Challenges, Purpose, Real Couples

Their Story: Dealing with Hardship When All Hope Seems Lost

My friend has a story that may change your life forever. About 6 months ago I asked Nathan and his wife, Anna, to consider writing this guest blog post. I did so knowing that their story, while incredibly difficult, needed to be told. Why? Primarily, to show God’s grace and faithfulness, even amidst suffering. But also to help others who may be facing, or will face, a crisis similar to theirs.

I used to think that God would be shown most powerfully in my success, my victory. I was wrong. God always shines brightest in our brokenness. While he can be glorified in life’s peaks, he is most glorified in our brokenness because we’re reminded of his steadfast love, his enduring faithfulness, and what it looks like to trust his sovereignty in situations we flat-out don’t understand.

This post is longer than typical for our blog, but it’s worth the read. And as you read it, I pray that you’re encouraged, challenged, and reminded to press in to God’s limitless goodness amidst complex, inexplicable hardship.

And now, here’s Nathan:

“The God of Daniel”

Nathan and Anna

Nathan and Anna

My wife and I have been graced with three amazing sons: Daniel Edward, Owen Milo, and Henry William who was born this last December. While being pregnant can bring out some of the oddest social graces of people, it is incredible to see how excited people get about pregnancy.

There’s a wonderful piece in us that has been wired to get excited about this. As long as there have been cultures the biggest, and most frequent, celebrations are often weddings and births of babies. Being a history major I’d always studied these sorts of facts as interesting anthropological phenomena; it’s just something people do.

Three Years Ago

It wasn’t until three years ago that I truly began to see what a big deal having a baby is.

  • Three years ago I learned 1 in 3 babies in the United States don’t make it to full term due to natural causes. That’s not sub-Saharan Africa. That’s first-world America.
  • Three years ago I learned why people don’t tell others they’re pregnant before the 12 week check-up.
  • Three years ago our first son, Daniel, was born. Daniel had red hair, a little button nose like his mommy, and a broken little body that simply couldn’t support his life on this earth.
  • Three years ago I learned that in a world broken beyond my ability to fix it, God shows his incredible grace to bring hope through that brokenness. I learned that God doesn’t make us avoid hardship to show he’s good. He shows it despite the hardship.

The Lions

On January 1, 2012, my lovely wife, Anna, came sprinting downstairs: She’d taken a pregnancy test and it said we were going to have a baby! We waited patiently, oh so patiently, while our excitement grew about this first addition to our little fam.

While we waited for our little arrival we did all the things new parents-to-be do:

  • downloaded the app that tells you how big your baby is each week (a cherry, a plum, a melon!)
  • got the mommy multivitamins
  • started doctor’s visits
  • kept our little growing surprise on the down-low

Then we waited for week 12: The magic number where your risk of miscarriage statistically plummets. We actually had appointments two days in a row: The check-up and then the official doctor’s visit.

At the check-up we got to hear the regular heartbeat of our baby. We were so excited for this green light on health that we went home and told all of our friends and family.

It was the day of the second appointment, three years ago, that I got a call from Anna that changed everything.

Anna and I had planned to meet up at the appointment. I was coaching football at the time and, since we got good news the day before, she felt comfortable just meeting me there. I was running a little late when I got the call. The only things I could make out through her sobs are still burned into my mind: “You have to come now. Something is wrong with baby…

Anna was distraught. The news was that our baby had a condition. Some condition. It wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t good. They didn’t think the baby would live.

It was three years ago that I became a crier. I’d once had a conversation in college about how it’d been a decade since I’d really cried hard. I cry a lot more now.

Our Options

That day, and in the coming weeks, the doctors talked to us about our options. Further research into what was wrong was an option. The second option required some inference. There was frequently talk of the numerous difficulties.

  • This baby would have some complications, whatever they were.
  • They could be expensive to find.
  • If it didn’t work out, we would have to wait longer to try again for another baby.
  • If we waited much past week 12 we’d have to have a complicated procedure to remove the baby.
  • If the baby died later it could be messy, difficult, and dangerous to Anna’s health.
  • If it happened when we were away from a hospital it would further complicate things.

These facts were brought up frequently.

The inference became clear: This is scientifically a waste of time and resources. Ending this now makes the most sense: a healthy baby is the end goal. No one asked if we wanted to abort our baby. It was always stated as a positive; “You could move on” or “Are you still planning to carry this baby?”

We didn’t choose at week 12 to keep a full term baby we knew wouldn’t live. We chose at week 12 to not give up on a baby we knew was still alive.

At first doctors thought it was a spinal condition. Maybe fluid on the brain. Possibly trisomy 18. We did an amniocentesis. We ran genetic tests. All were clear.

They thought maybe it was scoliosis. Maybe spina bifida. He was missing a leg and had some organs on the outside of his body. Fixable. We’ll take a one-legged little man.

We had regular doctor visits, between once and twice a week, starting at week 12 when we found that something was wrong with baby. We were told that baby could pass any time.

A week went by, then a second week, and we got to see him grow. He kicked, punched, sucked his thumb. We continued to watch his healthy heartbeat. We prayed. We cried.

It wasn’t until around week 20 the doctors could see enough to understand the predicament. The doctor had to tell us three times what she saw.

It is quite rare in this form, and not fixable. An amniotic band had wrapped around his torso. His heart and body were growing. His lungs were not. “I’m sorry,” she said. We didn’t understand why. She repeated her information, along with her apology. We didn’t hold it against her. We also didn’t understand. She painted us a picture. We cried some more.

By week 32 the doctors were in a bit of a tizzy. We started doing paperwork to bring Daniel home. What?! He had a healthy heartbeat. We also began funeral preparations.

We were planning both an incredible, miraculous birthday after 30+ weeks of Anna and Daniel battling for his life, and a funeral that would happen on the same day. There is no amount of preparation, prayer, hoping, medical information, social support, encouraging Bible verses, or positive self-talk that could prepare us for that day.

The God of Daniel

We’d decided on the name Daniel because we found, and still find, great encouragement in it. In the Biblical account, Daniel was brought out of the den of lions, unharmed, and the king of the land worshipped God saying:

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
(Daniel 6:26-27)

God rescued the biblical Daniel from the mouth of lions. We prayed that our Daniel would receive the same grace.

The mouth of the lion

We knew by week 32 that he wasn’t supposed to live very long. We had a c-section schedule for week 36. The doctors said he’d have about a minute. The c-section was intended to give us maximum time with him.

At week 34 Daniel decided to pull his last little surprise. He threw his own birthday party two weeks early. Anna’s water broke around noon and we rushed to the hospital. He was coming today. At 4:18pm Daniel was born into our arms. He was a battler; he made it ten minutes.

And at 11pm that night, just before our God-send of a nurse named Debbie was about to finish the last shift of her career at that hospital, we handed our little baby back into arms we wouldn’t get him from again. Anna wrapped him in his little lamb blanket so he’d stay warm.

God provides, even in the lion’s den

Three years ago we did not bravely decide to defy medicine and keep our baby. We were broken, absolutely overwhelmed by the enormity of the heartache we carried and the hope that was torn from us by the daily struggle and the weekly confirmation that nothing was getting better. We fell broken at the feet of a loving God and said that it was too much. We wanted our son, here, alive. We wanted a miraculous healing. Wouldn’t that be an incredible way for God to show himself great?!

And God saw fit instead to show us the great riches of his mercy. He doesn’t need to get rid of pain in order for him to be great. He can show his greatness in the presences of incredible hurt.  We were shown a shadow of just how much God loves us in our brokenness by how our hearts broke for Daniel in this time.

God’s love is bigger than our brokenness

The brokenness of Daniel’s body works as a picture of our brokenness and relationship with God. Daniel could no more will himself to healthy than we can will ourselves spiritually whole. Yet his suffering did not make us love him any less. We hurt with him and for him. We did not resent his suffering. We wanted him whole. We wanted him with us. This is a sliver of the parent’s heart God has towards us. He first created people and saw that it was very good. He knows what this brokenness is about.

This is the same God who sent his only son with the perfect plan that he would die a death he did not deserve so that we can have life we can never earn. Jesus became sin so that we don’t have to be spiritually broken any longer. God doesn’t look at our brokenness and hate us. He hurts with us and for us. He’s given up everything, even to the point of death on a cross. Our job is to trust in Him and what he’s already done. This is the gospel. It’s not a to-do. It’s a been-done.

Three years ago our Daniel was set free from the mouths of the lions of this world. He no longer is held captive by his little broken body and the bands that held him down for all but ten minutes of his life. He opened his eyes for the first time and saw the face of God.

The God of Daniel

Three years ago I learned that people are onto something when they celebrate baby births. God celebrates life. All of it. For any amount of time. And we are called to as well.

We were told Daniel was a lost cause, yet it wasn’t true. Daniel was a warrior. He lived for 34 weeks with a condition that typically takes babies before they are 12 weeks. He had a healthy heartbeat up to the minute they cut the umbilical cord. He lived a total of 10 minutes outside of the womb, yet he has forever impacted our lives and has given us the chance to speak hope and truth into the lives of many others.

In Daniel’s 10 minute life every minute counted to us, and every minute counted to God. He wasn’t a success by this world’s standards, but he is our son. We do not love him less. We do not hurt any less.

At the end of the day the decision to keep him wasn’t ours. If it was, we’d still have him! Yet neither was the decision to move on by choice. If he was going to leave us, having him leave earlier wouldn’t have made the heartache go away; it just gives the heartache a head start.

God is so wildly in love with us, and the lives we carry, he couldn’t keep himself away. In his grace he broke into our little social bubble of humanity and paid the price that was due to us. We are broken spiritually much like Daniel was broken physically. God promises to make us well. He promises to love us, and our children, better than we could imagine. He promises there is hope for life here as long as His love is a part of it.

God isn’t scared of the lions in our lives. He will always provide enough in our time of need. He is the God of Daniel.

Nathan, Anna, and Daniel

Nathan, Anna, and Daniel

A note about Nathan

Me and 3 of my longest, closest friends with our kids: Phil, Nathan, Ryan (me), and Jeff

Four friends: Phil, Nathan, Ryan (me), and Jeff

Nathan is easily one of my closest and longest friends. I’ve known him since I was 14. He’s a middle school teacher, a wrestling coach, and a YoungLife leader. Last year he approached me with an idea to start a blog to help parents and teens deal with gaming addiction. I was honored to help him craft his idea and bring it to life online. The result is Nathan’s new-ish blog, called Gamer Revolution. He writes about issues around video game addiction from a gospel-centered perspective. If you, your spouse, your kids, or someone you love is dealing with gaming addiction, I highly recommend you check it out.

Here’s where:

Have you heard of the The 31-Day Pursuit Challenge?

Every marriage begins with passion, purpose, and pursuit, but few stay that way. That’s why we wrote Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit Together, they make what we’re calling the 31-Day Pursuit Challenge. Couples are encouraged take the challenge together. We’re already starting to hear stories of transformed marriages! Are you up for the challenge?

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