Grace in the Pediatric ICU
This is a continuation of my previous post.
My seven-month-old nephew, Canaan, was in a semi-comatose state, a victim of an unforeseen intestinal disease. He had been through two emergency surgeries in two days; his small intestine and kidneys were failing. He had 12 machines hooked to his body, two respirators down his throat, and his swollen small intestine was hanging in a bag above his body.
Five days after Canaan was admitted to the Pediatric ICU, his doctor gravely told us, “We’ve done everything we can do, and it doesn’t seem to be helping.” We knew that, but looking at the doctor’s dismal expression made it so much harder to hear.
We asked what Canaan’s chances of survival were, and he reluctantly said, “Well, Canaan will have to turn around very soon or – um – we’ll have to make some tough decisions.”
That same day, a well-meaning friend took my brother Caleb aside and said, “You need to prepare Rebecca for a funeral.”
Later, in the hospital cafeteria, Caleb told me what his friend had said. Then Caleb paused, blinking at the tears filling his eyes, and with his voice shaking, he said, “Joshua, I just can’t let Rebecca go home without the baby.”
Canaan’s mother, Rebecca, stood watch over Canaan, reading scriptures to him, singing to him, and touching his limp and swollen body. Across the room, I sat next to my brother in silence, and we watched Rebecca stroke Canaan’s hair. Looking at Canaan’s face, she began singing “Hush Little Baby,” ignoring the fact that Canaan was probably too heavily medicated to even hear her.
I fought to keep my composure, but it was like listening to a mother sing to a baby hopelessly trapped at the bottom of a well. I felt my chest heaving, my lip quivering, and I leaned forward, covering my face, trying to hide the silent sobs. Caleb reached over and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
I thought about it for a moment, wiped my eyes, then looked over at him and said, “I think I just realized how much God loves me.”
I caught a glimpse of something eternal as I watched Rebecca singing to her unconscious baby. He had nothing to offer her, but she effortlessly loved him, refusing to give up on him.
“Caleb,” I said, “with God, I don’t have anything to bring to the table. Spiritually, I’m just as helpless as Canaan is right now. But, like a heartsick parent in the ICU, God holds onto me, never giving up. He keeps watch at my bedside, singing over me, loving me.
“And it doesn’t matter that I’m useless to Him. The fact that He keeps loving me – despite how hopeless I appear to be – says everything about Him and nothing about me or my worth.”
Rebecca had just preached the Gospel – to the tune of “Hush Little Baby.” Canaan probably didn’t hear it, but I sure did.
I lived for revelations like that. I very much wanted to believe God loved me for who I was – not what I did. But so much of what I heard from the pulpit sounded like a spiritual to-do list. So many preachers seemed to be saying, “Sure, God loves you and everything, but the real meat and potatoes of faith is what you do.” And they had scriptures to back them up, scriptures like, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).
But Rebecca’s compassion for Canaan brought to life a nearly-forgotten scripture about an unrelenting love that won’t give up – 2 Timothy 2:13, which says, “If we are faithless, God is faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.”
Rebecca wasn’t going to leave Canaan to fend for himself in the Pediatric ICU – he was her son – and no matter how broken he was, she was going to keep praying for him, singing to him, and camping out at the hospital until God miraculously healed him. With her living, loving example before me, I took another cautious step towards believing that perhaps God loved me that way too, that maybe He wouldn’t – or even couldn’t – give up on me.