I think that it was two days before Christmas when I learned that my unmarried daughter was pregnant. It was a Sunday morning. It was Sunny. I was dressed for church. My wife was still getting ready. We had quite a bit of time before we had to leave, but I wandered down to Amanda’s room to see if she was up. My 22 year old daughter was asleep, wrapped deep in her covers. I had something on my mind… something that was really important, something I was anxious to share. An insight, some wisdom maybe, but whatever it was, I can’t recall right now.
I did share my words with her. I remember feeling clever as I talked to her. I thought my words would have an impact and that they would touch her. Instead, she didn’t respond at all. I was disappointed, a little miffed. Then she sat up, and said, “Dad, I have to tell you something.”
I remember being afraid. It came on instantly and I braced myself for what she was about to say. We had experienced some difficulties with Amanda. Nothing huge, but the seeds of rebellion planted in her middle teens had taken root and each of us in the family bore some scars. She and her mother’s relationship was really strained-it was difficult for them to share simple civil words. And if I am to be honest here, I simply didn’t understand where my daughter was coming from. She has always been one of the most brilliant people I have known-quick witted and clever, sensitive and loving. But those traits were balanced with raw emotionalism, punctuated by a hot temper. I didn’t understand her recent decisions and choices. At times, they seemed almost self-destructive, and much of her life in the past few years seemed dominated by periods of almost masochistic behavior followed by a sheepish period of remuneration and regret. I was mystified where the little angel we had raised for so many years had gone.
And let’s be really honest. I was embarrassed at her behavior. These words are penned by a man who gets up every night around 3 a.m. to study his Bible and pray. She is my gift to tomorrow; I wanted her to reflect well on who I am. I had spent much of my time with both of my children, teaching and instructing, my mouth full of words that I all too often shared whether they wanted to hear them or not.
Now I see that I should have spent a whole lot more time listening than talking.
So, I was afraid. Afraid that she was going to confess that she had lost her job, or that she had wrecked her car, or that maybe she had been arrested. I was braced for any of those…I was not braced for the words; “I’m pregnant.”
I didn’t fall apart. Not then. I once heard a doctor say that when he told people they had a terminal disease, he raised his voice and spoke louder than he normally did…but that no matter how loud he said the words were, it was always followed by, “what did you say?” That was my first thought, but I don’t remember if I said it. Actually, I don’t remember what I said. I like to think I said something comforting, but that could be delusional. What I do remember is the luster from the day went away. Looking back, I’m sure the sun was still shining, but it was a pointless shining; it may have well been cloudy and dark. Amanda and I exchanged a few words, then I left the room, kind of drifting through the door. I met my wife in the hall. She was almost ready for church. She saw my look, and said, “What?” I told her we wouldn’t be going to church. She looked confused, maybe a little angry, and asked why. I said, “Your daughter has something to tell you.” The “What Now?” question was poised on her lips, but she didn’t ask. She looked at me a moment longer, then went into Amanda’s room. As I recall, it was a very short conversation.
There were no tears that day. There was no yelling. Those things came later.
I honestly believe that we cannot allow ourselves to be slaves to our emotions; those emotions should be the slaves that answer to us. But I lost that battle over the next several days. I experienced every emotion conceivable. Worse, the emotions were like caricatures of normal emotions, assuming an exaggerated, garishly and ghastly nightmare-like quality. Each emotion, from a crushing sadness to a seething anger and all in-between paraded through my mind and heart, especially at night, denying all efforts at sleep. I believe that I had a few moments of faith and hope, perhaps even some periods of sympathy, understanding, and love but those moments were quickly washed away by huge waves of despair, discouragement, and disappointment. Nights were worst. I remember my sobs waking my wife one night, but I guess to protect my silly pride, she pretended not to hear. I believe that it was exhaustion, but I remember closing my eyes and seeing what I assume are demons; creatures of darkness without form, marching in an endless parade, mocking and taunting me. And shamefully, over all of these emotions was the embarrassment…fueled by an arrogance and enabled by a spiritual blindness. I am horrified to admit this, but the painful reality is that perhaps the most dominate and damnable thought clog-dancing in my head was my failure…this good Christian man had an unmarried pregnant daughter. What would my family think? My friends and neighbors? And perhaps most of all, my church?
It was several days before I finally got around to worrying about what was going to happen to my little girl.
It has taken many months to accept my responsibility in it all.
Christmas Eve was a disaster. The yelling had started by that time. My pretense of the understanding and forgiving father had fallen apart and the infection carried in the wounds of resentment began to putrefy and boiled over through my mouth. We canceled all plans with my parents and brothers, telling them that they wouldn’t want us around them anyway. We stayed at home, sparring like boxers for a few moments, then retreating to our corners to lick our words, recouping for the next round. At various times, each of us in the family would venture out, tentatively offering words of grace, but the timing was never shared, one would seek forgiveness when another was unprepared to offer it. The pain was too rancid and the emotions too raw, there was a lot of hurting going on. At times, Amanda would say she would leave, and at times, a part of me thought she should.
I am going to admit something else here that I am not proud of. In fact, as I consider it, and as the tears roll down my cheeks as I write these words-remembering – I realize the depths of my shame. But I feel it must be admitted. There was a piece of me, a dark and dangerous part that I rarely admit exists, a part that lurks deep in my heart and hidden from the world, that wishes Amanda had never told me. That dark and evil part of me wished that I had never known Because once I knew, I had to follow what I said I always believed…that abortion is murder and could never be condoned under any circumstance. It is so easy to smugly sit back, married and content, and wag a condescending finger at those that condone abortion as a choice. To look down my nose at those that would defend such a heinous act. But on that Christmas Eve, on the very evening we celebrate the Incarnation and the birth of the child that would save the souls of all who believe, I contemplated the death of my own grandchild. If she had simply gone out and done what so many do every day…if she had simply had “the problem” fixed…
But Amanda said that she had seen the sign for The HOPE Center. She was close to a decision to abort, but the sign was “a sign,” and she acted on it and called. She said that she talked to a woman for a couple of hours. I later spoke with the same woman myself to thank her; she told me that she had a divine appointment with my granddaughter that night.
Christmas Day was better. Aside from some a few isolated periods of tears, it was ok. New Years was better still…spent around a small fire, just my wife and I initially until Amanda joined later joined us. We didn’t talk much that night. Earlier that day, Amanda had offered another in a series of apologies; and God gave us the grace to accept it and recommit to our love. Most of the words had been said, decisions made. The healing was beginning.
And as God has promised, He will use all things for those that seek Him. Including our pride, our sorrow, our wounds, even our sins. Perhaps especially our sin. As I consider the times in life that God has taken us in our most broken states, and offered comfort, I am simply staggered at what an amazing God we have. Over the next several months, my daughter married the child’s father in a simple outdoor ceremony. Few were there, but Amanda was surrounded and protected by those that love her, just as the unborn child was, in turn, surrounded and protected by the love of her mother. Amanda recently asked me if the photos she posted on my Facebook page of her being married while pregnant embarrassed me…I was surprised by the question because the thought had never occurred to me.
My daughter gave birth naturally. She was in labor for several hours, racked by pain, but refused even a Motrin. She would not allow her child to come into the world drugged. And the act awed me on so many levels…my little girl, the one that once screamed when she dropped her McDonald’s fries, gave birth naturally. She bore the pain rather than taking a chance of harming the child that her fine Christian father contemplated should have been aborted.
Seven months have passed since that birth. In that passage of time, Amanda and my new son, Ronnie, have left their tiny apartment and moved into a house. A couple of days ago, my wife brought in an antique bowl for Amanda’s Kitchen. She and Amanda talk several times a day; Amanda recently told me that her Mom is her very best friend. Elzena says she has the daughter she has always prayed for. We keep Eva during the day so her parents can work. There have been struggles, times of frustration, issues to work through for all of us. There will be more problems-more opportunities to be shaken from complacency and apathy and grow in God’s grace. But through it all, there has been little Eva, proof positive that God is still in the ashes to beauty business. It is simply inconceivable that something so tiny could so completely consume, and change, the hearts of so many.
As I finished the sentence above, I heard sounds from downstairs. My baby, her baby, and my son-in-law came over to see me since my wife is Granny-sitting. It has been about 5 hours since I left the computer. In that time, we took Eva for a long walk, played some cards, and had a breakfast for dinner. There was a lot of laughing, a lot of holding Eva, a Sunday afternoon in stark contrast to that Sunday just before Christmas some fourteen months ago. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago; at other times as though mere moments have passed. And yet so much is changed. Ronnie, Eva’s father, the man I refused to meet for 3 months, recently made the web page I couldn’t figure out for my company. It occurs to me that he has brought a set of skills to this family that we have always needed. God, among other things, sent us a son equally adept in technology as he is under the hood of a car. More importantly, he is a man that loves my daughter; a man that my wife and I have come to love.
Thinking of all this, I see the absurbity…how a situation that I thought indicated an end and a crushing defeat to a dream neatly planned out was merely a beginning in a path never thought of or desired. I delight in the realization that God has revealed himself as the cosmic comic, taking a tragedy and making a romance; changing the unbearably bitter to beauty. Looking back, I see now that Amanda, raised in the church, had drifted away. And while I can never accept that God would want us separated from Him for even an instant, he will use even that revolt. Because Amanda’s relationship with Jesus could never be secondhand, she couldn’t find it through my truths or words. To come alive and awaken, she had to experience her Savior’s love personally and intimately. She found that path through her very rebellion and in the depths of the pain. She and her husband do their Bible study and devotion every night.
I can smell my grandchild on my clothes. I can pause from these words, close my eyes, and see her nestled in the crook of my arm, her sleepy eyes looking back at me. Wordlessly she loves me with a purity that seers my very soul as her tiny little perfect eyes bore into mine. Just before my daughter slid her from my arms, Eva took her tiny and absolutely perfect hand and brushed my face, almost a caress. Somehow it seems that she understands all of this in a way I never can…accepting God’s love and the miracle of a redemptive life in a way I can’t hope to fathom. And I realize that seven months into life she is still much closer to our loving father than I am; perhaps she remembers Him, and the touch of life in a way that words could never express even if she had them. She snuggled a little closer, and pressed her head against my chest, innocent, perfect, with the essence and tenderness I can still recall receiving from my own mother some 50 years ago. Eva carries a touch that transcends mere humanity; it retains a touch of perfection, carried from beyond the womb, before conception, past all wrongs and wounds and sin, directly into the mystical, to the giver of life and the originator of all love…Eva loves with the love our Father.