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God Met Me on A Gurney

David's hospital of birth.Warsaw.jpg

“To jest chłopak!” (It is a boy!) With that declaration our son, David Lawrence Thompson, Jr. entered the world, April 6, 1979, a hearty 9 pounds, 14 1/2 ounces.

Today, in preparing for his upcoming 40th birthday, I reflect. Vividly, I remember the details …

Lying on the cold, hard gurney, I took in my surroundings. The long windows revealed an early, cold spring morning outside. Around me, women struggled in various stages of the birthing process, some behind curtains, some not. The entire scene felt like something out of a black and white World War II movie. But this was not a movie. I was behind the Iron Curtain in the birthing ward of a Communist hospital in Warsaw, Poland.

The language, the equipment, the smells, the sounds, even the dress of the attending medical staff, seemed foreign. Only the birth experience itself—and the nearness my husband—felt familiar.

Much too soon, Larry needed to leave. Our little girl waited across town for her Daddy to come home. As soon as possible, he would return to the hospital bringing food and toilet paper, since critical national shortages left hospitals unable to provide basic supplies for patients.

His absence accentuated my isolation. A Sister, the Polish nurse, came by my gurney and asked if I would like a cup of tea. Tea? Keenly aware of how terribly much I missed my mother, the hot beverage would be soothing.

While I waited for the tea—feeling desperately alone on the gurney and having just given birth in a land so far from my own—my thoughts floated back over the previous few weeks.

Arduously, we searched for a Polish doctor who would allow one’s husband to be present in the delivery room. Such an outlandish request in the Communist medical system mandated special permission. Crisscrossing the city, we met with doctor after doctor, hoping to find someone to agree. Each appointment left us still lacking the much-sought-after permission.

Finally, six short weeks before my due date, we unearthed a Professor Doctor who reluctantly granted the desperately needed approval. Though he was not even present (and a midwife served beside the attending physician) this Professor Doctor later took full credit for the successful delivery!

But what is the backstory here? Why would any woman want to add childbirth to her repertoire of cross-cultural experiences?

My bedrock answer: the will of God. Larry’s marriage proposal, “Will you go with me in helping to reach the world for Christ?” set the trajectory of our lives. My answer, yes, was both to God and to him. Now, a ramification of that answer found me as a missionary, living under cover at the height of the Cold War, alone on a cold gurney in a Communist hospital.

A host of factors led to our prayer-saturated decision for where to give birth. We had a young 3-year-old daughter to consider, and Warsaw was our home. Furthermore, I objected to the idea of having a baby while living transient and out of a suitcase. Desperately, I longed to bring our baby home from the hospital to our home, and to the modest nursery we worked hard to prepare for him.

And we did. Forty years ago.

Fast forward to 2007 …

“What in the world were you thinking?!”

My son had just become a father, and the story of his own birth surfaced as the topic of our conversation. And his question—what in the world were you thinking—took me back to the circumstances of 1979, to the hospital, to gurney, and to an unexpected encounter with God.

In my aloneness, and with tears streaming down my cheeks, I suddenly became overwhelmed with the Presence of God. His nearness enveloped me, and my gurney became a place of worship. No, I was NOT alone! My Savior stood right beside me. I was in the center of His will, and He was in my midst. Indeed, everything He said was true.

“If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your Hand will guide me” (Psalm 139:9-10).

He did.

“My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest”(Exodus 33:14).

He did.

“In Thy presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

even on a gurney.

Living With Eternal Intentionality®

Where has your own gurney become a place of worship?

How did the Presence and faithfulness of God transform your circumstances?