Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

Living the Beatitudes: God’s Heralds

April 27, 2017 by

This week we continue Rebekah’s series on “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart.” Read the previous posts here and here.

Divided in our loyalties and tainted by sin, who of us can say we are pure in heart? Yet, in the sixth Beatitude, Jesus insists that it is the pure of heart who will see God (Matt. 5:8).

I struggle with this passage because I know myself to be marred by sin. We’re all fallen. So how can any of us attain heaven or see God?

The answer, I believe, is found in Jesus’ words, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Unless you turn and humble yourself. In other words, we have to be transformed through repentance. We cannot enter God’s kingdom unless we are chiseled. Hewn. And changed.

This makeover seems a daunting prospect, especially when we’ve fallen far. But God sends heralds – at least he tries to. If we don’t reject them, they can show us the way.

* * *

“The sonogram shows gross abnormalities. You are carrying a non-viable fetus, I’m afraid. I would advise immediate termination.”

Rosalie Gambino’s head began to spin. She had been summoned for a private consultation with her gynecologist after a nine-week prenatal sonogram. The doctor’s words could not possibly be true. No! He must be mistaken.

Rosalie, a woman I met through a mutual friend last year, had prayed for a child for years. Her first pregnancy ended in a life-threatening miscarriage, and she was told she could not safely carry a child to term. In fact, the doctors said it was risky for her to become pregnant again; her body was not strong enough to withstand the rigors of child-bearing.

Rosalie set out to adopt, pursuing every available option. Her search led her to the Ukraine, where she found not one but three girls in desperate need of a home. She adopted one girl each year for three consecutive years, travelling many long miles for each adoption.

Going in for routine blood screening before the third adoption, Rosalie was informed that she was pregnant. Skeptical, she sought a second opinion. She could hardly believe her good fortune when the pregnancy was confirmed. Her desire for motherhood was finally being realized!

She was therefore stunned by the gynecologist’s bleak pronouncement regarding her son. Abort? Not even an option for Rosalie. She was the baby’s mother and longed to nurture him. After all, isn’t that what motherhood is all about?

Johnny playing in a car

Further screening confirmed that the baby had Down Syndrome, and life-threatening anomalies in almost every organ. The situation seemed hopeless. Rosalie sought a second opinion; this doctor, too, advised termination; the pregnancy was high risk and the baby “would only live for a day, at best.”

“If that is the case, that’s one day of his life that isn’t yours to take!” was Rosalie’s reply. “Whether or not the life is viable, he’s my son!”

Far from supportive, Rosalie’s ex-husband joined the doctors in urging for an abortion. He was furious that she wanted to keep the child. “You’re going to give birth to a freak,” he accused her angrily.

Rosalie was placed on strict bed rest. Her ex-husband tried to break her will, but she held firm. Being a devout Catholic, she prayed fervently for her son.

At her thirty-five-week examination, doctors told Rosalie the baby was in distress. She was admitted for an emergency C-section, and at four o’clock on the afternoon of August 21, 2008, John Ashton Prendergast made his entrance into the world, weighing in at three-and-a-half pounds. Rosalie chose the name John for its Hebrew meaning God has been gracious and shown favor.

At birth, cardiac specialists confirmed that John had a complete atrioventricular canal defect; in essence, he had a one-chambered heart with no valves. But he was alive.

Life-saving surgery at the age of five months corrected John’s heart defect. But Rosalie believes that John has been perfect all along. She finds it a privilege to see life through the eyes of such a pure spirit. John, like others who bear the marks of physical brokenness, loves naturally. His soul is not “divided by competing desires which are selfish in nature;” as Cameron Lee suggests in Unexpected Blessing. John simply loves.


“I will never have to worry about him being promiscuous or addicted to drugs,” reflects Rosalie. “He is a forever child. He has a fantastic sense of humor and brings people together. When I am insulted or upset, he gives the best hugs and kisses. And, if I ever – God forbid – cry, Johnny puts his little hand out and gives a determined command for me to stop! In church he shows an advanced spirituality; I feel his soul is more evolved than the rest of ours. I believe these children have taken on an assignment from God, to teach people how to deal with adversity and how to live an enjoyable, meaningful life.”

Rosalie views children with disabilities as a gift, but many in our society do not. Prevailing societal views, shaped by the media and entertainment industries, label such people as flawed. But viewed through the lens of Jesus’ words in this Beatitude, I wonder if these very ones might be the pure of heart Jesus speaks of.

Thomas a Kempis describes Johnny and the many like him when he says, “Purity and simplicity are the two wings with which man soars above the earth and all temporary nature. Simplicity is in the intention, purity in the affection; simplicity turns to God; purity unites with and enjoys him.”

In a society that often judges a person’s worth by material measures, children like Johnny challenge us to reexamine the value of human life from God’s perspective. In the end, what is it that constitutes quality of life and purity of heart? Eberhard Arnold summed it up: “Blessed are those who have heart… who love, who build up unity everywhere.… They do not think of themselves, for their whole heart is turned toward others.” Does one have to be a Hollywood celebrity or Harvard graduate to do this?

Check back in two weeks as I continue my exploration of the blessing of purity.


About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • “Inherent in the behaviors of The Beatitudes are activities markedly different from those driving the rat-race of modern American culture. They have little to do with “thriving or surviving,” and all to do with “striving and reviving.” It is a paradox. To discover the world’s greatest treasure, one should do things that forfeit what the world offers now.” Excerpt From: Mike Stair. “Be Attitudinal.”

  • Thank you Rebekah for this inspiring reflection and beautiful story.

    maria williams
  • "The Pure in Heart" is a beautiful one of the Beatitudes and calls us to grow in Oneness with God by Living in Him and He will abide in us. To become One with him. Then He will do the work in others and we will grow in real Union with Him. I feel sure you will help many people to draw near to God. Keep up the Good work and you will also grow in Joy and Peace.

  • Rosalie is an inspiration to us all. A woman of great courage and unfailing faith.I would recommend the book A Gift of Time by Amy Kuelbelbeck and Deborah Davis, PH.D. The book describes and affirms the wide range of experiences and emotions that can follow a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis.

    Rose Ann D'Angelo
  • Made in the Image of God. God looked at John and saw perfection. God's ways are so different from the ways of this world. I was recently struck by seeing someone with dementia how her soul had not been touched by the illness. It caused me to realise a very obvious fact, The Holy Spirit doesn't get dementia! Or for that matter, any other debilitating problem.

  • I teared up thinking of just how great a gift I have received in John then and now. Thank you so much in sharing how eloquently you related his story. Everyone who finds out their expected baby has a condition of any sort, should reach out and find families raising such children to be afforded the opportunity to see for themselves how truly lucky they are. I received condolences and pity from some on the birth of my son. Secular society has regressed to the times similar to that of the Greeks of Sparta placing a so-called 'defective' infant out on the rocks exposed to the elements as they posed a burden to society and couldn't properly contribute. How wrong is such thinking. They can teach you more valuable lessons than the greatest thinkers. I recently heard the abortion rates on children with Down's Syndrome has begun to decline from the over 90% reported when my son was born. Eventually, I hope to hear abortion is in the past altogether for all. God bless and keep you. ~ Rosalie

    Rosalie Gambino
  • Thank you very much for sharing this story with us. It is such a touchy story which reminds me of when my daughter was pregnant with her third child. when she was +-5 months pregnant her gynaecologist suggested that she must terminate the pregnancy as the child had Down Syndrome. My daughter was in such a state when she told me I said no we will pray. The doctor gave her few days to make up her mind after they have done some tests, I kept on saying to her please do not allow the devil to take control. This child is going to be fine in Jesus Name. Today my grandson is 3 years of age, he is normal, he attends crèche and he can play with other kids. It was a good decision for Rosalie by not listening to her doctor and kept on praying. We are serving an amazing God.

    Gloria Fourie
  • Rosalie seems like a person with a beautiful spirit. I agree, these children do have a very pure heart. I was really blessed by her story. I'm coming back north in 2 weeks. I hope to see everyone soon.

    Emily Russo