The Magazine

A Healing Illness

Facing the unexpected, and inexplicable

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By PETER WEHNER
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Throughout, Baier refers to the hospital staff as “family” and says the medical crew treating Paul dealt with him as if he were their son. The Baiers are sustained by a web of relationships, some of which started when they were born, some of which they married into, and still others that began after their son was diagnosed with heart disease. Together, friends and family provided the Baiers with encouragement, tender care, spiritual support, and medical guidance. I’m reminded of what anthropologists call “relationships of affinity,” which support us and keep us from being isolated in moments of genuine need. The Baiers were immeasurably helped by such relationships. 

Another topic here is loss of control. Baier admits to struggling with his powerlessness: “Amy and I were a very happy couple,” he writes. “We had everything going for us—had all we needed. Our hopes, dreams, and future prospects were unlimited. Everyone said so. But now, none of that meant a thing. There was only one reality now; our son was extremely sick, and there was a chance he was going to die.” Later, he writes about “the pent-up insecurity of knowing I had zero control over anything that was going on.” Special Heart reveals a couple that first struggled with the loss of control and then, by necessity, came to accept it. 

Of course, life is filled with unexpected turns, trials, and shattered expectations. The most joyful people are those who release rather than cling to expectations, who adjust to new circumstances rather than try to re-create ones lost in time. The Baiers eventually chose to focus their energies on the areas they could control—most especially, loving their son and being with him virtually around the clock—and release the rest to their Lord.

Which leads to a third theme: the Baiers’ increasing reliance on, and trust in, God. While they are lifelong Roman Catholics, their son’s condition made them more spiritually minded and prayerful. Baier writes about the succor they found in the chapel at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, how scriptural verses became touchstones for them, and how much they relied on, and asked for, prayer. They took comfort not in knowing how things would finally turn out but in knowing that God is faithful and can redeem all things, including pain and brokenness. With the prospect of losing their newborn child, the Baiers turned to God rather than turning on Him. Which explains why this is, finally, a book of gratitude—gratitude for the Baiers’ family and friends, for the medical team surrounding them, and for their son, the gift of life, and the giver of life. 

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.