Gabriel James Kelly
September 7, 2007
8:17 AM - 5:00 PM

Our son was diagnosed with anencephaly during a sonogram early in the pregnancy. Our church allowed us to perform a baby dedication on the Father's Day before he was born. On the day of his birth, we took lots of pictures and video. They are compiled into a video memorial. At his funeral, I gave a "family testimony" and emphasized how much good has already come from Gabriel's short life. Our friend Gary Gaskins delivered a funeral message from 2 Corinthians, chapter 2.

We feel truly blessed to have been entrusted with the short life of Gabriel and look forward to being reunited with him for eternity.

Wally, Terri, and children

Video Memorial
Watch it here or on YouTube.

Funeral Message
Delivered by Gary Gaskins

Why did God allow this to happen? We prayed for Gabriel. You prayed for him. I prayed for him. Why do Wally and Terri have to endure this pain? Even if we understand that we live in a fallen world, and that all of creation is under a curse, still we wonder, why Gabriel?

 In the mind of God, there are probably a million good reasons why he allowed Gabriel to be sick, and to die. Out of those million good reasons, he has revealed some of them to us in his word. Today I will mention only one.

Among other reasons, we can say for certain, on the authority of Scripture, that God planned Gabriel's life, and his death, in order to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ to every place.

For it is written, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 14,

Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

God is spreading the knowledge of his son. The knowledge of Jesus Christ, according to Scripture, is like a fragrance, a smell, an aroma. You might even call it a sixth sense. It is a spiritual perception. And when you encounter someone who knows the Lord Jesus Christ, you are confronted with this aroma.

Now, if you know Wally and Terri, you know that they are not shy about their faith. They love to tell people about the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, and their hope of eternal life. You might say that Wally and Terri have a certain smell about them. If you love Jesus, it's a wonderful smell, isn't it? It's a beautiful fragrance.

And God has chosen to intensify that fragrance, to strengthen the aroma, and to spread it. God has chosen to put their faith on display. God sees in his children this good thing, the knowledge of his son, and he spreads it to every place, through us, and sometimes he does it in a way that we would never choose.

No one would choose to inflict sickness on a loved one. But there is a unique kind of faith that is displayed in such a trial, and the world needs to see it, and the church needs to see it. And so God chooses, for the good of the world, and for the good of his children, to display, for everyone to see, what faith in Christ looks like in the midst of trial.

Wally and Terri were already putting their faith on display. When you have six kids, it takes faith to be willing to have number seven. When the whole family has runny noses and sore throats, it takes faith to decide that another child would be an even greater blessing! And everybody can see it. Everybody can smell it.

And when you are told that your son has anencephaly, it takes faith to walk in those steps that God has placed before you. When a flower is pressed, and squeezed, more of the fragrance comes out. In God's perfect plan, sometimes he presses us. As Paul says a few verses later in 2 Corinthians, "We are hard pressed, on every side, but not crushed."

When God presses us, the knowledge of Christ is put on display. And God loves to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Christ. God loves to display the wisdom that comes from knowing him. And God loves to destroy worldly wisdom.

Consider how God has worked in the life of Gabriel to magnify Christ, to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him, to put on display godly wisdom, and to destroy worldly wisdom.

What does worldly wisdom say about Gabriel Kelly? You know as well as I do. Worldly wisdom says that Gabriel's life was an unfortunate accident.

What does godly wisdom say? What does someone who has the mind of Christ say? See if you can detect the aroma of the knowledge of Christ in these words, spoken by Wally at Gabriel's dedication. Wally said,

Little Gabriel, though he has not yet been born, was created in the image of God. His body is severely broken. But, his spirit, that part of him that is in the image of God, that part of him that can experience a relationship with God, is not broken. That is what makes life sacred and what gives his life value to us.

Wally and Terri could have chosen to believe their eyes of flesh. Because the reality is that our eyes of flesh tell us, when we look at Gabriel's life, "There must be some mistake. This is an unfortunate accident." And we are vulnerable to believe what our eyes of flesh tell us. We are vulnerable to believe in worldly wisdom.

But God has put his wisdom on display, by putting Wally and Terri's faith on display. The world calls it an accident, but look again. We walk by faith, not by sight. The image and likeness of God is there, the same as in you, the same as in me.

And what else does worldly wisdom say? Worldly wisdom says that nothing good could come from waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for a death that is certain to come. Worldly wisdom says, "Why prolong the agony? Go ahead and terminate the pregnancy now."

What does godly wisdom say? See if you can smell the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ in these words, written by Terri, when she announced the news about Gabriel's condition.

About 25% of babies with this condition die before delivery. If he lives to delivery date then he could live minutes, hours, or days. Only about 5% live to be one week old. We plan on enjoying him for as long as the Lord will allow. He is a gift and blessing from Him. We know that He will make good to come out of this situation and that He will be glorified.

Now let me tell you, those words carry a certain fragrance, and every single one of you can smell it. To some of you, perhaps, it smells like death. It seems like Terri is glorifying death. It seems to you like she is even enjoying death. "We plan on enjoying him," she says. How can you possibly enjoy a baby when you know that he will never say his ABCs, or tie his shoes, or punch his brother in the stomach?

How do you enjoy a baby? Joy is for the present moment. If you haven't already seen the video, you will see. The Kellys will show us how to enjoy a baby, not based on anything he can do tomorrow, but based on the fact that for the present moment, they have a baby.

To the believer in Christ, the Kellys are the fragrance of life. They are honoring and glorifying not death, but the giver of life. God knit Gabriel together, he joined Gabriel together. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

Gabriel can say his ABCs now. He can tie his shoes now. He can't punch his brother in the stomach yet, but the day will yet come!

Perhaps you know of a kid who was so smart in school he got to skip a grade? Gabriel skipped all the grades. And now he has graduated. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Right now, at the throne of God, Gabriel is perfectly fearing, that is, reverencing, his Maker. "From the lips of infants and children, you have ordained praise."

Right now, Gabriel has more wisdom in his little pinky than all of us put together have in our whole brains. God loves to put his wisdom on display, and to destroy worldly wisdom.

What else does worldly wisdom say? Worldly wisdom says, what I read on one website, a woman wrote, "A baby with anencephaly is one of the stronger arguments against the existence of an all-powerful and loving deity."

Now let's not dismiss her words too quickly. Because unless you believe that God created the heavens and the earth, unless you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, her words make perfect sense. "A baby with anencephaly is one of the stronger arguments against the existence of an all-powerful and loving deity."

Think of it. Did God have the power to heal Gabriel? If he did not, then he is certainly not all-powerful. And if God did have the power to heal Gabriel, but chose not to, how can we say he is loving?

What if there were a human doctor who was able to heal Gabriel? Wouldn't that be wonderful? Then we could just go to him and say, "Fix it!" And then what if he said, "Well, yeah, I guess I could fix it, but I don't think I will. I don't want to. I choose not to." What would you say about such a doctor? You would rightly say he is cruel. He is evil.

How is it that we do not say the same about God? What kind of wisdom is this? What kind of strange smell is in these words, again from Wally. "While there is no doubt in our mind that God could perform a miracle in our baby’s developing body--there is also no doubt in our mind that God is good and just and right in whatever He decides."

Did you hear that? I hope you realize, that Wally Kelly is either insane, or else he knows intimately the Almighty, the true and living God, the holy and righteous One.

God is not a man. "Our God is in the heavens. He does whatever he pleases" (Psalm 115:3). And whatever he pleases is always good and just and right. There are some things that, if I did them, it would be sin, but if God does them, it is not sin.

Just the simplest example. It would be a sin for me to declare that I am God. Blasphemy. But it is not a sin when Jesus declares that he is God. Because he really is God.

And because he really is God, he has the power and the authority to define what good is. The fallen human condition is to try to define good on our own. The fallen human condition, the error of worldly wisdom, is to imagine that God should conform to my standards.

But because Wally knows Christ, he knows that when God ordains a tragedy, he ordains an even greater good. And this greater good is born out of the tragedy. The tragedy is required. Without it, there can be no greater good.

Case in point, exhibit A, Jesus Christ, the son of God, nailed to a cross. The ultimate tragedy. The sinless one suffers at the hands of sinners. The ultimate tragedy. But without it, there can be no salvation.

As it says in Isaiah 53, a prophecy about the Messiah, the Christ, "It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief...out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied." In other words, if Christ had no anguish of soul, there would be no satisfaction. From where is his final satisfaction generated? Where does it come from? Out of the anguish of his soul.

God has done thousands of good things in Gabriel's life. Some of them, perhaps most of them will not be seen for a long time. But I have seen one already. I have seen God spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ.

Gabriel's life, and his death, are a mystery. We cannot know all the answers, all the whys. Though the mystery is great, we do not allow it to distract us from the ultimate mystery, the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ultimate mystery is God's love for sinners.


Baby Dedication
Read at Cedar Grove Baptist Church on Father's Day

We are expecting our seventh baby, Gabriel, in mid-September. We feel he is a gift from the Lord. However, as most of you know, the doctors have told us that his body is inadequate to sustain life for very long outside of the womb. Gabriel is not expected to live to see another Father’s Day.

And while there is no doubt in our mind that God could perform a miracle in our baby’s developing body – there is also no doubt in our mind that God is good and just and right in whatever He decides.

And so, to honor little Gabriel’s life as a member of the Kelly family, and to honor the One who gives life to each of us, we are taking the opportunity of this Father’s Day to dedicate this baby to the Lord.

Consider the life that is Terri’s womb. When the Triune God first created humans, He said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” There is something unique about humans that sets us apart from other creatures. We are created in the image of God. There is something about us that makes us in some way reflect who God is.

Of course, it is not our physical appearance that makes us in God’s likeness. God does not have two legs, two arms, a nose, and brown hair. But, there is something about our spirit, about who we are on the inside, that is in God’s image. It is with that spirit that we are able to relate to God and to worship God.

Little Gabriel, though he has not yet been born, was created in the image of God. His body is severely broken. But, his spirit, that part of him that is in the image of God, that part of him that can experience a relationship with God, is not broken. That is what makes life sacred and what gives his life value to us.

The Bible teaches in Psalm 139 that God is intimately familiar with what goes on in the womb. The Psalmist writes:

For you created my inmost being;
 you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
 when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
 were written in your book before one of them came to be.

The Lord sees Gabriel. The Lord has knit him together. The Lord ordained Gabriel’s days before one of them came to be.

Terri and I cannot make a commitment to raise Gabriel like we have our other children.

  • We will not have the opportunity to teach him the Scriptures,
    but we can value his life as the Scriptures teach.
  • We will not have the opportunity to sing with him,
    but we will value the times that we can sing to him.
  • We will not have the opportunity to walk with him in this life,
    but we will dance with him in the life to come.

We commit today to honor the Lord’s gift to us by being the best parents we can possibly be, by the grace of God, in our short time with him. But, we cannot do it on our own. We have already felt the strain. We ask that you continue to support us and pray for us, as many of you have already done, in our efforts over the next few months.

As Job said, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Family Testimony
Read at Gabriel's Funeral

This is the part of the service where we get up and say nice things about the deceased. They call it the “eulogy” which means “good words.” The “good words” usually mention the deceased’s service to our country, or his faithfulness to his family and employer, or what a deceased mother taught us about life.

But what great accomplishments, what great acts of service, or memories of tender moments can be left behind by someone who lived only 8 hours and 43 minutes?

Let me tell you some “good words” about how God has used my son. Let me tell you how God has taken a small baby with a broken body and advanced the Kingdom of God. Let me tell you how God has taken defects and sadness, and made them to work His goodness.

God used Gabriel to teach our children the value of life. It started at a sonogram about 17 weeks into Terri’s pregnancy. We took our six children to this one. We didn’t know that anything was wrong at that point. They sat quietly along the wall watching the fuzzy images on the screen as the sonographer examined our baby’s body. She was unusually quiet. But, we didn’t know why at the time.

We learned that day that we were having a Gabriel and not a Gabriella. But we got more than a peek at his private parts. We also saw distinctly his little heart beat. I will never forget the dark room, the pulsing heart, and the glow from the sonogram monitor reflecting off of the six little faces of Gabriel’s siblings. Even from the womb, Gabriel taught his brothers and sisters that life is a precious miracle.

Gabriel also testified about the special value of life to his doctors and nurses. The next day, we had a follow-up sonogram with specialists in these kinds of conditions. The second look at Gabriel confirmed that something was wrong. The doctor gave us our two choices. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t seriously consider both options. However, thanks be to God, we were able to tell the doctor that:

  • Gabriel is a blessing from God, and

  • We are going to enjoy every minute that we have with him, and

  • He will be ushered into heaven knowing that his family loved him.

What else can be said about my son?

Gabriel praised the Lord from the moment he was born. Last Friday morning, at 8:17 AM he was born making a joyful noise. It is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. If there were any doubts in the operating room that morning about the presence of a person in Gabriel’s broken body, those doubts were dispelled. Our baby unexpectedly cried, and in so doing testified about the greatness of our God.

His cry has been heard around the world. Some of you have seen the online video memorial. When I checked at one o’clock today, it had been viewed 1,076 times. Gabriel will continue to testify of the grace of God to thousands of people around the world.

What else can be said about someone who was born and passed away on the same day?

Gabriel brought me and my wife closer together. This has been the most difficult thing we have ever been through. But I can honestly say, that because of Gabriel, our relationship with the Lord has been strengthened, and Terri’s and my friendship has been deepened.

His Passing Gabriel has taught my children about the value of life. He has shown our doctors and nurses that there is grace, even in deformity. His cry of praise to God has been heard around the world. And he has strengthened the marriage of his parents.

Lastly, he has brought us together today to worship the Lord. King David had a son born sick. He wept bitterly for him. But when he died, David said, “I will go to him, but he cannot return to me!’” So David got up from the ground, bathed, put on oil, and changed his clothes. He went to the house of the Lord and worshiped.

Similarly, after Job lost his children, chapter 1 says he got up and tore his robe. He shaved his head, and then he threw himself down with his face to the ground. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!”

Please honor the life of my son, by worshipping the Lord this afternoon. Join me in singing this chorus, Blessed Be Your Name.