Tearing Down the Boxes

Would you come and tear down the boxes

That I have tried to put you in

Let love come teach me who You are again

Come do whatever You want to

Then you crash over me

And I’ve lost control but I’m free

I’m going under, I’m in over my head.

-Bethel, “Over My Head”

“We don’t need you NICU!” I repeated for weeks every time Brian and I passed the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (“NICU”) at UCLA on our way to the Labor and Delivery Unit to be checked for pre-term labor. “My babies will be fine – God would NEVER want them to be in there! Besides, we are almost in the green zone!” I declared.

In The Green Zone

Thirty-two was the most important number I had ever known since the day of our emergency fetal surgery at twenty-four weeks gestation. “If you make it to thirty-two weeks, your kids will be in regular school” my OB joked during our weekly check ups. “You will be in the green zone if you make it to thirty-two weeks,” we heard from our fetal surgeon. “The red zone is 24-28 weeks where children born then have major hurdles to overcome and are often born with disabilities, the yellow zone is 28-32 weeks where kids can have breathing issues and other problems, and the green zone is 32 weeks on. Let’s hope you make it to 32.”

Every morning after the TTTS (Twin To Twin Transfusion Syndrome) surgery, I woke praying for 32 weeks to arrive. Each day that brought me closer felt like a victory. I awoke night after night, fearful I was in labor. I prayed and begged the Lord to keep my precious boys in my womb for just one more second, one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more week.

To say it was a harrowing time is an understatement. I couldn’t fathom a stay in the NICU for two reasons: I thought I would be too weak to endure an extended hospital stay for my children, and I assumed that because the Lord had miraculously delivered my babies from TTTS, they/we would no longer suffer. I put God into two boxes of my own making.

The morning I woke up thirty-two weeks pregnant, tears streamed down my face as light streamed in my window. I breathed the biggest sigh of relief imaginable. We went to our weekly ultrasound appointment and heard the good news that the babies were up to five pounds each (really large for twins at 32 weeks). Baby A (Theo) had been breech for weeks and was still not moving from his position, but we thought he would turn closer to delivery. My OB was convinced we had a few more weeks to go, and we would be delivering some of the biggest twins imaginable. More sighs of relief.

“You Have Done Enough, My Love. It is Time.”

I finally ventured out of the house to church with Brian that Sunday for the first time since my surgery. I was quickly becoming more and more uncomfortable sitting, sleeping, and combating acid reflux each day. I remember the Lord saying: “This is the last Sunday you will be in church before the boys are born” as we worshipped that day. I decided that meant we weren’t going to church for at least another month. After all, it was the 4th of July and their original due date was August 24th. We had some time.

The next night, I couldn’t sleep. I went into the future babies’ room and started to pray. The Lord reminded me of one of my favorite songs “Come Away With Me” by Jesus Culture. The lyrics read: “Come away with me/ Come away with me/ It’s gonna be wild/ It’s gonna be free/ It’s gonna be full of me.” I knew He was speaking to me and I heard Him say that these were His promises – the boys were going to live a victorious and rich life, but that didn’t mean it would be easy. The terms wild, free, and full of God do not describe a life absent pain and struggle. I pondered these things in my mama’s heart.

That Tuesday, Brian was providentially working from home and I was getting ready to head to my weekly ultrasound when the first signs of labor began. Ashen white, I ran into our office to grab Brian and off we rushed to UCLA. I knew that thirty-two weeks was the “safe zone,” but I also knew the babies needed to stay in as long as possible, ideally a few more weeks.

At UCLA, we took our weekly stroll by the NICU (where I once again pronounced we would never have our children there) to the Labor and Delivery Unit. We discovered I was in the very early stages of labor, but it still looked like it would be several weeks before delivery. I received a steroid shot to speed up the babies’ lung development in case they arrived early. I was asked to return within twenty-four hours for the second steroid shot. Brian and I went home and I tried to relax, but I still felt off.   That evening, my water broke and we rushed back to UCLA, missing the infamous traffic on the 405 (a HUGE answer to prayer!).

At the hospital, we found that Baby A’s (Theo) water had broken but Baby B (Henry) was still intact. Amniotic fluid continues to replenish even after the sac breaks (yes, the human body is amazing), so the decision was made to park me in the hospital as long as I could manage until I started to dilate. I felt relieved knowing I had made it to the beginning of the end after such a long, tiring journey.

I started multiple IV drips, took the second steroid shot, and settled in for what I thought would be several weeks. Thankfully, my parents were already on a flight as we thought birth was imminent the day before. After a long day in the hospital, Brian and I tried sleep that evening. I was weak and tired, but resolved to hold on a few more weeks.

In the middle of the night, a doctor arrived from the NICU to walk us through the admitting procedures once the babies were born. I tuned her out as I denied the inevitable, once again unable to process or comprehend my babies undergoing a hospital stay. I believe she informed us about many of the difficulties that could and would lie ahead, but I turned a deaf ear.

In the midst of another sleepless night, the contractions started to get closer together. I gritted my teeth and put on a smile each time a nurse came to check on me. “I am feeling just fine, no worries here!” I would utter each time my contraction monitor spiked. “Just hold on a few more weeks,” I told myself second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour.

Then I heard the voice.

You have done enough, my love. You have held on. It is time for them to enter the world.” I knew it was Him. The One who made my babies. I tried to fight Him one last time, and considered begging the Lord for more time, but exhaustion had set in. I knew it was time. I thought about the fact that my husband and his twin were born at twenty-eight weeks thirty years prior, survived, and thrived. It gave me hope. They not only went to “regular school” but ended up graduating from law school, as well. Nothing is impossible for God.

The Lord led me to Jeremiah 1:5 that night, which reads, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” It was a beautiful promise that He had appointed the babies’ birth, even though it seemed early. They were appointed prophets to the nations. I trusted the Lord would deliver on His promise.

“Oh, we need you, NICU!”

At 7:00AM on Friday, July 8, 2016, my OB arrived in my hospital room to check in. After a quick exam, I will never forget her words: “You ready to have some babies today?”

“Brian, I think you need to wake up,” I announced, “It’s time! Let everyone know!”

“Doctor, do you think we could wait until 10:30AM or so for the surgery so all our family can arrive?” Brian asked. All he had to do was look at my doctor’s face to know that was a big no. Theo had moved precariously far down in the birth canal – I’ll spare the details about how we ascertained that fact. We immediately began prepping for an emergency C-Section. My body shook as I prayed and readied myself for another grueling day. After our fetal surgery, we had two mandatory, in-depth echocardiograms that revealed that the babies could be born with potential heart issues requiring surgery, but it was impossible to tell until birth. I also knew many preemies were born with weak lungs. My mind stayed on Him as I prayed for strong lungs and strong hearts for the babies.

My parents arrived minutes later, just in time to kiss me goodbye as Brian and I walked in the operating room. I was glad Brian was with me – my constant supporter, my biggest encourager.   I will never be able to explain how difficult it was to say goodbye to him during my fetal TTTS surgery. This time, we were hand in hand, joined together as the C Section began. What a relief!

The team at UCLA could not have been better – all gifts from God. I barely felt my spinal tap; I felt no pain; my doctor narrated the process for me; I had the best nurses possible tending to my every need – including lavender scented towels and my own Pandora station (I chose Matt Redman – our favorite) – I was truly in amazing hands.

I will never forget hearing Theo and Henry for the first time. I couldn’t see anything because of the drape over my stomach. I waited and waited to hear their cries. They were a distance away from me, but when I heard their screams, my heart leapt with joy! I asked Brian over and over how they looked and if they were okay, and he assured me they looked strong and healthy. Theo was born at 5 lbs 1 oz, and Henry came in at 4lbs 14 oz. Small, but mighty little men.

It was a different kind of birth in that the second both babies were born, they were whisked away to the NICU by a team of nurses and doctors. I didn’t have the chance to hold my babies that day. I first touched them laid out on a hospital bed as I reached my hand through their incubators.

I read books and went to classes that discussed how important it is to hold your baby and nurse after birth, but that was simply not my story. I suppose I could’ve been upset about missing out on all the elements of a natural birth, but I was so elated they were alive, I didn’t think about it. That is certainly the perspective the fetal surgery and high-risk pregnancy gave me – that perspective was a gift from Him. I will never lament missing a natural birth as I am grateful for any birth at all.

I spent the rest of the day dozing in and out of consciousness as my nursing team woke me for medications and tests. I was beyond tired and could feel intense pain rearing its ugly head every time I woke up. I developed post delivery pre-eclampsia, so my blood pressure skyrocketed. I started a series of breathing treatments and rounds of heavy medication. I’m pretty sure I said, “I’m on drugs” about every hour when asked how I was feeling. Thank goodness for medication to help me through.

As I recovered, I heard the sounds of crying babies in other recovery rooms with their parents. My heart and my arms yearned for my babies, but I rested knowing they were in the best care possible. Brian went back and forth to the NICU and brought reports. Doctors and nurses informed us about the babies’ progress throughout the night. Theo had been born with a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) they said, and he required immediate surgery. My eyes grew large as I asked Brian again and again if the boys were okay. “Yes, honey, they are fine,” he kept repeating to me. This was the first of many times I would hear that things like collapsed lungs are normal for premature babies, and not a huge cause for concern. How that sinks into a new mother’s head and makes her not worry is beyond me.

A nurse burst into my room in the middle of the night announcing that Henry was ready to feed and she wondered if I could start pumping to get breast milk. As politely as I could muster, I uttered that I was too tired and I had to rest and would try tomorrow. I almost let her have it. She seemed confused as she turned and left. I was simply at the end of my rope.

“Henry will probably only be here a few days and Theo maybe a week” I heard that day. “Well,” I thought, “I guess I can handle them being in the NICU until we head home in a few days. They’re just fine.”

In For the Long Haul

I woke the morning after they were born and made the “first walk” after surgery. The pain (while hopped up on strong pain meds) was incomprehensible. I had braced myself for what I had heard was extreme pain, but lifting myself out of bed and walking to the bathroom felt like a million knives stabbing all over my stomach and pelvic area, coupled with the feeling all my insides falling out.

My attending nurse, or Angie the Angel, worked a great miracle in helping me out of bed that day. I remember telling her I couldn’t get out of bed because I was in too much pain, and she smiled patiently but firmly as she told me I had no choice, and I had to get up.

I remember recognizing right then that this journey called motherhood would be full of moments like this – where I would have no choice but to gather my strength and get up. It is in these moments I have had to reach for God’s great hand to carry me through. Lauren Daigle’s song “My Revival” was my anthem those first few months as I leaned into His promises in Isaiah 40 to renew my strength: that I would walk and not grow weary, I would run and not be faint, that I would soar on wings like eagles, and find my rest in his everlasting name. I still find myself constantly begging God to deliver those gifts to me.

When I arrived at the NICU, I first had to make it past the front desk, which only allowed parents with ID bracelets or their guests to enter. I still have our ID bracelets — though they once were printed with the babies’ names, they are now completely blank – weathered friends that accompanied us on our many visits to the boys.

I immediately removed all my jewelry and scrubbed in before I was allowed to walk back to the boys’ “pod.” As I walked, I took in the NICU for the first time – the smells, the sounds, the sights. It was overwhelming. At the NICU at UCLA, there are twenty-two beds for babies, and four to a “pod.” At all times, there are surgeries being performed on the babies at their bedside, nurses running to and fro, crying families, laughing families, families taking their babies home, teams bringing new babies in, screaming babies, wailing babies, and silent babies. Babies born at twenty-three weeks, babies under one pound – measured in grams, babies only one pound, babies way too big for their gestational age because of genetic disorders. The common thread was the sound of medical equipment – warming bassinets, beeping monitors, wires, IVs, medications, washing stations, and pump stations for all the mothers who could not directly feed their babies (like me).

The common thread was also that we were all in there together; soldiers fighting a different battle for our children each day. While there were curtains that could be drawn around each baby, full privacy was not possible. As we walked by the front bank of desks that held the receptionists, some nurses, and the attending physician, I was struck that everyone knew who we were. We were famous! I was Theodore and Henry’s mom – the new twins in Pod 3. Everyone smiled and asked me how I was doing every single time I made that walk. I remember looking in the mirror down that corridor thinking, “I’m a mother? To two babies? How did this happen? And I’m supposed to be strong enough to endure a stay in intensive care?” “Will they live?” was the constant question on my mind – the biggest battle I faced every day as my children struggled to breathe, and struggled to eat, and the wounded came and went on the battlefield in Pod 3.

I remember standing at the front of the boys’ pod, not knowing what baby to go to first. From that first moment, my heart was divided. It was equal, but it was in two parts. That is one of the crazy things about being a twin mom. Loving two at once, for the first time. So many people have asked how I can do it, how do you survive with TWO newborns instead of one. I can only say the Lord. God knew my increased need. Therefore, He gave me an increased capacity and an increased ability to love and care for two. Much of the past year has been my relying on this power infused by the Holy Spirit – the humbling circumstances led me right to my knees to ask for help. Otherwise, I likely would’ve forgotten to ask.

I went to Henry, my second born first, as Brian was with Theo across the pod. The first thing I noticed was that he was covered in wires and his monitors constantly beeped. My eyes were drawn to the tiny IVs stabbed into his precious, little hands, with the tiniest pools of blood around them. As I lowered myself into the chair next to his incubator, his nurse Renee changed him, wrapped him in a blanket, pulled all of his wires together in a way only a professional could, and laid my son on my bare chest.   Henry was so light – under five pounds. I remember holding him and feeling more joy exploding from my heart than I ever knew possible. I spent a good long time there, cuddling with him. He couldn’t feed as he was born with a weak suck reflex and was fed through a tube in his nose so we didn’t attempt a feeding at that time. Before I moved over to hold Theo for the first time, I remember wanting to rip off all of the IVs and wires, put him over my shoulder, and take him out of the NICU forever. That feeling would be constant in the days and weeks ahead.

About an hour later, I shuffled over to Theo’s bed to hold my firstborn. I will also never forget that feeling – the overwhelming joy of holding my firstborn son for the first time. By the time I had cuddled with both, I was utterly exhausted and my medication was wearing off. I returned to my hospital room in my wheelchair, already yearning to be reunited with my tiny fighters. We left the hospital three days after I gave birth. I felt devastated leaving without either one of my babies, and cried almost the whole way home.

The next few weeks were some of the most challenging of my life. Every trip to the NICU felt like a battle as I girded my mama’s heart for all the screams, surgeries, and weeping families we passed on our daily trek to the boys’ pod. While the NICU was a place of happiness, it was also a place of great sadness. Since UCLA is a teaching hospital, we had residents relating that Henry had a potential brain bleed (or maybe not based on his head scan – this turned out to not be accurate, thank goodness), Theo had fluid on his formerly collapsed lungs again (or maybe it was better, but unsure), and many other issues and diagnoses came and went. Every day we got more reports with their progress or lack thereof. It seemed like they would take two steps forward followed by one step back.

As I recovered from home, I woke every few hours to pump and provide milk to take to the NICU for the babies, since they still could not nurse due to their prematurity. Talk about ironic, crazy, and difficult – waking in the middle of the night with no baby in sight to provide milk. I am so grateful to God for giving me plenty of milk to feed them. I watched every day as mothers just like me went into the NICU, hobbled over (as many had had C sections) to their babies’ bedside and hooked up to a pump to sacrifice for their children. We were all “pumping” warriors together, fighting to give our little loves the best fighting chance.

During one of those late night pumping sessions, the Lord led me to Isaiah 51:3. It reads: “For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” I was refreshed by His truth time and again as I surfed the waves of anguish I felt being separated from my babies. It was so unnatural, and so painful. Coupled with various complications from a C-section recovery, breastfeeding issues, sleeplessness, raging hormones (no one told me about the night sweats-agh!), I look back in awe that we made in through.

The babies didn’t have any more surgeries, but were constantly off and on oxygen and learning to feed properly. Since the NICU at UCLA is the best in Southern California, babies from all over the city and state brought there, with UCLA deliveries being a priority (thank goodness!). We joined the NICU support group and met other families in our situation, and we bonded with them. We got to know the sweet Chaplain and would pray with her often. We became like family with our NICU nurses, in particular one woman we now affectionately call Auntie Bessie.

I learned a completely new language with words like “Bradys” (for a Brady “episode” where breathing ceases), “D-sats” (for desaturation of oxygen), and “Apnia” (more prolonged breathing cessation). All three issues were “normal” for premature babies, who are typically born with underdeveloped lungs. I learned that the babies would not be discharged until they went at least five days without “As, Bs, or Ds.” They also had to take every feeding from a bottle – which at the beginning seemed almost impossible as they were exclusively fed through tubes and IVs.

I would get calls that Theo or Henry had “stopped breathing” for a few seconds, but recovered without intervention and it was not a huge deal. MY CHILD NOT BREATHING?! Not a big deal!?! This was impossible for me to wrap my head around, but slowly and surely I grew an unbelievably thick skin. I know the Lord was doing a great work in each episode, in each day, in each hairpin turn. He was building a strong foundation, tearing down the boxes that I had put myself in and that I had put Him in to grow me into a lioness of a mother. Things that had scared me in the past became small issues as I learned to face fears in His strength.

One thing that didn’t scare me was the babies’ strong hearts. Though their heartbeats were rapid (again, due to prematurity), not one doctor in the NICU determined their hearts were at issue. I knew from our prior echocardiograms that the boys were going to need more heart testing once they were born if they showed any signs of complications (the heart surgeon had insisted), and I was relieved to think we were free and clear of that issue.

One day a few weeks after their birth, Brian and I were walking into the NICU when we literally bumped into the lead heart surgeon that had preformed our prior echocardiograms. I immediately said hello and told him the boys were doing really well. That’s when I got the look. The “I still need to order an echocardiogram on your babies and no one told me they were born” look. Brian and I both froze, trying to backpedal but we had already told him all he needed to know.

Later that day, our nurses said the doctor had stopped by the boys’ pod to check on them, and he was chased out of the pod as the nurses continually told him “These boys don’t have ANY heart problems! No heart issues here!” I smiled as I thought about our NICU “family” protecting the babies from the over-concerned doctor as he tried to order the tests.

I later found that the doctor got his wish and overrode the NICU doctors to preform the echocardiograms on the babies. Thankfully, our nurses told us after the perfect echos had come back, making sure not to unnecessarily concern us. That was the level of care we had during our time there.

The Lord led me to Jeremiah 29:7 when I asked Him for guidance in the NICU. It reads: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” I believe through our circumstances and this verse, the Lord was asking us to not only physically but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally enter in the place I said I would never enter. To love the employees, the families, and the patients there and pray for their welfare, as it said in Jeremiah.

During one of our (very sparsely attended) support group meetings (just Brian and me), the leader remarked that many children in the NICU did not have parents regularly visiting at that time. That absolutely broke our hearts. We learned that at times parents abandon their children in the NICU because they are unable to deal with profound disabilities, or imminent death. We prayed for the babies and for their families, and we do to this day. As Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years passed this year and we celebrated at home with Theo and Henry, our minds thought of babies and families in the NICU as we prayed for their welfare.

After all our time with her, Auntie Bessie has become part of our family.   She has come to watch the boys on various occasions since they have been home. She brought them gifts. We have stayed in touch with her, sending her pictures often of her “bubbas.” Bessie told us that a few days before she met our boys, she had been going through some very difficult personal circumstances. She said our babies brought her great joy during a trying time in her life. Hearing that brought tears to my eyes. It was yet another confirmation of His master plan to lead us through a trial for His purposes and glory.

Recently, I was able to go back to UCLA to visit a dear friend’s baby who had just undergone emergency kidney surgery. It was surreal to go the place I had spent so much time. It was beautiful to feel the compassion this entire experience birthed in me. To feel the solidarity with my friend who was also concerned for her precious little one, trusting God with the outcome and praying for His hand to save; to come from a place of knowledge and understanding in ministering to my friend. I know that was one of God’s many purposes in our journey.

The Boys’ First Roommates

About two weeks into the hospital stay, the boys’ first pod mate, a precious little girl born several months prior at one pound, started to take a turn for the worst. As I said, some babies in the NICU were completely silent, and she was one of them. We watched in horror as family members came and went, the tears flowed, nurses had heated phone calls next to her crib, and the Chaplain returned time and again to minister to the family. While we didn’t want to pry and tried to give the family and the baby their space, it was obvious the staff did not believe this tiny little girl was going to survive much longer.
We took to our knees to pray for her, asking the Lord to work a miracle on her behalf. I remember going back day after day, happy to see that she was still there. We saw nurses going in and out, and several surgeries taking place in her crib, that was next to Theo and across from Henry. One day, however, I arrived to see the top of her incubator had been lifted, which meant her tiny body was no longer being heated. This continued for days, until we arrived one day and she was no longer there.

The day that sweet little girl went to Heaven we cried many tears. Great fear for the lives of my own boys and great sadness set in. I will never understand why God allowed my boys to live and that sweet girl to meet Him in Heaven. The loss of babies and children is truly inexplicable, yet I know He does a great work in the midst of loss. I know that He has a plan to bring beauty out of ashes. I remember that tiny angel often, and pray for peace for her family while thanking God for the lives of my own sons.

The boys received a new “pod mate” the next day. Unfortunately, unlike their prior roommate who was so sick she was silent, this sweet girl was so sick she screamed all the time. I groaned every time I heard the crying, as I so wanted my boys to have a peaceful environment to grow. Teams of doctors and nurses crammed into the pod for several days, having meetings, discussing treatments, and going through the options with the parents. I remember hearing the parents of the little girl softly cry as they signed consent waivers for a surgery that sounded like it had a very low success rate.

“This is the only time I’ll let my little girl sleep in the same room with boys – I’ll make an exception!” I heard jokingly at the sink when I was cleaning my hands one day. Surprised, I looked over to see the sweet mom of our little pod mate gesturing at my boys with a smile. I joked back that the feeling was mutual as I gave her a very knowing smile and told her that her little girl was in our prayers. “Someday soon, our kids will be home and no more slumber parties like this,” she said. I remember choking back tears as I had heard the risks of the upcoming surgery.

From that moment on, every time her daughter screamed (which was often), I thought of her sweet mother, pressing on in the midst of pain and uncertainty with joy and dignity. Instead of cringing, I prayed and I asked for her healing when I heard her screams. I will never forget looking in their eyes the day we left, as the family was still there, awaiting their own discharge day. It was a look of joy but a look of desperation. I do not know if they are still there or if the surgery was successful, but that beautiful girl was another reason the Lord had us on the battlefield in Pod 3, fighting for victory alongside her friends Theo and Henry.


A few days before we left, we met a father with newborn twin boys – identical, just like Henry and Theo. I did my best to encourage him that he soon would be following our lead and making an exit. With a huge smile and great fortitude, he told me that he hoped that was true, but he and his wife had lost their last child in the NICU a year prior.   Yet he said he believed he would get his sons home soon. My heart broke as I smiled through now teary eyes. I will never forget his joy and hopefulness, in spite of their past.

On a particularly difficult night during that time, the Lord gave me a vision of my boys when they were older. Of their lives as men on mission for Him. He gave that in a dream to one of my dear friends as well. I remember texting another friend that God gave me the long view, which I so desperately needed to see in the interminable short term. I will never forget her words: “Oh Jessie, what a magnificent view it must have been!” And it was.   I believe we all can and should ask the Lord for that vision, that long view of the big picture in a situation when the day to day seems too overwhelming.

The Lord showed me two passages full of His promises for my sons when fear reared its ugly head. Joel 2:21-32 says: “Do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, For the LORD has done great things.” He also led me to Isaiah 44:2-5: “Do not fear, O Jacob, My servant. And you Jeshurun who, I have chosen. For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground. I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants. And they will spring up among the grass like poplars by the streams of water.”

Those words filled my soul, as I was in a thirsty land and dry ground. I held on to His promises for my sons. I declared them in my heart, even though my lips were too tired to speak.

After a few weeks, the boys were making good progress and it seemed almost every day that they would be coming home soon. The “five day” rule of no “As, Bs, and Ds,” made us constantly restart the clock and push back our discharge date. I grew frustrated with the constant questions of “When will they come home?”

When I saw my babies, I was paralyzed with fear because of their diminutive size and perceived frailty. God spoke to that fear directly with His word. Psalm 8:1-2 reads:O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” God also led me to 1 Samuel 16:18: “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Many of the doctors and nurses had said “Oh, don’t worry, babies are MUCH stronger than they look.” That didn’t bring me comfort. It was hearing the word of God that my sons were strong, that He had established strength through them, and that God was looking at their hearts, not their tiny size, that brought me peace.

In all of the craziness of the NICU, I felt unable to give anything in terms of time or energy to the Lord. I turned to the story of the widow’s mite one morning as the Lord reminded me that as long as I give what I am able, no matter how much that is (and it will surely change from season to season).

One Down, One to Go

Almost three weeks to the day after the babies were born, that glorious day of all days arrived: the day we were cleared to go home!  My heart soared at Henry’s consistent positive reports. Theo followed close behind, and I prayed desperately for a double discharge and a lenient attending physician that might overlook Theo’s continued need for oxygen and just let him come home with us.

I had a vision of our exit from the hospital: I saw our twins perfectly healthy, leaving the hospital with their double stroller and their two car seats, amidst balloons, gifts, and loud cheering down the NICU hallway. What was NOT my vision was doing this whole song and dance with one half of that equation.

“You know one of your twins is going to go home way before your other twin, right?” said the attending physician to me the day before Henry was set to discharge. I gulped and nodded in agreement as I enticed my mind to start considering a new reality. I felt nauseated and sick at the thought of separating my boys and our family, especially given Brian and my twin “experience.” Twins know that twins are NOT to be separated; they stick together!

The day we arrived to take Henry home, Brian’s parents arrived as well to stay behind with Theo as we made a break for the free world. I kept it together until we placed Henry in the stroller and I looked back at Theo hooked up to all his monitors and oxygen.  I absolutely lost it. The walk out of the NICU, with Henry in one half of the stroller, placing him in only one of the two car seat bases in the car, was both exuberant and horrifying.

That first night home, as I held Henry and thought of Theo, I felt God’s word wash over and heal my fears again. God spoke to me about all the incredible things He had in store for Henry, that Henry was special both individually and as a twin (as was Theo). It gave me a very different perspective on twins, and a reminder that I needed to love them both individually and corporately. That time also allowed Brian and I to adjust to having one baby at home, while we waited with hopeful anticipation that Theo would join us soon.

One week later, we got the call we had dreamed of for a month: it was Mr. Theo’s turn to come home! We arrived at the NICU, giddy and delighted. As we pushed Theo out of the doors that had been so hard to walk in, we erupted with shouts of praise and tears of joy – the long, strange, difficult, crazy journey was over! Hallelujah! That will always be one of the best moments of my life, and our lives together.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

At every turn throughout our lives together and my pregnancy, my sweet husband was deep in the trenches beside me. Brian was given the gift of a lifetime in nine weeks of paternity leave, so he was able to help twenty-four hours a day for the first nine weeks of the boys’ lives. His service to me and his love for our family literally kept me sane throughout those days and weeks. He led our family by serving, as Jesus modeled.

In the weeks to come after their birth, there was no task too small, too difficult, or too disgusting for Brian David Fahy. He carried me to the bathroom, changed my clothes and my bandages, helped me use the toilet, listened to hours of my crying and my pain, washed dishes, cleaned the house; you name it, he did it. He visited the NICU every single day of the month the boys were there, changed diapers, learned how to feed bottles, and held the babies when I was too weak and had to rest. He prayed for me, sang over me, and made us all laugh with a plethora of silly songs and ridiculous antics. His humor brought laughter as a healing balm to my pain. I will never forget him making the whole nursing staff erupt in laughter as he was sprayed with Theo’s poop in the middle of one of his first diaper changes and leapt across the room screaming “Holy crap! That’s a TON of crap!”

One day, one of our nurses in the NICU remarked what a great mother I was to the boys. I will never forget Auntie Bessie correcting her: “They’re a great team.” She was right on.

That is the greatest work the Lord has done in us this year: made us a team. An all-star team, I would dare to say, given all the man on man defense we have played. We were asked the goal of our marriage through a study we did this fall, and we decided that it is unity.  More than the health of our sons, more than the fact that we are parents, more than anything else – our martial goal is unity with God and with one another.

I just finished Chip and Joanna Gaines’ book “The Magnolia Story” (because who isn’t obsessed with Fixer Upper?!) and there is a quote from Joanna that perfectly captured what I learned about our relationship this year:

“One pretty amazing thing we learned early on was that the more time we spent together, the better our relationship was. I think a lot of couples feel the need to get away from each other now and then, to take little breaks, and they come back after a girls’ weekend or a guys’ fishing trip or something all refreshed and happy to reconnect because they missed each other.

 We were just the opposite, and still are. We seem to give each other energy. We function better together that we do apart, and I don’t think either one of us had ever felt the urge to say, ‘I need a break from you.’”

After spending every waking moment together for nine weeks, I cried like a baby when Brian left for work. Through circumstances more trying than we envisioned possible, we learned just how well we function together.

Last Thanksgiving, Brian and I celebrated hoping that might be our last holiday season as a family of two. We asked the Lord to bless us with children if that was His will. We did not imagine what the next year would hold. I imagined all perfect blessings, not the blessings that come with struggle and pain – which are now, in my opinion, the richest blessings of all.

In 2016, our hospital bills without insurance approached a million dollars. I had five surgeries – one emergency fetal, one emergency C-section, and three MOHs procedures to remove skin cancer on my face in the past few months since delivery. As I type, I have three bandages on my head and over twenty stitches in the middle of my forehead. I had never had an IV put in prior to any of these surgeries. I had never been diagnosed with anything serious.

I see that Jesus works in surgeries, in healthcare, in excellent surgeons, just the way He worked thousands of years ago when he stretched out His hand to heal.

For some reason, the very last skin cancer surgery this week was the one that got to me. I winced on the operating table as they sliced open my forehead and clutched on Brian’s hand as my bloodshot, tired, watery eyes gushed tears. Once again, I released by grip on my ability to cope with life and let His power perfect my weakness.

This has been a year of weakness. Of experiencing bone chilling, hair raising, inexplicable pain and anguish that I wouldn’t never believe I could manage in the past. At every turn, He has sustained me. His Spirit has washed over me. His power has been made perfect in my weakness.

I am not perfect, He is. I fall short each day, I complain, I don’t have enough sleep (will I ever as a parent?!) and feel pretty imbalanced most of the time not to mention suffer from a new form of ADD and the inability to make decisions, I often forget to pray, I inappropriately take out my frustrations on my husband, I check Facebook too often and have an Amazon shopping problem that might need therapy, but I place my broken self in His hands and feel His love, His affirmation, and His strength.   As the Bethel lyrics say, “I have lost control but I’m free. I’m going under, I’m in over my head.”

God has given us all we need. This has been a year of tearing down the boxes that I put God in. The “God would never” boxes; the “I am not strong enough to handle that” boxes; the “only other people suffer” boxes. It has felt so wild, so free, and so full of Him to experience the freedom of going in over my head.

I look at my two perfect, growing angels and cry almost daily with gratitude for their lives. I know that right now, there are many families in NICUs across the world; many mourned this past holiday season without their precious babies for the first time; many celebrated with babies marked by profound disabilities; many wished they could conceive a baby. It was an honor to add our TTTS surgeon, the NICU staff, and my OB to our Christmas card list this year – a reminder of the expanded territory the Lord gave us in 2016.

Both babies had their first colds during their first Christmas. This was not the scenario I had worked out in my brain. Brian and I ended up eating Chinese food with my parents in our apartment, about as tired as we had first been when the babies were born because they were so fussy from their colds.

As I took in that scene, reeling from the disappointment of many expectations of the babies’ first Christmas, it hit me. I should not strive so much for the “easy” moment.   For the “safe” time. We have right now. We have this second to find peace.  We are blessed whether we are inside the NICU at Christmas or home at Christmas because Jesus offers peace in the feast and in the famine alike.

As I wrestled with bringing this truth to bear in my heart, God reminded me of one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 33:5-6. It reads “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”  His stability throughout all we had endured over the past year, and everything we will face moving forward is our greatest treasure. I am not afraid of the future because I walked through the fire this year and was not burned.

Luke 12:48 reads: “Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required…” From His word, I know that because of the lavishness of His gifts to me, I will be stretched further than I can imagine – much is required of me. I love the lyrics of Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” (inscribed in our wedding rings) that speak of this beautiful balance of pouring in and pouring out: “Every step we breathing in your grace, ever more we’ll be breathing out your praise.” I know it will not be easy, I know I will not be sheltered from difficulty, pain, and struggle. Yet I know it’s going to be wild, it’s going to be free, and it’s going to be full of Him. I know I will give all I have so others can know my beloved Jesus – who has been with me every painful step and every glorious leap this year and will be forevermore.

 

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Singing A New Song

“I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon the rock, making my footsteps firm. He put a new song of praise in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.” – Psalm 40:1-3

The “My God Would Never” Diagnosis

“Brian, I am SO tired of these doctors explaining that Twin-to-Twin-Whatever-Syndrome-It-Is to us at our appointments! Ugh! It’s a rare disease [10% of people with our type of identical twins have it] and our God would NEVER allow this to happen to our babies. He created them and we have an amazing story – twins having twins – this is all for His glory. God would never let this happen.” I declared for months on end.

This narrative continued when I spoke with others about our “overbearing doctors.” Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (‘TTTS”) was something I refused to research or even acknowledge as a possibility. As I said many times, MY God would never allow this.

On Thursday, April 28, 2016, I went in for a routine bi-weekly ultrasound. Instead of going in monthly, my doctors wanted to see me every two weeks to monitor for TTTS. Every scan had been perfect thus far. This was simply another routine day. We saw a different doctor that time, the partner of our high-risk doctor. The appointment went well, the babies looked great, and we were on our way. The doctor mentioned that one of our babies (Baby B) hadn’t been moving as much as Baby A, but that it was probably nothing. “Of course it’s nothing,” I thought, “Nothing bad is going to happen to my boys.”

That evening, I got a phone call from the doctor. “I have a feeling in my gut that something is off, and I want you to come back sooner than two weeks. It’s probably nothing serious, but I want to be sure.” she related. I was irate. “A feeling in your gut?!” I thought, “What on earth does that mean?” “Brian,” I said after I called him, “All the scans were fine! The boys are fine! Why do we have to deal with this?!”

I called my mom to report the ridiculous statement, and my desire to wait a week or so to go back. “Jessie,” she replied, “If the doctor thinks something is off, call her and get in first thing tomorrow morning – do whatever you need to make sure the babies are okay.”

There are moments when the Holy Spirit takes over your will, and I know my next phone call was just that. I hung up with my mother, determined to not follow her advice, and wait at least a week to see the doctor. The Lord took over and I found myself scheduling a doctor’s appointment at 7:30AM the next morning.

On Friday, April 29, Brian and I went in for another ultrasound, looking for answers. Both our high-risk doctors stared silently at the screen, took many measurements, and seemed concerned. Our typical appointments included some laughing and joking (mainly about male anatomy). I started to get that sinking feeling in my stomach when I heard silence. It was at that same moment I felt the Lord’s presence fill the room, calming my soul, and letting me know He was there with us.

“Jessie, I’m going to need you to sit up in case you get light-headed,” they said. I sat up and looked at two long faces. “You do have TTTS,” they both said, “We are so sorry to give you this news. We have already started sending all your paperwork to Dr. Ramen Chmait at USC. He is the best of the best, and we already have a call into him to see if he can take your case. Your babies have the best chance of survival in his hands. Stay positive.”

I thought the world would have come out from under me (and it did in the days to follow), but in that moment, I had peace. I was scared out of my mind, sick to my stomach, but surrendered to the fact that I needed to move forward one step at a time and get my babies the best care we could find.

A few hours later, I was on the phone with Dr. Chmait’s intake team. “Did you read anything online about TTTS?” was their first question. Although I had started to Google the disease that afternoon, I stopped looking online when I saw dual survivor twin rates in the 50% or less range. My heart ripped in two as it started to dawn on me that my sweet baby boys had a fatal condition.

Over that afternoon, the intake team told me about the higher survival rates of Dr. Chmait’s patients, answered all my questions, and walked me though the surgery that would take place in four days’ time.  I learned that since the boys shared a placenta (most identical twins do), there were blood vessels running back and forth across the placenta. TTTS occurs when improper blood flow causes one twin (my Baby B) to act as the donor twin while another twin (my Baby A) acts at the recipient twin. The donor gives all its blood to the recipient. This causes the donor to lose all its amniotic fluid and the recipient to have too much, which eventually results in the death of both twins. In the 1990s, fetal laser surgery came about. The surgery entails the doctor going into the womb (through an incision) with a laser and cutting off all the blood vessels on the placenta between the twins. The babies can survive post-surgery because they both are still attached to the placenta, receiving their own nutrients and no longer improperly sharing blood. Dr. Chmait had performed almost 600 surgeries by the time I received the call from his office; he was deep into his career and very experienced.

I felt so loved and cared for by the doctor’s team, and grateful to be in the hands of such a skilled surgeon who had offices half an hour from my home. One of the questions Brian and I received the whole next week was “Where do you two live?” as most of the patients are not local and come to see Dr. Chmait from all over the world.   I was grateful to find the doctor in an advanced stage in his career. I thanked God for my doctor at UCLA (Dr. Nguyen) and for her “gut feeling.”   I was grateful for excellent healthcare through my job. I saw His hand providing a way through the desert, and hope for the future. I wept as I considered the potential outcomes. I watched this video of Dr. Chmait’s work over and over again and tears poured out my Mama’s heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRIXjits7jc

He Readied My Heart Since December

When I first found out I was pregnant in December, the Lord spoke the following verses to me by having me open my Bible to this passage in Mark’s Gospel:

“On that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They became very much afraid and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’ “ – Mark 4:35-41

At the time, I though this scripture pertained generally to the “difficulties” of pregnancy – the fears of how I would adjust to having children, and how I would weather the “storms” of change in this season of my life. What struck me when I read this again after the TTTS diagnosis was that I, like the disciples, believed I was staring death in the face (“perishing,” as they put it). Jesus performed a miracle and literally calmed the storm with a word.

I felt this scripture about His great power pressing close to my heart that weekend as I pondered the good news that He was with me and He would calm the storm. I needed to focus on who He was – the maker of the Universe – and to have faith in His ability to carry my family through whatever was set in front of us. I have learned in the days and weeks since my diagnosis that Jesus has had to calm many storms in my new mother’s heart – storms of fear, storms of mistrust, storms of pain, and storms of wrong thinking.

In the Belly of the Whale

With a weekend of waiting for the surgery, I knew it was time to call out the prayer warriors. As much as I did not want to acknowledge reality, I reached out to our Christian community and received an outpouring of His love and His goodness. That is why the Lord gives us His glorious Church. Although I could not attend church on Sunday (the condition caused me to a great deal of physical pain), Brian was able to go and join many of our friends and church family as they poured out prayers over our lives and the lives of our sons. We had visitors that prayed over my womb and prophesied to us, the largest flower arrangement I have ever seen from my Pepperdine family, a delivery of cookies and cold milk with the instructions: “Eat more cookies while prayers abound!” and my dear friend’s precious little boy who kissed my belly two times – one for each baby, among others. We are so grateful for the continued support of our friends, family, and our colleagues.

For many of you who know us, Brian and I have had somewhat of a fairytale marriage. The Lord brought us together in a miraculous way, and becoming pregnant with twins immediately after we decided we want to be parents completely fit “our story” of the Lord’s rich, rich blessings. Yet heartache, pain, and testing draws two souls together in ways that celebration and joy cannot parallel. As C.S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a hurting world.”   Brian’s broken heart and my broken heart were knit together in this process in an indescribable way. We are stronger for having walked through this pain. We have a deeper understanding of God and one another. We are better parents having held one another and cried tears knowing that the next time we hold our two precious boys could be in Heaven.

John Piper once said (during a women’s conference) “Wimpy theology makes wimpy women.” My faulty theology that “God would never allow this to happen” began to unravel as I delved deep into my heart to retrieve all that I had learned about pain and suffering in my walk as a Christian. Hebrews 13:7 reads: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” When I returned to the Lord in 2009, my early faith had been fortified under pastor Britt Merrick of Reality Carpinteria. I was pastored under Britt for years and watched his understanding of his beautiful daughter Daisy Love’s fight against multiple rounds of cancer. I watched his deep love for God through his daughter’s two remissions and then her passing to be with Jesus. (For one of the best sermons I have ever heard in my life by Britt on this topic, click here: https://vimeo.com/13438975)

I found myself, as Hebrews stated, wanting to imitate his faith: to trust God no matter what happened to my precious sons. Britt relates in the sermon above some of what I was relating about my relationship with Brian over the weekend of waiting: that God made him a better man, a better father, a better husband, a better pastor, and a better friend because of his daughter’s battle with cancer. This made me want to dive into all God had for me on this journey and glean the fruit He had for me in this trial.

I gleaned from Jeremiah 17:14 and John 10:10 over and over again that weekend. Jeremiah 17:14 reads, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed. Save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” John 10:10 reads, “The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” These words were constant on my lips when I could not sleep and fear crept in my mind.


 

When I awoke on Sunday, I was led to the book of Jonah. I had also been led to Psalm 11. Both spoke of the Lord leading His people through times of testing and trial, and His great faithfulness. Jonah’s trial specifically lasted three days inside that whale, which seemed similar to the three days of waiting for the surgery. “Brian,” I said when he woke up that morning, “I feel kind of like Jonah right now.” “In what sense, Babe, that you’re in the whale or that you are the whale?” he responded. I was glad to see his sense of humor was still intact (and to be fair, I had grown to the size of a thirty week pregnant woman as a result of the TTTS), as I would need that joy and hope in the week to come.

Sunday afternoon, a dear friend of mine visited. She, along with another friend, received a Word from the Lord from Psalm 40 (1-3): “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon the rock, making my footsteps firm. He put a new song of praise in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”

She then asked the Lord, what the new song was that was spoken of in this Psalm. While in our church that morning, the band had played Bethel’s “No Longer Slaves,” and the lyrics spoke so deeply to our condition. She knew this was the new song spoken of in Psalm 40. The lyrics read:

“From my mother’s womb

You have chosen me

Love has called my name

I’ve been born again

Into your family

Your blood flows through my veins

You split the sea

So I could walk right through it

My fears were drowned in perfect love

You rescued me

And I could stand and sing

I am a child of God.”

The words spoke to me. To think about Jesus’ blood running through my sons’ veins as they approached a surgery to heal the blood flow in my womb was so comforting. To contemplate how the Lord split the Red Sea, as the doctor had to split all the blood vessels between my sons, ministered to my soul. For anyone who hasn’t listened to “No Longer Slaves,” it is such a beautiful anthem of praise that declares that as Christians we will no longer fear and we will declare that we are children of God. I knew these words were part of my journey as a mother, and the song being sung in Heaven over my sons.

Marching Into the Battle

On Monday, May 2, 2016, we arrived at Dr. Chmait’s office. Looking back, I think we both needed that time to work through the reality of our situation, and properly face the days and the weeks ahead. We believed that the Lord could heal the condition over the weekend, but we trusted Him no matter what the ultrasound showed in the doctor’s office. We also trusted Him if Heaven was the next place we saw both of our boys together.

Instead of going to Dr. Chmait’s office, we accidentally ended up at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. As I stood in line in the Walt Disney lobby, I erupted in a torrent of tears as I took in my surroundings. Everywhere I looked, I saw sick children. Beautiful babies with huge scars from cancer on their foreheads, children in wheelchairs, children crying, and sick children of every kind. I tearfully approached the front desk to ask for Dr. Chmait’s office, only to find out we were in the wrong building. As I exited the building, I knew my heart had been broken for these children in a way it could never be repaired. Through that “one wrong turn,” I felt the Lord birth in me a heart of compassion I had never dreamed of. I treated other children’s illnesses as “something that I hoped would never happen to my children and something that God would never allow to happen to my children.” This split second in the lobby stripped my pride and arrogance. I began to see this great journey would bear much fruit I had not anticipated.


One minute later, we arrived at the doctor’s office. The walls were covered with pictures of twin babies who had successfully survived TTTS, and it warmed our hearts. I almost leapt into the doctor’s arms when we met as I was so glad to finally be on the road to surgery. The ultrasound confirmed we had Stage 2 TTTS and we sat down to go through our surgery consultation. It was beyond heartbreaking to see the ultrasound of my Baby B wrapped in his amniotic sac because he had no fluid around him, and Baby A in dangerous levels of fluid as his tiny heart worked overtime to compensate for his environment.

Brian had a friend pray over him at church and tell him: “The Father knows what is it is like to see His son suffer.” It was comforting to know our Lord knew how we felt to see our boys suffering. Tim Keller (pastor at Redeemer in New York) gave a sermon the Sunday after 9/11 where he said that he had no idea why the Lord had allowed such suffering, loss, and pain, but he did know that across every world religion, Jesus Christ is the only God who willingly suffered to save His people. No other god, no other deity, suffered pain and death the way Jesus did to make a way to be with His people forever. Similarly, I will never fully understand why the Lord allowed this suffering, but I know He fully entered into the pain with me, and ultimately provided a way for everyone in our family to have a way out of permanent suffering in his death on the cross. I also know that in the deepest moments of pain during the process, I wanted my husband and my family close by. Not to solve the problem (we definitely don’t have any surgeons in the family), but to be with me, hold me, and cry with me. Our Heavenly Father promises and delivers on our need for His presence, no matter our circumstances, which should ultimately be our goal.

The consultation was as expected. We were given all the options, some of which included total termination and a surgery that involved saving one twin’s life to the detriment of the other (with a high success rate of one twin surviving). Both of the procedures were not performed by Dr. Chmait’s office, and not an option to us, anyway. We were ready for the surgery, and we wanted to try for life for both of the boys. As twins, we knew the beautiful gift of being twins, and it made the whole situation that much more heartbreaking. We knew the great risks, but we also trusted a great God who had made a great surgeon and a way for us to access his skill. I made it through most of the consultation without crying, but when Dr. Chmait pointed to a photo of hundreds of TTTS survivors (and their families) in his office, I broke down. That picture will forever be emblazoned in my mine – hundreds of children that would not be alive but for this incredible surgery.

As we left that office, we looked out over the place we met four and a half years ago at Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles in East Hollywood. Dr. Chmait’s office had a direct view of the tiny, hot, cramped room where we met serving those in need of the Lord and of legal advice. That place was one of our “Ebenezers,” or a place of remembrance of the great things the Lord had done in our lives. We paused as we played back the divine circumstances that led to our first meeting. We breathed a little easier as we walked out, remembering the same magnificent God who orchestrated our unlikely first meeting was the same God holding our hands as we journeyed years later into surgery for our babies.


 

Monday afternoon, we checked into a hotel near the hospital in Pasadena. When my mom, dad, brother, and Garrett (Brian’s brother) and Brian’s parent’s (later) arrived, I erupted in tears of gratitude that they were able to come and be near to us during the hardest few days of our lives. That many people don’t have that kind of support doesn’t escape me. It is something weeks ago I might have taken from granted, but the Lord has given me a new heart and new appreciation.

Monday night was mainly devoid of sleep as I could not get comfortable. My sweet husband spent the entire weekend following me around our apartment in the middle of the night as I moved from chair to bed to couch and back again; he wanted to be near me as a slept. He continued this trend as he slept in a tiny hospital cot the next night, giving up his own comfort to be close to me. Post-surgery, Brian put lip balm on my cracked lips, held water up to my thirsty mouth, and helped me to the bathroom countless times when I was too weak to help myself.

Brian’s selflessness was quite different from the flowers, love notes, gifts, and fancy dates we went on when we first started our relationship. I saw a deeper, kinder, more loving, and real side of my husband.   My father called me and left a message a few days after the surgery and said: “It was truly remarkable to witness your husband living out the vows he promised to you years ago in that church when you two were dressed in your finest in front of all of us.” My Dad was right; it was a great blessing to see Brian living out the vows he made on our wedding day, in a very different light – the two of us a hospital gown and sweatpants instead of a wedding dress and a tuxedo.

The Day of Battle

After Brian and I awoke Tuesday morning, we played worship music and prayed together before Garrett drove us to the hospital at 5:00AM. It was a sweet time for the two of us to surrender all to the Lord. We played the songs from our wedding: “Here for You” and “Ten Thousand Reasons” by Matt Redman. The lyrics of “Ten Thousand Reasons” pierced our hearts as we sang, “Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before us, may we be singing when the evening comes.”

I opened the Bible to Exodus 14:13-14, which reads: “But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.’ ”

As I looked up into the mountains next to Pasadena from my hotel window, I was reminded of another early morning in Pasadena almost five years prior where I awoke with a huge test ahead of me – the California Bar. I remember the Lord speaking the same words of victory and faith over me as I nervously made the walk over the Pasadena Convention Center to take a test that 50% of the takers that morning were projected to fail. Though the surgery’s odds of success were higher (not to mention the stakes were much, much higher), I knew the Lord was again leading me into a trial that I had prepared for, prayed over, and needed to relax into His peace and let Him go before me and fight. And again, He brought me to Pasadena to see His work accomplished.

There was not a soul on the road at Garrett drove us to the hospital, and we prayed as we drove. Brian and Garrett are identical twins like our sons, and the bond they share is deeper than my comprehension. I saw Garrett, in addition to Brian, rise up into a great helper, comforter, and brother as he “stood in the gap” for us that weekend. We all felt the palpable fear as we pulled into the hospital that morning, yet we all pushed back with faith and trust in the Lord, regardless of the outcome.


 

From the second I checked in the hospital that morning, I knew I was putting myself in autopilot and letting the Lord navigate. I had never been admitted to a hospital prior to that day. I had no idea how an IV works, never signed a power of attorney, never worn a hospital gown. Our twins were also 23 weeks old at the time of surgery (on the edge of viability), and a decision had to be made whether or not to try to save them if the surgery went wrong. Downcast faces told us that to attempt to save them could result in a long life of disability and difficulty for us, but we knew in our hearts that we had to try for life, no matter what. In addition to the surgery, I elected for a “potential emergency C-section,” and watched in fear as two hospital bands were printed out for “Twin A” and “Twin B.” I prayed fervently that those two bands would not be put to use for many months.

As I walked into the surgery prep room, I prayed for my spinning head to relax. The gravity of the situation began to dawn on me as nurses and orderlies bounced around me, drawing blood, prepping needles, and asking questions. My legs began to shake from the IV, and my fingers dug into Brian’s hands. I might have asked one too many times where the drugs were as I was ready to escape what I perceived was a little too much “reality.”

Angelic would be the one word I would use to sum up the Huntington Hospital and the team that worked on me from intake to outtake. God was so gracious to give me a host of angels to guide me through the surgery and day after. I am convinced of the calling and anointing of medical professionals through this journey. There are so many amazing, caring men and women helping scared young mothers like me, and it is inspiring.

My anesthesiologist soon arrived on the scene. “Oh, you are so lucky, Jessie, she’s the very best,” everyone had been telling me that morning. And so she was. She was beautiful, she was kind, she smelled lovely, her hands were soft, and even her scrubs had beautiful floral patterns on them. Even better, she got me started on an IV drip and I started to feel calm and ready to drift off into sleep. As Brian squeezed my hand, stared in my eyes with glistening tears, and wished me goodbye, I smiled blissfully as I was wheeled into the Operating Room (“OR”).

Once in the OR, I witnessed what looked like twenty-five people buzzing around, prepping for the surgery. Maybe it was the fact that I’d never been in an OR, but it seemed like quite the army. I was rolled on my side (the incision had to be made on my side to enter my womb), given warm blankets, positioned as comfortably as I could, and the team was brought into place. At my head was my anesthesiologist, administering my medication and giving me the play-by-play of the procedure.

The surgery look a little longer than normal to begin, and I began to feel my pulse rising. I also began to realize that I was basically awake, where my desire was to be passed out and let the doctor and Jesus take the wheel. No such luck on this one since there was a limit to how many drugs one can administer to a pregnant woman.

“3, 2, 1 … we’re in!” I heard as I felt a great deal of pressure on my side. I lost my breath momentarily as I realized the laser (via a long metal rod) had been inserted into my womb. Huge monitors around me flashed pictures of my babies as Dr. Chmait entered the place most doctors wouldn’t dare. I prayed and asked the Lord to calm my heart as I waited and watched the monitors. All the while, my anesthesiologist held my hand and stroked my face, whispering words of encouragement into my ear.

“Most patients have a green or a blue diamond level surgery, but you have black diamond,” Dr. Chmait had told us the day before. After the doctor entered my womb and assessed all the blood connections across the placenta in surgery, I heard “Oh, this isn’t a black diamond, this is a double black diamond.” Strangely enough, this comforted me as I remembered that Jesus, the ultimate physician, was guiding the hands of the doctor. The more challenge better, in my opinion. I later found out that most patients typically have ten blood vessels to severe, while I had twenty.

“I wish I had the camera on right now. Baby A is pointing to all the places I need to severe the connections. He’s showing me the way,” the doctor said. I looked up on the monitor to see my baby pointing up and around, in awe of all the ways God was working.

I expected to see angels or even the Lord himself in that operating room that morning. As the surgery progressed, I realized the doctor at my head, holding my hand, stroking my face, administering medication, updating me on progress, and encouraging me, was that physical embodiment of Christ. Never once throughout the surgery did she let go of my hand; never once did she do anything but show me His love. I will never be able to explain in words the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual comfort she brought me that morning. I tear up when I think of the peace her presence brought to the most fearful moment of my life.

About forty minutes after the surgery began, the doctor announced he was checking his work and was almost done. The lights soon went on overhead, and I watched the doctor walk around the operating table, and squat down so he could look me in the eyes. “You are healed! You no longer have Twin-to-Twin-Transfusion Syndrome!” he exclaimed. “Praise God!” I exclaimed back. “Everything I do, I do for Him,” whispered my anesthesiologist in my ear. “Two heartbeats!” the ultrasound technician announced. My tears flowed.


 

The next thing I knew, Brian was at my side. I had contractions coming pretty hard, and my body was gripped with fear. “This is a totally normal side effect of the surgery,” I was told. The doctor’s team arrived shortly and reiterated that the surgery was a success. Brian waived a photo in front of me of Baby B’s open hand, reaching out towards the laser at the beginning of the surgery. The doctor brought the photo when he announced the success of the surgery. That photo remains in our home today as I reminder that Brian and I hold our hands open to the Lord in all things, especially the lives of our sons.
The day prior, the doctor had told us that there were three big hurdles to get over to declare the surgery a success. First, was to have two heartbeats right after the surgery. Second, was to have two heartbeats twenty-four hours post-surgery. Third, was to have the boys healing well thirty days post-surgery. We had cleared hurdle one when I was moved into the hospital room after the surgery.

Brian and I spent that afternoon and evening praising the Lord for what He had done, visiting with our family, reading the Bible together, and dozing in and out of sleep. It was extremely difficult to fall asleep that night, so we dozed when we could, and I woke up every few hours when the nurses came to change a medication or check on my contractions – that were still coming steadily along.

I spent quite a few hours that night watching my husband sleep on a very thin cot, tossing and turning to get comfortable. I thanked the Lord for providing a partner for me to weather the storms of life, and for His provision of our marriage. It also doesn’t escape me that many people have to fight battles without that constant support, and I applaud them all the more for their strength and resilience.

When we turned the lights on at 6:30AM that morning, my heart immediately started to race. “Your ultrasound has been pushed back a little bit,” said our nurse, “The doctor will be here with the ultrasound technician about 9:30AM.” My contractions were still pretty frequent, and the prayers began early to calm my anxious nerves as we waited to see if the babies survived the night.

While we were waiting, Brian read the story of David and Goliath at my request. We both marveled at the faith of David to go up against such an adversary with five small stones and no armor. Our own faith was strengthened as we read about King David’s total faith in the Lord’s ability to deliver him from potential death, and give him great victory. We listened to worship music, prayed together, and I personally enjoyed some delicious eggs and bacon (my favorite) as we waited for the team to arrive.

At 9:30AM, the team arrived and set up their equipment. I reached for Brian’s hand with yet another death grip, and we waited for the news.

“Baby A has a heartbeat!” we heard as the ultrasound technician waved her wand over my stomach. She moved her device across my belly and soon announced, “Baby B has a heartbeat, too!” We erupted in tears and shouts of joy as it became evident that God had made a way for our sons to soar over the second hurdle of the surgery. Soon, our family came in our room. We all wept and celebrated the gift of life given to us that morning.

We soon began a post-surgery consultation that detailed the critical nature of the next thirty days of the boys’ life. I had some complications due to the surgery that put me at risk for pre-term labor (as did the surgery itself), and I had to be closely monitored for the next month to make sure I was progressing properly, and the babies were healing properly from the surgery.

As soon as my outtake paperwork was complete, a lovely elderly hospital volunteer appeared at my door to take me in a wheelchair to our car. It felt surreal and humbling to have someone who could be my grandmother pushing my thirty-one year old “healthy” self in a wheelchair. “My husband died eight years ago and this is what I do to help others and pass the time so I’m not home alone all day,” she explained. I thanked her and thanked God for her – yet another precious angel watching over us in our journey in Pasadena.

I cried almost all the way home from Pasadena – out of exhaustion, out of relief, out of pain, out of fear, out of joy, and out of emotion. As Brian helped me into bed that afternoon, I drifted off into sleep, trying not to fear the still constant contractions, and focus on trusting the Lord to continue to lead us through the fire.


 

Two sleepless nights later, contractions still coming, I woke Brian and my mom to take me to UCLA to see if I was indeed in pre-term labor. I had never experienced any form of PTSD, but it seemed that if surgery was the battle, trusting the Lord daily after the surgery was the war.   I was again humbled when my mother pushed me through the corridors of UCLA Hospital while Brian parked the car. I was given a room in Labor and Delivery, while I waited to be tested.

Yet again, the hospital staff amazed me. I had a nurse and a resident tend to me within a short period of time, and perform all the necessary tests. “Nope, you’re not in labor – you are doing just fine,” they let me know. They also checked and confirmed that both babies had strong heartbeats and were still doing well.

“Doctor, I’m just so scared that I’m going to go into labor or something is going to happen,” I said tearfully. “Well, I don’t have experience in this yet, but I think having things completely out of your control and being powerless is the definition of parenthood. Welcome to being a Mom.” he responded.   I will never forget those words and their truth, delivered with great humor and compassion.

My high-risk doctor (who will deliver the boys) happened to be at the hospital on her day off and soon popped in my room. “Why do you look so pale, Jessie?” she exclaimed, “Let’s get some color back in you!” “Because I’ve been through hell, Doctor,” I responded, as I laughed a little inside that we were discussing my looks after all I had been through.

I didn’t realize it prior to the diagnosis, but our doctor is quite the fighter – she was raised in a poor neighborhood in East LA, and ended up at high-risk doctor at UCLA – one of the best in the country. She encouraged me, lifted my spirits, assured me that the boys and I were through the fire and on the mend, and insisted I get home and get some much-needed sleep. For now, she said, I needed to focus on recovery, rest, and healing.

Our New Song

Over the past few weeks, I have done just that. I have always been such a fighter at heart, and have had to learn how to fight battles in rest. Sleeping and resting has required deep, abiding trust in the Lord as I have had to let Him fight for me and for the boys in my stillness and quiet. As a runner, I am always the first to get out and pound the pavement when something is wrong, or build strength through work or stamina.

This season has showed me, on many levels, that it is not about me. Isaiah 30:15 reads, “For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  But you were unwilling.” I have learned to be willing to submit to the Lord when He wants to bring me to a place of rest and quietness to do His work.

I have been voraciously reading the writings of Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of the world’s largest disability ministry, Joni and Friends. Joni was injured in a diving accident at the age of eighteen, and rendered a quadriplegic for life. Joni’s theology and understanding of suffering and pain is so sound that she now praises God for her disability and has devoted her life to ministering to disabled people and their families around the world.

Joni’s words resonated deep in my soul as I contemplated my diagnosis of TTTS. It was the “one thing” I refused to accept from God, as I falsely believed He would never allow something like that to happen from me. I wanted all His answers to be “Yes” to my requests for perfect health. Joni writes:

“A no answer had purged sin from my life strengthened commitment to Him, forced me to depend on grace, bound me to other believers, produced discernment, fostered sensitivity, disciplined my mind, taught me to spend my time wisely, and widened my world beyond what I would ever dream.”

Joni related the fruit of God’s “no” to her healing from quadriplegia, and I saw the same truth in my battle with TTTS. God has used and is continuing to use this battle to do exactly what Joni said: strengthen my commitment to Him, force me to depend on grace, bind me to others, produce discernment, foster sensitivity, discipline my mind, teach me to spend my time wisely, and widen my world beyond what I would ever dream.

I believe I avoided discussion of TTTS because I didn’t believe I would be strong enough to endure a threat to my children’s lives. The Lord, in His great wisdom and compassion, showed me that through His strength, I was indeed equipped and ready for the challenge. I have struggled for many years with fear, and this journey has been one that has lit many of my fears on fire in God’s effort to burn them away forever.

Zephaniah 3:17, an often-quote verse, reads: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a might one who will save, He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with his love, He will exult over you with loud singing.” The Lord brought me to this verse and chapter over the last few weeks, to contemplate another verse in the chapter, verse 15: “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. You shall never again fear disaster/evil.”

I believe this is the core of what the Lord has been teaching me in this journey: that He is with me, in my midst, always. That He will lead me through circumstances and situations so I will never again be plagued with fear of disaster or fear of evil. Not that everything will always be “perfect” and that my life will be devoid of pain and suffering, but that I will no longer be a slave to fear. If I can live my life as a mother to these two precious sons without fearing disaster and evil, I know that is one of the greatest victories imaginable.

In another book I recently read by Joni Eareckson Tada, she related: “I began to see suffering in a new light – not as trials to avoid, but as opportunities to grab, because God gives so much of His love, grace, and goodness to those who do.”

This truth has also been part of the “new song” the Lord has given me to sing in this season.

Joni relates in all of her writing that we must remember that the final word on suffering and pain is healing. When each one of us arrives in Heaven one day, there will be an end to all our struggles on earth. I know for a fact TTTS does not exist in Heaven. Whether we are healed on earth or have to wait until the end of our lives for healing in Heaven, it will be done. I read the statistics on TTTS and know that many parents have mourned and will mourn the loss of their babies as a result of this disease. Yet I know that is not the final word on the lives of their children.

A dear friend of mine played Phil Wickham’s “Heaven Song” on a trip we took to Uganda to work in the prisons there in 2013. I heard in again this morning and cried tears of joy at the truth of the words:

“You wrote a letter and You signed Your name

I read every word read it page by page

You said that You’d be coming

Coming for me soon

Oh my God I’ll be ready for You

 

I want to run on greener pastures

I want to dance on higher hills

I want to drink from sweeter waters

In the misty morning chill

And my soul is getting restless

For the place where I belong

I can’t wait to join the angels and sing my heaven song

 

I hear Your voice and I catch my breath

Well done my child enter in, in rest

As tears of joy roll down my cheek

It’s beautiful beyond my wildest dreams.”

I praise the Lord that each doctor’s appointment since the surgery has hailed wonderful results. I praise the Lord we just cleared the third hurdle!  My sweet sons, Theodore Joshua and Henry David, have been healing well and growing properly. They have reacted well to the surgery, and their lives have been saved.

I pray that we will run on green pastures, dance on high hills, and drink sweet waters together on this earth. I pray that I will kiss their precious cheeks, and hold them in my arms. Yet I know the truth of the Gospel: that if we choose, we will spend eternity in Heaven together, no matter the length of any of our lives. As Hebrews says, “We have this hope as an anchor, firm and secure.” The hope of the salvation of Jesus, the hope of fearlessness, the hope of His presence, the hope of His healing, the hope of Heaven.

I end with the lyrics to a Bethel song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tw8tYFh1JY) I have been singing for weeks, a new song that I am grateful to sing. A song to my Savior, who saved my life, and saved the lives of my sons before they even made it into the world:

“And I will sing of all You’ve done

I will remember how far You carried me

From Beginning until the End

You are Faithful, Faithful to the End.”

Confessions of a Modern Meddler

“Some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business.” 2 Thessalonians 3:11 NLT

This year, my Bible study has been going through Deborah Smith Pegue’s “30 Days to Taming Your Tongue.”  Let’s just say this book has exposed more sin in my life than I ever imagined.  Each week, there is one different “tongue” that we explore.  For example, the Lying Tongue, the Exaggerating Tongue, the Flattering Tongue, and the Gossiping Tongue are each chapter topics.  Last week’s study covered the Meddling Tongue.  At first glance, I thought, “I’m pretty good on this one, not too much meddling in my life.”

Cut to the evening after I completed my workbook (still high on my I-don’t-meddle horse), when I found myself on Facebook.  Looking at the page of a friend of a friend, trying to decide if I should friend this person just to find out what I perceived was juicy gossip in their lives.  The verse I quoted up top in this post hit me like a ton of bricks: “some of you are living idle lives…wasting time meddling in other people’s business.”

I took some time after this revelation to undergo some hefty self evaluation. I realized that over my ten or so years on Facebook, I have spent MORE than my fair share of the precious time the Lord has given me wasting it meddling in other people’s business.  What business was it of mine if someone I knew in high school had a child out of wedlock? What business was it of mine if someone I haven’t talked to in fifteen years got a divorce?  Yes, we can justify our actions (this is the lawyer making the arguments here) by saying these people “gave us permission” to view their profile and “friended” us, but would I want someone that I don’t have a relationship with stalking my page? I think not.

Cut to one of the most liberating moments of recent memory: un-friending half of my Facebook stable, and still counting.  In one day, I went from 1500 friends to 750 friends, and I’m still going.  Who has 1500 friends? Who has 750 friends for that matter?  It was honestly a frightening experience as I looked through photos of people that are not my friends, that I did not want to stay in touch with, and that I had somehow “friended” at some point in my life because I equated my value to the number of Facebook friends I possessed.  That’s a whole other topic in a of itself.

Dear reader, if you too are guilty of meddling in other people’s lives via this modern invention called Facebook, I highly encourage you to clean house.  It is liberating and freeing to let go of bondage you didn’t even know existed. That is certainly the worst kind. Yet don’t get me wrong on the positive uses of Facebook – it is an incredible tool that can be used to stay in touch with our ACTUAL friends.  The test is if you ACTUALLY have a relationship with the person you are friends with, or, are you their friend?  Quite simple, really.

I hope and pray this revelation will meet you where you are with the issue of meddling, and free up the precious time you have been given to connect with the friends and loved ones in your life God has given you.

 

Proclaiming Peace

During Christmas, we often contemplate the age old words of the prophet Isaiah that herald the birth of Jesus: “He shall be called . . . Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6)

The Prince of Peace was the One the Israelites had been waiting for four hundred years.  They had no peace in their hearts and their land, and desperately needed this Savior of whom the prophet spoke.  Ephesians 2:14 says “[God] himself is our peace.”  Peace is one of the nine great fruits of the Spirit spoken of in the famous verse Galatians 5:22.  It is safe to say peace is to be a hallmark of the Christian life.

The question is, this Christmas season and during this last year, has His peace been the hallmark of your life? Is His peace all-encompassing, all-enveloping, constant, radiating from your being, never-ending? Is His peace as familiar as your best friends? Do you feel wrapped up in it like a warm blanket by the fire on a freezing cold day?  Are you approaching all your decisions – your trials, your triumphs, the mundane moments – full of His peace?

We do not celebrate peaceful people often in our culture.  Yet we all know what it is like to be in the presence of someone who is full of His peace.  It is refreshment for the soul.  We also know what it like to be in the presence of someone who lacks all peace.  It is deadening to the soul.

I love the following devotion, sent from a colleague of mine at Pepperdine Law.  I have read it so often, prayed for this peace, and have finally had this peace rest in my heart this Christmas, in spite of the challenges the next year presents.  In spite of difficulties of each day.  In spite of the lines at the grocery story, or the endless traffic in LA:

“This is a season of peace – a time of renewal of spirit. Enter it with enthusiasm and claim it fully – for your sake and for the sake of others.  Fear and foreboding are sings against My mercy. Allow no place for them.”

May we embrace the Prince of Peace this season like blind beggar on the road to Jericho, who said, “Son of God, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38)  The beggar was instantly healed.  Our Prince can instantly unleash His peace in every facet of our lives.  Proclaim it this Christmas over your life, and the lives of your loves one. May this Christmas and 2016 be a Season of Peace.

Left Broken by Unbroken

For anyone who has seen me in the last several months, I have been unbroken in my praise of Laura Hillebrand’s book, “Unbroken.”  After I read the incredible story of Louie Zamperini’s survival in a open air raft and Japanese POW camp in WWII, I constantly thought of the book, incessantly talked about his story, and purchased copies for everyone I know.  I think Amazon started to wonder if I accidentally hit the “one click” button too many times this holiday season.

You can imagine my excitement for Angelina Jolie’s movie adaptation of the story, right in time for the Christmas break.  If I timed it right, I thought, I could even see the movie everyday during my time off from work.  I scoured the internet for articles about the movie, picked up every magazine I could get my hands on, and excitedly watched the trailer over and over again.  I became an “Unbroken” fanatic.

You can imagine my glee as the theater lights dimmed on December 26, and I awaited what I knew would be my favorite movie ever, with Sour Patch kids and popcorn in hand.

Over two hours later, I left the movie with a sinking feeling.  Instead of leaving thrilled and moved, I felt I had just survived a terrible nightmare that was quite depressing.

The themes of the story Angelina Jolie gleaned were survival and overcoming, which are important but not the whole picture.  There was also an allusion in the credits to Louie’s forgiveness of his Japanese captor (called “the Bird”), and moving images of him running the torch in the Tokyo Olympic games.  However, the movie fell short of the best part of Louie’s legacy and life: it failed to show the theme of salvation.  The movie left the viewer haunted by what had happened to Louie, instead of how the book left the reader: full of hope.

To me, the most moving part of Louie’s true story is God’s hand of salvation that poured His love, mercy, wisdom, and understanding on all that happened to him in Japan and his tough childhood after Louie returned from the war.  In the book, I wept as a read the great struggle Louie encountered with PTSD, horrific pain and nightmares, thoughts of murder, alcohol, porn, and an impending divorce with wife when he returned to Los Angeles after the devastation of the war.

I remembered my own grandfather (a Naval Beachmaster, who fought in WWII in both the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of Iwo Jima), who in his later years of life could not speak about the war without tears brimming from his eyes as he relived painful memories from the past.  I know that like my grandfather, so many men returned from the nightmare of that war and the peace God brought Louie evaded them for the rest of their lives.  

So there we all were in that theater on December 26, shocked after watching one man struggle through so much pain and we never saw the peace that passes all understanding flood his life.  How ironic that something so unbelievable and shocking would not be portrayed in a movie but happened in his real life.

Laura Hillebrand writes that Louie was “lost in alcohol and plans to murder the Bird” and “[his wife] has arranged for a divorce” right after the birth of their first child, when his wife came home and said she would not divorce him.  She had experienced a religious awakening.  She persuaded Louie to go hear a young pastor named Billy Graham.

Louie went to the meeting on the condition he would leave during the alter call.  As he stood to leave, Hillenbrand writes, “Louis was on the raft…He felt [his] words whisper from his swollen lips…’If you save me, I will serve you forever.’…it was the last flashback Louis would ever have.  Louie left go of his wife and turned toward Graham.  He felt supremely alive  He began walking….In the morning, he woke feeling cleansed.  For the first time in five years, the Bird hadn’t come into his dreams.  The Bird would never come again…Resting in the shade and stillness, Louis felt profound peace.  When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him.  He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him.  In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away.  That morning, he believe, he was a new creation. Softly, he wept.”

This was the ending the audience needed to see in the movie.  This was the peace so many soldiers striken with PTSD and people who have suffered great pain need to witness.  This is what was missing, and the movie ended with the survival of a man through the toughest circumstances imaginable, but no meaning.  The survival, but not the rest of the story.  The survival, but no peace.

I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Zamperini speak in 2011 at the Harvest Crusade at Dodger Stadium, and had no idea who he was at the time. But what I did know was the saving power of Jesus Christ of which he spoke. I may not have been through the pain Louis went through or seen the terrible things he saw, but I like all people have lived through my share of struggles. And I, too, have felt the profound peace Louie felt knowing that we are saved from our pain and brought into a future of joy and hope.

Cue the shameless plug for everyone reading this to buy the book, for in this case life is not only stranger than fiction — the true story is far better than Hollywood or Angelina Jolie dared to dream.

Building the Fahy Foundation

I’m such a lawyer. Read: perfectionist, overachiever, and master of accomplishment. So, of course, I endeavored to create a “Brian and Jessie’s Goals for our First Year of Marriage” list right after we were married last year.  (May it please the Court that I did wait until after the honeymoon was over to create the list. :))  It now sits plastered to our fridge with the standard “Don’t Mess With Texas” magnet – a staple of any Texan’s home.

Goal #1 on this list reads “To build a strong foundation for our marriage.”  Emphasis on the great work Brian and I would have to do over the last ten months, ourselves.  Needless to say, I haven’t seen any ground being leveled, concrete being poured, or stakes going in the ground in our little apartment.  I have walked by the fridge and examined Goal #1 (that I myself created) for many months, wondering “What does this mean? Are we building a strong foundation? I sure hope so!”

In my quiet time today, 1 Corinthians 3:11 read: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

And, there friends, is the answer.  Tears welled up in my eyes today as I read that truth, realizing my #1 Goal this year is the Goal that Jesus already accomplished for me.  He has been the foundation of our marriage. It is certainly the moments where His grace, kindness, compassion, truth and presence flowed into our lives together that grew and built the foundation of our marriage.

And so, it seems that this goal is accomplished albeit two months in advance.  Nice job, Jesus. 

For all my newlywed friends, and friends soon to be wed, and friends who are wed, and friends who will be wed someday, remember that you cannot lay a foundation other than the one that has already been laid for you in Jesus.  He is and will be your Cornerstone.

The Best $200 I Ever Spent

Last year, one of my juvie boys, in fact my favorite juvie boy, was put on my heart by the Lord. I called him but could not get through, so I did what all criminal defense attorneys do best: looked up his statistics on the LA County inmate locator.  Sure enough, Joshua’s (name changed for privacy) name popped up on the website and I scribbled down his booking number and jail information before hurrying there for a visit.

With my all access VIP prison/jail card (aka my California Bar card), I was able to see him only a few hours later.  Joshua stood accused of adult crimes that could lead to thirteen years in prison. At twenty years old, and considering the horrific conditions of prison, this seemed like an unbearable sentence.  I fought back tears as I visited him in jail.  I believe in his innocence in the impending trial.  Regardless of the outcome, I knew he was full of God’s hope and joy.

As much as I had hoped to substitute in as his attorney, I was too late in the trial process to “sub in.”  This meant I was going to sit with his family and observe the trial.  As I sat next to his mother, translating the goings-on of the trial for her, I felt completely helpless.  I wanted to get in the fight for Joshua.  I wanted to speak for him! I desired to tell the jury of his innocence, tear apart the witnesses against him, and paint the picture of the kind, Godly, young man who had changed his life for the Lord.  Yet, there I sat, day after day, helpless.

After a few days of trial and studying the jury, it dawned on me that Joshua was facing the jury, dressed in dark jeans, a dark shirt, dark sneakers, and a baggy hoody.  This wasn’t right. His look was inconsistent with who I knew him to be, and I knew the jury had to see what was on the outside more than the inside.  Where was his suit? Where was his tie? As I looked over to his mother who had just arrived from a domestic violence shelter, I knew Joshua’s needs could not be met by his biological family.

Cue the lunch break.  Cue me throwing Joshua and his family in my Honda Accord and racing downtown to Macy’s to whip through the men’s section.

After a Pretty Woman type of experience (most Macy’s store clerks didn’t seem like they wanted to help a young gang-banger looking kid from East LA), we had Joshua in what I like to call the “Brian” outfit.  (After my husband’s wardrobe choices.)  He looked like a new human being in Dockers, Ralph Lauren shoes, a blue blazer, belt, and dress shirt.

As we checked out and the cashier announced the total was $200 (for the outfit described above, plus another belt and several shirts – which I believed to be a great deal), Joshua and his family gasped in horror.  I quickly hurried them away from the cashier as I paid and we all rushed back to Court.  It did not occur to me that this family likely didn’t spend a combined $200 for all of their clothes per year.

When we arrived back in Court, the District Attorney did a double take as Joshua slid into his chair at counsel table.  I smiled broadly as I saw that the Joshua’s outside finally matched his inside.  I could only hope the jury would see that too.

When we received the verdict several weeks later, Joshua was convicted on one count that required him to serve three years in prison.  We were crushed.

When Joshua returned for his sentencing, the prosecution and the defense made their arguments.  The prosecution pushed for the maximum punishment.

The judge listened to the arguments and made his decision: Joshua would serve no time in prison, but would be released on formal probation.  The tears began to flow as I realized his freedom was being given to him.

“While there is no guarantee that Joshua will not reoffend, I can tell that Joshua has a support system and is very much a loved young man.  I can tell he will have people on the outside to care for him.  I hope he is successful in this sentence,” the judge stated.

Although the $200 suit did not directly merit the judge’s statement, I can only believe it had something to do with it.  Through this simple act,  I helped defend Joshua’s case without having to be his official attorney.

I know the Lord gives us all opportunities like this every day: to bless those with creativity with the talents, gifts, and resources we are given.

What’s the best $200 you’ve ever spent?

The Accidental Double Tithing Incident

Last Sunday evening, my husband and I were getting in bed and turned the lights out.  All of the sudden, Brian’s phone beeped loudly with an alert that lit up the entire bedroom.  “Oh, that’s the auto reminder on our church tithe,” I heard him say as he checked the phone and turned the alert off.

Panic ran through my body as I realized I had already sent the church our tithe for the month. “WHAT!?” I screamed, bewildered that I had forgotten about the automated payment plan we set up. “CAN WE EMAIL THE CHURCH AND GET THE MONEY BACK?”

Scenarios ran through my head as I thought of all the extra money this mistake would cost us this month.  How will we pay our bills? What about all the extra money I wanted to throw at our law school loans? What about groceries?!

“Babe, I think this is so cool.  It’s all God’s anyway, why don’t we give Him extra this month?” I heard Brian say as he drifted off to sleep.

I was far from sleep.  I stayed up for hours, tossing and turning, as I mentally panicked about our financial situation.

When I finally woke the next morning, I still had the sinking feeling in my stomach, but I also had the feeling of conviction that the Fahys had indeed done the right thing. It is the Lord’s money, it is a wonderful thing to be able to give more than expected, and God would indeed provide, I realized.

I love this verse in Isaiah 61:7 that reads, “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.”

Why not give the Lord double what is already His, as He has given us so much more than we could ever deserve?

So, friends, I challenge you this month to double tithe.  To give more than you can imagine.  For our great God will surely provide in the midst of that faith, with double portions and everlasting joy.

Fist Pumps For Jesus

Three beautiful children’s lives depend on this outcome, I thought over and over.  I arrived in court two hours early before their guardianship hearing to pray, as we hoped God’s justice would “roll like a river” that February morning.

Three weeks earlier, Anna was a desperate mother whose cry for help at many legal aid organizations went unanswered. When she came to CLA, she choked back tears as she explained her story.

Anna was living in a wonderful recovery home through a local Los Angeles-based church, working in the church café, learning positive life skills, attending church leadership conferences, and most importantly, staying sober from a meth addiction that landed her in jail twice.

Anna believed her children were with her soon-to-be ex-husband being cared for in a safe environment while she focused on her sobriety and newfound relationship with Christ.  She believed the daily phone calls from their father assuring her of their safety and good health were accurate until she was served with papers stating that the paternal grandmother (her former mother-in-law) was petitioning for legal guardianship of her children.

Anna had not known her six, seven and eight-year-old were living in a homeless shelter many miles away under the care of her mother-in-law.

Anna had already filed a response when she met with us: an impressively well-drafted document created by her program director.  What she needed was a voice in Court.  As I checked our calendar, I saw an opening on the day of her guardianship hearing, and the verse in Psalm 82 to “defend the fatherless” ran through my head.  I knew it was CLA’s voice that would answer the call.

When the three children showed up with their grandmother, they were dragging dirty blankets on the floor and already in tears.  “Do we have to see the judge, Miss?” they asked me.  “We are afraid!” Minutes later, their father showed up wearing dark sunglasses he refused to take off and heavy makeup to cover his scarred face. Meanwhile, their grandmother yelled angrily from across the corridor outside the courtroom.

During this time, God did what He does best: provided peace and comfort.  The knots in my stomach subsided as I realized that the depth of the situation forced the entire outcome into God’s hands.  A volunteer attorney who happened to be in the same building showed up thirty minutes before court and appeared with me.

After two hours of familial behavior that would rival the juiciest episode on Jerry Springer, we were before the judge.  He asked for my best defense of my client and all of the reasons why the children should go to her sober living home with her.  I outlined the treatment she was receiving, the church community that supported her, the transformation that had taken place in her life, and the other mothers who had successfully cared for children there.  I referred to the numerous declarations CLA had helped with the week before to support the case.

The paternal grandmother had little to say without an attorney, so the judge called the father and the children in the courtroom.  The father strolled in the courtroom, sunglasses still intact, with his forehead bleeding from a sore he had picked in his intervening moments in the hallway. (This behavior is typical of certain types of drug addicts.)

The children cried as the judge asked them with whom they wanted to live.  After several moments and a great deal of cowering, each little voice whispered, “My Mom.”

The judge rendered his decision: the children were going to the church home to live with Anna.

I will never forget looking down at the three children as they exited the courtroom and seeing Anna’s oldest son throw up his little hand in a fist pump, shouting, “Yay, I get to go be with Mom!”

I will also never forget the deep compassion I felt for the father and paternal grandmother as we left. As angry and hostile as they both were, all parties were present to try and do what was best for the children.  Many of the children we have seen at CLA and in my other juvenile work don’t have any parents willing to fight for them.

At CLA, our deepest desire is to help keep the family structure intact because we have witnessed poverty ravage its very existence. We look forward to watching Anna’s three children grow and blossom in their new environment.  We are blessed to have witnessed the miracle that God will perform when we answer the call to “speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.” (Proverbs 31:8)

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Above, Anna and her three beautiful children.

Dancing in Detention

Teenage boys smell.

Whether it is a group of young Californian gang bangers or Ugandan teens, the only thing that keeps me from crinkling my nose with disgust are the most beautiful smiles you can ever imagine and the light that comes into their eyes when you walk in the door of their prison.

They are not adults, they are not hardened by the system or by a long life of pain, but hopeful youngsters who truly approach life as the child the Lord calls us all to be.

If Jim Gash wasn’t crying enough for the rest of our group, yesterday afternoon’s events would have brought me to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably.  Thankfully, for the twenty-four children held in the juvenile detention camp (Remand Home ) outside of Fort Portal, I decided to put my emotion aside and instead run around with them laughing and screaming (this is apparently called “soccer” :)).

How beautiful life is when we take the most horrific circumstances and, as the Apostle Paul says, rejoice in all our trials (legal or otherwise).

I will never forget watching the twenty four juveniles (twenty two young men and two girls – one there as a safety measure after she was a victim of trafficking) jump to their feet to sing and dance for their American guests.  Unlike my juvie boys in America (who roll their eyes when we try to bust out an acoustic guitar and sing a worship song), the African children hit center stage without so much as a rehearsal.  Though their conditions are much worse, their joy is much greater.

The Ugandan Christian law student sitting next to me began translating each song.  “They are asking God for forgiveness, they are singing of His love, they are praying that the Lord bless all of you who have come to visit.”  It didn’t take us long to join in the singing, dancing and clapping – the joy was contagious.

Remand Home in Fort Portal

Remand Home in Fort Portal

Somewhere a few hours before in a juvie camp in Malibu, CA, my team reported to me that another group of juvenile delinquents were praying blessings for our team as we spent time the young men and women in Africa.

I have found that those who approach the Lord like a child understand how to ask their Father for what they need, how to ask for forgiveness and how to care for others in ways we adult forget as we age.

As I ran up and down the field, the sun’s rays shone brilliantly through beautiful clouds in the sky, and a light breeze blew through the Ugandan countryside.   I can’t help but think that someday, my young brothers and sisters in this very home will be playing soccer with me in the heavenly of all heavenlies.

As Dana Zacharia, one of our group members, sang on her guitar two nights ago, “I can’t wait to sing my heavenly song,”  the final song yesterday also spoke about the day we all go to heaven to meet our Lord.

Singing at the Remand Home yesterday could very well have been the first chorus of that everlasting anthem.  Glad we’re getting some practice in on this side of Heaven.