Disclaimer: The theological views of the characters are not necessarily aligned with the author’s beliefs.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
Matthew Dustin LaHaye, 25
Nerves make my hands shake like leaves rustled by a strong wind. Lauren is knocked out after 21 hours of labor. Her hair is a sweaty mess, and the layer of supple sweat on her forehead has yet to dry off her skin as she lies propped up in her hospital bed. The nurse finishes checking the baby’s vitals and asks if I want to hold him.
I could have held him earlier, but I wanted Lauren to have time with him before sleep whisked her away to dreamland. I was worried she’d lack the strength to accept him. He looks so much like Dmitry, between a full head of black hair and the shape of his head, but she wept with joy while holding him and kissing his forehead. She just told Joshua again and again that she loved him SO MUCH. I took a bunch of pictures of just the two of them and sent them to everybody: my parents (John and Mary), her parents, her friends, my friends, and because I keep in touch with Janette’s parents, I sent them pics too. Numerous contacts text my phone wondering where the pictures are of me holding the little guy.
“What if he cries? I don’t want to wake her,” I say, finally responding to the nurse.
“He needs to feed soon anyways. It’s okay,” she says, picking Joshua up. Without asking me again, she rests him in my arms. “Hold his head and support his back,” she instructs.
I lean forward in the chair and the pleather squeaks from my movement. I can hear him breathing and gurgling.
Everyone thinks I’ll be a great father. Everyone thinks I’ve been excited about his arrival. I think I fooled myself.
I painted his nursery and built his crib, I bought the stroller and the car seat, and I even picked out his middle name, Teagan. Joshua Teagan LaHaye.
Sure, I’ve dreamed of becoming a father. I’m at a good place to be one. It hurts though. I thought I’d spend a moment like this with Janette and my biological first-born child. Instead, I’m holding the child of a rapist, and I’m scared to death I’ll fail this child and he’ll be like his father anyhow.
You’re his father, I feel the Holy Spirit tell me.
Years ago, after Janette and I first got married. I wrote a vow to my future son that I would speak over him on the day he was born. I have learned that we are promised nothing in this life with a stamp of guarantee. Tomorrow may never come. As happenstance has it, I am now Joshua’s father, and he is my son. I can’t quite remember my vow verbatim.
The nurse leaves the room, waving goodbye to me with a smile on her face. Now, I’m more nervous than I was before. Who writes a vow to their son? Why even do it?
Do I not speak My Word over you? The Holy Spirit reminds me. I argue back, But didn’t You say not to make any vows because I could break them? That I should let it be a simple yes or a simple no? I feel like God’s laughing at my response, which makes me chuckle a little.
You made vows when you got married, didn’t you? Will you not be faithful to uphold them and keep your commitment? Shall you not do the same for your son? The Holy Spirit says.
I sigh. God is right. I am wrong. That’s usually how it goes 99.9% of the time. I’d be enormously lost without God in my life. I don’t know how the unsaved do it.
I lift him to my face as I lean closer to him. I see his breathing belly move the blue blanket he’s swaddled in up and down.
“As your… father… I promise to protect you as best I can and learn how to do so… As your father I promise to love you, and show you not only by my actions but by my words also. As your father I will discipline you out of love, and it may not be fun sitting in timeout, getting a spanking or losing video game privileges, but I want you to grow into a strong, wise, courteous man, and tough love is the only way to make that happen… As your father, I will teach how to love a woman by loving your mom like Jesus loves the church… I would die for your mother if it meant providing what she needs… And I will do my best to keep your respect, and guard it by not provoking you to anger. As your father, Joshua, I will be present in your life, and last but not least, I will be honest with you the best way I can be. And let me tell you what, the best friend you’ll have, that I’m a fair second to, is Jesus Christ, and I’ve been praying since I found out about you that you meet him face to face as soon as you can. I love you, Joshua Teagan LaHaye, and you will always be my son, no matter what.”
A pure sense of love for the baby in my hands fills my heart. Tears of joy swell in my eyes. I bat them real fast to stop the tears. I kiss him on the forehead so he can at least feel a fraction of how I do.
The whiffing sound of a sniffle makes me look up, and Lauren is wiping tears away from her eyes. She holds out her arms and whines, “Can I hug you?”
Cautiously, I get up and I tuck Joshua close to my chest to keep him safe. First, I put him down in his designated resting spot, that wonderful clear, plastic box. Then, once in arms reach of Lauren, she hugs me tightly.
“I…ove…u s-… m…ch, Mat…hew.” She says, her words muffled from her face being buried in my shirt. I hold her and rub her back. I attempt to move her wild strands of hair in place, but the task is impossible without a good washing. I give up and shower the top of her head with kisses.
She leans back and looks up at me, “I want Josh to have a little brother.”
Whoa… one child is fine for now. I’ll have to be sure to keep my distance from her until January, even if that means sleeping on the couch.
“We’ll talk about that later. How are you?” I say, nudging her gently to lay back down as I sit on the edge of the bed.
“Tired…” She states the obvious. She smiles, goofily tucking her lips in.
“But happy… so happy…” She says.
Crying, again, she explains, “I’m grateful too… I don’t know if this was ever God’s plan. I refuse to believe He’s behind bad things. But like, He made something good come out of all this pain. Even if none of the good stuff happened, like if Josh wasn’t here— if Dmitry was never caught, and if I never married you—I’m just glad God is enough for me. I didn’t really understand it until I held Josh in my arms, but I will do anything for that boy to make him into a great man… I don’t know… I can’t explain it really… I’m just so in love with our little guy… It’s like every fiber of my being is in love with him, and if this is anything like the way God loves us, I’m convinced God is always working to make life better for us. What would I do if not for the grace of God?”
The nurse comes back in, “Everything okay? How’s momma bear doing?”
Giggling, Lauren wipes her tears and sits back up, “Good… sore… but good…”
“You got lucky. Six pounds is hardly nothing. My third son was 10 lbs. and ripped half my thigh open on the way out.”
Lauren squeezes my hand tightly looking up at me, “Like I said, SO GRATEFUL…”
“Shall we try feeding Joshua his first meal in this world?” the nurse asks.
“Yeah,” Lauren says, excited.
This is my cue to leave. Her boobs are about to come out and I’m not sure I want to see them yet.
“I’m going to make a vending machine run myself,” I say. The nurse tries to get me to stay, saying I need to learn how to help Lauren, but I can’t. I draw the line here.
My phone pings and the verse of the day pops up. The New Century Version of Ephesians 4:7 reads: “Christ gave each one of us the special gift of grace, showing how generous he is.”
I reflect on the truth of the scripture. Christ didn’t have to die for us. He left glory and splendor to live on broken earth to save a broken people. And His grace is a gift none of us asked for. He gave it to us before we got revelation of what grace is…
I wasn’t married to Janette long before she died. My adoptive father worked all the time and was never around, and John has never been a dad either. I just can’t screw up being a great husband and a good dad…
“I need your help God… every step of the way.”
“What do you need sir?” A nurse at the nurse’s station heard me talking aloud to God.
“I’m good. I need to… remember…where the vending machine is. And I do, I remember now.” I point to my left, “That way.”
“Okay sir,” she says, smiling politely but probably thinking I’m a little crazy. I spin quickly and walk even faster. I slow down once I’m out of sight from the nurse’s station.
I will never have all the answers. I will never be perfect. But as long as I keep walking this life in step with God, who or what do I have to fear? By the grace of God, I live, and by His grace, I shall see Him face to face in paradise.
*Edited by Aly Fry