Our 3rd Anniversary

Wedding Party
Photo credit goes to Michelle Taulbee Photography

In November of 2010 I was selected for a team that would go on a mission trip to the Philippines the following summer. I knew a couple of the people on that team before the roster was announced, but there were a couple of people I had not met. The day that the team was announced, I met those people. One of them, Sam, would become a good friend. The other, Nicole, would become my wife.

We began dating shortly after returning from the Philippines, were engaged a year later, and got married the year after that. Today, August 3, marks 3 years of marriage for us. I have not been married long enough to write one of those, “Here’s what I have learned from marriage” posts. I feel like that’s one of those 20th anniversary kinds of posts. However, I do want to take a moment to honor my best friend on this special occasion.

There is a lot I could say about her. I could write about all of the reasons I admire her. Her beauty. Her hard work. Her dedication. Her kindness. The way that she keeps the details of our lives in order (my lack of organization would ruin us if she wasn’t on top of it all). Her faith in Christ and commitment to Him. The list goes on and on.

As I look back on another year together, I am thankful that she is my wife for a lot of reasons. But there is one reason that stands out today. It is one that I have this year that I didn’t have last year.

I am thankful for her because she is the best mother I could ever imagine for our son.

I suppose I imagined things would go well when we had kids. I knew that the qualities I mentioned above would make her a good mother. Over the last six months, I have discovered that I didn’t have a clue how right I was about her. She is a wonderful mother. She is a beautiful person who glows when she is holding our son. She works so hard to make sure that he is taken care of and is dedicated to giving him more than he needs. Her kindness is magnified by the way that she gently interacts with him and meets his needs. The diaper bag is always ready to go, bottles are always filled, and his therapy and doctor’s appointments are always on the calendar.

Her faith in Christ and commitment to Him have been demonstrated anew as well. Jude’s entrance into the world was not what we would call ideal. There were many moments of uncertainty for us as he spent his first 44 days in the hospital. That season was physically and emotionally draining. It was sad. It was frustrating. Through it all, she was strong, determined, and dependent upon the One who she knew was able.

Parenthood hasn’t gone exactly how I imagined it would. Nonetheless, I am beyond grateful that I get to navigate it with Nicole by my side. 3 years ago, when we said our vows and exchanged our rings, I knew that I was a very blessed man. Today, as I look back, I have a much better understanding of how blessed I truly am.

Happy anniversary, Nicole. I love you.

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Miscarriage and God’s Grace

sunrise

I went home from work one day to find Nicole with a smile on her face and a gift bag in her hand. I opened my present to find a baby outfit that said, “I love daddy” on it. At that point, I had a smile on my face as well. Just like that, I was a dad. We were so happy. We wanted to tell everyone, but we decided to wait until Nicole was 12 weeks pregnant to make any announcements. We knew why we were waiting, but we didn’t really think through the implications of why we were waiting. In our minds, our baby would arrive on schedule. We had no real concerns about the pregnancy. Looking back, the 12 weeks thing could have almost been called a formality as far as I was concerned.

I remember going to Nicole’s first prenatal checkup. Sure enough, she really was pregnant. They estimated that she was about 9 weeks at that point. Unfortunately, due to being in the sweet spot between insurance coverages, we had to wait for our first ultrasound.

We went back for our ultrasound two weeks later. The screen came on, the familiar sonogram image popped up, and there was our baby. Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment. With tears welling up in our eyes, we looked at our child. I have always made fun of the way that parents get about their sonogram images. I mean, come on, they all look exactly the same. Except this one looked totally different. This one showed my baby. It was beautiful.

I noticed that the ultrasound technician was pretty silent during the whole thing. I assumed that was because she was focused on recording measurements and whatever else she had to do. She sent us to the waiting room where we sat until Nicole’s doctor was ready for us. We were so excited to discuss everything with her. But as we sat in the waiting room watching some version of “House Hunters”, I had a thought: Weren’t we supposed to hear the heartbeat today? I dismissed it. I must have been mistaken. Maybe that was later.

Our excitement crumbled just as fast as it had arisen. Nicole’s doctor broke the news to us that they had attempted to find the baby’s heartbeat, but were unsuccessful. She wanted us to go to another office and have a second ultrasound done to be sure. After the longest afternoon of our lives, we received the terrible confirmation that our baby had probably passed away a week or so prior. What we thought would be a wonderful day ended up being one of the worst days of our lives. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the awfulness of that day decided to linger for a while. It was during that difficult season of grief that we received great support and love. Those with whom we shared the news of the miscarriage were often very encouraging. However, not everything that we were told was very helpful. Indeed, not everything that we were told was even right.

One well-intentioned person attempted to make me feel better by assuring me that we would have another child. I get what they were trying to say, and I don’t hold it against them at all. However, in my mind, they were treating my baby as a very replaceable commodity. Another person asked, “Don’t you know that it happens to a lot of couples?” That one seemed pretty calloused. It was as if we needed to just get over it and things would be better. The problem is that the “it” we needed to get over was a baby.

In both cases, the people meant well. In both cases, the people were trying to be helpful. I believe that life begins at conception, so I approach this subject with that bias. However, if those on the other side of the aisle are correct, that what exists in the womb is simply a potential human, then I think that these people were technically right (albeit unhelpful) to say what they did . After all, maybe we would get another shot at having a kid (we did, by the way), so maybe we could get over the one that we lost (we haven’t, by the way). However, if my belief (which was shared by those who made these statements) about the nature of the unborn is correct, then my baby’s death was just as much of a loss as the death of any child.

That is not to say that I have experienced the same level of grief as a parent who loses a child who has been born. I would have to be very thoughtless to believe that. Those who have lost children after they were born have experienced grief that I dare not claim to have felt. I only mean that in both cases, a child was lost. In both cases, a child should be mourned. In both cases, it is neither helpful nor right to suggest that a new baby will replace the one that was lost and that the parents should just get over it.

A few weeks after the miscarriage, we got a puppy. I remember visiting with a friend who didn’t know what had happened and telling him that we got a dog. He laughed and said something about how that is the normal order: Get married, get a dog, then have kids. I smiled and changed the subject. He had no idea that we had gotten the dog on a whim in an attempt to fill a hole.

Of course no dog could fill the hole left by the loss of our baby. Because nothing could fill that hole. Nothing replaces a person. Not even another person can do that. When we found out that Nicole was pregnant with Jude, I thought back to the person who said we would have another child. For a moment, I entertained the idea that Jude was the replacement for our first baby. But Jude is not a replacement for the baby we lost. Jude is a unique gift just like our first baby was a unique gift.

As I write this, I am watching my soon to be 6 month old son enjoy some time in his swing, looking around the room with fascinated wide eyes. I am thankful to God for him. Right now he is smirking at something that I am unable to identify. It may have been the ceiling fan. It might have been the dog walking by (I’m glad we got him, even if my reason for doing so was misguided). Whatever it is that has him entertained, I am glad that it exists. That smile is, if I may be sappy, heart-melting. Nicole and I are still new to parenting, but even now we cannot imagine our lives without Jude.

People experience the grace of God in common ways all of the time: The sun rising each day; the rain that falls when we need it. Parenthood is another example of God’s common grace. An example of His love for people manifested in a gift that we do not deserve. I always knew that I wanted to be a dad, but I never really knew what a gift it would be until I saw my son for the first time. Of course, a lot of painful things occurred before that could happen.

But even though so much pain surrounds the memory of our first baby, I know that we had a special gift in the brief life of that child as well. The joy that came with knowing that God had placed our baby on this earth. The excitement that came with wondering if we would have a boy or a girl. The way that expecting a baby brought Nicole and I closer together. The brief life was certainly a meaningful one. And I know that God loves our first kid just as much as He loves anyone else, and we look forward to the day when we will meet that child, learn their gender and name, and join with them in worshipping our Lord in a place where death and pain are no more. Until then, we will miss that baby, hold on tight to Jude and each other, and thank God for the gracious gifts that our children are.

Dads Don’t Babysit

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Who wouldn’t want to watch this guy?

My wonderful wife, Nicole, is one of the greatest ICU nurses in the world. She’s too modest to admit that, so I will go ahead and put it out there. She works very hard three nights each week taking care of patients with high acuity (she taught me that term—it is a very nuanced term, it turns out). That means that three nights each week, she is out helping save lives from 7pm to 7am.

When people hear about Nicole’s schedule they often ask the same question. No, they don’t ask what led her to such a heroic profession. They don’t ask her how she works such crazy shifts and remains so kind and patient outside of work. They don’t usually ask about the perils of transitioning from nights to days when she is off work. People used to ask those kinds of things, but they haven’t been the typical questions since Jude’s birth.

The question that comes up these days often goes something like this: “Who babysits Jude while you work?” When the asker is told that I take care of him, the follow up question is often a puzzled, “Your husband babysits your son?”

That the man would take responsibility for caring for the baby is surprising to many. I had no idea that such an arrangement would appear to be so radical, and at first I was kind of frustrated by those who saw it that way. Of course I babysit my son. Who else should do it in my place? Why would I want for someone else to do it? Why on earth would I want to give up these precious moments with him if I don’t have to?

Sure, it would be easier to walk Scranton if I didn’t have to first strap on a (very girly-looking, damask print) baby carrier. To my surprise though, I don’t mind being the guy walking around my apartment complex parking lot with a baby wrapped up against my chest. I actually kind of like it. Seeing those big eyes staring up at me as we walk the dog is priceless. Plus, I’m proud of my son. I want people to see him, even if I look silly in the process.

Frustration with people over the issue seemed natural. That is, until I realized I may have agreed with them.

One evening while Nicole was working, I was pushing a stroller around Lowe’s. Jude had gone with me to the home improvement store to help me price power tools (they are far too expensive, in case you were wondering). As we strolled the aisles, I started to think about how great of a dad I must be. After all, many are shocked to find out that I take care of Jude by myself, and all of the other men appeared to have left their babies at home. There I was, babysitting my boy with a little help from Eddie Bauer (a fantastic product of a stroller). Maybe it was true. Maybe I am special.

But just when Eddie and I were about to get enormous egos, I had a realization. I was not babysitting Jude, because dads don’t babysit (I guess I had seen this somewhere and subconsciously tucked it away). Babysitters typically get paid. Babysitters go home when the parent returns. I was not babysitting. I was simply doing my job. I was simply being a parent.

When Jude is left in Nicole’s care, no one calls that babysitting. Why is it that when the baby is left with the dad people think that it is so commendable? Where is the commendation for the mom? I guess it’s absent because society sees moms as responsible for doing their job of caring for their children. Unfortunately, we often seem to ignore the other side of that coin: Dads are also responsible for caring for their children.

As our culture laments the absence of so many fathers, I fear that we fail to recognize that many of the fathers who are present in homes are actually pretty absent as well. Could it be that part of the reason that we see such failure on the part of some fathers is because we expect so little from them? I know that I have only been a dad for about 20 minutes and it is easy for me to say, but it seems to me that an involved father being a novelty is a pretty sad commentary on the family.

So, yes, I do keep Jude while Nicole is working, and sometimes while she is not. That should not make me special. If it does, then shame on the fathers of this world. Dads, we apparently have a serious PR problem.  A father taking care of his child on his own should not be seen as an innovation. We can and should do better.

Our wives should not be expected to carry the load of parenting alone. It’s not fair to them or to our kids. And fairness aside, if I may say so, it’s pretty foolish to push it all off on them anyway. Doing so will cause you to lose out on the incredible blessing of taking care of your child. I may only have about 20 minutes worth of parenting experience, but they have been some of the best minutes of my life. Believe me when I say that these moments are blessings that you do not want to forfeit.