My wonderful Dad, Ken Lopez, wrote this shortly after Elizabeth's passing. It is a strong and beautiful testament to the sovereignty of God and the sanctity of life. (And, if I possess any writing ability at all, it was obviously inherited from him.)
It is what one does as a father. It is part of his DNA to provide, protect and if one matures in the role, we as fathers learn to nourish and support the emotional as well the physical needs of our children.
The overwhelming weight of protector and provider first gripped me as I gazed on our firstborn, Leah, through the hospital glass when she made her appearance on the planet some 32 years ago. On an intellectual level I realized my role changed when she walked down the aisle and gave her heart to the sub planter, our son-in law. A fine man, yes, but as fathers know, the new man can’t change the way a dad holds a daughter in his heart.
Good protectors do all they can to shield their children, especially their daughters. It means holding their hands, drying their tears, teaching them to drive, providing ample warnings regarding the male species, and taking the sting out the worst that life can bring. But even the best intervention will not insure a life without pain for any of our children. So, we fathers do well, not only to protect, but to prepare our sons and daughters to meet the inevitable heartbreak that weave their way into the tapestry of the lives of our offspring.
Sufficiency of preparation for the tragedy is only revealed by the onslaught of the tragedy. The purity of the gold is revealed only by the raging of the fire. The trial for Leah, our son-in-law Onan, and our family began soon after the news that another child was being added to our family.
We felt so blessed to learn that a fourth grandchild would soon join the burgeoning Coca tribe. Four kids under the age of five might cause questions regarding the parent’s emotional stability, but to us as grandparents it only meant more hugs, holding and craziness at the family gatherings.
Not too long into Leah’s pregnancy, my wife, Robbin, mentioned at dinner that she had some news regarding Leah’s recent visit for a checkup. The news was unanticipated and unwelcome. I was not able to comprehend what my wife was saying. How could the fate of a baby not yet 4 months along be determined and sealed as her life had just begun? There had to be a way to protect my daughter and my granddaughter from the prognosis of anencephaly. How could a baby grow in everyway except the development of brain function? Surely a specialist would provide a better outlook and change the unthinkable to what new life is supposed to bring.
But no, further testing confirmed the certainty of anencephaly. Researching the meaning of that word brought nothing but stark, horrendous revelation. The clinical descriptions of what my granddaughter would experience left me struggling to breathe. This condition is “not compatible with life,” “the outlook for babies born with anencephaly is extremely poor.” “Most infants are stillborn or live only for a few minutes or few hours.” As I read these, and additional fateful descriptions and viewed pictures of babies born with this condition I realized this was not a fraternity I wanted to join, not something I wanted to experience and something I was powerless to prevent in the lives of those I loved.
I suppose that is why 90% to 95% of couples who discover this reality during pregnancy opt to end the life of the baby. For Leah and Onan this was never on the table. To many this would seem ludicrous. Why carry a child with no hope of survival? What could be accomplished by allowing this baby to grow, be born blind, deaf, and without the cognitive abilities to think or perhaps even feel? Are there not better ways to use the resources and staff in the medical facility that will be forced to accommodate the end of this decision? Why would time and money be wasted on such a fruitless, painful exercise? What are the motives behind people who decide to go through this ordeal?
These are logical questions to those who consider life through the lens of our 21st century. To be burdened with these complications seems pointless and certainly out of step with what is condoned in the mainstream of the politically correct. But there were sound and compelling reasons that prompted Leah to make a decision to bring a child into the world with no promise of life as popular culture expects or demands it to be.
Certainly God could change this path. We believe He has the power, and as a good God would do, reward the fruit of our faith and prayers with a healthy baby. There were countless prayers humbly offered in this vein, and that would surely verify the decision to bring Elizabeth into the world. This would dramatically prove the power of God; One who can do anything above all that we ask or can imagine.
That was not the plan of God, but it does not diminish His power, His goodness, or His care for Leah, Onan, their families, or for all those who have become a part of this story. There are many indications that God’s plan was perfect for the road that brought Elizabeth into the world and for the soon passing shadow of her existence. The testimony of this experience has stirred the hearts of countless individuals. The body of Christ has exercised the call to prayer, to lift up feeble hands and to bring comfort to the broken hearted.
The testimony to those still outside the body of Christ has been evident as well. The memorial service for Elizabeth included a clear invitation to the gospel that allowed many to hear, perhaps for the first time, and to consider the claims of the only way of salvation from the one who has conquered death. What a comfort to know that the grace of eternal life that God provides through the death and resurrection of Jesus is a reality for Elizabeth Grace.
But do those results satisfy the question of why God would allow this? Is the question answered because of the testimony of God’s grace, his people’s compassion, the furtherance of the gospel, and for other reasons we may not ever come to know? These are a comfort to consider but they are not essential to the issue. The path that Leah and Onan have chosen is right for essentially one reason. God is the Creator of life and only he has the power to give and take life, and he is glorified by those who are obedient to that reality. One passage of scripture that speaks to that fact is Deuteronomy 32:39 (NIV) “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”
God also makes clear from his Word that the life he gives begins with conception. Several Old Testament passages confirm those thoughts. Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV) states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” The book of Job emphasizes this as well in chapter 31, verse 15, “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” (NIV)
The text that is paramount to this truth is Psalm 139:13-16 (KJV) “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
As I considered the last verse, this phrase, “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect,” spoke to me about Elizabeth. Yes, in the minds of many she was tragically “unperfect,” to be cast aside and ignored, too much of a burden, but God had ordained her being in every detail. His eyes were upon her and he was mindful of every moment of her existence.
Our time with Elizabeth was far too short, but I remember as I held her sometime during her brief life and she clutched my finger I was struck by this powerful thought,… she deserves to be here. No, she didn’t look like my other grandchildren and I wasn’t going to enjoy her in the same way I did her siblings or her cousin. No trips to the park, no free for all wrestling matches on the living room floor, no bedtime stories. But she had breath, she possessed a strong heartbeat, and she was here because she had been granted a measure of life by her Creator.
At no point in her existence, from the moment of her conception, to the last minutes of her 48 hours in that hospital room did anyone but God have the right to say that she did not matter, or did not deserve the right to her limited life. I’m glad her mother and father embraced that truth, and granted so many of us the opportunity to see obedience to that truth brought to life.
As her earthly father, I have been quite powerless to shield Leah from the pain and sorrow that she, as the mother, has felt in the way that only a mother can. But I see the comfort and grace that a heavenly Father has manifested in her life and I am thankful. Thankful for the blessing of seeing God’s goodness, God’s mercy and for what Elizabeth Grace has taught us about her Creator. We give God the glory and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”