A Long Story About a Middle Name
Two weeks ago, I woke up angry with God.
I wasn’t proud of it. I didn’t want to be angry. But I was.
I propped myself up on an elbow and looked around the room, trying to clear the fog in my mind and reorient myself.
I was lying on a couch. My wife was, too. A couple feet away from us was an empty hospital bed—my wife’s bed, technically, but after yesterday, we weren’t ready to sleep apart from each other.
Then I looked for the thing I knew wasn’t there:
My son’s bassinet.
They had wheeled it out late last night. His blood sugar was too low, they told us after multiple tests. His little four pound, thirteen ounce body wasn’t regulating it the way it should. He’d have to stay in the NICU.
* * *
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The place some babies go when they’re barely hanging on. The place our son needed to be.
It was hard to tell then, in that late-night, sleep-deprived moment, how serious things were. How concerned we should be. We only knew our son was being carted off to a scary place where scary things happened. He’d be hooked up to IVs and monitors—away from us.
That news came at the end of an extremely long day. Little Peter had kicked things off around 2 a.m. on Thursday morning—a good two weeks before his due date. We scrambled around in a panicked fog, throwing pre-packed bags into the car, hoping we had everything we needed. My parents came to watch our daughter, and we drove off into the middle of the night.
The labor didn’t go smoothly. Mary’s blood pressure was often distressingly high. With every contraction, Peter’s heart rate plummeted. I tried to put on a brave face. We were terrified.
After hours of that, things stalled out. The nurses kept turning the Pitocin drip on and off based on how Peter was responding. Mary’s contractions were coming farther apart—then closer again, then farther apart. And every time one came, we’d listen on the monitor as our son’s heartbeat slowed to a terrifying crawl. The whole process was agony—physically for Mary, mentally for both of us.
Toward the end, Mary’s epidural wore off. The slow, uncertain pace that had plagued us for hours accelerated rapidly. The doctor almost didn’t make it in time. Seventeen long hours after our 2 a.m. wakeup call, Peter Lallier made his entrance into the world.
He was perfect—but so fragile. He was born a pound lighter than his big sister. It was hard to believe he’d had enough time to grow.
I guess he hadn’t. We spent months waiting to meet our little boy—and eight short hours after he arrived, a nurse came to wheel him away and told us we should get some rest.
We didn’t even have a middle name for him yet.
* * *
So, like I said, I woke up angry on Friday.
It was a hard emotion to wrestle with. I knew in my head that it didn’t make sense to be angry. We were all here. Our boy was a few short hallways away, and we could visit him as often as we wanted. He was surrounded by skilled professionals who had the resources to get him the help he needed.
In my heart, it was hard to let go of the feeling that God was ignoring our prayers. As difficult as things had been the day before, it felt like He was intentionally holding back.
But that wasn’t true.
On Thursday, we were listening to Peter’s heartbeat temporarily drop with every one of Mary’s contractions. He was in distress. We were scared. Mary asked me to pray. We held hands and I said a quick prayer, asking God to watch over Mary and Peter and keep them both safe.
As we started praying, another contraction came. Peter’s heart rate dropped lower and lower, growing fainter until the monitor couldn’t pick up anything at all.
It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.
And then, as I asked God to be with us—in that exact same breath—Peter’s heartbeat came back on the monitor, first quiet, then loud and clear. It was enough—a reminder that God was there, listening to us and helping us, even though it didn’t look like it.
But I lost sight of that reminder. As the day stretched on, every hour seemed to demand more and more of us, and our situation started to feel bleaker and bleaker.
Where was God? What was He doing?
Why wasn’t He doing more?
* * *
We had prayed a lot on Thursday. We prayed on the way to the hospital. We prayed during Mary’s labor. We prayed in the postnatal ward. We asked God to step in, to intervene, to keep Mary and Peter safe, and at every step, things felt more overwhelming and hopeless than they needed to be.
We knew there was a reason—but we didn’t know what the reason was. We didn’t know why God was allowing these things to happen. We didn’t know why Peter was coming before he seemed ready; we didn’t know why Mary’s epidural mysteriously wore off when she needed it most; we didn’t know why God didn’t spare our son a three-and-a-half day stay in the NICU.
We knew He could have. And I guess that was the tough part. He could have, but He didn’t. He had the power to spare us so many of those agonizing hours—hours that eventually stretched into days—but for whatever reason, He chose not to.
As we got ready early Friday morning to go visit Peter in the NICU, I had a chance to talk with Mary about how I was feeling (and how much I didn’t want to feel that way). The sleep deprivation wasn’t helping—we’d been up almost 24 hours when they took Peter away—but mostly I was having trouble with all the unanswered questions.
Mary reminded me of what I’d lost sight of—our answered prayer from the morning before. The heartbeat that came back. The reminder that God was involved in everything that was happening.
The fear and anxiety were still there, but I started to let go of the anger. I asked God to forgive me for my misplaced feelings and for help remembering that this was all in His hands.
* * *
Walking into the NICU was eye-opening. Seeing our newborn wired up to leads and monitors and stuck with an IV in his impossibly tiny hand broke our hearts, but seeing the other babies there left us humbled. Some were encased in incubators, others were bathed in the blue glow of phototherapy lights, others couldn’t have weight more than a couple pounds. Peter’s temporary roommate had been on a feeding tube for a week already, and that wasn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Peter had low blood sugar—a problem that was slowly resolving itself. Some of the babies here were fighting for their lives. As stressed and worried as we were about our boy, it was clear that he was in the NICU for a relatively minor problem.
God was with him. God had been with him—with all three of us—from the very beginning, keeping us safe.
Yes, what we were going through was hard.
It was hard to worry about our son’s heartbeat with every contraction.
It was hard to wait patiently for his numbers to stabilize.
It was hard to see an IV in his little hand.
It was hard to spend three minutes scrubbing our hands every time we stepped into the NICU.
It was hard to spend the rest of our time in another room, trying to sleep instead of worry.
It was hard to spend so much time away from our daughter, who didn’t fully understand where we were and why we had disappeared from home in the middle of the night.
But things could have gone drastically differently in the hospital.
No. That’s too vague.
God could have allowed things to go drastically differently in the hospital. It’s still hard to think about some of the things He could have allowed—some of the things He has allowed for others in the past. Knowing that God loved us and wanted the best for us was no guarantee that all three of us would be leaving that hospital. We knew God would do what was best for our son. We just didn’t know if that meant this life or the next.
Which brings me to Peter’s middle name.
* * *
Salvation is one of those big, impressive-sounding religious words, but really, it just means delivered or protected from danger or destruction.
Spiritually, when we talk about salvation, we’re talking about the process through which God saves us from eternal destruction—the process that begins with the sacrifice that pays the penalty for our sins and ends with our resurrection as immortal children of God.
That’s salvation with a big “S.” Without that salvation, life is robbed of meaning and purpose. That’s the salvation that gives us perspective, knowing that no matter what happens in this life, something better is waiting.
But there are other kinds of salvation, too. There is salvation when God delivers us from a problem we don’t have the means to solve. There is salvation when He keeps us safe from dangers we can’t fight. There is salvation when He shields us from the things that threaten to crush and overwhelm us in this life.
And there is salvation when God protects a little four pound, thirteen ounce baby from all the what-ifs waiting right around the corner. There is salvation when He brings back a heartbeat loud and clear while the courage of two scared parents begins to falter.
* * *
Not everyone gets that kind of salvation in this life. I’m painfully aware of other stories with far more tragic moments.
We picked Peter’s middle name before he was out of the woods—because it wasn’t about him getting out of the woods. We still weren’t sure what kind of road was ahead of us when we chose it, but we knew what the name needed to be:
“God is salvation.”
I’m holding Peter Elisha Lallier in my arms as I write these words. He’s still so tiny. And I know he’s not going to remember anything about these past two weeks—but I will. His birth, and the days that followed, will be something Mary and I remember forever.
We still don’t know why things went the way they did. We might not ever get to know in this life.
But knowing the reason isn’t the important thing. Trusting the God who holds our lives in His hands—knowing that He has a reason, and trusting that it’s a good reason—that’s the important thing.
I’m eternally grateful that God delivered my boy from the dangers he faced, but I hope “Elisha” serves as more than just a memento of a few harrowing days he’ll never be able to remember.
I hope instead it’s a reminder that, no matter how things go in this life—no matter if they go the way we want them to or not—at the end of it all, when the last chapter of this temporary age has been written and the troubles of this life fade into the farthest reaches of eternity—God is our salvation.
Until next time,
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