“I never asked for this! (sobs) I never asked for any of this!” The man cried out as he sat next to me in that hallway. His expectations and plans had just been shattered. He saw disaster, and I was there supposedly to speak of hope and how to make it through. I chose to also speak to him of blessings.
This scene and many more have been playing through my head the last few days. My daughter had her seventh birthday on the 23rd, a mere two days before Christmas. In so many ways she is our Christmas baby, our little miracle. I would like to share a little of that story now, as a way to explain, to try to put into words what the other side of “I never asked for any of this!” can be like.
My wife and I were not supposed to be able to have children. That was the wisdom we got from the doctors after a third miscarriage, that third one ending in emergency surgery for my wife. We cried out to God and to each other and tried to mourn the loss of dreams. A few months later, after we had sold everything we owned in Vermont and bought 40 acres of wilderness in Montana, we found out God had showed up and the impossible had happened, my wife was pregnant with our oldest son.
For all of the issues we had experienced previously, this pregnancy was textbook normal, and on February 28, 2007 we welcomed our oldest in a small birthing center in rural Montana. A couple of years later, we were back in Vermont and found out we were now expecting another baby. Everything looked good at first, until my wife went for an ultrasound. Then she went for another one, and finally we went for the consultation with the “experts”. There they told us that they had found genetic abnormalities with our unborn daughter, they did not think she would live to birth and recommended that we “terminate the pregnancy to avoid any difficulty”. We informed them that all life is sacred to God, we had experienced enough death already, and that under no circumstances were they to speak of that again.
We spent a lot of time crying out to God, and the cry “I never asked for any of this” was found on my lips many times. A couple of appointments later, and the doctors had some good and some bad news. They were now suspecting that our daughter had Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21) instead of the fatal (Trisomy 18); good news. The bad news, they were seeing 2 major heart defects and they were now predicting that she would not live through birth or at least not long after. We cried out to God more and moved forward.
A few months later and the doctors now think that if she lives through delivery, there is hope for surgical repair of Clara’s heart (we started using her name early in this process because it helped us.). She was also breech and showed no inclination to turn over so a Caesarean Section was planned for just after Christmas. Two days before Christmas, though, and it was time for Clara to be born. The doctors had prepared us ahead of time for the sequence of events. I could be in the operating suite with my wife until Clara was delivered, then I had to leave my wife there on the operating table and go with my daughter to be evaluated. They were not sure if she would need immediate helicopter transport to Boston, and if she did, I was going with her. Again, the cry on my lips would have been, “I never asked for any of this!”
Four months, and many hospitalizations later, we were headed to Boston for the surgery that would either repair our daughter’s heart, or take her life. They had delayed as long as possible to let her gain size and hopefully a little strength. I had never studied medicine, but was quickly becoming familiar with scary terms like “Tetrology of Fallot” and “Complete AV Canal Defect”. I was also quickly becoming fluent in Metric to SAE conversions in my head. The pre-surgery conference the day prior to surgery was short. It did not take her surgeon long to explain the risks/benefits of surgery like they are required to do. It all came down to this; basically she will die without the surgery, and there was approximately a 20% chance she would die during surgery.
That night we gave Clara a bath and scrubbed her all over with special soap designed to reduce the risk of infection. Then we put her to bed and spent more time crying out to God. I remember sitting in the dark in that little room in Boston, waiting for morning, for the time to hand our daughter over to the surgeons not knowing if we would see her again. Again if you could have put emotion into words, they might have been, “I never asked for any of this!”
The next morning we made the short walk to the hospital and went through check-in. At last we were sitting in the final pre-op room and the anesthesiologist came in to talk one last time with us. He reviewed the plan again with us, and then he had a curveball. He explained that even for children as young as our daughter, they had found an amnesia causing medicine to be helpful to avoid night terrors etc. post-surgery. Then he added that also if all was not well and she did not survive the surgery, then her last memory would be of her parents holding her. Then he asked if one of us wanted to give her that medicine through her G-tube (a feeding tube we had been using for the last 4 months.) My heart broke as what he was saying sank in, but I took the syringe from him, gave the medicine to Clara; then my wife and I kissed her goodbye and left her in God’s hands. “I never asked for any of this!” my heart was crying out.
I was thinking of all these things and more as I was sitting in the restaurant with my daughter, now 7 years old, enjoying her birthday breakfast. I had taken the day off from work to celebrate with her. We had plans for a birthday party with friends that afternoon, my wife was busy making the preparations, but for now it was just Clara and me. I thought of all the pain involved in the journey we went through, I realized something else was happening while at the time I was asking God “Why?” about everything, and while my heart was crying out that “I never asked for any of this!”. For you see, God was pouring out His blessings on my wife and I during that whole time, Blessings I never asked for.
Based on what you have read so far, you might be thinking “How can that be?” So I will share a few stories of how it can be.
Clara is a constant source of blessings! Every single day when I get home from work, our house sounds like Elvis just rolled in, and that is just Clara’s greeting. She will be the first one to realize someone is having a hard day and go over to hug them. It does not matter if it’s a stranger in the store or her kid brother, she is the first to show empathy. She displays a prayer life I am jealous of. When Clara is talking to God, nothing else matters. I can usually only pick out a word here and there that I understand, but God understands every one of them. The number of times I have seen things Clara prayed for come to pass is astounding.
Clara is only partially verbal at this point, so we are not usually positive how much she understands. After my dad died and I was trying to explain to Clara that her “Papa” would not be coming to see her anymore, she reached out and put her hand on my lips to stop me. Then she said “It OK. Papa Heaven Jesus.” In 5 words she summed up everything I was trying to tell her.
I want to briefly go back to the opening scene, sitting with the man crying out “I never asked for any of this!” His world was just turned upside down because his little daughter had just been born with Down Syndrome. Whereas my wife and I knew there were issues for most of the pregnancy and were praying for Clara’s survival, this man and his wife were blindsided. Words like “Genetic Testing”, “Trisomy 21”, “Failure to thrive”, those were all new daggers stabbing into the dreams he had for his little family. What I wanted to try to show him was how much favor God had just shown him by entrusting this new little life to him.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ”plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
There is so much more on this topic of unrequested blessings, but let me sum up a couple of things.
Even though there is pain in a situation, God is still Good! God is still God and He alone reigns. Sometimes, when we are facing a situation that we never expected for ourselves, the “I never asked for any of this!” situation, God is getting ready to pour blessings on us. Blessings so big we didn’t even know about them to be able to think to ask for them. God still answers prayers; sometimes it is just in ways much bigger than we had ever asked for.
I never asked to walk the journey of a child born with severe health issues, and the special needs road; however, I now count it as one the greatest blessings God has ever poured out on me and my little family. The Blessing I never asked for.