With the permission of my publisher, for the month of March, I’m giving you a SNEAK PEEK of the first four chapters of my latest book on my family medicine years in the then-small-town of Kissimmee, Florida. Here’s Chapter FOUR of The Best Gift: Tales of a Small-Town Doctor Learning Life’s Greatest Lessons.
First Prayer Ever
Dr. John Hartman and I loved caring for patients from conception. Pregnancy care and attending the birth of a newborn were unique joys for us. So, when several members of First Baptist Church of Kissimmee, which started in 1882, wanted to begin a ministry for young women experiencing unexpected pregnancies, we could not have been more supportive of the new outreach.
We were invited to lunch with the director of the newly established Osceola Pregnancy Center, Dawn Pate, who surprised us when she explained, “The organized American pro-life movement is over a hundred years old. As are our provision of crisis pregnancy centers, or what we call CPCs.”
“Gosh,” John said, “I thought CPCs started maybe twenty years ago.”
“That’s true for the modern CPC movement,” she said. “It ramped up in the late ’60s in the US and Canada. But between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century, leading protectors of women and their unborn children included the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the YMCA and YWCA, the Florence Crittenton Society, and the Salvation Army. By the 1880s, hundreds of CPCs were scattered throughout major American cities, working hand in hand with what they called ‘shepherding homes for unwed mothers.’ Some of these ministries had room for more than a thousand girls to live at one time. Back then, the slogan ‘Adoption, not Abortion’ was wildly popular.”
We couldn’t have been happier to join hands with them and to attend church the day they announced the ministry to the congregation. Coincidentally, it was youth pastor Tim Wilder’s first day on staff. He was a Florida native who finished seminary in Fort Worth before being called into youth ministry. It was the first of many services in which he would welcome folks and give announcements. No one will forget what he did that day.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “it delights my wife, Nancy, and me to serve you and your children. But—”
Tim turned to the senior pastor, Harold C. Epperson, who had led the congregation for twelve years and was the church’s twenty-sixth pastor. “Before I deliver my first congregational prayer ever, I need to come clean and confess something.” The crowd hushed; all eyes were on the young pastor. “I have to let you, the deacons, and the members know that I have a spiritual gift not given to most Baptists and rarely displayed in front of Southern Baptists.”
He paused, and we could see Pastor Epperson shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
“What could it be?” Barb whispered. “Is he going to speak in tongues or something?”
Tim turned back to the apprehensive crowd and continued. “I should have told you all about this before I came, and I apologize for that. But you need to know the truth. So here we go.”
He reached down and pulled out a glass of water, turned sideways to the congregation, and began to drink slowly. As he did, Tim’s recorded voice giving the day’s announcements came over the speaker system. At first, there were chuckles, and then the laughter grew in a crescendo. In the end, he turned and said, “So my spiritual gift is to be able to give announcements as a ventriloquist while drinking.” We and everyone there fell in love with Tim and his unique sense of humor that day. Tim went on to become the senior pastor and continues ministering there today.
Ron Smith and Ellen Jeffries were living together, but the last thing they wanted as an unmarried couple was a baby. When Ellen missed a menstrual period, she didn’t tell Ron. She even kept her morning nausea a secret. But after missing her third period and developing a little belly pooch, she finally broke down and confessed. He didn’t get angry or threaten to leave her, which she feared he might. Instead, he held her close.
“If you’re pregnant,” he said, “then we’re in this together. But I’m not sure we can afford a baby, and I’m not sure we’re ready to be parents. Maybe we should consider abortion and wait to have a baby when we’re better prepared.”
Ellen began to cry.
“What’s the matter?” Ron asked.
“I’m scared that I’m too far along.”
Ron had grown up in church, although he and Ellen never attended a service together. “Maybe we can go to that new pregnancy center and at least find out what our options are.”
They showed up, unannounced, at the pregnancy center. One of the staff took their history and did a pregnancy test, which was positive. “Our ultrasound nurse is here today,” the staff member said. “How about we take a look?”
“I don’t know if we have the cash to cover that,” Ron said.
“All of our services are complimentary.”
Ellen began to drink water to fill her bladder as the nurse examined her tummy. Once the ultrasound began, the baby’s heartbeat sounded loud and clear. Ron and Ellen smiled at each other.
“That’s our baby,” Ellen said, holding Ron’s hand.
The black-and-white image was hard to comprehend at first, but as the nurse explained what was on the screen, their eyes widened as they recognized the baby’s hands, feet, face, and tiny organs, including the heart, lungs, stomach, and kidneys.
“Do you want to know your baby’s sex?”
They both nodded, and the nurse moved the transducer around until she was able to offer a peek between the tiny baby’s legs.
“Is that a . . . ?” Ron stammered.
“Yes,” the nurse said, giggling. “That’s your little guy’s private part.”
Ellen laughed as tears spilled down her cheeks, and they hugged.
After the ultrasound, the nurse explained how John and I would provide their prenatal care and delivery at no cost. If they wanted to keep the baby, the center would provide the support and supplies the young couple would need to prepare. If they wanted to give the baby up for adoption, the center would help them with all the costs and details.
In those early years of the CPC, we learned how very unusual it was for a mother or a couple, even those leaning strongly toward an abortion, to go through with it after seeing their baby on ultrasound. What was inside the mother was no longer an impersonal “clump of cells.” No longer just an “it” but a living baby. Her baby—or in this case, their baby!
“I’m so excited it’s a boy!” Ron exclaimed. Then his countenance fell. “But we just don’t have much. We’ll need all the help we can get.”
“As I said, you’ll have it!” the nurse replied. “We’ll be sure of that. And besides physical care, you’ll have access to emotional and spiritual care, plus marital and parenting resources will be available to you as well if you want it.”
Both smiled and nodded. It was far more than they could have hoped for.
“Can we start with a prayer for all three of you?”
The young couple nodded again and joined the nurse, Dawn, and another staff member for the first prayer ever for themselves and their boy.
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