I see countless people who pray for a miracle. They kneel in petition. They gather friends. They post on social media, thousands pray. They gather their church, community, and family. They go to the best doctors, their "dream team", they leverage every resource, they give their all. And they don't get their miracle. The one they long for with every ounce of their being.
Their child dies. They don't get pregnant. The cancer comes back. The test is positive. The diagnosis is devastating. Their spouse isn't coming home. They've lost it all. Soul level agony pierces their being.
And then what? Left in the wilderness of grief, they wonder where God might be at a time like this. What could they have done different? What if one more person, or the right person prayed, would the miracle would be theirs?
Maybe this has been you. It's undoubtedly been me — more than once.
Where are the miracles? Prayer changes God's mind, doesn't it?
And then it doesn't. And here we are. Here you are. Here I am.
I have wrestled with this idea for a very long time. I buried my oldest son Ethan when he was seven. He was magical in all ways. No human being like him. He was sick, and one thing after the next went wrong — one year in the hospital. I used to go into the bathroom of the intensive care unit, take out a paper towel, line the floor, and get on my knees. I would pray from the depths of my soul for his healing. I summoned the world to help, and I would lay with him at night and hold vigil.
During a particularly hard day, I asked a friend the rhetorical question, "WHY?" I believed he could be healed. What was I missing? Where was my miracle? She replied to me, "Ethan is the miracle." Super annoyed with that idea; I cast it aside. That wasn't the answer I wanted.
I had another baby, my fourth, two years after Ethan died. He's what people call a "rainbow baby." The rainbow after the storm. With Bodey came another storm. A devastating diagnosis of a rare disease. Today he's nearly five and an awesome kid and yet he has many, many special needs and an unknown future.
So where are the miracles?
After Ethan died, I sat with the hospital chaplain, who faithfully visited us almost daily. "How many undeniable medical miracles have you witnessed?" I asked him. He had guided families through illness for over 30 years. He replied that he could count them on his two hands — not many.
As the years have gone by, and I witness the scenario time and again of grave illness and the desperate prayer for healing, I wonder, "What if we have it all wrong?" What if our perspective is short-sighted? What if there are miracles in the midst of each of these stories? Miracles like friendships formed and causes funded, authors birthed, truth brought forth, and profound personal growth and expansion. But for the tragedy, the disappointment, the indescribable, none of it would be. What if the miracle is the sheer gift of having this person in our life for the time we do. Their life, then offers us marching orders for how to live ours.
What if God is bigger than physical healing. Bigger than negotiating for our little corner of the world in our slice of space and time. Have you ever considered this upside-down thinking? What if more often than not, the miracle is birthed from the pain, from the ashes, from the thing we despise most. And since this is upside-down thinking, it's never automatic. But a choice. It's not Santa Claus on Christmas morning, but rather more like training for a marathon. Harder, more gritty, and in the process, more growth and beauty.
I certainly would choose my son alive and my other one healthy over any amount of personal growth I've experienced. I'd give gladly give back the non-profit work, the impact, even the fantastic people I know because of it all. But I can't see the whole picture. And I certainly don't want the possibilities of my impact to be limited by my linear thinking.
The truth is, I don't have all the answers, and I don't know exactly how it works, but I do know that being vertical each day, continuing on, loving my kids, married to my husband, creating and contributing to the world is a miracle. All of this is an extension of Ethan and Bodey and all the challenges and grief that have come in between. And I'm certainly not the only one.
I see my friend Stefanie provide spiritual direction and teach yoga after burying two children. I see my friend Victoria run an incredible non-profit organization helping to cure rare diseases and make the world more inclusive in honor of her daughter Gwendolyn. I see my friend Kelly start a beautiful, thriving creative photography business after caring for her daughter with a rare disease and walking her to heaven. I see my friend Carrie loving her girls and being intentional with her time and commitments after a devastating cancer diagnosis. I see my friend Kelly pouring into her kids so well as a single mom. I see my friend Lexi using her beautiful talents to tell meaningful stories that change minds. I see my friend Anna faithfully loving her son Micah and providing incredible care and opportunities for him. I see my friend Anne changing the way doctors care for children because of her son Jack. I could go on and on and on.
The Ethan Lindberg Foundation was created in Ethan's honor. One of the things we do is house families with extended hospital stays. As I set up the first apartment, the tears flowed. For two days, I cried as I assembled furniture and set up a home away from home for families like mine. In the midst of it all, it was so clear to me that this apartment would never be had Ethan lived. Of course, I would exchange the impact it would have for him. But because of his life and my choice to continue, many, many families have laid their heads on a comfortable bed in an affordable place. And that is a miracle.
The human spirit that rises despite being pummeled to the ground. The desire for good that somehow births forth when all that is good seems lost. The work that is done because one has been to the pit of all sadness and has chosen to rise. To grow, to become. That, to me, is a miracle, the evidence of the presence of a God that can see the whole picture when we can only see a small portion. After all these years, and after all the wrestling, this I know is true. No, I don't think this is why Ethan died nor why Bodey has a rare disease, but I do believe these are the miracles that burst forth. Slowly, surely, hopefully, the fire that exists in us all is fanned to a flame, and that which is unthinkable creates everlasting beauty and pushes this world closer to love. Isn't that the point of it all anyway?
And so, what about prayer? I will still pray. I will implore healing and safety over the hurting. I will believe change is possible for the rest of my life. As we pray, we join our hearts to others, we create community, and we change in the process. But I don't know the days nor the future for myself nor anyone else.
I believe as CS Lewis says, "I pray because I can't help myself. ... I pray because the need flows out of me…It doesn't change God. It changes me."
So, let us be changed. Let us be vessels. Let us surrender to a bigger picture and an unknown story. Let us allow ourselves to be stretched and broken and mended. Let us be miracles and see them all around us. Let us seem them in others, in moments, in the continuation of love that surpasses any physical separation, in the beauty that God and we create together even when it seems the miracle is lost.
We are not left for dead. We can all be miracles in the making.