I heard her crying through the walls of our hospital chapel.
Since my office was next door, I often heard pulsing sobs uncontainable by the chapel wall.
As I stood, pushing my chair away from my desk, I wondered what I would find this time. Would it be a mother crying for her child in surgery?
Would it be someone bargaining with God to save an alcoholic partner? Or would it be a community member praying for an errant child?
I’d seen all of these.
I opened the chapel door to see a petite woman nearly drowning in her tears. I couldn’t make out all of her words, but it was clear she was sorry about something.
What was she sorry for? Something about her daughter. Was she sick? In an accident? Newly diagnosed with a terminal disease?
Wait. Was this the woman a nurse had earlier described in whispered tones? Was this the woman who brought her 6-year-old daughter to the hospital after beating her into a coma?
It was, and she was crying, begging God for forgiveness.
So, in the midst of her tears, I delivered the hospital chaplain’s version of the Miranda rights. “I’m a hospital employee,” I said, “I can be subpoenaed to testify about whatever is said here — even in the chapel.”
A few minutes later, I wasn’t surprised when the chapel door opened revealing two detectives anxious to talk to her.
What did surprise me over the next few hours and days, however, was the presence of people from her church Bible study group.
It seemed to me that this woman likely had committed an unpardonable sin. Even Jesus condemned anyone who would harm a child saying that “would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
I was ready to drown this woman myself.
So how was it that this church could provide such a caring presence, let alone promise the presence of unconditional love voiced by a perfect God?
Yet there they stood. Quiet. Admittedly shocked, but nevertheless, they formed a presence without a voiced judgment.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Did their presence bring love? Or were they over-the-line dysfunctional?
People are so imperfect in their love. They’re capable of loving an errant spouse, yet sometimes incapable of loving their children. They love one parent, but not the other. They love animals, but not the homeless.
We possess an incredible ability to compartmentalize our love and then deliver it in the most inhospitable environments. We can love the most unlovable things.
I spent several weeks at the girl’s bedside, watching her father wipe her drool and search her vacant eyes for the girl he once knew. And I have to tell you, I’ll never find much love for this woman; I don’t expect that you would either.
If this church could still show a loving and caring presence toward that woman, they must have seen something worth saving that only God could have shown them. The whole thing begged the question: How much more capable is God at loving us? If they could struggle through forgiveness and restoration, how much more can God do?
It’s been about four years since I met the woman in the chapel. Since then, the child has died and the woman resides in prison. My hope is that the woman will live with two memories: one of her child and one of God’s restorative forgiveness.