Updated: May 5, 2019
Guilt. Fear. Shame.
These were the themes running through my head as I followed the ambulance my toddler was in.
Minutes before, our family was enjoying some time at a hotel pool in our former hometown. Our family of six included four kiddos under age nine and swimming was always a traveling treat made extra special when we had the whole pool to ourselves like this.
I was finishing up a conversation with my husband, Aaron, when our tired, two-year-old walked up fussing about his water floaties. I too was exhausted from traveling and chose not to invest my mom energy in this “teachable moment” tantrum. As the ambulance pulled into the hospital parking lot, I wished I had.
Instead, I unhooked the floatie’s back latch while mid-sentence with Aaron. We told Bo Christian to sit in the chair furthest from the pool and at our round table where he faced Aaron and I just 30-ish inches away. I thought I was doing a good job watching him. I’m an engaged mom and function “all-in”. But, we got momentarily lost deep in our discussion and mixed with the fatigue, we didn’t even notice our little guy get up. When I shouted, “Where is Bo?!” we all scanned the area until my seven-year-old pointed and calmly said, “There.”
Like a marathon sprinter, Aaron jumped into the deep end of the pool to collect what looked to be the lifeless body of our son floating at least two feet under the surface. Time seemed to pause into slow motion. My brain started to click with every, practical, next step and I yelled for Aaron to call 911. His wet hands struggled to navigate the glass screen as both of us instinctively knew every second counted. With Aaron still fumbling with his phone, I yelled for our oldest to alert the front desk to call 911 while I did all I knew to do.
Nothing in the background was noticeable - only what was in front of me. I surveyed this little figure; bloated, distended chest, unconscious, and blue. Bo’s eyes were closed and his body made absolutely no indication that life was left in it.
It seemed like it was just me, my son, and the peace of God in a solitary moment that instantaneously seemed to also last ten. What I did next, I pray no mother ever has to do. I pressed my lips to his purple ones in order to breathe my life into his. It was as if God was right there with me and knew my pleading and anxious thoughts when there wasn’t time to call on Him in conscious prayer.
My CPR skills were outdated and average at best, yet I continued my clunky attempt until without even a whimper, Bo simply opened his eyes and sat up. As he reached for my lap, the hotel staff came running in, then, the medics. I answered a few questions before the medical team whisked Bo off to the hospital with Aaron. The hotel staff was sweet to console me as I quickly herded kids from the pool area to our room. I then dressed three, terrified and wet kids lightning fast while announcing over and over, “God is good, guys. We can trust Him. God has Bo. God sees us and is faithful.”
Behind the wheel of the car, I had to will myself to believe those words. With the gravity of the situation setting in, I begged God to fix whatever was broken in Bo’s body from being submerged for what we estimate was at least five minutes. I knew drowning typically occurred between four and six minutes and this situation already proved to be miraculous.
Finally inside the ER, a hospital employee and friend raced us back to Bo’s examination room while another friend took the rest of the kids. I held back tears as I returned the joyful smile Bo Christian gave signaling how glad he was to see me.
It wasn’t until the nurse questioned us that we realized just how profoundly miraculous this outcome was. A wet phone, CPR ignorance, followed by no vomiting and no spewing of water, yet, our son had not a drop of water in his lungs and an entirely normal blood/oxygen level. No brain damage, no physical residual, just perfectly healthy. We looked at one another in awe knowing we had witnessed the hand of God. Aaron and I held our precious son together and sang the old hymn “Amazing Grace” over him.
Miracle or not, guilt, fear, and shame drove home with me from the hospital. I refused to let them stay long and I woke up the next morning committed to laying yesterday’s nightmare aside. As the sun was starting to come out, I walked to the very table our trauma unfolded at just 24 hours before. I sat down and opened up my Bible in defiant protest to my emotions. I was determined my faith in God’s faithfulness would win my battle, and any future battle, with my fear.
The pool-area walls were covered in windows and with the warm sun and truth of God’s word seeping in, I only faintly heard the door open. I was too engrossed to know who walked in until he was right in front of my table. It was the hotel manager from the day before doing his rounds at the exact same time I happened to be sitting there. We were bound together by a traumatic experience and his face showed the camaraderie I felt, too. We could truly empathize with one another. In fact, he took the time to come over and check on how our family was recovering and yet I sensed his initiation was due in part to his own desperate search for healing.
With my Bible open, it was easy to share what recovery looked like for me as a Christian. Then the conversation took an interesting turn. Shentz openly shared how chaotic he felt his spiritual background was being raised by parents who believed in two, different, Eastern religions; Islam and Hinduism. He shared how his very identity became even more confusing and isolating as he struggled to find his place in this world as a Pakistan-born immigrant to America.
Identity is so important because the definition, at its core, grants security, value, and worth to our existence. Identity tells us, and those around us, who we are. Identity is as valuable as life.
When Shentz felt he couldn’t identify with a culture, or faith, or country, he questioned the core of his very existence. Yet, his ideology didn’t hold up. Would a nomad, or an orphan, or a wanderer be deemed less valuable than another person? Of course not. Because our identity, our worth, is not found in our descriptors or our circumstances. Shentz was not defined by his station any more than I was by my motherly guilt, fear, and shame. But, it can’t feel any other way for someone who does not yet know their identity and worth is not found in the sum of their mismatched parts.
I got to share with Shentz just how very priceless his life actually was. The Creator gave His only son over to death on a cross even while Shentz was still a sinner and undeserving of such a magnanimous love so that he could be confident of his identity, his Sonship. And then I reminded him of what brought us together while pointing at the place in the pool that held a memory so fresh it was like we could both still see it.
Still pointing, I looked Shentz square in the eye.
“I cannot believe our family’s horrific experience was in vain, Shentz, because I believe God always has a plan and there was a reason my son nearly lost his life yesterday. And, I believe you were there to experience the reality of life’s fragility with us so that you could be sure of your identity once and for all. It wasn’t in vain.”
Shentz bowed his head with me that day and surrendered his life to Christ. I didn’t experience the full extent of giving my son’s life to save someone else’s like God did for us. But, my pain helped me to more fully understand how great the Father’s love must have been to willingly sacrifice like He did. He and Christ endured unimaginable anguish for our benefit; for Shentz’ benefit. We no longer have to be defined by the sins of our past we sought repentance for, our circumstances, our station in life, or our limitations. We have a new identity.
God would have been glorified in my son’s life or death. But by His grace, the Lord was glorified in my son’s life that day - and shame, guilt, and fear were what drowned.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
I Peter 2:9-10 NIV