Courageous Leadership (Custom)I had just finished presenting my weekend message at Willow and I was standing in the bullpen, talking to people. A young married couple approached me, placed a blanketed bundle in my arms, and asked me to pray for their baby.

As I asked what the baby’s name was, the mother pulled back the blanket that had covered the infant’s face. I felt my knees begin to buckle. I thought I was going to faint. Had the father not steadied me I may well have keeled over. In my arms was the most horribly deformed baby I had ever seen. The whole center of her tiny face was caved in. How she kept breathing I will never know.

All I could say was, “Oh my . . . oh my . . . oh my.”

“Her name is Emily,” said the mother. “We’ve been told she has about six weeks to live,” added the father. “We would like you to pray that before she dies she will know and feel our love.”

Barely able to mouth the words, I whispered, “Let’s pray.” Together we prayed for Emily. Oh, did we pray. As I handed her back to her parents I asked, “Is there anything we can do for you, any way that we as a church can serve you during this time?”

The father responded with words that still amaze me. He said, “Bill, we’re okay. Really we are. We’ve been in a loving small group for years. Our group members knew that this pregnancy had complications. They were at our house the night we learned the news, and they were at the hospital when Emily was delivered. They helped us absorb the reality of the whole thing. They even cleaned our house and fixed our meals when we brought her home. They pray for us constantly and call us several times every day. They are even helping us plan Emily’s funeral.”

Just then three other couples stepped forward and surrounded Emily and her parents. “We always attend church together as a group,” said one of the group members.

It was a picture I will carry to my grave, a tight-knit huddle of loving brothers and sisters doing their best to soften one of the cruelest blows life can throw. After a group prayer, they all walked up the side aisle toward our lobby.

Where, I wondered as they left, would that family be, where would they go, how would they handle this heartbreak, without the church?


Hybels, B. (2009). Courageous leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.