Almost two years have passed since I published “One in 1200 and One in the Lord,” which was more widely received than I ever would have imagined. Thank you to all who read it and encouraged Ana and me in a difficult time with words and prayer. Many people reached out to me expressing their gratitude for my sharing this raw, hopeful, and quite frankly difficult story surrounding the birth of Loretta. Now it is time again to pick up the proverbial pen during Down syndrome awareness month to express my thoughts about parenting this special baptized child of God. Here’s what I have learned about my beautiful daughter, Loretta, who’s now almost two (Oct. 18th). But first, an explanation for the title. “Did her Baptism take” is another way to say, “Do we really know if she was saved or not in baptism?” You may be wondering why a pastor would ask that question. I ask it because I should have an answer for it when people ask. Ana and I, as Loretta’s parents, had to be ready to give a reason for the hope that was within us (1 Peter 3:15) in the midst of death much sooner than we might have anticipated.
Loretta was only a little over two months old when she came down with some horrible respiratory illnesses: pneumonia, Influenza A, Human metapneumovirus, a collapsed right lung, and then H-flu in her trachea after they intubated her. I know some of you might remember praying for her. Even now almost two years after that troubling time, I still don’t quite know how to express in words everything that we were experiencing. I do remember quite vividly the almost month that Ana and I spent in Akron Children’s Hospital (end of Dec. 2018 – near the end of January 2019), wondering if Loretta would survive those host respiratory illnesses, while other babies were dying only a few doors down from us.
Our story is not completely unique; many Christian families have been there by the bedsides of sick infants and young children, helplessly watching over them and commending them, body and soul, into the hands of the Lord. We were there beside her bed day and night until our eyes had no more tears to cry. It was during this time that the promise that God gave Loretta in baptism couldn’t have been any more important to us. The question of her Baptism being effective didn’t depend on her works. It was a promise of deliverance to her and to us that God would fulfill either in life or in death. As it is written, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) This was our great hope that brought us through the long, sleepless nights. I pity the people who cannot trust in God’s good work. Too few people actually believe that baptism works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe, as the words and promises of God declare (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5-8; Acts 2:38-39).
For two years we have watched Loretta grow in the one true faith alongside her older brothers, Isaiah and Titus. That Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2018, God acted with a miracle and made Loretta one in Him and gifted her with the Holy Spirit. Now we’ve witnessed how God, who has begun this good work in her, has continued acting upon her by His precious Word.
You may be asking, “What does this look like for a child who’s developmentally delayed?” It is the little things which have brought us the greatest joy. Though these things are not necessary for her salvation, we still confess a good tree is bound to produce good fruit. So we cherish the moments when her little hands fold during prayers before meal time or bed. When we say, “It’s time to pray,” there she clasps them together with her family in one faith. And how could I not have an ear-to-ear smile when I am presiding over the Sacrament of the Altar, and there Loretta comes walking down the aisle with her joyous smile. Then she stands before the Altar of God to receive a blessing alongside her brothers. And how could I forget those nights where she hums along with us while we sing the Common Doxology (even her brothers say she sings with us)? Or, when restless at night, she rocks to sleep while hearing our Lutheran hymns and liturgy? God has granted us to see the tiniest mustard seed of faith, even though I would happily rest all my days on just His Word and promise.
Johann Gerhard said, “A genuine, humble Christian should not think that his works make him better than even the smallest baptized infant…. Eternal life is a pure gift of grace; no one can earn this from God. Hence, the greatest Holy patriarch Abraham must rely on justification by faith just as much as the smallest baptized infant. If it is by grace, then it is not by the merit of works; otherwise grace would not be grace. Romans 11:6”
Each year still remains a mystery to us. We do not yet know the challenges that still await us, but let tomorrow worry for itself. We have the promises of God and those always remain sufficient for our peace. Maybe, after five more years have passed, she will gladly give answer to the question, “what is the Church?” As Luther once said in the Smalcald Articles “…thank God, even a seven year old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” Whether she confesses at 7 or 27, here or in heaven, one day she will sing the glorious praises of her Savior, Christ our Lord. One day the voice of her shepherd will lead her home.