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Your Heavenly Father

Our loving Father in Heaven has a purpose for us beyond our limited human comprehension.

God the Father attributed to Cima da Conegliano (1460–1518)
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I stared at the clock on the ICU wall. It was 3 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t pray anymore. My two-year-old son, Joseph, lay on the hospital bed, hooked up to about a million machines. My husband, Brian, slept in an armchair by Joseph’s bed. Every beep of the machinery seemed to echo my deepest, darkest fears. Joseph might not make it….

A day ago, Joseph had been a happy, mellow toddler who loved playing with trucks and eating mac and cheese. Now doctors were preparing Brian and me for the worst. For the inevitable. All because of a freak accident in the snow.

We’d spent that entire Saturday, January 24, 2015, sledding and building snowmen, only returning to our warm apartment when Joseph got hungry. After dinner, I noticed there were still kids playing in the snow-covered parking lot of our building. So we headed outside again.

Brian and Joseph began constructing a fort in a snow pile beneath a towering pine tree. I leaned against a fence nearby. The normally drab parking lot looked ethereal with only a single streetlamp casting an other­worldly glow, picking out Joseph’s yellow snowsuit in the dimness. I took a deep breath of cold air. Just as I did, I heard it. A crash, like a freight train. Then another. Before I could move, a huge cloud of snow obscured my vision.

When it cleared, I saw Brian struggle to his feet, then frantically dig at the mound of snow in front of him. I gasped. A giant tree limb had broken loose from the pine, crashing onto the snow pile. Brian continued to dig. Wait a minute. Where was Joseph?

I ran to Brian’s side. Now I could see a smudge of yellow in the snowbank. Joseph! He was trapped face­down beneath the tree limb—it was too heavy to lift! I yelled at the kids playing nearby to get help. A neighbor ran up and joined Brian, digging Joseph out of the snow. Carefully, they turned Joseph over on the snow pile. His eyelids fluttered. He whimpered. Then he vomited. Blood dripped out of his mouth and nose. By the time the paramedics arrived, he was unconscious.

Joseph was rushed to the nearest hospital. The medical team there stabilized him, but his vitals were slipping. His skull had been crushed. He was transported to Boston Children’s Hospital. Brian and I watched as a team of 20 worked on our son, trying to keep him alive. We needed more than doctors. I sent out a desperate plea on Facebook.

We need prayers. A heavy tree limb fell on Joseph, and he has skull fractures. Please pray for him!

Every hour only seemed to bring more bad news. The 50-pound tree limb had fallen 75 feet, hitting our son’s skull directly between the left and right hemispheres of his brain. The MRI showed too many skull fractures to count. The damage to his brain and spine were indeterminable. But, most likely, fragments of his skull had been pressed deep into his brain matter.

“There’s a lot of trauma,” one of the doctors said. “We’ll have to wait for the swelling to go down before we can even do a second MRI. Then we’ll know more.” His expression told me it wouldn’t be good news.

Now I sat in the ICU in the early hours of the morning, holding on to our last scrap of hope—that second MRI. It would tell us how bad the in­jury was. Very possibly catastrophic. I was trying to stay optimistic. I’d posted on Facebook. I’d wept with family and friends. But it wasn’t enough. I had to do something be­fore panic took over. Pray, I told myself. Pray. I squeezed my eyes shut.

But before I could form the words to say to God, I saw it. Not my imagination. Not a dream. More like a vision. Like a scene from a film. Playing in my mind’s eye.

A woman in a mantle and flowing robe. A sad smile on her face, tears dampening her cheeks. Mother Mary? She reached out, touched my arm, as if to reassure me. I felt a surge of strength. She said nothing, but I knew what she was saying. She was there to help me, a mother who knew the agony of losing a son. She wasn’t just with me. She was praying for me. In the next instant, the scene changed. Flashes of green light. They were everywhere. Like the color of the hills of Ireland. I saw Joseph then. The green light washed over his frail body. It stopped, lingering on his head and his neck. Then, just like that, it was gone.

I opened my eyes and gasped for breath. Next to me, Joseph lay unchanged. I scanned the room for any sign of the woman or that bright green light. All I could see was a monitor behind Joseph’s bed blinking green. The same color as the flashes of light I’d just seen! Had it always been there? Before I could make much sense of it, a nurse entered Joseph’s room to check his vitals, followed by a doctor. I put the strange visions out of my mind. I was probably just exhausted.

In the afternoon, we finally got the word. Joseph’s second MRI had been scheduled. I posted on Facebook again. Important MRI at 5 a. m. Please pray for Joseph!

Once again, I didn’t sleep a wink in the ICU that night. There were no more visions. Just fervent prayers on my end. When five o’clock came, Jo­seph was wheeled to the MRI room. I prayed and prayed, trying to draw strength from that green light and the woman. Brian and I paced the waiting room. I checked my phone. To my surprise, I had scores of notifications on Facebook. All in response to my post about the MRI. It had been shared over and over. Comments and private messages came from around the world. From people I knew and from complete strangers.

“I will say a prayer right now,” one of my friends wrote.

“We are praying for Joseph,” someone else posted on my page. A Hindu yogi in India. How had he gotten word of Joseph? “We will be meditating on the banks of the River Ganges at 5 a.m. our time….”

“Kathryn, we will not stop praying for little Joseph” came another message, this one from Iowa.

“We are convening our society,” wrote a monk in Israel, “to pray non­stop for Joseph for one hour.”

People in California. Texas. Florida. Oregon. Across the East Coast. All were praying for Joseph. Praying for me. I could feel their words surrounding us, enveloping us like that green light. Comforting us like the woman in the mantle.

Two hours later, Joseph was wheeled back into the ICU. The doctor had tears in his eyes. Oh, God, what did they find? Brian and I gripped each others’ hands.

“We lose children every year to less serious accidents,” the doctor finally said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I can’t explain it. I’m shocked the damage isn’t worse, much worse….”

The MRI showed something remarkable. The swelling had gone down. The fractures were serious, but only one bone pressed into Joseph’s brain, just a centimeter in between the two hemispheres. Joseph was going to live. Twenty-four hours later, he woke up.

Joseph will deal with his traumatic brain injury for the rest of his life. But he continues to make progress. Today he’s a chatty five-year-old who keeps us on our toes. His recovery baffled doctors. It blesses us.

Joseph doesn’t remember anything about his time in the hospital. I haven’t told him much about the accident. Or the mysterious visions and the 5 a.m. prayers across the globe. Recently, though, we got to talking about God. I asked him what he thought the Heavenly Father looked like. Joseph didn’t hesitate.

“God is the man,” he said, “with the green glow around him.”

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