27 June 2011

On Praying for a Miracle

No parent ever expects that they will end up pacing the white tiles of an ICU waiting room while their child is in surgery. Nobody thinks that their child will be the one receiving oxygen through a nasal canula, or that their baby will be one that needs to be cut open. Nobody expects it, and everyone who finds themselves in that place hopes for a miracle. Every. Single. One. No matter who you are, it is an impossible thing to watch a child suffer with disease.

Both Rob and BreAnn are on my Facebook friends list, but it's been awhile since we've really been in touch. Rob and I were a grade apart in high school, and his father pastored the church my family and I once attended. His wife BreAnn and I worked together in the middle school group for awhile after I graduated from college and moved back home. I haven't seen them in awhile, but we now have something in common that I never expected: they're in the hospital with a critically ill child of their own. Their 9-month-old daughter Reese (born right around the same time as Ewan) is at Seattle Children's Hospital and is facing surgery tomorrow morning to remove a pair of very aggressive (and probably cancerous) tumors on her brain stem that together, are about the size of a golf ball. Maybe bigger.

When I first heard the news, I prayed to the point of tears that evolved into sobs, eventually sending me running to the bathroom where I got sick (intense emotion will do that in early pregnancy -- at least one of my pregnancies). I know something of what it feels like to face what they're facing: the scent of Purell and the beep of monitors, conversations with doctors and surgeons, a litany of medications and procedures, forms and waivers and hearing what the risks are of saving your child's life. Hearing their news took me back to a time not so long ago when James and I were facing a lot of the same things.

Before his birth when I was pregnant, my prayers were far-reaching. I begged for the miraculous. I prayed that when he was born, they would evaluate him and wonder if they even had the same baby. Heart defect? What heart defect?! This child is perfectly healthy. I knew God could have done it. I knew He could have -- at any point -- given us the miracle that we hoped for.

In the days following his birth, I had never prayed so much. Whether I was lying down or showering or pumping breast milk or standing by Ewan's bed, I prayed. I prayed for mercy. I prayed for God to let him live and thrive. I prayed that he could come home.

But somewhere along the lines in our time there, I stopped praying for the miraculous and started praying for the next small victory, or praying through the latest setback. I knew plenty of people would continue in the vein of pleading with God for the miracle, and I was glad they were. Living in that hospital, however, I had to pray for where I was at, not for where I wanted to be. James and I spent some time reading in Genesis about his namesake, Eliezer. Eliezer was a man of faith and prayer. But his prayers weren't for the grand miracle -- they were simple and they were modest. They asked something of God, but it wasn't for anything sparkly or earth-shaking. It was for the next thing, and then the next. And so we started to pray like Eliezer. Instead of praying that we would wake up one morning to find a perfect heart, we prayed that the swelling would go down after surgery. We prayed for urine output to be good. We prayed that his O2 sats might come up.

I know so many people who are praying for a miracle for Reese, and I'm glad they are. They are asking for the miracle because they have complete confidence God can do it. If it's His will, they know that the next time they scan that brain, that God could make those tumors vanish from sight.

We should pray for the miraculous, for the display of power that would leave surgeons scratching their heads, and that would have these parents toting their baby girl home for a normal life. But in our quest for the miraculous, we should also not miss being attentive in our prayers to the day-to-day, moment-to-moment realities that Rob and BreAnn face. Even though these prayers may not appear to be as grand in their desire, they are just as important and are miracles in their own right when granted. I haven't spoken with them, but based on what I've read from BreAnn and from my own experience, this is what I'd be willing to bet:

  • They are beyond tired. They spend every moment they can by their baby girl's bedside watching her monitors, making sure she's breathing, and running for the nurse when something seems wrong.
  • They are living moment-to-moment. Any critically ill ICU patient's status can change in a heartbeat. Just because you have a good moment doesn't mean that things can't come crashing down around you the next.
  • They are sitting down with surgeons and doctors who, though incredibly compassionate, are in the business of making sure Reese's parents are fully informed of all the risks for every procedure for which they request consent. 
  • They are overwhelmed with both information and emotion and probably feeling inadequate to make the decisions they have to make.
  • They are frightened of losing their little girl.

And so this is the reality that I am and will be praying for: for strength and stamina when they are tired, for the peace that passes understanding as they pace the halls during surgery, for calm, and for moments of joy and rest. Tomorrow morning, I will be praying like Eliezer and asking God to endow Rob and BreAnn (and all of Reese's loved ones) with the grace and peace adequate to their need, that the surgeons would exercise deftness and skill in the operating room, that the tumors would be removed successfully and safely, and most of all, that Reese comes out of it okay. When you've walked those halls and burned hours in those waiting rooms, both dreading and desiring updates, then you know these things are miracles, too.

Sadly, most of us don't get to see someone raised from the dead like Lazarus. Maybe we've heard of someone riddled with cancerous tumors who goes to the doctor to find out that inexplicably, all the cancer is gone. But that isn't where most of us live. After everything we went through with Ewan, I have come to believe firmly that rather than spiriting us out of the storm with the miracle we hope for, most of the time, God wants to show us that He will walk through it with us -- the miracle of His presence in the Valley of the Shadow, the miracle of drawing good from the nightmare.

I pray that these parents know that we, and He, walks every step with them -- no matter how turbulent it becomes.