It was 3 am when the doctors flooded her room with light. Still numb from pain medication, the new mom fumbled for her glasses, squinting to distinguish the blur of white coats. The doctors were saying something about needing some papers signed – now.
Twenty miles and twenty minutes away, my bedroom was flooded with a high-pitched beep. Numb from the early morning hour, I fumbled for my glasses to read the number on the pager.
“Oh, no, it’s too early,” I groaned, even as I shuffled toward the closet where I had pre-positioned my clothing. With some ambidexterity, I managed to get dressed while placing a whispered phone call to the maternity ward.
“Chaplain, we have a baby not doing well,” the nurse reported.
” Parents are asking for you to ‘please come.'”
Maternity wards are the happiest places on earth – except when they are the saddest places on earth.
The contrasting stories between patient rooms on the floor can be jagged and capricious. Even as I enter the room of the sobbing parents, I glance over my shoulder to see other families backslapping each other with congratulatory pats.
As I stepped to the bedside, the couple tells me of their journey through a problem pregnancy filled with questionable neonatal reports. Nevertheless they nursed thin hopes that doctors would find things more fixable than predicted.
But now new reports showed underdeveloped lungs and a leaky heart beginning to fail, and concerned doctors were seeking parental consent for a birthday surgery.
“Had God just teased us?” they wondered. “What do we have to do? How do we pray? What do we say? Would it help to baptize the baby?”
“Can you baptize her, Chaplain? Or bless her? Something. We’ve got to do something! She’s got to have a chance.”
Now, you have to understand, in my tradition as a Baptist, I don’t baptize babies. But those who would argue theological ideologies at a time like this have never looked into the eyes of desperate parents and heard them say, “Do something, Chaplain!”
I asked if she might have the strength to come with me to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – NICU – pronounced ” nick-you.”
NICU is a world of wires, IV bottles, tubes and back-lit beds that come out of the scene in the movie “ET” when the character ET is being examined by scores of scientists and doctors.
In close quarters doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists squeeze through tangled tubes to deliver highly specialized healthcare to the tiniest people you’ll ever see.
But as cramped as it was, the staff made room as I came in with parents and two sets of grandparents in tow. As we encircled the baby, the usually noisy NICU fell silent in readiness for this “emergency blessing.”
Unceremoniously opening a bottle of sterile water, I placed a drop on the baby’s forehead and asked that God “bless this child in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” With that, Momma’s whimpers burst through the temporary dam precariously created from her quivering lips.
As she cried, she took her daughter’s tiny hand and – finding a spot that wasn’t wrapped, poked or monitored – she placed a kiss in the palm of the baby’s hand and whispered something into those tiny fingers. Then, as if she had placed something of priceless value in her daughter’s hand for safekeeping, she closed it tight.
This mother’s love reminds me of the love God whispers into the hand of each of us when we are born – placing there a promise that, persuading us that no matter what, he will never let us go. And having pledged that love to us from our first breath to our last, he wraps our fingers around that promise for safekeeping.
The Apostle Paul also found God’s love very persuasive when he wrote that that neither death nor life, nor height nor depth, shall be able to separate us from the Love of God.”
I forget how personal God’s love is for me, and how deep. As a minister I often talk about the depth of God’s love, but it took a mother’s heartfelt whisper into a tiny hand to remind me that God is always there to love me; all I need to do is reach out and accept it.
I’ll never know the exact words that the mother entrusted to her daughter’s grip. But in the coming weeks of risky procedures and surgeries, it became obvious that this little girl wasn’t letting go of her mother’s promise – and three months after her birth, she went home a healthy little girl.