Many of you have heard. On Tuesday morning our baby was born. Louisa Claire VanVickle. She has spina bifida and the doctors say it is unlikely that she will ever gain any function or movement in her legs. There are all kinds of concerns still to worry about, but for now we are thankful for the miracle of life and miracle of safety. We were praying for another miracle: Healing. We are still waiting on that one.
I have no idea what God's mind is in all of this, in fact I could drive myself crazy wondering. That's what I did when my son Max was born. For four years I drove myself crazy wondering why and not letting myself think about the possible permanence of his cerebral palsy. I made a strange deal with God: "You can do whatever you want to my son so long as he is healed before he can understand his limitations." In my mind I was sure I could not survive watching my son wonder why he cannot do what his brothers can do. So I made this imaginary deal to get myself through the day. Then it came crumbling down when it happened--Max began to get frustrated and he became cognizant of his inability to keep up with his brothers and to do those things that a normal four-year-old child can do. I began to break down. I held everything in to be strong for my family but I knew I was headed for dark places. Finally, one day my son Max asked me to teach him to run. His brothers were running back and fourth around him and he just wanted to participate. I left the room. I cried. I pulled myself together and then I did my best to put on a strong face for my family. Old temptations were creeping up. I was desperate for something to change. I was angry because God was not honoring this "deal" I had placed before Him, and assumed he had agreed to. This was all complicated by the fact that my job, working for a parish, hinged on proclaiming the love of God. I was not feeling it. I felt like I was on a train that could not stop and was headed for something bad.
Two conversations made all the difference...
My best friend Kenny had been telling me for about two years that I needed to connect with a friend of his by the name of Joe. We had spoken once or twice but not for very long or about anything all that deep. Joe is a counselor and one night without asking me he just started counseling me over the phone. The first talk brought huge relief, but it was one thing that he said that changed my life and I believe prepared me to face our current cross. He said that I needed to ask myself, "what if Max is not healed?" I hated him for it at first but I began to realize this was what was slowly eroding my relationship with God. I was holding my relationship with God hostage over Max's cerebral palsy. "I love you God, so long as a healing is in the future." I began to think about what would happen if Max was not healed. At first I would wait until everyone went to bed. I would go into the bathroom and sob for hours thinking about it. Then I would sneak into Max's room in the middle of the night and pray with him and contemplate this question. I slowly began to think about it more and more.
Then I met with Fr. Dave Pivonka and told him about this imaginary deal I had made with God. This "deal" did not just have emotional ramifications, but major spiritual ramifications as well. Fr. Dave told me I had to take it a step further than just thinking about it: I had to accept it. I had to accept that God's will was better than mine. He never said I had to stop praying for a miracle, but that I had to give in to God's will. Over time thinking about Joe's questions and explicitly accepting God's will turned into trust. Before long I was not just accepting God's will but I was claiming it.
When we received the news about our youngest daughter having spina bifida we mourned, and we were desperately sad, but I was a different person than six years ago when Max was born. I did not make imaginary deals with God. I did not hold my relationship with Him hostage. I WOULD STILL PRAY FOR A MIRACLE, BUT I WOULD ONLY WANT IT IF ITS GOD'S WILL. God's will is where I want to be and it is where I want my children to be. I am not giving in to Max's cerebral palsy or Louisa's spina bifida. I will pray for a miracle for the rest of my life because I know miracles happen and that in the blink of an eye God could make them physically whole again. But this family is God's and we surrender totally to Him. His timing is not mine.
"My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Dave VanVickle is a Catholic speaker and writer focusing on the Universal Call to Holiness and Authentic Catholic Spirituality. He is currently employed as the Director of Evangelization for the parishes of the Catholic Community of Wexford, PA.