SOMETIMES, GOOD THINGS COME IN OLD BOXES
Jeannie Joseph worked as a neonatal nurse at Swedish/American hospital in Rockford, Illinois, for ten years. She was in the special care nursery one day when she noticed a young teenager in a hooded sweatshirt holding a shoebox and crying. His terrified face told her something was very wrong.
Inside the shoebox was a 3-pound infant wrapped in a dishtowel. The baby boy was born six weeks premature. Jeannie grabbed the baby, and the medical staff immediately went to work. They treated him for hypothermia, dehydration, and an infection from the household scissors used to cut his umbilical cord.
“We were sad, of course, but we had to work very fast with this baby,” Jeannie said. Despite the harrowing conditions, God used Jeannie to help work all things out for the baby’s good! Although the tiny lad’s condition was grave, it was a miracle he was alive at all. Premature babies need warmth immediately and often are not developed enough to breathe on their own. And yet, despite the terrible circumstances, this little one was breathing and fighting for his life. “This is one of the cases I won’t forget,” said the doctor who treated the shoebox baby. “There was someone from up above looking down on him.”
As hospital staff did everything to save the newborn, his teenage father waited outside, sobbing uncontrollably. Jeannie kept him posted on his baby’s progress. Once the infant’s condition stabilized, she explained to the young, terrified dad that if he gave up his baby that day, he’d no longer be able to receive updates on his health. She reminded him he could take his time in exploring options rather than make an impulsive decision.
The teenage boy took the parental bracelets Jeannie offered him so that he and the baby’s mother could come back to visit him. The young couple came the next day, and every day after for several weeks. As it turns out, the shoebox baby’s mother was 15-year-old Cherish Coates. She knew all too well the difficulties of teenage pregnancies. Her own mother had her at fifteen and left her to be raised by her grandparents, although her mom visited regularly.
Growing up, family members often warned Cherish about getting pregnant. They encouraged her to be the first in her family to finish high school and go on to college. Everyone was rooting for her. So, when she found herself pregnant by the boyfriend she’d been dating for two years, she was completely distraught. Cherish felt like she’d let everyone down, and was too afraid to share the news with anyone. Cherish barely gained any weight, so it wasn’t hard to hide her tiny bump. She hid her morning sickness and attended school and work as usual.
But time flew by quickly. One day Cherish began experiencing severe stomach cramps at the end of the school day. She locked herself in her bedroom and quietly whimpered as she delivered her baby all alone. She found a pair of scissors and cut the umbilical cord. Terror mixed with an undeniable love for the child she held. “I remember just looking at how beautiful he was, and how tiny he was,” Cherish recalled. She’d never held a baby before. “I was scared that I was going to break him.”
She frantically called the baby’s father. The two decided to would walk eight miles to the nearest hospital and leave the baby boy there with a note inside, where he would be cared for. The note Cherish wrote read: “We love you, we are just not able to raise you. We want your name to be Allen Corey, and we hope to be able to see you again. God will be watching over you.”
Jeannie first saw the terrified mother the day after baby Allen was stabilized. The girl walked into the nursery, holding her head down in shame. She wanted to see the little one before relinquishing him under the state’s “Safe Haven” law. Jeannie’s heart immediately went out to her. “She looked like such a frightened little girl,” Jeannie recalled. “She came in and sat down at the bedside. And you could tell that she was sad, embarrassed, and scared.”
The compassionate nurse put a hand on her shoulder and led Cherish to her baby’s incubator. “You know that you saved his life, right?” she told the girl. “I don’t want you to hang your head. You gave him the best chance you could.” That moment of compassion changed everything. The two connected, and God used Jeannie to change baby Allen’s story drastically!
Jeannie’s kindness was a calming force in the chaotic situation Cherish faced. She found herself returning to the hospital every day to check on her baby and to have heart-to-heart chats with Jeannie. Even though Jeannie was a complete stranger, she was a shoulder to cry on, never showing an ounce of the condemnation Cherish felt sure she deserved. “Jeannie was not judgmental at all, very nurturing and motherly,” Cherish said. “She encouraged me to tell my grandparents, but she didn’t talk to me like I was just some stupid teenager. She talked to me like I was a person.”
Cherish wound up opening up to Jeannie about the entire ordeal, explaining how terrified she was to tell her grandparents and mother about her pregnancy. “As a mom, I was just like, ‘No, no! This is too big of a secret to keep from your family. You need their support. Whatever decision you decide to make, you need to talk to them,’” Jeannie said.
While Jeannie helped Cherish explore options like adoption, she reminded the girl her grandparents’ love for her was unconditional. And finally, Cherish decided to tell her family about her baby boy. Cherish decided to start with her mother, reasoning she’d be more understanding since she, too, got pregnant at fifteen. After a month at the hospital, it was almost time for baby Allen to be discharged. Terrified, Cherish brought her mother to the hospital without any explanation as to why.
Standing in front of Allen’s incubator, Cherish froze up, and her mother’s face paled. Jeannie stepped in and calmly explained how Allen had been born early. She detailed the wonderful care he’d been given and what a fighter he was. Cherish’s mom immediately wanted to hold her tiny grandson. Cherish’s grandmother had the same reaction a few hours later. Just as Jeannie predicted, their love for Cherish was unconditional. They never showed any anger and were heartbroken she’d kept her secret so long.
Cherish may only have been fifteen, but she loved her son as fiercely as any mother would. She’d explored many options, including open adoption, but knew in her heart she didn’t ever want to part from her baby boy. To her surprise, her family completely supported her decision. They loved little Allen just as much as she did! It was decided Allen would come home with Cherish to her grandparents’ house, where the family would help watch him so she could continue school. As they discharged Allen from the hospital, Jeannie hugged Cherish tightly, making the girl promised she’d stay in school.
Cherish kept her promise and stayed in school. After finishing high school, she moved on to Rock Valley College in Rockford. Inspired by her special angel, Jeannie, Cherish studied and became a certified nursing assistant. Later, she entered law school and hoped to become a mental health attorney.
Little Allen thrived in his loving home. He hit every milestone, and while he had a few delays in speech, they were quickly resolved in special education. By the fourth grade, he was in mainstream classes and already reading at a ninth-grade level. Today, he’s a normal, well-adjusted teen.
Sadly, Allen’s father is no longer involved in his life. Cherish, and Jeannie kept in touch for a while but eventually drifted apart as life rolled along. But Jeannie stopped to think of the young mom and her shoebox baby often. Then, one day, the nurse who still works for Swedish/American’s special care nursery, received a message on Facebook. It was from Cherish, now a 29-year-old mother of three who lives in Arizona, working as a law clerk. The two hadn’t spoken for many years. But neither had they forgotten each other. Cherish expressed her desire to rekindle their old friendship. And of course, Jeannie was more than delighted to oblige!
“It just makes me think, ‘Wow, every interaction you have with anybody is so important,’” Jeannie said. “To be able to be in this position where I’m part of someone’s story of their life – that’s such an honor.”
But it’s Cherish who feels honored. That’s what prompted her to reach out. “I just wanted to let her know how much of an impression she made,” Cherish said.
The ladies weren’t able to reunite face-to-face right away. They daily keep in touch online, both valuing the special bond God had given them. “It feels like such a blessing,” Cherish said. “We will always be connected because we share this unique story.” What a difference Jeannie made, all because she chose Christ-like compassion. It just goes to show the power of kindness and love! (This story is courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.)
While Jesus was on earth, He told His disciples, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt. 19:14). But Jesus is no longer physically here. Yet His invitation remains the same. So, whom should the little children be taken to? They are to be taken to those in whom Jesus lives. That’s you and me. Remember, each time someone in need comes to you, they are really coming to Jesus living in you. – Dr. Robert R Seyda