This post first appeared on Assist News Service in September 2017.
I used to write a column here about my experiences as an American missionary raising children in Ukraine, but it’s been over a year since my last piece. During that time, we went on furlough, had another baby, returned to Ukraine, and moved to a different house. A string of unexpected circumstances made this an often overwhelming season, and I needed to take a break from writing this column.
The first surprise was my husband injuring his knee shortly before our trip to the States. It was still giving him so much trouble when we flew that he had to use crutches. We must have looked like a hopeless menagerie after we checked in and headed towards security: a man on a beat-up pair of borrowed crutches that were missing their rubber feet and had a tendency to slip on the smooth airport floors, a woman who was eight-months pregnant, and four children ranging in age from 3 to 9! Plus a carseat, backpacks, and several rolling carryons. It really seemed like the wrong timing for this injury, but it turned out that the timing was just right.
Because of my husband’s condition, we were given preferential treatment that probably made the difference between us catching our second flight or being stranded for hours in Paris. When we landed in the French capital, an escort with a wheelchair met us plane-side and whisked us through back passageways, up service elevators, to the front of the line for security, and right up to our gate, where boarding was already in progress. A similar scenario was repeated at the next airport, and we arrived at our final destination no worse for the trip. It had actually turned out to be one of our easier intercontinental experiences, thanks to the very inconvenience that had threatened to make it an impossible journey!
Once on the ground in the U.S., I set about trying to get approval from my midwife to make a quick trip across the country to see my best friend who was terminal with cancer. However, there was an administrative mix-up with my health coverage, and I was told that unless I got special approval, I wouldn’t be able to see my midwife until the first of the next month or when I went into labor, whichever came first. Frustrated and exasperated, I applied for the special approval, but while I was waiting, I went into labor two weeks early.
Because I hadn’t been able to see my midwife, I hadn’t gotten a routine screening to check for a bacterial infection that can have serious implications for the baby. In case my labor stalled and I was sent home to wait, my midwife did the test right then and sent it off to the lab. I had an uncomplicated labor and delivered an apparently healthy baby boy. We were discharged after two days, but two days later we had to be readmitted. The baby had a fever, was lethargic, was not eating well, and had suffered excessive weight loss. Because the result for my screening test wasn’t in yet, the pediatrician immediately started the baby on intravenous antibiotics, just in case. We were put in the adult ICU at the hospital where he was born, because there was no newborn ICU.
The baby was hooked up to a full range of monitors, and we started to see a disturbing trend. While eating and sleeping, his blood oxygen levels would frequently drop to dangerously low levels. An alarm would go off, and a nurse would come into the room to have me rouse the baby to get more oxygen in him. This went on for two days. On the third day when the doctor came by on his morning rounds, the baby had another episode, and this time his face actually turned gray from lack of oxygen. The doctor immediately went into high gear, a respiratory team rushed into the room and connected the baby to oxygen, and within a few hours, he had been transferred by ambulance to the newborn ICU in a large hospital in a bigger city.
They immediately ran a full battery of tests, ruling out a heart defect, brain trauma, and metabolic abnormalities. In the end, they concluded that it was a bacterial infection and associated respiratory distress. He was one very sick baby and continued to be on oxygen and antibiotics. On his eighth day of life, he finally opened his eyes for the first time, as he slowly started to regain weight and strength.
Despite the dire circumstances, while we were in the hospital, I couldn’t help thinking what a gift that time was. There I was, a mother of five, and yet I had the leisure to spend my days simply caring for my baby, with friendly nannies in the form of NICU nurses at my beck and call around-the-clock! I had meals provided, a comfortable place to sleep in my baby’s room, and a luxurious recliner where I spent hours simply holding him. And while we were enjoying the royal treatment in the NICU, my husband and other kids were living it up at a vacation rental on a lake that a family in one of our supporting churches had graciously provided. Short furloughs like ours are notoriously hectic, but through our baby’s hospitalization, God provided a much-needed period of rest for all of us.
Even in the midst of all that was happening, thoughts of my friend with cancer were never far from my mind. How I hoped she would be able to hold on until we got there! But after the baby was discharged from the hospital, he had to have several follow-up doctor’s visits and blood tests, and I didn’t feel it was wise to take him out of the state of Indiana, where he had full health coverage, in order to go see my friend in California, where he would only have emergency coverage. By the time he was a month old, he seemed to have fully recovered, and we finally started to prepare for the trip to the West Coast. And that was when God decided to take my friend home to heaven. She had endured such tremendous suffering in her final days of life, that I think everyone who loved her had a great measure of relief mixed with their grief, but it was still extremely difficult news. From my standpoint, the timing was deeply troubling. The chance to see her had been one of the major reasons we had chosen to return to the United States for the birth of this baby, but the fact that we only had health coverage in one state had kept me from her until it was too late. It was hard to reconcile God’s sovereignty with what seemed like a particularly cruel twist of fate.
But I had no doubt that God had been in complete control of the timing and that He was working through everything for our good and His glory, so I chose to quiet my questions and move forward one day at a time, rejoicing in the precious new life He had given our family, all while mourning the loss of my dear friend. And as the days turned into weeks that turned into months, some things became clearer. What if God’s intent for our trip to the States last summer was not primarily so that I could say good-bye to my friend, as I originally supposed, but rather so that He could save the life of our yet-unborn child, who was going to need all the help that state-of-the-art medicine could offer? What if everything, down to the health-coverage mix-up that prevented me from seeing my midwife and getting the routine screening test, was part of His plan to ensure that our baby would be in the ICU and connected to monitors when his oxygen levels started dropping in his sleep? My screening test results eventually came back negative, but since the pediatrician who readmitted our baby to the hospital didn’t have those results yet, he was very proactive with Andrew’s treatment. If he hadn’t been, our baby could have ended up a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but God graciously prevented that. The more I considered it, the more I was amazed at the intricate beauty of His ways.
I’m certain I will face many more situations in this life that don’t seem to add up. I can already think of a few just from the last year. Why did my husband have to have two surgeries to repair his injured knee? Why was his first surgery rescheduled at the very last minute, forcing the children and me to return to Ukraine without him last fall? Why did we have to spend another month apart last winter when he went back to the United States for his second surgery? Why did we have to move to a different house in the hectic week right before he returned to the U.S.? But I’m not troubled by my lack of answers for these and other questions. The few times God has pulled back the curtains to let me glimpse the inner workings of His plans, I’ve been amazed by what He has revealed. I may not always be able to see it, but I am confident that He puts the same amount of care into the way He orders all our days, and just knowing that is enough.
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