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The Heartbeat of Grace

alec vanderboom

I spend a lot of my day watching Tessie's heartbeat on her NICU monitor. Up and Down. Peaks and Valleys. Little check marks all lined up in a row.

I've started to think that living in God's grace is a type of intimate heartbeat.

Grace is not a flat plateau. There is no steady rest in the spiritual life. Instead, the movement is constantly up and down.

There are moments when I feel like I'm free falling from my safe, comfortable spot of trusting God. Just like the heart beat rhythm, however, grace is always there to pick me back up again.

Today was another hard day. I walked into the NICU alone (Jon had his first day back at work) at 9 AM after a 2 hour commute on the subway. I found my little girl all alert with her pretty blue eyes open and a special smile just for her Mama. However, her stomach "output" was a sickening dark, bloody red.

Lots of red output is not good. It's a sign that her intestine is still tightly closed. Before the doctors will begin feeding Tess real food, they want her stomach juices to be clear and a mere 2 mL each hour.

Tess is so, so far from healing from her surgery last Tuesday. She is so, so far from going home.

After a long day of tests and IV pokes, I started crying hard at 7 PM. Jon had stopped by after work and was reading Tess his favorite children's book, Winnie the Pooh. I started crying because I can't believe that we are still stuck in the awful "not knowing" six days after surgery, ten days after my first ER visit and fourteen days after her birth.

I prayed. Nothing seemed to help. I couldn't believe that I still couldn't take my beloved baby girl home with me. I had no idea how I'd tear myself out of her NICU room this night.

After several minutes, Tessa's old nurse from last night stuck her head into our room just to say hello. She asked us how we were doing. I said "not to good." I held up the bloody "output" trap to highlight my point. "Oh no, no," the nurse said. "That is a much better color than last night and there is a smaller amount as well."

"Are you sure?" I said.

"Yes, yes. I was very concerned last night. That is why I called the surgeon. He said we need to give more time for the ulcer medicine to work. See it is already working. Soon it will do it's job."

I didn't feel immediately better, but the heartbeat of grace caught up with me. After the kind nurse left, Jon turned out the lights and sang lullabyes to our baby. I wrote a quick email to a friend in the dark. Afterwards, we walked out of the NICU holding hands.

Sometimes, I can walk away from Tessa's crib and just pretend that my baby is happily asleep in her nursery, a mere 45 minutes from my bedroom door.

Grace. Faith. Prayer. Trust.

St. Teresa of Avila, please watch over Tess tonight.