If you were to ask me why I believe in God, I suppose I would tell you a story about a baby. She was not the beginning of my faith in God, but she was a new chapter of it. I did not know that when a baby came into my world she would bring God with her.
When we found out baby number one was on the way, Nancy and I went through a Lamaze class together. To spare the moms-to-be anxiety, the instructors did not use the word pain. They spoke of discomfort, as in “When the baby is born, you may experience some discomfort.”
On our second anniversary, Nancy began what would be twelve hours of labor. (All of our kids arrived on notable occasions, none more so than Johnny. He popped into the world on February 2, prompting the doctor to tell us that if he saw his shadow, he would go back inside and Nancy would have six more weeks of pregnancy.)
Laura’s body was unusually positioned inside Nancy (the phrase the nurses used was “sunny-side up”) so that the hardest part of her head was pressing against Nancy’s spine. Each contraction was excruciating. The worst moment came after eleven hours and several doses of Pitocin to heighten the contractions. The doctor, with a single hand, wrenched the baby 180 degrees around inside my wife’s body. Nancy let out a scream I will never forget. I knew I had to say something. “Honey — are you experiencing some discomfort?”
They finally had to use a vacuum cleaner with a special attachment to get the baby out. (The Lamaze people had warned us this procedure might make the cranium look pointed, but it would only be temporary.)
Suddenly the pain was over, and we held this little conehead in our arms and were totally unprepared for the world we had entered. Nancy, who had never been particularly attracted to anybody else’s children, held the baby and looked around the room like a mother tigress. “I would kill for this baby.”
I pointed out that I thought most mothers would say that they would die for their children.
“Die? Why would I want to die? If I died for her, then I couldn’t be with her. I’d kill for her.” And she looked around the room, clearly hoping someone would give her the chance to show she wasn’t bluffing.
I took the baby from her and was overwhelmed by the wonder and mystery of the presence of a human person. Not just the mechanics of her body — though they were amazing. Not just my sudden love for this being — though it was a flood tide. What overwhelmed me was being in the presence of a new soul.
“I can’t believe that there is a live, flesh-and-blood, immortal being in this room who didn’t used to exist. She will grow up — and we’ll watch her. She’ll become a woman. And then one day she’ll grow old. This red hair will turn to gray and then to white; this same skin that is so pink and smooth right now will be mottled and wrinkled, and she’ll be an old lady sitting in a rocking chair — and it will be this same person,” I said to Nancy.
“Yes,” she said. “And I’d kill for the old lady too.”
We propped that tiny body with towels and blankets in the car seat of my old VW Super Beetle to take her home. I drove like I was transporting nitroglycerin. I crawled along the freeway in the slow lane, hazard lights flashing, doing twenty-five miles per hour, ticking off motorists from Northridge to Pasadena. How do you travel carefully enough to protect a new soul?
When I held Laura, I found myself incapable of believing that she was an accident. I found myself incapable of believing that the universe was a random chaotic machine that did not care whether I loved her or hated her. I don’t mean that I had a group of arguments for her having a soul and I believed those arguments. I don’t mean this conviction is always present in my mind with equal force. It’s not.
I mean the conviction welled up inside me and I could not get away from it. I could not look at Laura and believe otherwise. I could not hold her without saying thank you to Someone for her. I could not think of her future without praying for Someone more powerful and wiser than me to watch over her. When she arrived, she brought along with her a world that was meant to be a home for persons. A God-breathed world.
Every child is a testimony to God’s desire that the world go on. Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor who doubts sometimes, has written that the reason so many babies keep being born is that God loves stories.
John Ortberg, Know Doubt: Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).
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