Darrow Miller and Friends

Elizabeth Joice: The Mother Who Gave Her Life For Her Baby

Elizabeth Joice was a 36-year-old mother faced with a dreadful choice: She could save her own life at the expense her unborn baby, or save her baby’s life at the cost of her own.

In June 2013 Elizabeth and her husband, Max, found out Elizabeth was pregnant. They were overjoyed.

July, however, brought bad news. Elizabeth was diagnosed with a cancerous lung tumor. Surgeons removed the tumor; that was the easy part. But then Elizabeth had to choose. An MRI would determine if her cancer was spreading. But it would also harm the new life in her womb. If the cancer was spreading, Elizabeth could begin further treatment that might save her life, but would likely end the life of her unborn baby.

In our Western culture many adults are opting for a “childfree” life untarnished by the bother of rearing children. Elizabeth, by contrast, functioned with a mother’s heart and stood against the pressure of this modern, me-first” narcissism. Elizabeth chose to forego the cancer treatment that might save her own life so that her baby girl might live. In January she gave birth, by Cesarean section, to her beautiful girl, Lily Anne Joice. Elizabeth’s doctor took the baby two months early so mom could spend six weeks nurturing her child.

During those six weeks, Elizabeth bravely fought the spreading cancer. But both Elizabeth and Max knew the likely consequences of their decision to forego treatment during pregnancy. And, sure enough, the cancer had spread almost immediately into her second lung, her heart, and her abdomen. On March 9, six weeks after first holding her baby, Elizabeth gave Lily to Max, and laid down her life.

We can scarcely imagine the discussions between Elizabeth and Max. But in the end, a maternal heart, the heart given by the Creator to woman, prompted Elizabeth’s decision to sacrifice her own life for that of her unborn daughter. What a powerful example to a culture that strips a mother of her maternal heart, a culture in which women routinely sacrifice their unborn babies for their own convenience. In the courage of love, Elizabeth Joice has shown the world the meaning of self-sacrifice.

My wife, Marilyn, is a mother of four and a grandmother of fourteen. Marilyn is also a certified lactation therapist and has worked as a labor and delivery nurse and. Through her profession, Marilyn has helped me understand that God put a maternal heart in the woman. This is true at the deepest, even involuntary level. Research has shown that when a mother and a baby are exposed to infection, the mother’s breasts produce the antibodies for her baby before the mother’s body produces the antibodies for itself. Self-sacrifice is hard-wired into a woman’s body. I have written on this subject in the book Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women to Build Healthy Cultures.

Rebekah Holsapple, a Canadian mother and poet, has written about the maternal heart in a poem titled Scars of Love. It is a testimony to the maternal heart of God that she found in the love of her own mother.

If a man came to me and said, “I am your Christ,” I would ask him to show me his hands. I know my Christ by the love which defines His character–the love that gave him the strength and desire to give His life in exchange for mine.

“There is no greater love than this–that a man lay down his life for his friend.”

I have never seen Jesus, but He knew me and loved me even before I was born. He gave me life, and when my own sin threatened that life, He died on the cross to save it, and no mark was left on me. When I see Him, I will know Him by the scars that bear witness to the unfathomable magnitude of His love for me.

I know my mother by the love which defines her character–the love that gave her the strength and desire to offer her life in exchange for mine.

“There is no greater love than this–that a man lay down his life for his friend.”

My mother knew me and loved me even before I was born; she gave me life. When I was a baby, twelve stone steps threatened that life, but she held me so tight and close that every cut and bruise fell on her own body, and no mark was left on me.

So mother, if when I get to heaven I don’t recognize you, show me the scars on your arms that bear witness to the unfathomable magnitude of your love for me.

–          Darrow Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).