Monday, September 18, 2006

Soli Deo Gloria

When my friend, Jules, announced her Summer Writing Contest, "What My Children Taught Me about God," I immediately thought of a post I had written last November on the occasion of my son, Jake's, 21st birthday. I had only been blogging a little over a month at that time and I had only a tiny handful of readers, so the post has had very little exposure. I normally don't enter contests but this time I decided to enter. I thought perhaps the story of Jake's birth and God's incredible mercy might be an encouragement to another family who found themselves in a similar situation. It's a story I never tire of telling.

Last evening, I got an email from Jules telling me that my post was the third place winner in the contest. I never quite know what to do with such honors; I am thankful for the recognition but at the same time, I feel uncomfortable drawing attention to myself. However, in this case, I am pleased to have the opportunity to tell the story of God's goodness, mercy, and loving kindness to our family yet again. Therefore, I am re-posting Jake's story here with the hope and prayer that it may bring honor and glory to the One Who deserves all honor, praise and glory for His great deeds and tender mercies.

----- Originally posted on November 6, 2005

Psalm 139:13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.

Twenty-one years ago today with the birth of our second son, Jake, our lives changed forever. To be sure, the birth of every baby in every family changes our lives and the dynamics of our homes, but sometimes the changes are life shattering and life altering.

Jake’s birth was going to be “by the books.” Our oldest son, John, born three years earlier, had been more than a week overdue; it took 33 hours of labor and an emergency C-section for him to arrive on the scene. But this time it was going to be easy. We were looking forward to the scheduled C-section delivery—a week before the due date, no labor, no surprises. It was going to be a nice counter balance to the drama of John’s birth.

The morning of the delivery came and everything was on schedule. My OB-Gyn assured us that this time it was going to be different. This time Tom was going to be with us for the delivery. This time I would get to keep the baby with me in the delivery room. It was a happy morning full of excitement and anticipation. My sister had surprised us by getting up early and driving 45 minutes to be there with us. John was staying with a neighbor until Tom could slip away and bring him to see his new brother or sister. The grandparents were going to come later in the day. Ronald Regan was going to be re-elected, no doubt about that—I had cast my vote weeks before by absentee ballot. It was going to be a perfect delivery—a perfect day.

But when our little boy, Jacob Thomas, was born we knew immediately that something was wrong. He wasn’t pinking up. His first apgar test was 0. The doctor and the delivery room staff took on a practiced, deliberate pace as they began evaluating Jake. Things got very serious. His second test was 2. Something wasn’t just wrong, it was terribly wrong. Jake was whisked out of the room. Weeks later I would remember kissing him on the top of the head as they carried him away. That memory had been lost in the fear and shock of the moment.

And so began the rest of his life—and ours. I was taken to a recovery room. I began to pray. “O God, please! O God, please!” Please what? “Please save him, help him, please let us keep him, please be with him, please help me trust you, please help me accept this, and finally, O God, please help me give him to You!"

A team was brought from the nearest heart center to evaluate Jake and to stabilize him for transportation to Medical Hospital in Toledo. Jake was hanging on. They did an echocardiogram and some other tests. My memory of the sequence of events is fuzzy. I remember my sister being there with me as I waited for news. What a comfort it was to have her there with me! At this point we knew very little, only that Jacob had some type of heart defect. Kathy was holding my hand, telling me about all the wonderful things that can be done with heart defects, praying with me, just being with me. Tom was off somewhere signing papers, doing the things that needed to be done. Oh, how I wanted him there with me, but hospitals have their procedures and their paces and it felt as though he had been swallowed up in it, just like Jake had.

I have no idea how long it was—it seemed forever—but there was Tom, and my doctor, and our pediatrician. They sat down and began to talk. I remember searching their faces looking for a clue, looking for hope. Tom looked like I have never seen him look before—in shock, despairing, grieving, helpless. He kissed me, held my hand, and kept saying, “I’m here.” Kathy retreated to the other side of the room and we all listened as the team of doctors informed us of what was happening.

The echo revealed that Jacob had a “boot shaped” heart. My eye caught my sister’s face. I’ll never forget the look. As a nurse, she understood what that meant. Inside, I began to pray and plead as I readied myself for what was coming. Jake had hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Twenty-one years ago, that was considered an inoperable defect. They told us that Jake was being readied for transport. Tom needed to follow the ambulance. They didn’t know if he would make it. And then they wheeled him into the room in a tiny isolate. I was lying flat on my back because of the spinal, but the nurse cranked my bed up so that I could see him and say good bye. He was so beautiful! I looked past the ashen blue color of his skin and saw his long, golden eyelashes, his plump, filled out newborn body—He was so beautiful! My mind was engaged in the drumbeat of prayer, “O God, please!” And He answered that prayer. In that moment, He helped me to give our son to Him, trusting Him to do what was right and good in His sight. The fear and shock and pain were still there, but the burden had shifted to Christ.

Kathy went with Tom to the hospital. How grateful I was that he didn’t have to drive there alone and that she would be there to help him understand what they were telling him about Jake’s condition. I was moved to a private room where I began to wait. At some point my mother was there, holding my hand, brushing the hair from my face, giving me water, doing anything thing she could to help. We sat there in silence, each of us with her own thoughts and prayers. There was nothing to say. It was time to wait.

We had a brief call from Tom, saying that Jacob was in the cath lab and that we would know more when the doctor came to talk to him. He had learned that Jake had gone into complete cardiac and respiratory arrest several times on the way to the hospital and that it had taken a long time before they had been able to move him out of the ambulance and into the hospital because his condition was so unstable.

The hospital staff allowed my mother to stay with me long past the end of visiting hours, but eventually she had to leave. The room was dark, I had been given several shot to help me sleep, but I couldn’t sleep until I knew how Jacob was. I had to know. I had to pray.

Then sometime after midnight, our pediatrician came into the room. He sat down in a chair in the corner, in the dark and began to talk. He had talked to the cardiologist. He couldn’t explain it, he didn’t understand it, but things had changed! The cardiologist had reviewed the videotape of Jacob’s echo that was taken before he was transported. It showed, very clearly, hypoplastic left heart syndrome; and yet, when he got into the cath lab and began to work on Jake, the images he saw on his screen were very, very different. Jake’s defect was no longer HLHS—the catheterization revealed that he had Transposition of the Great Vessels with a large ventricular septal defect. Neither doctor used the “m” word, but neither could explain how a baby born with HLHS in Findlay, Ohio could hours later present with an entirely different defect, this time an entirely operable defect.

This was only the beginning of “miracles” in Jacob’s life. To tell the whole story would take a very long time, and yet I hardly know where to stop. Because it is the story of his life, and today is his 21st birthday.

Every year at this time, I remember his birth and I remember each stage of his life with us as it unfolded. His first open heart surgery at 3 ½ months. His beautiful toddler smile. The way he smelled when he woke up from his nap and climbed up into my lap. His first day of kindergarten, praying for a kitty, winning the speech meet in 2nd grade, playing t-ball. Another open heart surgery at age 10, home schooling him in 6th and 7th grade, going out for the baseball team when he was a junior in High School, never having played since t-ball at age five (now that takes courage!), coming home on the bus with the Coach’s Award, being crowned Homecoming King his senior year. All these events in his life and many others run together through my mind almost like the prayers ran together on the day he was born.

Today Jacob is in college, serving on the leadership team of the Campus Christian Fellowship. He still has the most beautiful smile. He has so much to live for.

I think about miracles a lot, especially around Jake’s birthday. I used to think of them as God swooping in at the last second and intervening in the lives of men—breaking through His own laws of His own creation to do something that can only be done by Him. Changing things at the last minute. And yet, the longer I am a Christian, the more I see that miracles are only miracles from our limited point of view. God had a settled plan for Jake’s life. He formed his inward parts; he knit Jake together in my womb. Jacob is fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s eyes saw his unformed substance; in His book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for Jake, when as yet there were none of them.

Through Jake’s life I have learned that His works—all His works—are wonderful and my soul knows it very well.

Happy Birthday, Jake!

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