Darkness surrounded our car as it sped down the quiet road. I leaned forward from the back seat, reaching my arms around my 14-year-old son, Joel. Heat radiated off his shivering body. It was clear his fever had risen since we started our three-hour drive home.
“We’re not going home,” I said matter-of-factly to my husband, Matt.
His eyes stayed glued on the road ahead. I watched his profile, making sure he understood what I meant. We needed to go straight to the hospital.
Matt nodded and pressed the cruise control button up a few taps.
Hours earlier we abandoned our summer vacation plans. In the days leading up to our dark, frantic drive, we made two visits to the emergency room closest to our vacation rental. On the second visit, the ER doctor diagnosed Joel with cellulitis that stemmed from an infected scratch. The doctor then advised us to go home in order to be closer to the well-respected pediatric hospital in our hometown.
Another groan came from Joel. His skin was so hot I could feel it with my hand an inch from his forehead.
I closed my eyes and cried out silently to God… “Please, Lord. Please. Help him. Let us get there.” I repeated these short pleas over and over again.
These moments felt too familiar. Helpless. Rushed. Desperate. Dark.
My mind flashed back to that terrible night about eight years earlier. Matt drove far too fast from our house to the hospital. That drive was a short 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity as I pled with God for my younger child’s life.
“Please, Lord. Help me. Get us there. Please.”
I was in labor at just under 22 weeks pregnant. I was terrified and utterly helpless. Hours later our daughter, Faith Isabella, was born alive. But all too soon, she passed from our arms into the arms of Jesus.
A bump in the road jarred me back to the present nightmare.
“I can’t do this again God!” My silent prayers continued from the back seat. “I can’t lose my only living child. Please.”
We made it to the children’s hospital at about 12:30 am. The immediate care Joel received was reassuring. We made it. I praised God.
But after more than two hours the nurses were still sweating from running in and out of Joel’s room. The doctor’s voice was still urgently spouting directions to the nursing staff.
It occurred to me that this was more than just attentive care. This was truly an emergency.
We watched helplessly. Joel continued to writhe in pain. His muscles were cramping and he was barely conscious. Everyone’s main concern seemed to be his blood pressure. It was dangerously low and his heart rate was so very high.
Slowly Joel drifted off. I thought this was a good sign. But the hustle in the room seemed just as urgent.
Finally, Joel’s blood pressure stabilized after a drug called nor-epinephrine was pushed into his veins. Everyone seemed to release a collective sigh of relief. Only then did the amazing, no-nonsense doctor explain that Joel’s body was in septic shock.
My mind reeled. I forced myself to concentrate on her next words.
“He is now stable enough to be transferred to the ICU.” She said. “You got here just in time. If you had waited even another hour, things may have turned out differently.”
I didn’t have the mental capacity to ask any more questions.
Septic shock was something I had heard of, but only as a cause of death. I didn’t know people could survive septic shock. Yet I recognized that the hospital staff was working very hard to keep Joel alive. They were not giving up on him, and that made me think he might survive.
This is where the tale of the two prayers of helplessness for my children started to change.
When I was in labor with Faith the nurses and doctors were not working to save her life. Once my water broke, there was nothing they could do. I knew Faith would die and so did all of the medical professionals.
Matt and I stood back, in a fog, as a whole new team of doctors and nurses hovered over Joel as soon as he was wheeled into the large ICU room.
I kept crying out to the God that had created every cell in my son’s body. Sometimes I prayed full sentences out loud, other times it was just a cry of “please God!”
As I sat by Joel’s bedside, his grey clammy face looked lifeless. But his heart and respiratory rate were being constantly shown on the screen above his head. The wires stuck to his chest and abdomen gave a real-time account that he was still alive. The nurses and doctors coming in and out of the room, changing IV bags, checking his temperature, logging his vitals, and discussing with each other the best course of action, were all proof that they thought he could make it.
But I wouldn’t let my brain believe it. I didn’t dare to hope. I knew what it was like to leave the hospital without my child. I knew the outcome of my desperate cries all those years ago. I knew that the worst CAN happen, no matter how much I pray that it doesn’t.
Something in me detached from any future thinking. My only thoughts were of how to keep Joel comfortable each moment. I made sure he had what he needed right then. I wanted to be by his side whenever he opened his eyes, to hold his hand whenever he would let me. But I could not bring myself to hope. I couldn’t allow myself to consider either outcome.
As Joel started to show progress, I had a hard time believing it. When the doctors told us he was ready to be transferred to another floor after 32 hours in the ICU, I kept waiting for them to change their minds. When they told us he would be discharged the next day, I could hardly accept it.
This was what we prayed for. This was the miracle everyone was hoping for. So why did my heart have a hard time believing it?
I am so very thankful that my son’s life was spared. I often think of him laying in that bed, so sick and I praise God all over again that my now 15-year-old is here with us. He is healthy and towering over me. It is truly a miracle that I praise God for over and over.
But as we watched Joel return to health, part of my heart wondered, why couldn’t God do that for Faith too? The narrative I wrote in my head after Faith died was that God doesn’t do those kind of miracles for me. So when I watched my son walk out of the hospital, tears of joy streamed down my face, and with them my former narrative fell apart.
Why does God choose to demonstrate his miraculous power through physical healing sometimes, and other times he allows our hopes to turn to ash?
These are difficult questions. Ones I will never fully understand on this side of eternity. As time goes by I can see God miraculously bringing beauty from the ashes of my pain. (Praise God for his redeeming power!) But seeing that beauty doesn’t erase every question.
So I keep choosing to run to God. And he keeps moving my mountains of “whys.”
This is where faith steps in. Faith bridges the gap between what we see, and what we know to be true. Faith makes it possible to cross the chasm between what we feel, and God’s promises.
We can choose to confidently step onto the bridge of faith because the object of our faith is trustworthy. He is our creator who cares (1 Peter 5:7). Our savior who died for us (Romans 5:8). Our father who loves us (1 John 3:1). And our comforter who is present when our hearts are shattered (Psalm 34:18).
The solid foundation of faith makes it possible to run to him no matter the outcome of our desperate prayers.