I am so honored to share this story written by Arlina Pletcher. Arlina is married to my cousin, Chris, and our families have the joy of living in the same town. Arlina is mom to Caleb, and twins Hudson and Levi, whose story of joining the world was filled with frightening, faith-requiring moments. Today is the one-year anniversary of a critical in-utero surgery that the Lord used to sustain Hudson and Levi before their entrance into the world. It’s a joy to celebrate these sweet boys, their big brother and their steadfast parents today!
“To have everything but possess nothing.” These words written by A.W. Tozer are ones I have mulled over in every season of my life. They have rocked me to the core. They have echoed in my heart and soul time and time again. This statement both inspired me and terrified me. What does it mean, really?
To have everything, but possess nothing.
Every time I have read these words, the enemy has been swift to speak fear to the places where the Lord wanted to build faith. Under the weight of these words, faith always felt like such a fight. Every time these words began to take root in my heart, the enemy whispered the same lie time and time again. “If you really let go, He is going to take away everyone you love” and to be quite honest, the lie worked many times. It made me hold on a little tighter. It made me close off my heart a little longer. The lie cut deep to my core and it was a battle to get out from under it every single time.
Season after season, from miscarriage, to trying to get pregnant with our first born son, to the first year of parenting, to finding out we were expecting identical twins, the Lord has been faithful to bring me back to this sentence every single time. Each time, it got a little easier to swallow what he was asking me for, to really let go, and to give it all. Where the enemy spoke fear, the Lord was faithful to meet me and build faith. Little did I know, that he was preparing my heart to relinquish my rights, to surrender all in the deepest of places. I am so thankful for the depths that He took me to leading up to my pregnancy with our boys. And it is an honor to get to share it with you today.
One year ago today was a day that changed me forever. Just days before, we were told that our identical twin boys appeared to be developing a disease called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, and on April 21, 2015, it was confirmed and appeared to be progressing quickly. Without intervention, the chance of survival was low at just barely 24 weeks. With intervention, the chance of survival for both of my boys was still lower then I ever wanted to hear. Yet there we were, being faced with an impossible decision.
A few short hours later, I was wheeled into an emergency procedure to try and help save my pregnancy, and ultimately, save the lives of two of my children.
No mother ever wants to hear “the chances of both boys surviving…vs. the chances of one of them surviving.” No mother ever wants to be given any percentage of survival rate less than100%, let alone 60% chance that both of her sons would survive.
To have everything, but possess nothing.
How does one have everything but posses nothing? I think the answer comes when all is stripped away, and all you have left is Jesus Christ and his promises. You see, his promises are true, and his steadfast love endures forever. So how can that be true in the face of what seems impossible? How can it be so easy and so hard at the same time? To trust him, to say yes, even when it means to let go of all that you hold so dear? I think it is there, in that place, where he gives you eyes to see, that the safest place for your heart, for your everything, is to let it all go and trust that he is who he says he is, and if that is true, then you can have it all, no matter what the outcome.
There’s nothing quite like hearing that two of your children may not survive to make you realize how small you are. For a brief moment, time stands still and all goes quiet. And in an instant you are faced with a choice: to trust in the Maker of heaven and earth, the Lord of all, and to choose to be confident in who he is, no matter what may come, or to let fear reign, and forget everything you’ve ever known to be true about this God you serve. And in a moment, you must choose. To have everything, but possess nothing, or to hold on tightly and lose it all.
In the midst of the unknown, His nearness was my good. His presence, my peace. So many forms to sign. So many questions to answer. So many doctors to meet. So many unknown outcomes. What was it going to be like when I woke up? Would my children be alive? Would they still be growing in my belly or would they be fighting for their lives outside of my womb. All I knew for sure in those moments was the goodness of God. He was so near. So very near. And all I could do was take the next step and say yes to him no matter what.
I went in for surgery at 8pm on April 21, 2015 for what was supposed to be a 30-minute procedure. The procedure was called a Laser Ablation. The goal: To laser the blood vessels that were transfusing blood between the boys on the placenta that they were sharing. Yes. They went in through my belly with a laser and cut through the placenta that was keeping two of my children alive. All in hopes of saving their lives while risking them all at the same time. Everything went smoothly until they came to the lastvessel. It was the biggest one, and as they severed it, it began to bleed. In a matter of seconds, the neonatal team was called in preparation to deliver my boys. Our surgeon stood there, watching the bleed and waiting… would it clot? Or would they begin an emergency c-section. 10 seconds… 15 seconds… 20 seconds… 25 seconds… then, by the mighty hand of God, the bleeding clotted and subsided, and the delivery team was instructed to stand down. And in that moment, all was well again.
2 hours later I was in recovery, with Hudson’s heart rate dropping off the chart with every contraction. The air was thick, the contractions regular, and the outcome unknown.
Before the procedure there were three major milestones they gave us. The first was all three of us making it out of the surgery alive. The second was both boys adjusting to life in the womb after the laser ablation and surviving the first 48 hrs. Once we made it past there, our final milestone was to get to 28 weeks.
To have everything, but possess nothing.
The next 11 weeks were the most challenging, most surrendered, most exhausting and emotional weeks of my life. There’s just nothing quite like the day to day of wondering whether or not your children were going to survive for 11 weeks.
Rest in his Goodness.
These were on repeat in my head and my heart. Where else could I go? What else could be said? They were never mine to possess, they were always mine to surrender. What else could I do?
My God is faithful.
Often times, the Lord takes us to that place, where surrender is the only thing that makes sense. At first it feels so unsafe, but his kindness reveals that it’s where he created us to rest. In the shadow of his wings was the only place for my weary heart. He was faithful. He is faithful.
The first procedure was successful in accomplishing its goal and both boys adjusted well and survived the first 48 hrs. Their amnioticfluid levels began to level out (the drastic difference in their fluid levels was the initial sign of the disease in the first place), and the doctors reported that it appeared to be reversing TTTS. We were so incredibly thankful, relieved, and envisioned for carrying these boys to 28 weeks and beyond! And then 2 weeks later, we discovered that one of the severed vessels had reopened and the TTTS had returned and was yet again progressing quickly with Hudson’s sac filling rapidly. Levi was wrapped in his sac with barely any fluid while Hudson’s was increasing daily. And in a moment, all became still yet again. I thought I had let them go already. My weary heart longed for reprieve, for rest. But here we were yet again. At the alter with our boys. Where else could we turn? “I lift my eyes tothe hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.”
Rest in his Goodness.
Over the following two weeks, we underwent two more procedures. They were called amnio-reductions and were the least invasive way of trying to prolong the pregnancy as long as possible. The boys were 26 weeks at the time. They did the first amnio-reduction on a Tuesday and removed 1.5 liters of fluid from Hudson’s sac. Less then a week later, they had to do another amnio-reduction where they removed close to 2 liters of fluid from his sac yet again. For those of you wondering, yes, that is a lot of fluid, and yes, it was unbelievably uncomfortable.
To have everything, but possess nothing.
What is true about God cannot be determined by how our circumstances feel. How can God be good when it doesn’t feel good? How can his joy be my strength when I feel so weary, so weak?
There seemed to be so many questions in my heart whose answers are only to be found in the storehouses of heaven. But in the midst of the unknown, what holds true about my God is this: he remains the same always and He is good, even when it feels so wrong.
But how can he be my refuge when it feels so unsafe? How can he be trusted with the things that are most precious to me? And the still, soft voice whispers again over me…
“To have everything, but possess nothing.”
How can he be a trustworthy refuge for the treasures and dreams of my heart when everything seems to keep going awry? Frankly, because he has a perspective of my circumstances that I do not. He sees through the lens of the eternity when I see through the lens of my circumstances. His perspective is good. His perspective is trustworthy. His perspective is a safe place for me to find my rest. He is my refuge, for eternity.
On May 18th, about a month after this all began, my heart was weary. The disease had returned and Hudson’s fluid levels continued to rapidly increase. We had since relocated to Houston for the remainder of the pregnancy because I was no longer able to travel back and forth safely. It was a day that the fear was reigning heavier and louder then faith. And a precious friend spoke one simple sentence over me that changed everything. “It is never too late for a miracle” she said. To give you an idea of where my heart was at the time, that statement made me furious. It felt too late for a miracle. I didn’t even want to ask for another one. Because hadn’t I already asked for so many and not seen them answered? Hadn’t I begged the Lord to reverse the disease without any intervention? Hadn’t I asked and believed for the fluid levels to remain stable and for the disease to not return? And yet here we were. Uprooted from our home, so many unknowns ahead, my children’s lives stillhanging in the balance every single day. Oh my weary heart. So tattered and torn. So quickly forgetting the faithfulness of God over my children’s lives thus far. Sustaining them through the original procedure. Sustaining them daily. He was their provider. He held their lives in his hands.
The Lord was so gracious to me in my weakness. He gave me fresh faith to trump the lies and prompted my heart to boldly ask for 7 miracles moving forward from that day.
– For Hudson’s fluid to level and stabilize (Levi’s fluid was around 2cm, Hudson’s was around 13cm before the first reduction)
– For both hearts to be protected and healthy (One of the side effects of the TTTS is causing heart sickness in different ways because of the blood flow complications)
– For Levi’s growth to continue perfectly alongside of his brother (There was concern for Levi’s growth because he was the “donor baby” to Hudson and was therefore not getting all the nutrients he needed from the placenta)
– For my womb to be a safe place for 6 more weeks (from 28 weeks-34 weeks)
– For both boys to be able to breathe and eat on their own when they are born
– For both boys to weigh at least 5lbs at delivery! (At the time I wrote this out, they were both around 2lbs each.)
– For both boys to be completely healthy and fully developed
Following the second amnio-reduction, the doctors told us that we would probably need to continue doing these procedures until the boys were born because it was the only way to try and prevent preterm labor, but at the same time, it was risking preterm labor every time they punctured Hudson’s sac to drain it.
Then, something amazing happened, something miraculous, really. We went in for our follow up on May 22nd, after the second-amnio reduction to find that both of the boys’ fluid levels were stabilized and exactly the same at 8cm! This was a miraculous answer to prayer! One of my prayers for our boys when they were first diagnosed was that they would learn how share what they had been created to share and that they would learn to live in unity with one another. With their fluid levels stabilizing, this is exactly what happened! The doctors shared that the only explanation as to how this could happen at this point was that the reopened vessel that was originally flowing in a single direction (from Levi to Hudson) was now flowing in BOTH directions and no longer compromising the amount of nutrients between our boys! God was faithful before, he was faithful then, and he is faithful now. It is never too late for a miracle.
We were overjoyed by this miracle, humbled really, that God saw fit to heal our boys, to sustain them after so much already, to make a way for them to thrive and grow in unity and for my womb to continue to be a safe place for them to grow. And we thought, surely, we are in the home stretch now.
A week later, we were in another ultrasound (we had two a week), and Hudson’s heart was showing some side effects of the disease. As the recipient in the transfusion, he received an over-abundance of blood flow, which is what caused him to over produce fluid. This caused his heart to work harder and faster to process everything that was coming his direction. And at 29 weeks, he was showing some very alarming signs that his heart was getting sick. “It’s just another opportunity for another miracle,” I said to myself. Speaking faith over the fear as quickly as I could. The thickness they saw led them to order an echocardiogram of the boys’ hearts. This exam is basically a really fancy, extensive ultrasound of their hearts. They check blood flow, valve function, everything, in great detail and takes about two hours to examine both hearts.
What started as a concern for the thickness that was forming in Hudson’s heart, quickly turned into something more serious when his PDA valve was starting to close. The PDA valve is a valve that closes on its own after birth, but if it closes while that baby is still growing in the womb, it can lead to death. It was another opportunity for a miracle. The cardiologist sent us home that Friday and said that we needed to prepare to deliver the boys on Monday if his valve did not reopen. We were 30 weeks along at this point. I wanted so badly to believe it was, in fact, another opportunity for another miracle, but my weary heart was being bombarded with heavy questions yet again.
To have everything, but possess nothing.
What if I saw every trial as something the Lord wanted to give me, instead of blaming him for taking something away? Why is blame so easily and readily my first response? Why is it so easy to forget his faithfulness and so easy to remember the places that feel painful? I have found the answers to these questions to be quite simple really; we want to be God of our own lives. Because we are selfish and because we think we know best. But we do not. God reveals deep truths of his kingdom through suffering. So why are we so easily offended?
It was so clear in that moment that there was a choice set before us yet again: to walk in faith, to choose to praise the name of the Lord and proclaim his as healer in the midst of the disappointment and fear, or to be offended with God for not making a different way for our son, for our family.
In the midst of this whole journey, the Lord was ministering to my heart so deeply. He was showing me that surrendering my whole heart was the safest place for me to rest. That there is a joy found in the offering of praise and thanksgiving before we ever see the breakthrough. That my God is still Healer, even if he doesn’t heal my son. That I can praise him confidently for who he is and give him praise before I see the breakthrough, when nothing makes sense. We can make a choice, in moments like this, to refuse to be intimidated by the schemes of the enemy and choose to worship God instead. And so worship we did. At 30 weeks. Proclaiming God as healer and sustainer and provider. Before we saw any healing in Hudson’s heart, lifting up his name. In my journal that day I wrote in faith “IT’S OPENING.”
Because my God is faithful, and it’s never too late for a miracle.
The outcome of my circumstances has never and will never determine the level of goodness or faithfulness of God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. His goodness remains. His faithfulness stretches to the skies, despite what may come my way. I get to praise him for who he is even in the midst of the uncertainty of the outcome. Because he is always true, always good, and always faithful.
On June 1st we had a follow up echo to examine their hearts. This exam was going to determine whether or not our boys would be delivered via emergency c-section at 30 weeks, or if they would be able to continue growing in my womb. After a long exam, our cardiologist came in after reviewing all of the data to tell us that Hudson’s PDA had, in fact, OPENED!!! Another miraculous answer to prayer! She was shocked. She had no words, other then “I was expecting to have to send you to Labor and Delivery today.” But instead, she sent us home until our next ultra sound to continue allowing my boys to grow in the womb. For the remainder of the pregnancy they monitored the boy’s hearts with a weekly echo. His PDA remained opened, but his heart was still sick. Due to the effects of the disease, the walls of his heart were getting thicker. They monitored it closely, and it was up and down from week to week – should we deliver now or should we allow them to continue growing in thewomb? The thickness was something that could potentially lead to heart surgery if it got worse, or could simply be something that eventually went away on its own after birth. Hudson’s heart was so thick at one point that our doctors could quickly and easily differentiate between the boys with just a quick look on the ultrasound at the appearance of their hearts.
On June 19th, we invited our faithful friends who had been praying alongside of us throughout the whole journey, to pray another bold prayer with us for our boys. At 32 weeks, we were bold, we were specific with what we were asking God to do, which was heal Hudson’s heart thickness completely before birth (something we were told does not happen – it usually can take several months to a year for it to go away on its own).
“Father, we ask for you to completely heal the thickening in Hudson’s heart so that the boys’ hearts look the same and the doctors cannot tell a difference between them. In Jesus’ name, Amen”
Four days later, one of our fetal surgeons, the one who specializes in heart health, who had been following our case from the very first surgery, was looking at the ultra sound and said out loud, “I’m having a hard time determining who is Hudson and who is Levi.” He couldn’t tell a difference between their hearts! We jokingly showed him where we had written that prayer in our journals and explained that God was to blame for the difficulty he was having 🙂
God is alive and He is on his throne. He is performing miracles in our midst today. To him be the glory forever and ever.
I don’t know where this post finds you today. I know, in the deep places of my heart and soul, that there are many of you who have prayed big, bold, powerful prayers, and not seen answers. I have prayed many of those prayers this year and in years past. I have prayed for three different people in the last two months to be healed and live, and not one of them is alive today. I do not know why some prayers are answered and some are not.But I know that God is faithful. I know that it delights his heart when we choose to walk in faith and when we ask him for big and bold things in His name. I know that he is good, even when our circumstances feel so far from good. I know that surrender is the safest place of rest for our weary hearts.
To have everything, but possess nothing.
So often we hold tightly to what we love most. We don’t want to let go because the enemy tells us that if we do, we will lose them. And sometimes we do lose them on this side of heaven, but either way, we must let them go. Because when we let go of the grip and surrender our hearts completely to the Lord, the kingdom is unstoppable in and through us. May we be a people who surrender all and believe that he is who he says he is. He is good. He is trustworthy. He is our refuge. Our strength. In his hands is the safest place for us to relinquish anything and everything.
The boys miraculously remained in my belly until 34 weeks. At birth, they were both over 5lbs and completely healthy. We saw every single one of the miracles we asked for come to pass and more. Hudson and Levi have been the sweetest gifts to our family, and I am forever grateful for the honor and privilege of getting to be their mother on this side of heaven. It is still a daily choice, and lets be honest, often a struggle, to hold my hands open to the Lord with their lives. But they have been and always will be, not mine to keep, but mine to surrender. My hope and prayer for you today, is that the Lord would touch the deep places of your heart that need rest through surrender. Peace, be still, oh weary hearts. You are seen. You are known. You are beloved. And the safest place for you to rest is in the shadow of his wings.