dear jackson, about king jesus

Dear Jackson,

They don't let you wear rings in the NICU. They don't tell you that beforehand. Mom and I think it's a good idea that we have our tattoos. So there, among the beeps and the soft shuffle of nurses' feet, we have a kind of sign that we belong to each other. And you, with your ginger tufts of hair and watchful eye are a sign we belong to you.

Jack, you're here! Just over a week and a half old! You're here and you've got a few things we have to watch out for, bud. A few reasons we had to learn that detail about rings in the NICU. You have difficultly breathing because of your jaw and nose; that makes swallowing food hard, too. Mom and I shared about that here, along with a way for our friends to help us help you. People have been so generous, Jack. That needs to be a part of your story, too: from the beginning, people from all over have loved you. They have wanted to see you have everything you need.

Jack, your mom and I have written you so many letters up to this point, all about praying for your healing. You were born, miracle you are, and it seems that healing did not come. We've had a handful of people in our inbox, in our texts, asking us what now. People feel a bit betrayed, I think. They thought it would happen. There was a kind of momentum to it. Then you were born—beautiful, extraordinary, radiant you—but you had the challenges they thought that prayer was going to take away.

I don't have a lot of answers, Jackson. It's been a week and a half and I don't have much to say. I've asked God all the questions everyone else has asked. I don't have better answers than they do. Except perhaps this, a moment that haunts my thoughts every time I hold you under the watch of the icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd we keep in your crib in the NICU.

Only once in my life can I claim to have had a vision, Jack. And, as visions go, it was a pretty safe one. Your mom and I were with our bishop and his wife praying for you, way back when we first found out you might have some challenges. We were in the sanctuary of our church, with the big modern icons of Jesus, sitting under the gaze of the Good Shepherd. And for a moment I saw Jesus. I saw Jesus not as the Good Shepherd, but as the icon across the room, and he was looking at me. He was looking at me pretty sternly. This icon of Jesus was Jesus the King, not gentle Jesus meek and mild. King Jesus said to me so loud I felt deafened by it: "I am the Good Shepherd, but I am also the King. What I say is to be accomplished is accomplished."

I don't know what that means, Jack. I used to assume a lot about what it could mean, but the could seems to change every day. I think I may have been pretty presumptive about it. Or perhaps not presumptive as much as wildly hopeful as any parent could be. That may be a finer line than I care to admit. But there is, I know now, a deep comfort to the words. Jesus is the King and what the King has said he will do will be done.

Your mom and I have heard God speak a lot about you, Jack. And while we asked for your eye and your ear and your cleft to be healed, while we hoped for those things, I want you to know that from the beginning we didn't put our trust in healing, but in the one who can heal. See, as we pray, we don't feel like a, "No," has been spoken over any of that just yet. Sure, it seems impossible and wildly fanciful, but if the King wants to do it, it can be done. And, in your hierarchy of needs, we care more about your breathing and feeding than everything else. You're beautiful just as you are. We'll worry heaven plenty on your behalf, but only because we want you to have everything you need, not because we're disappointed with who you are.

And that circles back to the bit about Jesus being the King. Jack, part of what made this week hard was being told so often that you would need a tracheostomy. There's a lot of doctors with a lot of opinions and even more opinions to be found, unhelpfully, on updates I post about you. Your mom and I have such peace about the trach if it's what you need, but we find ourselves daily resisting it, feeling deep in our guts that it's not right for you. When I tell you God has spoken a lot about you, Jack, what we have heard most is how much God cares for you, how much God has God's hand on you. It's not about an eye, an ear, or even a cleft. It's about the whole of you as you are right now.

Your mom and I have prayed for days about the tracheostomy, paced hallways, called parents, friends. And still, at least for now, the word seems consistent: this is not for you. I woke up this morning rehearsing what I would say to the surgical team at our consent meeting. A long speech about how your mom and I don't fear medicine, but they would have to be sure, completely sure, before they did this. They would have to assure us they would never lose sleep wondering if they had made the wrong decision. They would have to promise us. They would—

"I am the King!"

In the hotel this morning, Jack. I heard him again. "I am the King! What I say is to be accomplished is accomplished. I go before you and bring victory behind me. Do not look for the victory or trust in it, only look at me. Only trust me. I am coming. I am going before you. Trust me."

I asked your mom to pray and see what she heard without telling her about what I had heard myself. She reported back a similar word.

I've been reading the Gospel of Luke to you in the NICU, Jack. We've made it almost all the way through. Today, we were just about to begin Luke 18 when the tracheostomy nurse came by to explain what it would be like for you to have one. She's a kind woman, Jack, a hopeful woman, and when she was done she looked at your numbers and said she was really hopeful you wouldn't need one. Then she chatted with the NICU nurses who have been watching over you, who said that they too are hopeful you will not. Then they reported to their head, who asked specifically, "Can I have reason to hope he won't need one?" And they nodded. Your mom and I weren't exactly sure what to do, so we asked them to say those things for us when we met with the surgeons and doctors. "We'll be your advocates," they replied.

I go before you.

Then, they tell us they are moving the conference about what to do, including with the tracheostomy, to next Monday morning instead of tomorrow, giving more time for God to turn their hearts, to help them see you might not need this after all.

Do you know what Luke 18 opens with, Jack? The passage I was about to read you?

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I don't know a lot, Jackson, but I do know Jesus is the King. I know the King has promised blessing on your life. I know the King has listened to mom and I and literally thousands of others pray persistently, we who keep coming to God asking to see God's work in your tiny body. And I know that when the Son of Man comes, the King himself, whether at the end of all things or in a NICU, passing by your crib, he will find faith on this earth.

There is a long line of people praying for your good, Jack, and every person who has wondered why or if or why not their prayers weren't answered need take heart in one thing alone: Jesus is the King and victory is in his wake. But our eyes keep on the Savior. There is nothing too late or too wonderful for God.

They don't let you wear rings in the NICU and tattoos only tell so much. But the thread of hope woven between us, these nurses, this digital circle of voices lifted to God, this is an unbroken ring of light, this is cause to believe God is not done here, because Jack, the King is here.



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