A family endures the ups and downs of life, always trusting the providence of God.
Ann M. Ponath
Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day a truck arrived to move all the Sonntags’ earthly goods from Cadillac, Michigan, to Bozeman, Montana. Pastor Jeff Sonntag had taken a call to serve Shining Mountains in Bozeman.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day they heard that their unborn 21-week-old baby had a hole in his diaphragm and other health challenges.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The same day they learned no medical facility in Montana could handle these challenges.
Trusting in God’s providence, Jeff and Anne, their two children, Ellie and Micah, and the unborn baby proceeded with their move to Montana.
Life went on. The Sonntags spent the summer getting to know members at Shining Mountains and settling into their new home. Extra prenatal doctor appointments kept them busy. Their Michigan specialist, who by God’s design just happened to visit Montana periodically, was only three hours away. Ellie started kindergarten in the local public school.
In mid-September, when Anne was 36 weeks pregnant, the president of the congregation loaned the Sonntags a van to drive across the mountains to Seattle where medical facilities were equipped for special deliveries. Just as the Sonntags crossed the border into Idaho, they received word that a room at the Ronald McDonald House just a few blocks from the hospital had opened up—another real blessing!
After getting Anne and the two children settled in Seattle, Jeff flew back to Bozeman. As the waiting and doctors’ appointments dragged on, the family made an important connection with Calvary, Bellevue, Washington. Ellie continued in kindergarten there, and it gave the displaced family a routine and Christian friends, friends who would prove a definite blessing later on.
A challenging beginning
Finally, on Oct. 5, Caleb Jonathan Sonntag was born via C-section. The doctors had prepared the Sonntags for the worst. Everyone was surprised when 9 lb., 9 oz., Caleb burst into a lusty cry. The words, “He shouldn’t be able to breathe on his own!” were heard! After a few minutes of being held, a baptism in the room right next to the operating room, and a quick kiss from Mom, Caleb was whisked to the children’s hospital where the staff quipped, “What is this big, chunky baby doing in the NICU?”
Three days later, newborn Caleb underwent surgery to repair his diaphragm and give his left lung room to fully develop. Although the procedure “felt like forever,” it was completely successful. Just a few days after surgery, Caleb was moved out of the NICU. Recovery took six and half weeks—a little longer than expected—as a high flow respirator aided breathing and inflated the underdeveloped lung to help it grow. Caleb was also kept on a 24/7 feeding tube for just enough nutrition, but not enough to over-fill his tiny stomach and affect his breathing.
God provided for them during this time, including help from fellow Christians. Anne recalls, “Our story about our stay in Seattle is not complete without mentioning the outpouring of love and support from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at Calvary in Bellevue. When our stay extended beyond the point that our family could be there, I knew I had to ask for help, even if asking for help was hard. I asked some of the ladies if they would come lend a hand at the hospital snuggling Caleb so I could focus on the older two for that time. Our new friends were so helpful, making it fit in their schedules and braving downtown traffic to help us not only in the afternoons but also some evenings that week. The prayers, the food, the support—it meant the world to me and was such a beautiful reflection of God’s love working in their hearts.”
God’s protecting hand
Finally, Caleb was given the okay to return to Montana Thanksgiving week. But the excitement was not over yet. On day two of their journey, coming down Lookout Pass on the border of Idaho and Montana, the van hit an icy stretch. “I didn’t have control,” Jeff remembers, as the van slid, then rolled two or three times, and finally landed on its right side in a field. But God provided again, sending his angels to protect them. Anne had a bump on her head, Jeff, a cut and broken finger, Ellie and Micah, not a scratch, and Caleb slept through the whole thing.
“It’s amazing how the Lord took care of us!” says Jeff. Five accidents—one which included a fatality—took place in the same location that same day.
The family stayed overnight in a local hotel until the next morning when the church president brought a new car to take them safely back to Bozeman just in time for the Thanksgiving Eve service. They attended the service and shared the account of God’s protecting hand on their journey home. There were “lots of tears.”
Six month later, Caleb is off oxygen and the feeding tube and “looks like an average seven-month-old baby.”
Looking back on this experience, Anne says, “It was definitely a roller coaster. First, the excitement of Caleb being born stable enough to be able to hold him right away—something we usually take for granted—to then being separated and spending the next 36 hours recovering sans new baby on the maternity floor with all the other moms with their babies. Then making great progress in the NICU and thinking our hospital time was almost up to a step backward the next day with his oxygen level that meant our stay was increased by at least a couple of weeks. There were lots of tears, lots of ‘why’ questions floating around my head.”
She continues, “One of the Bible passages that really stayed with me and became a repeated prayer were the words of Psalm 51:10,12, ‘Renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.’ ”
For Jeff, Caleb’s experience has solidified that “the Lord knows what he’s doing. He’ll take care of us. . . . His care, love and protection will work for our good.” Jeff says he is so thankful for “so many messages of people praying for us. The congregation was amazing with prayers and support.”
As for Caleb’s name, that has a story too. Anne remembers, “Part of our prenatal care included a three-hour specialized heart ultrasound to make sure every last part of the heart was in its proper place. After an extra 45 minutes solely trying to get a picture of the elusive aortic arch, his heart was cleared. Shortly thereafter, we were discussing names and looking up the meanings. When we found out Caleb meant ‘whole-hearted,’ it seemed a perfect fit.”
On May 18, 2019, a day of vomiting and severe stomach pain took Caleb back to the Bozeman hospital. A chest x-ray revealed a re-herniated diaphragm and a bowel blockage. Anne and Caleb flew via medical transport to Seattle. Successful surgery followed. Caleb was “sore, worn out, and once again connected to lots of cords,” says Anne. But nine days later, he and his family were home. “Caleb is back to his happy self and we are happy to be home,” report Jeff. Another example of God’s amazing love and providence!
Author: Ann M. Ponath
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019