Sometimes the worst headlines aren't the ones that poorly describe a news story but the ones that plainly describe it. Consider this headline coming out of Greenville, S.C., last Saturday: "Newborn baby found in Bi-Lo Center toilet."
It's a terrible headline to absorb because it describes a terrible horror: A pregnant mother walks into an arena bathroom during a performance of Ringling Bros. Circus on a Friday night, delivers a 6-pound baby boy into a toilet, and leaves him to choke and freeze in the cold, dirty water.
Amazingly, a cleaning crew found the baby alive but suffering from hypothermia. The workers administered life-saving aid until paramedics arrived, and doctors upgraded the newborn's condition from critical to good within five days.
The boy's mother surrendered to police: Jessica Blackham, 24, is a married mother of a 4-year-old child. Authorities didn't elaborate on Blackham's mindset but charged her with two counts of felony child abuse and one count of unlawful neglect toward a child. If a jury convicts her on all charges, Blackham faces up to 50 years in prison.
The story evokes gut-wrenching questions: What kind of evil or desperation could hurl this young mother to the depths of deadly abandonment? Blackham's need for Christ-centered intervention aimed at repentance, redemption, and restoration is profound. One hopes she'll somehow encounter gospel-saturated counsel, not merely state-ordered treatment.
A broader question: Why do crimes like these invoke outrage in a country that allows some 1.2 million abortions a year? The Guttmacher Institute reports that 23 percent of abortionists in the United States abort unborn children after 20 weeks, and that 11 percent abort at 24 weeks-both within the range of viability outside the womb.
The difference must be the perception: For many, a baby's remains discarded in a medical pail are more palatable than a baby left in a toilet, though the deadly intention is the same. Planned Parenthood CEO Jill June, recently complaining about pro-life activists in Iowa, pointed out that only six abortions in the state took place after the 20th week in 2009. Pan back to the Bi-Lo Center: Imagine "only" six babies abandoned in toilets.
Now a deeper question: Why should every man, woman, and child identify with this abandoned baby boy? I spent days trying to avoid the mental image of a shivering infant gasping for breath and wallowing in blood, utterly abandoned and helpless. It was too horrible to contemplate-until I realized that I was just like him.
Consider how God describes His own children in Ezekiel 16:
"And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born."
But the story didn't end there:
"And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!'. . . I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declared the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood and anointed you with oil."
Here is the reality of being born into sin. Here is every man apart from Christ: helpless, abandoned, and dying. And here is a Father who does not leave His children in a toilet but gives life and cleanses sin in a mysterious way: by leaving His own Son to death, raising Him on our behalf, and adopting us as His own.
Back in Greenville, the Department of Social Services is fielding calls from families asking about adopting the baby boy recovering in the hospital. If his father can't properly care for him, hopefully a loving family will complete his rescue by folding him into their home.
In his book Adopted for Life, Russell Moore recounts adopting his two sons from their own pit-a squalid orphanage in Russia. On the day he and his wife retrieved the 1-year-old boys from the grim orphanage, he watched them reaching back for the only home they had ever known. The little boys couldn't imagine the abundant life their parents had planned for them.
Moore says the experience reminded him of his own adoption by a Heavenly Father, and the folly of losing sight of his inheritance in Christ. He says he often remembers his sons' little hands reaching for the orphanage: "And I see myself there."
When I think about the baby boy recovering in a Greenville hospital, I like to think about him warmly swaddled in a soft blanket, eating every two hours, and cuddling with kind nurses. But I also can't help imagining his first hours in that stadium toilet-all that he was apart from a dramatic rescue. And I see myself there.