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A Special Granddaughter

Johann Christoph Arnold

  • Manuel Orlando Garcia, MD

    This story is heart-breaking or heart-healing, depending on how it is perceived. Arnold’s words remind me how I reacted when my first son, Gustavo – a beautiful newborn with a near-perfect Apgar score of 9 – visited us. He began to show signs of respiratory distress shortly after birth and died of hyaline membrane disease 12 hours later, on August 3, 1970. He would be my oldest son (or perhaps he is). I was absolutely alone the night he died (I did not tell his mother until the following day as she was in a deep sleep) and I decided to celebrate his short life behind my tears: for his coming; for having brought to me so much happiness, albeit fleeting; and for having made me a father, refreshing within me the strong bonds to my own parents. His life was short and full of meaning. It was indeed a revelation, a strange mix of sadness and happiness. I do not know what exactly is being revealed with newborns like Stephanie but I do not think that mountains of faith can deny or cover up the pain that their parents must feel. Their pain is in exact proportion to their love and they must be allowed to express it. Perhaps (in my humble view) the revelation must be found in the miracle of life: the children that grow up with two eyes that can marvel at the world, and a brain that can be used to transform it. Stephanie reminds us of them and tells us not to forget the daily miracle of our lives. She becomes the preacher, the master, and the guide. I feel for you and your family and I celebrate with you the infinite meaning of the human life, in every one of its manifestations.

  • Carole Vanderhoof

    We also lost our first son Timothy, born early and weighing under 2 pounds. He fought for life for 16 hours before he finally died. I was only 20, my parents were far away, and my young husband as stunned as I was. Of course, all you can think is, "Why?" But there is no answer to that question yet. While he was still breathing I prayed hard, but I didn't know whether to pray that he would live, because only God knows what his life would have been like. Perhaps if he had lived, he would have suffered. So I prayed over and over again, "Thy will be done." I believe that God never says no to that prayer. It is the prayer that is always answered. And although now we "see through a glass dimly" someday we will understand. I believe that God has a reason, and will use the suffering of grief for the good somehow. Because no matter how much faith you have there is still suffering, grieving and loss. The article about Benson shows this also. I give thanks for Stephanie, for Gustavo, for Benson, for my little Timothy, and for the lessons that they teach.

Many of you will have heard about a new member of our community, Stephanie Rimes, who was born at Benedictine Hospital on September 3rd. Like all parents, her mother and father waited for her a long time, and sent up many prayers before she finally came. But they never expected her to be as special as she really is.

Stephanie is not a normal child. She has Trisomy 13. She has a cleft palate – the roof of her mouth is missing – and she can open only one eye. She has a clubfoot, and the scans of her brain done at Albany Med – where she was transferred right after she was born – show other problems inside.

But as her grandfather, I can assure you that we do not have to feel sorry for Stephanie. She doesn’t mind that her face looks funny and that she is probably blind – or that she may not live longer than a few months. She has something none of us has. When you see her, you don’t say, “How cute!” Instead, you are quiet. You marvel. And right away, you think of God, and wonder why it is that He sends children like Stephanie into our midst.

In fact, He sends them for only one reason: to touch our hearts, and to change them. And it is remarkable how many lives Stephanie has already touched, in Kingston, in Albany, and in our own community. Without even knowing it, she has brought people who don’t even know each other together in prayer, and pointed them toward God.

In a world obsessed with physical perfection and material beauty, we need to welcome children like Stephanie – welcome them in the name of Jesus. That’s what he commands us to do when he says, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

The apostle Paul tells us to do the same: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus wants to give us his peace, and Stephanie brings this peace right to us.

How many other babies are born into this world deformed and blind and lame? How many of them are welcomed with love? When Jesus and his disciples met a man who was blind from birth, his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned – this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

This is surely the case with Stephanie. Her abnormalities come to us from God, as a revelation of His mighty works on earth. The challenge to us is whether or not we can accept these revelations, and whether or not we welcome them.

Stephanie died peacefully in her mother's arms on Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 9:15 am. She was just over a month old. Those who loved her and cared for her night and day over the last four weeks drew strength and comfort from the words of Jesus: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” She leaves behind four loving brothers and sisters: Damien, 11, Karena, 9, Kristen, 7, and Vanessa, 6.

Stephanie’s hand holding onto her dad
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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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