By Laurie Ressler
Congestive Heart Failure. That’s an old-person disease, right? I might have expected to hear this diagnosis while accompanying my grandmother to a doctor’s appointment. I never expected these words to describe my baby boy.
After a three-month well-check, we learned that our oldest son, Elliott, had been born with a rare, congenital heart defect called Double Outlet Right Ventricle (DORV). His aorta and pulmonary artery were both coming out the same side of his heart, and there was a large hole between his ventricles. To explain it simply, Elliott’s red (oxygen rich) blood and blue (oxygen poor) blood were mixing together, his lungs were working too hard, and his little heart could not pump enough oxygen to his body.
Elliott’s heart was failing and surgery was imminent. We didn’t know it at the time, but Elliott would need not one, but four open-heart surgeries before his 5th birthday.
You never really think you will be “that family.” When you see friends going through a difficult situation, it’s easy to secretly breathe a sigh of relief and think: “I’m glad it wasn’t me… I could NEVER handle something like that.” And yet, when it is you, when life doesn’t turn out exactly as you had hoped, when you are the one that received the dreaded phone call, somehow everything is different. Everything changes.
Elliott’s first surgery took place when he was only four months old. Then again at one year, two years, and four years. Before each surgery, we were told this would be “the last one,” only to find out another was needed. I was tempted, at times, to trust more in the surgeons than in God. I knew that the surgeons desired to fix Elliott’s heart… they wanted the same outcome as I did. The question was whether or not they had the ability to repair his heart. God, on the other hand, being all-powerful, was able to heal Elliott and repair his heart. But whether or not He would, I didn’t know.
I knew the surgeons WOULD if they COULD, and I knew God COULD, if He WOULD. But God isn’t only all-powerful. He is also loving and good. And so, I continued to trust in the only One I knew could ultimately heal my baby.
(If you would like to read more about the medical details and timeline of Elliott’s surgeries, as well as look at pictures, visit my blog post from a few years ago: www.LaurieChristine.com/miracle-baby)
I know that many people have gone through much worse situations than I have. And I know others of you may read about my story and look at the pictures of my baby hooked up to endless tubes and wires and machines and think: “I’m glad it wasn't’ me… I could NEVER handle something like that.” But the truth is, God puts us all into situations that He knows we can’t handle… because He wants us to cling to him. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Well, guess what. It’s not true. God absolutely gives us more than we can handle so that we will learn to trust His power and His goodness, and that His name might be glorified through it all.
Before we knew about Elliott’s heart condition, I too would have said: “I could never handle something like that.” But God gives grace and strength exactly when we need it. Not before, not too much, not too little. Like the Israelites in the wilderness who had to trust God to provide manna for them one day at a time, so too He gave us exactly what we needed for each step of the journey. No less and no more.
I’m not saying it was easy. I’m not saying we weren’t scared. There were definitely times that we didn’t know what the outcome of Elliott’s life would be. But the peace of God was greater than our fears. During those years, I printed a collection of scripture passages from the Bible that I memorized and recited over and over, reminding myself of God’s promises:
“Don’t be afraid… I am with you!” (Psalm 41:10)
“I won’t be afraid… You are close beside me!” (Psalm 23:4)
“Don’t be anxious about anything… I will give you peace!” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Many times throughout the Bible, God commands us not to fear. Why? Is it because there’s nothing to be afraid of? Is it because He’s going to take away all our problems? Time after time, the reason God says we don’t need to fear is because He is with us! Because God is with me, I am strong. Because God is with me, I have overwhelming peace. Because God is with me, I will take the next step and breathe the next breath. God promises never to leave me. He will walk with me and hold my hand and carry me when I can’t walk any further.
Despite the ups and downs of Elliott’s first five years of life, his most recent five years have been relatively uneventful, for which we give all praise to God! Elliott is doing very well right now (in 2020) and he has few restrictions on life. At nine years old, he’s a funny, smart, kind, energetic boy. He loves to build legos, read, draw, and take apart electronic equipment.
Elliott visits the cardiologist every six months for an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) as well as an EKG and a checkup. Even though all has been quiet for several years, Elliott will likely need additional surgeries and procedures in the future. As he grows, parts of his heart may need to be replaced or repaired.
If I allow my mind to wander down the paths of “what if,” I sometimes feel anxiety creeping back into my heart. At those times, I turn back to the only place I know to go for comfort: the Word of God. I fix my eyes on Jesus and I remind myself of God’s promises. Only God knows His plan for Elliott’s life and my job is to continue trusting that God’s plan and His care are best.
A favorite quote of mine, from Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, has often encouraged me:
"The sweetest part... is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything...for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no difference where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient. So if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trials, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me."
Laurie Christine Ressler lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with her husband and four young boys. She understands how important it is for parents to connect with their children while communicating the truth of God’s Word to them in a way they can understand. With degrees in Creative Writing, Biblical Studies and Education, Laurie has more than twelve years of experience in teaching the Bible to young children as well as writing Sunday School curriculum for her local church. She also serves as the Administrator for the Christian Writers Institute. Laurie's passion is to equip parents with the resources they need to create meaningful connections with their children in an atmosphere that cultivates heart-change.
Laurie has written several devotional Bible stories for families to read together. Her most recent devotional, Come and See! 30 Read-Aloud Devotional Bible Stories for Easter is available as a FREE eBOOK. You can download your free copy HERE.
If you are looking for creative ways to engage your kids in family devotions, you can download a copy of
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