by Holly Miller
The morning of April 13th started off lovely. A friend of mine was staying with my husband, Michael, and me. That morning she got up early to go take a professional engineering exam. I got out of bed a bit earlier than normal to make sure she found everything she needed for breakfast and give her a quick hug and pep talk before she headed out the door. Then I made two cups of tea and brought them upstairs. Michael and I sat in bed chatting and cuddling while sipping tea. It was such a peaceful way to start the day. I was eight months pregnant, so we knew that moments like this would soon become rare. We talked about an upcoming trip to Europe, retirement goals, our home renovation, and what it would be like to become parents in four short weeks. Our lives seemed to be going smoothly, and we felt fairly self-sufficient.
I left for work at the local high school and was mid-way through my morning when my watch buzzed with a call from Michael. Strange, I thought, my phone never gets reception in this school and Michael knows that, so he never calls me when I’m here. I was with a student, so I silenced the call and continued working. Seconds later my watch buzzed a second time with a call from Michael. “I’d better take this”, I told my student. On the other end of the phone, Michael told me that I needed to come home, he had just called 911. By God’s mercy, the call had gone through, and the school was 4 minutes from our home. I got to our house shortly after the paramedics.
The next several hours would be a blur. At first, we thought maybe it was just muscular pain. Michael would ask me to massage his low back while he lay on the bed in the emergency room. It didn’t seem to be helping his pain, and Michael, who never complains about pain, was now writhing on the bed despite taking some intense pain killers. A CT scan revealed that the inner lining of his aorta, the major blood vessel bringing blood from the heart to the rest of the body, had torn lengthwise creating two channels of blood instead of one. By God’s grace, the wall had torn but it did not rupture. If it had ruptured, Michael, who was home alone, would not have been alert enough to call 911 and get medical help.
We wept together and called our families to let them know what had happened. Immediately his brother Jeff and my cousin Jenna came to be with us in the hospital. I didn’t know how much I needed them there until they arrived. Michael was admitted to the ICU where he would remain for 12 days. The ICU only allows two visitors at a time, but somehow my cousin sweet-talked them into letting us have three in case I went into labor and needed support myself. Our parents flew in to be with us and joined with Jeff, Jenna, and my friend who has become a sister, Elisa (fellow Hallows member), spending countless hours a day waiting in the hospital lobby and taking turns joining us in his hospital room to make sure we weren’t going through this alone. Seeing that I was emotionally exhausted, Elisa held me while I took a nap. When I was so nauseous with fear that I struggled to eat, Jenna brought me a variety of snacks she thought I could stomach. Michael made sure that the nurses took care of me in addition to him, and both of our moms made sure I was getting rest.
When doctors walked into the room and saw how pregnant I was, the color would drain from their faces and the mood became somber. The anxiety of the medical team while delivering news was palpable. I internalized the fear. It became clear that there was a real potential that Michael wouldn’t make it out of the ICU. We said our goodbyes, and I requested that we finalize our son’s name together. I needed to know that Michael at least knew his son’s name. We decided on Samuel Keith Miller. Keith is Michael’s middle name, and Samuel means “God hears.” My prayer at that point was that Michael would at least be able to meet his son.
We had planned to keep our son’s name a secret until after he was born, but it was important to us to share his name together. Through tears we shared Samuel’s name with our parents today since tomorrow held no promises. Despite the anxiety about life and health, we both had a sense of peace in knowing that God was actively hearing our prayers and was with us. Our prayer for our son is that he would also grow to know that God hears him.
It was around this time when our church family utterly surrounded us with love. Our church and friends and family took over our home renovations and set up our baby’s room for us. They literally did the heavy lifting that neither of us could do. Meals were delivered to the hospital, often with notes of encouragement. One of these notes, from Charissa Bangs, said that she was praying “big audacious prayers”. At the time, I was so anxious that I couldn’t lift my head to pray for much more than for God to allow Michael to meet his son and to take care of all three of us, regardless of the outcome.
My only semblance of peace was knowing that ultimately Michael would be okay, because if he left us, he would join his Savior. I also knew deep down that God could and would take care of me if I had to raise Sam by myself. I knew that somehow God could protect Sam from enduring emotional trauma from entering the world in such a tumultuous time for our family, and I begged God to protect him. Despite my meager amount of peace, Charissa’s boldness in prayer stuck with me. As I mulled those words “big audacious prayers” over and over in my head throughout sleepless nights and more somber discussions with the doctors, I too dared to pray some audacious prayers.
Anxiety and Faith in Real Life
In Philippians chapter 4, Paul writes to the church of Philipi and tells them not to be anxious about anything. He says that God will send a peace that transcends understanding if we just bring our situation to God in faithful prayer (Phil. 4:6-7). What happens when life throws you a giant curveball? What happens when you’re eight months pregnant and your husband’s life is in jeopardy? Where is transcendent peace when three weeks before your son is born, you agree on his name while sitting on your husband’s hospital bed in the ICU and feel a twinge of relief in knowing that even if your husband never gets to meet your son, at least he knows his name? I don’t know about you, but when I found myself in this situation, I couldn’t fully put into practice Paul’s instructions not to be anxious.
As I’ve looked closer at Paul’s letters recently, I realized that I have mistakenly elevated the apostle Paul to a super human status. In my mind he has been someone whose faith is so strong that he stayed perfectly peaceful and focused on his mission despite chaotic and physically uncomfortable situations like beatings, a ship wreck, and imprisonment. I can’t relate to that! Our son Samuel is now three months old and I am on anxiety medication and meet with a counselor weekly to manage the anxiety that brewed during our recent experience.
In Philippians 2:28, Paul remarks that he is eager to send his friend and coworker Epaphroditus to visit the church of Philipi in part so that “I may be less anxious.” So, Paul does get anxious? This verse is implying that when his friend Epaphroditus became so sick that he almost died, Paul experienced anxiety. In 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, Paul describes being so anxious that he couldn’t preach in Troas. Perhaps I’ve over simplified Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4? It seems that the interplay of anxiety and faith and prayer is dynamic. God wants to walk with us through our anxious moments.
While Michael was in the hospital and when Sam was first born, we watched church online. Once Sam was born, we needed, and thankfully had, a third adult helping us almost around the clock for the first several weeks. While juggling a newborn and both of our own recoveries it was hard to find time to process all that had happened. In a rare moment when it was just the three of us, watching church from our couch, Michael and I held each other and wept while Jake led us through the song “Firm Foundation” by Maverick City Music. To me, this song puts words to the dynamic interplay of anxiety, faith, and prayer.
“I’ve still got joy in chaos
I’ve got peace that makes no sense
I won’t be going under
I’m not held by my own strength
‘Cause I’ve built my life on Jesus
He’s never let me down
He’s faithful through every season
So why would He fail now? – He won’t.”
Like Charissa’s words, these lyrics often run through my mind as I go about my day. I find comfort in the words reminding me that God has always been and will always be faithful through my anxious moments.
He can and will allow joy to penetrate through chaos and make room for “peace that makes no sense” in the midst of the storms that blow through our lives. But there is a catch… that peace comes when we put our faith in Christ and set the foundation of our lives on him.
Initially the magnitude of my stress came from me putting Michael into that role in my life. He is the steady to my spontaneous, and I had made him my rock, especially emotionally. Throughout our relationship, Michael has often told me that he can’t promise to always be there, but he can promise to love me with his whole heart every day that he is alive. Daily I have to face the temptation to try to make Michael my firm foundation and instead consciously redirect that role to Christ. Michael might seem like a firm foundation at times, but no human is capable of the stability that Christ brings. If we only read the first part of Paul’s instruction in Philip 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything,” we face the impossible. Anxiety is real. Our job is not to squelch it but to bring it to God in prayer and allow Him to be the steady through our storm.
Holly is a Hallows member, new mother, avid runner, Physical Therapist, wife of Michael Miller, and most importantly, a beloved child of God–her firm foundation.