Saturday, December 24, 2011

Three prayers

I was standing in a waiting room of the south tower at UC Davis Med Center; I was tired of sitting. I had been there for most of the past two days. It was a clear day, a warm day in May. The sun filled the room with light, fighting back against the dullness of the florescent bulbs. My wife was with me, along with my sister and mother. I remember the blue striped shirt my wife was wearing that day. It's strange what your mind holds on to all these years later. I remember I was praying, praying hard. 

I remember hearing the overhead page for the Code Blue. It's the call they use to say someone is dying, come quick. That had been two hours ago. I remember praying to God that he let my father live. Let him live, and I promise I will change, I will be good from now on. I could not imagine life without my father; he was such a big part of my life. My mind was running countless scenarios where my father pulled through and my life would go on in a way I understood. Please Lord, don't let him die. I'll do anything you ask, please don't let him die. 

I knew by the look on the doctor's face my father didn't make it. It was not a sad look, or the look of apprehension about telling a family the bad news. The doctor had the look of a man who had been fighting hard to save a life for the past two hours, and had lost the battle. I had so many feelings coursing through my body. I felt this numbness, I guess it is like being in shock. I could hear my heart pounding audibly as my mind raced. Why God? Why? 

I was in my mid twenties at the time, married to my wife of almost three years, and completely dependent on my father. 

Since high school, I had worked for him. I had worked on our cattle ranches, and had just received my real estate license to work at his real estate business. Not only had I just lost my father, I had just lost my employer and benefactor. As we drove home from the hospital that day, I couldn't help but thinking how God had let me down. Didn't he know that I was on my own now? What was I going to do? How was I going to pay for the house I just built? Why would he do this to me when he could have just saved my father and made my life so much easier? Why? 

Although I had been a Christian for most of my adult life, I had walked far away from God over the years. In fact, my life looked nothing like the walk Christ would want me to have. I had little responsibility, little thought for others, my life was all about me and what I wanted. Prayer for me at that time was like a 911 call. God, are you there? Something terrible happened, I need your help, get me out of this. This was not the prayer of someone who had a deep relationship with God. This was desperation. This was 'Let's make a deal' prayer. 

A decade later, I was at the hospital again, and again, I was praying hard. This time my wife was heading into surgery for an emergency caesarean section. She was seven months along at the time, and for the past two weeks, we had been told we had to do everything to keep the baby inside; she was not ready to come out. That all changed when my wife's platelet count dropped through the floor and her system started to crash. 

I remember driving behind the ambulance going from the hospital in Roseville to the one downtown because they had the best neonatal care unit in the area. I remember praying, Lord, I don't know what this is all about, but if it is your will, please let my wife and baby live. 

I remember being in a set of medical scrubs, in the surgery room, holding my wife hand as she had her c-section. Her mother, Lois was there too. When they delivered our daughter, my mother-in-law said I should go with the baby, she would stay with my wife. Lois had lost a premature baby once, and thought this might be the only chance I have to see her. 

Abigail was tiny, just over three pounds. I thought, looking at her tiny hands and feet, she was too small to make it. I was whisked out of the way as a team of doctors and nurses swarmed over her trying to keep her alive. I was again in a daze, as things and events blurred all around me. 

I thought back to my father's death, and how it shaped my life going forward. I had to grow up fast after his death, and I did. We had to sell the house we had just built. We move to Sacramento with a newborn son, a start-up business, nothing in the bank, and not much else. Ten years later, we had a nice little house, my wife was running our business full time, and I was making a good living in the tech industry. 

I don't try to guess at God's plan any longer, but at that critical moment, our daughter was in the best place, and in the best hands for a baby in her situation. I continued to pray in those first few hours. Thank you Lord for all the blessings in my life, thank you for seeing us through so far, your will be done Lord, your will be done. 

My wife was not out of the woods at this point either. This had started with her having a variation of pre-eclampsia, and she was still having complications. I bounced back and forth between the neonatal unit and my wife's recovery room, giving her updates on little Abigail. 

The first few days were the worst. They had to put Abbie on a ventilator, and she had a hole in her heart that they were monitoring, hoping it would close as it should. I have a picture of her with my wedding ring around her ankle; she was that small. There was not a lot of time for sleep that week. After a frightening setback with my wife, she finally stabilized, and now Abbie was our main concern. 

The nurses at the neo-natal intensive care unit are remarkable people. I am not sure how you work in that environment without your heart breaking regularly. There were maybe two dozen babies in NICU, many very ill. Some make it. Some do not. It is not a happy place to be for a parent. We listened every day as they would give us updates about Abbie. We would cheer when she gained an ounce, we would worry if she lost one. We spent many hours sitting there, just watching her breathe. In those weeks, I spent more time in my Bible than any time I had prior. 

I learned a lot about the nature of God in those weeks. Who he was, about his love for me, his love for us. I kept coming back to a verse in the Old Testament. Numbers 6:24-26. 'The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.' I printed these verses out and taped it to Abbie's incubator, or "the hut," as we called it. 

I drew such peace from this verse and the words that were very real to me. In all the chaos, worry, and doubt of those first few hours, days and weeks, I had a peace that I had no right to be feeling. I just knew that whatever happened, God was with me and with my family. 

Fast forward another decade, and I find that I don't get too excited about many things. I think I know what's important, and what is just part of life. I think the source of my understanding comes in two parts; my understanding of who God is, and the understanding that material things; houses, cars, career, status, are of absolutely zero value when you are holding the hand of someone you love dearly, praying they will live. 

My wife and I have been truly blessed. Our son is now in college, our daughter, once so tiny, is now a head taller than most of her class and is a beautiful, vibrant, ball of energy. Our family has come a long way, and I am certain that without God's love and his strength, we would have fallen apart. While I still have a very long way to go, my faith, and my walk with God are much different than they were as a new Christian. 

One of the things that concern me about the American church is the way we present Christianity. We talk about forgiveness, everlasting life, peace, the power over sin, the love of Christ that is ours when we accept Jesus as our savior. These are all true; these are the very essence of being in Christ Jesus. I think where we as the church go astray is the misconception, especially with new Christians, that faith in Christ is a magic force field against bad things happening to us. I don't think we do this on purpose, but we always focus on the positive traits of Christianity, as if we are somehow immune to tragedy and sorrow. 

Many who raise their hands on a Sunday to accept Christ, may think that once I am a Christian, all these bad things, all these bad situations will just go away. I don't believe I have read that anywhere in the Bible. Maybe you will be 'unfired.' Maybe the bank will not foreclose on your house as they said they would, or the doctor will tell you that everything is fine now, or your spouse will not move out. Everything may turn around overnight, I have seen it happen; but what if it doesn't? Is God not real then? Does he not love you enough to make your problems go away? This is where new believers need the church to come along side them, for support, comfort and prayer. Powerful prayer. 

As someone who would love nothing more than all souls coming to Christ, I think we should tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what the journey with Christ is all about. Not having gone through seminary, and being a rather poor example of the Christian faith, I may be completely and entirely wrong on this, but here is my 'Idiots guide to God', written by an aforementioned idiot. 

God is not a magic Jeanie in a bottle. Yes, he is all knowing, and all powerful, he is not however, ours for the commanding. He is the one who makes the commandments, it would serve us well to know these commandments, and keep them. 

I take Jesus at his word when he says, "In this world, you will have trouble." I have had lots of trouble, and I will have more of it, this is certain. The key is to hang onto the next verse, "But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

It's not that your life with Christ are all sunny days, filled with fluffy clouds and butterflies. There will be days that make you cry out for his mercy. Days, if left to your own understanding and your own power, would simply overwhelm and crush you. But with God's power, through the Holy Spirit living in you, you will know that ultimately, God is right there with you. He gives you strength when you feel you cannot go on, he gives you peace when you need it most. His heart breaks when yours does.

As you come through the other side of a crisis, you grow closer in your relationship with God, and your prayers seem to change. I still want the outcome I have in mind, however, I understand that there are things that I simply cannot understand, not in this life. I will have to trust God. Even when it makes no sense, even when it hurts, even when it is the opposite of what I wanted. I must trust in God's infinite love for me.

This last prayer is one I hope I have the strength to pray in my next crisis, which is surely on its way. "Lord, in all things, I give you the glory. Use me, use this, to bring people closer to you. Lord, lift up your countenance upon me, Lord give me peace."

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