Holes, Hearts, Eternity

I lead worship in the summer for an organization called Student Life. Teenagers from all over the country meet in different locations for week long sessions to hear the gospel preached, and to see God elevated and glorified. June 22, 2015 was the start of one of these weeks. I was in Ruston, Louisiana at Louisiana Tech University, participating in our first student pastor meeting of the week. Student pastor meetings at camp are an amazing time where all the different leaders who have brought students to camp get together and share prayer requests and expectations for the week. One request at this first meeting stood out to me that night. One pastor shared that one of his students had been looking forward to camp all year but had received news, the week of camp, that a hole in her heart had gotten to the point where immediate surgery was required. He said she was in Houston that very night, scared and very sad. He also said, that along with her parents, she had been joined by her grandparents who were not believers. He was praying that God would use her surgery to show his power.

 

After the meeting I pulled the pastor aside and asked if we could pray for her in our session that night, that I didn’t want to embarrass her or make a spectacle out of it but, if she was willing, I felt like we were supposed to rally the body of Christ around her situation. After getting in touch with her and her parents we received the green light. That night, via Facetime, over 1,000 students lifted their hands toward a face, on a tiny iPhone, and prayed on behalf of a girl they had never met. It was unbelievably beautiful. Leading the people of God that night to sing his praises was effortless. We wanted to sing. We wanted to praise the name of the one who could move mountains and defeat enemies. We wanted to see Jesus.

The following afternoon the student pastor who had shared the request pulled me aside with amazing news. That morning the doctors had done one final check before surgery and were stunned to find the hole, that had been there the week and months prior, was gone. No surgery was needed; she was going home. That night I shared the news with everyone present, and again worship was fueled by the mighty working of God. That week was filled with students being freed from addictions, turning from sin, and committing their lives to the kingdom of God. God had moved, by showing himself strong in a situation hundreds of miles away, and those who had seen it responded to the hope of his gospel.

 

Fast forward to 2017...this past week. I am now the father of a beautiful little girl from China who we have named Josie Rose. She was born with a hole in her heart. We have prayed, since the day we met her on a piece of paper sent to us by our adoption agency, for her healing. We have also prayed that God would advance his kingdom through her story and ours. This past week, on March 28th, we handed Josie off to a team at Vanderbilt hospital, who took her to the operating room and began the long, ten hour process of attempting to repair her broken heart. That day was the longest day of my life. My wife Emily and I had no idea if the surgery would be a success. For hours and hours we waited to hear the news. Finally the surgeon came out and told us that she had repaired the many issues in her heart and that, in a couple of hours, we could see her in PICU. It goes without saying here that our hearts were overwhelmed with emotion. Our little girl had made it through surgery, and now had a repaired heart beating in her chest.

 

We were told to expect a hospital stay of 2-3 weeks after surgery. Josie progressed so fast in her recovery that we were discharged exactly one week after her procedure. God was doing what we had asked him to do. One week after open heart surgery found us packing our bags and waiting for our final consult with the hospital cardiologist. Because everything had gone so smoothly we honestly thought the final consult would be smiles, pats on the back and ‘hope we never see you around here agains’. Instead we heard some different news. Josie’s final echocardiogram, given that morning, had revealed severe leakage in her newly formed mitral valve...the hole was not all the way closed. Our complete repair was incomplete. Josie was still in need of intervention. We drove home stunned. We tried so hard to see the victories of the past week but could only seem to think on a tiny hole still present in a tiny heart. Smiles and joy had once again turned to tears. That was two days ago.

This morning God reminded me of that night almost two years ago at a camp in Louisiana. I honestly had not thought about it in a while. He asked me to ponder the question, “Why did I heal that little girl in that way and not yours?” The answer came with ease. Because you are using Josie’s story in a different way. I began to think back on our whirlwind week in the hospital. I cannot begin to tell you about all the gospel encounters we had there. We shared lunch with a family who were suffering with a child who had a severe brain injury. We shared a brownie with grandparents who had been watching their 8 year old grandson fight for his life on the heart and lung bypass machine since January.  We talked over and over again about Josie’s story and the gospel of Jesus with doctors and nurses as they came into our room. We told the story again to the people who changed out the trash and mopped the floor. Josie’s story and her presence at Vanderbilt, were doing what we had asked God to do. He was revealing his kingdom through a little girl, who like Moses, had been abandoned in a box and taken into a culture that was not the one of her birth.

 

When you look at the whys and hows of Jesus’ miracles, it becomes clear that Jesus always did them for a purpose. We are surrounded by a culture that elevates miracles as a magic trick or a test of individual faith. Jesus did miracles to reveal the kingdom of God. In Luke 4 he tells a paralyzed man to take up his mat and walk, only after saying that reason He was doing it was so that those present would know that he had the power to forgive sins. He wept at the funeral of his friend Lazarus, and commanded the stone be pulled back. His voice spoke into the darkness and thundered, “Lazarus come forth,” so that those present would understand that his voice could even command death to release the dead. Jesus also understood that sometimes things have to be hard in order for the kingdom to shine. He would pray, with blood running down his face in the place of sweat, that God would remove the cup of the cross from him. He would end that prayer by saying, “Not my will Father, but yours be done.” The pain of the cross, leading to the power of the resurrection, would become our hope of glory.

 

Jesus is speaking Josie’s story in the exact way that it is meant to be told. He is answering our prayer to use it to advance his kingdom. Last night I stood in her room and prayed, hot tears running down my face and off my beard, that God would use her life and mine for the glory of his name. When we received her file, all those months ago, the agency had named her Jo. Jo is the female iteration of Joseph. Joseph lived a life of suffering and rejoicing. He lived a life that would impact an entire nation and history itself. His name means “May Jehovah give increase.” Josie’s name now bears that same promise. No one knows when Josie was born. The only thing she had with her when she was found in that cardboard box was a note that read, “We are very poor, her mother has a very bad cancer, and we hope someone can save her life.” I am adding to that note, and am asking that in addition to honoring that request for her life to be saved, that Jesus will use her life to point the way to his Kingdom, and in doing so, use her life to bring other lives to salvation. The birthday the Chinese government assigned her was June 10, 2015. I will not be surprised at all, when I enter eternity, to find out that her actual birthday was June 22, 2015, the day God healed a little girl, to his glory, at a camp in south Louisiana.