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The Only Way I Can Help

A couple of years ago, I was trying to be more purposeful about prayer in my daily life. The truth is I have always struggled with prayer, and I felt like I didn’t have the right words to say. It’s not that I thought God would mind my stumbling prayers. I am an English teacher; I love beautiful words. Nothing I ever said during my impromptu prayers ever seemed to do justice to how I truly felt, and that bothered me.

Then I “discovered” the Psalms. If you have never sat down to read the book of Psalms, I highly recommend it. They are incredibly beautiful prayers, each word spoken from the heart. Each Psalm is raw emotion. The Psalms speak to every aspect of humanity– weakness, justice, betrayal, anger, pain, joy, triumph, and peace, to name a few. In each Psalm, the psalmist praises God, brings his innermost, heartfelt feelings to the feet of God, and then recognizes God’s power and wisdom. I had a dawning realization while reading one day. When Paul wrote in Romans 8:15 that “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” this is what he meant.

Fast forward to Summer 2018. A year ago today I was in an RV in Houston alone, desperately hoping I could make it at least another month before giving birth. Little did I know, I would go into labor 12 days later. I thought being separated for a month from David and Hannah and Brian and my entire world was bad. Friends, I had no idea what bad was. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

While hunkered down in the RV, I continued to read through the Psalms. My heart felt too heavy with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), so I relied on the Psalms to put my feelings into the words and the Holy Spirit to intercede for me. I re-read the words of Psalm 27:4 one day:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.”

I was angry when I read it. Bitter. The one thing I was asking the Lord was to save my baby. To make it all okay. To spare him from pain and allow him to live and let us go home and the whole thing a big mistaken diagnosis.

I wasn’t asking for much, I reasoned. Daniel hadn’t done anything to deserve this. God, you are the creator of the universe. Please, just grow this one baby’s left ventricle and let us go home.

I couldn’t fathom David’s words. Can you imagine? Think of all the things you want. If you have a loved one battling a terminal illness; if you are in daily and constant pain, or love someone who is; if you have a family member battling addiction and have to watch her destroy her life, powerless to help. Can you imagine saying that the one thing you ask of the Lord is to dwell in His house forever and worship Him?

I am a life long Christian. I was born to Christian parents, baptized as an infant, confirmed in May of my 8th grade year, and have attended church and Sunday school for most of my life. I teach at a Christian school, and I have taught Bible class. I knew quite a lot about Jesus and about my faith, but I think I knew it from a distance. I knew it in my head, and I wholeheartedly believed it was true, but from where I stand now, I feel like I had such an immature faith compared to now.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

Love the Lord with heart, soul, and mind. Love the Lord with everything you have. Not know all the facts or tenants of your religion, not believe He is real. Those things are very important, but even the demons Jesus cast out during His ministry knew who He was.

It has occurred to me that I wouldn’t love God the way I do now if it wasn’t for Daniel’s congenital heart defect. Every single day while in the PICU, I saw God move. At the exact perfect time someone would come to pray with me– a cardiologist, a nurse, a friend, a volunteer, a chaplain. I was reading through Gospels in my chronological Bible at the exact time all of this was happening, and I began to understand who Jesus really is through his words and actions 2,000 years ago, at the exact same time as I was seeing Him caring for my family and me.

The only thing I had that mattered was the Word– praying the Psalms, reading the Gospels, listening to Christian music. I now understand the words Jesus spoke to rebuke Satan when Satan was trying to tempt Him in the desert: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The reason I want to share the prayer cards is because it is the only thing I have to give that can really help.

I have recently tried to explain this to people, but they look at me like I’m a little crazy. It is impossible to explain how I can be thankful for the most difficult time of my life. It is impossible to explain to people that I am at peace, try to share about our incredible, loving, graceful, merciful God when it looks to the world like my life is crumbling around me. My baby has half a heart. I suffer from depression and PTSD and anxiety. I am battling my weight and my own health.

It’s not always kumbaya and smiles and peace. Quite often when I think about giving my baby away for his next open heart surgery, my fear threatens to overwhelm me. When Daniel’s primary care doctor suggested he might need tubes in his ears and a stent in his tear duct, I almost blew a gasket. NO MORE PROCEDURES. NO MORE SURGERIES. NO! If Daniel has to undergo anesthesia, would he have to go to Houston? We are talking a baby who was sedated for a good portion of his first 5 months of life, a baby who came home on THREE sedation meds 6 months ago. Can anyone even handle it here, and what if we go to Houston and he gets Serratia and Pseudotropomonas and Staph and the other PICU bugs? You can see, I can be a nervous wreck.

Sometimes it feels like everything is caving in around me. No one understands what this life is like except another heart mom. Once again, when fear starts to overwhelm me, I open my Bible and feel like God is speaking right to me.

This morning while Daniel was napping, I decided to put off dishes and laundry to reconnect with God in the Word. Around my house there is always something to do. For me to sit and do something for myself seems to be too selfish, a rare luxury, so it is easy to keep ticking off my list of chores that have to get done instead of read my bible.

For the last year, I have been reading through the New Testament in my Chronological Life Application Study Bible. Today the next chapter for me to read was Acts 25:23 – Acts 26:32. Up until this passage, Paul had been arrested and imprisoned multiple times. In this chapter, he has come to the royal court of Herod Agrippa II.

Herod Agrippa II was the nominal King of Jews, a title granted by Rome. His grandfather, Herod the Great, was the king who tried to kill baby Jesus by killing all baby boys under 2 years old at the time of Jesus’ birth. His great uncle, Herod Antipas, executed John the Baptist and actually met Jesus in person. His father, Herod Agrippa I, killed the apostle James and arrested Peter. Partly Jewish, Herod Agrippa II was well educated in matters of the Jewish religion and the Christian movement, as well as Roman politics.

Festus, the Roman governor, brought Paul to Herod Agrippa II after the Jews demanded Paul’s death. Just like Pontius Pilate and Jesus, Festus believed Paul “had done nothing deserving death” (Acts 25:24). Rather than consent to be tried in Jerusalem where the Jews were clamoring for his death, Paul appealed to Ceasar, his right as a Roman citizen. As a result, he must be transported to Rome to await trial. Festus brought Paul to Herod Agrippa II, probably out of courtesy since Herod was technically king of the Jews.

Can you imagine what Festus and Herod Agrippa thought of Paul, a poor Jewish tentmaker-turned-religious zealot, a man in chains proclaiming about the glory and mercy of his God?

The verse that stood out to me this morning was Paul’s question at the beginning of his testimony before the royal court: “Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?” (Acts 26:8).

Such a simple, yet powerfully poignant question. After all, we worship the creator of the universe and “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1), “the mighty one, God the Lord, [who] speaks and supports the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Ps. 50:1). Paul’s question to these educated, powerful men reveals their utter lack of understanding.

Paul would go on to remain in Roman custody for 2 years. On his way to Rome, Paul would be shipwrecked and suffer a bite from a venomous snake which should have killed him. While in Rome, he was confined to his home, a guard with him at all times, but it was during this imprisonment that he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. He was a prisoner proclaiming God’s power.

Paul’s question to the royal court reminds me that “with God anything is possible” (Matt. 19:26). This doesn’t mean that you will receive the answer to your prayer that you might want. During this imprisonment, Paul wasn’t magically released from custody, and he wasn’t spared a shipwreck and snake bite. God doesn’t promise liberation from our earthly troubles. Instead he offers “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). His testimony illustrates perfectly that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is impossible to explain unless you’ve seen it. 

What am I hoping to accomplish in this post? Why am I spending this time writing when I could use this precious time to catch a few minutes of sleep?

Truthfully, it’s because I felt led to. After I read that chapter this morning, this post formed in my head, and it took shape as I went about my day.

To all the families of heart warriors reading this post– it wasn’t until I had a medically complex child that I realized how limited human ability is. Doctors are wonderful, but so often after open heart surgeries, it is a guessing game. No one knows why some babies respond the way they do. There is a lot of great technology out there, but doctors aren’t able to “fix” a missing left ventricle or a missing mitral valve. No one knows why any of this happens. Even the most seemingly straightforward congenital heart defect can take a left turn out of nowhere and your baby ends up on ECMO, and doctors have no idea why.

Sharing my faith with you, showing you what God can accomplish in your heart even while everything around you seems to be crashing down, is the only meaningful way I can help and support you.

“I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my please for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Ps. 116:1-2).

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