OH

Main passages: Isaiah 40:1-11 Psalm 85:1-13 (though the RCL suggests Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, which I make an object lesson in the sermon)

I think the best place to begin today is with Isaiah 40, to do the best we can to walk into the world of the author, to observe, listen, and consider what we may encounter.

As obvious as it must sound, the first thing we notice is that this is Isaiah 40.
If we sat down and read the Book of Isaiah from beginning to end in one sitting, we’d notice there is a distinct difference in tone between chapters 1-39, and chapter 40 on. The first 39 chapters give a strong message of Israel’s unfaithfulness, unwillingness to follow the way of God. The prophet reminds them multiple times that this has not gone unnoticed by God. He uses the voice of God to say piercing things,

“’I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’ Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”

The first 39 chapters read as a testament of the prophet using every literary device, every means of persuasion possible in an attempt to bring Israel to their collective knees, to consider their way of life, to repent, and to live differently. Along the way, a very clear portrait of God emerges that is uncomfortable and necessary for Israel to hear; and uncomfortable and necessary for us to hear today along with them.

God is not aloof, is not ignorant of what is going on. God has been patient for a very long time, hoping (desperately so), that the people he redeemed would turn back. But eventually, because God loves them, because God has called them to be a light to the nations, his anger boils over and he shatters their society, drives them into exile at great loss of life, loss of dignity, great cost. God does this, and he does this because he loves them.

So this is the immediate context we hear Isaiah 40 in today. And because the tone is so different and the way the narrator talks about God’s judgment in the past tense, longing for restoration, most biblical scholars believe Isaiah 40-55 were written about a hundred years later than the first 39 chapters. This was a common practice in the Jewish community, to continue the tradition of a prophet, to write in their name, with the community affirming the words over time as valid and truthful.

And so, Isaiah 40 gives a message of hope, “Comfort, comfort my people…speak tenderly to Jerusalem, that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.”

The prophet uses strong language here to give his hearers hope. “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

This is Hebrew apocalyptic language. It’s used time and time again in the Scriptures. “The heavenly bodies will be shaken, the sun darkened, the moon turned to blood,” one passage says. “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth,” another passage says. “The wolf will live with the lamb,” says another. The writers don’t actually mean that God hates mountains and valleys and wants everything level, don’t actually mean that the sun will cease to exist, or the moon drip with blood. They don’t mean that God’s going to throw the universe in the trash and start over from scratch.  And they don’t mean that wolves are going to suddenly cuddle with cute little soft lambs.

All of those passages are the Hebrew way of saying, “God’s going to do something big again. God is going to make things right. The powerful will recognize their relationship with the weak, and they will live in community again. God will make things right.”

The prophet continues: “All people are like grass, and all human faithfulness is like the flowers of the field…the grass withers, the flower fades. (but the word of our God will stand forever)”

These words remind the hearers of their mortality, and raise awareness of how quickly we forget the restoration of God and return to our old ways that we find more comfortable. “So remember that you are like grass, here today and gone tomorrow,” the prophet reminds us.  And our faithfulness, while beautiful and full of sweet aroma like the flowers of the field, is not the center of reality.  The strength of human effort is downplayed. But the intent is NOT to empty the possibility of human faithfulness, to diminish the impact of serving God. No, the intent is to exalt God, to give glory to the eternal God, which draws us to fall to our knees, adore Him, and confess over and over again, “God, you know better than we do how we were created to live. We are confused, our minds and hearts are darkened, twisted by selfishness and rebellion.”

With this emphasis established, the writer can shift back again to comfort, “Bring good news,” he says. Say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him…he tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young.”

God has been wrathful and condemning in his great love, and God will be gentle and compassionate in his great love.

That is a significant lesson that the Israelite people needed to hear, and we need to hear in our day as well. It is a reminder of the full love of God, which includes the full spectrum from the most gentle, affirming touch all the way to ripping entire societies apart in their unfaithfulness; death, pain, and the displacement of millions of people.

Our second lectionary passage of the day is an important object lesson that brings this issue into full focus. So if you would turn to Psalm 85 with me.

I want to say two things here about the lectionary with this being one of the readings for the day. First, I love the sense of unity felt in the use of the lectionary, knowing that millions of brothers and sisters are reading the same passages and praying together with the same themes. I love that as the Earth turns and we all experience Sunday over a 24 hour period, we are reading, praying, and thinking together on similar themes. This is a great gift. But I feel extremely frustrated at times with the lectionary because those who set it up have a knack for seeking out comforting passages and omitting, avoiding sharper passages. Sometimes, it’s hard to read their intent, other times, I’m sure I read into their selections something that isn’t there, and other times, like today with Psalm 85, it is SO OBVIOUS.

(Make a quick skim read of the Psalm and take a guess at what the Lectionary folks omitted)

When manipulating the passages so obviously like this, one has to ask, what is their purpose? I had seen this pattern before in the Lectionary and wondered when it was brought together; who shaped the passages for reading? Is this pattern several hundred years old? I wasn’t surprised to find after a bit of research that the Revised Common Lectionary was brought together in 1994. That date is telling. I also wasn’t surprised to find that the RCL was an ecumenical effort (Catholic and a variety of Protestant communions), and one of the markers of ecumenical works tends to be an appeal to the lowest common denominator that everyone can agree on.

Maybe more important, though, is the wider issue of belief. One of the most distinct beliefs across our society that’s been in vogue for at least the last 75 years or so is that if God loves you, he would never do anything that brings you pain, would never hurt you. And if that was the Biblical message, that would be well and good. But it’s not.  The Biblical message is that God loves us deeply, relentlessly, desperately, and that God will stop at nothing to bring about his kingdom.

It also seems to me that the most comfortable people of the world are the ones who love to read the Jeremiah 29:11s of the Scriptures over and over again. This also fits with the shapers of the RCL being Western, powerful people. Yet those in the world without power, being crushed, used by wealthy empires to maintain their way of life; it is those people who cling to passages on God’s judgment on sin. Why? Because those passages give them an outlet for their pain, gives them questions they can ask they didn’t know they had, channel their frustration to show them how to pray so they don’t become embittered and hopeless.

We need this reminder most here in Advent
. Because the people on the eve of Jesus’ birth were NOT comfortable. They were occupied by the most powerful military in the world, taxed into the ground, with the system of taxation carried out by wealthy Hebrew persons grinding their fellow citizens into the ground. The people of Israel were groaning, suffering, longing, and Jesus’ mother Mary (one of those marginalized people) didn’t offer words of consolation to comfortable people:

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:51-55

So, I want to emphasize how desperately we need to hear the part in Psalm 85 that the Lectionary-shapers omitted. It is a voice of pleading, of weeping, of desperate humility, of throwing oneself at the feet of God, of looking unseemly, not-together.

“Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”

How does the psalmist, speaking for Israel, plan to respond to God? “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants- but let them not turn to folly.” Another way to say that last sentence is “God promises peace to his people- his faithful servants- IF they do not turn to folly.” Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him. There is much wrapped up in those two last sentences.

When God’s people fear him, value him, cherish his authority and voice above all other voices, obey and act on that voice, and do it together; wonderful things result.

And then comes this beautiful image, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The LORD will indeed give what is good.”

There’s a conversation that often comes to mind for me when thinking of the tensions described above. It involves one of my heroes, Clarence Jordan, co-founder of Koinonia Farm in Georgia, in conversation with his brother, Robert. Clarence approached his brother Robert Jordan (later a state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court) to ask him to legally represent Koinonia Farm. Robert responded to Clarence’s request:

“Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lost my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

“We might lose everything too, Bob.” Clarence said.

“But it’s different for you,” Robert responded.

“Why is it different?” Clarence said. “I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes. What did you say?’

“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”

“Could that point by any chance be- the cross?”

“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not ON the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”

“Well, now,” Robert said defensively, “if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t HAVE a church would we?”

“The question,” Clarence said, “is, Do you have a church?

So, like Clarence and Robert, we are presented with a couple options in our life. Do we choose a genteel Christianity that says all the right things, that goes out of our way to read comforting passages that avoid responsibility and reinforce our way of life, that stops short of a willingness to give of ourselves with all of who we are? Or do we choose a Christianity that follows Jesus and obeys him, willing to be stretched, and willing to be broken, willing to care enough about the brokenness of the world that we are driven to our knees in prayer?

This world is very, very sick; but SO full of potential for healing and joy.

May we turn our gaze off ourselves and towards our Creator.
May we have the courage to come to terms with and embrace the full spectrum of God’s love.
May we be shaped by this love to pour our lives out in service to God, to play a role in the healing of God’s world.

Amen.

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.

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!