Karisa was born eight years, two months, and one day after Alethea. It was a glorious day. The pregnancy had been uneventful. We had been through it all before. That doesn’t mean we were free of concern. Eight years of life and ministry had exposed us to things that can go wrong and there are lots of things that can go wrong.
In addition to the normal concerns Cheryl and I shared a concern about Karisa growing up in Alethea’s shadow. Alethea was truly an exceptional child. She weaned herself at 12 months and potty trained herself at about the same time. She was charming, pretty and intellectually gifted. When the topic came up we agreed we would treat Karisa as an individual and never make comparisons. I always added, “I’ll be happy if she is healthy, has ten toes and ten fingers, and her hair isn’t red.” Secretly, I struggled with another fear. How could I love her as much as I loved Alethea? That seemed and impossibility.
During the pregnancy I was Minister of Education at the Westmore Church of God, Cheryl began teaching part time at Lee College, and we both were working on our doctoral dissertations.
When I came home for lunch on Thursday, July 11, 1985 Cheryl mentioned she was having mild contractions but she didn’t think she was entering labor. She promised to call if things changed. She didn’t. When I got home from work around five o’clock she informed me she was in full labor with contractions about five minutes apart. I took a quick shower and got dressed for what I believed would be a long night. Cheryl completed packing for herself and getting Alethea ready to stay with Shirley and Mike who lived in Cleveland at the time. Shirley came by to pick her up.
As we prepared to walk out the door I remembered that I had put on some cologne which you are not supposed to do because it might make a woman in delivery nauseous. I asked Cheryl if she thought we had time for me to take another quick shower. She said “yes, the contractions are four minutes apart.” I showered, dressed and we raced for the hospital. Except Cheryl decided she needed to stop at the store for something. I think it was Wal-Mart. She was having contractions every three minutes and she went shopping. I stopped feeling guilty about my shower. [Actually, she had gone "shopping" that afternoon. I recall a quick stop for one item on the way to the hospital. She denies this happened. I might be confused on this. Since her water had already broken, surely we were not so foolish. Or were we?]
We were already pre-admitted to Bradley Memorial Hospital and went through the rear entry straight to labor and delivery. They placed us in “birthing room.” It looked more like a nice motel room than a hospital facility. It had wall paper and soft lighting. Most of the instruments were hidden inside wood cabinets. Things had really changed in eight years.
The labor progressed very rapidly. I was again standing behind Cheryl’s head. I didn’t even try to coach her in breathing. I tried to message her shoulders and she slapped my hands away, “What do you think you’re doing?” I explained my intent and she snapped, “Well don’t do it. It’s irritating me!” I was reduced to keeping her wash cloth wet and letting her rub the back of my head during the contractions. For some reason reaching up over her head and rubbing her fingers in circles around the back of my head was comforting for her. She rubbed until my hair was thin and my skin was gone. It hurt for days.
I prayed. I fervently prayed. I prayed for Cheryl. I prayed Karisa would be born healthy. And I prayed I would be able to act as if I loved her as much as I loved Alethea. I sincerely wanted God’s help so that she would never feel loved less. When she was born, just out of the womb, umbilical cord still attached, the doctor holding her with both hands, she peed on him as if to say “Ah, I’ve been holding that a long time.” Looking at her there in his hands my heart was filled with love, a love different from my love for Alethea and yet the same. The two loves danced together through every fiber of my being and I suddenly felt overwhelmed with the love of God.
The cord was clamped and cut, salve was placed on her eyes, and a nurse placed her, naked, under a lamp in a clear plastic basinet across the room. Everyone was busy scurrying around. The doctor was working with Cheryl and the nurses were busy assisting. I walked over to look at my new baby girl. I exaggerate not. She raise her head and scanned the room as if pausing to inspect the quality of each person’s work. I knew right then that if I was going to have a problem it was going to be loving her too much.
A few minutes later she was bundled tightly in a blanket, wearing a little cap. We held her for the first time. The nurse came and for some reason needed to remove her cap. She grabbed hold of it and wouldn’t let go. They had a real tug of war. A few minutes later Cheryl was in a regular room and Karisa was being examined in the nursery. I told Cheryl, “We don’t have to worry about her. If she lacks anything in terms of ability she will more than make up for it with determination. We don’t have to worry about her being overshadowed by Alethea.”
Time would reveal her to be equally gifted and determined. She turned sixteen on the Amazon river doing short-term missions, eighteen doing the same in Bolivia, and twenty one in the slums of Mumbai, India.
She had a high bilirubin count and we had to leave her in the hospital for a couple of days. It was torture the first time Cheryl and I drove off without her. We brought her home but we had to take her back every day for a while to have her blood tested. They would prick her heal and take a couple of drops. I usually held her for the procedure. People have a hard time believing this, but she knew where she was every time we stepped through the automatic doors into the hospital; she began crying. She cried until shortly after the prick and whimpered until we stepped back out those same doors.
Outside of my personal encounters with God, the births of Alethea and Karisa were the most transforming events of my life. My love for Cheryl was and is the truth toward which I always live. My covenant with her is woven into my covenant with God. He is an active witness and participant in our marriage. Thus, my wedding was a glorious day, a day of love, joy, promise and hope. But, their births embraced and extended all of that. They were our co-creation with God, the tangible yet everlasting fruit of our marriage. They were not our possession but they did belong to us and us to them. From the moment of their conception they have enriched us. With Cheryl they constitute God’s greatest gifts to me outside side of His grace and presence. I am blessed; I am thankful.
May 24, 2010