Monday, July 8, 2013

The variables of miracles and other things I don't understand.

I love to hear stories of people being healed, of miracles happening.  I have a good friend who, after the birth of her first child, was diagnosed with a severe kidney disease requiring strong medication.  Always planning to have a large family she was told she could have only one more pregnancy.  She quickly became pregnant and gave birth to twin girls.  I love this story, it fills my heart with joy.  I'd call that a miracle. 

For every miraculous story of healing that I know first hand I also know someone who is in the painful place of grief, of longing, of waiting and trusting for change to come.  I have a friend who is in faith for her daughter's healing and it's a heartbreaking, life-giving gift to read her journey over the year since she received her diagnosis.  She writes courageously, so openly although I know there's so much more depth to the joy and pain than she publicly shares.  I've seen her change, I've seen her words change, I've seen her mama heart get ripped wide open and it's healing that way.  She is honest about her fears, her anger, the possibilities of loss in a world where bad things do happen, even to our people.  And somehow she always finds her way back to the goodness of God's character, to her hope in Jesus, to the promise of all things new. 

Greg Boyd, a pastor and theologian in the US, preached a sermon series on faith a good while ago that we watched with a group of friends.  He explored ideas about what faith is and what it is not.  He talked about the mythical 'faithometer' that we often think we need to have peaking at all times.  If you really have faith there will be no doubt in your heart, no questions, no talk of any other possibilities.  Any doubting or searching or grieving and the faithometer starts to plummet–quick let's think happy thoughts and get it back up!  This puts so much pressure on us and when healing isn't happening or change hasn't arrived, the fault is with us, isn't it?

Boyd talks about faith like covenant.  To be in faith isn't that we have our faithometer sky high at all times, it's about who we come back to.  It's a marriage covenant, God with God's people and we are faithful because we come back to Him.  The psalms give us permission (and mandate!) to be honest and open with ourselves and God and our community.  There is so much room for rage and anger, doubt and unbelief, for honestly about the disorientation we experience. But we keep coming back.  We allow God to, as Walter Brueggemmann writes, "surprisingly re-orientate us".  My marriage to Chris doesn't hinge on my feelings towards him at any given moment, it's based on the promise that I will keep coming back to him, and he will keep coming back to me.

I wrote about the variables of birth some months ago.  When childbirth goes well, people say we are amazing, we are strong, we must have handled the pain well.  Conversely, we blame ourselves and often experience great dissapointment when our births don't go as planned.  But the labour room ball is not completely in our court. As much as I believe education, prayer and positive thinking contribute to a natural birth, it's not all in our control.  That's frustrating and sometimes it's devastating depending on the outcome.  But that's reality.  

Variables, known in all their complexity to God, surround our desired outcomes for healing.  One of those variables the Bible speaks about is faith, and isn't that a mysterious thing?  Who of us can really understand it when Jesus talks of faith not as something we should be stockpiling but like the tiniest mustard seed, able to move trees or mountains.  It doesn't sound like it takes much faith at all, just the planting of it, just the space to receive it.   There are other variables:  there's prayer, free will, powers of darkness bent on destruction, there's the chaotic forces of gravity and nature and God's grace in the world.  And there's God's kingdom come, arriving like a screaming baby, always a surprise.  We live in the tension of the already and the not yet; we live in the reality of a long Holy Saturday, caught between death and, someday, all things new.

I believe God is always doing in every situation all that God can do With what I've understood to be in God's very character and nature I don't think God would hold back his love or healing or justice in the world.  Because God created beings with free will, creation (by nature) is not under God's micro-managerial control.  So sometimes God can't do because doing in a given situation would contradict the nature of God's creation, a world open to all the possibilities for Real Love, and so also open to all the possibilities for pain.  Our prayers are extremely important because they invite God into the domain he's released to us, to increasingly hold sway in bringing about his justice and joy-filled will on the earth.  There isn't a formula for prayers of 'faith' (ie. just say these three things and healing will happen).  There isn't a formula for an easy labour either, or a successful vaginal birth.  There are always many variables at play.

And yet, I do believe in miracles.  I just don't know why they happen when they do.


When my son was born, nearly three years ago, his birth went bad very quickly in the second stage of labour and it was too late for an emergency cesarean.  He was severely deprived of oxygen and when resuscitated (after 6 1/2 minutes) he was prepared to be transferred to a large hospital in Sydney two hours away.  When the team came to take him I was able to see him for a few minutes.  The first thing I was told was: "Congratulations.  You need to know that he may never be alright.  He's not moving one side of his body, his oxygen level was extremely low at birth ..."  His body was cooled with ice to slow his metabolism and hopefully stop the presumed brain damage from continuing.

I had my own complications and stayed the night alone in the hospital while my husband went with Safran to Sydney.  A good friend came to stay with me a few hours and I don't remember much of what we talked about, though my general feeling was, "If he's a baby his whole life, he's my baby.  At least he is alive."  I was scared too, but I had pretty much accepted our situation as much as one could in the shock of a few life changing hours (maybe a survival mechanism).  My midwife thought he would live but would be in hospital for weeks.

our son, an hour old

Friends in our local community had gathered to pray earnestly, having walked with me through this pregnancy.  Chris sent an email to our family and friends far away to please pray, at that point we really had no idea what would happen or how long we would be in the hospital.  I remember getting a message back from some very dear friends telling me they spent the evening praying for him, asking that every breath taken from him would be given back even more.  It meant a lot to me, I was not there at all, not praying, not crying, just stunned and so sad that he wasn't sleeping in my arms.

Chris was given a small room right off of the NICU and eventually left Saf to get a few hours of sleep.  He told me that he has never cried as hard as he did that night, never felt the darkness so palpable.

The next morning I was transferred to the bigger Sydney hospital.  I was able to hold Saf within the hour and then a few more hours and I tried to nurse him, thirty hours after his birth.  He looked so beautiful and so vulnerable.  I hated that my husband was telling me how he liked to hold onto your finger and have you hold the pacifier in his mouth while he shivered in the cold.  I hated that his one-on-one nurses seemed to know him better than I did.  And yet I was so grateful for the care he was getting, so glad to be in Australia and not in so many other parts of the world.

The first brain scan came back clear.  Fingers crossed, they said, maybe there wasn't going to be the brain damage they had suspected.   Another day and his body was allowed to be warmed back to a normal temperature.  I heard a nurse handing over his case to another a few days later, explaining his situation. She followed up his stats at birth with "bless his heart" and then said, "But he seems to have made a spontaneous recovery."  After five days we were home.

We saw the head pediatrician a month later.  She was surprised by how closely he watched her as she spoke.  We were told to keep an eye on his milestones and come back if we suspect anything, to be prepared even for some learning delays later on but she thought he was probably fine.

And three years later it seems like she was right.

our son, oct 2012


I've never known what to do with his story, how to talk about it with people.  There was a baby right next to him on that first day in the NICU, a baby born under similar circumstances with a very low APGAR score as well, a baby on ice with new parents worried.  She was not picking up in the way that our son already was.  I think about them, their baby also nearly three now, if she survived.  I don't think my son was simply a "spontaneous recovery" but I don't know why exactly the goodness and healing of God's kingdom broke into our situation in those desperate moments.  Did God love my baby more?  Did God have more important plans for my child's life than for their child?  I don't believe either of those things to be true, but I am still grateful every day for my son's life and health.

There were many variables at work.  Saf was born after 40 weeks gestation, he was a good weight, he was a strong little guy.  The Australian healthcare system served us, quick and important decisions by my midwife and doctors brought life to my child.  There were spiritual variables that I can't name or understand, I believe there is a battle over every new life coming into the world.  I know that the prayers of my family and friends were a powerful force.  I didn't personally have any strong belief that he would be healed, but he was. 

For whatever reason, the variables were alligned in those moments and it had nothing to do with God's special love or preference for my family.  I understand there are a myriad of things that cause evil to happen, my struggle is more with why good things do.  I struggle with talk about God's "blessings" knowing that there are people who labour for years or lifetimes to see things made right and whole. 

Greg Boyd's own son is autistic and he shares openly about their journey of engaging with God in that reality.  I have two siblings with special needs and parents who labour over their lives with prayer and with everything they have.  I have experienced the devastation that comes when people actually die much too early, friends of mine and parents of friends and babies born too soon.  I read the blog of a mother who lost her four year old son to brain cancer.  I've met many women in the world who have lost children to diarrhea or babies to unsafe birthing practices.  I read the news enough to know that the general safety I experience is a luxury and children grow up under the threat of drones and missiles and soldiers.  The world sometimes is really, really messed up; some of that is nature and chaos and some of that is because of greed, militarism and violence.

I think faith is less about moments and more about our orientation.  Our faith's power is not in the amount but in the One whom we hold faith towards: Jesus, the Prince of Shalom, whose radically subversive teachings show us what God looks like.  He redefined power as servanthood and went all the way to the cross choosing love over violence.  God raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating him and all he taught us, giving us a taste of the new creation that is to come.  One day he will return again and make all things new; there will be no more mourning or weeping or fear.

One of the first posts I published on this blog was something I wrote in 2007 while volunteering for six months at a hospital in India.  I can't describe the daily glory and devastation there, the new babies screaming and the mothers weeping; in some moments the kingdom came with newborn cries of deliverance and in others it was deafening silence, only God's weeping could be heard.  I wrote about it here. 

But it was then that I started to think about faith in a new way, when truth seemed to only come in the imagery of expectant bellies and the groaning of all creation as we wait, for our King to come for all.

I just finished reading through Luke and was once again stunned by Jesus--a little bit terrified, but wanting to follow.  Halfway through the story his disciples ask him to increase their faith.  They want more.  They want to see His kingdom come.  But Jesus is gentle and troubled and picks up a seed and tells them that this is all they need to see even a massive tree uprooted and planted into the sea.  Just a seed of faith. 
When a sperm and an egg meet in a woman's body, its the smallest moment with the most eternal implications.  And as soon as it happens, as soon as that seed is planted the woman's body begins to prepare for this seed to grow and after some months, to be born.
Jesus said we just need a seed of faith.  Maybe it's the kind of seed that, like the first cells of an eternal spirit, kicks us into action.  We need faith that changes us and that we give room to grow in our lives--and to take over no matter what disappointments we have experienced before.  Like a mustard seed grows into a bush that is massive and invasive; like a seed of life planted in a mother's womb changes her body and her heart forever.  Her body does everything it can to make fertile space for him. Eventually when he is born the mother's life is conquered by commitment to this newborn until the end of her life.  That is a seed of faith that will change the world.
I want to be a person of faith ready for that smallest seed to be planted in my heart, ready to welcome God's kingdom as it arrives among us–surprising and even violating laws of culture and superseding our known laws of physics.  I want to be faithful to my friends and family who wait in the darkness of longing, for healing, for pregnancy, for comfort, for resurrection.  I want to be faithful to the mystery of how it all works, confessing that I don't understand, but I do believe.  I believe that God is good, always, and is coming soon.  And until He comes, I believe in miracles.


What are your thoughts on faith and miracles?  What has your experience been? I would love to hear.


  1. This is beautiful Becca, thank you.

  2. becca, you are a gift. Much love.

  3. "I think faith is less about moments and more about our orientation. Our faith's power is not in the amount but in the One whom we hold faith towards: Jesus, the Prince of Shalom, whose radically subversive teachings show us what God looks like. He redefined power as servanthood and went all the way to the cross choosing love over violence." Could you hear me cheering from the US upon reading this? Powerful and beautiful and true. I rejoice in Safran's health and I treasure your writing. Thank you for this.

  4. Wow, thank you Jess. That means a lot to me. I want to use language that creates space for people like you who have suffered great loss. You are an inspiration.

  5. "Our prayers are extremely important because they invite God into the domain he's released to us, to increasingly hold sway in bringing about his justice and joy-filled will on the earth." Wow. That sums it up better than just about every book on prayer I've ever read. Thank you. That idea can ignite a prayer life.

  6. when are you going to write a book? seriously Becca. the world is waiting.

  7. Thank you, and you have created that space well. I'm with the others - write a book! I'd read it :-)

  8. Greg Boyd has a lot of really good teachings on prayer at I learned it from him! It does give me much more motivation to pray than other understandings of prayer, along with a strong sense that God will ultimately make all things new. Thanks for reading!

  9. you are too sweet. Maybe someday, if all the variables align. ;)

  10. Thanks for the recommendation, Becca!