The theme of this story is not about fear or tragedy. This is a story of hope and the human spirit’s incredible capacity to thrive in the face of adversity. Please don’t succumb to feelings of pity or sorrow on my behalf. I refuse to be labeled as simply a victim. I am a survivor. I am a living, breathing recipient of God’s mercy and an example of His frequent tendency to sneak simple miracles into our everyday lives.
The first time I cheated death I was only a flicker of life in my mother’s womb. A traumatic car accident left her vehicle in a tangled mass of metal that no one could believe a human being actually walked away from still breathing. My mother was a few months pregnant at the time with what she believed to be twins. She suffered a miscarriage of my fraternal twin, miraculously leaving me still alive with no notable damage whatsoever.
Most people drift through life without ever witnessing a true miracle or perhaps more likely, without fully recognizing the dozens of smaller miracles that they have been gifted with. I imagine some people pass off their miracles as “coincidence” or “a lucky break.” My life simply didn’t happen that way. I was offered a rare glimpse of God, presented to me in a series of smaller personal miracles that I couldn’t deny were the result of anything other than divine intervention.
Miracle two was a little more dramatic, if only because I was now aware of my surroundings and old enough at the age of nine to understand the implications of my unlikely survival. As my stepfather held me captive, his strong grip on my throat choking the life from my body, I felt the moment death came for me again. There is an unmistakable feeling of weightlessness that comes over a person who is in the throes of asphyxiation. My mind drifted apart from my body in what I now recognize as an out of body experience. My spirit drifted over the scene below me apart from it, unemotional and calm. I fully realized I could die at this very moment and not be allowed to return to my body. My lips were turning blue, my face flushed a deep, angry red as my arms hung uselessly to my sides. I watched impartially as my mother scrambled out of the kitchen door to beat her fists against him, as she struggled desperately to pry his hands from around my throat. A few minutes passed and yet a far longer stretch of time than should have allowed for any chance of survival. When my stepfather was entirely certain I was too far gone to fight back, he finally released me, throwing my body to the ground like an angry toddler with a doll he was tired of playing with. My mother shoved him aside quickly and ran to gather me up in her arms screaming at me to breathe, please just breathe. Another moment or two passed and the very instant she whimpered “Please God” I started coughing and gasping for air. There was no transition. One moment my spirit was drifting over the scene, then I was simply thrust back into my body and aware of the incredible pain coursing through me.
I have a vague memory, almost like a dream, of hearing a deep, calm voice speaking to me at some point, saying “You have to go back. It’s not time.” When I fully awoke, I felt mournful, bereft of the feeling of utter peace and tranquility that I had enjoyed during my time away in the ether of that place between life and death.
My second miracle is perhaps my favorite, for despite the traumatic horror of the experience itself it was for me indisputable proof that we are not alone in the universe. It was a reassurance that someone cares for us and is watching over His creation.
The third miracle occurred in similar fashion, a few years after the choking incident. I was about eleven years old by this time. Again my stepfather tried to end my life as expediently as possible, holding my head under the water of the swimming pool the moment the opportunity presented itself to him to find me alone and vulnerable. He attacked me from behind suddenly and viciously without warning. My memory of this incident is hazy with the only clarity being another surge of feelings of well-being and tranquility, a vague reassuring warmth coming over my body despite the cool draft of the water against my skin, a complete surety of knowledge that I would live through this despite all evidence to the contrary. I’m not entirely sure what came over him either before or after, but suddenly I was free to breathe again and located in the middle of the pool instead of held against the side nearest the deck. He had a strange look come over his face and he was laying incredulously on his side as if something had forcibly pushed him away from me. There was no one else nearby that could have possibly touched him, let alone shoved him with enough force to knock him on his behind. I felt the hand of God that day, a literal phantom sensation of a hand on my shoulder and a silent reassurance that He was not only with me, but promised me life.
My fourth miracle was more subtle. My stepfather made one final attempt to kill me in the darkness of late evening that same year. He drunkenly stumbled into my bedroom holding a loaded pistol and hovered over my sleeping form while weaving back and forth, unable to aim straight enough to fire. I came awake instantly at the noisy banging of his shoulder hitting the doorframe and pretended to remain asleep by laying as still as possible and struggling to keep my breathing deep and even. My mother entered the room quietly and convinced him to leave with her into their bedroom. I crept quietly to the door, eased it shut, and somehow gathered more strength than I knew I was capable of to quickly shove my packed, heavy dresser in front of the door. My mother offered him a steady stream of alcohol with the idea of getting him to drink enough to pass out long enough that she could sneak me safely out of the house without waking him. He stumbled out to that hallway and stood outside my door several times that night, slamming against the door with all his strength trying to force it open wide enough to get a round off.
I held the dresser against the door all night long, praying for strength and deliverance. The next morning, my mother quickly ushered me off to school to insure I would be safe and allow the police enough time to physically remove him from the house. You might question where the miracle could be hiding in this story. The strange part about this incident is the simple fact that this particular bureau was so heavy that it took two grown men using a furniture dolly to remove it from my room when it was time to move out of that house.
Miracles five and six happened at the same time. My son was born one entire month prematurely and entered the world with all the drama of a soap opera combined with a fireworks display. The fluid level in my womb suddenly and without any explanation dropped to a dangerous level. I happened to be attending a regularly scheduled check-up appointment with my obstetrician when the issue was discovered. I was given labor-inducing medication that failed to have the desired outcome and after over ten hours of active labor with only 2 centimeters dilation the medical team finally admitted defeat and rushed me into surgery to deliver my son by caesarean-section. My husband attended the birth and since my memory is entirely spotty from the medication I can only relate his account of the day. The medical team had already removed the baby and were in the process of suturing my surgical wound closed. Suddenly I passed out and stopped breathing. My blood pressure ratcheted up to an unsafe level. The nurses rushed my husband outside the surgical suite only saying that there was a problem and they needed him out of the room in order to treat me.
A series of unfortunate events contributed to this story being assigned as miracles five and six. My son’s survival, of course being miracle five inarguably. We didn’t learn the full measure of our miracles until I was safely ensconced in recovery. Our baby had gone into fetal distress. The nurses could not find a heartbeat. The fluid was almost entirely gone. His prematurity made his risk of underdeveloped lungs a very real possibility. Despite all of these roadblocks, my little warrior emerged entirely unscathed, surprising everyone in the NICU with only a few hours stay before being declared healthy enough to be released into the regular maternity ward.
Miracle six was tricky. I was born with an extra piece of bone in my spine that we had no occasion to know was there. That is, until a very unlucky anesthesiologist dared to administer an epidural needle that glanced off the extra bone and lodged into my sciatic nerve, not once but in all five separate attempts. I suffer from asthma which we were fully aware of, but which unexpectedly complicated surgery. My airway simply collapsed and closed up. We don’t know if it was an allergic reaction to the overage of anesthesia medication or a fluke. My husband left that surgical suite sobbing, convinced I was already dead. He is an occasional Christian, meaning he isn’t entirely certain of his beliefs in a higher power, but finds comfort in prayer on occasion. That day he prayed more than he has in his entire life before or since. I suppose an argument could be made either way for divine intervention versus a series of coincidences and sheer luck. I choose to believe my survival that day is miracle number six.
Miracle number seven was a subtle behind-the-scenes kind of miracle. It’s the simple miracle of a quiet home, one so filled with love and laughter that the abuse I suffered through most of my childhood has drifted away like a mist blanketing a field. It’s the miracle of a healing heart. My husband has shown me that love is not an impossible dream and that not all fathers are nightmares. I watch him play and laugh with our children and the sight of if, the sheer beauty of it – warms every corner of my beleaguered soul.
God was very sneaky with this miracle. It crept up on me quiet as a cat hunting for a field mouse. First, the gift of a partner as damaged as myself who could relate to the trauma I’ve lived through and be gentle with my scarred heart. Someone who truly loves me for all that I am – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The second gift, the children who have brought us full circle – to become the family that we had always wished for as children. There is no greater joy than a quiet home. There is laughter and warmth, peace and calm. After work each evening, there are loving arms waiting to welcome me home. I no longer fear opening the door to my home. I sleep well and deeply in the secure knowledge that safety is no longer an unexpected bonus, but rather a reliable, everyday occurrence.
I’m sure there have been other smaller miracles that I assigned to good luck or coincidence, but these seven stick out in my mind for their sheer drama. I have been a survivor of a traumatic car wreck as an unborn infant, strangled, drowned, and almost a statistic of cesarean related surgical fatality. The way I figure it, I’m on my sixth life. I don’t know if I can count on the nine lives attributed to being a feline, but I’m still fairly close competition to that legend.
It’s all too easy to forget in the course of our normal, boring everyday lives that there are unexplainable, impossible miracles that happen literally every single day across the globe. Life is busy and most days the brain is a messy fog of remembering everything you have to get done for the day and all the minutiae that goes along with it. I consider myself fortunate that God chose to make his presence known to me in such a manner that not only could I recognize it, but have the experiences be so notable, so impossible that I can’t label them as anything but miracles. I have never seen an angel, nor stood at heaven’s gates, but I have known God. I have felt his hand on my shoulder, heard his voice whispered in my ear. It’s easy to forget, to question, to worry if God could possibly be real when I’m just washing dishes, folding laundry, or driving my car. Then I take a breath and remember… seven little miracles.