My first grandchild arrived three months early: a baby girl, weighing in at a mere one pound, fifteen ounces. “A micro-preemie”, the doctor called her. “They rarely survive when they’re this small. I’m sorry.”
The doctor and nurses attending her birth gave us no hope. They delivered their prognosis as gently as possible, but their words caused my knees to grow weak. If she did live, the doctors told us, she would be blind and severely handicapped by cerebral palsy.
A nurse handed me a catalogue of preemie caskets and burial gowns, “You need to make arrangements.” She whispered, and walked away. I remember following her back with my eyes until she disappeared from view, fighting desperately not to comprehend what she’d just said to me. I felt myself mentally slam the door on their words. I would place my hope in the God who say’s nothing is impossible.
We were adrift for three months in a sea of uncertainty. The early days were filled with so much disheartening news; the nights riddled with alarming phone calls.
Everyday that Destinee continued to cling to life brought fresh discoveries of God’s wondrous creative nature. Day by day we watched as she continued to develop outside of her mother’s womb.
Striking up conversations with strangers in the waiting room or cafeteria, I began encountering stories of God’s miraculous work. I realized that God was intentionally filling my ears with hope.
“My brother was so little he slept in a shoe box,” one gentleman said, “the doctors said weren’t no use even namin’ him. But mama never listened. She named him anyway. Gabriel, like the angel. What God touches, cain’t no doctor understand, she'd say. That was forty-eight years ago. Gabe’s a judge now, only one to ever get to college out of seven.”
Every day God brought His story tellers to me. I felt like Elijah at the brook, waiting for the ravens to bring the daily provision. The stories of strangers were more than food to me; they nurtured my ability to hope.
We felt the tragedy of other families sometimes as we learned early on that God’s answer is not always yes. I can’t say we had unwavering faith. We had no choice but to place our hope in God, trusting the journey to His control. We spoke words of faith in the depths of our helplessness; they were our raft and we clung tightly. We dared not even think of basking in the comfort of knowing we would receive the miracle that we prayed for. Life in the NICU swayed too fragile for such certainty of faith.
Exactly 3 months from the day of her traumatic birth, the nurses made a surprise announcement.
“Today, she goes home,” they declared, “today is Destinee’s ‘second birthday’!” She weighed four and half pounds.
I placed a bookmark on that page in our family’s history. It is the page God selected to autograph with a finished miracle. It would have been my Grandmother’s ninety-third birthday. She passed away just three months before her tiny namesake made her forced entry into the world. Somehow I knew Grandmother must have made her way to the throne room to plead her case for one last birthday present.
Tears flowed as the nurses kissed Destinee’s steroid-puffy cheeks and wished her well. We didn’t dare speak as we humbly pushed her bassinette through the halls toward the Hospital entrance. In my heart it was a grand parade, complete with a marching band.
The next five years would lead to many such wonderful goodbyes as the entourage of Doctors that had been assigned to follow Destinee’s progress fell away one by one. Over time, it was miraculously clear that she had no birth defects, no developmental delays; no learning disabilities.
This year we celebrated the sixth ‘second’ birthday of Destinee Artelia Key.
The flame of a single candle represents the hope that lit our pathway during a difficult and tenuous journey; laden with story tellers that kept the flame kindled day after day, and doctors who never slept guided by the God who signs off on miracles.
As Destinee blew out her sixth ‘second birthday’ candle, I was reminded that she too will be a story teller one day. Once you follow hope all the way through, that’s what you become; the kindler of the flame that lights the way for those on the path behind you.
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