Chapter 4: Creator
Both Courtney and I turned thirty soon after getting married. We wanted to have kids, and we knew that the window of fertility wouldn’t last forever, so we were anxiously hoping that God would bless us with a child as soon as possible. On Memorial Day, 2012, we learned that Courtney was pregnant. I know many couples who prefer to speak of all things parental in the plural, using phrases like “we are pregnant” or “we’re having a baby,” but that never sounded accurate to me. I learned over the next nine months just how one-sided pregnancy is. Though I also gained weight during this time, it just never felt right that I would share credit for enduring the morning sickness that lasted all day, the dietary restrictions of pregnancy, or the
brutal pain joys of birthing a human person.
We both downloaded pregnancy apps on our phones to keep track of every stage of the baby’s development. Each week we marveled at the incredible, unseen growth that was happening, and we were so excited to share our good news with our families after a 12-week ultrasound showed a healthy baby. Though everyone we talked to at least pretended to be as excited about our news, we knew that no one was nearly as fixated as we were in the minute details of each progressive week of the baby’s growth in utero. We were excited to meet this kid, whoever they would turn out to be, but I was secretly hoping for a boy. Knowing that I don’t always say the right things, I figured having a boy first would allow me some leeway in learning how to be a better parent. I reasoned that if we had a girl and she had to grow up with a dad who typically speaks before thinking, she’d be more likely to resent me and have major father wounds as a result. If we had a boy first, his genetic lack of an attention span would mercifully protect him from listening to anything that I said.
About four months into the pregnancy, we learned that we, I mean Courtney, would be having a baby girl. I quickly got over my fear of scarring a daughter when I started planning a way that I could master sign language (or at least learn to mime) as an alternative to speaking during the formative years of my daughter’s life. We picked the name Elliana Therese, but we kept the name a secret from everyone until she was born.
We decided to withhold Ellie’s name because we figured that well-meaning friends and family members could only ruin the name we had chosen with their stories of deranged criminals they knew who shared the name. Once we found out we were having a girl, it made the reality of the baby so much more personal. Instead of referring vaguely to our baby, we knew that it was Ellie who we were preparing for and planning to love. With all the researching we did in anticipation of Ellie’s arrival, it still seemed miraculous that our love had created another life. Courtney was relentless in her constant searching for the best approaches to motherhood, ranging from the foods she omitted to the labor and baby care classes we attended together. We prayed for Ellie, we talked to her, and she became a constant topic in our conversations, our hearts, and our minds. As Courtney’s baby bump grew in the following months, Ellie’s existence became more and more of a concrete reality to me.
Thanks to the incredible way God made my wife, her body was able to work around the clock to nourish and grow our daughter. Courtney and I couldn’t get enough information about each stage of Ellie’s growth in utero, and we marveled at how perfectly God was at work in Courtney, intricately forming our daughter. From the formation of eyelids to the loss of the weird tail that babies have pretty early on in the pregnancy, Courtney and I all of a sudden became obsessed with studying fetal development. We kept researching to learn as much as we could about Ellie’s growth and milestones for each week of the pregnancy, and still all the information in the world couldn’t quite prepare me for the reality of seeing our little girl for the first time.
On Ellie’s due date we went to the doctor for a routine checkup. The doctor thought that our daughter would be making her grand entrance (technically it’s more of an exit I guess) within the next 24 hours, so I took the next few days off from work as we completed every last task we could think of and anxiously waited. Once we got home from the doctor’s office, we packed our bags and set up our car seat for the eventual ride home from the hospital. Courtney even made cupcakes for the nurses and doctors who would help her with delivery. Those cupcakes sat on our kitchen counter for the next four days as Ellie patiently waited to make her appearance.
Early in the morning of February 10, Courtney woke me up to let me know that her water had broken and that labor had begun. As any competent father would, I proceeded to eat as much food as I could to carb load before we headed to the hospital. The labor process itself turned out to be different than the experience that countless sitcom birthing episodes had prepared us for. Labor took longer than five minutes and not once did Courtney scream at me.
As labor intensified, the doctor positioned me to one side of Courtney while a nurse stood on the other side during the contractions. I started to feel faint, but I also felt a bit embarrassed by my inability to even watch as my wife pushed a baby human out. I figured I’d take a break for a minute, so I walked to the bathroom to splash water on my face and collect myself. The nurse noticed my face becoming pale; she ordered me to sit down and eat so I wouldn’t pass out. Until this point in my life, I thought of myself as relatively strong, or at least not so weak that I couldn’t even manage to watch other people do difficult things. I certainly wasn’t feeling so brave when the doctor walked back in to check on Courtney’s progress and found me sitting on a recliner, chugging apple juice and eating graham crackers. Somehow my wife was dominating the labor process and I was struggling to keep my juice down. Like all valiant heroes, I managed to rise from my cracker crumb stained reclining seat to regain my place beside Courtney as
we together she gave birth to Ellie.
I couldn’t believe it; we’d finally meet this baby we’d spent nine months praying for, hoping for, and waiting for. For all the years Courtney and I had individually dreamed of one day becoming parents, here in the flesh was a child born from the goodness of God and our love. I trembled as I held Ellie in my arms for the first time, terrified at the realization of how unworthy I was to hold this precious gift. As much as I had struggled with restlessness and distraction for as long as I could remember, all that mattered in my life that day was there beside me in that hospital room. The next two days in the hospital were full of learning everything we could about how to care for Ellie. From the art of efficient diaper changes to the science of swaddling, we felt so underprepared as parents, but we couldn’t wait to learn how to love and care for our little girl.
Hours after Ellie was born, my parents came to the hospital to meet their newest grandchild. When my mom walked into the room, my first reaction was to apologize to her for all the times I had doubted her love and concern when I was growing up. After seeing what Courtney went through to bring Ellie into the world, and then learning over the next few weeks what it would entail to care for a newborn, I gained a lot of appreciation for my parents.
Having worked with so many teenagers over the years as a youth minister, I’ve heard so many young people question their worth and their value. Even for kids who grow up in loving homes with great parents, it’s a sad but normal reality that most people wonder at some point if they’re loved or even worthy of love. It was scary to hold our daughter as a baby and realize that she’ll likely struggle with these same questions one day. Ellie is literally the product of love and proof of God’s incredible goodness to us; she’s the answer to our prayers and a miraculous gift of grace and nature. Holding her as a newborn, Courtney and I could both say honestly that we had been waiting our whole lives to meet her. Six years later, we still marvel at the gift of Ellie and we’re still amazed that she’s been given to us to love and care for. Meeting our son Francis, and then Isaac two years later, Courtney and I experience each child as a gradually revealed gift with their unique personalities and the irreplaceable difference that each of them makes in our family.
Finding myself helplessly in love with each of my children has taught me so much about God the Father’s love for me. Courtney and I loved our kids even before they were born, simply because they were ours. Our children belong to us, not as property that we own, but as a part of our family, our lives, and our hearts that we can never stop thinking about. Each child’s existence alone was reason enough to love them, though they had accomplished nothing nor given us anything. It’s ironic that during the moments and phases demanding the most from parents, children are either asleep or simply too young to be aware. When the relationship between parents and children is the most one-sided and the efforts required of parents are the most demanding, the kids have no idea what’s going on.
Even with the round-the-clock needs of small children, Courtney and I realize that we have it relatively easy in comparison to the heroic witness of those parents whose children require constant care and assistance for the entirety of their lives. It’s funny to see the blank stares and clueless smiles in the faces of babies as parents tell them repeatedly how loved they are. I’m beginning to realize that no matter how old our children are, they’ll never fully grasp how much we love them or the lengths we go to in caring for them. Infinitely more than we are attentive to the needs of our children, God the Father knows and cares for us. For every single thing we’re aware of and grateful for, there are a million other ways that we are loved and provided for by our Father. Just as our love as parents for our children is far greater than their capacity to understand love, I’m convinced that there must be an even wider gap between God’s love for us and our ability to comprehend His love.
In his inaugural papal homily, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” What a profound reality; every individual is created and willed by the mind of God Himself. The Psalmist praises God’s omniscience and the intricacy of His design in creating us: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).” As technology advances, we become increasingly aware of the precision required for the development of unborn life. At the same time, our faith tells us that the creation of an individual is no mere biological process. No matter the circumstances surrounding our conception or the relationship between our parents, we are not an afterthought or a scientific result. In college I took a class on embryology; fifteen years later I distinctly remember one of the professor’s lectures about the statistics of human life. Given the millions of possible eggs from the mother and the hundreds of billions of sperm cells from the father, it’s an understatement to say there are a lot of possible combinations. Add the challenges and threats involved throughout a pregnancy, and you realize that every living person has beat incredible odds simply by being born. Yet our children are so much more than lottery-winning combinations of Courtney’s and my genes. My wife and I are constantly amazed by new facets of the kids’ personalities we discover as they grow up; we see both glimpses of each other and completely unique gifts and traits in each of our children. In the mind of God, we are not consequences, rather we are unique creations fashioned with as much love and attention as when Adam and Eve were formed in the beginning.
The Church teaches that humans are unique in the cosmos as the only creatures willed into being for our own sake. We are in awe of natural beauty; we are overwhelmed by sunsets and canyons. We marvel at the wild artistry of God on display in the Northern Lights or His unfathomable creativity as we gaze into the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy, humbled to discover that it is only one galaxy among billions. We are told that massive natural structures like the Grand Canyon were carved and formed over millions of years, and yet none of these beautiful things were made for their own sake. No sunrise, no star, no galaxy can hold a candle to the dignity of a single person. Because we were made in His likeness and image, I am convinced that God the Father put more thought into forming the contours of each of our hearts than He did in sculpting the Grand Canyon or spinning the stars into orbit.
As a first-time father of a newborn, I loved every single thing that I knew about Ellie. I loved the way she smelled, I loved the weird way her pinkie toes naturally curled under the other toes next to them, and I loved the way she inhaled for a half-second before each cry. Especially in those first few weeks after she was born, our eyes were always on Ellie and our schedule revolved around caring for her. We worried that she wasn’t sleeping enough, then freaked out when she did sleep longer than two hours. Our poor daughter had to be scarred from the amount of times we’d get really close to her face to listen for her breathing as she slept.
When Ellie cried, we learned quickly that it was usually due to an empty stomach or a full diaper. I wasn’t much help in the nursing department, but I eventually got good at changing diapers. Even the apparently simple task of diaper changing was a learning process for me; for the first few weeks after Ellie was born, I would get so stressed out when she cried. I would try to calm her down by saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay” on repeat, my anxiety showing as I kept getting louder in my declarations of just how fine
everything was. I was anxious because I urgently wanted to do whatever I could to make my tiny daughter happy again. Ellie’s comfort was what mattered most in our lives during those first few months. We tried different blanket textures, we argued over the ideal water temperature for her baths, and we sang and hummed a never-ending loop of the only three baby songs we knew to calm her down when she was upset. It was difficult but there was never a doubt or a hesitation in our minds; we loved Ellie with everything we had and would stop at nothing to care for her.
God the Father knows every hair on our head, every passing thought, and every fear and desire in the depths of our hearts. He doesn’t simply tolerate our quirks or our weaknesses, He is madly in love with us through and through. He is not stressed out by what hurts us, He’s not surprised by our wants or overwhelmed by our demands. He’s not struggling to figure out what we need; He knows us personally and intimately. Courtney and I kept our eyes on Ellie while she slept partly because we weren’t sure what to do next, but the Father knows well what’s coming up and He still keeps watch over us. We waited nine months for Ellie to be born, but God knew from before all eternity that our daughter would exist. And He rejoices over our existence more than first time parents rejoice over their children.
Although He’s created the billions of people alive today, and each person that came before us, God the Father calls us precious in His sight (Isaiah 43:4). He doesn’t view me as just one person among many. Saint Augustine went so far as to say that the Lord cares for each individual person as if we were the only one in existence. More than Courtney and I desired to meet and hold our daughter Ellie, the Father desires to be in relationship with us. God is great enough to fashion billions of people on one planet in a cosmos containing billions of galaxies, yet for some reason my existence affects Him. Even in our apparent insignificance, the God of the universe finds us eternally significant.