His Life: July 7, 2009 – Dec. 9, 2009
Living Legacy: The Birth of a Ministry
A routine January morning began with a trip to the airport to see my husband off; it ended with the story of an abandoned baby boy, unclaimed and alone at a coroner’s office.
My friend, Alfie, told me of a five-month-old whose death had been of natural causes. Though no criminal investigation therefore ensued, his little body had yet to be claimed – despite the passing of an entire month. Born to a homeless mother and an apparently unconcerned family, the baby’s body had received no requests for release or retrieval.
Thus began the story of Zachary. His is a story of a baby who needed help and love before any ministry even existed to provide it. This is the story of how his legacy changed from abandoned to received.
Alfie and I already knew each other through Nicholas’ story. In fact, when she told me about Zachary, I was still making my weekly Friday calls for updates. So it probably seemed natural to Alfie when she asked me if my “organization” would want to help. Graciously, I didn’t blurt out what I was thinking: “What organization?!”
While others would begin to catch the vision for life that God was sowing in my heart, and would eventually ask to join in, at that point there wasn’t any organization. There was simply the gentle whisper of God’s voice, “This baby needs a family and I’m in this with you. I am all you need.” That was enough.
I began to learn more details surrounding the baby’s case. Because the baby’s mother didn’t have a residence, she wouldn’t be able to request assistance from the Marion County Trustee office that offered a small stipend toward burial to struggling families. Cremation, Alfie explained, would be the cheapest. She told me that Derek Harrison, the coroner who’d been assigned to the new case, had located the mother in the community just two days prior. Alfie read bits from his report to me that noted that the mother had been “dismissive in attitude” about her child. The baby’s mother, she explained, had washed her hands of all responsibility for burial.
Role of He Knows Your Name:
Years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child, I sensed in my spirit that I was going to have a boy. I loved the name Zachary. But the two “Z’s”—Zachary Znachko—just seemed a bit too much. So when my son arrived we named him Andrew Steven. When Alfie told me the name of this unclaimed child was Zachary, I experienced clarity that this was the Zachary God had planted in my heart years earlier. This baby was God’s idea and, if he remained unclaimed, I would add him to my family like my own.
It was a winding journey of detail gathering before we could lay Zachary to rest. I needed to find a place to bury him, and I wanted his mother to be as involved as she wished to be in that process. When I learned that she had signed her rights to the child over to me I understood that, for reasons that were complicated, Zachary’s mother wasn’t able to care for him. Yet I was convinced that his name was engraved on the palm of God’s hands, and—as God’s gripped me with love for this child—Zachary’s name had now been imprinted on my heart.
Through Zachary, God was teaching me how much He values all children. For years I’d poured my life into my own four kids: holding, feeding, wiping, rocking, laughing, crying and comforting. And now God had gripped my heart with the conviction that every child had equal value in his eyes. I knew that Zachary’s life was worth honoring.
That his family wasn’t able to care for him didn’t negate Zachary’s value in God’s eyes or, now, in mine. Nothing could. And in ways I still couldn’t fully grasp, the assurance in Psalm 68:6 that God sets the lonely in families was unfolding before my eyes. God had chosen me to be Zachary’s mom in death.
At every turn of the journey in burying Zachary, I learned so much. I realized that family is far beyond the small way we use it to describe blood ties. I discovered that God cares greatly about the details: from Zachary’s donated snowy white burial gown to the verse He gave me the morning of the service, He reminded me that Zachary’s life was holy. He had been created in God’s image. His name in life and death was known to God.
Zachary’s service was held on a frigid day in February of 2010. Though for months I’d thought I’d be preparing a service for Nicholas, I’d poured my heart and soul into creating a service that would honor Zachary with the dignity he was due. When we arrived at the funeral home, I saw a long parade of cars at the entrance. Those gathered included members of my family, church friends, my children’s friends whose parents had taken them out of school to attend the service, as well as others who’d heard about Zachary’s short life. These included a representative from Life Centers, cemetery staff and even a few strangers. Each one had shown up to remember a short life they believed was worth honoring. I was overcome with emotion.
And when we drove away from Zachary’s service that day, I rejoiced that his legacy would no longer be homeless or abandoned.
At last he had been received.