"No warning at all. It was the middle of the night and I woke up have labor pains. Contractions."
Already the mother of two sons, Melonie Hoffman knew something was wrong more than three and a half months before her third child was supposed to be born.
"I felt totally out of control. I couldn't stop what was happening to me. And I needed to stop what was happening to me. I felt very helpless, scared," remembers Melonie Hoffman.
Just hours after those first contractions, little Ella Hoffman was born. At 1 pound 12 ounces she was at what doctors generally believe the borderline for survival. Born in a Nacogdoches hospital, Ella was moved immediately to Shreveport to being the battle for her life. At the same time her parents began a battle with their faith.
Faith had never really been a subject of doubt in the Hoffman household. Dad, Jason is the youth minister at Rusk's 1st Baptist Church. But in the flash of a moment everything they had preached before was now put into practice like never before.
"I stood next to her incubator and wondered where my faith was," says Jason. "Thinking that up to the point she was born that I had things together. Then standing there realizing I could do nothing for this child. Where really is my faith. But, you mentioned the quiet times a while ago, in those quiet times, in those times that God absolutely feeds your soul gives you the nourishment that you need to be able to walk another step or take another breath, that's where it comes from."
Ella was released from the hospital on the day she was supposed to be born. But the outlook was not promising.
"But of course you want to hear that your baby is going to be fine. We didn't hear that. They did a hearing test on her and she couldn't pass the test. We knew she had already had laser surgery on her eyes and they could promise us how well she would see of if she could see. She had a severe brain hemorrhage which usually leaves people very mentally handicapped or with severe cerebral palsy. So they could promise us she could walk or even have the skills to function. They couldn't give us any of that, " says Melonie.
But the Hoffman's believed in the promise of prayer and their faith. Today Ella still has some trouble walking and running... but she can see and hear just like the other kids at this week's vacation bible school. And she has the personality and sense of humor that her parents always hoped she would have.
Even when playing with two brothers who have found something special in their little sister. While they continue to pray that Ella's walking will improve...they are blessed with the answer to prayer they have experienced so far.
Even more they are thankful for the lessons they have learned about the power in their and the prayers of others.
"I've always had faith that God could meet my needs. His Grace is sufficient. But the Word also says His grace is abundant. That it not only meets your needs but it overflows to the needs of the people around you. In times of need in times of tragedy it has given me a passion, compassion, to be able to sit with someone, even if I don't know what they are going through and sit and be just a friend," says Jason.
"I can see how many families fall apart under that pressure. But we had that backbone holding us up. And praying together and for our children and each other," says Melonie. "But that brought me to my knees quicker than anything I had ever experienced. I remember there being times I would have to call him and say give me a verse, I have to have a verse right now because I felt like I couldn't breath without one. And that's what I did, I prayed scriptures and our community and church were so helpful. Just calling me and giving me scriptures and saying here read this next. And literally that's what helped me breath my next breath."