Monday, December 5, 2011

The Christmas Eve That Shook My Faith

As I begin this post, I realize some of you, after you discover this is yet another story about my angel McKenna, may just exit out of this blog because maybe you've heard enough about her short life here on earth.  Well, all I can say is that sometimes our lives are defined by experiences we have gone through, and we draw upon those fragile moments in time because that is where we drew closer to God, where we learned more in that trial than in any other time in our lives.  That is what happened to me, on the Eve of Christmas Eve, 14 years ago, on literally a cold, bitter night at St. Louis Children's Hospital at One Children's Place, St. Louis, Missouri.

I've written about McKenna's birth and her death, but have never really spoke about, or written about her months of life in between.  In my very first post in this blog I wrote briefly what transpired that cold December night, but not in great detail, at least not what I went through that night, and the days that followed.  I highlighted the big occasions we went through with her, but that particular night, was the moment I felt the most vulnerable in all my life, and stands to his day, to have been the worst day of my life; worse than her actual passing.  Let me share with you why.

We arrived at St. Louis Children's Hospital December 7th, 1997.  McKenna was only about 6 weeks old.  She flew in a plane that came from St. Louis, to pick her up, with one doctor and I believe 2 nurses, there may have only been one, my mind doesn't recall the details too accurately, since she was developing some "new" problems right before she needed to be transported.  But what I do remember is the nurse that came with the doctor.  I do not know her name, not sure if I ever knew her name, but to John and I, she was our angel.  There was something about her that comforted us.  She was kind, she felt honored to be there, to help McKenna on her dangerous flight of 3 hours.  This was a huge risk we were taking, transporting her on a plane, with a ventilator that does not do the job her other ventilator did in Ogden, and the one that she would then have again once in St. Louis.  Our Angel nurse promised us that she would take care of McKenna for us, for we could not accompany her in the plane; we had to fly separately.  It seemed as if the odds were against us, as there was a blizzard the night before we were all set to leave, and no one was sure of where the plane from St. Louis would be able to safely land.  The lengths our hospital went through for us, were amazing.  They were granted permission from Hill Air Force Base in Roy, UT to land there if necessary.  Wow, was all I could say, that people would be so kind and generous to help us out.  As it turned out, they were able to land in Salt Lake, and we flew out right after McKenna, following her there and meeting her in the NICU at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

When we found McKenna at the hospital, it was discovered that her lungs did not tolerate the flight, and she needed to be put on a heart/lung machine for survival.  Again, our Angel nurse was there, wanting to make sure we were okay. Her kindness never ceased.  She wasn't McKenna's nurse on duty, but she was there, for us.  That week of McKenna being on the heart/lung bypass was the scariest week of my life.  It was a life or death situation, and she pulled through.  We had conquered yet another bump in the road, and we were grateful she was given this chance to recover and await for her double lung transplant.

A few weeks went by since our arrival, McKenna was settled in her NICU room, friendships were being formed with nurses and other parents of babies waiting for their transplants, it was getting closer to Christmas.  There is something about the Christmas spirit that lingers in a NICU; something so special that is hard to describe.  One thing I can put into words though, is that the true meaning of Christmas is in full force in such a setting.  Stressing about shopping for presents, or attending all the parties, or even making sure you have all your decorations in place is never in the fore front of your thoughts.  For us, it was only about being with our little baby, realizing that at any moment, someone's loss could be our hope for a future with our daughter.  And realizing that the birth of our Savior is the real gift, which led to the ultimate gift, his death and resurrection, so that no matter what would end up happening, we would all live again, and have the opportunity to be with our families in the eternities.  But even that..... even that, was not what I was thinking about.  I was only thinking of how I wanted my baby to LIVE.

It was midnight, December 23rd, John and I asleep just 5 minutes away at the Ronald McDonald House, and the phone rang.  Never has the phone rang in the middle of the night and it was good news.  We knew right away, that something terrible had just happened.  I can't even remember who answered the phone, but the nurse telling us that our daughter  had just coded and we needed to get to the hospital right away.  We were there in lightening speed.  As we enter her little room, there are at least what seemed like a dozen nurses and doctors hovering over her, giving her CPR.  I lost it.  I was watching them all work on her saying, "We're doing every thing we can, she's just not coming back".  I remember falling to the floor with such grief, pleading to God that I am not ready to lose her. I simply was not ready.  A nurse helped me up.  I'm not sure if it was our Angel nurse or not, but she was there. I do remember that. She was there, again, trying to comfort me.  She was always there during the toughest moments.  She wasn't a nurse that worked on the NICU floor, she helped with transports,  but for some reason, she was always at our side.

We asked them how long they had been performing CPR and they replied, '30 minutes'.  John immediately called the Bishop from our church and asked him to come quickly to help give McKenna a blessing.  He was there, with a friend, in what seemed like minutes.  The doctors and nurses backed away, allowing our Bishop, his friend, and John, to help give McKenna a blessing from God that I had prayed might allow her to live a little longer on this earth.  I was not ready to say goodbye. I couldn't say goodbye.  It just didn't feel right for her to depart from this world yet.

By the time the blessing was done, and the doctors resumed CPR, McKenna came back to us.  My prayer had been answered.  I was over-joyed that Heavenly Father listened to my pleading and allowed me to be with my baby just a little while longer.  But had she died, would my prayer NOT have been answered?  Would it mean that He was NOT listening to me?  I felt, up to that point, that I was displaying enough faith to get me through this trial.  But it wasn't until the eve of Christmas Eve, that I discovered how fragile my faith really was.  "Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true."  (Book of Mormon.... Alma 32:21).  I did not have a perfect knowledge of what was going to happen, but I was hoping, pleading to God for something, for a miracle, because I did believe in miracles.  I knew they had not ceased, but would He impart one on my little baby, for us?  I didn't know, I wasn't sure.  I lacked in faith at that moment, the moment I fell to the ground in despair fearing I would lose my baby, that I had not been granted enough time to be her mother here in this life.  If she had died that night,  I can only imagine my grief to have been far worse than it was on the day she DID die, just a few short months later.

Heavenly Father had lessons yet for me to learn.  I know that He knew I was not ready to lose her.  Are we EVER ready to lose anyone?  We may not feel like we are, but God knows us better than we know ourselves.  McKenna's mission was not over, and neither was my learning, and growing and enduring.  Yet, if she had died that December night, I know I would have gotten through it, as hard as it would have been, as difficult as the days, weeks and months would have played out.  I don't know how, but I know I would have.  That's what faith is all about, isn't it? The not knowing, but the ability to push forward no matter what, because you know in the end it will have all been worth it.

My faith WAS shaken, to the very core.  But it needed to be.  I like to think of McKenna being an instrument in God's hand, to help me learn what I needed to learn through her trial here on earth.  Do I have perfect faith right now?  Absolutely not.  One of John's favorite lines for me is, "Where's your faith?"  I need the reminder.  It forces me to reach deep down, and pull it out when it needs to reach the surface. I need to allow it to touch me.  One thing I do know for sure, is that God does not allow us to go through anything He thinks we cannot handle, and sometimes that's all the vote of confidence I need to get through the tough times.  He's cheering me on, trying to pull me through.

Every year, when Christmas Eve rolls around, my thoughts are directed to that daunting night, when I thought I was going to lose my baby, all too soon for my liking.  I try to ponder, even to this day, why God felt we needed to go through that.  Did I allow myself to grasp everything He was trying to teach me?  Did I express enough faith from then on?  I think it's good to ask those questions, because it makes me think that I still have more to learn, more faith to acquire.

Faith is a process, one that isn't just "learned" in a day, by one experience.  It's something, I'm learning still, that makes us who we are, how we live, and how we show our love and desire to be more like thee, our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who is why we even have a Christmas Eve and a Christmas day.

P.S.    That Angel nurse that was always there?  Well, she was there after McKenna passed away, out of the blue, not where she normally worked.  I think God put her there for me.  And for that, I am grateful.


  1. Thank you for sharing such personal things - I know that it strengthens many, I know that it did for me.

  2. Thanks for posting that Shelley. Hope you don't mind that I shared it on my wall. There are certain people I think should read it, and I hope they do.

  3. Shelley, this was such a tender, sweet and honest post! Thank you for sharing this. I love John's question to you, "where's your faith"? I think that's a good one for spouses to continually ask each other so that we always remember to put our faith first. :)

  4. Your blog is always just what I need to hear! You inspire me and this is such a sweet post. Never stop sharing about McKenna!!

  5. This was a beautiful post about you and McKenna. I have been there, when your legs can not hold you up. When you are on the floor praying to your Heavenly Father. Our faith is all we have to lift us back up - to help us stand. Our knowledge that we have an eternal family is a mighty thing.