Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Gift of Life

 "My daughter might die." This thought hit me three hours after I birthed her as paramedics from a hospital an hour away explained to me that they would take very good care of my daughter and drive carefully as "they were in the vehicle too, after all". I could see through the infant ambulance bed where she took shallow breaths, an IV in her arm and a breathing cannula in her nose. She looked empty and so small, nothing like her vibrant, chubby brother we had met so similarly and yet so differently less than two years before. It didn't feel like any of this was happening. They wheeled her away, this weird mix of heartache and determination on their faces. As they left the room, one of the paramedics turned to me and said, "Congratulations, mom. She is beautiful." I pursed my lips into a smile and promptly burst into tears, leaning into my husband who, filled with the protective spirit of a father and husband, had no idea what to do with himself as our family was pulled apart.

"My daughter might die." I couldn't say it but it was all I could think. I stayed in the hospital bed, just thinking it. I knew that I needed to accept the possibility in that moment. I needed to accept that this one I waited for so impatiently might never be mine, that the five minutes I held her before they took her from me was all we would have. I prayed and asked God to help me accept this and I felt the peace of knowing that He would start to scratch at the emptiness.

The next few days were full of tests and driving and learning medical terms I never wanted to know and busy, go, figure out life with one child here and another an hour away and what are we going to do. I pumped around the clock and collected milk in little bags and little bottles and carted it wherever I went. My husband and I traded shifts with the toddler and in between tried to talk to each other and maintain a relationship. After about a week, I finally had the courage to ask her neonataologist, "So, she's going to be ok, right?"

"Oh, yes!" he exclaimed. "We seem to be past the worst and she's going to pull through." My whole body sighed, not only my lungs but my heart and my mind, they released. "But I mean, she really almost died, didn't she?" He didn't directly answer my question. Instead he said this, "Babies are like fighter pilots. They know when to eject. The womb wasn't a safe place for her any more, so she left, right on time."

What a stunning thought. The God who knit her together inside me [For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13)], who knows the number of hairs on her head [even the hairs of your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30)], brought her into this world at the perfect moment. My mind immediately moved to the many parents I know whose stories ended differently, whose sweet perfect babies were born still or lost before they were even able to be seen. My daughter's life was never guaranteed, just like those babies, yet God chose to bring her here, despite the dangers that could have killed her. He could just as easily have chosen differently (as He does so many times), but He didn't and that made her life so much sweeter to me. What a gift and an incredible miracle.

Here's the thing, though: my daughter's entry into the world was more perilous than most but her life is no more of a gift than yours or mine or anyone's. We were all brought through peril to arrive here (ever seen a woman give birth? then you know what I mean...). We are all held in the palm of a gracious God [In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it,and his hands formed the dry land. (Psalm 95:4-5)] who has numbered our days [his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you,and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, (Job 14:5)] and set us on our paths [You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:3)]. Just as my daughter's life is a gift and a miracle so is my own! Life looks so different when it could end at any moment. Dishes and bills and traffic and messes become less unnerving, and eye contact and laughter and hugs and holding hands become critical. The pressure on me vanishes and instead, I can lift up all my cares and worries and concerns to the One who sustains the universe [{Jesus} is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)]. "My daughter might die." It's true and was a very real possibility. But it always is, for all of us. Life is a gift and a miracle.

As I thought about all this, I remembered visiting my grandparents, my dad's parents, when I was maybe ten or eleven. We saw them a few times a year, and I gave my Grandpa a big hug and said, "Hey, Grandpa, how are you?" Without the pretense of typical social conventions, he looked me square in the eyes and replied, "Well... I woke up." I laughed, having no idea how to respond to this slightly morbid statement, the implication of which was that he very well could not have woken up. I thought it was such a weird thing to say at the time, but now that I think back, I understand him better. "How are you, Grandpa?" His answer: "I'm blessed to be here another day. That is a gift every day."

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