Blessing and laughter
Facebook has made people weird. I suspect a lengthy volume could be written about the host of behaviors seemingly stable people exhibit on Facebook that would be considered signs of sociopathy in just about any other context. One such behavior is the Christian Humble Brag. I'm talking about people who post pictures of their amazing houses, or their extensive world travels, or stories of their professional achievements, and then have the temerity to declare themselves "blessed". There's nothing inherently wrong, in my opinion, with sharing one's successes and privileges with others, but tying such things inextricably to God's provenance is slippery ground. The theological trouble with such declarations is real enough, but a downstream consequence is that some truly beautiful accounts of God's blessing are not made known by people who are loathe to come across as vain or insensitive to those within earshot who have not known the same kind of blessing. My wife and I find ourselves in that position right now. We don't know why God chooses to reveal Himself through blessing in the ways and timing that He does, but we know that as His creatures, we are bound by love to tell of His goodness. What follows is a story of blessing, and of two undeserving people who are overcome with gratitude.
My wife and I were married in July of 2003. One of my groomsmen was married just three weeks later, and he and his wife conceived their first child on their honeymoon. My wife and I hadn't entered marriage with much of a plan for when we would start having our own kids, but an irrational competitiveness set in when I learned my college buddy was already taking on fatherhood. "Let's just go for it!" I encouraged my wife, despite the fact that we both only had part-time retail jobs and were living in an apartment we couldn't afford. Notwithstanding my wife's misgivings, we tried for a child and were immediately successful. On Thanksgiving morning of 2003, a pregnancy test came back positive. I was so psyched up about it, I also took a pregnancy test just so I could see a negative test side-by-side with my wife's positive one.
The timing of the positive test was fortuitous, because we had a large contingent of family in town for the holiday. "It's gonna be so great when we announce it to everyone!" I said as we were getting ready to drive over to Thanksgiving dinner at my nearby parent's house. But my wife was reserved. "Don't you think we should give it a while to make sure it's a viable pregnancy before telling everyone?" she countered. I was having none of her caution. I persuaded her everything would be fine, and to let me announce it after the family prayer, right before everyone filled their plates.
The announcement went about how you'd expect. There were plenty of cheers and tears, and I succeeded in making us Thanksgiving celebrities. Asked what names we were thinking of, my wife and I had only one in our minds: Isaac Joshua. It would be months before we'd even know the gender, but we had agreed on that name before we'd even gotten engaged to be married. If we found out we were expecting a girl, we'd cross that bridge when we came to it.
Just one week later, and without going into detail, my wife realized something was wrong with the pregnancy. We quickly got an appointment for an ultrasound to see if everything was ok. At the doctor's office, the ultrasound image displayed on the monitor, and after about a minute of the sonographer's looking, it was clear: there was nothing there. Our first child was gone before it could even be named.
I was out of my depth even comprehending the event, but my wife bore the miscarriage with significant grief. Despite our early success conceiving, and even though we had chosen not to use birth control, it would be nearly four years before we conceived again.
In late summer of 2007--through miraculous circumstances that warrant their own separate telling--my wife found herself 20-weeks into her first viable pregnancy, and the two of us were on our way to the hospital for an ultrasound. The name "Isaac Joshua" was burning a hole in our pockets at this point, and we eagerly anticipated finding out the gender.
But it was a girl. "Are you sure?" we asked the sonographer an unreasonable number of times. "Definitely a girl," she insisted.
Perhaps it was immaturity, or perhaps it was forgivable given the events of Thanksgiving 2003, but my wife and I expressed outward disappointment upon learning we wouldn't be having a son. Fortunately, those feelings evaporated quickly when we went shopping for girls' baby clothes. "I can enjoy this," I thought to myself that day.
Ella Austen was born at 11:45 PM on December 15, 2007 in Kirkland, WA after a 19-hour labor. By this time, our dreams of having a son had faded into the background. As my wife breastfed our daughter for the first time, I put my face on her shoulder and wept for joy.
Four years later, we had not conceived again, and we had a rambunctious preschooler on our hands who was starting to exhibit the effects of Only Child Syndrome. With so little "conceiving" having occurred through eight years of marriage without contraceptives, we had begun to believe Ella was our lone miracle and that God had simply closed my wife's womb. We hadn't fully resigned ourselves to that assumption, though, so we plotted to do all we could to give our firstborn a sibling.
Through prayer and by God's grace, we conceived. Some 15-20 weeks later, we found ourselves in a room with another sonographer. With false confidence, we reassured each other that this time it would be a boy. But the view from beneath the rump left no doubt: another girl. This time there was no outward sadness. After four years of raising a girl, the thought of another one was welcomed. On July 16, 2012, Norah Jane was born.
A year later, we had moved from the Seattle area back to my home of Dallas, TX where I was attending seminary. We were living rent-free in a house owned by my parents--an incredibly gracious allowance they had given in support of my education--and I was unemployed. My wife and I had come to assume that pregnancy just wasn't an easy thing for her to come by, so we were astonished to learn one morning toward the end of my second semester that she was expecting again. When the time came to discover the gender this time, we reserved less hope about it being a boy. It was probably for the best, because indeed, daughter #3 was confirmed. Lyla Anne was born in Plano, TX on December 2, 2013.
Due to a variety of factors, not least of which was the ballooning cost, I dropped out of seminary a few weeks later. I had been offered a full-time job at the company I had started temping at a few months before, and I saw the timing as somewhat providential. The job didn't pay much, but it brought a benefits package and the prospect of a return to self-sufficiency.
Eleven months into that job, my wife woke me up with tears in her eyes. They weren't tears of gladness. She handed me an all-too-familiar white stick. It was positive. "I can't do this again," she wept. I held her, and suppressing my own fear and bewilderment in that moment, told her everything would be OK, and God had a plan, and probably a few other platitudes.
Four months later we entered the ultrasound room yet again. This time there was no pretense. "It's a girl," I told the sonographer. "That's all we do." Perhaps sensing our ambivalence, our ultrasound tech tried to encourage us: "Well, let's take a look and see. You might be surprised!" NOPE. Our fourth girl revealed herself in short order. We had a laugh about the inevitability of it all, but it was ok. Our three daughters were the greatest joy of our lives, and adding a fourth was just fine by us. But as we left the doctor's office that day, my wife told me in unequivocal terms: "No more." She was done. She was weary of years of being perpetually with child or breastfeeding, and she was ready to "get back to herself" again. On August 14, 2015, a healthy Joanna Rebekah was born, and we agreed to close a chapter in our lives.
Nine months later, I was offered a promotion at my company, the same I'd been with since before Lyla was born. It would require us moving to Salt Lake City and leaving behind all the familial support we'd become accustomed to, but the compensation increase and the positive career path couldn't be refused. In June of 2016, we hauled our belongings to South Jordan, UT, a suburb 15 miles south of Salt Lake City, and we began our lives in the Mormon Hive.
It took me a bit longer than it did my wife, but eight months after our resettlement in Utah, I had fully embraced the fact that we would have no more children. So you can understand my surprise and confusion when my wife told me over breakfast one February morning that she was having second thoughts about trying for a fifth. The annual Washington, D.C. "March for Life" had just transpired, and this year it had come on the heals of a much more publicized, ad hoc march ambiguously dubbed "The Women's March." Where the Women's March had been marked by a cacophony of dissonant political displays and contradictory agendas, the March for Life was unity made manifest, and was centered around a simple, celebratory message of hope and love. "I watched all this footage of the March for Life, and I just found myself opening up to whatever God might want to do with our family," my wife told me. Cold logician that I am, I reluctantly cut to the chase: "Well if we're going to toy with this possibility, we can't waste any time. We need to keep the age gap close." I couldn't believe what I was saying. After so resolute a decision to put child bearing behind us, and now without the moral and material support of family, we were thinking of adding a fifth child?
Wouldn't you know it, a month later my wife was pregnant. Respectively, the two of us have handled this pregnancy in distinct ways. Personally, I have all but suspended reality. I have no idea how we'll effectively manage five children without any help from the grandparents and no free babysitting for 1,400 miles in any direction. But I've chosen not to dwell on that, and to focus more on the hilarity of the whole situation. In contrast, my wife has been calm, pensive, and prayerful. She has also frequently verbalized her unsolicited insistence that she doesn't care which gender this baby is. "I'm thankful for this new life, no matter if it's a girl or boy, because I know God has a plan for this baby," she will say.
Two mornings ago, with our oldest three children vacationing with the grandparents in Texas, we scooped up our now 22-month-old Joanna and headed to the imaging center at St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City. There's an Old Wive's Tale about how you can predict a baby's gender by how fast the prenatal heart rate is. "Faster is a girl, slower is a boy," or so the wisdom goes. All of our daughters, according to my wife's Obstetricians, have had fast heartbeats. The fastest of them, Lyla, clocked in once at 160 beats-per-minute. At the last checkup my wife had prior to our recent ultrasound, our fifth baby came in above 170 bpm. The writing was on the wall.
I had no idea two mornings ago how far apart my wife and I were in our emotional preparation for the ultrasound. For my part, there essentially was no preparation. I have long been resigned to the belief that I simply have no male genetics to impart to my family line, and have embraced my feminine legacy. My wife on the other hand, though her mantra throughout this pregnancy has been one of contentment, was harboring an angst she hadn't let on about. All would soon be revealed.
As the ultrasound progressed, Diane the Sonographer and I bantered excessively about what we were seeing. "Oh look the baby's sucking its thumb!" and "Its nose looks like our third daughter!" and "It looks like its scratching its armpit!" It hadn't occurred to me at the time, but my wife was mostly silent, just watching, anticipating. And that's when the chaos broke loose. Without any ceremony, the sonographer had abruptly gone in for the rump shot. I suddenly realized I was looking at something I hadn't seen before. "Uh, is that what I think it is?" I said, pointing at the screen. "It sure is!" Diane said with a smile. "You've got a boy in your belly!"
My wife stuttered with confusion. "Wait, wait...what? It's a...It's a..." Her hands were shaking. I grabbed her shoulder and tugged anxiously at her shirt. "We're having a boy!" I said. "Isaac Joshua lives!" My wife instantly burst into laughing sobs. The tears flowed. "I can't believe it!" she cried, and laughed. "It's a boy!" she repeated between heaves and laughter. Diane the Sonographer was noticeably taken back by my wife's reaction. It occurred to me she didn't know the backstory. "We have four children, all girls," I told her. "Oh wow!" she said. "If I'd known that I'd have made it more suspenseful!" My wife continued crying--and laughing--for several minutes more.
Alas, there wasn't any time for my wife and I to bask in the exciting news together. I had to drive to work the minute we walked out of the imaging center. My wife pondered it all, though, including the odd parallels between our first and last pregnancies. Abraham conceived his first child out of selfish motives and without regard for God's promise. The result was pain for him and his line for years to come. My wife and I conceived our first child out of selfish idleness, and the result was pain and disappointment. But the blessing of Isaac still came.
Once upon a time, we chose the name "Isaac" because we liked that the biblical Isaac was a prefiguration of Christ, but we had never actually discussed the meaning of the name itself. Since the ultrasound, my wife had gotten curious about it, and I got a text from her at work yesterday: "Did you realize the name 'Isaac' means 'laughter'?" I remembered my wife's distinct, tearful laughter on the ultrasound table the day before, and I got chills. I had learned that about the name decades ago in Sunday School, but it had never come up once in the fifteen years since we had settled on Isaac while resting on a bench outside our college student center.
The next text message blindsided me: "Oh, and Isaac is due on Thanksgiving."
As much as I've wanted a son, I'm of the conviction that the full circle arrival of Isaac Joshua is purely a gift to my wife in reward for her faith. I don't say that lightly. It's a mystery to me why God gives the gifts He does to the people He does and at the times He does. There are people in my life for whom I would readily give up everything that's happened over the last few days if it would mean some of their long-uttered prayers could finally be answered. But as long as I am the beneficiary of my wife's faithfulness, and as we have just been given this clear and unmistakable blessing, I am obliged to proclaim God's goodness to us. And by His grace, we won't cease to offer the staple prayer of Orthodox piety, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners."
6/24/2017 08:40:37 am
That really ministered to me, I really needed that today.
6/24/2017 05:33:21 pm
Glad you were encouraged, Toni.
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