I wasn't expecting the cell phone to ring. And if it did ring, I wasn't expecting my husband's voice on the other end of the line. It wasn't my cell phone, see, it was my mother's. My own phone was on the fritz, so I had kept hers in the hospital room with me while she left for an hour, just in case Jerry needed to call me from Oklahoma. He knew to use that phone to reach me, see. And it was the first ten minutes after she had left the room, the first time I was alone with my Daddy that week while he was lucid, the evening before Jerry was to leave on a week-long work trip... and that phone rang for me. Ring, ring.
It's a little thing called the sovereignty of God.
"Hey, are you sitting down?" Jerry asked.
Am I sitting down?! This is what is said before either very bad or very good news. A few thoughts flitted quickly through my mind, mostly involving my husband's possible condition 2,000 miles away: Cancer diagnosis? Lost job? Acute gum disease?
"Yes, I'm sitting down. What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I just got a call from Tulsa."
I could hear the smile in his voice, and I knew what "Tulsa" meant: Adoption agency. Babies. Fighting hard to start a family.
"They have a baby for us," he continued. "A little girl."
I don't remember exactly what I said after that, and it wasn't comprehensible anyway due to my bizarre combination of disbelieving laughter, profuse tears of joy, and stunned paralysis -- especially after he told me that we would get said baby girl in three days! At some point, though, the word "baby" must have escaped my lips, and that's all my Daddy, lying in the hospital bed next to me, needed to hear.
"Congratulations," he said, smiling and nodding.
And then he watched his own baby girl jump ecstatically around the sterile hospital room, an image of vibrant joy in a dreary place. This was God's gift to him.
It had been a tough couple of years for me, and I won't go into details, but the phrase "when it rains, it pours" can adequately summarize the months preceding the day I got the phone call. I remember one day in particular, just a month or so before that day in the hospital. I was home alone, it was hot outside -- it is Oklahoma, after all -- and I stepped onto our backyard deck to sit down and have a good cry. I was so tired and weary. And then the words of a worship song came to my heart:
Every blessing you pour out I'll turn back to praise. And when the Darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, 'Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Blessed be Your Name. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Blessed be Your glorious Name.'
And although I don't fancy myself a particularly fine vocalist, and although I don't make it a habit of belting out tunes when it's a possibility that anyone and their dog will hear me, I started to sing the song, aloud, without reservation:
'You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, "Lord, blessed be Your Name."'
I just kept singing, aloud, claiming the words of that song for my life, whatever lay ahead. There's a good chance a neighbor or two pondered my sanity (or at least my vocal skills), and there's a good chance I frightened some birds from their nearby perches. But I didn't care, and I didn't notice. All that mattered at that moment was that I sing that song to the Lord. I trust You, Lord, the song confessed. I trust You, even though I'm weary and terrified. I trust You even though I don't know what tomorrow will bring. And as I sang, a peace settled on my heart, even though I was still weary and scared.
After that day, things continued to be hard. My Daddy's health started declining rapidly. We still weren't pregnant, and we didn't know how long we'd be waiting for a baby. I was watching people I love bicker about petty and trivial things. I watched other people I love begin to sacrifice their own children on the altar of their selfishness.
Earlier in the day of the morning I got the phone call, I finally broke down. I was in my childhood bedroom and the heartache was just too great. I began weeping almost uncontrollably. My Daddy was dying. We might not have a child. Why do people throw away their blessings for the sake of their pride? I called my husband just so that I could weep without being alone.
He listened to me weep.
Later that morning, I remembered a passage of Scripture that a friend had recently shared:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, Your Savior."
Then I knelt on the floor of my room, and through tears and very nearly clenched teeth I confessed: "I don't understand why all of this is happening, and I don't know what You are doing, Lord. I just don't understand. But I know that You're a good God, and I trust You."
After that, I rose up, wiped away the tears and went to visit my Daddy in the hospital. It was four hours later when my mother's cell phone rang. You know the conversation that followed.
When I look back, one year minus a day later, I think that God wanted me to tell Him, at the point of utter brokenness, that I loved Him and I trusted Him. He knew that in a matter of hours my husband would call from Oklahoma. He knew that in three days a courageous young woman would place her very child into my arms for a lifetime. How much more precious was the news to me when just hours before I had poured out my heart in anguish to God.
Sometimes there just aren't words.
The next month was the most bittersweet of my life. I watched life ebb away from my Daddy even as I watched life anew in my precious baby girl. I experienced overwhelming joy and heart-wrenching sadness. The gift of my baby girl was a balm to my heart as I lost my Daddy. But each life God creates is radically precious, and never can one life replace another. Losing him still ached, though perhaps not as bitterly as it may have without Lilia.
In the last days with my Daddy, as we held vigil for him while he died at home, there was a moment when I realized the stark similarities in caring for those on the two extremes of life. There is a helplessness, a dependence, that is present in both cases. We bathed Lilia and we bathed my Daddy. We fed her and we fed him. We changed her clothes, and we changed his.
And then there was a moment when I watched the shadow of death pass over my Daddy and he left this world. Lilia awakened to the day five hours later. Two lives, you see: One old, one new. Both as dear to my heart as any lives could be.
One year ago exactly, God gave me a daughter. One month later, He took my Daddy.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.