The following guest post was written by Lee Hutchings, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Canton, OH.
Our son was due on July 6, 2013. However, he was born 4 weeks early and so my first father's day as a new Dad was spent in the NICU sitting by a small hospital bed. He was born with an uncommon, yet not exactly rare, condition known as esophageal atresia and tracheal fistula. For those like me who never went to medical school, essentially his esophagus and stomach were not connected.
At three days old, Harper had to have the first of many surgical procedures to connect those two essential parts of the body, and remove the connection to his trachea where it should not be. Without it, he would not be able to eat and digest food, and if able to survive he would then need to be on a feeding tube. I was already an ordained pastor at the time, and had taught on the sovereignty and fatherhood of God literally hundreds of times. But I had never experienced it in the way I did when I became Dad. Even though Father’s Day was weeks ago, I’d like to share briefly five truths about God as Father that our little family experienced in a powerful and humbling way:
God is a caring Father. Harper was strapped into a NICU bed with wires and tubes coming out of both sides of his body to drain his wound and feed his stomach. I was given the chance to hold him for about two minutes before they wheeled him into surgery. Then I wasn’t able to hold him for weeks. But God never stopped holding him for one nanosecond. Isaiah 41:13 “For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’"
We witnessed the hand and care of the Lord in giving gifts, intelligence, compassion and abilities of countless doctors and NICU nurses. They reflect, whether they know it or not, the tenderness and strength of the one from above. I used to have anxiety when having to go to the doctor’s office (a.k.a.“white-coat syndrome”), but they became our heroes. We also saw the care of Christ through the body of Christ in our local church that prayed for us without ceasing, brought meals for our family every day for months, sent words of encouragement constantly, and often just sat with us in the waiting room when all we could do was wait and pray.
God is a sovereign Father. There were too many examples in the first two months of Harper’s life that indicate that the Lord had been orchestrating all events from day one, not only for His glory, but for all our good. The nurses at River Oaks hospital in Jackson, Mississippi had a “hunch” and ordered an immediate X-Ray after Harper’s formula came back up through his nose. Had my wife been able to nurse him right away, we likely would have thought he just had reflux for weeks and could have jeopardized his life.
Our pediatric surgeon at Batson Children’s hospital “happened” to have already performed this exact procedure on other newborns in the NICU. He was a world-class pediatric surgeon, educated at Johns Hopkins who could have worked at any hospital in the country, but “happened” to choose to live in Mississippi because he loves to hunt and fish. The Lord was the one who formed Harper beautifully as he was and when he was. Had Harper been born at any other time preceding human history, he likely would have never survived. But the Lord planned it all perfectly in His way and in His time. Psalm 139 :15 “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
God is a loving Father. I wouldn’t give up or sacrifice my son up for anybody. And yet God the Father willingly gave up his only begotten Son. He sent Jesus so that we who were enemies of His holy character would know the surpassing richness of the glory of His grace. The depth of that love of God is truly unfathomable. To think God loves Harper perfectly and even more than we do is humbling and doxological. I still can’t get over it. Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!”
God is a present Father. Like all parents of a newborn we loved it when Harper would slowly open his eyes and look right at his momma and me. I would often pray that he could somehow sense we were there even if he couldn’t understand what was happening to and around him. But even when he slept or tried to wiggle out of his tubes and wires that were attached, we were still right by his bedside. He might not have felt it. He might not have seen us standing over him, but whether or not my son knew or believed I was there, I was. How often have I, or have we, said in our hearts, "where are you Lord?” We don’t always feel His presence. We sometimes wonder if He is truly with us and for us. But regardless of what I “feel” or can even “see”, God is present in all his fullness and love. That is an absolute reality. We walk by faith not feelings. His word gives us the need reminder of Hebrews 13:15 “For God has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
God is a holy Father. My hands were never so clean as they were that summer of 2013 (even last year during a pandemic!). Each time we walked back into the NICU from the waiting room, and before and after every time we touched Harper, even on the head or nose, we had to use a special antiseptic hand wash. I couldn’t be with my son, unless something outside myself had washed me and removed any impurities. After washing your hands, you have to then dawn a sanitized smock to cover your body and clothing. Every time we crossed through the threshold of the NICU, something had to wash us clean and cover us. Sound like the gospel? But even that experience could not compare to the reason or reality of our need to be cleansed and covered before a God who has said “Be holy, as I am holy” 1 Peter 1:16. He demands perfection. I could spend all day and night scrubbing myself with works of self-righteousness, but I can only be made whole and clean by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only took the penalty for my sin, but He also gave me His perfect righteousness, thereby clothing us in His obedience so that we may have eternal life. He did all of this so we could receive the greatest gift of the Gospel. The greatest gift of the gospel is not health, wealth, or prosperity. It’s not our “best life now”. It is to spend eternity in the presence the triune God of heaven and earth.
My wife and I give all praise and glory to God for His sustaining grace in Harper’s life. I am pleased to say that after that summer, Harper grew well and strong, and despite needing to have about 25 more surgeries via scope to expand his esophagus in size (and about a dozen choking incidents after scar tissue would form and narrow) Harper at 8 years old is a healthy and vibrant boy. He loves Jesus and His word. As we look back at all the Lord did and taught us, we are well aware that there are many families for whom their experience in the NICU ended with loss and grief. We could have easily been one of those families. And even so, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we recognize this life is a brief prelude and preparation for the true life that is to come. And so we joyfully say with the Apostle Paul, ”For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18).