The Sovereignty of God

Hebrews 11:13  “All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

I lead a group at my church for moms of children with special needs.  At the beginning of each meeting, we read a devotional that’s designed to center us on God before we begin sharing our hearts.  Right now we are reading a devotional called Refresh: Spiritual Nourishment for Parents of Children with Special Needs written by Kimberly M. Drew and Jocelyn Green.  After reading the devotional, we talk through discussion questions and anything else that is going on in our lives that only another mother of a child with special needs would understand.  

Our devotional at a recent meeting for me was very insightful.  It was titled “Sovereign Moments.” The story begins with Kimberly sharing her story about how her daughter, Abbey, came into the world.  Because of the traumatic nature of Abbey’s delivery, it resulted in her having lifelong multiple disabilities. The doctor had written in his notes that it was because of “poor maternal effort.”  Kimberly said what he failed to mention was that he was asleep in another room for almost the entire delivery and that right at the end of the delivery, he rushed in, looked at her vitals, and yelled, “Now!”  A few minutes later, Abbey needed to be resuscitated. For many years Kimberly blamed herself while her family and friends blamed the doctor. She later came to accept that God could have intervened at any moment during the birth of her daughter and yet chose not to.  Over time she grew to find comfort in the sovereignty of God.

Kimberly closes her devotional with this profound paragraph:  “At thirty-five weeks pregnant, my dear friend Allison woke up from a nap covered in blood.  She was rushed into an emergency C-section for a second-degree placental abruption. It was my obstetrician who saved her life and her sweet baby’s life.  Mere men make mistakes in one moment and rise to do amazing things in the next. God is sovereign over them all.”

For me, prior to TJ’s injury, when a doctor entered the room, the heavens parted and the angels began to sing.  I thought they were the smartest people on earth and knew all the answers. TJ spent more than a year of his short life in the hospital, and during that time, I began to view doctors very differently.  Although most times I was fascinated by their brilliance, I also at times saw them as imperfect human beings like me who make mistakes, who do not have all the answers, who can’t undo a tragedy, who do not control life and death, and who are limited by only the knowledge God allows them to have.  I began to realize that putting lofty expectations on them was unfair and should be reserved only for God. We knew there had to have been oxygen loss during TJ’s surgery, but his strange presentation after surgery along with an MRI that didn’t match his symptoms were a mystery to doctors, and after years of struggling to find answers, I finally came to believe that if God wanted us to know what happened, He would have given the doctors that knowledge.

Like Kimberly, our son’s brain injury and eventual death was caused by, in our opinion, a doctor’s mistake.  Over time I too have also grown to find comfort in the sovereignty of God and that He also could have intervened at any moment during my son’s surgery and yet chose not to.  Through the years, I’ve started to see the lives that could be won for Christ because of TJ’s powerful story, and I could also see God’s presence everywhere in our lives as He lovingly carried us during our unimaginable trial of suffering.

A friend of mine who is a nurse once told me,“Regarding surgeons, always listen to who the nurses recommend because they see the patients coming out of the OR.”  We chose TJ’s surgeon because he was highly regarded in our community. We had heard nothing but wonderful things about him. He had done a lot of good for a lot of people.  During the years following TJ’s surgery, I’ve seen many shocked faces from medical staff upon learning who TJ’s surgeon had been. I’ve come to the conclusion that this kind of surgical outcome was unusual for him.  Even though my son’s surgery had a devastating result, I would still say his surgeon is a good surgeon. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, looking back I can see the look of pain in the surgeon’s eyes that first week as TJ rapidly declined, and even though it has been a process for me, I now have compassion for him.

I believe there were higher forces at work that fateful surgery day in 2013.  I don’t understand it all, but I do believe God was in control that day. And because of the work that Christ did on the cross for me, I am forgiven, so, therefore, I can be obedient to Him and live a life of forgiveness trusting that He will make all things right in His time.  I believe one day we will all see the far reaching effects TJ’s story has had for growing the kingdom of God. My prayer is that God will extract every ounce of good from TJ’s suffering and will use it for His glory.

What about you?  Where in your life are you having trouble trusting the sovereignty of God?  He says in His Word that He loves you and always has your best interest at heart.  Take a step of faith today and trust Him. He will never fail you.

Dr. Steele

On April 22, 2013, my 16-year-old son, TJ, underwent heart surgery to repair a newly-diagnosed heart defect. He woke up from that surgery with an abundance of medical problems. At that time doctors were unable to diagnose him, so my husband and I made the decision to transfer him to a higher level of care hospital. On May 10, 2013, TJ was flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and admitted to the PICU at St. Mary’s Hospital.

I had been told that Mayo was one of the world’s best hospitals. Upon arrival, I had hope that doctors would quickly figure out what was wrong with my son, fix him, and send him home so we could get back to our lives.  But that is not what happened.

One of the first doctors I met was Dr. Steele.  She is a pediatric intensivist at St. Mary’s Hospital. Initially I did not like her, and every time I saw her coming, I wanted to run. She said things like, “Your son is very sick, and his lungs have taken a beating.”  “We think he may have had a brainstem stroke.” “He may never get off a vent.” Her words felt cold and harsh. Most times after speaking with her, I felt like she had just punched me in the gut.  I wanted to throw up. “Doesn’t she care how much this is hurting me?” I thought. I wanted her to tell me that my son was going to be okay and that he was going to go to college, get married, and have children like I had planned.  But she didn’t tell me that. No matter how hard I tried to get her to tell me that everything was going to be okay, she just wouldn’t say it.

After a couple of months in the PICU with many ups and downs, TJ started to improve. During evening rounds, I walked into TJ’s room and found Dr. Steele throwing a ball back and forth with him. She was laughing, and I could tell she was delighted to see his progress. My heart started warming up to her just a little.

One evening I had questions for her that I didn’t want TJ to hear. She took me into another room and spent quite a bit of time explaining to me what had happened to him. By this time I had started accepting TJ’s brain injury, and I was beginning to handle bad news a little better. I could now talk more openly without getting defensive. I appreciated her spending so much time with me and teaching me about my son’s medical condition.

Over time I could tell that she was genuinely sad about what had happened to TJ.  When she learned he had been a drummer, in an effort to bring him some quality of life, she had her husband come in and play his guitar for him.  My heart warmed up to her a little bit more.

Finally, after two and a half months, TJ had improved enough to be discharged from PICU and transferred to the rehab floor.  The medical staff told me that in order for him to be discharged, I had to change his trach three times, clean the trach, and learn how to suction it.  I absolutely did not want to learn. I had never wanted to be a nurse in my life. I had watched TJ have three respiratory failures, and I was terrified of his trach.  I wanted them to fix him and get him back to the way he was. So, I half-heartedly tried to learn. When the nurses noticed my lackluster efforts, Dr. Steele showed up and had a talk with me: “You need to learn. You have it a lot easier than some of the other parents around here do. They’ve got babies with trachs and the trachs are tiny.” After that I decided I didn’t like her anymore.

Soon after eventually learning all of my tasks, TJ was finally discharged to rehab.  When we were leaving, Dr. Steele said, “TJ, I don’t want to see you again until you walk through that door.”  I made a mental note and was determined that when he was up and walking again, we would come back to the PICU and show her how much he had improved.

However, we did not stay in rehab long.  TJ became very ill, and we were sent back into the hospital. After two more months of bouncing around the hospital with many peaks and valleys, we finally made it to rehab and stayed in rehab.  TJ began to improve greatly. He was walking with a walker, so toward the end of our three-week stint in rehab, TJ and I, along with his physical therapist, trekked down the hall to the PICU.  When TJ walked through the door, we saw Dr. Steele standing on the opposite side of the room. Upon seeing him, her jaw dropped to the floor. She came straight to us and exclaimed, “I’m so happy for you!” There was much joy and excitement.  And I began to really like her again.

A couple of days before TJ was discharged from rehab to home, Dr. Steele was sitting at a desk outside of TJ’s room.  I was excited to see her sitting there, and I went out to talk to her.

“You used to make me so mad,” I said with a grin.

“Why?  What did I do?” she asked.

“You told me the truth and I didn’t like it! Many times I would ask you a question, and when I didn’t like your answer, I would walk away muttering, ‘She don’t know everything.’”

She laughed and jumped off her chair and hugged me.

And from that day forward, she became my most favorite doctor ever.