Several weeks ago, my pastor told a story that had people whispering, “Whoa.” It happened years ago when a young, pregnant woman came to our church and gave her life to Jesus. The baby had problems developing and had to undergo an extensive delicate surgery while still in the womb. Our whole church was praying and praying as this miracle unfolded in front of us.

The baby girl was born prematurely with all kinds of physical problems and went through several more surgeries and was in the hospital for months. Then, as the baby was about to be discharged, something happened and the baby was deprived of oxygen and had a massive stroke, which caused severe brain damage. The prognosis for a “normal” life was dim at best. Barring a miracle, this little girl would never walk or talk, never go to school, never get married.

“When I heard the news, I got in the car and drove to the hospital — I had no idea what I would say to her, this brand new Christian who had entrusted her life to Jesus, and now this happened,” the pastor said.

Struggling to come up with words of comfort and encouragement and feeling utterly inadequate, he walked into the hospital room and was surprised to see the woman rocking and holding her daughter, singing to her, filled with joy. He asked, “How are you?” She replied, “I’m good!” And she was. She was the happiest, most thankful new mother he had ever seen.

Taken aback, he asked, “Do you mind if I ask how that could be?” She told him about a dream: She was in a stadium filled with people and God came in, held up her badly damaged daughter and asked, “Who wants this child?” God said, “She will need 24/7 attention all of her life. She will never walk or talk, never feed herself. She’ll never respond to your affection, never give you a Mother’s Day card.

“Not only that, it will cost you everything to raise her — all your finances, all your time, all your energy, your future, all your freedom — it will ultimately cost you your life.”

Again God asked, “Who wants this child?”

The young woman said she saw herself in the back row standing up and crying out, “I want her! Please, please, let ME have her!” My pastor told her, “It’ll be a hard life for you.” She replied, “I know, but I can do it.” He asked her, “How?” She told him, “Because God walked into another stadium and held me up and asked the crowd, ‘Who wants this woman? She has done the most wretched things, sinned greatly. She wanders away from me no matter what I do for her. She’s always ungrateful, she will never trust me as God, she’ll never give me the respect I deserve.

“She’ll be a constant disappointment,” God said. “Who would possibly want HER?”

The woman told the pastor she realized that Jesus stood up from the back row and cried out, “I want her!” And that the love God was asking her to give her daughter was the same love that Jesus had already given her.

“Because of that love,” the pastor said, “we can face anything. We can endure. We can stand firm.” That love gives us strength, gives us hope, gives us peace.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing” and “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927 or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.