Eliana Joy Davis was born on December 13, 2014, at 12:30 in the morning—three months prior to her due date. Days earlier my wife, Rachel, had gone in for a checkup after not feeling our baby move as she normally did. It was nighttime in Qatar, where I’d been deployed for several months, when I received a video call on my computer.
I’ll never forget that moment. Rachel was lying in a hospital bed with my mother and brother surrounding her, choking back tears as she delivered the news. There was no heartbeat. Eliana would be born lifeless. That was Monday night. By late Wednesday I was reunited with my wife in California. On Friday morning the doctors began inducement.
Different Kind of Delivery
It took 14 hours for the delivery to be completed. Mercifully the process went as smoothly as possible. That day in the hospital was much different from the delivery of our firstborn, Graedon. It was longer and quieter. Our room was less busy. There were fewer monitors. Notably the one measuring fetal heart rate was absent. When the moment finally arrived, only the doctor and a nurse were present. There was no assisting staff waiting to receive our baby. No pediatrician ever came to perform an initial check and monitor vitals. Most painfully, no infant cry pierced the silence of the room. The only sound was Rachel’s and my uncontrollable sobbing as we clung to each other in sadness. I called my mom to let her know Eliana had arrived. While the nurse bathed her and wrapped her in newborn blankets, the doctor finished ensuring Rachel was okay before departing to another delivery room. Soon the nurse was handing Eliana to my wife before leaving us alone to spend our only moments with our daughter on this earth.
Initially I was scared to meet Eliana. I didn’t know how she would look. How she would feel. Those fears melted away when Rachel took her in her arms and said through tears, “Oh, she’s so beautiful.” It was true. Eliana was beautiful. At 26 weeks her eyes, nose, and lips looked much like Graedon’s as a newborn. Her face was peaceful. Rachel and I sat there looking at our daughter and wondering in amazement at the beauty of God’s design. After a while Rachel handed me the daughter I had been longing to hold for the past six months. Never in my life have I experienced the inexplicable mingling of sorrow and joy more than I did in that moment. This was my little girl—a beautiful gift given by God to a man so undeserving.
My dad and mom arrived at the hospital with my brothers and sisters who were in the area. They all held Eliana. My mom rocked her in the hospital chair, just as she did with us as kids and just as she does now with all her other grandchildren. For two hours we shared many tears and many smiles. My brother and dad prayed for us and then they all left, leaving Rachel and me to say our final goodbyes. We both held her and spoke to her again. Then I climbed into the bed beside my wife and together we sang Eliana my favorite hymn to sing to Graedon as I rock him to sleep, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
The nurse came to transfer us from the labor and delivery unit to a room on the mother and baby floor. We laid Eliana in the bassinet and gathered our belongings to leave. There were a few items that I would have to return to retrieve. When I did, the room was empty and Eliana was lying in the bassinet where the nurse would eventually take prints and molds of her hands and feet. I gathered our final belongings and then stood next to my daughter’s side looking at her face. Not wanting to leave her behind. Not knowing how to say goodbye. I leaned over and whispered a final “I love you” and then turned around and walked out of the room.
It was the hardest, most painful thing I’ve ever done.
Finding Grace Amid Suffering
How does one endure such an experience? How do you bear up under the weight of sadness that threatens to crush? My wife and I have found that God gives grace for the moment and faith for the day. From the earliest moments of our video conversation, God has granted Rachel and me a measure of hope and joy that has grown ever stronger in the days following. He has flooded our lives with truth from prayers, conversations, emails, and phone calls from family and friends all around the world. A week following her birth, we laid Eliana to rest in a grave donated by my grandparents. At her service I had the opportunity to share the following truths that God has used to sustain and encourage us during these difficult days.
1. God was and is absolutely sovereign and unceasingly good.
Nothing takes God by surprise. He knows and ordains the events of this world, and everything he does is good. We certainly cannot see exactly why God chose to take Eliana when he did, but we have felt an undeniable assurance and peace in knowing that her passing was not a mistake. One of the passages read at Eliana’s service was Psalm 139:13-16:
For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.
That God planned each and every one of Eliana’s days—all 26 weeks’ worth—is a remarkable truth. It was never in God’s plan for Eliana to live outside of Rachel’s womb here on earth. He allowed her nearly seven months of safety and comfort with her mother and then called her home. This was no mistake. It was God’s good plan for her life. Psalm 119:68 says, “You are good; and you do what is good.” In the book of Job, God comes to his doubting and suffering servant who has experienced more loss in a single day than most will endure in a lifetime. Amazingly, he doesn’t give Job a reason-by-reason analysis for all that had happened to him. Instead, he allows Job to see and behold the greatness of his glory and sovereignty. Job 38:4-11 says:
Where were you when I established the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? What supports its foundations? Or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Who enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its blanket, when I determined its boundaries and put its bars and doors in place, when I declared: “You may come this far, but no farther; your proud waves stop here”?
When life’s events are inexplicable, there is great hope in knowing we serve a God who is always in control. The same God who commanded the violent waves, “You may come this far, but no farther” is the same God who whispered to Eliana, “This is as far as you come my little girl—I’m taking you home.” Were it not for the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty in all things, Rachel and I would surely be swallowed up in grief and despair. Yet we see that Eliana’s death was not a mistake. It was not meaningless. Rather, her life and death are part of God’s grand tapestry of work in human history and in eternity to come.
2. Not only is God completely sovereign and unceasingly good, he also intimately knows what it means to suffer.
Two years ago Rachel and I were anticipating the joy of the Christmas season by welcoming the birth of our firstborn, Graedon. I thought often about the fact that God knew the overwhelming joy of a father at the birth of his son. Almost immediately after hearing of Eliana’s passing, God laid on my heart the truth that he also knows the sorrow of a father after the loss of his child.
Indeed, there is a measure of sobriety to the joy of Christmas when one considers that Christ came in order to be killed for the sake of God’s people. It was always God’s plan that his Son would die. Thus he intimately shares in our suffering and loss. Christ himself was a man of sorrows and grief. The writer of Hebrews makes the case that Christ is our perfect high priest and Savior because he is able to identify with us in our suffering and weakness (Heb. 2:9-18). God is not detached. He is not distant and aloof. He’s ever-present and all knowing, with us in our grief and sorrow. He truly is Immanuel.
3. Rachel and I have greatly rejoiced in the assurance of Eliana’s eternal security.
Though we mourn the life we have lost with her on earth, we praise God for the life she has gained in heaven. Our deepest prayer for our son, Graedon—as it was for Eliana while she lived in the womb—is that God would grant him faith and repentance that leads to salvation. Graedon lives in a world of rebellion and sin. He needs a Savior. He needs to know and believe the beauty of the gospel—that Christ came to offer forgiveness of sins through his life, death, and resurrection.
This is our deepest longing and prayer for Graedon, and God answered this prayer for Eliana. Her deepest need was not to be held and raised by her earthly parents, but rather to know and love her Savior. God gave her 26 weeks of life inside Rachel’s womb, hearing and knowing the voices of her parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Then he took her and brought her face-to-face with her Lord and Savior.
What a life! What an inheritance! Our future hope is her present reality. Life is hers in abundance. She will never taste sorrow. Never see violence. Never fear death. Never feel the sting of sin. Her portion was none of the suffering and all of the gain. This is because of God’s good grace—because of Christ’s finished work. These truths fill Rachel’s and my heart with inexpressible joy in the midst of deep sorrow. God provided and cared for our daughter in a way that we could not and, for that, we are forever grateful. We also had 1 Peter 1:3-4 read at Eliana’s service:
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
So we rejoice, knowing that one day we will hold our daughter in an eternity without sorrow or loss. And we mourn, but not like those without hope (1 Thes. 4:13).
Eliana’s middle name comes from her aunt Rebecca—Rachel’s twin—a wonderful woman of faith whose life is marked by joy and service to others. The name Eliana means “God has answered.” In the days and weeks following her death, we’ve asked ourselves why God would take her so soon. This side of eternity we may never fully know. However, we do know that God has answered—once and for all—in the person of his Son, whose life, death, and resurrection have swallowed up death and secured eternal life for all who call on his name.