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How the Church Can Support Families Going Through a Medical Crisis

medical crisis
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

More often than not, a medical crisis isn’t planned or anticipated. And even if we have some heads-up and some time to plan, we can still be surprised by feelings and needs that might arise that we didn’t see coming.

My son Ezra came into the world much like his sisters, but the rest of his story is marked with unexpected and stark contrasts. Born severely underweight, Ezra presented a seizure at just 36 hours old. One minute I was sitting in bed holding him; the next we were being transported on a gurney in the back of the ambulance. As much as we would have liked a quick resolution to his episode, the reality is in his four years of life we have spent 37 days in two Neonatal Intensive Care Units, three days in a Pediatric ICU, and witnessed a total of three near-death medical emergencies.

Because we live in a world with sickness and disease, church leaders will encounter families navigating a child medical crisis either first or secondhand. The more proactive the church can be in serving these families, the better. I’ve pulled from my personal experience, and the hundreds of families I have interacted with through my role as Praying Through Ministries founder and executive director, to provide church leaders with practical ways to support families as they navigate a child medical crisis.

The Gift of Financial Support

Each time the nurse entered our room to administer a medicine, she used the handheld scanner to read the barcode attached to our son’s ankle. Beep. Next she scanned the bottle of medicine. Beep. In my mind I saw an old-fashioned cash register with the numbers frantically flipping and spinning. Higher. Higher. Higher. Compared to some, our 37-day stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was a short one, but even still our hospital bill was $500,000!

The larger our hospital bill grew, the greater the financial stress weighed on our household and our marriage. We were fortunate to live in a Ronald McDonald House, where meals were often provided and we didn’t have to commute to the hospital. But for the families living paycheck to paycheck, the gas it takes to go back and forth to the hospital and the price of food to feed the family quickly become heavy burdens.

Some practical ways the church can give the gift of financial support include: taking up a love offering to help offset the cost of the medical bills, creating a meal train or providing families with restaurant gift cards, or gifting families gas cards for traveling back and forth to the hospital.

The Gift of Presence

Though we felt helpless during our son’s medical crisis, we spent 12 hours a day sitting by his bedside. Our room had the bare essentials—two tiny windows near the ceiling for some sunlight, a blue rocker, and a very hard, vinyl chair—but there we sat, often in silence, for 37 long days.

An hour-and-a-half from home, visits from friends and family were unlikely. Our pastor’s wife did something that created a ripple effect, truly blessing us. She connected us with a friend in the area. That friend shared our circumstances with her pastor, who came to pray with us. The same friend also took it upon herself to gather a group of her friends and organize a time of prayer and praise for me in the hospital courtyard. One of those ladies invited me to her house one day and made me a home-cooked meal. Another day, the same group of women invited me to their home for fellowship and prayer. And because the pastor shared about our circumstances, someone from the church also came to sit with us.

It’s been almost five years, and I haven’t forgotten the people who showed up for us. Though the majority of them were complete strangers, I continue to be grateful for their fellowship, encouragement, and prayer in one of our darkest seasons.

Some practical ways the church can give the gift of presence include: organizing a schedule to visit the family at the hospital (with the family’s input) or helping the family ensure any siblings are receiving attention by spending intentional time with them either through something like play dates or quality time with members of the childcare team they know and love.

The Gift of Service

During our extended hospital stay, I know without a doubt our grass was overgrown, our mailbox was overflowing, and Amazon packages piled up at our doorstep. Though our world felt like it was standing still, the reality was that life didn’t stop.