(Un) Answered Prayers

This is a post I need to write, but honestly, I have no idea where to start.  What I have to say is so much bigger than me that it’s not really mine at all.  It belongs to its Author, who wrote my story long before I ever existed, before I could ever vie for control or throw a tantrum over the aspects of my life that weren’t going as I planned.  To say that God is in control when your life feels like it’s in a tailspin seems trite and religious.  But to say He is in control after the dust has settled and you begin to see the aftermath more clearly feels a little more founded, as you begin to recognize that His hand really was in everything all along.

That is exactly where I find myself today, at the ground zero of my life.  Slowly stepping back from the devastation, out of the blinding dust-cloud, I see for the first time the survivors who stood strong through the storm.  And now, too, I see the one whose life would not have been had tragedy not befallen us; Noah.  He is my rainbow child, my baby born after the loss of his sister.  His life is a miracle.

The very word miracle implies the work of a divine hand, and it was.  Yet, one year ago didn’t feel miraculous.  When I started bleeding during my third pregnancy, I believed with my whole heart that God would heal me.  From the very beginning, we gave our baby’s life to Him, asked Him to heal my body and save our baby, and nothing in me doubted He would.  We asked for prayers from everyone we knew to ask; our whole church family and faithful community across the world stood with us, believing in and praying for a miracle.  Eva’s premature birth, and subsequent death, shook the foundations of my faith and left me reeling with the unanswerable question: why?  Why didn’t you save her life, God?  Why didn’t you give us the healing we believed in?  Why didn’t you answer our prayers?

And then came the small voice I didn’t want to hear: I did.  I could never have understood what I was seeing in the haze of my grief, too close for perspective, but I’m beginning to understand now.  God may not have given me the healing I wanted, immediate and relieving of my present circumstance, but he did heal my body, so that my fourth pregnancy was healthy and without complication.  He may not have saved Eva’s life the way I wanted, so that I could have and enjoy her in this life, but He gave her an eternal one, so much more valuable than this one.  And he may not have given me the miracle I thought I was asking for, but He gave me the one I didn’t even know to ask for: a healthy fourth baby, my Noah.

As if to put the icing on the cake, to remind me that He was listening all along, God gave me a gift I never saw coming.  After Eva died, we were told we needed to wait two to three months to let my body heal before trying to have another baby, leaving only a narrow window of time to allow the birth of another baby before Eva’s one-year anniversary.  As I mourned the loss of Eva, I begged God to give me another baby to hold before September 19th, 2013.  I didn’t think I could make it through that day otherwise.  We did get pregnant quickly with our fourth baby, but not soon enough for my wish to be fulfilled.  Noah was due on October 10th, 2013.  And so I braced myself emotionally for the inevitable difficulty of that day to come, and forgot about my prayer, counting it among the many that had gone unanswered.

A few weeks before my due date, I awoke at 4am with a strong contraction.  I lay in bed waiting for more, but they came infrequently and less intensely, so I chalked it up to Braxton Hicks and went back to sleep.  The Braxton Hicks continued throughout the day, never becoming consistent or more than slightly painful.  Then suddenly, around 5pm, everything kicked into high gear, and my labor started in earnest.  Noah James Daniel Webb was born at 8:17pm, September 18th, 2013, three weeks and a day before his due date, 364 days and 8 hours after his sister, Eva.  Just as I’d prayed, I had a baby to hold in my arms before her birth and death day arrived.  Only God could have orchestrated such a dramatic and clear answer to prayer.

We have many words in our culture for this: chance, luck, serendipity, karma, good juju.  But I have another, less proffered but, in my opinion, more accurate: Providence.  He knew what I needed.  I may never understand why God allowed Eva to die.  Maybe to allow her brother to live.  Maybe to allow me to live, in leading to the discovery of my blood disorder.  Or maybe some other reason that I could never imagine.  But I know He has a plan for me, for my children, for my family, and it involved allowing (not choosing, but allowing) her to die.

This little “wink” from God is just one of too many to tell.  He has been so faithful to me, always reminding me of His love in spite of the circumstances.  It’s so easy to equate our present comfort and happiness with God’s love for us: if I’m happy and life is good, God loves me; if I’m miserable and life is hard, God doesn’t love me.  But God’s love does not depend on our circumstances, nor is it determined by them.  I have found God’s whispers to be loudest when I am at my most fragile, but I don’t actually think they are any louder when I am weak.  It’s just that when I am weak, I lean into Him for strength, rather than believing I can rely on myself.

I have had many moments of doubt, when I felt like God was silent to my pleas for help.  It’s easy to look at a list of prayers unfulfilled and call them unanswered.  But I’ve come to realize that God never leaves my prayers unanswered; I simply haven’t waited long enough to see the end of the story.  I forget that He has already written the ending, so if my circumstances look unresolved, it’s probably because I mistook the journey for the conclusion.  If God is silent, it’s only because I’m not truly listening.