One time, when I was dressed in a floor-length gown and I was holding flowers, I sat in the front pew of a church and watched my brother marry a good woman.
There is a prayer sometimes used in wedding masses, a special prayer for the wife, full of beautiful words and phrases and wishes–that she would imitate the heroic women of scripture, that they would be faithful, etc.
And then we pray for children, too, in the prayer. We pray for family and that the bride and groom can be good, holy, virtuous parents, and that they will live to see their children’s children.
I remember holding my bouquet of pink hydrangeas and being touched by the exquisite phrasing (the prayers of the church are treasures–so often they are so much better than anything I could rattle together) and I remember praying sincerely for these wishes.
There is no guarantee, you know. There is no guarantee that good people will be blessed with families, and I knew that on that wedding day. We all did. And so…we prayed.
We prayed that moment and later, at the reception. And then we prayed for many days after that. And the days stretched to weeks. And months. And years. And the people married around their time started having babies. My mom printed off novenas–nine days of prayer. There were tears and doctor’s appointments and more prayers. The retired ladies on the block would gather for snacks and pray. We all did. We went to those masses where you get special prayers and blessings.
And the people married after them started having babies, then, too. More tears. More prayers. More blessings. More invoking heaven, because it is truly heart-rending to see good people who would make excellent mommies and daddies be kept from those graces.
And then, there was this decision: open our homes and hearts to the world of fostering. But, especially: their home and their hearts and their arms, my brother and sister-in-law.
And there started another step, another stretch on the lifelong Camino. And it wasn’t easy, because it so rarely is. The paperwork. The waiting. The interviews. The extra paperwork. More paperwork. Different interviews.
I remember that one Friday, in March, I drove to their house, maybe going to dancing, maybe coming from dancing. My brother, it turns out, was on retreat. So I talked to my sister-in-law about the process.
Have you ever talked to a pregnant woman?
By the grace of God, I’ve seen several of my friends transition through that miracle of motherhood.
At the beginning, they are usually scared and nervous, with so many questions and insecurities. What will happen? What will it be like? This is where they start, newly pregnant women with their abdomens not-yet-popped, but with maybe a singular ultrasound of a tiny human, the size of a wee bean.
At the end, though, it is a different story for pregnant mamas. At the end, they are just READY. They want that baby and they don’t care if they need to deliver in the middle of a street, so help them, Jesus, they are just READY.
And I remember driving home that night, from my sister-in-law’s, and thinking about how ready she was, that night, for a baby.
Within days, hours, they received a call.
“Your paperwork has been approved,” they were told; and, in that same phone call, “there is a baby at the hospital, a little girl. A tiny baby girl, micro-preemie, would you like to come and care for this one?”
Just like that.
And that was the phone call that changed all of our lives in a way we could never, ever imagine.
This was in March, March 2015. I remember that it was the Feast of St. Joseph, and I remember that I teared up and texted my brother, “St. Joseph was a foster father, too.”
What a miracle. God is not one of mistakes.
I remember going to their house, with my friend Kathryn. The baby’s tiny preemie eyes were sensitive to the light, so the lights were dimmed and the interior was dark.
We walked into the kitchen. And they brought her out–not yet five pounds–tiny, dark, perfect.
I remember that my knees collapsed. I remember that I held myself up on their counter. I remember that I started crying and they said, “Do you want to hold her?”
And I did. Of course I did. She fit in my hands.
(I just had to get up and get Kleenex because I’m crying remembering this. She was so small…)
And my sister-in-law said, “She makes a noise common to preemies, called preemie-grunt, because her brain is still making connections,” and the baby did, she bleated like a tiny little baby lamb in my arms. And I held her and I just loved her because she was sweet and precious and here she was, sharing life with me.
A few nights later my brother called me.
I couldn’t tell why at first.
“Is Esther there?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “do you want to hear my baby make her noises?”
And I said that I did, so he held the phone up to her, and I heard her make her tiny little bleats over the phone and I think I told a million people about that–my brother and the baby and the way he called me to share.
Every life is a miracle. Every gosh darn life, do you hear me? And every baby is a miracle, and every baby is worth celebrating.
And this one, this baby…very worth celebrating.
Babies are mysteries, too, because there are so many unknowns…especially with preemies. It is hard to know–what will happen? What good things? What scary ones?
In that sense–every milestone is a celebration. And, somehow, if I may be so bold, her milestones we seem to celebrate even more…because not a single one has been a guarantee.
The rolling over–a miracle!
The crawling–a miracle!
The way she sings–a miracle!
Even this–to learn to walk! DEAR GOD, WE PRAISE YOU FOR THIS.
If I had a phrase for this, it would be: look what the Lord hath done.
Look, ya’ll. Look good and hard on this baby girl who can’t stop/ won’t stop singing, who can’t stop/ won’t stop shaking her baby booty to every song she hears, who can’t stop/ won’t stop living with her fierce baby afro and fine taste for Polish pickles (not kidding).
One time I said to my mother, “Did you ever think that you would have a grandchild with an afro?”
And my mother started crying and said, “No. I could not imagine something so beautiful.”
And I don’t think that any of us could have.
We gather around our phones every time we get a new picture.
“Did you hear about what she can do now?” we ask each other, and then we laugh, and then we tell all of our friends (UNSOLICITED). (Father Ryan will be like, “Every time I see her, I say, ‘Stop it. It should be illegal to be that cute.’ and I’m like, ‘I KNOW, RIGHT?!?’)
Remember last year, when everything in my life was hard and a mess? Do you want to know a high percentage of what got me through? Text images of this child learning to live life wildly, strongly, proudly. That and her wild dance parties in my living room to all kinds of music. That and watching her grow, grow, grow.
Last fall she was at my house, and I woke up to go on my early morning run, and I strapped her in her stroller so my mom could get a few extra winks. We ran about a half-mile and I decided that her baby-songs weren’t going to get me where I needed to go so I said, “Baby, listen, this is Motown,” and I turned on some tunes, and she turned around in her stroller and looked at me, and then she faced front again and started BELTING the songs–only, she doesn’t really have words yet, nor does she know how to carry tunes–so it was really just a baby yelling for the remainder of the two miles.
She’s the best.
We’re so dang lucky.
Every time someone would ask, “How is she?”
I would respond, “We’re just lucky they found us THE BEST ONE.”
A few weeks ago, she was at my house, and sometimes my siblings and I, the aunts and uncles, like to turn on music and start to groove so we can get this baby HYPE, ya’ll, and, true to form, she started dancing all around, and then she clenched her baby-fists, squatted, and JUMPED in the air.
We all looked at my sister-in-law, “Did you know she could do that?” we asked.
“She couldn’t!” my sister-in-law said, “And she wanted to for so long! She just learned how to jump!”
We all applauded. She learned how to jump. It is a miracle!
Look what the Lord hath done.
But wait…there’s more.
There’s more because even though life is full of hard times, often we are gifted with what is beyond possible.
I say this because the doctors said it, too. A miracle, the doctors said, when my sister-in-law conceived.
Because every pregnancy is a miracle, isn’t it? But even the doctors said it this time.
And, in July, there was another member of our family, a new baby girl with big, bright eyes.
A few weeks back we all filed into a courthouse–me, my parents, all of my siblings, assorted friends and relatives, plus a now-toddler with an afro and the newest baby with the big, bright eyes.
The judge walked in. We all rose. She formally greeted this social worker, that one, my brother by his formal name.
She got to the toddler-child we have been graced to know since that morning in March two years ago.
“Can you say ‘hi’?” my sister-in-law whispered.
And then, loud and proud, from our toddler “HI!”
We all laughed. The judge, too. More formalities, more discussion. And, then, the judge said it…she was ours. Ours with a new certificate and ours for good and ours to stay.
While everyone else might look at 2016 as the year of gloom and doom…not us. Not this family. 2016 graced us with two new miracles.
We were given these: a new baby, a wee miracle with eternally-reaching promise and a now-toddler who infects us with joy and song and light.
Look what the Lord hath done.
It was Him. I know it was. It has His handiwork all over it.
Maybe, if we had not known the barren years, I would never, ever have held that bleating preemie in my arms.
Such is the Lent of life. Without it–we would never appreciate Easter.
But, in a small way, we know Easter now.
For we are an Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.
Hallelujah, then, for these two humans.
Often, when I see them, I hold their tiny faces and whisper, “Thank you for letting me be a part of your life.”
It is a grace. A pure, absolute grace.
Look. Look, thou, what the Lord hath done.
Look good and hard.
Because, while I believe that miracles exist every day and all around us, sometimes, I fear, we forget.
So I’m telling you now, to remind you now…this is what miracles look like.