Something happened to me today that brings back the absolutely most painful memory in my 42 years of pastoring churches.
That morning a long time ago, the phone rang at 4 a.m. Instantly awake, I grabbed it and heard a local doctor’s wife say, “Joe, Carlos just called from the hospital. He said, ‘Honey, pray for me. I’ve lost Rebecca’s baby and I’m losing Rebecca.'” I said, “I’m on my way.”
Rebecca’s husband Arlen was the lone tenant of the waiting room. He was pacing, crying, praying. We hugged and prayed and I sat down with him to wait and share his suffering.
Arlen and Rebecca had easily been the most popular junior high school teachers in our town, until he quit to take a job with a local plant in order to earn a better living for his family. Rebecca stayed home and started having babies. This would be their third child. The others, perhaps 2 and 4, were the most beautiful little girls anyone had ever seen.
For some reason, Rebecca had had a premonition about this birth. Even though the pregnancy seemed normal in every respect, she told Dr. Carlos, “When I go into the hospital to have this baby, I want you to stay with me until it’s over. Do not leave the hospital.” He gave her his word and kept it.
Sometime, in the middle of that night, Rebecca’s womb broke. There are technical names for the condition, as there are for everything medical, but what happened was that the amniotic fluid from the womb flooded into her organs When it got to her brain, her life was in immediate peril.
At 8 o’clock that morning, Dr. Carlos walked out of the delivery suite and said to Arlen, “I’m sorry. We’ve lost them both.”
If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget walking into that sad room with Arlen as he gazed upon the dead form of his precious wife. The baby, the first victim of the catastrophe, lay in her mother’s arms. Another daughter. Perfect in every way. Beautiful beyond description.
We all cried. Even now, my heart aches just to tell it.
Dr. Carlos said to me later, “I was just down the hall when her womb broke. But I might as well have been in the state capitol, for all the good I could do her.”
We held her funeral at the church. It was the family’s wish, so the casket lay open, with mother and tiny daughter arm in arm, just as Arlen and I had first seen them that morning.
When I went home that morning after Rebecca’s death, I showered and began to shave. Some weeks earlier, I had grown a moustache and was carefully nurturing it. As I gazed in the mirror that morning, I spoke out loud, “You ugly thing.” And shaved it off. It was the first time in my life I knew why people in mourning used to shave their heads and don sackcloth and ashes. The hurt is so strong, you have to do something.
That was perhaps 20 years ago, and I feel the pain like it happened yesterday.
Last Spring, I was in revival in another part of that state. After the Sunday morning services, the pastor and his wife took me to lunch with an elderly couple in the church. We ate, then sat around in the living room as they talked about their family. I was fascinated to hear that their grandson had recently married a medical doctor doing her residency in another state. That doctor is the oldest daughter of Arlen and Rebecca. The proud grandparents brought out a wedding album loaded with photographs of this handsome young couple. I was almost as thrilled as they, just seeing this child all grown up and doing well.
This Fall, another revival, another part of the same state. After a worship service, I was standing down front shaking hands with church members when a couple approached and the woman said, “I’m Rebecca Miller’s sister.”
Just today a letter arrived from the wife of Dr. Carlos, whom I had not seen in over 15 years. It was one of those notes which long-time pastors receive from time to time, thanking us for our input into their lives over the years. I picked up the phone and called her.
“I frequently think of you two,” I said, “particularly whenever something reminds me of the death of Rebecca Miller.” I told her of the two occurrences this year that brought it all back. Then she said something that stunned me.
“Joe,” she said, “you will be interested to know that after Rebecca’s death, Carlos never performed another abortion. After seeing how precious life is, he could never bring himself to end one.”
Then she added, “The Lord will have to sort this one out for us, but I’ll tell you this. I believe with all my heart, the Lord had Rebecca in the palm of His hand from day One. He knew what He had planned for her, and in some way, He carried it out. Who’s to say how many lives her death may have saved. Please understand, I am not saying it was God’s will for Rebecca and the baby to die. But God used her death in so many lives. And someday we’ll see her again. Someday, we’ll understand.”
There’s an old gospel song that says, “I don’t know about the future…but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know He holds my hand.”