“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
When I agreed to write for this blog, my first thought was, “Now what? What can I possibly write about that will be of spiritual encouragement to others?” When I was given the date of my first assignment, the subject of my devotion became obvious.
June 24th is the birth date of our third child. My husband and I had two boys, who were 3 yrs. and 4 yrs. old, when Nathan was born. Life up until that point had been pretty simple. We struggled financially, my husband being a Lutheran school teacher, and me working part-time in child care. However, for the most part, we lived at the end of our own little rainbow. Our little family was everything! My husband and I had time for each other and time and energy to dote on our two healthy, amazing children. We were all very excited, awaiting the arrival of our third baby. We really didn’t have a care in the world, and expected that God would continue to bless us in the future as He had in the past.
We were busy doing all of the things that parents do as they nest. We had had an ultrasound, and knew we were expecting another boy. The process of picking out a name began. Names are a big thing with me. A name is the first real gift you give your child. We knew we wanted a Biblical name, and I wanted the meaning of the name to be significant. We went through the name books, made lists, but one name seemed to be pulling me. I can’t explain why. It wasn’t a name that as a young girl I had ever dreamed about naming one of my children. It wasn’t a family name. It wasn’t inspired by anyone we knew and admired. In fact, my husband had reservations about it. But my mind was set on the name Nathan, which means “God’s gift.”
The day arrived for the baby to be born. The birth was as easy as the pregnancy had been. Nathan was beautiful, if not unusually small for one of our children, but I had exercised during this pregnancy more than I had with my others. We held him, marveling over his seemingly tiny physical perfection, and made the phone calls announcing his arrival.
I won’t go into all of the details of the next few days, but it was soon discovered that Nathan was born with a heart defect. While he appeared perfect on the outside, there were some things very wrong on the inside. We had an emergency baptism, and he was flown to a hospital in a bigger city. The initial joy and celebration of Nathan’s birth quickly turned into shock, anxiety, devastation, and hopelessness. After many tests and evaluations by doctors who were experts in the cardiac neo-natal field, it was determined that there was nothing humanly feasible to be done to save our son. He was with us for ten days, and then he quietly passed away.
I’d like to tell you that I was a shining example of how a Christian should witness when faced with tragic circumstances, but the truth is that I was grief-ridden and angry. The perfect little bubble I lived in had burst. I think that I went through the motions, and mostly said the “right” things. I did believe my child was in heaven, and that helped, but there was still an underlying bitterness. I was resentful of others who had the audacity to celebrate the births of their healthy babies. I was angry at everyone who lived by unhealthy standards and was still blessed with a healthy baby. I was furious with women who threw their babies away through the act of abortion, and with those who had children and abused them. I was really angry with God for allowing all of this. Why had God placed the name Nathan, God’s gift, on my heart? Was this God’s gift – my empty, aching arms and the extra pregnancy weight? After all, my husband and I were dedicated to the Lutheran teaching ministry and living “God pleasing” lives. Was this how God blessed His people?
It is said that time heals all wounds. I don’t believe this is completely accurate, but time has given me perspective. With time, I was able to stop asking, “Why me?” Eventually, my question became, “Why not me?” My good Lutheran upbringing has taught me that we are all born sinful. We know this because death is a consequence of sin, and death comes to us all, even tiny infants who haven’t had a chance to do anything wrong. I knew this before, but I was a bit pious in my thinking, viewing others’ sin as greater than my own. I think many of us like to look around and measure ourselves against our neighbors. We find reasons to elevate our egos which put us on the lighter side of the scale. The truth is that we are all equal in God’s eyes. The Law is the great equalizer that shows us that we all fall short of the perfection that God demands, and, therefore, we all face the consequences of sin.
God’s gifts can include material possessions, physical health, and earthly relationships. However, God’s greatest gift to us is forgiveness and eternal life. Nathan’s life was a perfect illustration of this. Just hours after his birth, Nathan was given these gifts and the faith to receive them through God’s Word and the waters of Holy Baptism. Having never had the opportunity to act on his own, he did nothing to deserve these gifts. These gifts were all God’s doing – absolute grace.
The Scripture quoted at the beginning of this devotion is a verse that my father-in-law wrote on an index card and taped to Nathan’s incubator. When faced with the heartbreak of living in a fallen world, it is very difficult to look beyond our present suffering to the promises of eternity. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit, faith allows us to see beyond the temporal and live as people with hope. Because Christ paid the penalty for our sin through His death on the cross and won the victory over death through His resurrection, God is our only true strength. God’s faithful promises are the only thing we can count on in this world that can turn on a dime. Through faith, we trust in God, our portion forever!
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for your mercy and love. You have provided us with a pardon for our sin through your son, Jesus Christ. You know our sorrows, having sacrificed your own precious son on our behalf. Thank you for the strength and peace we have through faith in your promise of eternity. Help us to live as people with hope, so that others may know you through us. Amen.