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Adventures in Faith, Most Read

A Near Death Birth Redeemed by God

Just a heads-up this post contains some graphic details of the birth--if you get queasy around medical stuff, you might want to skip it. 

Look at the circumstances, the excruciating labor, emergency surgery, near death of the baby, scary hours after the birth, one might find it tough to understand how Whitney and I could say God redeemed the birth experience for us, and yet, that's exactly what happened.

For context, the birth of our 1st son Boden was rough. 30 hours of labor, head was stuck, wife's cervix swelled, heart rate dropped, an emergency cesarean delivery required. The baby ate every hour for weeks = serious sleep deprivation. The recovery for my wife was painful and in many ways robbed her of the joy of being a new mom. A month after we took him home our landlord went through a divorce, had to sell our condo, and we were evicted without any family around to help. 

So, for nine months leading up to the birth of baby boy #2, we prayed "Lord, please redeem this experience for us." Midway through I got an overwhelming sense in prayer that God was going to do just that. Not wanting to be wrong I was tepid to report this to my wife; but, I kept getting it so eventually I told her this time it's going to be different.

With every doctors visit, my wife Whitney and the baby were the picture of good health. And yet, the doctor had to tell us about the risks of a natural birth after a cesarean (known as a VBAC), the possibility of a ruptured uterus, and worse. 

Her belly grew ever larger and the idea of birth pains gave Whitney anxiety. I knew that this pain could not be avoided, so I asked God to draw her close and grow her through it. In the week or two before the delivery my wife told me that God had given her a song, she even began to refer to it as her birth song--here it is:

The day after her due date, Whitney began to have contractions. Excitement--the time had come! We prayed as a family in the living room--thank you God for the medical care, for my mom who flew out to help with our toddler, for giving this son a name, and so much more.

Whitney labored at home as long as she could; we expected her to get to a few centimeters dilation and when she could take the pain no more, we went to the hospital. In the five miles between our house and the hospital she had a few more contractions--they picked up in frequency and ferocity fast--she writhed in pain with each one.

Upon arrival she asked for an epidural--the nurses scurried around in preparation. They reported she was 8cm dilated, very close to birth. The heart rate monitor put on her belly revealed a baby inside with a low heart rate. This coupled with her more complicated VBAC delivery led the nurses to move her to the operating room (OR) for delivery. As they wheeled her away, the doula (a birth coach we had join us) told me that this was all normal, that as the baby enters the birth canal and is squeezed the heart rate often drops.

I was told to "suit up" so I could enter the OR for the birth, which I did quickly since I was an old pro having done this once before. I ensured my phone camera was handy to capture those precious first moments of life.

Nurses entered and left the operating room in a flurry, then one came out and said that a c-section was going to be required. I could hear my wife groaning in the room and the news hit me with a wave of concern. What happened? I thought she was ready to push the baby out? Our doula looked upset. 

Then I stopped hearing Whitney's groans and instead I heard another nurse request a "crash cart." What was that, I asked the doula? Again, her look said it all, then her words confirmed, it wasn't good--it's used to resuscitate a baby. I became confused, it didn't make sense, God told me everything would be okay, He even gave me a name for this baby. If the baby died, I would be left with so many questions, it wouldn't make sense.

I was numb with emotions. Still holding onto the hope that God had given me, yet now also fearful with the reality of what was happening, feeling foolish for having already documented the story about God naming the baby, terribly concerned for my wife--was she okay, was she in pain, was she hearing all of this and afraid? I couldn't even pray in that moment, thankfully our doula began to pray and I listened to her and agreed with every word she said.

Then we heard a crying baby--the doula broke out in praise to God. She told me this was the best possible sound--I praised God too. They brought him to me and congratulated me. I walked with him to the nursery, and the details about what the doctor had found began to emerge.

I learned that the baby's heart rate dropped again and did not rebound. For six minutes it was under 50 beats per minute, a grave concern. The epidural Whitney received did not take effect quickly enough for surgery so she was put under general anesthesia. When she was opened up, they discovered that her uterus was in really bad shape, stretched as thin as a sheet of paper, so much so it was translucent and the doctor could see her instruments through it. Even worse, the baby had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and there was what's called a "true knot" in his cord. The doctor later described this as a "triple whammy." 

I learned that a true knot is rare and often deadly. They're formed early in the pregnancy when the baby is small enough to swim around to tie a knot. They are one of the leading causes of still born babies. In our case, as the baby was being born and pulled down the birth canal the knot tightened cutting off his blood and oxygen. One of the nurses later fetched the cord and showed it to us, several standing around remarked that they'd seen only a few of them in their long careers. Then the nurse who was holding it in her hand had me put a glove on to feel it and she said that even with the knot the cord has a spongy covering over a smaller life delivering tube inside, which serves to protect against these kinds of things. She concluded by saying, "Isn't it amazing how God designed all of this?" 

In the nursery, Lukas went through his first weigh-in, bath, and warm up under a heater. A special doctor was called in to review his blood gas scores. For babies who face the kinds of challenges Lukas faced, time without adequate levels of blood and oxygen, they have to determine what the effects will be. She explained to me that Lukas was on the borderline in a couple of categories, but that they were hopeful he'd be 100%. Then she remarked that if we had come to the hospital even a few minutes later it could have been a very different outcome--you had a guardian angel she remarked. 

I hadn't heard an update on Whitney yet. When our first son was born I wasn't in the nursery near as long before we were ushered back to meet mom. I felt like my new son and I were missing the most important part of our family. I asked a nurse and she called for an update, then she passed on that Whitney was still in the OR. It seemed strange to me that over an hour after the birth she'd still be in that room.

I kept praying, "Lord, save Whitney...keep her in the palm of your hand." The thought crept into my mind that nothing is guaranteed, maybe she was in trouble, then again, wouldn't they tell me? There was nothing I could do except embrace this little miracle baby in my arms and pray and trust God.

Both Lukas and the reality of what happened settled into me. The news kept coming, I learned that our doctor didn't make it to the hospital in time, the procedure was so urgent the nearest doctor was called in. One nurse remarked to another something about good thing the small hospital started keeping a doctor round the clock just a year ago, had she not been there, who knows...

Just then the operating doctor came to see me--before we went to see Whitney she wanted to tell me that we would likely not be able to have children again. Whitney's uterus was too fragile, she'd never seen anything like it, a miracle it didn't rupture, and had she delivered the baby naturally it most likely would have had to be removed. I was just glad to hear she was alive--thank you Jesus, the rest would all be dealt with later. 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
— Matthew 6:34

We walked to see Whitney and she was loopy from a concoction an epidural, spinal tap, and general anesthesia. The nurse reported that the first thing Whit said when she woke up was, "How is my baby?" When she saw Lukas she cried, moved slowly to put him on her chest, and he quickly burrowed in and began feeding. I was choked up. 

The nurses kept checking my wife. One tried to take her temperature and seemed frustrated. Then she asked another nurse to help because the thermometer wasn't registering. They realized her temperature was under 94 degrees--too low to register. They fetched heated blankets and switched her to a warm intravenous drip. Due to the drugs her body couldn't regulate itself--they said the baby on her chest would help to warm her too. 

Eventually Whitney warmed up, we moved to a room to recover just as the workday began. The full picture of what had happened over the past few hours sunk in, at least for me. I started to tell Whitney the details and I got choked up over it. I thought to myself, why can't we have a normal delivery without all of the trouble?

And yet, as Whitney recovered, amazingly she said to me later that she felt as though God had redeemed the birth experience for her. I listened carefully to what she had to say knowing that in this moment I would learn something from my wife about the deep things of God. As she was wheeled into the OR writhing in pain she prayed and God whispered to her, it will all be okay and He gave her great peace. Yes, she said, God had comforted her despite the pain and the turmoil around her and now she felt much better than she had last birth. She felt so bonded to the baby, she couldn't wait to hold him next. Then she told me that it was as if the baby saved her, his heart rate dipping to avoid the natural birth which would have most certainly caused many more problems. 

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:7

I considered her words carefully. Here was this brave woman who had gone through so much, and while on paper it looked like this was a far worse experience than our first birth, God had changed the whole conversation. While I understood what she was saying and I was elated that God had drawn her close to himself all the way through, the drama of the night before stuck with me. I decided that, yes, God did redeem the birth experience because if that's what my wife felt then I would believe it too. I thanked God and adopted a celebratory attitude despite not feeling it 100%. 

In the day that followed we had sweet visitors who offered up prayer for us. One, a dear friend to Whitney, in her prayer she thanked God for having Mom and baby to work together, to preserve them both. Another, a dear friend to me, prayed a blessing over the family and asked for healing and thanked God for what he had done. Friends brought sushi and candy and a gift for big brother Boden. Another stayed for many hours and took beautiful photos some of which are included in this post. My mom extended her stay to help care for Bo so we wouldn't have to coordinate for his care. Whitney's regular doctor came to offer encouragement that it might be possible to have children again.

A day later Whitney posted on Facebook that she was so at peace, and I knew that behind that post was so much prayer, great trials, but an even greater move by God. He had done something amazing in our midst, even more than deliver a miracle, he had taken my wife through her greatest fear and he spoke to her and delivered her on the other end full of strength and peace and with a wonderful testimony about how great God is, something she and I both know full well she could not have done on her own. 

In conclusion, as I sat in the recovery room holding my precious newborn son in my arms and basked in the reality of a redeemed birth experience I prayed and had a revelation that brought this birth into the light for me. The Lord reminded me of one of the most telling prayers I've ever had for my wife, a prayer that lasted hours while at Bethel Church in Redding, CA. While there, the Lord showed me how he wraps my wife with love and gentleness like a soft warm blanket. That prayer has stuck with me and I've attempted to emulate the approach, which has proven effective and to speak deeply to my wife's soul. I saw that through this pregnancy, through the labor and delivery, God had done just that--he swaddled her tight and cozy and warm to insulate her from all that was happening around her. It was so clear now, from the peace of the worship music in her heart and the whisper going into the OR, the warmth of the baby on her chest, the rest and sweet visitation by family and friends, and an extraordinary bonding with baby Lukas, who Whitney in turn wrapped in a blanket of love herself, yes, it was clear that God's redemptive cover had fallen on my wife and in turn enveloped our family.  

Adventures in Faith

The Death of My Sister (and a Heavenly Vision)

But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

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The phone rang, it was late, I heard one of my parents get up to answer it in the hallway just outside my bedroom door. Then rustling around and footsteps down the stairs. Back to bed, though I didn't really sleep, already eery. Then more ringing, I hopped up and answered, I heard my Dad say come to the hospital. Got Daren out of his bed, into the car, driving and praying, not sure what's going on, hypotheticals in the mind.

Arrive, park, into the building, somehow it seems we know right where to go, people have looks in their eyes like they know something we don't, the hall opens into a lobby, our parents are sobbing, immediately we are awash in sorrow. Not sure what's going on, told it's not good, she doesn't look good, a decision to pull her off support will have to be made, let's go in to see her.

Tubes, machines, swollen, black, blue, a sight i will never forget, make your way to the side of the bed, hold her hands boys, they are so swollen, as soon as we do, she dies.

Everyone crying, doctors, nurses, parents, me. A blur of tears. A blur of everything. Eventually, we exit the building, into the parking lot, the sun is coming up, traffic is building, cool air, the Earth is still spinning, it feels odd that it is.

Drive home...ringing, many phone calls, soon many flowers, it smells like a flourist. People visit, so many people, they bring food. They cry. They sit and talk and listen. So many cards in the mail.

Soon a funeral. A flood of tears, I learned to cry so hard. Damn, man, my sister, my big sister, she's not showing up anymore.

Days, a daze. Enough for me, I need to get back to something. I need to get back to college, my freshman year. How will I sleep? I can't sleep. I haven't slept for a week. I'm going to try...I lay down to sleep, and I do.

And then I'm awake. Oh my God! Hop out of bed, right next to me, there she is, my sister in full color! Immediate tears. I'm sobbing. I wrap my arms around here as tight as I can. Right away I ask over and over, "Are you okay?" She says nothing. I keep asking, she keeps saying nothing.

Then I lift my head and turn right to see her, to verify. I look right into her hair. It's glowing and flowing. Oh my God! She's wearing a red Gap hoodie, the same one she is known for wearing, we buried her in it. This is unreal...even as I type this, the words cannot express the sight, the feeling, the realness.

Then, she asks me one thing, "Where is Daren?" I tell her I don't know, and then, she's gone.

I jerk awake...sit up completely. I am completely shocked. What just happened. My sister is not in the room, but something is. There is a breeze...a poster hanging above my bed has a corner loose, it's waving in a breeze that otherwise does not exist. I wipe my face, which is soaked in tears.

On my God! I notice the time, just after five in the morning. Do I write this down, will I forget? I can't move for an hour. And yet eventually I return to sleep.

The next morning, I get up, shower, dress for school. I go down stairs to leave the house. I walk past the family room, and I see my brother Daren sleeping on the couch. It hits me like a wave...a sense of emotion and peace and understanding and so much more washes over me. Daren, my brother, is known for always sleeping in his bed. Many sleepovers growing up, Daren always retreats to his bed. Many guests visiting the house at this moment, they all insist we sleep in our beds. And yet, there is Daren sleeping on the couch, he's not in his bed, this is completely abnormal. "Where is Daren," the question Danielle asked me now makes complete sense to me.

I walk over to the whiteboard in the kitchen, and I write Danielle is okay, tears flowing from my face.

Off to school, walking on air, because I have an unexplainable sense that my sister, who had died one week earlier (and I would later confirm this vision was exactly one week to the minute after her death) was okay, she was in Heaven.

__________________________

Another week goes by. This time, I'm out driving with friends. This is what we do to "get away," we drive around the back roads of Lebanon County, PA, not caring if we get lost, and it's not too hard to get lost because there aren't many landmarks when it's all fields and pitch black. We just drive, listen to tunes, shoot the breeze. So, I'm driving, one friend up front, another in the back, when I make a right hand turn, and then all of a sudden, it happens.

High above me, and yet visible to me even as I'm driving, my sister, again. She's glowing, she's white, she isn't really a figure anymore, but more of a presence in the clouds. She's clearly in another place, again, words don't work to describe this. And she says to me, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry this happened. Tell everyone I'm sorry. And then, she's gone. All this while I'm driving, and just when it ends, I look up to see a road marker and realize this all happened right when I had turned onto the same back country road where she was killed, just a mile down the road.

__________________________

These two things that I saw, what happened to me in this story, this gave me the most incredible sense of peace I could ever have over my sisters death. Even more importantly, it gave me a 100% certainty that there is a Heaven. And later in life, I started to work backward from this belief in Heaven to analyze the reality of God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Even though I was raised going to church and learned the lessons, it never really sank in to a soul level, it didn't sink in until I later poured over it, questioned it, and experienced it in this way, and many other ways since. Now my faith is central to who I am, I know that even through the death of my sister, God is so good, and his plan is far greater than I can understand. I now believe that God works through visions like these all the time, and he does miracles far greater than we will ever understand. And so, my sister's death, while a terribly sad occurrence that changed my family forever in deep ways, is also part of the foundation of my faith, and in that way, it is among the biggest gifts I've ever received.