On January 5th I became a grandfather for the second time. My grandson, Jack, and his parents came home from the hospital on the 7th. On the evening of the 8th Jack stopped breathing.
My wife, Melinda, was holding him when the event occurred. Her sister, Barbara, who is an RN, and her husband, Dave, a physician, had stopped by to visit and see the new arrival as they were driving from South Dakota to St. Louis. They helped revive him. The EMTs arrived and whisked Jack to the hospital where he spent the next 17 days undergoing a plethora of tests. Jack is home now and doing well.
But, this story really isn’t about Jack. I needed to set the stage with his life-threatening event in order to relate the life-changing experience I had because of it.
In my life I have had no major tragedies, and only one significant infirmity, within my immediate family. Thus, after Melinda phoned me the next morning, I wasn’t as cool and collected as I had been trained to be in emergency situations. Panicked would be a better adjective. I prepared to go home, pack a bag, and start the ten hour drive from Ohio to Kansas City. But first, I sent an email to friends from church and to the coordinator of our parish prayer chain describing the situation and asking for prayers.
I’ve never driven so far with something so heavy weighing on my heart and mind. Before I reached Indianapolis I found myself crying, fraught with fear for Jack’s health and grief for Lisa and Joe. I felt helpless. I’m a man and an engineer. One of my jobs is to fix problems. Not knowing how to fix little Jack nor how to comfort my daughter was eating me up.
At a rest stop just past Indy I checked my phone for emails. Angie, a dear friend back home, emailed saying she believed that Jack’s guardian angel was with him the night before. Had he been lying down instead of being held, he could have stopped breathing with no one the wiser. Then, she stressed that Barb and Dave were there by no mere coincidence. She believed they were sent there by God at just the moment Jack needed them. Her message was so positive and encouraging, and she lifted my spirits.
But, by the time I reached Illinois I was again in a state of despair. Searching the console between the seats for a napkin to wipe my tears, I found, instead, one of my rosaries. I don’t know how it got there; I don’t remember putting it there. I am not accomplished at praying the Rosary but I sensed I was meant to find that rosary at that moment, and, if there was ever a time to ask Our Lady to intercede and help me in my prayers to Jesus, I felt this was it.
It was Friday and the Sorrowful Mysteries were to be prayed. I contemplated the first Mystery, The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, and read, “In praying to the Father, Jesus found strength, trust, and an angel was sent to comfort Him. So, Jesus will be your comforting angel. It’s as He said to us, ‘Why do you worry in your difficulties? Be strong in Me; look to your God in your most troubled hour, and you will be triumphant.’”
The second Mystery, The Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar, reminded me to bear my pain for the love of our Lord. The third Mystery, The Crowning with Thorns, suggested, “He seems to say to us, ‘Why do you despair when you suffer? Is that the way you love me? Meditate about my passions.’ Let us ask for the gift of patience in our suffering.”
In the fourth Mystery, The Carrying of the Cross, I contemplated how Jesus accepted His suffering out of His love for us. I thought about how His Mother, Mary, must have felt as they met on the road to Calvary. “Oh, how Her Heart must have ached.” I felt we had something in common.
And, finally, as I prayed the fifth Mystery, The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus, I was reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciple just before He died, “Behold your Mother”, and how He wishes that we depend on Her Immaculate Heart for a refuge.
Over the next couple hours I thought much about these messages. I didn’t know how to “give it up”, so I prayed fervently for the Lord to help me help Jack and his parents.
West of St. Louis I took my rosary in hand and prayed again. This time I asked the Lord to take away my pain and suffering or, at least, let me bear it so that Jack and his parents would not have to.
I arrived at the hospital in time to see Jack for a few minutes before visiting hours were over. Seeing him connected to all those wires and tubes was difficult. But, seeing the fear in Lisa’s and Joe’s eyes was even more so.
That night, before bed, I prayed for God to help them and to help me know what to do.
On Saturday morning I saw an article on social media about self-pity and how we need to look to God instead of to ourselves. This drifted in and out of my conscious thoughts the rest of the morning.
Also that morning, I discovered a headlight out on my car. I didn’t need that, but I knew it would need repairing before heading home the next day. I spent a few precious minutes with Jack back at the hospital before I left for the dealership. Standing there, unable to hold him, I still felt helpless. I knew Lisa felt the same way.
On my way to the dealership, I recalled Angie’s note, the messages I received from praying the Rosary, the message about self-pity, and my despair of not knowing what to do. Then, with the images of Jack wired to the monitors, and the concern on my daughter’s face, my emotions reached a climax. I’m not sure how to explain what happened next. I think I realized it was all beyond me, that only God could help. I think, in my heart, I finally gave it up to Him. I say “I think” because, in the nanosecond in which I made that leap of faith, I went from bewilderment to immediate, unprecedented, and intense joy. I instantly began praying, “Thank you, Jesus, thank you!” In that moment when I had unconsciously placed my trust in Him, He told me Jack was going to be okay. I also knew that my faith had finally become more than words.
Over the next couple hours, He reinforced my faith with more God-moments. Afraid I was likely to have a wreck, I got control of my emotions. I turned on the stereo and the first song I heard was one from Jason Gray, A Way to See in the Dark1:
“Here I am begging for certainty again / But simple trust is what You’re asking me to give…
“The question mark hung at the end of every fear / Is answered by the promise that You are with me here / And that’s all I’ve got when the lights go out and I lose my way / So, I’ll close my eyes, I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid.
“And, I’ll reach for your hand in the night / When the shadows swallow the light / ‘Cause I’m giving up, giving in / Once again a childlike faith is my only way to see in the dark….”
I have listened to this song hundreds of times but this was the first time I actually heard its message. It was like Jesus telling me, “Son, how many times do I have to tell you to trust in Me?”
At the moment I pulled into the dealership I received a text from Eric, a friend back home, saying he was praying for Jack and the rest of us. This text was special because Eric is the one person I know who routinely says, “Let go and let God.” It was as if he intuitively knew I had just done so for the first time in my life.
Preparing for a long wait, I grabbed my rosary and a devotional from my back pack. Since it was Saturday, the Joyful Mysteries were the prayers of the day (Coincidence? I don’t think so!). My take-away message from this Rosary was, “In the difficulties of life, the only safety is finding Jesus and never again leaving his great love.”
I had not taken time that morning to read Saturday’s scriptures. The first reading for January 10th included 1 John 5:14-15, and said, “Beloved: We have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.” God was telling me again, “Trust me!”
The Gospel for that day, included John 3:30: “He must increase; I must decrease.” It was a reminder to look constantly to Jesus instead of inwardly with self-pity like I had the last day and a half.
From my devotional for January 10th I read: “Practice trusting Me during quiet days, when nothing much seems to be happening. Then when storms come, your trust balance will be sufficient to see you through. Store up for yourself treasure in heaven, through placing your trust in Me. This practice will keep you in My Peace.”2
I thought, “Okay, Lord, I get it now. In one hour, You have, in several ways, affirmed there is no such thing as despair if I will only put my faith and hope in You.”
Finally, I read the daily reflection from Presentation Ministries. It referenced 1 John 5:16 saying, “Many have not had Christmas because they have not repented of sin in their lives. Through the Lord’s forgiveness, they will be given Christmas just before the season ends. On this second to last day of the Christmas season, go to Confession. For so many, Confession is the key to Christmas.”
At 2:10 p.m. my car was repaired. I wanted to get back to the hospital to see more of Jack, but, I now felt pulled to go to Reconciliation. I found the Queen of the Holy Rosary Church was on my route back to the hospital and they had Confession at 2:30 p.m. I arrived there at 2:27 p.m. After relating my story to the priest and confessing my sin of not trusting God, he assigned me a penance to say a prayer of Thanksgiving.
When I returned to the hospital and saw the little man again I knew in my heart he was going to be okay. I didn’t know when but I knew, in God’s time, he would be. I felt the positive power of hundreds of prayers being said for him. I was at peace.
It is in these God-moments, when the Lord reveals Himself to me, that I feel closest to Him. I now know what Eric means by, “Let go and let God.” I know what trusting in Him means. And, I now know how to put my faith where my prayer is.
(Put Your Faith Where Your Prayer Is was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
1 A Way To See In the Dark, ©2011 Centricity Music Publishing, (ASCAP)/Nothing is Wasted Music (ASCAP)/Simply Complex Songs (SESAC)/Countermechanical Music (SESAC)/Centric Songs (SESAC), words and music by Jason Gray, Doug McKelvey, and Seth Mosley.
2Jesus Calling, ©2014 Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson Publishing
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