I love the Catholic church. I know those of you who currently go to church with me at our awesome, wonderful Baptist church might find this statement a bit of a shock but it's true. I love the formality of the church. The smell of incense, the grandeur of the cathedrals, the Holy Water, all of that stuff. You walk into a Catholic cathedral and it demands that you stand in awe of a God so much greater and more powerful than you can even begin to understand.
My husband was raised in the Catholic church. I was in the process of converting when Eddie was born. So it was a Catholic priest who had been called on the night that everyone thought Eddie was going to die. After some quiet time in the waiting room, Phillip and I went to the chaplain's office and told him we were going to need him to come to the NICU. We explained the emergency baptism that the nurse had performed for us. We needed him to bless that and we also asked for the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. I always thought of this as Last Rites, but learned later that Last Rites are actually a combination of sacraments intended specifically for someone near death. Anointing of the Sick can be done anytime someone is extremely ill. It used to be called Extreme Unction. That is something else about Catholicism that I have always found interesting. Everything has a name that is so striking and extreme it is even a little frightening. Protestants have Sunday School; Catholics have Catechism. But I digress...
We gathered as a family around Eddie's little crib. He was so pale and frail, so unbelievably tiny. The priest, a West African man from St. Mary's Cathedral, prayed over him, anointing him with oil and praying for miraculous healing. I don't remember all the details, but I know at the end when he made the sign of the cross over Ed's little body that he used Latin for the Trinitarian blessing "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spritus Sancti." It gave me chills and I think everyone else in the room as well. It was fitting for the occasion. Somehow hearing the words in Latin brought home the extremity of the situation. This was life and death; this was about GOD, huge, omnipotent, everlasting GOD.
We held hands. My husband, his sister, my two sisters, my mother, our nurses, and me. Other nurses and parents from elsewhere in the NICU had gathered behind us. We closed our eyes and prayed the Lord's prayer together. I lifted my eyes to heaven and experienced God. I could feel Him, inside of my soul and surrounding me with light. For a moment, I left my self behind. I could see the room as if I was stuck to the ceiling, high above myself and could see, clearly, that we were not alone. Not only had people joined us from other areas of our ward, but the room was filled to the brim with a heavenly host. We were surrounded by angels and though I could not tell you what they looked like, I sensed them, not just one or two, but a multitude. When we had finished praying, I felt an indescribable peace, a further certainty that God was really, truly, physically present with us in this.
I know I may have lost some of you, but this is my experience. God is still the God of the Old Testament. His nature has never changed. He is just as capable of appearing to His people in a burning bush or a pillar of fire as He ever was. He still sends His angels to watch over us. He is the great I AM and there is no one like Him on this earth. He loves His people and He answers their prayers: Protestant and Catholic alike. I knew that night that Eddie was not going to die, not right then and there. And he didn't.
Four days later we talked with the surgeon again. Eddie's last little bit of intestine was still not doing too well. His infection was still raging. He was weak. We made the decision to put his intestines back into his body (they had been in a bag the whole week) to give him a better shot at fighting off the super-bug, but that was really all we were going to be able to do. We asked how long he probably had. He said if things continued this way, a week at the most. We nodded and accepted it. A week to be with our baby sounded like a long time to us when it had been hour to hour for so long. We stayed with Eddie for a little while, then I left him with his Daddy and stepped out to the little chapel down the hall.
There I got on my knees. I prayed. I told God that I knew he loved Eddie even more than I did, as hard as it was to conceive of a love greater. That Eddie was His baby. So I accepted that whatever His will was for Eddie's life, that it was the best. But if He would hear a mother's heart, I just wanted time. Just a little more time.
He gave me twenty-two more months. At a time when we were at the end of medical options and the best guess was two weeks, Eddie lived nearly two years. That is my God. That is God in the extreme. All-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving GOD and I stand in awe of Him.