Through the past four months, most days were marked by a steady and unearned peace. But, as I have recounted in this series, some included bouts of fear and tears. I can say with the Psalmist,
When I said, ‘My foot is slipping’ your unfailing love, Lord, held me up. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.
Every time I have called out for help, God has held me up. EVERY time. Even once, when I would not call out for help, others prayed for me and God lifted my head. In this post, I will write about that day, but first I’ll tell you about the NICU.
Our daughter came out screaming and showing off her strong lungs despite being two months early (as I described in my previous post). Her doctor still strapped a c-pap on her when they rolled her from the operating room to the NICU, but she only wore it a day. After two weeks, they took her IV out too. And after three, she no longer needed a feeding tube. She is impressing everybody with her progress! Now, at 36 weeks gestation, we are counting down the days to her homecoming. By counting down, I mean she can go home five days after her last bradycardia (heart rate drop). That day was set for December 27 until she turned purple again this morning and reset her five day clock. I am used to ambiguity by now and am just so thankful that she is alive and so healthy that I don’t mind the delays. Our weeks in the NICU have not been easy, but they have been pretty bright. The first days there, however, were much harder. And, for me, two particular days felt quite dark.
Bradycardias are scary for parents. Nurses are used to them- vigorously rubbing or even pounding a baby on the back to bring up their heart rate doesn’t not upset them like it does an onlooking parent. In her first week, our daughter had many bradycardias. I spent every hour in her little room watching her monitors. I left only to scarf down cold food and sleep meager hours.
As my hospital discharge day approached, I was a hot mess. Now, I think I can blame my emotional messiness in part on postpartum hormones, pain and weakness after surgery, narcotics, overall exhaustion and um maternal instinct. But I also really think the devil took the opportunity to grab a foothold and pull me down into a day of intense anxiety and near-despair. Actually, I think I could rightly call it terror.
One day, as my bedtime approached, my panic grew. I held my three-day-old preemie skin-to-skin, her stream of wires across my lap, and cried in my fear. I did not trust the computer to alert the nurse about an issue (we had encountered a temporary uncommon problem with it); and the burden that I had to stay awake all day and night in her room to watch her breathe as if I were some kind of sovereign felt oppressively heavy. I considered attempting to sleep in a NICU recliner, but I knew I couldn’t. I felt helpless yet I would not relinquish the burden and I could not lift up my head.
Then my husband called. “Are you okay.” In my tears, I could only whisper short answers. He had a list of verses for me. First he read Philippians 4:6-7 and, honestly, I rolled my eyes. Then he read Psalm 3:3 and that perked my ears. Psalm 3:3 says,
But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
It’s a nice verse, yes, but its meaning for me ran deeper than Chris knew. Back in September, when I anticipated the struggles of a month-long hospital stay and NICU experience, I prayed that “God would lift up my head.” I prayed that, “when I could not lift my own head and I did not feel inclined to ask God to lift it, He would send someone to help lift my head for me.”
That very day, before my husband called, I had reflected on that prayer. I acknowledged that my head was not lifted and that I was disinclined to ask God to lift it. I had not told Chris about either prayer, so his reading Psalm 3:3 felt something like an inside joke from God to me. I listened more attentively.
Next Chris read Psalm 4:8,
In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Because Psalm 3:3 had gotten my attention, I was ready to receive Psalm 4:8 with faith. I personalized the verse for myself, “Heather, lie down and sleep. I can make your baby dwell in safety tonight.” I gave in. I opened my hands and exhaled the tension. I released the burden. My shoulders relaxed and I smiled.
When Chris said good night, I was a different person. I was ready to walk away from my daughter’s bed and sleep. It was so neat to be ministered to by my husband. God conquered fear and lifted my head and used Chris in the process.
That’s not all though.
I scrolled through images on Google for some Psalm 4:8 word art and came upon the verse pasted onto my grandmother’s favorite painting. I dont think the find was a coincidence- God often gives reassurance in amazing little ways. My grandmother was a godly woman worth emulating; I will admire her my whole life long. Ironically, my parents had gifted her the painting after she kept me as an infant. It hung on her bedroom wall my whole childhood and I often stared at it while I rested on her bed. When I saw that treasured image and the verse paired, my faith and peace received a second boost.
My nurse came in and saw me crying. She sat beside me to comfort me but I stopped her saying, “I am not upset, I am delighted.” Another nurse stepped in at that moment and overheard me tell the story. Then my nurse leaned in and told me the gospel. My NICU nurse ministered to me! She told me about salvation and God’s sovereignty and that He chose my daughter and me to walk this path together and that He would refine me through it. It was awesome! And her non-christian colleague heard it! Wow.
I hugged her in excited thanks, then I held my daughter a little longer. I looked again at the painting and humming “God Will Lift Up Your Head” by Jars of Clay, left the NICU for my hospital bed. And I slept.
In the morning, I called the nurse from my bed- my daughter had not had a single bradycardia episode all night.
Two days later, I calmly left the hospital (after a 31-day stay), my heart ached to leave her, of course, but I was not afraid. Now, I call the NICU from home to check on her and I visit her each day to hold and nurse her. Not long from now, these days will be a memory, but not a memory of sadness and fear so much as of the Lord’s provision.
Jars of Clay’s sings,
God will lift up your head… Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way. Wait because in His time, so shall this night soon end in joy. Soon end in joy!
Those lyrics were fresh on my mind when I read about Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8:24-26 this week. Matthew writes, “There was a great storm on the sea so the boat was being swamped by the waves” then “Jesus rose… and there was a great calm.”
As I read, I remembered that night in the NICU feeling swamped and afraid like the disciples in that swamped boat. I remembered how God called others to pray for my daughter’s health and my heart and my husband’s leadership. How He spoke through Chris to me (again) through His living and active Word. I believe He preached to me through my nurse. He sent me a symbol of peace from my childhood for reassurance. And He answered my own two-month old prayer very overtly. I remembered the “great calm” that came over me when “He rose” and softened my heart. Then I sat down to write this blog post hoping that maybe you would be encouraged too through my story.
From September to now, the Lord led me with tender mercy. He is faithful. I will proclaim His unfailing love and His wondrous works (Psalm 66:16). And I will never be the same.