With each child came new challenges and adventure. With the birth of my second to youngest Jonah, we had a life changing challenge. For the first time in our family’s life, we were completely living on our own. We moved 9 hours away from what was called home for all of our lives to follow a “call to ministry.” Chrissy and I packed all of our worldly belongings from our humble single wide trailer, our two kids, Ben (3) and Tori (2), and our Dalmatian puppy, into a small U-hall truck. We were leaving hurt and disappointed family members behind to become a youth pastor; this is what I thought God was telling me to do. We had no idea what we were in for. We were headed into a tiny, highly conservative Christian college that was drastically different from our church experience, but we had no clue. Did I mention that Chrissy was around 5 months pregnant with baby number 3. Within weeks of arriving, we figured out that things were very different than what we had been sold on. We were told that we would have many opportunities to jump into ministry, so I could support my family. That didn’t happen. We were told there would be a supportive community. What was left out was the fact that support only came if you were like everyone else there. We were not.
I was asked to start a coffeehouse night, which I did with hopes to break into the community only to be hated for it. We even got hate mail for starting it from a group of other students. This was not what we expected. Even so, we were determined to follow the call so we tried to make the best of it.
We were given 2 weeks to find our puppy a new home. We gave her to another student who lived off campus, just to keep while we were in school. She somehow got hit by a car and broke a leg. We paid for her to get it set and cast by a vet. We were told she would be fine. We dropped her back at the student’s house to be cared for. Two weeks later he called to bluntly tell me my dog was dead, and he buried her in the back yard. Obviously, he had not taken a class in pastoral care or one on how to help families with grief or loss.
This was a challenging time for our family, and I’ve written about this time before. This was the time we saved happy meal toys to give our kids for Christmas because I had no job. That post is called Happy Meal Christmas. Soon after Christmas, we were to give birth to our baby. The doctor told us he wanted to induce the birth because Chrissy had a history of big babies (and his vacation was the next week). So, January 6th was the day. My parents made the trip down to watch the kid while Chrissy had the baby. This was one bright spot for us.
We arrived in the afternoon at the hospital and got ourselves ready for delivery. They prepped Chrissy and started the process. We went through the night and into the next day with little movement. Later in the afternoon, the staff convinced us that a pain killer would be a good choice. It would relax Chrissy and hopefully help the baby come. That is exactly what it did, but no one anticipated how quickly it would work.
Jonah arrived with all the right parts, but he had an issue with breathing. They kept saying, “He’s grunting, but it will be okay.” His little lungs were working so hard to get oxygen in. They told us that they needed to take him for some tests because of his breathing. They said you can carry him to the nursery, and we’ll take it from there. I remember holding this little swaddled baby who was clearly struggling to breathe. I was pretty concerned and felt helpless as I handed my son over to the nurses.
After getting Chrissy cleaned up and in a new recovery room, they came in to give us a report. They told us that they had to do emergency surgery on his lungs. X-rays told them that his one lung had collapsed from trying so hard to breathe. The pain killer that they had given Chrissy didn’t have time to make out of his system, which impaired his breathing.
So, we signed the papers and they put a tube in the right side that helped with his breathing. They brought him to us and told us that they hoped this would be okay, but they couldn’t promise anything. I was told to go home and get some rest, so I took my mom who was there for the birth, and went home.
When I got home, Chrissy called and said that they needed to talk to us again so I hopped back in my car and drove the 45 minutes back to the hospital. This is when they told us that the other lung had a shadow on it and looked as though it was going to collapse. They said they couldn’t do anything at this point. All we could do is pray, and that is what we did.
The next day, my parents left to go back home. I somehow lined up sitters for my 2 other kids, so I could go be with my wife and new son. The x-rays still showed this shadow and the other lung was not healing as fast as they had hoped it would. So, we continued to pray. We had people all over the United States praying for our Jonah– people we had no relationship with at all.
Remember this was 1997, there was no internet, no cell phones like we know now. That in itself was pretty incredible. On the second night, I was traveling home to see Ben and Tori and take care of them for the night. I was exhausted and out of options. So, I did all that I knew to and that was make a plea to God. I remember driving and making my plea through tears in hopes that God would answer. I came to the point of telling God that if He saved my little boy that I would go wherever He wanted me to go, and I would do whatever He wanted me to do for the rest of my life. I also promised to raise him so that he would know the love and grace of God. Then I remember saying the hardest thing ever. I said if you take him God, I will still love and serve you, because if you take him there has to be reason that I don’t understand, and I’m okay with that. I cried so hard after that.
When I got home I remember walking into the house. My other babies were asleep already, and I remember thanking God for blessing me with them. I went out into the living room and saw this sign that we found in the house when we moved in. “The will of God will never lead you where it cannot keep you.”
The next morning, day 3, I arrived at the hospital. Chrissy was going to be discharged this day, and Jonah was having x-rays done. When they brought him back, they said the doctor will be in soon. When he came in he told us that he didn’t understand or know how this happened, but the spot on the left lung had disappeared, and the right lung was almost completely healed. They would be removing the tube later in the day, and he felt that Jonah would be fine. We could hardly believe our ears. Our baby was going to be okay. We thanked God for this miracle that we had received. We still would have to keep him in the hospital for observation for another day.
While he was in the hospital Chrissy and I took shifts with staying with him. He developed a case of jaundice and had to be treated under special lights. This meant his circumcision would need to be put off too. We always joke about this because once he was free of jaundice, he was circumcised on the eight day, just the same as those in Biblical times were.
Jonah got his name, because it was years that I had ran from the call of God, just like the prophet Jonah in the Bible. I always thought looking back that it was interesting that it took Jonah’s lungs 3 days to be restored. Just like the prophet Jonah sat in the belly of the fish for 3 days. I have no idea what the meaning of this could be. If there is one, it might be that it’s an opportunity to tell the story of repentance and redemption. Looking back, we were all alone in this, no family, not much of a support system, just God. We could have relied on ourselves and the doctors, but we chose to put our faith in God and Him alone. When things get hard don’t hesitate to put your faith in God. Whatever happens, there is a reason, and it will bring others to God with your help or without it.