HEARTLIGHTSpecial Feature

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ologist as soon as she could be discharged.

Would she need surgery? They didn’t know. Was it serious? They couldn’t say.
    I didn’t know what questions to ask or what to say. I felt numb. I felt like someone had just pushed me off a cliff and I was freefalling into an abyss. I was inconsolable. Mark was trying to be supportive, but this was too much.

    “Why, God? Why us? Why me? Didn’t I suffer enough with my first child? Why are you doing this to me again?” I was so angry, hurt and frightened. What if she died before we even took her to the cardiologist’s? We couldn’t help her heart until her lungs got better. It didn’t seem fair.

    Three days later, Marlie was finally able to leave the hospital and on this her third day of life, her tiny body was strapped to an echocardiogram to determine the seriousness of her defect. Our pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Pennock Laird, was encouraging and the Bible quotes he had framed on the wall offered comfort, knowing he was a man of God. Dr. Laird told us that Marlie had two holes in her heart, both on the vertical walls between each of the chambers of the heart, but that many children with this condition heal on their own. When blood pumped through her heart, it had to work harder because it was pumping blood between the holes, as well as out of the main arteries. A heart defect is a frightening thing for a parent, and we were terrified. He assured us that she was in no serious danger, and we could take her home with some heart strengthening medication for six months and regular check ups would monitor her condition.

    “Crying isn’t going to hurt her, so don’t be afraid to let her cry,” he informed us.

    Marlie was tiny, but tough. She was developmentally delayed in all her gross motor development, but her fine motor skills seemed fine. She also wasn’t talking, but the doctors assured us this had nothing to do with her heart...but I doubted. Everything that happened to her, from regular childhood illnesses to her delayed speech, I believed to be related to her heart defect. I was panicked, frightened and anxious, and not once did I ever truly give God control.

    At each appointment, Marlie would get a good report, and I began to believe that Marlie’s heart was going to heal on its own. Although the holes were still there, and her murmur was still very prominent, she was growing and thriving, always with a good appetite and energy. We began to think the worst was behind us.

    At Marlie’s three year old check up, Dr. Laird went through the usual routine of conducting an EKG and listening carefully to her heart. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Mark had stopped coming with me to the check-ups, because they were always so good. So, I was alone with Marlie when Dr. Laird came in to talk to me after his exam.

    “Marlie’s not getting better, like we had hoped,” he began. “The holes are not healing up on their own, and so we have to start considering surgery. We like to do this kind of procedure before they start school, if at all possible.” He was always matter-of-fact and calm when he spoke to me, which was very reassuring. But, the words he was saying were sending me back into my freefall. My heart felt like it was being ripped out and my stomach was in knots. Fear sank in and the questions began to pour out: “What are the risks? Is it safe? What’s the success rate? What is the survival rate?”

    That last question came out just as easily as the others, but I was terrified at the possible answer. “All surgery has risks, there are no 100% safe procedures...” and then I stopped listening. There was a chance she could die, and that was all I could hear.

    At first, I was too numb to pray...too angry. It wasn’t fair...so many others had perfectly healthy children and didn’t have to face such painful possibilities. And then I began to question God and His motives:

    “Why her, God? Why us? If there’s something I need to learn, isn’t there a way to make me suffer instead of her?" I wanted clear answers, justice and sense, not this chaos I was feeling.

    So, I began to blame myself. It was something I had done wrong when I was pregnant with her and now I was being punished for my “sins.” At least knowing it was my fault made sense, but it also brought guilt and condemnation, and the Spirit kept urging me away from that place. But I wallowed there for a good while, angry at myself and angry at God for unfairly punishing my daughter for my sin.

    I asked everyone to pray for Marlie while we waited six weeks for the echocardiogram to determine whether she needed surgery and how soon. I told them to pray for healing. But I asked no one to pray for me. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was guilty of bringing this upon my daughter and myself. My mind spun out of control contemplating the surgery and the aftermath. I knew there was no way I could handle it and that I couldn’t survive losing my daughter.

    My husband tried to be supportive, but didn’t understand the tailspin I was in. The doctor had rationally explained that the surgery wasn’t any riskier than an airplane trip to California. This did nothing to settle my nerves since I’m afraid of flying! But, my husband was reassured by this revelation and his major concern became making sure a plastic surgeon stitched her up so her scarring would be minimal.

    I wasn’t worried about her scars, I was worried about her life! And I was worried about living my life without her. Slowly I began to bargain with God. “If you’ll spare her this surgery, I’ll do anything.” But it was a hollow prayer because my motives weren’t just for sparing her, they were to spare me. Could I handle it? What would I do when she woke up and asked me why her chest hurt so? What if she didn’t wake up? Could I handle losing her?

“Let her go. I’ll catch her.”
    And then, slowly, God began to reach me. I finally rationalized that I wouldn’t be able to go into the operating room with her. I knew I’d have to wait while the doctors literally stopped my daughter’s heart and redirected its function to a machine. I knew I couldn’t do the surgery...I wasn’t trained in such intricate matters, but these doctors were. They knew what they were doing, and God had directed my daughter to them. I heard His voice, as I cried out in fear and anxiety...“Let her go. I’ll catch her.” Oh, God...how can I possibly do that?

    It was like a tug of war, God pulling on one side, me on the other...“Let her go, I’ll catch her.” “I can’t...I don’t want to lose her...what if you don’t catch her?” And then, it occurred to me that my fear was based on an absence of God in my life. He was trying to reach me now and He wanted to be with me before, during and after the surgery, if I’d let Him. “Let go, I’ll catch you.”

    I had to accept the reality that I wasn’t in control, because I couldn’t guide the doctor’s hands that would operate on Marlie, but God could. I couldn’t make sure the machine that was functioning for her heart during her surgery didn’t malfunction, but God could. Slowly, God tugged me enough that I finally fell into His arms and let it go. I realized that I had no choice. He was in control, just as He always had been, and I would be alright regardless of the outcome, because He would be with me. I couldn’t handle it, not alone. But God never intended for me to have to handle it alone. I was trying to handle it alone, and failing miserably.

    Once I let it go, and accepted God’s control over my daughter’s condition, a peace fell over me. I was able to function again, and I was able to be strong for her when we went for the echocardiogram. God gave me the courage to face that appointment without fear, and when the test administrator began to look at Marlie’s heart, she began to make comments about how her heart looked, pointing out things on the screen to me.

    “That hole is really small...”

    “This one looks pretty small, too.”

    Finally, she said, “I’ll send this video to your doctor, but it looks to me like she’s healed up. These holes are so small I can’t see that they would require surgery.” The next morning, our cardiologist confirmed her initial findings: “I don’t think this will ever require surgery.”

    Praise the Lord! Six weeks earlier, she faced open heart surgery, but now, I firmly believe, because of my willingness to relinquish control of my daughter over to God, He healed her.

    God is faithful, but I learned that until you let go, God can’t catch you.

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HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
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Article Copyright 1998, Leslie Austin. Used by permission.
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