The twenty-six-year-old woman sat in a chair at the Thanksgiving table. The wavelike motion in her belly reminded her today was her due date. But babies—not doctors—chose their own arrival times; her three-year-old daughter had been born two weeks late, after all.

Like the brimming dishes of food in front of her on that day—November 28, 1968—she saw all the good things that overflowed in her life. She turned to her little girl sitting next to her and cut the child’s food into small pieces. Then she glanced at her husband across the table and smiled. Soon, they would be a family of four.

But two days later, something changed; the fluttery movements within her, which for months had accompanied her daily life, stopped. Concerned, she told her husband. He drove her to the emergency room the next day, and a doctor listened to her stomach with his stethoscope. Finally, he furrowed his brow, and fixed his gaze on her face.

“I can’t find a heartbeat.”

Her husband frowned, and she shifted in her seat. Could this be? Could it mean what she most feared?

She cleared her throat, her eyes wide. “What will we do if the baby is—?”

“We won’t do anything.” The doctor pursed his lips. “Labor will start at some point, but it’s hard to know when.”

The woman bit her lower lip and nodded. If only today she could’ve seen her own doctor. Someone she knew—and someone who knew her. “Thank you.”

The couple stood. She clutched her husband’s arm as they left the emergency room.

On the drive home, she sank into her thoughts. Memories of her recent miscarriage pricked her. And now this. What if all was not well? If the unthinkable were true, how long would she carry a dead baby? For a moment, icy fingers of dread curled around her spine. But she couldn’t think that way; doctors had been wrong before.

Late that night, the young woman’s water broke. Labor pains rolled through her body, and grateful their three-year-old was already in her grandmother’s care, she woke her husband. The two climbed into the car for the second trip to the hospital that day.

A few miles down the road, a new idea prodded her. She studied her husband, his mouth a straight line as he gripped the steering wheel, navigating the snow-covered gravel road. She swallowed hard. “If we have a girl—and she’s not living—I think we should name her Joy.”

He looked at her, and the corners of his mouth curved up for a second. “Yes. That’s good.” Then he stared at the road again, and silence seeped into the car.

The young mother labored through the night. In the early morning of December 2, 1968, at Northwestern Hospital in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, Joy came into this world. But the delivery room was still. And no infant cries shredded the air.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.


Every now and then throughout the years, we spoke of the baby who was gone before she came. And when I was an adult with children of my own, we still spoke of her.

“But if Joy had lived, we wouldn’t have had you.” Mom smiled at me.

“I know, Mom.” I thought of my place in the family order—the one following the time of sadness. I imagined losing one of my own. The thought knifed my heart.

“Then you came—and your three siblings after you. Life has been good.” She nodded. “Always so good.”


As a child, I envisioned the older sister I had never met. And I thought of her namesake—that emotion everyone sought. But how could my parents have named their dead baby Joy? Didn’t joy mean happiness?

Consider it joy when you encounter various trials…

My childhood path led to adulthood, the terrain becoming more treacherous in spots. And along the way I learned joy wasn’t a synonym for happiness—the fair-weather emotion, dependent on favorable circumstances. Happiness could only travel the smooth, exhilarating way—and only when the temperature was seventy degrees and sunny; during the jagged and stormy parts, the fickle feeling bolted.

On the drive to the hospital that night in 1968—although my mother hadn’t known why—she had been compelled to choose a new name for the baby who was already gone. But because of the Creator of Joy in her life, the baby’s name characterized the uncertain and rugged path ahead.

Like Mom, I pressed into Him too in my own rocky places. And I gained the lesson she had learned: with The Joy-giver at my side, the condition of the road didn’t matter anymore.

You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.


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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.