December 12, 2011

my thoughts on the alleged miracle

Fifteen months ago my son was delivered a stillborn.  It was the middle of the night and there were only a small group of people with me.  Three of us present asked Fulton J. Sheen to pray with us and ask God for a miracle.  Our wording was not quite so specific, but the Holy Spirit understands the groanings of the soul. 

It wasn't until the emergency room staff was prepared to call time of death - 61 minutes after he had been born - that my son's heart began to beat.  Medical staff did not think he would live because no one comes back to life after being dead for an hour and stays alive for long.  No one thought he would live.  And then he did.  So the experts thought he would be severely disabled, and let me tell you exactly what that meant.

Diapers for the rest of his life.
A feeding tube because he would aspirate on any and all foods and liquids.
Unable to walk.
Unable to stand.
Unable to hold his head up.
Unable to open his hands and grasp items.
Unable to stretch out his arms.
Inability to speak or communicate in any way.

It's such a cold list, and one that is incomplete I'm sure.  But now let me tell you what that list meant for us.

A different family dynamic than we had ever imagined.
My son not being able to see me smile or look with love and pride at him.
James not being able to eat his first birthday cake, Halloween candy, a perfect fall apple, my homemade pizza; or to have a refreshing drink of water, his first sip of beer, champagne at his wedding.  No Holy Communion.
No dancing, hopping, jumping, running with his family and friends. 
Probably no friends.
No getting down on one knee to propose to a girl or laying prostrate on a cathedral floor.
Not being able to turn to look at a sunset, a Christmas tree, a crucifix.
My son not being able to hold my hand.
My son not being able to wrap his arms around me and give me a hug.
Medications and doctor visits and therapists and stares and whispers and emergency room visits for the rest of his life.
Never getting to hear my son call me "Mommy" or tell me he loves me. 

That list meant that I had to mourn a lifetime of moments that I assumed I'd get:  first steps, first day of school, first communion, science projects, playdates with his friends, high school dances, graduation - the rest of his life as I had pictured it.  My son was still alive but I was mourning the loss of the son I thought I was getting.  The pain from all that was so great that I still cry about it.

So what to do when that list was taken away?  The doctors cannot give good reason as to why he is alive and well.  One of his NICU doctors has said, "The CPR must have been very, very good."  But it wasn't.  The oxygen bag wouldn't seal around his mouth and nose though different people tried various times.  Attempts at intibation (putting an oxygen tube into the lungs) failed at least 3 times.  The boy wasn't getting oxygen.  No oxygen = no life.  It's that simple. 

Some have jokingly called James Fulton "The Boy Who Lived."  I like that joke.  What I don't appreciate are all the comments of hatred, ignorance, bigotry, stupidity, and/or arrogance that come in comment boxes related to James' story.  How can people be so mean about a little boy who was dead and came back to life?

I know that James' story has brought joy to many, many people.  I know James' story has affirmed the existence of God for some doubters.  I know James' alleged miracle has brought hope and a renewed faith to many people. 

I also know that for many his story is too hard to hear.  Every day I hear of people begging for a miracle - a healing, a restoration, an answered prayer.  Their grief - their lists - are just as cold and heavy as mine was.  For some of these people James' story hardens their hearts and makes them angry at God and resentful towards us.  I can understand and appreciate their feelings. 

I think it's important that people know that this didn't happen to us because we prayed the right way, or had the perfect number of people praying.  It didn't happen to us because our family is perfect.  Neither is our marriage perfect.  Neither are we perfect.  I am high strung, quick to judge, and I can really cuss when I'm mad.  I didn't deserve to be the mother of a "miracle baby". 

Life is easier lived when viewed through the lens of "this is what I was given" instead of "this is what I deserve".  During those 61 minutes, and then the first days, and then the 7 weeks of the NICU stay my life was harder when I cried out "Why?" and much more peaceful when I focused on God's will.  Had I been living God's will to the best of my abilities in the time before the stillborn birth?  Yes.  Was I trying to live God's will to the best of my abilities in the time after the stillborn birth?  Yes.  That was all I needed to know.  "His will is our peace."

Travis and I truly believe that Fulton Sheen was praying with us during those 61 minutes.  We truly believe that saints are more alive than we on earth are and that their prayers are powerful because they are truly before the Lord.  We believe that Fulton Sheen's intercession was integral to what happened next.  We believe that God wanted James and Sheen to be connected in this way and, if it be God's will, we hope that this alleged miracle will be declared an official miracle and Sheen will be beatified because of it.  We believe all of this is for God's greater glory and it is an honor and privilege to be a part of it.

All of this has come out because of recent media coverage, such as the Peoria Journal Star and because of the closing of the tribunal that investigated whether or not James was miraculously healed.  There is still a long process ahead - translating the documents into Italian, having European medical experts look over the case, having theologians look at the case, etc.  If it is declared a miracle I'm sure more ugliness will be spouted.  Travis and I want to promote Sheen's name and good works, God's saving power, and the amazing story of our son.  But today I just had to vent a little bit.


  1. I would need to vent too! People are so hateful sometimes and for no reason at all.

  2. "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

    Prayers for you, your family, and for all the naysayers.

  3. I cannot believe some of those comments. Don't take it personally. I think people comment just so that they'll get comments back to them. If any of those people had been in your shoes for those 61 minutes, I doubt there would have been negative comments.

  4. Bonnie, what a beautiful post. And good vent. Comments on articles are like car accidents, so hard to look away. But psychology should coin a term for what happens to people when they can say something under total anonymity. Seriously. 99.99% of these people would never say anything if they heard your story in person. If you comment on an article/blog under anon or even a screen name, just to bash the article, you lose all credibility.

  5. I was appalled when I read those comments yesterday, and then very sad that some people don't have a strong faith or belief in God (or any for that matter). My prayers go out to them. I, for one, am proud and honored to be a supporter of James, the whole Engstrom family, and Fulton Sheen. Love ya Bonnie!

  6. What a beautiful, honest post. Count me as one of the people who have read your story and been enriched. May God bless little James Fulton---may he have a wonderful, full life in service to Him. Thank you.

  7. Bonnie, if you would ever like to talk to me about what I saw (and did) during the last part of those 61 minutes, I would welcome that. Or (and I'm hesitant only because I don't know when I'd find the time) but I'd be willing to write the story for you personally, if you'd like. I'm a believer as well as an NNP, and James IS a miracle.

    Suzanne Tietjen

  8. I have just caught up on your story here. I didn't comment on the earlier posts about James because I'm late to the party. but this is amazing. I will add this to my prayers/intentions. I also pray that you are spared ongoing vitriol and hatred as a result of this miracle and/or the process.

  9. Interesting. I have been hearing of your family through word of mouth and here and there and somehow stumbled here. We love Fulton sheen so maybe that's why your story stuck out to us. That and we did have a stillbirth ourselves 12 years ago.

  10. I just want you to know I can relate to your experience of grief. It is the saddest thing to hold your baby son in your arms and mourn everything you envisioned for a happy life... gone! Even if you got him back (as I "got my son back" by virtue of more-detailed medical tests which proved the doctor's initial diagnosis of severe spinal cord damage inaccurate), it is an unforgettable experience. I will always have a renewed gratitude that the blessed Mother stood at the foot of the Cross and held her Son after He died. In my lowest hour, I knew Mary knew *exactly* what I was going through. That made it easier, somehow.

    I'm so happy for your miracle baby!!

  11. Amazing. Thank you, Bonnie, for sharing your beautiful story.

  12. In His will is our Peace!!! That is the epitaph we chose for the gravestone of our miscarried baby, Andrew. Praise God! (even when it's not easy!!)

    Your story, too, was near to my heart as the days inched closer to our 2nd planned homebirth in November 2011.

    I just came across a prayerbook I collaborated on in college--on Our Lady of Knots. I'll have to scan you a copy :D

  13. In His will is our Peace!!! That is the epitaph we chose for the gravestone of our miscarried baby, Andrew. Praise God! (even when it's not easy!!)

    Your story, too, was near to my heart as the days inched closer to our 2nd planned homebirth in November 2011.

    I just came across a prayerbook I collaborated on in college--on Our Lady of Knots. I'll have to scan you a copy :D

  14. This is a brilliant, brilliant insight: 'Life is easier lived when viewed through the lens of "this is what I was given" instead of "this is what I deserve".'

    I think US culture is so centered on believing that we get what we deserve... which makes difficult times more difficult.