After two miscarriages, Eric and Missa wondered what God had planned for them.
Until they found out they were pregnant with a little boy. Small moments of joy soon turned to grief as each doctor appointment ended with the difficult reality that their son might not live.
In March 2011, at 22 weeks, Missa's water broke. She and Eric prayed for their son's life, but they knew that even if he did live, there would be no quality of life for a baby born so prematurely.
Eric could barely think straight, but immediately jumped into "damage control" mode and handled the situation the best he knew how. He knew he had to be strong for Missa as he got her in their car and rushed to the hospital.
Eric's mind raced with thoughts of their dying son and trying to figure out how to pick up those pieces. Cars didn't seem to move fast enough as he hurried through traffic and stop lights to the hospital.
Eric knew that night there was a chance that his son’s life would end without even having the chance to live.
Missa was in the hospital for three weeks. She had many people come and visit her as she waited and prayed for her little boy.
Eric and Missa’s son, Elijah, was born at 25 weeks gestational age. His lungs were not developed, and his heart had not completely formed, but he was born with a pocket of water around his head, which allowed him to breathe. He weighed 1 lb 12 oz, and he was 13" long. The doctors told Eric and Missa that Elijah had a 20% chance of surviving. Elijah was immediately taken from his parents to the Loma Linda neonatal intensive care unit. Here, Elijah was placed on a ventilator and fed through a tube. Elijah wasn't allowed outside his incubator for quite a while.
Eijah's time in the NICU was difficult for his parents. Eric purposely removed his emotional connection with Elijah, in case anything happened. Missa would go to work in the morning and then stay at the hospital with Elijah as long as she could before she had to go home and care for their daughter and the household. It was exhausting. Not only were they watching as their son's life teetered on the edge, but Eric and Missa's marriage was a mess. They did not have a lot of time together, so they separately dealt with their emotions of everything.
The four months that Elijah spent in the hospital were stressful, scary, sad and full of unknowns. He had surgery, infections and several different tubes all over his little body. Through the whole experience, though, Eric and Missa knew they were never alone.
Eric and Missa began attending Sandals Church in May 2011 after hearing one of Pastor Matt’s messages about sacrifice, which made both of them question the way they were living. While Missa was serving and attending their church, she ended her days trying to fill a life that felt empty and broken.
Knowing the reality of Eli not living beyond a year, or even months, Missa and Eric understood God’s sacrifice and his son’s death on the cross in a very personal way. Knowing this truth gave them a greater appreciation for who God is. Eric and Missa chose to trust God’s plan with Elijah and were surrounded by so community the entire time.
When Eli got out of the NICU in July 2011, he started coming to Sandals Church with his family. His first time in Flip Flops was hard for Eric and Missa as they handed their precious son over to people who, at the time, were strangers. They had to trust that God would protect their baby. Having Elijah home and present in their family gave Eric the ability to emotionally connect with Elijah - he was deeply in love with his little boy and could not imagine life without him.
Knowing that some the babies die in the NICU, and some live was a harsh reality for Missa. She struggled with the guilt of being given the chance to bring her baby boy home, while other moms mourned the death of their children. It took Missa a while to accept the truth that Elijah surviving was part of God’s plan for his life.
God was, and is, an anchor in Eric and Missa's life. His steadfast nature allows this couple to rely on His plan for them as a family. Their faith outweighs the moments of fear and doubt, and each day, they hold tightly to God’s constant strength.
Today, Elijah is three years old and is as rambunctious as any boy his age. He loves his friends and teachers at Flip Flops, and the life you see in his eyes reflects the life Christ desires of him.
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