(Part 3 of 3 in “The Runner” series)
(This is a revised and updated version of a February 2021 post.)
“Mrs. Strain? This is So and So’s doctor’s office. I am calling to let you know that we found something on the ultrasound indicating something may be wrong with the baby. It is something with the spine. It could be spina bifida. You will need to come in again in a few days and have another ultrasound performed.” These were not exactly words a pregnant mother wants to hear to start off her week, nor are they words a pregnant mother wants to hear ever, on any day of the week. My reaction? Fear gripped my heart. Tears spilled down my cheeks. And then…I prayed. And then I asked others to join me in praying. I’d already been through a high-risk pregnancy two years prior—a risk to both me and my baby. Many people had prayed, and my miracle baby girl was born safely and was healthy. And now, for days, many prayed again, and when that next ultrasound was performed, a perfect spine showed on the screen. And five months later, a perfect little boy joined our family.
“Mrs. Strain, I’ll be right back.” The pediatrician left the exam room while I kept my nine-month-old son laying on the exam table. The doctor was gone for what seemed like an eternity, and when he came back, he was not alone. Two other doctors followed. Talk about fear gripping a mother’s heart. The pediatrician instructed the doctors to examine my son and perform certain motions with his legs. They did so, and all left the room. What is going on?! The pediatrician returned presently and informed me that he believed my son had a neurological disorder, and we were being referred to a specialist.
“Mr. and Mrs. Strain, your son may never walk. He has a genetic muscle disease.” What?! I had always joked that I wanted my son to be a musician like me rather than an athlete like his father. And now? All I wanted was for him to be an athlete. A mother’s mind races at times like these. The chest tightens. The tears spill. And the fears come. “Mr. and Mrs. Strain, we will put him into some physical therapy and see what happens. There are one of ten possible diseases he has. Do you want to do invasive testing now or just wait and see if he deteriorates?” We opted to wait on testing for a bit and see what would happen with some therapy. And people prayed.
“Mrs. Strain, your son is late in reaching physical milestones.” (He had sat up late, didn’t crawl other than army crawl, and he wasn’t standing or trying to walk yet.) “If we have some custom braces made for his feet and ankles, that may help him.” And so, off to the orthopedist we went, and then back to therapy, and all the while, people prayed. The therapist said most children with my son’s condition do not progress—they give up and sit there. Well, this is when things got good. My son walked, threw balls, and climbed on things.
“Mrs. Strain, your son will lag behind other children physically, but it looks like he will be able to do things okay as long as he keeps building muscle strength. Eventually, that strength will offset the disease, and people may not even know he has it. He will have to wear the braces until early elementary school when he’ll eventually have enough muscle strength to compensate for the disease. After that, he will always need something in his shoes for shaping and support.” Eventually, we did not have to go to neurology appointments or physical therapy anymore, just the orthopedist and podiatrist.
And then, my son ran. And he has not stopped running since. And people prayed, and have not stopped praying since. My son ran around the house with his sister and out in the yard with the dogs. He is the one who led the way in new physical endeavors. And in second grade, he began his athletic career (after he’d had some piano lessons, of course!).
In second grade, he completed a 5K and got 2nd place. He competed in other races while in elementary school and even placed first. He built a collection of ribbons, medals, race tags, and participation t-shirts. In 7th grade, he played football in the fall and ran track in the spring.
And then in 8th grade, my son, whom we were told might never walk, became a long-distance runner on the cross country team. In high school, he trained by running over ten miles at a time. Who can do stuff like this except God?!
As the years have passed, difficult seasons have come for my son, as they do for us all. He went through years of bullying which included physical injuries. Challenges came in school and college and the workplace. But, he got up every morning, and he pushed through. While our hearts ached along with his, he continued to do the hard things, the right things. We undergirded his life with our persevering prayers and supported him with hearts full of persevering love. And we all persevered in keeping our eyes on God.
Yes, hearts that have persevered in prayer and petitioned God have seen God in His great mercy and grace give our son a persevering heart.
Every day we have to get up and do the hard things, the right things. But we remember, whether the valleys are dry or they are flooded, whether the sun beats down on our heads relentlessly or we never see it, we can persevere. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us who believe in Him, and we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.1 Because our hearts belong to Him, we can persevere.
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.2
1 See Romans 8:11, 35, 37–39.
2 Philippians 3:14 is taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible, public domain.
Author’s note: the above conversations with the medical professionals are not direct quotes but rather paraphrased summaries. And just a fun thing to note: in addition to becoming an athlete, our son also became a musician on several instruments. He is now married and doing very well in life. We are very proud of him, our daughter, and now our daughter-in-law. Our cup overflows, and so do our hearts! Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; His mercy endures forever (see Psalm 107:1)!
©Revised and updated text Francee Strain, November 8, 2022. Original post February 28, 2021.
Photo credit goes to my aunt Cheri. She took this photo of my son while visiting us in April 2014, fifteen years after that first phone call regarding the ultrasound findings.