In this part of her talk, Bonnie shares the miracle that God gave to her son and her family. She reminds us that God is faithful and generous, that even through tough moments, He will come through with his mantle of love.
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent;k They are renewed each morning— great is your faithfulness! The LORD is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him.l The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him;m It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance.”Lamentations 3:22 – 26
- Bonnie was reminded that she wasn’t alone when one of the first responders let her rest and lean on him. How has God reminded you that you are not alone in your pain? How have you reminded others, in their pain, that they are not alone?
- When the future of Bonnie’s son was uncertain, she realized that she could either live in despair or darkness or she could remember Who God was in her life — and she shares that He had been faithful and He had been generous. So she chose to believe, then, that her child was a gift and she chose to live in the light of God’s love and in His plan for them. Have you been presented with a moment like this: when you were in a position to either live in darkness or in the light, trusting in Him? When was that moment for you and how have things changed since then?
- Even in the darkest times that Bonnie and her family experienced, she believes God was faithful to them. How has He been faithful to you in your hardest moments? It may not be as clear or as big as a miraculous healing, but it may be in much smaller and in not-as-obvious ways. How has He been with you?
- Bonnie continued to have hope despite the dire state of her son and the uncertainty. How can you foster greater hope in whatever situation you find yourself in? How can you trust in the Lord right now, to a greater degree? Are you able to look back at other situations you’ve been through and see how He has provided then, and does that bring you some comfort now?
Text: The Longest Hour: The Story of My Son Part II
Hi, I’m Bonnie Engstrom. Welcome back to the second part of my 3-part series of the talks that I’ll be giving for this healing retreat. I am honored to be with you again today, but before we go any further, why don’t we open in a prayer?
In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen. Come Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit. Almighty God, I thank You. I thank You for all of the good things You have given to us. I thank You for this opportunity, I ask that You would send Your Holy Spirit, send Him to me to fill me up, that my mind will be focused and my words will be exactly what You want them to be. Help me to be precise, and to be filled with love and mercy, that I may be a pencil in Your hands, Lord. I ask that You will send the Holy Spirit to every person who is watching this. You are our great physician, Lord. So please, please send Your Spirit to heal the wounds, to heal the brokenness, to meet us where we are, and to bring us further in our journey closer to You. Make us perfect in Your perfect love. Almighty God, I thank You, I thank You, I trust in You, Jesus. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be. World without end. Amen. In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.
Okay. Whoo! So, part 2. It’s going to be just as emotional, if not more so than part 1, just to give you a heads up. But let’s do a real quick recap of what I covered in the first talk. So, the big lessons for me that I’ve already covered were that children are only and always gifts, and that God is faithful, and He is generous. And those teachings really helped carry me through everything that I’m talking about with what I experienced with my son. So I had… James was my third child, he was my third planned home birth, everything went beautifully during the pregnancy. The delivery, however, the labor was great, but the delivery was heartbreaking, and we ended the last talk right after the delivery and the emergency baptism of my son.
My Stillborn Son
So, my son, James, was a stillborn, and he was laying on the floor of my bedroom as we were waiting for the first responders and the paramedics to come. My midwife and her assistant were continuing to do chest compressions and mouth-tomouth, they were continually assessing me and my baby, but things were looking pretty bad. And I remember the first responders came and, you know guys, we lived in a very small town, like 600 people, when James was born. A very small town. So the first responders who came, these were my neighbors. These were men who, you know, I saw at the gas station, I walked by their homes when we went on walks with the kids, and suddenly they were there in this situation that I don’t think they were really… I mean, how do you prepare for that? How do you prepare to, you know, for the death of a newborn? You know?
And, as first responders, there’s some things they can do, but they just… they could not really take care of James or that situation. And so I remember they let my midwife continue to kind of do what she was doing. They also helped with the chest compressions and whatnot, and then they also assessed me. But mostly, they were waiting for the paramedics to come, because the paramedics, they believed, would be able to intubate, to be able to put a breathing tube into James.
A Little Ray of Hope
But I do remember there was one man, he had a great big mustache I’ll never forget, and he kneeled next to me on the floor, and he held my hand, and he just let me rest my back against his leg. And I think of him a lot, and I think of that gesture, and just how sometimes when we are just drowning in so much pain and confusion and anger and hurt, and, I mean, it just seemed like… it seems like this story was going to end in a funeral, right. But even in the midst of all of that ugly, there was still this little act of kindness that just reverberated throughout all, you know.
And I share that with you because I think that looking at that for myself, and kind of naming that and appreciating that really helped me to see how I was not completely abandoned. Like, God had still put that man in that situation to take care of me in this very simple way. But it was just so loaded with love, you know. So I hope that maybe you are able to look at your own situation and find those little, you know, that little cup of water that someone is handing you, this one little ray of hope.
PEA on the Monitor
So the paramedics arrived, and they took James in their ambulance, and my husband went with him, I followed in another ambulance with some other first responders. And it was about a 20-minute drive from our home to the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, where James was taken, in Peoria Illinois. And during that time, James was hooked up to a heart monitor, and the entire time he was hooked up to that heart monitor, James’ pulse was what they call PEA on the monitor. That stands for “Pulseless Electrical Activity.” If you think of, like, a normal heartbeat and what it looks like, you know, it has the *bump* *bump* *chicka* *chicka* *bump* *bump* *chicka* *chicka**bump* *bump* *chicka* *chicka*. And that *bump* *bump* is the heartbeat, right. And then the *chicka* *chicka* are the electrical impulses that kind of fire off in the heart to make the heart beat. You cannot have a heartbeat without those electrical impulses, but you can have the electrical impulses without the heartbeat – that’s PEA. And James, his heart monitor was just the PEA, and legally, you can be declared dead if you are PEA on the monitor.
So James was PEA on the monitor, and to help restart his heart they gave him epinephrine. And in an emergency, they’ll try to get a line straight to the marrow of your bone, because it will be absorbed quicker, and hopefully will take effect faster. However, it can… at times it’s, you know, in medical jargon, it’s called an unstable line. So the first attempt was an unstable line, and that just led to a massive chemical burn in James’ right leg. The second attempt was in his left leg, and this time it did go into the marrow, but the medicine did nothing to restart his heart. So that when James arrived at the emergency department with my husband, you know, in the cab with him, there was a nurse practitioner and another nurse from the NICU, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, who had come down to the emergency department in order to help the ED team to take care of this newborn baby. And later, I was talking to one of those nurses, and she said, you know, that we were standing there waiting for them to come in, and they pulled this gurney out with this itty-bitty baby, and over him is this full-grown man doing chest compressions, and she said it was just, you know, heartbreaking.
And they took James back to a room in the ED and, you know, all hands on deck, everyone was trying to save this little boy. They did a sonogram of the heart and they said, you know, it just sat there. It was not moving. Any type of heartbeat that registered on the heart monitor was only because of chest compressions that were being done. Otherwise, James continued to be PEA on the monitor. They continued to give him medicine, epinephrine – I don’t even know what, all they gave him – trying to restart his heart.
And that nurse told me that “You know, there’s this little baby, and you just wanted to, like, pick him up and hold him and wrap him in a blanket. But there is nothing you can do because, you know, he has to be there, they’re trying to save his life.” So, just this instinct in her to in some way comfort him, she held on to his little foot because that was the only thing she could do, was hold on to his foot, so she would not be getting in the way. And she told me much later, she said “He was so cold, Bonnie. He was so cold.” And she said it was like the expression “cold and dead.” And I knew what she was saying to me was that, for all intents and purposes, they were working on a corpse.
Crucial Five Minutes
So, there was a Neonatologist, it was the middle of the night, so she was on call and she was driving into the hospital. And the ED team was on the phone with her and they would, you know, they were telling her what was happening as she was driving in. And at one point, something happened, maybe a reaction to some medicine, but his heart kind of fluttered a little bit. Not a real beat, but just kind of a twitch, and they told her that. And so the doctor said “Well, try for 5 more minutes, and then call it. Call time of death.”
So they tried for 5 more minutes and, you know, really, a heart twitching, it wasn’t that big of a sign of hope, right. They were trying for 5 more minutes, because at the end of those 5 minutes the doctors would then be able to walk out into the hall where my husband was waiting and they would be able to say “I’m sorry Mr. Engstrom. We did everything we could to save your son, but he didn’t make it.” So they tried for 5 more minutes, but James’ heart remained still. So all hands came up so they could call time of death, and the minute that happened, James’ heart started to beat 148 beats per minute, which is a healthy heart rate for a newborn baby. And it never stopped again.
Altogether, James had been dead for 61 minutes. Immediately, all hands were back on him, and they did everything they could to stabilize him. He had some seizures when he came back, and so they did phenobarbital, and just all of these different things to make him stable. He was intubated, and they moved him up to the NICU, where they did what they call cooling therapy. So he was laid on this blue pad that lowered his body temperature by a few degrees, so that any further and ongoing damage to his organs would be slowed down or complete stopped.
Grateful for the Sacraments
And when I was taken there in the early hours of the day, you know, they kind of brought me up to speed with what was going on, and our pastor and the hospital chaplain were both there, and they said to us “Mr. and Mrs. Engstrom, we understand that you have baptized James, and so we would like to offer confirmation to you.” And, on one level, I knew what they were saying. I knew that they were saying… you know, we’re Roman Catholic, and in the Roman Catholic, right, you don’t baptize a baby unless that baby is going to die. And so I knew they were saying “Your child’s going to die – this is what we’ve been told – and we would like to offer to him the sacraments, so that he may die a holy death and be received into heaven.”
And I knew, I knew that’s what they were saying, and I was so grateful to the church, who was able to care for us and carry us through this incredibly difficult situation. And I’m so grateful to God for the sacraments. But on another level, I just didn’t get it. I was still just in a state of shock, and I didn’t know what was going on, and I couldn’t really process – maybe I refused to process. I don’t know, but I said to them “Well, I mean, yeah. Like, let’s do it. But what will he do in 7th grade?” And they looked at each other kind of awkwardly, like “Uh, which… who’s going to tell her? Do you want to tell her? I don’t want to tell her.” And so they just said “You know, he’ll serve at the mass.”
And so he was confirmed. He was confirmed James Fulton Linus, and… Basically, you know, he had come back to life, but what everyone expected was that he was going to die again. Your body does not go an hour without oxygen and survive and thrive. Like, that does not happen, you know. What all of science and medicine told those doctors was that massive organ failure was going to kick in and, one-byone, all of his organs would fail, and our son would die again.
Prayed for a Miracle
But we prayed for a miracle and, you know, in the NICU, they want to give you hope. And hope is, I mean, it is worth more than gold, hope is, you know. And so they said to us “You know, we don’t know what’s going to happen to your son. He may live, and he may be completely normal, completely normal. Or, he may not make it.” And that was the spectrum that they gave us. They didn’t know if he would live through the night. He was born on a Thursday, so he would probably not live through the weekend, and he would definitely not live to be a week old. And so, you know, they thought he was going to die. But, you know, what happened was he lived.
And so then they said “Okay, well, you know, he might live, but he’s probably going to… he’s going to be very medically frail, there’s going to be a lot of complications. He will be blind, he will have a feeding tube for the rest of his life, you know, he won’t be able to eat or drink anything orally probably. He’ll be in diapers, he will have cerebral palsy that will be so severe that his body will be just kind of locked in into a really tight, possibly contorted positions, and he’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He’ll have the mental capacity of probably an infant.”
Believing God’s Faithfulness and Generosity
And I thought about God, and how He had told me that children were gifts, only and always. And I was so mad, because I just thought, you know, “Here You gave me this gift, and then You took him away, and then You gave him back to us, but now You’re just taking him away piece by piece again.” And I thought “You are a horrible gift-giver,” and I was so angry, I was so angry. But I knew, thanks be to God, I realized that I could either live in that despair and in the darkness, or I could remember who God was in my life. And God was faithful, and God was generous. That whole pregnancy, He had been faithful and He had been generous. And from the very beginning, as soon as I knew about my son’s life, I knew that God had a purpose and a plan for my son, that my son was a gift.
And so I chose to believe that, and I chose to live in the light, and doing that, it was like a… It was like all the weight in the world was lifted from my chest. I could breathe again, you know. But we still prayed for a miracle. We prayed for a complete healing for James. And as the days and the weeks went by, the weeks turned into a month, which almost turned in to 2 months – we were in the NICU for 7 weeks altogether. And by the time we left, James was just this cute, normal little boy. By 9 months, he was hitting milestones. I mean like, you know. And we knew, he had been hitting milestones for a while. But by 9 months, when he’s sitting in his high chair, and he’s picking up cheerios and eating them, I mean, we were just amazed. And, you know, James is a year old now.
So, yes. By 9 months, we just knew God has heard our prayers. God has heard our prayers. We went through a major valley, but I really believe that God was faithful to us that entire time. Even in the darkest, darkest times, in my hardest hours, in my hardest moments through that entire, you know, not just the hour when James was literally dead, but the weeks in the NICU that were just heartbreaking, and the weeks and the months at home of kind of figuring out “Who is this baby, and what he’s going to be able to do, and has God really heard our prayer?”
You know, in the bible, Jesus says “Pick up your mat and walk,” and the man picks up his mat and he walks, you know. And we know that the healing is complete and instantaneous, but for a newborn, I mean, we had to wait for just nature, for milestones to happen, because a baby, you know, a newborn can’t even lift his head, let alone a mat, you know. And so there really was just a lot of months of begging God, begging God. But He was faithful. He was faithful. And that’s where I want to end this talk, just on that note, that God is faithful. Through the hardship, all those months of worrying and doubting and crying and wondering and choosing, in my doubt, choosing to place my hope in the Lord, the lesson over and over again was that God is faithful, and He’s generous. Let’s pray.
In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen. Oh, Lord Jesus, thank You so much. Thank You so much for every good thing You have given us. Thank You for this opportunity for us to be together. Lord God, I hope and I pray that everything that I did and said brought honor and glory to Your name, and that You spoke through me to bring healing to the hearts of the people who listened. Lord Jesus, I love you, and I trust you. Thank You for being faithful, and for being generous. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be. World without end. Amen. In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.
Okay, thank you so much guys. I will see you again in a little while. God bless.
About Bonnie Engstrom
Bonnie Engstrom is a writer, baker, speaker, and homemaker. She, her husband, and six children live in central Illinois, and her son’s alleged miraculous healing through the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen was submitted to the Vatican for Sheen’s beatification. Bonnie enjoys chai tea, baking, and putzing about her yard. She blogs at A Knotted Life and you can find her on Instagram at @BonnieEngstrom.