02204_000_019There are times when human words fail in the presence of spiritual clarity. This was one.
The telephone rang late, waking my wife and me from a sound sleep. Funny how such calls never seem to bring good news. But we had come to expect such calls since the birth of our newest grandchildren.
Annie Mae Hixson had fought her way into mortality four months early in the summer of 2000, weighing in at one pound, three ounces and measuring just ten and one-half inches long. Annie’s twin, Abigail Rose, had returned to her Heavenly Father before we knew her. Each day since had been a balancing act between fear and faith. Each night came with gratitude for life preserved and the hope that tomorrow’s crises could be endured with grace and courage.
Annie faced all the typical challenges of an extremely premature baby. Sometimes her progress was so slow that her quality of life was measured only on the monitors recording her bodily functions. Her newborn cries were silenced by the tubes in her windpipe, and intravenous lines entered her chest and hands.
In spite of painful daily challenges, we gratefully saw the Lord’s hand in Annie’s life. We came to understand that the improbable happened almost daily, and the impossible just took a little longer.
The late-night phone call that woke us was one of many during Annie’s nearly six-month stay in the newborn intensive care unit and long after she came home that Christmas. Her father, Kevin, was calling to request my help in giving Annie a priesthood blessing, and the urgency in his voice was evident. Annie had begun having seizures. Her vital functions would not stabilize, and the monitors were screaming her distress. Each tremor in her fragile body was potentially fatal. Kevin, her father, needed assistance as soon as possible.
It had always been my practice to say a prayer before assisting in priesthood blessings. In spite of the urgency, I felt prompted to kneel and take what time was needed. I found myself expressing gratitude for the Lord’s intervention so many times before throughout this struggle. I realized Annie’s life had been a gift, almost a window to heaven. Even if the Lord chose to take her now, my cup was already overflowing. As I prayed, I came to understand that, with all the potency of medical science, the life of this sweet child was cradled in the hands of her Heavenly Father. Instead of simply asking for guidance, I found myself pleading for His permission to heal my granddaughter, to speak the words of life. With passing minutes pressing me to leave, still I waited and then closed my prayer.
I hurried to the hospital. There were no open parking places when I arrived, but after I made two passes, a spot opened up and I took it. When I entered the newborn intensive care unit, I met Kevin at Annie’s incubator. A waiting nurse pulled the curtain around us for a little privacy, and without delay Kevin anointed Annie with a drop of consecrated oil. Her fevered head was so small that we each placed a finger on the crown. Holding her convulsing hand with another, I sealed the anointing. In that moment I recognized the answer to my patient prayer and remembered the power in acting with God’s authority and permission.
As sacred words were spoken, Annie’s trembling and fragile body relaxed, and Annie fell asleep beneath our hands. For the first time in what seemed an eternity, her frantic monitors fell silent. The startled nurse pulled back the curtain, tears spilling down her cheeks. There are times when human words fail in the presence of spiritual clarity. This was one.
Annie Mae celebrates her eighth birthday this August. Her challenges continue, but her presence is a healthy, smiling testimony to us of the power of the priesthood and the sure promises and tender mercies of a loving Heavenly Father.
Photographs courtesy of the author