There’s a small section in my book, Not Just on Sundays, where I talk about how God loves making weakness strong. It is based on this verse:
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This verse always takes me back to the first few weeks with my newborn Chickie more than a decade ago when we were living far from family (we always are), residing in student housing at Stanford University, and counting each dollar as we went through the checkout line, sometimes turning some food away and not putting it into our carts. We had gone from a military income and housing to poor* students again. I had entirely stopped working, and Salad Boy (my affectionate name for the hubby) was trying to hammer out the Ph.D. Needless to say, with an almost-three year old and one just having arrived, there wasn’t a lot of margin or wiggle room in our lives.
Just about everything was stress-infused and tight. The one thing that brought sweet relief every week was the prayer group we ran out of our home for graduate students on a Wednesday night through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I would put my toddler to bed, and we would listen to concerns and seek God together for at least an hour every week. I loved (at the time) to decorate, and I would often make a yummy treat, but mostly our gathering was to nourish our souls. Sweet, sweet times were had as we looked up together, not knowing when and where answers would come, but we knew this:
They would come. He listens. Always.
So, at that time, my daughter’s birth was mostly uneventful. Like all of my other kids, she was early-ish but not premature. She came at 38 weeks. The only part that more or less stunned us at the time was the fact that after I birthed Mr. Nine Pound Four Ounces in 2000, she came out, same gestation time: five pounds, two ounces.
The usual jaundice issues kept her there longer than our stay should have been. I became good at pumping milk and visiting her, aiming to have at least half her day’s nourishment be breastmilk. It was hard to let that go, but there was a toddler at home also needing my time and attention.
Soon after she was released, we began the almost-daily process of taking her to have her bilirubin checked, which meant pricking her heel. This is what led to the return to the hospital, where a small part of hell broke loose in our lives and hearts.
While my in-laws were visiting us in our campus housing when Chickie was just over a week old, my mother-in-law noticed the baby’s rise in temperature. I wasn’t overly concerned at first until it spiked a bit more. I was already a bit stressed by the constant pressure to get this baby’s weight from five pounds (dipping at one point to four pounds, twelve ounces) to a less-premie weight. We certainly could have had it worse. I know babies born significantly earlier and smaller who survived amazing odds. I wasn’t worried about her being healthy, or in survival mode—not initially—but I was worried where development might be slow with such a tiny start. We all wondered how the doctor could keep telling us, prenatally, that she was at least 7 pounds. And we all were concerned at what point the placenta stopped doing its job. I was so grateful she didn’t try to wait a few more weeks to arrive.
Getting back to that night. We gathered up, Salad Boy and I, and took her to the ER. I think my mother-in-law was there at some point as well, or maybe she went the next day. Either way, the response was serious, and before I knew what was going on, they were talking about infection—not sure of which antibiotics to rush into her—and a spinal tap.
Dear God, Where ARE You?
It became clear, they needed to make sure there wasn’t something worse going on, so the spinal tap was performed, and next thing I know, my baby girl had a central line put into the side of her shaved head. Within a few days, the infection was determined to be Staphylococcus aureus. It took almost a week, but they ruled out the infection traveling into or affecting any organs. I don’t even know if I’m medically describing this well. My sister is the medical professional. I’m just bumbling along describing the journey the best that I can.
During that time a few things were true:
—People were praying.
God sent so many people to tell us they were praying for us….people we didn’t even know had a shred of faith. It was incredible.
—People were showing up.
Besides my in-laws extending their stay, my other set of in-laws volunteered to come as well. A sweet friend of the family flew out quickly to take care of my son while I tried to spend almost all waking hours with my baby in the hospital, sometimes sleeping overnight in a cold feeding/family room. Other people offered to come out, but it was okay and not necessary beyond a certain point. Their sincerity meant a lot to us. One of my (to this day) dearest friends came into the NICU with me while I fed and held my tiny fighter. That memory has etched itself forever in my treasure chest of her loving Chickie and me as the arms and feet of Jesus.
–My tiny nugget (which is what we called her at the time) screamed her little head off while she fought for her life. I mean: She SCREAMED!
We would be two floors down at the complete opposite end of the hospital, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, but when we approached the elevators, Little Girlfriend could be heard protesting vigorously. I remember her being the tiniest in the NICU at that particular time, but all of the nurses remarked how incredibly loud she was! (She also had brown hair with blonde-tipped highlights, as if she had stopped, in the middle of all of this, to get her hair done. That was almost prophetic as she cares a lot about hairstyle and style in general all these years later.)
—God used every single second of that time—none of it wasted.
I could go on and on, but that’s not what this particular blog is about. As one example, my almost-three year old had a savant-like map ability. He directed the friend of the family who stayed with him in Tiny Kid Voice how to get to places on campus and in the surrounding community. Thank You, God, I took the time out to answer all of those monotonous, intense questions while we would be out driving. What if I hadn’t?
All five pounds of the nugget version of Chickie fought and screamed her way back to health. There were years of hoping for better growth, ruling out scary chromosomal disorder possibilities, and waiting to see if anything slowed her down. She was a peanut for a very long time. My oldest still reminds her of her nugget days.
What has remained consistent is not only that she is the healthiest person in my house since all of this happened, but she continues to have a warrior spirit. God gave it to her—so I hesitate to mess with it, except to offer disciplinary correction and to soften it with grace. But Chickie wages her personal wars quietly, with grace, but with strong conviction about justice. I have no idea how God will take a penchant for fashion and mix it with the loud and big heart Chickie has. She is ridiculously quiet around adults and some others, but as one Sunday School teacher once said: “She is like a stealth bomber. You don’t know what’s there until it’s suddenly upon you.” It was said with love.
Her story isn’t finished being written yet. I have no idea what God will do. I also still have to redirect her sometimes. She still has some growing and maturing to do. But, what I do know is:
God took this tiny, weak, very sick little nugget, and He gave her a voice…one that survives, endures, and hopefully is used for Him someday, somehow. He loves to bring strength out of weakness.
We all have stories like this one. I have plenty for my other kids as well. Where can you trust Him more today for making the impossible possible? He wants to wow and delight you, to bring the miraculous and His purposes to the ordinary. We just have to ask and invite Him into our lives.
Why settle for just “getting by” when we can be part of an amazing journey with the Father?
*I use the term “poor” very relatively and loosely, as our economic situation even at that time did not compare to much of the world.