Wednesday, February 26, 2014


In 1969 a baby girl and her family took a summer vacation at a dude ranch outside Del Rio near the Mexican border. It was a hot Texas summer and the family rode in a station wagon from their home in Houston with the convenience of air conditioning but without the inconvenience of seat belts. Once they got to the ranch, however, they rode horses with neither. Since the baby girl had not yet been born, she rode in her mother.  

This was Ross and Ginger's second marriage each. She brought one teenage daughter into the new family. He brought a daughter and two sons. They were very different people, but their differences fit together like pieces of a dysfunctional jigsaw puzzle. Both of them smoked a lot of cigarettes. This was before smoking was bad for you. 

Ten weeks before Ginger was due to give birth she went into labor at the dude ranch. They station-wagoned over to the nearest clinic in Del Rio and that's where Martha was born. Except her name wasn't Martha yet, because the doctor told the family that she would not live and advised them not to give her a name. She weighed less than four pounds and, like most premature babies, had underdeveloped lungs. The clinic lacked the equipment required to treat a baby this little. Since they didn't even have an oxygen mask small enough, they pointed a hose at her face and fixed it to the side of her little bed.  Her parents and brothers and sisters came to see her. Her skin was red and she had no fingernails. 

Her chest labored up and down as she struggled to breathe. 

Then something happened that is hard to understand. The family spent a few more days in Del Rio taking pictures of the little girl who would be named Martha and holding her. Then they left. They drove back to Houston and left her there to die by herself at the clinic. Undoubtedly, this was Ross's idea. The situation was too out of control for a controller like him to tolerate. But Ginger complied because she was powerless and afraid to refuse him. Leaving Martha behind was a source of shame for them for the rest of their lives.

They called the clinic regularly from their home in Houston to see how things were progressing and after several weeks the doctors became convinced she was going to live after all! Ross and Ginger drove back to Del Rio and brought Martha home laying on the front seat of their station wagon. They arrived on the day Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon. It was July 21, 1969.


Forty four years later Martha is a grown woman with children of her own. I am her husband and we have been married twenty years.  Except for a couple of brief periods I'm not supposed tell you about, she has not smoked cigarettes, ridden horses, or been back to Del Rio.  She drives a high-mileage minivan which is like a station wagon only taller.

Over the years her mother's health degenerated; Ginger was spending week after week in hospitals and rehab centers to treat her COPD. All those years of smoking had ruined her lungs to the point that her breathing was shallow on a good day and full of suffocating panic on a bad day. Martha arranged for a nursing home in Waco where we live with our children and minivan. We moved her there and in a short time her strength and attitude improved significantly.  The nurses guiding her through her respiratory therapies would often tease her and laugh with her until her blood oxygen count reached 100%.

But the day after Thanksgiving, 2012, she had a flare up and had to be hospitalized, and it was then that we learned how bad her condition was. The doctors told us she had a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. She did survive that night, but the next day she and Martha decided the best thing was for her to enroll in hospice care.

[Martha visiting her mom while in hospice care]

Martha visited her every day for eight days. The morphine was a great help. Not only did it decrease the oxygen consumption of her body, it also calmed her fears and took away her panic. This was the most peaceful she had been in years. On the ninth day it seemed the end was near and Martha stayed with her around the clock. She stroked her hair, whispered prayers into her ears, and told her it was OK to let go. I came up to visit and bring Martha a change of clothes. Ginger laid on her back while Martha held her hand.

Her chest labored up and down as she struggled to breathe. 

That's when it hit me. Although Ginger had given up on Martha and left her to die as a baby, Martha refused to leave her mother. What a picture of forgiveness this was. What mercy I had just witnessed. What an act turning the other cheek. It left me speechless and I went home and wept for the beauty of it. 

" we forgive those who trespass against us"

She died the next day in Martha's company. It was days before I could talk about it without choking on my words, but eventually I pointed out what she had not noticed herself, the redeemed contrast of her own birth and her mother's death that I had observed. She was overcome.


Kathy said...

What a beautiful story! Love and forgiveness...two of the most powerful things in the world!

DannyBoy said...

Thanks for telling the story. I remember seeing the peace and love all over Martha as she held Ginger's hand. It was truly a God-thing.


Diana Milam said...

I'm so thankful you wrote this story. It is so beautiful and a great reminder of how we are called to live. Martha is such a strong and incredible example to follow