He had only been alive for a few hours, but he’d already endured much.
Beyond the trauma any of us go through in just being born, he was immediately rushed to the NICU. He didn’t get to be held by his mother who labored to birth him. Instead, strangers poked and prodded at him as unfamiliar voices directed the action. IVs pierced his skin. A tube ran up his nose and down his throat into his stomach. A mask pumped oxygen into his lungs. His eyes were covered and a bright light shined down to fight off jaundice. His parents would soon learn a frightening new vocabulary that included words like “bradycardia” and “brain bleed.” But for now, Mom was whisked off to recover from the C-Section while Dad stood in the corner of the room praying… desperately praying for this 1lb 11oz baby boy… his son… MY son. As the activity settled and I was assured Zachary was stable I went to be with Michelle.
After a fitful night of rest, the next day, I wheeled Michelle up to the NICU to meet Zachary. In the upper right corner of his isolet, someone taped a card that read,
“Lord, bless the child with all the love that heaven can release. Send angels down to protect and surround this little life with peace. When danger draws near be always there to lift the fear away. Lord, give this child the strength and grace to show your love each day.”
We learned it was one of his nurses, Cheryl. She told us she would pray this prayer over Zachary every time she was there caring for him. For almost eight weeks that card stayed. We started a ritual that included praying this prayer before we went home for the night. Sixteen years later this prayer is still stitched into the fabric of our family faith practice. We changed the word “child” to family, but other than that our prayer each night remains the same. In the 16 years of praying this prayer as a family, it has been sung, shouted, rapped, danced to, and spoken with a southern twang. We’ve laughed through it, and broken up arguments between the kids during it. But each night we pray all the same. Now that I work nights, we often pray it via Facetime, but we still pray it.
In the thousands of times we’ve prayed this prayer — and in the countless ways we’ve prayed it — something always happens to me when we do. I yawn. It’s like each time we say these words my body remembers the exhaustion of our weeks in the hospital. This little prayer will forever be connected to that beautiful, terrible, life-changing, faith-forming time. It triggers a response in me tied to the trauma and fatigue of all those weeks of waiting and praying and hoping. It triggers a response to the memory of all the challenges and setbacks and potential dangers. It triggers a response to the memory of the 100s of times we or the nurses had to save him when he would forget to breathe. It triggers a response to the memory of the heart monitor going off again and again in the middle of the night, even a year after we brought him home. It’s amazing how the body remembers, and each night as we pray that memory manifests itself in me through a yawn.
Today I’m tired. I’ve been tired a lot lately. I don’t often sleep well. It’s part of what fuels my coffee habit, I guess. But this week it is a different kind of tired than what comes from my normal lack of sound sleep. My son turns 16 next week. He’s healthy and growing (finally). He’s nerdy and cool and hilarious and can talk endlessly about anime and Marvel and Star Wars. He’s compassionate and kind and persistent and stubborn. I’m so thankful to be his dad. But I also think my body is remembering. Very rarely has life been easy in the last sixteen years. Not much ever falls easily into place for our family. But I wouldn’t trade it. I wouldn’t trade the last 16 years for anything. Amid the difficulty and complexity of our life, I’m confident God answers our family prayer and “blesses” us daily. God blesses our family with love at the center of who we are together. As messed up as we are, with great confidence I can say the four of us know we are LOVED. We also know that our prime directive is to LOVE. I like to refer to LOVE as the family business, and we all get to participate.
Thank you, O God for blessing my family with all the love that heaven can release. Give us the strength and grace to show your love today and every day.