The Mustard Seed

"Do you have faith that this test could be wrong? Mustard seed faith. That's all it takes."

When Trey and I first received news that our unborn daughter had screened positive for Down Syndrome last May, my obstetrician referred us to a high risk doctor for a level 2 ultrasound. The appointment was scheduled for two weeks later, and during that wait, we experienced quite a range of emotions. We were steadfastly committed to this life the Lord had given us, but we also grieved the loss of that "normal life" and many dreams we had for our child. We learned what we could about Down Syndrome, and we saw many misconceptions fall away to the reality that it wasn't the end of the world as we knew it. We also researched about the NIPS screening test that had told us our daughter screened positive for Down Syndrome. We found hope that, while the diagnostic rate is high, it is not a 100% positive test that she will in fact have this disorder. There are cases of false positives.  

With all of this new information digesting in our minds, the time finally came for our first appointment with the high risk doctor. I was 15 weeks gestation at that point, far enough along to receive an amniocentesis if we chose, which would provide us with a definitive answer on Alisa's genetic makeup. Honestly, we had no idea what to do when we went to the appointment. We wanted to see what the doctor found during the sonogram before we made a decision, so we fluctuated back and forth on the amnio. Having this diagnostic test performed would in no way change our minds on whether or not we kept the pregnancy. At the same time, knowing a definitive answer was tempting, as it would take away any unknowns. Yet even after meeting with a genetic counselor and talking with the nurse, we were unsure of our next step. We felt so lost.

Finally, Dr. M came into the sonogram room. We weren't sure of what to expect, but based on the experiences of others who have seen different high risk doctors for similar reasons, we knew we might encounter a doctor who encouraged termination of our pregnancy. Instead, I was surprised by how warm and kind he was. He made known rather quickly through conversation that he, too, was a follower of Christ. As the ultrasound began, Dr. M carefully explained his findings, pointing out markers that might indicate Down Syndrome and areas that looked quite healthy.

About halfway through the ultrasound, Dr. M put down the wand and said, "Now I understand that you aren't sure whether or not you want to proceed with an amniocentesis." Trey and I stuttered through our reasons for and against an amnio. We were so overwhelmed and lost in the whole process, and we weren't sure what the best "next step" would be.

Dr. M thought for a minute, then he looked us in the eyes and asked, "Do you have faith that this test could be wrong?" We slowly nodded our heads in agreement. We knew there was a small possibility our NIPS screening test might be wrong. He continued as we affirmatively shook our heads, "Mustard seed faith. That's all it takes."

We both vocalized our belief that our God is bigger than medicine, that we don't know for sure what He will do in all of this. Then Dr. M responded calmly, "I think you have your answer."

And sure enough, we did. It wasn't that choosing an amniocentesis would have been wrong or sinful. It wouldn't have meant we didn't have faith in God. However, for us, even the slightest risk to our daughter's life through this test wasn't worth it. We found that the decision to wait, to see what the Lord might do, was the right decision. And so we've waited...

Here we are now, just three or so weeks away from finally meeting our Alisa Jane (if we can keep her in that long!). She has had some markers for Down Syndrome along the way, but she is also beating the odds in other ways. Based on what they've seen, all of our doctors agree that she most likely does have Down Syndrome. Trey and I are prepared for and expecting this to be the case. We still hold the same joy and anticipation for this daughter as we did our first. Her life is valuable, and we cherish her.

But...what if she doesn't have Down Syndrome? Do I have enough faith to believe that might be the case?

In Luke 17:5, Jesus' disciples make a simple request of their Lord: “Increase our faith!” They wanted to do more, to see more, to be more for Christ. They wanted to flee from sin, to forgive others, and to perform miracles that might lead others to follow Christ. But their faith was lacking. and they knew that. I can understand that struggle. In fact, I can understand it in a very real way right now.

I, too, want to do more, to see more, to be more for Christ. I want to believe that my daughter might be born perfectly healthy, with or without Down Syndrome. Even more, I want to believe that God can wipe her blood clean, changing her DNA structure so that she might not be born with Down Syndrome at all. I cannot help these desperate prayers. I am a mother.

Jesus responded to His disciples: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you." Faith like a grain of mustard seed? That tiny little seed? The disciples had asked for greater faith, for larger faith, and Jesus spoke of smaller faith, of tiny faith. Did Jesus misunderstand? They had asked that He increase their faith, but instead He directed them to a smaller faith. Did He hear their question at all?

Yes, He heard. He knew what they meant. But Christ was not concerned with the size of their faith, of how much faith they might conjure up to perform a particular act or believe into existence a certain event. On the contrary, Jesus was concerned with the source of their faith, so this was how He answered. To move a mountain, to uproot a tree, to heal the sick, to forgive an offender...none of this power rests on the amount of faith a person might have. To do great things for Christ is not ever dependent upon any of us having enough faith. He desires not great faith, but genuine faith in Him. 

As John Piper explains, "the issue in your Christian life and ministry is not the strength or quantity of your faith, because that is not what uproots trees. God does. Therefore, the smallest faith that truly connects you with Christ will engage enough of His power for all you need." In other words, Christian brothers and sisters, we do not need to worry about increasing our faith or having more faith than the next guy. We just need to concern ourselves with having genuine faith in the One True God. For even faith in God so small as the grain of a mustard seed allows us to connect with Him and with His wonder-working power.

What does this mean for Trey and I as we wait for Alisa? It means exactly what Christ has told us it means, that as we have faith in Him and seek the Lord's will, "nothing will be impossible" for us (Matt. 17:20). Possibly, it could mean that God changes the DNA of my unborn daughter, and she is born without any medical issues, to the great surprise of the medical community. Undoubtedly, though, it means that whatever condition Alisa is born in, we will have the power of God to sustain us and propel us through that season of life. My faith is not in my ability to believe something into existence. My faith is in the One True God, who knows my future and works everything to His glory and to the good of those who follow Him.

Do we ask God for the miraculous for our daughter? Yes. Do we believe He is capable of performing the miraculous? Without a doubt. But do we also believe that He is infinitely more wise and generous and good than us, and that His will is greater than our desires? This is where mustard seed faith becomes genuine faith.

Yes, we believe in God, and we trust Him.

The countdown is on for the Holmes. What will God do in the final days of my pregnancy and in the beginning days of Alisa's life outside the womb? What will He show us all, and how will He reveal Himself to us through her precious life? And for you, what are you walking now that challenges your faith, that stretches you to see who you will trust in this life?

Christ has made His call clear to all of us. Believe in Him. Trust Him. Watch Him work.