I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child, Johanna, just before Christmas in 1995. I remember that morning very well. I woke early to take the pregnancy test and to enjoy the quiet of the newly fallen snow. As I reveled in the excitement, I spent time bonding with the child within my womb, telling her that she was deeply loved and cared for and that God had a very special plan for her life. Then I turned to the daily readings for some wisdom for this baby whose little heart had just started beating before any of us knew she was there.
The daily readings were celebrating the birth of John the Baptist “You, my child will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him…” (Luke 1:76). I knew this scripture was a personal vision of the child growing in my womb, a child that would call God’s people to prayer.
I never forgot that snowy morning in 1995 or the promise of life that was given to me for Johanna. When she was diagnosed as an infant with a mass on her brainstem, I witnessed the scripture come to life, as countless people poured into the hospital and by phone and email to pray for this child and our family. These past 16 years, many lives have been touched and changed through the witness of this little child’s life. In my own heart, the conviction of the value of all human beings, reached a profound new depth, both through the experiences of caring for a child with special needs and countless other children I encountered on this journey.
I recall one lesson that I learned in the hour before dawn on the pediatric ICU. One of Johanna’s roommates was also a frequent flyer on the PICU. He was around four years old at the time, but appeared to be more like a three-month-old baby. He had suffered a terrible brain injury as an infant, the result of parental abuse. His parents went to jail and he was entrusted to a loving family who cared for him despite the ongoing neurological issues.
Early one morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise, I begged God to have mercy on this little life that has suffered so much pain. I asked God to take him home to heaven where “every tear would be wiped away.” Immediately I experienced this stern but loving voice in my mind saying, “Who are you to decide the value of this young boy’s life? Do you know the plans I have for him and the good that will happen through him? Who are you to decide that his time here on earth is over? What do you know?” I was humbled by these words as I realized that I had decided that this little life had served his purpose. God did not agree with my presumptions. My eyes were then opened to watch the interactions of family members, friends and health care professionals whose lives were touched by this little one who could not even utter a word. It helped me to appreciate and respect the value of all human life.
An elderly woman who was in pain taught me another lesson in respect. My daughter was an outpatient waiting for a CT scan of the brain. Ahead of us in line was a patient, an elderly woman, who had been dropped off in the hallway. She was in pain, moaning and disorientated, totally unaware that her backside was exposed because of a hospital gown that was not tied properly. I sought some assistance for her from professionals passing by, everyone said she wasn’t their patient, they’d call someone. When no one came, I went to her side and tucked her in with a blanket, and touched her hand to console her. The old woman opened her beautiful blue eyes and stared at me, searching my face for recognition. She calmed and smiled as I stroked her hand and I gently told her that someone would be coming for her soon. Eventually she was rolled in for her testing ahead of us and taken back to her room. These small gestures respected the elderly woman, easing her pain and causing me to be more aware of how I can do the little things with great love.
I live my life in what I call “the radical middle.” I am a moral conservative and I am a true lover of all people, even those with whom I disagree. I believe all people should be cared for, but I don’t agree that the government is the best one to do it. I think it is up to you and me to care for our own and reach out to others in need. I see the value of some of the programs that have been initiated these past four years. In fact, because of the HAMP program, we are still in our home. When my husband was laid off, the COBRA subsidy allowed us to maintain our insurance and the extension of unemployment allowed us to pay our bills. I believe that any administration would have had to initiate these same plans to provide assistance to those who were caught in the economic fray. But the issues that mattered most to me in this election were the protection of religious freedom and of human life. While I respect America’s choice, I am disappointed and concerned for these issues.
The day after the elections, I read a blog post from a professor at my alma mater. He talked about the danger of winning elections and being lulled to sleep. In any election, half the country is thrilled with their victory and half mourns their loss. God doesn’t want any of us to be lulled to sleep by over confidence or lack of confidence in our leadership. It is the responsibility of all Americans to protect the liberties and freedoms of every American.
God doesn’t want any of us, from the right, left or center, to be sleeping. We are all called to be wide awake so that we notice the soft heart beating in a mother’s womb, the elderly woman exposed on the hospital gurney and the little child whose greatest gift to the world is a smile. God wants all of us to be wide awake so that we can reach across the ages and the aisles, to touch and uphold one another’s right to life and freedom.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.