Over the past six or so months, many of you have followed along and even walked with us on a very painful and very personal journey. In the beginning of June, Trey and I chose to publicly share the news that our unborn daughter had screened positive for Down Syndrome earlier in my pregnancy. What began last March as an exciting and "normal" pregnancy rapidly turned into a high risk and unpredictable pregnancy as complications arose. I was eventually hospitalized for nine weeks in order to allow our daughter Alisa the greatest chance for growth, health, and a full-term stay in my womb.
The morning before my induction at 38 weeks, I sat for the last time alone in my hospital room on the antepartum floor. Later that day, our family would fly in to join us as we prepared to welcome Alisa into our arms. Trey would come that afternoon to stay with me for the rest of our time at the hospital. As I searched my heart and feelings, I found myself facing a question that had surfaced many times throughout my pregnancy:
What if God says no?
For anyone who has read or heard of our story, you know of our bold prayers to the Lord asking for healing and health over Alisa. We had an idea from sonograms of potential health problems she might have once born, including a hole in her heart and possible digestive issues. Since she hadn't received a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, but only screened positive, we also begged God that she might be born not just healthy, but without Down Syndrome at all. We loved Alisa no matter what, but as her parents, we longed for her to born with little or no health challenges as her young life began.
And so, that morning I wrestled with the question that tumbled endlessly in my spirit as I considered our many prayers over Alisa's life: What if God says no?
I found myself in Daniel 3, reading a story most could recite from memory. Three young men, followers of the One True God, found themselves as captives in a pagan culture. Their captors, the Babylonians, were ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar, a man so terrifying and powerful that he was worshiped as god by his people. This king, arrogant as he was, created a golden image of himself and set it before his people. No doubt this statue was beautiful, large, and intimidating. No doubt it loomed over the people of the land, domineering and horrifying. The king then issued a decree that whenever the music played, every person was to bow down in worship to this image, his image. To refuse to worship meant immediate death by being burned alive in a fiery furnace.
Most of us remember what happened next. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship anyone but the Lord their God, so they did not bow down to the king's image. When this news reached the the king, it took him to a place of "furious rage." He called for the three men to be brought before him, and he questioned them on their defiance. “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?" he challenged (Dan. 3:14). He decided to give them one more chance to bow to his image, instructing the music to be played as he watched to see what the men would choose. But before he did so, King Nebuchadnezzar gave this warning and challenge: "But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15).
Who is the god? Who could possibly deliver them from the retribution of the most powerful king of their time? Here they stood, three mere men in a life-and-death situation, and this king not only threatened their lives but challenged their faith, their God. I wonder what they felt at that moment. I wonder if their hearts wrestled with the fear that would naturally threaten a person in this situation. I wonder if they recited scripture silently in their hearts, taking captive those thoughts that are not of the Lord and reminding themselves of God's faithfulness. Did they consider bowing down to this altar to save their own lives?
I remember the day my doctor called to tell me Alisa would most likely have Down Syndrome. I felt so alone, so broken and scared, and I considered a similar challenge that arose in my heart: who is the God will deliver us from this? How could this have happened to us? Where is God right now?
As I read on that morning, the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego struck a cord in my heart. Whatever internal wrestling they might have faced, these three men spoke aloud the firm decision of faith determined in their hearts: "King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand" (Dan. 3:17).
The God we serve is able. He is able. To his challenge that no god could deliver them from his power, these men responded to Nebuchadnezzar with simple and resolute belief that they served the One God who was more powerful than even the most powerful king on earth. He is the One who was able to deliver them. Even as they spoke those words, I have no doubt that these men whispered desperate prayers to their God. Deliver us! Help us, O God! We need You! They found themselves in a place that was more than they could bear, and they turned in complete faith toward their God.
They did not stop there in their response to Nebuchadnezzar, though, for they knew that even though their God was able to deliver them and save their lives, He might also not deliver them. "The God we serve is able to deliver us" they said. Their belief in the power of God was resolute, yet they continued, "But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
But even if He does not...
If God says no...
You see, the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was not dependent upon God doing what they asked. Their faith was not measured in size by their ability to believe God into acting as they wished. No, their faith was simply in God. He could do this thing we ask, and He could not do this thing we ask, but either way, we know that He is Sovereign, He is able, and He is the God we will serve.
The end of their story is one of power and redemption as God not only saved their lives but brought glory and honor to His Name in that pagan land (Dan. 3:19-30). For these men, God did not say no to their physical deliverance. He saved their lives that day in a most miraculous and wonderful way.
Two mornings after I read their story in Daniel 3, Alisa was born into this world. Alisa Jane, my joy, my gift from God, was pulled from womb at 3:47am on October 29. After the NICU team looked over her, the nurse brought her to my side. I saw her beautiful face, and I immediately knew: Alisa was born with Down Syndrome. God had said no.
Why do I write this post today? How could I share the "end" to our pregnancy story when some might say that my prayers were not heard or that my faith did not "work"? How could I write about this "no" to our desperate prayers, when some would challenge that my God had let me down?
Because He didn't. As I held Alisa that morning and studied every beautiful feature of her face, her body, I knew that God had indeed answered our prayers. While we had prayed in belief that God was able to take away any syndrome, and defects, any health problems, we also prayed that God would bring glory to His Name. We dared pray the scariest prayer, that His will would be done, and it has been. While He may not have answered every prayer in the way we asked, our faith is not dependent upon how God works or responds to our requests. Our faith is in Who God is.
I write this post today because I pray we all might examine our faith. The world tells us that our God is only relevant to us in what He can do for us, but this is not true. The world tells us that God will not give us more than we can bear, but that could not be further from reality. The world tells us that a loving God would never allow us to face terrible griefs and heartaches in life, but again, this is a lie of toxic faith. The truth is that our God is able, and He will sustain us in life no matter what we face. The truth is that while we live in this broken and fallen world, we will face troubles, but Christ promised us that He is our Overcomer (ie John 16:33). The truth is that God will hold us up in life no matter what we face, if only we would fall on Him.
For those who might wonder, we are absolutely in love with our precious Alisa. Life right now is...normal for our given stage. We have a healthy newborn who eats, sleeps, and fills her diapers throughout the day and night. We prayed for joy during pregnancy and in Alisa's life, and the Lord has provided us joy abundantly. While there will be specific challenges and obstacles we will face related to her Down Syndrome, those are yet to be determined. There will also be challenges and obstacles we will face unrelated to her Down Syndrome. But isn't that true of every child we parent?
Life has a way of throwing us curve balls, but as genuine followers of Christ, we are not shaken. He hears our prayers, and we can trust that He watches over us as our loving Father. I have learned, though, that genuine faith means leaving room for God to work in ways we do not want or expect. Genuine faith allows the Lord to act otherwise, even when our prayers are desperate, even when our faith is pure, so that when God says no, our faith remains in Him, for He is Sovereign, He is able, and He is the God we will serve.