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New Horizons

Ruth - One Pound, Nine Ounces

S. Scott Willet

God was surely our help last year. The year 1999 was only a few hours old when a chain of events began that would leave us totally dependent upon him.

Hours before dawn on New Year's Day, my wife Sharon fell victim to a stomach flu. Her severe nausea subsided after several hours, but it had stimulated the muscles that were prepared to deliver our third baby late in April. At a doctor's visit on January 7, we were told that Sharon was about to give birth. There was some hope of delaying the delivery by a few days, but the odds of a baby surviving at twenty-four weeks gestation were only fifty-fifty at best.

That afternoon, Sharon was rushed to the best-equipped hospital in Charlotte. After examinations, medications, consultations, surgery, anesthetics, and pain killers, she gave birth to a tiny girl, Ruth. The baby was immediately taken down the hall to a neonatal intensive care unit, connected to a life-sustaining ventilator and about six other tubes.

By the end of that day, our world had been turned upside down. Sharon lay in her bed, recovering from emergency surgery. I settled in for the night in a hospital chair next to her. Our other two precious daughters were at home, well cared for, but without either of their parents. Just twelve hours earlier, life seemed relatively normal, but nothing was normal now. At the moment, we didn't even know how to pray.

Still, God had not changed. If anything, his mercy was more clearly revealed to us than ever before. Our baby daughter was alive and receiving the best medical care available. Under other circumstances, she would not have survived. In God's providence, she was stabilized by a team of neonatologists only minutes after her life had become threatened in the womb.

A fellow pastor had already prayed with me, and was certainly praying for us throughout that evening. Everyone at our church had been made aware of our circumstances and asked to pray for us. Friends had come to the hospital to encourage and strengthen us. Nearby family members also arrived and were with us through this ordeal. God was very merciful. And his presence was very evident.

Ruth's days in the hospital turned into weeks—sixteen weeks. She had all the typical problems of premies, especially underdeveloped lungs. She was also highly susceptible to infections, with virtually no immune system developed by the time of her birth. One infection set her back in early February, and two infections together nearly claimed her life at the end of that month.

The night before our twelfth wedding anniversary, February 27, we were summoned to the hospital because of the seriousness of her condition—the only time we had that terrifying experience. The ventilator had actually damaged her developing lung tissue, and she was struggling to survive. Her doctor was struggling to determine what to do. But God was our help, for her doctor that night was a godly Christian. He met us at the door, and soon prayed with us for Ruth, admitting his own need for wisdom. And as the hours passed, he discovered that Ruth was stabilizing as her ventilator settings were turned down. By morning, those settings were back to normal, and that was her last serious setback. We are convinced that God touched her in a marvelous way that night.

God was our shelter from that stormy blast. It was overwhelming to realize how many people were praying for our daughter. And it was overwhelming to see those prayers answered. There was the first time we could hold our baby. There was the first time she could actually nurse for a few minutes. The first time she wore clothes. The first bath. The first time her sisters could visit her. The list goes on and on. And God was our shelter.

As a testimony of our confidence in God, we invited our church and family to the hospital so that a fellow minister could administer the sacrament of baptism to Ruth. On March 7, we claimed God's covenant promises for her, and placed that sign of his faithfulness upon her.

And God was faithful to her. The daily trips to the hospital ended on April 28, when Ruth joined her family at home—with an oxygen tank and a breathing monitor still attached. And the months that have passed have seen her grow into a beautiful, healthy, and happy little girl.

She is now approaching fourteen pounds and is eating solids. She is active and alert, beginning to speak a few words, rolling around, and delighted with the affection and attention of her two sisters. Although her immune system is still not fully developed, she is showing no lingering effects of her premature birth. When her first birthday arrived, we celebrated a milestone that was beyond our imagination one year before.

The author is the pastor of Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Staunton, Va. Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2000.

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