I called out to my sleeping husband.
I called a little louder.
“Huh? Everything okay?”
he asked groggily.
“Ummm…yeah, everything’s fine. Could you come here?”
He stumbled into the bathroom.
“What is it?”
“I’m not positive, but I think my water just broke.”
This is not what either one of us was expecting. It was 4:30 AM on June 2. Our baby girl wasn’t due for just over another month. Sure, I had felt like she may come “early,” but not this soon! The nursery was still a glorified storage room. Hannah’s baby shower was not scheduled for another 3 days. We had no clothes for her, no diapers, not even a car seat to take her home! All of those little things we were going to complete in the next few weeks were left undone. But there was no time to do any of that now. We scrambled around, made arrangements for Moriah, our older daughter, finished packing for the hospital and we were on our way.
Several weeks earlier I began asking God to give me a verse to meditate on through childbirth and in those often-difficult weeks after, when I knew our lives would be changed forever and we’d be navigating through the familiar but somehow distant waters of caring for a newborn and adjusting to a completely different lifestyle on little—if any—sleep. I expected that completely changing our schedule and routine, then going back to work, would require extra strength and a greater measure of peace from God. So I simply made my request known to God for a verse to cling to, maybe something along the lines of “I can do all things through Christ…” I thought about different verses, but nothing clicked. Then one evening a passage came to me very distinctly:
…there was given me a thorn in my flesh,
a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
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 about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake,
delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
I read the passage again and thought, “Yeah, having a newborn and adjusting is a bit difficult, but I would hardly refer to it as a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ Sounds a bit harsh.” But I knew that this was the passage God gave me, so for several nights before Hannah’s birth, I read it again and again.
Once at the hospital, the nurses confirmed that I was indeed in labor and were very sure to tell us that we were having a baby that day. We were both in shock. Nonetheless, she was on her way. A few hours later, at 10:15 AM, we heard the long awaited cries of our little girl. Due to last minute medications during labor, I was unfortunately quite groggy the first few hours of Hannah’s life. I held her and looked at her, but failed to pick up on the little details of her appearance. I could hardly hear the nurses’ comments as they evaluated her. I remember one nurse asking, “Does she look like your other daughter?” And I answered that no, she had her own distinct look.
A few hours later, as I was trying to recover, the pediatrician came in the room and brought the news that changed us forever. He gently told me that they suspected Hannah has Down Syndrome based upon her features and her weak muscle tone. I was in shock. Down Syndrome? We had no idea. We never imagined we’d be the family with a special needs child.
When Eddie came back to the room, I shared the Doctor’s report with him. Thoughts came rushing through our minds. Tears flowed. Our joy was overshadowed by grief and fear of the future. She’ll never be like other kids. She’ll be made fun of. She won’t go to a typical school, have a normal social life, go to college or get married. Hannah will always be dependent upon us. What will happen when we’re too old to take care of her?
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about those irrational fears. What child comes with a certificate guaranteeing that she will live a successful life, go to college, get married and be independent anyway? I’ve never seen that certain promise at birth yet. Our responsibility as parents is simply to give our kids our best in way of care, training, and teaching and to raise them to know and love God. We simply encourage them to be all they were created to be.
Family came to visit and see her. More tears. More feeling of loss of all the little things we had planned for our child. Wave after wave of grief followed.
It wasn’t until later that evening that I remembered the verse and certain promise God had given me several days earlier:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“Oh, God, I’ve never felt weaker in my life. I need your strength, your grace,” I prayed through the tears.
Sleep came sporadically that night. I was able to visit Hannah in the NICU just a few times before I was discharged the next day. They had to keep Hannah due to complications arising from her prematurity. Leaving the hospital without a baby was somehow just not right. (And in the weeks to follow, leaving her each day left me feeling like I was never home. Wherever I was—whether with her at the hospital or home with the rest of the family—I was never complete.) When I walked out of the hospital the day after her birth, my heart was still heavy with the news of her diagnosis. I was thankful to have her, but somehow still grieving all the dreams I had for her that would never be realized.
Late that evening, I found myself the only one awake in a quiet house. Seemingly out of nowhere I felt a sudden urge to read the verses God had given me, but in the Message version of the Bible. I don’t often turn to the Message version, but I appreciate its plain, everyday language and way of putting God’s Word into a fresh perspective. As I opened to the passage, I was amazed at the wording:
I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.
Satan’s angel did his best to get me down;
what he in fact did was push me to my knees…
At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it.
Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough;
it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen.
I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.
It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.
Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer…
I just let Christ take over!
And so the weaker I get,
the stronger I become.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (the Message version, emphasis added)
That instant, I had peace about Hannah’s diagnosis. I knew that her unique and special qualities had been given as a gift, and I should see them as nothing less.
A few days after her birth, I was holding Hannah in her NICU room when the thought occurred to me: I didn’t even know what her name means—I, of all people, who usually obsess over things like this. I, the mother who long before Moriah’s arrival had researched her name and written a poem based upon it’s meaning, could not even think of the meaning of my youngest daughter’s name. A few months before, Eddie and I had deliberated quite a bit over what to name her, and finally agreed that Hannah was perfect. I’m sure in the process I had looked at the meaning. But sitting in the hospital room with her, I was in shock that I could not recall something so important. With her in my arms, I managed to get a hand free and search for the name on my phone. When the results came up, I was in awe.
Hannah means “grace.”
“My grace is sufficient for you…” God had promised.
Whatever the future holds, for every unknown challenge on the road before us, so long as I call Hannah’s name I will have a reminder of God’s promise ever before me. His grace will be enough to meet every challenge. His grace will carry us through the frustrations and strengthen our faith in times of uncertainty. His grace will flow through us and enable us to show grace to those who show ignorance or even cruelty toward her.
And God’s grace will pour out joy upon us as we delight in Hannah’s adorable smile and melt in her hugs. His grace will sing over us as we cheer her on and take pride in her accomplishments.
Most of all, His grace will enable us to fully enjoy the precious gift of our sweet Hannah.