Monday, September 21, 2015

What is a miracle?

One of our 10 year old girls from the Children's Home, Yarely, has been in ICU for over a month.  She was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor. She had 3 emergency craniotomies in 5 days, each riskier than the prior one.  We have struggled with the unavailability (in Honduras) of life sustaining medications, the dire added diagnosis of ARDS, a very serious respiratory illness common in intubated patients, fears about brain stem damage and much more.  We have had a series of glorious highs and terrifying lows. Often within hours or days.  Throughout this "journey back to health" I have been very active on Facebook, emails, messages, and conversations.  I have begged for prayers, claimed miracles, and been effusive in praise and thanksgiving for miracles received and prayers answered.

In the midst of this I received a message from a dear friend, written from deep pain.  She expressed discomfort in my assertions that prayer works and my bold proclamations of miracles.  To paraphrase, "What about those people who have lost their children despite the same prayers?"

Isn't that the perennial question we all, devout Christians included, ask when "bad things happen to good people?"   When our loved one is healed, we shout Alleluia, affirmed that God is, indeed, listening to our prayers and responding accordingly.  But what about when the outcome is not what we prayed for?  Did we fail in our prayers? Did the loving God in the Bible take a day off?  Did we sin too much to qualify for a miracle?   Is there such a thing as a miracle? Although the Bible is full of miracles, I used to think (subconsciously) that the era of miracles mostly ended with in the New Testament.  I have come to see that the US culture, what makes us “great,” is actually counter cultural to following Jesus.  We pride ourselves in our innovation, put our faith in technology/highly trained experts, tenaciously hold on to our “can do,” “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” independence instead of simply depending totally on God.   I am not sure if God is not working miracles in the US because we just don’t ask, or He is and we just can’t see them.  (I suspect it is the latter.)

Perhaps the real question is, what is a miracle?  Is our definition of miracle too narrow? I have learned that it is broader than a binary “it worked or it didn’t.”  (Healed/died, got the job/didn’t, etc.)  I have also learned that a miracle can take a long time to be revealed and that, very often, redemption is involved.  (I am a strong believer that God can and does redeem any situation if you let Him.  My sitting here in HN is a prime example of the redemption of my failed marriage.)  Jesus tells us to ask for our heart's desire.  Therefore, we boldly ask for a miracle, for a rapid conclusion of Yarely's pending adoption, for access to life saving medications, etc.   We have prayed for specific things and they have happened.  On a Saturday in North Carolina, a LAMB friend found a supply of very rare life sustaining medication.  On Monday morning, I met her in the ATL airport and flew it down here just as the hospital was using the last vials available in all of Honduras.  For me, that is reinforcement that prayer works and miracles happen.  We have prayed for God’s peace when making devastating decisions, e.g. when Suzy, David and Evelyn were deciding whether to keep Yarely in the “unknown hospital with the unknown doctor” versus transferring her to the well known, well respected doctor recommended by our friend, a US pediatric neurologist.   Suzy clearly heard from the Lord, “I don’t need a specific place or doctor.  I can do my work anywhere.”  A profound peace descended upon them and Yarely stayed put and is improving daily.  What is that?  To me, a direct answer to prayer.

The Lord even provides miracles we don't ask for.  Yarely has been with us her whole life.  Late last year, Brad and Misti began the process to adopt her.  They were here when her crisis began.  Instead of waiting to see what the outcome would be before proceeding with the adoption, they doubled down, working feverishly to accelerate the adoption.  "Legal, smegal.  She's ours!" say Brad and Misti.  For Yarely, this is the best miracle of all.  She has a mama and daddy when she needs them most.

As a result of Yarely's crisis, a huge community has formed.  Literally thousands of people have come together to pray for her and encourage the people responsible for her care.  A small community has formed in the ICU waiting room in which we pray for each other, comfort the newest members of this unwanted club, laugh and joke together to break the tension, celebrate a child's recovery, and mourn together when a child worsens or dies.  This feels like grace to me.  And, who knows what redemptive seeds are being planted in people as they join us in this journey?  (see example here) We may never know, but God does.

None of us thinks that prayer is like a magic wand.  If you wave it just right, POOF, here comes the answer we want or the miracle we claimed in the exact form we laid out for the Lord.  We all know that, indeed, God answers every prayer but always in His way.  Sometimes we do get a POOF, there it is!  Other times, the answer is different than we expected or, even, “No.”  We must trust (struggle to trust) that "Yes," "No" or "different" is the perfect answer.  We also acknowledge that we may not understand that perfection for many years to come, maybe not until we are reunited with Him in heaven.  We also believe that, however painful the outcome is, God will redeem it in some way.  We, by our nature, have a micro-view, He has a macro view.  To us, this life is paramount.  To Him, this life is but a blink of an eye.  We simply cannot see the big picture all the time.

When Yarely was facing a extremely risky operation, Suzy wrote:  
“I do not know the technical details of Yarely's current physical condition. Obviously the medical team is of the opinion that time is running out. I can hardly write this. What could be more horrible to write? But I know you want to know. I want to know. It's terrible to know, but it's worse not to. People keep texting me: "Don't lose faith." Are you kidding me? Faith is all we have! We are praying, trusting, believing. We love Yarely. We do not want to lose her. As you know, though, we saw other people in the same situation this week[in the ICU], also loving and believing, but ending up with the most-dreaded outcome. Faith and grace are not measurable. Whatever happens, it won't be because the person with the most faith wins, and the person without enough faith loses. And it won't be because God's grace is more abundant for some people than for others. His grace is sufficient for all. And the tiniest amount of faith bears fruit for His Kingdom.”
Finally, and most important, while miracles take many forms, the ultimate miracle is that of resurrection.  When a loved one dies, we mourn our loss but rejoice in their gain.  Jesus died for us so that we can be restored to perfect health and live enfolded in His loving arms forever.  That may not be the miracle we are ready for in the moment, that may not be the prayer we prayed for but God, in His infinite wisdom and love, knows best. 


I am sorry my petitions and declarations cause my friend discomfort but I am compelled to continue .  We don’t know how Yarely’s journey will end.  We all talk about how glorious it will be when at 16 or 20 or whenever she stands up before a group of people to testify about her story.  We don’t know what the outcome will be but we hope and believe, whatever it is, it will be to God’s glory.
 

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