Each and every evening, Sandy prayed over her baby boy – even into his young adult years – the words “Sleep sweet in Jesus…” Night was never Gra-Gra’s favorite time, alas he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 11 years old. These were his most vulnerable hours, those pre-nighty-night moments. Before drifting off to sleep it was mommy and son time and that is when our son often opened up about the things that either bothered or mattered to him. So, Sandy would climb into bed with her beautiful baby boy (at whatever age) and listen to his dreams, fears, burdens, day’s recaps and tomorrow’s plans. I can still hear Sandy call out in her same sing-songy way, “Gra-Gra, time to go night-night!” and our little man reply, “I don’t want to mommy.” But then, knowing he so disliked the night, would help him ease into it by indulging their sweet ritual. I wish for just one more night I could hear the soft murmurings through the bedroom walls of my son’s meaningful conversations with his mommy.
I edged my wheelchair closer to the edge of the platform. My innards fluttered but it wasn’t because hundreds upon hundreds were pressing into the auditorium. It wasn’t because the eminent Greek scholar, Spiros Zodhiates, was seating himself near the front, right under my nose, or the fact that I was sharing the pulpit of a venerable pastor whose flock was in my care for the next hour. My belly dipped because Sandy was crying.
Oh no. What’s this?
Did I say something wrong in the young adult assembly? Was Sandy taking the heat for some blunder of mine? Did I offend that young girl Sandy was talking to as they whisked me away?
Sandy climbed the platform steps. Her eyes weren’t just damp, they were shimmering pools.
“Did you see that girl I was talking to just now?” Her whisper modulated and seemed strained.
I nodded carefully, dread and fear seizing me.
She choked back a sob. “Do you know what she told me?”
Here it comes.
“She said…she said…” Her head dropped as she collected herself.
Oh, dear Jesus…
“She told me she wants us to have…to have…(more soft sobs)…she said she wants us to have her baby!”
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
That petite young vessel with the large blue eyes was the answer to our heart’s petitions. In one single morning, a condensed moment in time, the sovereign will of God broke into the narrative of our lives via an obedient stranger, expelling our beaten-down, shot-through hopes, and breathing an Emmanuel into the aching void.
Our ‘savior’ with a cute round belly was seven months along and appeared as excited about the prospect as we were. She had been eyeing another couple for her baby but couldn’t get a fixed peace in her spirit and when she heard one statement in the young adult class that morning she knew why. During the Q&A, someone asked us about children. Perhaps it was the way the query was framed, but I thought the inquirer wanted to know if children’s ministry was included in our calling. I said no.
“No,” they elaborated, “I mean, do you have any kids?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I apologized. “No, unfortunately, we don’t have children…”
Sandy broke in. “Do we want children? Oh yes. We’ve been praying for over six years and we’re still hoping for a miracle –“
I interrupted her, chuckling: ” — because, well, we’re not getting any younger!”
My handlers were already moving in my direction so that would have to be the final question. Someone prayed a quick benediction and hands gripped my chair’s push handles and another was clearing a path. I turned toward Sandy and started to mouth something to her when I noticed a girl swoop in and pull my wife aside. Obviously with child, I first noticed her red-rimmed eyes and a countenance that broadcasted a need to talk to my bride right away.
I caught Sandy’s attention to let her know I’d see her in the main auditorium…which catches you up to the opening of my post today.
Friday, September 29, 1989
Rocky Mount, NC
The phone rang in our hotel room.
One, two, three pushes on my wheels and I covered the ground to the nightstand and answered a call that would change our lives permanently.
“Jill? Is everything all right?”
“As a matter of fact, it is. Congratulations. You’re a Dad.”
And there it was. In three monosyllabic words my entire resume changed. I wasn’t just a preacher. I was a Dad. And Sandy wasn’t just married to a paralyzed man, she was a mommy. How beautiful of God to accent His breathtaking plans by having our messenger be the very vessel who bore our son. Such gilded grace still leaves me bowed down with praise.
As our gift’s bearer broke the news, Sandy sagged to the floor. Her mouth flew open, covered with a shaking hand, and remained so throughout the call. We hadn’t expected our little guy/girl for another three weeks. What’s this? We’re potential parents already?!? He’s here???
I’m not sure I was hearing everything from that point on. I know I heard something about how beautifully delivery went, that he was ready, wanted out, needed to see the world, etc. I did hear he was healthy. All ten digits. A tiny little peanut. Six pounds, 9 ounces (if memory serves), 19 inches small.
Sandy is waving. She’s jumping up and down, stifling yelps. I’m watching her, grinning from ear to ear. Stunned. My bride is listening as I’m relaying every word, hugging herself, mouthing questions, dancing a quiet jig in the corner. Our baby is here, nine hours away.
I’m saying stupid things like, “uh, well, Jill, Sandy and I will leave first thing in the morning…”
She’s waving me down.
Her head is on a high-speed swivel, ranging back and forth, almost violently. She’s frowning.
“Ummm, Jill, check that. We’re leaving tonight. (I pause) As soon as we get packed.”
I look at my lovely to see if it’s okay that I said that. I mean, at this point, the clothes on our backs might be sufficient for her. She nods her head vociferously.
I told her we’d see her around seven a.m. and ended the conversation. I stared at my wife who wanted to hear everything again. She said there’s no way in, well, that place, that we’re staying another night (no, she didn’t say it, but I knew she thought it). She knew I was drained from our 6 days’ ministry in nearby Tarboro, that I didn’t have it in me to drive, that she would sit in the pilot’s seat and “fly” to Chattanooga. I said I was more than fine with the arrangement. I’d better be, or she was determined to be a single parent.
I don’t remember the trip. I think all four tires gripped the expressway once or twice, but the journey from childlessness to parental bliss was a blur and blaze and we arrived at Erlanger Hospital just after dawn. As we neared Jill’s – and our baby’s – room my heart was caught inside my throat and Sandy’s was pounding in her chest and we paused a tick and breathed deeply before entering the room where we hoped Graham (not yet named) would be.
As we entered, Jill saw us and smiled. Her room was arranged so that her son was in a crib behind her headboard. She explained it was precautionary as she didn’t want to go through the pain of looking at him constantly, lest she change her mind.
Thank you, Jill, for bravely following the Lord’s heart. I don’t understand such letting-go love but will never question it.
My first look at Graham is a snapshot in my memory. His beautiful blue eyes were wide open and alert. He was following sounds and looking for all the world like a veteran at this living thing. He was gorgeous. His skin creamy and soft, reddish-blond hair light and wispy. Small as a peanut.
The next hours were a mist. I remember our dressing him the next morning for the first time. Our plans were to take our baby to a relative’s house in Chattanooga as we had not yet secured legal permission to take our baby across the state line into Georgia. We were going to get him all squared away in Sandy’s sister’s place then fly like the wind to meet with child services in Marietta and get the okay to bring our baby all the way home.
The hospital didn’t permit the hand-off on the premises, so Graham’s birth mommy had to hand him to us in the parking garage. Oh, the pregnant drama of that moment! In her shoes, I don’t know how there’s grace for such a thing, only that there is because I was witness to it.
As Sandy retrieved our Taurus, Jill and I waited by her family’s car. She began to climb into the front passenger seat of their car with baby in hand. My heart seized. Is she changing her mind? She has every right to…but…please, God…
And then, as when a dreamlike spell is broken, her eyes blinked. “Oh,” she said, “I think he’s yours to take home…” She handed the tiny bundle to my waiting arms as Sandy drove up. With some very hasty good-byes (understandable), she disappeared into her front seat and the car sped from the garage. Sandy and I stood, baby in arms, and watched the tail lights move out of sight.
The would-be parents carried their blessing to the rear passenger side and set him in his car seat, missing one very important detail. As we sighed, smiled and giggled, I put the car in drive and lurched forward, a brand new family pointed toward home. Only, as the car started forward, the car seat, baby and all, surged and our baby nearly went bottom-up as the seat was not clipped to the back seat.
He was fine; no harm, no foul, except to our confidence levels. Only when our hearts stopped rabbit-beating could we laugh and snort. Graham seemed oblivious. Never even whimpered.
With that and a sound recheck of everything, we moved out onto the street with our baby. In that moment, we were the oblivious ones, not at all aware that in a matter of hours our bundle might be lost to us for good.
The first time.