When Hilary Yancey first learned that her son would have significant physical differences, she asked God to heal him, expecting to tell a story of miracles. She is telling a story of miracles, yes, but ones far different from what she expected in the quiet nights before her son was born. And as she writes of the journey from ultrasound to NICU, from NICU to home, and from silence with God to a new beginning, she prays that Jesus would walk out on that rising water to meet you. It’s a grace to welcome Hilary to the farm’s front porch today…
In the dark the numbers glowed, tiny lanterns that blurred at the edges of my eyes.
I held my son and his nest of wires, a tube taped to the edge of his mouth, one wrapped around his toe, a glimmer of red peeking through his papery skin, and three taped to his chest, under the white t-shirt with frayed edges, designed to fit my son and his friends, unnamed babies with stories I barely imagined.
He was warm against my chest, and I marked his breaths, the rise and fall of his ribcage, praying each time that the alarms would stay silent, praying for a noiseless hour.
We lived in the NICU to make room for my son to breathe as easily as a bird takes flight.
He had surgery to place a tracheostomy tube, his chest rising and falling in perfect rhythm. We learned to gently clean the skin around the stark white tube, we learned to make him safe with sterile gloves and a suction machine.
Finally, the alarms quieted and we were released.
The silence—what had once been my only prayer—lingered.
Where had I left my beliefs? By the door of the OR, the hospital bed where I had pressed my son into the world, the highway that led us home?
And where was the God Who promises that if we knock, He will answer, the door opening to encounter Him?
For weeks that fell into months, I kept silent.
I kept away from God as I believed He was keeping away from me.
I had spent all that I had in prayer before my son was born, and now my heart was hemorrhaging the expectations I had built up that those prayers would be granted, like wishes from a genie or coins tossed into a well behind my back.Prayers are not wishes; prayers are conversations. God does not grant but God gives,God is not summoned, but God speaks.
How often I had prayed, I told no one in particular, hoping perhaps that God would overhear my conversation.
Hadn’t I asked only for protection, for health, for healing?
Hadn’t I done what all mothers do for their children and pray them into safety and happiness?
I kept a count of my prayers from the months before. I tallied them up into journals and then scratched out the pages.
When my son smiled for the first time, I prayed thanksgiving before I realized I was still too angry to pray, and I hoped that God had not heard me even as I hoped somewhere deeper down that He had.
I built my complaint against God in secret, in these scratched-out journal pages and conversations sitting alone on my front porch as the lights of the other houses came on one by one.
I built up the list of what God had not done, how He had forgotten me, my well-deserved dream-come-true, my just-as-expected life.
It broke open the first time that my son held my hand.
It was a few weeks after his cleft lip surgery, his smile still new, fragments of surgical glue still drifting onto my shirt when I held him close.
In the heat of the afternoon sun I held him in the gray rocking chair and his tiny fingers found the edge of my hand and he fastened onto me.
And all at once I had a thousand words and they poured out of me, and I told Jesus all that He had not done and all that I thought He would do.
I spoke out loud what had never been a secret to God. My son held fast to my hand, leading me out onto the water again.
There is no one right way to speak to God, no guarantee of answers or outcomes, but the words themselves will take on life as they leave your lips, they will find their way to Jesus, they will be heard.
And now I ask Jesus questions that sit between us, answered and unanswered and being answered.
I feel my arms widen to hold my son, whose legs grow long and lanky, feet dangling over my knees – and I feel my heart widen to hold new hopes, hopes that grew in the shape of the boy in my arms, not the wishes or coins or expectations I once had.
The silence of God is still a knife carving out the space where I once kept Him.
It still stings and it still sings with the promise that if I linger, if I dare to speak, if I knock and keep knocking, He will speak back.
Hilary Yancey is a writer and philosopher living in Waco, Texas with her husband Preston and two children, Jackson and Junia.
In her first book, Forgiving God: A Story of Faith, Hilary journeys through her old, familiar faith to the God behind it. As she walks through her son’s diagnosis with physical disabilities, their six-week stay in the NICU, and the unfamiliar road home, she discovers that by walking out onto the water, where the firm ground gives way, we can find Jesus.