I traveled the slippery pavement with a careful gait, my back hunched against March's cold winds. Though cautious because of my present condition, I was eager to return to our cozy apartment following my first visit to the obstetrician's office where I had heard the heartbeat of our first child.
The drab weather couldn't dampen my spirits a bit. Up to this point my pregnancy felt like symptoms of a bad virus. To finally hear the rhythmic beating coming from my slightly bulging stomach was an exhilarating confirmation that I indeed was a mother-to-be!
It was the middle of the afternoon and I still had a few hours before Ron came home from work. Tonight would be another busy evening of leading activities for the youth of our church.
I prepared a cup of steaming herbal tea, took off my wet wraps, curled up in grandmother's crocheted blanket and settled down in my new rocking chair. The living room was my sanctuary and warm feelings overtook me as I sat rocking. Acknowledging the child within me as a gift from God, I imagined the heavenly Father wrapping His arms around me.
Ron and I adored each other – our two and a half year marriage was healthy and filled with romance. We both worked and lived in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a place we found charming and adventurous. We enjoyed strolls around town visiting coffee shops, and participating in the special events happening in the city.
I had recently cut back my work hours at our local hospital, where I was a registered nurse in the fast-paced intensive care unit. The new schedule allowed me more time to devote to our home. Despite the smaller income, our financial condition remained strong. Ron worked as a full-time salesman. We found ourselves able to live off his income, usually depositing my paychecks into savings in preparation for my upcoming status as a stay-at-home mom.
The floor creaked beneath me as I kept rocking. I finished a mug of tea, but continued to reflect on the great life with which God had blessed me. I thought about the chair on which I was seated, a reminder to me of my thoughtful husband. He bought the rocker for me as a celebration of the positive litmus result on the paper of the home pregnancy test.
The album, playing quietly in the background, had come to the end of its last band. I stopped my rocking long enough to lift the needle off the record. As I did, I noticed a pamphlet lying on the coffee table. My happy thoughts quickly left me, replaced with a sick feeling in my stomach, my heart beginning to race. Confronting me was a photograph of an aborted baby.
We had received the pamphlet from a lady who had recently participated in the National March for Life in Washington DC. She spoke to our youth group the previous evening. The large group event, protesting abortion, had made such a profound impression on her that she felt compelled to share with others. Passionately, she urged us to contemplate the statistic of thirteen million babies killed in America since the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
"How could a mother allow that to happen to her baby?" I shuddered as these thoughts besieged my mind. "What circumstances could possibly bring her to the point of making such a choice? God alone should have the right to take a child. That should be left in His hands!" My own hands held my stomach protectively as I rocked harder. "Oh God, don't let anything take our baby!"
Sleet began pelting the window and I pulled the afghan tightly around me. The living room felt colder. My mind drifted to the story of my mother and the birth of her first child. It took place during the days of the Korean War. I picture her hospital experience as cold, isolated and sterile. During a snowy December day, as the rest of the world prepared to celebrate Christmas, she delivered a full term son – born dead! They whisked him away and down a long secluded corridor, without giving mother even a brief glimpse of him – my oldest brother.
Slipping the ghastly image under a book, pushing it out of my sight, I prayed, "Oh God, I beg you, if this baby is sick please let him be well enough for me to hold him in my arms and care for him. But if he or she is born healthy, let me never forget ‘who’ blessed me with this child."
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Ron was elated to learn the doctor's good report concerning my pregnancy and that I had heard the baby's heartbeat. My pregnancy became an exciting adventure for both of us with the increasing reality of the new life within me.
Because my brother died of Spina Bifida, the doctor ordered an ultrasound. The test was negative for any defects. With the first three months behind me, the likelihood of a miscarriage had decreased. Each new step gave permission to us to allow our dreams to grow.
I thoroughly loved my nursing career, but the longing to be a mother was even greater. My desire for the role began early in childhood and even until the age of thirteen when I would secretly play with dolls in the attic of my parent's home. I imagined myself being a mom to a whole household of children.
I never thought I had revealed this strong maternal desire to those around me in my adult years. Apparently I had. At a baby shower given by my coworkers, I received a gift that affirmed my passion for motherhood. It was a cross-stitched wall hanging with these words: "There is no higher calling in life than raising the children God has trusted to your care." My coworkers agreed that they knew of no one for whom this saying was more appropriate. I felt honored, especially since I had not yet informed them that my full-time career was going to be in the field of motherhood. I treasured the wall hanging that day, not knowing how much pain this higher calling would later involve. Nor did I have any idea as to how much I would need this daily reminder of my commitment to motherhood.
During shopping trips, Ron and I were quick to notice other babies. As we considered our genetic make-up, we talked about what our child might look like. We imagined at worst, a chubby little girl, face covered with freckles, bright red hair and glasses as thick as coke bottles. We laughed as we enjoyed the prospect, but we were sure that whatever our child looked like, we would have no difficulty loving him or her.
Together we bought maternity clothes. We waded through endless lists of name possibilities. We went for long walks and bike rides to keep me in shape. We attended childbirth classes. We bought books on child raising and spent hours talking about how we might do as parents and what we desired for this baby.
Although we both had college degrees and valued our education, we believed it would be unwise to make academics the highest goal for our child. We decided that what we wanted most for our little one was that he would be a child possessing strength of character and wisdom. If our child had those things, he or she would also gain the knowledge necessary for success in life.
A few weeks before the due date, with most of the preparations complete, we awaited the big day. Along with his responsibilities as youth pastor at our church, Ron worked full-time for an office supply company. One day, while working in the back stock room, he received a page from one of his coworkers asking him to come to the sales floor. Near the counter was a group of his coworkers encircling a former employee who came for a visit to introduce her newborn. Although Ron rarely expressed enthusiasm over babies, he felt excitement for the opportunity to meet this infant. Fatherhood was on his mind!
What Ron did not know was that baby Latricia was born with Downs Syndrome. As he approached the huddle of excitement and noticed her condition, his heart sank. Latricia's mother asked Ron if he wanted to hold the baby. "Sure," he said, and took her in his arms. Inside he wanted to run from this child. At the very least he felt like saying, "No, I really don't care to have anything to do with this child, thank you!" Until that moment, it had never occurred to him that the baby he cherished inside me could also be handicapped. The thought overwhelmed him. It distressed him because he absolutely knew that he would never be able to handle having a handicapped child. That was a world in which he had no interest.
The sunrise on October 2, 1986 was beautifully stunning. I knew that it was going to be a wonderful day even though I had been up all night with labor pains. It wouldn't be much longer until we would be heading back to the hospital – only one block away. The day before I was admitted to the hospital because my contractions were five minutes apart. I had not progressed after being there eight hours, and so, wearing my hospital bracelet, they allowed me to walk home, where I could relax.
Ron had received a few hours of sleep during the night, while I spent the time pacing and crawling around the small living room, intently focused on each painful contraction. By lunchtime, I had decided I couldn't endure the pain any longer. I showered, re-packed my bags and headed out the door. Because it was daylight, I asked Ron to take me by car. Otherwise all our neighbors would notice me stopping to pant through my contractions and I preferred that some surprise would be left for the announcement of the birth.
At the hospital, I experienced those things that are common to every mother who has an uneventful labor and delivery. Kari Jo Denlinger finally arrived at 8:59 PM and, from our point of view, the world was much better for it. She was beautiful – a mother's dream. She was perfectly pink, completely healthy and she was all ours!
Ron took Kari in his arms, bent down and kissed me, and presented me with this very precious bundle. When the delivery room was free of hospital staff, Ron gathered his little family in his arms. He prayed, thanking the Lord for our priceless new gift and for bringing me safely through a painful childbirth. As I put Kari to my breast to attempt to nurse her, Ron called our families and friends to inform them of our wonderful news.
I sat, still shaking from the chill that had overtaken me after the intense delivery. I snuggled Kari closer to me. I wondered if life could possibly get any better than this. I reflected on a warning of our childbirth instructor: "As you leave the door of your home to go to the hospital, look back and remember that life will never be the same again when you return." I smiled and whispered to myself, "Yes, life will never be the same. It will be so much sweeter!"
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When God joined Joan and I together as husband and wife, our family was established. But God didn't stop there. He allowed us the privilege of His adding to our family, of our becoming parents, fulfilling dreams that were dear to us. At the same time God was blessing us, not only with a child, but also in ways we couldn't fully appreciate at the time. He was preparing us by helping us understand important truths that would serve our family well.
Issues such as "sanctity of human life" and related topics are often seen as interesting, something to debate, a philosophical curiosity, but something to be quietly placed in the basically irrelevant compartment of "religious" belief. Though impractical and inconsequential in the thinking of many, God made it a priority for us to consider these matters carefully and to understand His perspective on them. It was helpful for the harmony in our marriage to share these beliefs with one another, but there was a more important benefit to both of us holding to these truths.
Jesus described two men who built homes – one on the sand, the other on rock. Each worked equally hard. No doubt they both used good materials, but the one house collapsed when heavy rains came because the foundation, the starting place, was insufficient.
When we began our marriage, we concentrated on building a happy life together, the same kind of dream every other couple has for themselves. Though we didn't fully understand what it would take to cause that to be a reality, God was gracious in that he directed us to build on the solid foundation of truth. When we began to build we weren't thinking about the possibility that heavy rains would come some day. We assumed that ours would be a "they lived happily ever after" kind of story. Life would not be that simple.
We've come to understand that:
A successful family builds on the solid foundation of truth.
Copyright (c) 2002 by Ron and Joan Denlinger