“Oakland 10, see car North 8.”
I acknowledge the call from police dispatch: “Oakland 10 is 10-4.” I check the mobile dispatch terminal in my squad car for the address and call history: “North 8 on scene of possible SIDS, medical examiner notified.”
Sudden infant death syndrome, commonly known as “crib death,” strikes without warning. Parents are left with the anguish of why it happened, and public safety first responders have no answers.
It is a cool Sunday morning in October. The few cars on the road appear to be driven with little urgency: families on the way to church, people heading out for coffee and a bagel or returning from a night of employment.
Arriving at the address, I am met by an officer. He briefly states that the child is dead, appears very young, and is in the bedroom adjacent to the kitchen. The officer is as objective as I hope to be. But he is new, a rookie, and I know this is tough on him.
I climb the steps to the upstairs apartment and enter the living room. I am struck by how empty yet clean the apartment is. There’s no carpet, no sofa, no television—just a kitchen table, two unmatched chairs, and a floor lamp. Standing next to each other are the parents. Both stare at the floor. They are young, maybe 20 years of age.
As I walk to the bedroom I notice a difference. The walls are painted light pink, and the room is decorated with matching white baby furniture. I steel myself and look into the crib. The baby is beautiful. Her dark skin and curly black hair are accented by the white blanket that covers her. I ask God why.
The young mother’s eyes swell with tears that she fights to hold in.
“Would you like to hold your baby?” I ask. She carefully lifts her baby girl from the crib and holds her to her own face. We sit on the floor—mother with child, father, and me. The room is quiet. Silently I ask God to allow me to help these parents. Surely this is the type of situation where God plays out his purpose. I look to the mother and ask, “Are you a Christian?” She responds, “No.” I turn to the father. He answers, “I don’t know, but I do believe in God.”
We sit on the floor—mother with child, father, and me. The room is quiet.
Our conversation is stalled and uncomfortable. I was hoping for something more. But then, with no forethought, I say, “You have a beautiful baby, and I know that Jesus is holding her right now. He loves her very much.” The mother looks at me and quietly thanks me.
We continue to sit on the floor in God’s peaceful silence. Finally the medical examiner arrives, and I am relieved to see who it is. He quietly assumes his role with love and reassurance for the grieving parents.
I am about to leave this home. I have ascertained that the officer has handled the call properly. But before I drive away, I pray that God will send his Holy Spirit to give these parents peace and that they will know Jesus. I ask Jesus to take good care of their baby.
The prayer doesn’t sound ecclesiastical. I cannot help but wonder how this situation fits into the doctrine of predestination. I just don’t know. I don’t know about God’s mysteries. I don’t need to know. But I do know that God’s grace is beyond words or comprehension.
I’ve come to realize that Jesus shows up where we least anticipate him. Like the Samaritan woman at the Sychar well (John 4:26), Jesus will surprise us with his presence. I have seen Jesus in a child who is abused, in a veteran who is homeless, in a drug addict, in a grieving parent. Jesus is unassuming, but present.
Jesus commands us to love, not to judge. It is in the application of his love that we find Jesus as he waits for us to love him.