Writings: All Writings

Resting in God's Strength

Presented at the funeral of Selah Brielle Apple

Author: John C. Nugent

04/14/15+ Share

Twenty weeks after conception, Selah Brielle Apple was diagnosed with Potter's Syndrome. She would not be able to survive outside her mother's womb. Darcie and Ryan Apple had a choice to make. They could carry their child full term, knowing it would die shortly after birth, or they could terminate the pregnancy and spare their family several months of anguish. They chose suffering love. This sermon bears witness to Selah's short but amazing life.

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We gather this afternoon to celebrate three things: the life of Selah Brielle Apple, the goodness of our God and Savior, and the faithfulness of Darcie and Ryan.

When we honor the memory of departed loved ones we typically hit the highlights. We tend to skip right past early childhood and focus on accomplishments in high school, achievements in college, service in the church, contributions to the common good, and various roles people play in their families.

This is probably as it should be, but we sure miss out on a lot. In living a little over eight months in her mother’s womb and three precious hours in the loving arms of family and friends, Selah reminds us just how much we often miss. If you haven’t been around the Apple family lately, then you probably have some catching up to do. Through story, Scripture, testimony, and pictures, several of us this afternoon will do our best to get you caught up.

Selah was conceived early in August, 2014. Before anyone knew she even existed, she participated in celebrating her big brother Micah’s birthday. It wasn’t long before Darcie and Ryan discovered the great news. They then prepared an elaborate scavenger hunt to tell their other four children. The rest of us found out the old fashioned way: Facebook. Perhaps you remember the September 7 photo of Annissa sitting on a rocking chair in the middle of the lawn with a sign reading “Big Sister in Training.”

The next couple of months were rather ordinary. Selah’s house was painted by her Dad, uncle, and church family. She celebrated another birthday with her family, this time it was Darcie. Her gift to mommy was an extra dose of morning sickness, more than any of her siblings managed to pull off. Shortly afterward she celebrated Ellie’s birthday and later, in March, the births of Annissa and Dorian. No one, but Dad, was left out. Having a summer birthday, Ryan is probably used to flying under the birthday radar.

Mid-December brought the heart-wrenching news. The 20 week ultrasound was supposed to reveal the gender, but it didn’t. Instead, we learned that there was little amniotic fluid surrounding Selah, that she had only one kidney, and that even it was unable to function. She had Potter’s Syndrome. Though she may make it full term, she could not survive outside her mother’s womb. The family’s response was silence. What could they say? It took a few weeks before Selah’s brother and sisters, one at a time, mustered the courage to talk about her again.

Darcie turned to Scripture. Only God could strengthen her through such a time. The day after the specialist confirmed the diagnosis, she found Isaiah 40 to be especially comforting:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Two days later she clung to Psalm 29:11:

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

Selah’s first Christmas was a tough one. But she received a special present: a baby’s first Christmas ornament. It was blue. Potter’s Syndrome was twice as common among boys, so it was a pretty good guess. But the guessing didn’t last much longer. A blood test two weeks later revealed that Selah was indeed a girl.

This marked a key turning point for the family. With the gender revealed, the Apples could now name their precious baby. They chose Selah Brielle. Selah is a somewhat mysterious musical term that appears without explanation several times in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms. Our best guess is that it means “rest” or “pause briefly.”

Brielle is another Hebrew name. It is short for Gabrielle or Gabriel, which means “mighty one of God” or “strength of God.” Paired together, Selah Brielle means “resting in God’s strength.” That is where Selah truly was and is. It is where the entire Apple family was and continues to be.

Speaking of mighty ones, the next big gift in Selah’s life was a stuffed bunny rabbit, picked out just for her by her sisters and brother. Inside of it is a button that plays the sound of Selah’s heartbeat. Since all the other kids received homemade superhero capes, Selah’s siblings insisted that her bunny gets one too. It was now a mighty bunny—and they named it Hope.

If you’ve seen this bunny on Facebook, then you’ve seen the Bible verse Darcie included with it. Psalm 34:18 reads,

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Darcie then explains the bunny’s name, saying, “God didn't promise us a perfect life without trials and hardship, but He has given us hope—hope in His glory that will be revealed when He comes again.”

Around that same time, a different glimmer of hope seemed to present itself. The Apples stumbled across a rare procedure that had a slight chance of extending Selah’s life: an amnioinfusion. Doctors could help Selah live a little longer by doing on her behalf what healthy kidneys usually do. It wasn’t really a solution. It was not the path to a normal life. It seemed more like a path to prolonged suffering for Selah and for the family.

If they were going to do this, they would have to make a decision quickly. So I will never forget what Ryan and Darcie did next. They went to our annual church retreat and sought God’s council through brothers and sisters in Christ. They could have stayed home. Who would blame them? But the Scriptures taught them that when two or more gather in Jesus’ name, he would be in their midst to help them discern God’s will for life’s most difficult decisions. No one told them what to do that weekend. But God gave them their answer. They chose a short peaceful life over a potentially longer but certainly more complicated life of machine dependency.

February was a cold quiet month. Darcie was feeling discouraged and heavyhearted. Again she took refuge in God’s word. Psalm 62:5-8 reads,

My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah.

It is often during ordinary months like February that a family’s life rhythm is most clearly evident. So Selah no doubt enjoyed her siblings reading to her every night from the Baby’s First book series. She heard them singing “Jesus Loves Me” and praying for her before bedtime. She experienced an Argentinian classical guitar set as Ryan rehearsed for an upcoming performance, and the sweet sound of piano and violin when Darcie found the emotional strength to play only late in her pregnancy. On the first day of each week she could always count on the praise, prayer, laughter, and all around chaos of church gatherings.

March wasn’t so ordinary. The birth was just around the corner. How would it all go down? When would it go down? Would everything and everyone be ready? Why was Selah breech? Won’t that only make matters worse? It was a month of uncertainty and “what ifs.”

The “what ifs” all stopped at 1 AM on April 11, shortly after Selah celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Darcie woke up not feeling quite herself. Something was different, way different. She woke Ryan up, who then called 911. While he’s on the phone, Darcie is rummaging around, gathering her belongings, and packing for a hospital trip. 

The dispatcher instructs Ryan to make a preliminary inspection. When a baby is breech and there’s no water to break, the first thing you feel is the baby’s toes. Selah was certainly on her way, and it was time for Darcie to stop packing and stay put. A firetruck, ambulance, and squad car soon arrived. They loaded her on a stretcher and headed for Sparrow Hospital.

I can only imagine what was going through Ryan’s mind while riding shotgun in the ambulance with his body shaking involuntary. Was the worst case scenario really unfolding? It was all happening way too fast. No one would be there on time. The kids, the photographer, the family. They had so little time to begin with.

Yet they were in good hands. They were resting in God’s strength.

The delivery was proceeding rather quickly, but Carrie and Deborah soon arrived with the kids. An epidural managed to slow down the contractions. Before long, Ryan and Darcie’s families also arrived, as well as Rhonda who was poised to take plenty of pictures. They had so much time to spare that they actually chose to induce labor. After only two minutes and four strong pushes, Selah was born. Though she gave everyone a scare with an excessively low heartrate, she soon rebounded to a normal range.

For over an hour Selah was quite stable. Everyone got a chance to hold her. She felt the loving warmth of parents, siblings, grandparents, and church family. Her big brother read her a book. Ellie introduced her to Hope, her bunny. Dorian was deeply engaged in everything with maturity beyond her years. Annissa beamed with pride and joy each time she got to hold her little sister. The whole family sang to her several times. Selah opened her eyes multiple times and, on more than one occasion, made faint hiccup-like sounds. Rhonda was perfectly positioned to capture many of these precious moments.

But they didn’t last for long. The heartbeat eventually regressed and the room grew increasingly still. Selah quietly and peacefully passed away three hours after birth.

She’s resting now in God’s strength.

As you listened to the story of Selah’s rich, love-saturated life, I am not sure what you heard. As you came alongside the Apples with kind words, thoughtful gifts, and sympathetic presence, I am not sure what you saw. But I saw God’s strength at work. I caught a glimpse of the kingdom.

I saw the least among us given first place.

I saw the weak made strong.

I saw the poor in Spirit made rich.

I saw countless mothers, brothers, and sisters multiply around God’s faithful ones.

I saw the whole body suffering as one of its members suffered.

I saw mourners being comforted.

I saw a child being welcomed in Jesus’ name.

We don’t get to see that all the time. We don’t get to see it when everything goes our way. We don’t get to see it in times of prosperity. We don’t get to see it when our brothers and sisters take the path of least resistance. We only get to see this when God’s children dare to step out in faith--when God’s children stare at impossible odds and press on anyway.

Some of us face impossible financial situations, wondering how things will ever improve. Some of face unbearable lives at home, doubting it could ever become a place of peace. Some of us face debilitating physical and mental health issues, thinking the path of abundant life has been permanently obstructed. Many of us face challenges that we know with all our heart we are not up to facing.

Rest in God’s strength. He will see you through. It is his pleasure to entrust his kingdom to us.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ faced the ultimate impossibility: triumph over death. Yet for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, disregarded its shame, and was raised not only from the dead, but even further to God’s right hand. And he remains there for us... to intercede on our behalf, to cheer us on to the finish line, and to carry us as we carry one another across it.

So we remember Selah Brielle Apple as a dearly loved child of God whose undeniable weakness brought the best out of God’s children. We grieve her death not only because we miss her so dearly, but because she has taught us so much in so little time and we still have so much to learn.

 

Lord God we thank you for the gift of Selah Brielle… for eight months and three hours of miracle… for the strength and faith to receive a shortened life as your gift… for the Apple family having modeled for us what it means to rest in your strength. Increase our faith, O God. Comfort us as we continue to mourn. Return for us in glory, and welcome us into the fullness of your kingdom, life without end, through Jesus Christ, amen.