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Praying through a Health Crisis

Praying through a Health Crisis

This is what the Lord… says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. — 2 Kings 20:5

Leslie pushed her way through the hospital’s double doors, searching for her son-in-law’s familiar face. She had jumped in the car as soon as she got Sam’s phone call; now, more than three hours and two hundred miles later, Leslie was desperate for news. Was her daughter, Jenny, still alive?

Just forty-eight years old, Jenny had suffered what doctors were calling a “massive stroke.” Leslie hadn’t gotten many details — or at least she hadn’t been able to process them — other than the devastating news that Jenny’s brain was bleeding badly and that back-to-back surgeries had not been able to reduce the swelling. Driving down the highway, the familiar words from Isaiah 41:10 came again and again to Leslie’s mind:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

“Uphold Jenny,” Leslie prayed. “Strengthen her and help her. Protect us all from fear. Be with us.”

How many times had she prayed prayers just like that one during her fifty-two years of motherhood? Leslie had lost count. From cradling a baby and waiting for the fever to break, to rushing a child to the emergency room after a sports injury, to sleepless nights waiting for a teen to get home safely, Leslie was no stranger to worry and fear. This time, though, it felt different. Never before had a child’s very life been on the line. Never before had she felt so utterly helpless. Leslie didn’t want to be afraid, but she couldn’t help it. She was.

Rounding a corner, she caught sight of Sam at the end of a corridor, his six-foot-two-inch frame slumped against the hospital wall. He saw Leslie and straightened up, extending his arms. Leslie felt the tears coming as she returned the hug. “How is she?” she asked.

“It’s not good,” Sam replied, his voice breaking. “They asked if I wanted them to try to stop the bleeding one more time, but they didn’t sound hopeful. None of the scans look good. But I told them to go ahead. We have to try. Jenny is a competitor; she would want to fight.”

Leslie knew what Sam meant. A fitness fanatic and marathon runner, Jenny’s gritty determination had contributed to her success in balancing the demands of motherhood (she and Sam had raised two sons) with the challenges of her career; she was among the most highly respected attorneys in Virginia. “I agree,” she said. “Thank you.”

After what seemed like an eternity, the chief neurosurgeon came out with the news: the third surgery had gone better than anyone expected. Jenny would be moved to the intensive care unit, where she would be kept in a coma to give her brain time to heal. They couldn’t speculate on the extent of the damage; only time would tell that.

Leslie knew Jenny wasn’t out of the woods — not by a long shot. Closing her eyes, she thought back to one of the Bible stories she learned as a child, the one about Gideon’s fleece.1 “O Lord,” she prayed, “please give me a sign. Give me something to know you are with us, that you are with Jenny. I need some assurance that she will not die.”

She opened her eyes and looked out the hospital’s big plate-glass window. There, on the horizon, was a spectacular pink and purple sunset — and right in the middle of the clouds was a perfectly shaped heart. Leslie felt an inexplicable peace settle over her soul. She didn’t know what the future held, but as one of her favorite old Gospel songs put it, she knew who held the future.

The weeks that followed were a blur, as one medical procedure gave way to the next. Leslie found herself clinging to verses like 1 John 4:18 (“Perfect love drives out fear”) to bolster her faith and keep anxiety at bay. Two decompressive craniectomies (which involved removing a sizable portion of Jenny’s skull) were performed to deal with the brain swelling, and any number of scary-sounding devices — a ventilator, a shunt, catheters, braces, and PICC lines — were inserted and applied in what Leslie could only trust was a strategic progression toward recovery.

Prayer Principle: Trusting God when we don’t know what the future holds opens the door to peace.

To her untrained eye, it didn’t look as though Jenny was getting any better. The chief neurosurgeon had explained the need for patience, but he could not answer Leslie’s unspoken questions, the what-ifs that came unbidden in the middle of the night: Would Jenny be able to speak? To smile? Would she ever walk again? The brain bleed had been severe, and Leslie knew enough about stroke victims to realize that when Jenny woke up, there was a chance she would be partially paralyzed, that her memory would be impaired, and that she might not even be able to communicate.

Jenny had been born on Leslie’s birthday, August 28. Somewhere along the way, the two women had attached a biblical significance to those numbers — 8 and 28 — and adopted Romans 8:28 as their favorite verse. Now, the promise became a lifeline:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Surely, God was at work, and He could be counted on to bring good to Jenny, even out of such pain. Leslie had no idea how He might accomplish such a thing, but she continued to cling to the Romans promise, praying that He would.

Finally, after Jenny had been in a coma for three weeks, doctors announced it was time for her to return to consciousness. The tracheostomy tube meant she wouldn’t be able to speak, not at first, but they hoped to assess her mental and physical abilities by asking for a simple thumbs-up in answer to some basic questions. As the days passed, things like, “Is your name Jenny?” gave way to trickier queries (“Was Aaron the brother of Moses?”), and it soon became clear that Jenny wanted to move beyond hand gestures.

“Give her a pen and paper,” suggested Jenny’s sister, Beth.

Unable to move her left arm, Jenny grasped the pen with her right hand and scratched out a message: “Throat hurts.”

Throat hurts! Leslie couldn’t remember a time when the realization that one of her children was in pain had come as good news, but this development certainly was. Jenny could think clearly; she could feel pain; and she could communicate. And when she eventually used that pen to ask her doctors to explain the progression of her recovery, they were stunned. “That’s some pretty serious cognitive thinking,” the neurosurgeon said. “This girl will be fine.”

This girl will be fine.

Leslie wanted to dance right there in the hospital! It certainly didn’t look like Jenny would be fine (she still couldn’t move most of her body or speak), but Leslie knew better than to limit her understanding to what she could see. Faith, she knew, was having “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”2

Leslie wanted to be like Abraham, the patriarch who, “against all hope,” did not waver through unbelief.3 But as weeks stretched into months, with progress measured in such miniscule victories as the ability to move a toe, weariness set in. The doctors had removed Jenny’s ventilator and the tracheostomy tube, paving the way for speech, but from her very first word (a whispered “Mom”), it was clear that conversation would not come easily. Leslie could tell that her daughter, once so accustomed to powering her way through any mental or physical challenge, was struggling with frustration and fear.

For her part, Leslie felt defeated. After a half century of motherhood, she was used to being able to “fix” things or at least make them better. Now, she could do nothing to help. She was mentally and physically fatigued, and she knew that Sam (who had turned a corner of Jenny’s hospital room into an office and rarely left his wife’s bedside) was in even worse shape. He never complained, but the weeks spent researching rehab facilities, dealing with insurance companies, and sleeping on a too-small recliner in Jenny’s room had to be taking a toll. Watching Sam rub Jenny’s feet or adjust her pillows, Leslie marveled at her son-in-law’s fortitude. She realized she was watching love in action, the kind of love that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”4

One night, after leaving the hospital, Leslie dropped to her knees. “Give us peace and endurance,” she prayed. “Let Jenny — let all of us — run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross.”

Leslie had lifted a prayer out of Hebrews 12:1–3, and as she thought about the cross that Christ bore, she realized that he was willing to carry Jenny’s suffering as well. Mentally, she surrendered her daughter’s life — her pain, her recovery, her future — to the Lord. Instead of focusing on the trials that lay ahead, Leslie shifted her thoughts to all that God had already done for their family. He hadn’t just preserved Jenny’s life; He had shown them a depth of love and compassion they had never fully recognized before. He had given them hope, couched in the promises of His Word. He had provided an incredibly skilled and attentive medical staff. And He had worked through a host of friends and family members to provide tangible blessings — everything from caring for the family dogs to converting a bathroom in Sam and Jenny’s home to be handicap accessible — in preparation for the day when she would finally come home.

Prayer Principle: Sometimes the key to praying with perseverance is simply to stop looking at your problems and focus instead on who God is and what He has already done.

Nearly four months after her stroke, Jenny did come home. Amid the celebration, Leslie’s mind went back to one of the first days they had spent in the hospital. Jenny’s brother, Wyatt, had found Leslie weeping inconsolably. “Don’t cry, Mom,” he had said. “God would not have brought Jenny this far, and He wouldn’t have performed the first miracle of keeping her alive, if He wasn’t prepared to see it through to completion.”

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.

Rarely had the promise of Philippians 1:6 carried such power. Likewise, the words from Romans 8:28 (Leslie and Jenny’s “birthday” verse) took on added significance once Jenny was finally able to speak again. “I remember waking up from the coma,” she had said, “with a powerful sense that I had been covered in prayer. I had no idea what was happening to me, but I was filled with an inexplicable peace, knowing that somehow God was going to work it all out for good.”

It doesn’t matter what our kids are facing or what our parental worries are, Jesus offers this invitation:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.5

What a beautiful promise, particularly as we pray for our children’s health and safety. Jesus wants everyone — Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, strong believers and those with little faith — to draw near to Him. Just look at a few “weary and burdened” moms and dads who came to Him with their concerns:

  • A synagogue ruler fell at Jesus’ feet, begging Him to heal his twelve-year-old daughter.
  • A Canaanite woman cried out on behalf of her daughter.
  • A desperate father whose boy had been tormented by demons “from childhood” asked the Lord to take pity on them — and help him overcome his unbelief.6

God doesn’t just want to heal your child; He wants to take care of you too.

  1. See Judges 6:36-40.
  2. Hebrews 11:1.
  3. Romans 4:18, 20.
  4. 1 Corinthians 13:7.
  5. Matthew 11:28.
  6. Luke 8:41-42; Matthew 15:28; Mark 9:17-24.

Excerpted with permission from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children by Jodie Berndt, copyright Jodie Berndt.

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Your Turn

Is someone in your life in a health crisis? Pray with perseverance! God is working and He loves your loved one even more than you do. He is with you and He wants to bring you rest. Come and share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily