It’s a Wednesday in October 2019. Cheyenne is 1 day old.
She is a bigger girl than we expected, 9 pounds and 4 ounces. She feels so heavy, looks so beautiful, already loved so dearly.
But the nurse whisks in this day with a determined look in her eye. Mid-nursing, my daughter Morgan is asked by the nurse to hand over her baby.
They have Cheyenne’s bilirubin numbers. They are dangerously high. She is jaundiced at a disturbing level.
She must go to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Now!
Everything now depends on the light.
The Dangers of Jaundice
Mild infant jaundice isn’t unusual. Almost 60% of newborns are born with jaundice. It causes their skin and eyes to look yellowish. It often disappears on its own within two to three weeks and is harmless.
But occasionally, the build-up of bilirubin in the blood (the normal byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells) is so high it can cross the thin tissue that separates the brain and blood.
It can damage both the spinal cord and the brain. It can lead to cerebral palsy, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and if left untreated, it can even be fatal.
But what about spiritual jaundice? Is it dangerous too?
When we have a build-up of bad habits, of toxic relationships, of negative attitudes, our spiritual lives also become jaundiced. And not to stretch the metaphor too far, but this build-up can also cross the thin place connecting the brain and the blood.
What can we do about it?
Turn on the Lights!
With my granddaughter Cheyenne, they say she’ll need to stay under the special lights in NICU 24/7, for 3-5 days, until her bilirubin levels come down. Otherwise, she could have brain damage (kernicterus or bilirubin encephalopathy).
She immediately begins phototherapy, or light treatment.
Thank God for the light.
How does phototherapy work?
The special blue-green spectrum of bililights helps make the bilirubin water-soluble, a process called photo-oxidation. With more oxygen in the bilirubin, it’s easier for Cheyenne’s liver to break down the bilirubin and remove it from her blood as she pees and poops. She’s also extra hydrated to speed up the elimination of bilirubin and to protect her from losing too much water through her skin under the lights.
Jeff and I get to peek at Cheyenne in the NICU. We can’t touch her yet.
But we can see her.
She looks so lonely there by herself, wearing the tiniest little sunglasses you ever can imagine, hooked up to an IV, and laying on a bili-blanket of light below with an array of lights all around.
3 Ways Light Can Save You
The healing for our spiritual jaundice also requires extra doses of light. The message the apostle Paul heard from John is God is light (1 John 1: 5).
Here are three ways we can turn on the light for spiritual light therapy, helping clear up our spiritual jaundice.
1. HEAR GOD
Check yourself into the ICU. Intentionally listen for stirrings of God. Maybe you’ll hear him in your favorite music. Or listen for him as you read a favorite psalm about God aloud. Step outside tonight to listen to the insect sounds he created and return outside in the morning to hear the bird songs he orchestrates.
2. SEE GOD
Sit under more light. Look for God in other people. Everyone is made in his image. You’ll find traces of him in every person that crosses your path. See him in your work with others. Reflect on your relationships through the years to remind yourself of all the places God has shown up.
3. TOUCH GOD
Reach for God’s light this week by loving yourself, his creation of wonder. Allow God to love you through small treats (for me, it’s a special dessert or time doing puzzles). Take a walk in the sunshine and feel God’s warmth on your skin.
God’s light is not in short supply. Wrap yourself up in it. Let his light break through your jaundice.
Touch the Light
Cheyenne is now two days old. It’s Thursday. The grandparents are allowed again into the NICU. This time Lauren, her nurse (God bless her), lets us all the way in.
Jeff and I are grateful to hold our second granddaughter. It’s difficult with the tubes and the light board.
We gingerly wrap our hands around her. We’re thankful to touch her.
The light is saving her life.
She cries. I do, too.
At three days old on Friday, the light treatment (and Cheyenne’s miraculous, God-designed body) is clearing out the bilirubin quicker than expected. She is disconnected from her IV and released from the NICU light therapy.
She returns to a regular hospital room with my daughter, her mom. And she meets her big sister.
After five days in the hospital, Cheyenne is finally released.
Her journey with jaundice still isn’t over (it will take a few more days for it all to clear), but she’s finally well enough to ride home with her mommy and daddy on Saturday.
Grateful for the Light
I’ll always look back to those days almost two years ago with gratitude for the special light that saved my granddaughter.
It reminds me still to be grateful for the special light that saves us all.
We all depend on light for life.
The very Word of life, light himself, existed from the beginning. We have seen his light. We live because of his light.
See the light in your life today. Observe the light. Touch the light.
The light will save you, too.
This is Week 1 of reading (and for some of us, memorizing) 1 John 1. (It’s not too late to join us.)
“The Word of life existed from the beginning. We have heard it. We have seen it. We observed and touched it.” (1 John 1:1, GW)
Yes. Thank you, God.
How has light saved you in your dark moments? Share in the comments.
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