A God Who is Present
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15
On February 27th of 1986 my wife and I were on our way to the hospital to deliver our third child and first son. A day and half later we came home with only an empty hospital blanket, the tiniest of hospital wrist bands bearing the name Lucas Mark Miller, and two hospital Polaroids of a little boy that we never really got to know. It amazing how precious a blanket, a wrist band, and a couple of pictures can become when it’s all you have to show for a three hour and fifteen-minute life that will forever change the way you view the world.
Following Luke’s funeral, we returned to our apartment, still in shock, and facing the task of dismantling a baby bed and boxing up all of the items that had been placed in preparation of his homecoming. We had had no warning and, as young Christians, struggled to make sense (physically and spiritually) of what had happened to take the life of our son. We later learned that Luke was born with a very rare medical anomaly called Potter’s Syndrome which, in Luke’s form, is incompatible with life. The details aren’t important (to you) but it somehow helped to have a name for what took the life of our baby boy. However, we still wrestled, spiritually, with why God would allow this to happen to us.
It took a very long time and, at times, stretched our marriage almost to the breaking point; but we did survive and the pain somehow became manageable. Seven and a half years later we became pregnant again and after a more-anxious-than-normal pregnancy, we gave birth to a healthy baby girl (Potter’s Syndrome presents much more often in males). Even though we were told that Potter’s Syndrome wasn’t hereditary, we decided that three little girls were more than enough and that we were done with the baby stage of life. With that, Potter’s Syndrome faded from our minds.
In 2009, our middle daughter became pregnant with our first grandchild, a boy, and when she was diagnosed with low amniotic fluid levels late in the pregnancy (a presenting factor for Potter’s Syndrome), we quickly learned that fear was lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce. However, when the time came, we anxiously awaited as she delivered a healthy baby boy and then grateful allowed our unwarranted concerns to fade into distance memories.
In 2011, our oldest daughter delivered our second, healthy grandson and, with that event, our fears regarding Potter’s Syndrome began to once again fade into the realm of a painful memories. We had been told that Potter’s Syndrome was non-hereditary, but the seeds of fear had been planted. However, with each subsequent birth, we were learning to accept that with every pregnancy in our family we were going to face some atypical fears around the birth of babies that were related to our painful loss. We now knew that our whole family had been marked by the circumstances of Luke’s death.
In mid-2012, we received the amazing news that our oldest daughter was once again pregnant and, once again, we had a grandson on the way. As a father of three girls, I was thrilled that God was blessing us with little boys. I had been outnumbered for way too long and the scales were finally tipping in my direction. I was in full-blown “Papaw” mode and loving every minute of it. Life was good!
Then it happened. Late in our daughter’s pregnancy, she presented with low amniotic levels and raised her concerns about Potter’s Syndrome to her doctor. Somewhat shocked that our daughter would even know about such a rare syndrome, she quickly got up to speed on our family history. It was then that we learned, despite what we had been told 27 years earlier, that certain forms of Potter’s Syndrome can indeed be hereditary.
Not long after that appointment we received the heart-breaking news that our third, yet to be born, grandson had been diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome and that, in this form, represented non-viable life. We were crushed; but then we began to watch in parental awe as our daughter and son-in-law prepared for the birth, and potential death, of their second son. I have never been more humbled than I was watching how their faith manifested in the courage to face this in the most natural, God-honoring manner possible.
More than anything in this world (beyond praying for a miracle), my wife and I wanted to be able to support our kids during this season of life and impending loss. However, the distance between us limited our ability to be physically present during the pregnancy and made the likelihood of our being at their side for the moment of our grandson’s birth and death highly unlikely. We keep up as much contact as we could and, at the same time, tried not to be a nuisance.
In mid-February of 2013, a few weeks before our grandson’s due date, we were blessed with an unplanned, last-minute weekend opportunity to visit our daughter and her family at their home in North Carolina. We were so thankful that we would have even a few days of face-to-face time to pray for and otherwise encourage as the due date drew closer. Then, less than 48 hours after our arrival, our daughter began showing signs indicating the beginning of labor. We made plans to extend our stay so that we could, by the grace of God, be present for Wesley’s birth. In God’s infinite mercy, my wife and I were present for the birth of Wesley and able hold him for a few minutes of his brief, but precious life. I can never thank God enough for how he orchestrated our physical presence on that day.
In thinking back over the details and circumstances of these chapters of our story, I have become increasingly thankful for a God who is present in life, a God who is present in death, and a God who is present in the life to come when we will all be together again and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.”