The McDonald family had joined friends to watch the Super Bowl at a home in Amado, Ariz., but all attention turned to 2-year-old Jace when he was found at the bottom of the backyard pool.
No one knew how long the child had been underwater, but he was blue when they pulled him out of the pool.
"We just started doing CPR and praying," Robert McDonald said.
First-responders soon arrived and took over the life-saving efforts while the McDonalds and their friends continued to lay hands on Jace and pray for his life.
Robert and his wife Stephanie, members of Common Ground Church in Sahuarita, Ariz., continued to trust God with their son's welfare as he was flown to University Medical Center in Tucson. Even though they were told to prepare for the worst, they believed God could and would save their child's life.
The next day, on Feb. 6, the attending physician told the McDonalds, "Your son is done, he's gone. There's nothing you can do." But the parents continued to have faith.
While the McDonalds fought the battle of their lives on their knees, thousands of others began to intercede on their behalf as well. The Common Ground Church family had put the word out through Facebook that one of theirs was in danger, and a prayer vigil was organized for Feb. 7 at Sahuarita Town Lake. Hundreds from the church and community turned out to pray on behalf of Jace and his parents and three older sisters.
Despite the family's hope and faith, doctors at University Medical Center continued to prepare them for Jace's death.
"But there was one doctor, a third-year resident, who was different," Robert said. "He even carried himself differently than the other physicians -- he had an unusual confidence about him. And while all the others began to avoid us, this one doctor continued to remain hopeful."
It later surfaced that the young doctor had taken an unpopular stand among the attending physicians. An email from his mother recounted that he had wanted to be a doctor from an early age, but he also had known "the Great Physician" since childhood.
The resident had begun to pray for Jace when he was brought into the emergency room, the mother wrote.
Robert told the Sahuarita Sun, a community newspaper that published a story titled "Jace's journey teaches the power of prayer," that the young doctor stopped by as Jace was moved out of ICU. "The real reason I'm here," he told Robert and Stephanie, "is to tell you your son, when he arrived, was dead. There is no medical evidence or reason for your son to be alive. He's a miracle, and you need to remind him of this."
Robert and Stephanie have no doubt that the young physician's faith and prayers benefited their son more than any medical treatment he could have received.
The day after the community prayer vigil, Stephanie McDonald decided she wanted her young son taken off the heavily sedating paralytic drugs he had been given when he had been put on life support. The parents were eager to see if Jace would move or shown any sign of life, and they knew he couldn't do that while paralyzed by the medications.
Within days, Jace fluttered his eyes then moved his arms and legs -- agitated by the tubes of the ventilator. Eventually he opened his eyes. Then he spoke. Finally he recognized his family and returned his dad's high-five.
Still, the doctors expected Jace to decline when they removed the breathing tube six days after he had been so close to death. But there were no problems and the little boy, now known to many simply as The Miracle, continued to progress.
While the McDonalds continued to watch their son carefully and pray for a full recovery, members of their church and other supporters fueled their faith with hopeful comments on Facebook, posting promising Scriptures and praising God for His intervention. They also began collecting funds to help the McDonalds with the medical bills and stepping up to handle any other needs the family of six might have incurred.
Jace continued to progress until the doctors agreed he could go to Phoenix for three weeks of intensive inpatient therapy, but that never happened.
As Jace was being checked out of the hospital, he had the exuberance and mobility of a 2-year-old, so the doctor offered to let him go to a Tucson outpatient rehabilitation center instead. But after one short day there, the McDonalds were told their son was good to go.
"No man saved our son," Robert said. "It was Jesus. He is why he's here today."
The McDonalds returned to Common Ground Church with Jace in his mother's arms on Feb. 19, just two weeks after that life-changing accident. And even though they had faced a stressful and tiring ordeal as a family, they were humbly singing God's praises.
Robert, Stephanie, Jace and his three older sisters joined pastor Ben Barfield on the platform at the beginning of both morning services and testified to God's faithfulness. Too emotional to say much in the first service, Robert told the crowd at the second service that their support had been crucial. But he gave all the glory for Jace's miracle to the Lord.
Barfield, a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst, added, "It's not about the McDonalds, not about Stephanie and Robert, not about the girls , and not even about Jace. It's about God. If you've missed that, you've missed it all."
Indeed, while Common Ground Church has been indelibly changed by Jace's miracle, the congregation seems to know that the effects of that miracle are not limited to a healed and whole little boy. After collecting more than enough money to take care of the McDonalds' hospital bills, members of the church decided to start a charitable organization, the Jace McDonald Foundation, to help other families in crisis with their immediate financial needs.
Common Ground member Sharri Cagle recounted, "When our church and community showed so much support and love to meet the needs of the McDonald family, my son Logan was really touched. He said there will be other families that don't have that support and will need help, so can we start a foundation to help them, like we helped the McDonalds."
The Cagles and other Common Ground members have held rummage sales, bake sales and sponsorship days at a local amusement park to raise funds for this new passion.
"The foundation is already preparing to help another family that has suffered a tragic loss, and they are a family from our church," Cagle said, referring to the Karrs, a Common Ground Church family who lost their 13 year-old daughter Tanner in an automobile accident on I-10 just north of Tucson on March 28. The mother, Jamie Karr, who serves as Common Ground's children's ministry and event coordinator, and her 19-year-old daughter were released from the hospital with minor injuries, but her husband and 16-year-old son remained hospitalized following surgeries.
The church also has reached out to those who reached out to Jace, recently honoring the Green Valley Fire Department for the role they played in Jace's miracle.
"I think God is going to continue to use Jace's story to minister to other people's lives," Barfield said on the Sunday that Jace returned to Common Ground, "because it's all about God ... that's the story."
Robert McDonald said he and his family certainly have been changed by Jace's accident and subsequent miraculous healing. Besides drawing his family closer to the Lord, God's faithfulness during their crisis also affirmed to Robert that he needed to make some changes in order to line his life up with God's will.
"I understand now that God's will for my life is to become a youth pastor," Robert said. "It's a decision I ran from in the past. I started working with youth about seven years ago; now I see that this is God's will for my life and now it's time to commit."
Robert said the miracle his family experienced also has given them a renewed boldness in helping people who are going through crisis. They've been able to encourage others who have stared death in the face to seek the Lord instead of running from Him during such devastating times. And, indeed, a number of them have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as a result of Jace's miracle and the faith his family and church demonstrated.
On the morning of Jace's return to Common Ground Church, an unusually large number of people attended the services, five of whom came forward to ask Jesus into their lives -- even before Barfield had an opportunity to preach the sermon. The pastor said the McDonalds' testimony of faith spoke volumes and propelled those five people to turn their lives over to the God who had saved young Jace's life.
Two weeks after Jace returned to church, the McDonalds celebrated again as their two oldest daughters, 8 and 6, were baptized.
"It's so hard to explain the feeling of how much things have changed for us," Robert said. "My sin put God's Son to death on a cross and God allowed our son to have life. I think we'll forever live in amazement of that."
Kay Harms is a freelance writer for Portraits magazine, newsjournal of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention (www.azsobaptist.org).
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