Eight years ago yesterday, December 26th, at a little after 9:00 pm I was standing in the middle of a delivery room at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. My wife was having an emergency C-section to deliver our third child who was in desperate trouble. After the delivery when the baby didn’t cry we naturally worried that something was seriously wrong. It was. She was dead, unbeknownst to us in the initial moments though.
After a few minutes with my wife frantically asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong with my baby?” I moved from her side to the other side of the room where the medical team was frantically working to revive our child. After I saw her lifeless and extremely blue body I knew. Stunned, I slowly made my way back to my wife, who was looking to me for some signs of hope and asking repeatedly, with tears steaming, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong with my baby?” I grabbed her hand and simply said, “Honey, Let’s just pray.”
I didn’t pray for any miracle. In the few seconds that it took me to make it from our still-born child to my wife’s side, my mind had already begun planning a funeral and trying to figure out a way to console a wife, who already had a serious history of depression. I had spent the better part of a decade, after a stint of excessive drinking and “partying” from age 16 to 20, thinking that Christianity was designed to help me get everything I wanted, “the abundant life”, through positive thinking and the power of my own faith. But this time, after a long period of disillusionment and disappointment, I was pretty much out of faith in the power of my own faith and realizing that my own logic might not be as reliable a guide as I thought. This was the straw that finally broke the back of the camel that was my pride, ever so religiously disguised as it was. This time the essence of my prayer, which was never fully articulated on my lips or even in my mind but very much so in my heart, was “God be merciful to me a sinner.” At that exact moment, not a little before or a little after, but at that exact moment our baby girl was revived.
Later we would discover that she had been dead for over 10 minutes, she was still at 0 on the APGAR at 9 minutes when they stopped counting. Initially the doctor who delivered her wasn’t optimistic, to say the least. He said, “I’ve been doing this for thirty years, and I’m not sure what has happened here, but don’t expect that she will make it. She has gone way too long without oxygen or any blood flow.” But I knew that something incredible had just happened. The presence of God was palpable, and then there was the woman standing behind Christi, my wife, who looked especially bright, who had very assuringly assured us that everything was going to be ok and that churches all over the state would be praying for us. This is the woman we never saw again for the next two weeks that our baby, Anna, was in the NICU, and the woman whom no one who worked there seemed to know anything about. Nonetheless, the delivery doctor didn’t think that Anna would even continue to live at first, even with the innovative whole body hypothermia treatment that they were going to use. The next day, however, he came to us, at around 3 or 4 in the morning and woke us up, amazed that either of us could sleep, and said, “It looks like she’s going to make it, but she will definitely have some mental and developmental disabilities.
Later that morning, we had a meeting with the hospitable social worker who wanted to prepare us for being parents of a special needs child. Early on Anna was having seizures and there were definite signs of internal organ damage. Part of the lining of her intestines came out with her first stool. There were signs of kidney damage, and they discovered a tiny bleed on her brain. However, after a couple more days it was becoming clearer that she was doing far better than to be expected, although they were still very cautious. A couple of days later I leaned over Anna with a Nurse who wept tears of joy and trembled with awe as she said, “It was a miracle!” After two weeks in the NICU, the doctor assigned to monitor and treat Anna said, as we were preparing to take Anna home, “She checks out like any normal newborn.” Long story short, after being checked about as thoroughly as any child could be checked medically, Anna has been extraordinarily healthy and above average in school.
It was a miracle! But what I learned very clearly through all this was that I couldn’t credit the power of my own faith one bit, but could only give glory to God. I was beginning to see that this didn’t happen because I was so good, but because God is. It didn’t happen because I deserved it or earned it through my positive thinking, but only by God’s grace and mercy. I was beginning to learn the lesson of true humility and God was teaching me.
A few weeks later I found myself disgusted when people would say, “Your believing must have been really great for this to happen!” I found myself quick to say, “Oh no, not by a long shot,” and then credited it all to the grace and mercy of God.” I knew that God had done something that He neither had to do, nor something that I had in any way deserved. God definitely had my attention and I was really listening for the first time in a long time. It was mercy! I was also beginning to realize that all the pain and disappointment that we had gone through weren’t just attacks of the devil to push us off the right path, but the loving discipline of God to actually get us on it. I was definitely listening more intently to what God’s word actually says and beginning to question and doubt my own self-interested interpretations of it, although it was yet unclear where this journey would end up leading us.
In addition to being steeped in the idea that my believing and my positive thinking was the key to me getting everything I wanted, I was also convinced that Jesus could not be divine because it just wasn’t logical. I was in a group that denied the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ, called The Way International. I got involved with them my sophomore year in college at East Carolina, a whole other story in itself. Nonetheless, I was convinced by their logic, even after talking with my United Methodist lay leader and pastor, and made it my own. What, I would like to think started as a genuine quest to know the true God became a trip in pride in myself that always comes with an oozing contempt for other unenlightened souls, who believed in silly things, like the Trinity especially in our case. Anyway, after the miracle with Anna I began to feel a permission to question what I had come to believe.
A few months after Anna was born my wife and, later, I acted on the overwhelming feeling that we should just stop our involvement with The Way International. At the same time I continued to question and reconsider much of what I had come to believe. I began praying fervently for guidance and illumination and reading my Bible with fresh eyes. I read affirming and competing views to my own prolifically and tried to consider multiple viewpoints on many different topics including the Trinity, life after death, the nature of faith, and on sexuality among others. Finally, I came to the realization that I couldn’t really know that I know what is true beyond all doubt, but I would have to ultimately take a leap of faith based on the available evidence.
One day, while sitting in my living room on the beautiful floral patterned couch that I had bought for Christi as a gift several years before, I read these words from Philippians 2 in my well-worn (at least parts of it) King James Bible.
“2 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
After numerous readings of these words, I finally took verse six to mean what it says rather than trying to conform it to my own exalted reason. I had questioned this verse before, even with other people in The Way International, but always took their advice “to put it on the backburner” because it couldn’t mean what it says because it just doesn’t “fit”. But this time I took a leap of faith, demoted my own reason that screamed this cannot be literally true because a man can’t be God at the same time, and accepted it for what it said and seriously considered the possibility that there are some, many very sensible things that may not make sense to me.
Simultaneously and necessarily by doing this I did what the passage calls all of us to do, I humbled myself. I demoted my own reason and promoted Jesus in my heart to His rightful status as the Lord. I cast off the crown that I had placed on my own reason and crowned him Lord of all. I also realized that my life was not about me getting everything that I want, but about me giving everything that I have to live no longer for myself, but for the one who died and was raised (2 Cor. 5:15). I saw that Jesus didn’t die so that I could get everything I want, but so that I too could give everything that I have. I learned the hard way that getting everything you want is not all it’s cracked up to be any way. So I also demoted my own desires, and accepted the desires of God as my own, so that I confessed, “not my will but thine be done.” I realized that in many ways I had been conforming the word of God to my own reason and desires to fulfill my own dreams rather than allowing my mind and my desires to be transformed by the word so that I could fulfill God’s dream, His good and perfect will (Rom 12:1-2). I casted down the citadel of the imaginations of my wicked and deceitful heart that exalted itself above the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:4,5): my “logical” denial of the Divinity of Christ, my aversion to the reality of an eternal hell, my disdain for the idea that God sometimes carries out judgment in this world to awaken people to repent, my contempt for the idea that God loves people enough to discipline them and correct them through pain, my self-justification for sexual impurity and gratifying my lust, and my blasphemous attempt to usurp the throne of God, contorting and distorting His word to make him the servant of my own desires for self-promotion and self-gratification. That day I, the impostor me that was drowning me in the abyss of my own wants, “was crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 KJV).
Eight years ago, the day after we celebrated the birth of Christ, our third child, Anna, was still-born only to be miraculously snatched from the very bowels of death. At the same time God did the same for me, and a few months later, reading through Philippians 2 on my couch, I surrendered and won the victory. I was born again. Thanks be to God!