For most of the next day after Stephen was born, we were on the phone with family and friends, trying to explain to them what little we knew about Stephen’s condition. Up until that point, my emotions were never a big part of who I was. However, on the phone with my mother that afternoon, I bawled like a baby.
To add to our feeling of isolation, we were not able to hold or feed Stephen. Due to his medical conditions at birth, the nurses kept him in the neonatal ICU most of the time, and our visits with him over the first few days were short and joyless. He really was a beautiful baby, and his Down syndrome features were so mild that many of our friends could not see it on first glance. We longed for contact with our son. We ended the first day unsettled and unsure of our next steps.
The second day of Stephen’s life consisted of countless visitors who stopped by the hospital room with words of encouragement or wisdom to help us through this difficult and confusing time. I’m sure the looks on our faces must have been akin to people in shock after suffering a serious physical injury. We certainly had been gutpunched and were reeling from the impact. Still, as well-intentioned as they were, somehow no one could find words that gave us any true comfort.
Late that second night, the visitors had dwindled. We found ourselves alone in the room with still more questions that we could possibly process together. So, in a moment of quiet desperation, we asked for the hospital chaplain join us in the room. The medical center where we had Stephen was a Methodist hospital, but the chaplain wasn’t of any particular denomination. He was older than we were (I was 27 and Sally would turn 27 in three weeks), probably around 40. As we talked with him and prayed, I don’t recall that he pointed us to any scriptures that were especially effective or that he raised a point that amounted to an epiphany. Instead, after offering whatever comfort he could, the chaplain said good night, and left us alone in our room.
We both went to bed that night still distraught and without much hope of getting a good night sleep. Sally, of course, slept in the hospital bed, and I slept on a very narrow foldout recliner in the room. The chair was hard, and the pads were thin and covered in hospital vinyl. I had only a hospital pillow and sheets for covers. I slept in my street clothes.
Incredibly, I didn’t wake up once from the moment I fell asleep until the next morning. When I awoke, bright sunshine streamed in through the windows. I looked at Sally and said, “You know, I think I slept better last night than I’ve ever slept in my life.” Astonished, Sally said, “You know what, Mike, so did I!” We both marveled that, as upset as we had been the night before, we were able to sleep so soundly.
We quickly figured out why. Even though we hadn’t prayed specifically for sleep, God has granted us the “peace that passes all understanding” that night, and had given us the rest our bodies and souls so badly needed. I could not remember ever having been on the receiving end of a true miracle from God. But that night, we were.
And, as you also might expect, that improbable good night’s sleep was the turning point of the two week period that Stephen was in the hospital. From that moment on, Sally and I decided that, with God’s help, we would choose to see the positive in what was happening, and not to focus on the many negatives that had been placed before us. We affirmatively decided to see all the good that Stephen’s life could be, and not all the bad that was possible.
Next: Answering the Tough Questions