Ben, December 13, 1996, ready to leave the NICU wearing an outfit that was way too big!!
So, here's what hit me so hard. As I had posted previously, when Ben was in the NICU, I was all about surviving....just getting through one day to the next, leaning on God, but not growing in God. God in his graciousness, grew me. I trusted Him more than I had before. But, I didn't learn how to give life over to Him....my life. To die to self and my plans, my desires, what I thought was best for me. God was gracious with us and our son Ben. He chose life for Ben. Life here on this earth.
Well, fast forward 5 and a half years to April 2002. On April 11th, 2002, I am 20 weeks pregnant with our 4th child. Ben is 5 and a half years old. We had gone in for the routine 20 week ultrasound. I was nervous, as I always am for that ultrasound....because I am a worrier. At the ultrasound, the radiologist takes a long time. I am joking with her, as she doesn't let on for a minute that she sees any "red flags." I even say to her..."Your job must be so hard in those times when you see abnormalities. I can't imagine how hard that must be to continue scanning and not be able to say anything to the pregnant mom." I've never said that at an ultrasound before!!! Here this poor woman was experiencing that exact situation....with me!!! Barclay and l leave the radiology department at the hospital and head off to lunch, celebrating the fact that we are having another healthy baby. When I get home, later that day, I receive a phone call from my ob's office. The nurse is calling and tells me that they noticed today that the baby's umbilical cord has an abnormality in it. She tries to reassure me, as I am crying at this point, but tells me I need to come in tomorrow for a level 2 ultrasound at the anti-natal testing unit. I am almost hysterical. A lot ensues in the next hour or so emotionally and I am calling a lot of people to ask them to start praying and to see if anyone has heard of umbilical cord abnormalities. Well, in the midst of all this, Ben, says to me, "Mommy, don't cry. Remember Joshua 1:9:
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, mommy, for God is with you wherever you go."
Out of the mouths of babes......what a gift my son is to me. God uses Ben to encourage me in the Lord. To get my perspective back on Him and off of the circumstances. To be strong in God and look to Him.
The next day, I feel girded up in the Lord. I feel strengthened. Barclay and I go in for the ultrasound that would forever change our lives. After the Periontologist and the nurse finish the ultrasound, they ask us what we know so far? That usually isn't a great question for a doctor to ask the patient. We tell him that we were told there is an umbilical cord issue. He goes on to tell us that our child has cysts on his cerebellum, cysts on his kidneys, it appears that his intestines are growing on the outside of his abdomen, his hands are in a downward clenched position and he appears to have only a 2 vessel cord (normal is 3). But, his heart appears to be strong, which is atypical combined with the other findings. All of these together point to a fatal condition called Trisomy 18. He goes on to say that these babies either die in utero or will die shortly after birth, as they cannot handle the trauma of delivery, or breathe well outside the womb. The outlook is grim. The uncontrollable sobs overtake me and I feel like I can't breathe another breath. I become numb....in shock. My husband asks him if he knows the gender of the baby. He tells us it is a boy. He recommends we have an amnio done right then, to confirm all the markers found in the ultrasound. We have the amnio and hear back about 4 days later that in fact, there is no question, our little boy has Trisomy 18.
The week after the diagnosis, was probably the hardest week of my life for it was a week of acceptance for me. It was a week of deciding who I was going to put my hope in: Me and my own strength, the doctors....or God? It was a week of breaking....and God did it gently to me...but He brought me to the point of crying as Jesus did in the garden before His death: "Abba Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." Mark 14:36 I am so broken before the Lord. I need you Lord, Jesus. Teach me more about you. Teach me to let go. I know I can't walk this road alone. I won't survive this time with you only at my side....I need you driving. I let go of the wheel during that week. After many, many years of holding it tightly. Take me where you need me to go. Have your way with me. Here I am and here is my son.
We decide that week, that our son, would be named Joshua Isaac: Joshua because of Benjamin and the way God spoke through him a week earlier, and Isaac, because God was asking us to lay our son down, His son, His gift to us, as an offering....just like Abraham was asked of Isaac. We didn't know at this time, if God would be gracious to us and Joshua and spare his life, or if God was going to take Joshua home to be with Him. There was so much we didn't know. But we prayed, we prayed that God would be gracious. We prayed for healing for Joshua....that God would perform a miracle. He could heal him completely, if He so chose to. We believed that. He could make take away Trisomy 18 and make him perfect. Or, God would chose not to and would do a different work in Josh's life and would use him, comfort him, protect him in a different way....one not seen at that moment. We trusted. But we prayed that God would make Joshua perfect.
But you know what God taught me. Joshua was perfect. He was perfect according to God's plan and purpose. He wasn't perfect in the world's eyes, or according to doctors, He wasn't, at that time, perfect according to me....when I thought of a perfect baby, I thought of a baby without health issues, without physical imperfections.......but who defines perfect? This was the gift God was giving us....who am I to say he wasn't perfectly formed? God knew Joshua from before time began. He had laid out the plans for Joshua's life and purpose.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..." Jeremiah 1:5
"I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." Psalm 139:14
God's plans are so much higher than ours. They are bigger. They reach broader paths and higher roads, they go beyond us and into the lives of others.....they aren't about us....they are about HIM.
On December 11, 2002, my precious baby went into the arms of Jesus. Joshua had been with us for 119 glorious days. When he was born, God did answer some of our prayers. He had healed Joshua in many ways. Joshua's intestines weren't formed on his outsides. He was able to breathe on his own. He lived with us in our home each and every day. He was part of our family....our clan of boys. He was on a feeding tube, he forgot on many occasions how to breathe and I would strip him down to his diaper and open my shirt and hold him skin to skin on my chest praying that God would be gracious and grant us more time....would spare Joshua's life. On many occasions, God did just that. He gave us more time. He used Joshua to reach more people for Jesus Christ. He used Joshua to teach me.
But on December 11th, around 2:3o am, Joshua woke and started gently coughing. We picked him up and held him close. His was breathing very slow. He would take a breath and pause before taking another. He was getting weaker. We prayed over him. And my husband told Joshua, it was ok to go into the arms of Jesus. He had fought hard and we loved him so, but it was ok. Jesus was waiting with open arms. We told him how much we loved him and how we would miss him. I struggled. I wasn't ready....please Lord, just a little longer...please. But it was his time.
We had prayed that Joshua's death, when the time came, would be peaceful. That Joshua wouldn't struggle. He wouldn't feel pain. And God granted us that. He was gracious once again. Joshua went quietly into the arms of our heavenly Father. I laid with Joshua for a long time after that. We wrapped him tightly in a blanket and let each of the children come and see him. We told them that this was just his body......his soul, his spirit isn't here anymore. He is with Jesus. He is whole. He is without any pain or discomfort and He is dancing and worshipping our King. Our hope......one day we will be with Joshua again. The weeks following were very difficult. Difficult doesn't really do it justice...
God comforted us in the weeks following Joshua's death with the story of David and his son, who died within 7 days of his birth. The story is in 2 Samuel 12 starting in verse 15. I encourage you to read it, if you aren't familiar with it.
"While the child was alive, I fasted and wept for I said, "Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:22-23
So, December 11 is a day forever etched in my heart and mind. And God used two of my children to teach me, using that same day with both. He taught me with Ben to trust Him with life.....the life of my children....every aspect of life.....He was gracious to me and allowed Ben to live, despite his 10 week premature thrust into this world. He used Ben to remind me to trust God with everything. He used Joshua to teach me about death.....not physical death.....but death to myself and that through death comes life, a new life.....abundant life....eternal life......through Christ Jesus.
"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." John 10:10
"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." Romans 8:5-6
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For Your sake we are killed all day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Romans 9:35-36
I miss Joshua everyday. He is such a part of me and a part of our family. This August, it will be 6 years since we were graced with his presence, since we held him in our arms. God has used time to heal and to make us new. He continues to teach me about abiding in Him and letting my plans and ideals go, for His plans and ideals...His ways. But I still miss him. There are days, times that are harder than others. Every August 14th is painful.......and every December 11th.....is painful. The days inbetween....well, it depends on the day, or the memories that come back...or the conversations. But God continues to heal me and my family. He is faithful.
My children, you children....they are a heritage from God....they are olive branches around your table. They are gifts, with purposes. I am a blessed mommy to 6 beautiful children......and thank you Lord Jesus, for blessing me with these children and for using them to teach me.....teach me more about you.....please don't ever stop teaching me.....I pray I am a good learner.