A Miracle-working God

Rose Jackson© 1/2009

The miracles began to unfold when the problem became a crisis. I got the phone call on Monday afternoon. “Mom, Emily’s bleeding. They’re evacuating her to Hong Kong.” He paused, the anguish breaking Eric’s voice,” I don’t know if Evan and I will be able to go with her.” A cold jolt ran down my back and momentarily paralyzed my breathing. “I’m on my way,” I exhaled, my thoughts speeding off in dozens of directions. How? Where? Who could help?

Emily and Eric were working and studying Asia. Expecting their second child, our daughter-in-law was 29 weeks into the pregnancy. After episodes of spotting in her first trimester, things had been going fine. Until now.

Emily had started spotting again on Sunday, so she and Eric went to the hospital while their three-year-old son Evan stayed with friends. Things took a drastic turn on Monday, and the hospital staff told Emily and Eric they weren’t equipped to handle such a premature birth. Both the baby and Emily could die. The closest hospitals equipped for premature births were 350 miles away in Hong Kong. How could they get there in time to save the baby’s life? At this point of desperation, when none of us could do anything but pray, God delivered miracles.

Looking back on them now, it’s almost like peering over God’s shoulder as he marked off a checklist:

Make a corporate jet “coincidentally” available and close enough to fly in.
Make the jet big enough for Eric and Evan to go along.
Connect a colleague in Hong Kong quickly with an ambulance to meet them there.

Getting to Hong Kong was just the tip of the iceberg of impossibilities. Which hospital? Was there a hospital with a bed available and staff available for whatever might happen? Where could Eric and Evan stay indefinitely on their meager resources? Who would take care of Evan?

On the other side of the world, I bought an airline ticket while my mind whirled with my own questions. How could we afford this? What about local currency? A miracle itself, my passport had just come back in record time the week before, but did I need a visa to get into Hong Kong? Where would Eric and Evan be? How could I find them?

“Call Julia” flashed through my mind. We’d met Julia six years earlier when we lived briefly on the East Coast. She was from Hong Kong. Her parents still lived there. Could one of them possibly meet me at the airport? Was Julia even home? I was set to fly out at five in the morning. Making a connection would take a miracle. God’s checklist:

Move us to New England in 1997 so we meet Julia.
Be sure Julia is at home on Monday night.
Ensure Julia’s mother is available and willing to meet me at the airport.
Provide a phone number where Julia’s mother can contact Eric and find out where he is.
Send Emily to the hospital with the best neonatal intensive care unit in all of East Asia.
Provide an affordable apartment in Hong Kong for four weeks.

“What-if’s” swirled through my thoughts. How would I recognize Julia’s mother Linda, whom I’d met only once? I tucked Julia’s wedding photo in my carry-on, held my husband close, and tried to get a few hours of fitful sleep. Thirty-four hours later across the Pacific Ocean, I saw a small hand waving a sign that read “Rose.” Amid a sea of people I thankfully hugged Linda, who had taken a taxi, bus and subway across two islands far out of her way to meet me. One hour later I leaped out of a taxi to embrace Evan and Eric in the middle of a narrow, dark street between canyons of buildings. Eric smiled and said, “Welcome to Hong Kong . . . Grandma!”

Born by emergency C-section, little Elsa weighed two pounds fifteen ounces. Doctors guardedly told Eric and Emily to expect Elsa to be in the NICU until her original due date, even if she didn’t develop complications. Now our needs were less critical, but real, nonetheless. After the first four weeks, where could we stay that would be close enough to allow Emily and Eric to make twice-daily breast milk runs to the hospital? How could they afford rent when Eric already had paid the hospital thousands of dollars? How could Eric and Emily continue their studies without their books? The miracles continued:

Connect Eric and Emily’s Hong Kong colleague with a friend who worked for an elder in a local church.
Through that that church provide an apartment, rent-free, for Eric and Emily for two weeks.
Make another apartment available rent-free for six weeks beyond that.
Bring friends through Hong Kong with Eric and Emily’s books and some of Evan’s best-loved toys.
Protect Elsa and keep her infection- and complication-free.

Three weeks passed, and we had so much to be thankful for at Thanksgiving that we weren’t too disappointed by our oven that didn’t work and the turkey dinner we couldn’t afford at a local restaurant. We were content to find turkey sandwiches at a nearby deli, but God, who had pulled off huge miracles for us already, had two small, delightful ones still on his list. At the church we attended the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a genial woman with twinkling eyes turned around to offer, “Would you like to come to our apartment for Thanksgiving dinner? It will only be chicken, but I have a can of cranberry sauce!” Astonished, we delightedly accepted. After church, one of the members told this woman she’d bring over a complete turkey dinner from the outrageously-priced restaurant, where she worked! God must have winked as he checked off:

Provide a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, down to pumpkin pie.
Supply for free a small Christmas tree complete with lights and ornaments.

The most amazing miracle left the NICU two weeks later, and one week after that, one month ahead of schedule, little Elsa Faith was released from the hospital, well on her way to becoming the bright, beautiful, unstoppable toddler she is today.

Is it a miracle when friends drop their own agendas to make critically needed things happen that you can’t arrange or do for yourself? Is it a miracle when strangers go out of their way to meet your needs, both the desperate and the simply encouraging ones? Is it a miracle when you’re moved across the country to meet someone who will fill a unique need in years to come? Is it a miracle when the cells of a tiny body grow healthy and strong despite being thrust suddenly into a hostile environment?

Technically these extraordinary, ordinary provisions – even taken together – may not be miracles, but they certainly felt like miracles to Emily, Eric, Evan and me! This much I do know: when my loved ones or I am in formidable, urgent, grave need that’s beyond our capacity to fill, I’ll take my miracles any way God wants to conceive, create, and deliver them!

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. . . . For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . . your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Psalm 139: 9, 13, 16-17

A “. . . but . . .” to pray: Loving Father, so often when trouble strikes, my first reaction is to cry out to you, “Why are you allowing this?” and fly into panic mode, BUT again and again you have proved yourself faithful and mighty to provide everything my loved ones and I need. The world is not too large, no emergency is too difficult, AND no heart-cry is too insignificant for you to care, provide, heal, and bring victory. I will remember that in the needs I face today. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Your own “. . . but . . .” to move/pray: Loving and living Father, I fear that ___________________, BUT I choose to put my confidence in your compassion and your power. trusting you will _________________________. Thanks that you will meet all my needs in amazing ways – and I surrender my expectations to your greater wisdom and limitless love. Amen!

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Two Brown Shoes, Take Three: God’s goodness

Rose Jackson © 2/ 2009
(see first post “Two Brown Shoes Don’t Make a Pair” to read about my brown boot goof)
What I believe about God’s character is the third application of my “two brown shoes” mistake – and I’m preaching to myself today, swimming in the same sea of difficult circumstances that many of you are struggling to stay afloat in. Looking at those two mismatched shoes, I realized that circumstances tempt me to believe lies about God’s character and intent toward me and my loved ones:

“Why are you dashing our son’s dreams?”
“Have you abandoned us?”
“You gave my friend success, but not me. You must love her more than you love me.”
“I pray for others, and they receive miracles of healing – but you must not want me healed.”

Do you hear in these an echo of your own perplexed, hurting heart? When I take a closer look at my outbursts, I recognize what I’m really saying is, “God, you don’t love me/us. Your love is inconstant. You show partiality. You withhold your goodness. Your word can’t be trusted.”

My image of God in hard times bears striking differences to what I believe about God when my life is going smoothly. In prosperous, healthier, joyful times I gladly agree with the biblical writers who rejoiced in God’s character:

By you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Ps. 86:15)

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deut. 32:4)

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Ps 100:5)

Taste and see that the LORD is good. . . . (Ps 34:8)

Taste and see . . . . I think of my neighbor’s Crawfish Etoufeé. Many years ago, after eating a disgusting, multi-legged slice of a marine invertebrate during a trip to Asia, I made a resolution never to eat anything with less than two or more than four legs, so when my neighbor recently brought over a steaming bowl of her signature Louisiana chowder, I cringed. I knew it couldn’t possibly taste good. Too many legs!

Since our neighbor had gone to so much trouble to make it, though, what could I do but set it on the table and partake of her hospitality? I carefully tipped all but two crawfish off the spoon and back into the dish before ladling a serving onto my plate. Tentatively I bit into one, and . . . it actually didn’t taste bad. It didn’t taste wonderful, either – it’s the crawfish’s art-gum eraser texture that throws me – but the non-crawfish part of the chowder was quite tasty. My husband and our son enjoyed the crawfish, though, and happily ate the rest of my share, which proves two things: first, one man’s gastronomic challenge is another man’s gusto, and second, there is goodness in things outside of my definition of “good.” To put it another way, God’s goodness may not always taste the way I think it should, but it still is goodness.

Looking back through my journals to so many of the troubling times when I couldn’t see any sign of God’s goodness, again and again I find good. We wanted two children, and timing them four years apart so we wouldn’t have two kids in college at the same time just made good economic sense to me. However, it took seven years for me to conceive our second child: seven years of prayers and hope repeatedly dashed, till I almost gave up hoping, before Ethan came along. Our sons were born eleven years apart – and in the year our younger son graduated from high school, our older son received his Ph.D. God answered my prayer with a yes; I just hadn’t realized that eleven years would fit the timetable of my request perfectly! After Ethan’s birth, I also realized that any other child we might have conceived would not have been Ethan – a creative, compassionate, intelligent, honest, giving, loving, loyal, hard-working young man of faith and vision. go through the boy Scout Oath, and that’s Ethan. God had a specific purpose for that specific combination of DNA that is Ethan. That is goodness; that is love; that is faithfulness. The seven-year heartache that became a spoonful of goodness is the empathy I now have for women struggling with infertility.

Again and again I remember crises and wrenching situations that became avenues of blessing on down the road: a treasured necklace lost, a lost diamond found, and acknowledging that the God who was good when I found the one was the same good God when I didn’t find the other. My husband laid off and out of work for six months – and a loving God who connected him with a job better than he applied for. A cross-country move I didn’t want to make away from everyone and everything I cherished – and through that frustrating move when I thought he had abandoned me, God twice met desperate needs my kids and I would have years later. That’s goodness. That’s faithfulness. That’s love.

I think back to those evidences of God’s faithful, loving goodness even while I wonder as my emotions struggle with our retirment funds cut in half with retirement just on the horizon and this week’s discouraging news for Ethan’s dream job . . . is it God who is inconstant, or my emotions and my thinking that don’t line up with truth and can’t be trusted? I open my Bible to Psalm 89, to the words of another Ethan, “the Ezrahite,” and I stand on this “. . . BUT . . .” for me and for our own Ethan:

“I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever . . . . I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself . . . . Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. . . . For you are their glory and strength . . . . ”

Today I make a choice to believe God’s character, not the economy, not my arthritis, not the circumstances around us, and I will walk in those two matching shoes BELIEVING God’s love, kindness, compassion, and power till I get to the place where I can turn and see we’ve been surrounded by his goodness all the while.

A “. . . but . . . “ to pray: Loving Father, I look at all the problems, discouraging news, financial losses, and uncertainties ahead of me, BUT I trust that you love us, you never forsake me, your will is for our good, and you are faithfully working out blessing even when I can’t see you. Thank you that I’ll look back in a few days, weeks, or years and rejoice in what you are doing to work all of this “chowder” together for my good through your steadfast, mighty wisdom, provision, and love. I WILL taste and see your goodness! Amen!

Your own “. . . but . . .”: Loving Father, I’m so confused when I see ___________ in my life today, BUT I choose to believe you are _____________ and you love me faithfully. “I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) I will wait for you, LORD; I will be strong and take heart and wait for you, LORD. (Ps 27:14)