Our oldest son is turning 21 years old today. And in honor of this very auspicious day, I am reprinting a chapter to a book I wrote a number of years ago. Hope you enjoy it.
“Hee. Hee. Hee. Hoo. Hoo. Hoo.” That was the sound my wife was making. My grown wife. She lay on the floor, rubbing her belly with her fingertips, leaning back against me like I was her own personal bean bag. Intent and composed, she continued her mantra. “Hee. Hee. Hee.”
I took a look around the room. There were half a dozen other young adult couples making panting sounds around me—all future mommies and daddies—concentrating so diligently on a task that would ordinarily be as easy as, say, breathing. “Hoo. Hoo. Hoo.”
My thoughts flashed for a moment to my work at the office. To a song I was writing. To the football game last weekend. To the honey-do list my wife had made me. Paint the nursery. Assemble the crib. Figure out how to afford all of this.
But this was our second child. We already had a fourteen month old son who had just begun to walk. Eric was baby-cute yet boy-handsome. Small yet feisty. There was a fire in his eyes and a zest for life in his no-held-back laugh. Nothing like when he was first born. When he was born, he was small and fragile and desperately holding on to life. He had arrived unexpectedly, ten weeks early and only three pounds, six ounces. My thoughts flashed back to those weeks and months visiting him at the University of California Davis Medical Center, watching and caressing him through armholes in his incubator, the small rectangular transparent box that was his universe, praying for God to do a miracle in his life. The thought compelled me to say still another quick prayer to God that he would help this baby in Debbie’s womb reach full term.
Fourteen months ago. I remembered getting the call at work. Debbie was crying. Her water had broken and she was being rushed by ambulance to the hospital. I remember it was one of those busy, hectic work days, but there was nothing in my whole world except her and the baby. I remember taking a shortcut through a back door in a conference room to get to my car in the parking lot, and jumping over a chair at the conference table before slamming the door behind me. And as I raced out into the parking lot, it occurred to me that I had just run straight through the middle of a meeting. A dozen people were sitting around the table I had just jumped over.
I remember being in the car, praying and speeding. Praying to God that everything would be okay. Speeding because I felt that it wouldn’t. And as I arrived at the hospital, I was told that they were already preparing Debbie for surgery.
Then there was the wait. The long wait. I think hospitals are filled with two types of people: sick people and people who wait. I counted the tiles. I paced the aisles. I looked at a nine year old copy of Golf Digest. And then the word to go up to natal ICU. Debbie was still asleep, recovering from surgery, but I was allowed to see the baby. I was told to scrub down like the doctors on TV, and put on a green paper gown and a white mask that felt uncomfortable around my ears. Then I was ushered into the baby ward. It was a sight I was not expecting. Pitifully tiny one and two and three pound babies lay in little Plexiglas incubators, circled around the room like wagons in a wagon train. Wires and tubes and electronic gauges ran everywhere. Bright lights through shadows on the shiny tile floor. I looked around the room, expecting the worst.
And then I saw him. The most beautiful sight I had ever seen. He was so small, so delicate, so perfectly formed. Ten little fingers and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten little toes. Little fingernails the size of a lower case o. A little nose that perfectly fit his little face. His tiny chest rose and fell, rose and fell, filling with life-giving oxygen, seemingly uncomfortable at the new sensation. Then suddenly, a little, faint cry that called…right at me.
And it was in that moment that I knew. I knew the joy that God must have, to be able to create something so complex, so wonderful, so awe-inspiring, as a tiny little baby. Made of flesh and blood. Made of hopes and dreams. Made in the very image of God Himself.
It was a holy moment. Me and the baby and God. And the choir of angels I could almost hear singing. And in that holy moment, I felt the reality of the Spirit of God. I praised Him. I thanked Him. I worshiped Him. It was like the spiritual world was somehow more real to me in that moment than at almost any other time in my life. Like a window had been suddenly opened and I could feel the breeze of eternity on me.
Little Eric lay asleep, exhausted from his fight for life. An intravenous tube protruding from the top of his head. Wires attached to every part of his body. An electronic sensor taped to his tummy to regulate his body temperature. And the image of God imprinted upon every part of him. I loved him instantly. I simply could not help it. There was nothing he did to earn that love. There was nothing he needed to do, except be that which he already was—my son. My love for him ran freely, effortlessly, like water flowing downstream.
I realized something that day in a very deep and unexpected way. I realized that God loves us in that way. Not that we could do anything to deserve His love. Nor do we have to earn it. He gives His love freely simply because we are His children. Perfect love flowing freely to those who belong to Him. Perfect love flowing downstream.
We were made in His image. Formed with a love that is unconditional. Given the ability to choose and decide the trajectories of our own lives. And then God waits. Waits for us to choose Him.
I don’t know why He did it that way. He could have made us obedient beings, programmed to obey him, programmed to love Him. Like robots incapable of sin, incapable of choice, incapable of voluntary love. Or he could have made us like the animals, driven simply by inbred instincts which would give us a predisposition to love Him, like a loyal golden retriever.
But He didn’t. From the moment we were born, we were given a choice, to follow Him and enter into an intimate loving relationship with the Living God, or to reject Him and live a life eventually and eternally separated from Him. And between the conception and the choice, He waits. Just like I did. Staring through the glass of the incubator, watching his little body struggle with this thing called life. Waiting for the day when my son would be old enough and strong enough to love me back.
There is something about a love that is freely given that He must cherish very much. Like the spontaneous hug or the unsolicited “I love you’s” from my sons or my daughters. I think that it is a very special God indeed who would cherish us in that way.
The sound of my wife breathing awoke me from my daydream. “Hee. Hee. Hee. Hoo. Hoo. Honey, can you get me a drink of water?” I could never understand how a pregnant woman with a bladder the size of a kiwi could drink so much water. But it is always best to keep those kinds of thoughts to yourself.
“Sure, honey,” I replied. “Anything you say.”