Based on a true story…
Being the youngest girl in a family of brothers and sisters is not easy. Everyone thinks you are spoiled to death and treated like a princess. The fact is that by the time you come along, everyone has a lot going on. I mean, they have soccer games, plays, dates, and “issues.” It’s not long before they look at you as a nuisance.
To be fair, it doesn’t start out that way. When you are born, they think you are a play toy. They cuddle you and make a big deal over everything you do. Eventually, like toys scattered across a child’s room, you are no longer a novelty. You need to start figuring out ways to get attention. Crying works well. Lots of it and as loud as you can. Sometimes an older brother will sit down and console you until he has something better to do. Then off he goes. The toy sits again in the corner.
In the teenage years, the whole thing changes. You now have needs. A brother or sister or mother or father has to drive you when you need to go anywhere. You become a passenger in a forced taxi service. Usually, the driver isn’t happy about it. Your schedule creates arguments amongst the clan. Things can get heated.
And with all of this excitement, there is a quiet, solemn father who rarely says anything to you— and the challenge of gaining attention becomes harder.
Eventually, you turn seventeen. Your brothers and sisters still live at home. You are looking forward to graduating from high school and possibly going to college. Then something unexpected happens, and you get all the attention in the world.
That’s where I found myself. Seventeen years old, unmarried, and pregnant. Add in the fact that I lived in a Pentecostal family, and suddenly everyone had something to say. And it wasn’t necessarily good. Yes, comments came from everyone in my family.
Everyone except my father. He stopped talking to me the day I announced my unexpected and pending child. I don’t mean he just barely said “Hi.” I mean he said nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not one word left his lips toward me in any way. I even think he refused to say anything to anyone when I was within earshot.
So there I sat in my bedroom on a particular Saturday afternoon: I was a pregnant teenager with no job and no husband, in a house that devoutly worshipped God.
Here is my story…
Saturday, the day before the “announcement,” I was a popular girl in high school. My grades were good enough to place me in the Honor Society. My ethics and social skills rewarded me with two terms on the Student Council. I had wonderful friends who had strong moral values. We were all destined for success.
At 3 p.m., I opened the mail from a private medical clinic. I was extremely nervous because my period was very late. I had also taken a pregnancy test. Even though it did not seem easy to use or all that accurate, it had turned out positive. Opening the envelope and seeing the word “pregnant” brought my heart fully to the bottom of my stomach. I sat in my room listening to the noises coming from the living room. My two brothers were yelling about some football game while my mother warned them to keep it down. Outside, my dad was mowing the yard, no doubt sweating through his Sears jumpsuit. None of these people had any clue what had just taken place inside my little room. I wondered how they would react if I just walked outside and broke the news. What would happen? Would there be yelling? Crying?
I sat there on my pink comforter, looking at the teenage idol posters on my wall. Stunned, I called my boyfriend at his house. He was not in. I was near tears. I needed someone to talk to and confide in. I needed advice. I called one of my closest friends and she agreed to come over and take me somewhere.
While I waited, I thought and I prayed. I asked God’s forgiveness and prayed for his guidance. It wasn’t like this was the first time I was talking to God about this matter. For weeks, I had been asking for help. When I was first late, I began to suspect that something might be up. At that time, I prayed to God that I would start my period and everything would be all right. I promised not to have sex again until I was married. I begged God to accept my bargain.
After two weeks of praying, I purchased a pregnancy test. I prayed to God it would be negative. Again I proposed several bargains, and sweetened my first offer of no more sex with add-ons, such as no more private moments with any boy and double my normal church attendance.
At the first positive result, I prayed again, adding a promise of collecting more money for the church. Several days later, while leaving the medical center, I proposed additional charity work to make up for my transgressions. Again, no response. My stomach continued to churn.
Now, waiting for my friend to arrive, I prayed for the only things left I could use: strength and guidance. As I cried, I felt neither strong nor guided.
Saturday evening, my friend tried to convince me that the best time to break the news was Sunday after church. I agreed. It had to be soon, as I could no longer take the strain of holding this in.
As we finished our dinner, I helped Mom clear the dishes. Dad grabbed a toothpick and thumbed through some papers he had taken from the church. He was an elder and had his hands in everything the church bought, sold, or collected. Often, church members—and even other elders—sought his advice. He would speak quietly but firmly, answering their questions. I would watch his stern, emotionless face as he listened to their problems. When the consultation was over, Dad would grab his Bible and read some more passages. He was very devout and raised us to be just like him.
Our family was very respected in the community and valued for our character. We were role models. None of us had ever been arrested, suspected of any crime, or had any type of financial problems. We were a strong middle-class family, the kind that makes up the backbone of this country. You would have wanted us to be your neighbors.
Now, I was the first one who was breaking that tradition. I knew I would likely be kicked out of the church and might even cause my father to be removed as an elder. I knew my brothers and sisters would have to answer embarrassing questions about me and my “situation.” I was about to cause all the people in my life, who I loved very much, a tremendous amount of pain.
I especially feared what this would do to my father.
As the moment approached, I said another prayer. This time, I made no bargains or promises. I just asked for help. Help for me. Help for my loved ones.
My mother was wiping up the final crumbs from the counter as Dad read some papers at the kitchen table. The twins were in the living room just a few feet from the kitchen and my other brother and sister were changing the batteries in a clock, a task that apparently required both of them. I knew this was the time.
“Mom, I have something I want to tell the whole family.” Tears welled up in my eyes.
My mother turned her head toward me, sensing this was something important. “What is it, dear?” she asked, putting down her dish towel.
“I need to tell everyone.”
At that, my brothers and sisters came in from the living room. Dad put down his papers, taking off his bifocals in a slow and deliberate manner. The room grew very silent.
I started sobbing. Mom put her arm around me.
“What in heaven is the matter, honey? Did someone hurt you?”
“I hate to tell you,” I said between sobs, “that I’m pregnant.”
My mother gasped, her hand covering her mouth. My father’s eyes squinted hard, trying to focus on me and digest what I had just said. My brothers and sisters simply remained quiet, showing no emotion and waiting for Mom and Dad to do or say something. I placed my head on my hands and began crying very hard. My mother moved to comfort me, though she was still in shock.
“It’s okay,” she said, coughing. “It will be all right.” I was not convinced.
Dad ran his hand through his bright red hair, letting out a deep sigh. Then, he pushed the papers away and rose from his chair. He turned his back to me, saying nothing. A few seconds later, he was gone from the room. My oldest brother approached me and started the questions. The rest of my siblings soon joined in.
“Who’s the father?”
“Do you even know?”
“When did this happen?”
“Why did this happen?”
“Don’t you know better?”
“How long have you known this?”
“Who else knows this?”
“Have you told anyone else?”
“How far along are you?”
“Are you sure?”
I cried some and answered a few questions. There was a concern when I mentioned the father’s name. He was a boy whom I had been dating for about a year. He didn’t go to our church, and that fact was the immediate suspect for the cause of my predicament. Conversation and arguments ensued. Plans were made. Stories were formulated.
I just sat there and cried. I cried for the pain I was causing them. I cried for my life, which I now considered ruined. I cried for the thought of spending the time and energy raising a child when I could have been dating and going to college. All of that ran through my mind as I lifted my head and looked through my watery eyes for the bright red hair that belonged to my father, the only one in our entire family who had such a feature. I saw nothing but blonde and brown hair.
The next time I saw my father was Monday morning. I was getting ready for school when he passed by me, saying nothing. A few seconds later, the garage door closed, signaling his departure for work.
I clenched my jaw and tried not to start crying all over again. How would I look with red eyes? People would ask questions. In time, as I grew bigger, they would not have to ask. Of course, they would know soon anyway. Gossip traveled fast.
The second time I saw my father, he was preparing to sit down to supper. I joined him at the table and my mother said the blessing. He said nothing as he ate, refusing to make eye contact with me. My brothers and sisters, all of whom lived at home, asked him nothing. They talked about mundane subjects that had no chance of touching on anything close to me or my pregnancy. Mom said very little, spending most of her time passing plates around and making sure we ate everything.
I tried to keep my head down and hoped that Dad would eventually forgive me. It didn’t work. The first day was gone with no word from him.
Before I went to bed, I prayed for Dad’s forgiveness. I prayed he would start talking to me. Soon, I drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
On Sunday, one full week after I had broken the news, Dad had still said nothing to me. In fact, I had not heard him say one word in my presence. I was stunned that he could be so upset.
That evening with Mom, I confided my sadness over the situation and asked for her advice.
“Honey, your father has been having discussions with the elders at church. There are issues he has to deal with.” She paused, adjusting her glasses. “He is under some pressure. Be patient. He will come around.”
Mom had comforting words. She nearly always provided the right advice for all occasions. This time, though, she was wrong.
Dad said nothing to me for one full month.
I started showing my pregnancy. I had to purchase new clothes. The entire school knew about “my condition.”
I asked my boyfriend to stay scarce and he complied. He comforted me with kind words, but we were both so young we couldn’t possibly know what to do or say. We had never taken any classes to prepare for this.
And so it went. I struggled with the situation and fought depression. Another month disappeared.
At three months, I had mood swings. I alternated between crying and anger.
At four months, I had cravings.
At five months, I had morning sickness.
At six months, I had nothing but continued silence from Dad. It was frightening. I prayed every night that God would soften his heart. It did not work.
No one had said I shouldn’t go to church, but sometimes I missed. I felt this eased my father’s burden. In fact, I started missing a lot. I explained that I didn’t feel good. Sometimes, this was the truth. It was certainly better than going to church and seeing everyone eyeing my growing midsection.
I counted down the days. It was now just a few weeks away. I started preparing for everything. My mother was a tremendous help. She purchased blankets and a crib for the baby. I still did not know the sex, so everything was in neutral colors.
One Saturday, Mom and I worked to prepare my room, which I would now share with my child. Dad had left to purchase something, so we were all alone. I was folding some clothes when I started a conversation with her.
“Do you think Dad will say something to me again?”
Mom sighed and looked away.
“Is something wrong?”
Mom said nothing. She got up and left the room. I didn’t know what to do.
A few minutes later, I had finished putting away the clothes and decided to pursue my mother. I found her in her bedroom with tears dripping onto her palms. I grabbed her and we embraced. She sobbed into my shoulder.
“I just don’t see your father coming out of this.”
I grabbed her tighter as tears welled up in my eyes. The baby kicked and I knew Mom felt it too. The two of us stood in her room, contemplating Dad’s silence.
“I have never seen this side of him,” Mom cried. “He is hurting and won’t let me touch him. I just don’t know what to do.”
We both cried for ten minutes, not saying anything. I was the first to break the silence.
“Mom, I have been praying to God that he might soften Dad’s heart. I know from the Book of Job 23:16, ‘…for God maketh my heart soft.’ Maybe you should pray for the same thing.”
“Honey, I have been praying for just such a thing. But I don’t see it happening.”
We both collected ourselves, blowing separately into tissues. Our occasional hitches echoed in the still house.
“Mom, for the first time in my life, I think I am alone.”
“Sweetie, for the last eight months, I have felt the same way. But you know I am here for you.”
“I know that and I love you for it. But I am talking about God.”
“Do you think God hears us?”
Mom said nothing. She looked down to her feet, shuffling them as she fingered a tissue, thinking about the proposition.
Quietly, she answered. “I’m afraid.”
I looked at her in confusion. “What are you afraid of?”
“Dear, I’m afraid I can’t go on living like this with your father. I’m afraid my prayers will not be answered. I’m afraid for all of us.”
There it was. Both of us were afraid for different reasons. Both of us needed God to help us now more than ever. We sat on her bed for another hour, not saying much and not doing much. Eventually, we went our separate ways, thinking about the day’s events.
When the day arrived, I had everything packed. Of course, it was my mother who drove me to the hospital. It was she who held my hand, telling me everything would be all right. She comforted me because she had produced five children and had been through this before.
Three weeks earlier, I had graduated from high school. Fortunately, my robe had covered most of my pregnancy. Sadly, Dad was absent. In fact, since that time, Dad had rarely been seen. I heard from my brother that he was supposedly working overtime. Sometimes I heard that he was working on a church project. Other times the excuse was that he was “just out.”
It was clear to me that trying to save up some money to leave home as quickly as possible was my immediate goal. How I was going to accomplish this, I had no idea.
All of this was going through my mind as I lay on the stretcher, my mother’s hand in mine. Our hands separated as I entered the maternity ward. She blew a kiss for good luck.
Looking up at the white-tiled ceiling, I knew I was alone. From the time with my mother in her bedroom, I had stopped praying. It was a wasted exercise. The best I could hope for was that God would do nothing more to harm me. I hoped this would give me a chance to start climbing over the mountains in my path.
A few minutes later, the process began in earnest. The pain was intense, but amazingly, I welcomed it. It felt like the punishment I deserved. When the nurse turned a knob on a bag hanging by my bed, I stopped thinking and started pushing.
Three days later, I rolled over in my bed, looking at the sun filtering through my blinds. Being home felt good. The sleep felt good. I felt good. Something was different.
My heart raced. I knew what it was. My child was not crying. I should hear her breathing, but I heard nothing. It was no wonder I felt good. I had slept past sunrise without being wakened.
In a panic, I put on a long nightshirt over my pajamas and set my feet on the ground. The room spun and I grew dizzy—getting up so quickly had drained the blood from my head. I tried to get up but knew I might fall.
The noise I made must have told my mother that I was up. She came into my room with tears streaming down her face. She studied me carefully with her watery eyes. I grew sick. Something had happened to my baby because she was missing from the crib beside my bed.
Mom said nothing as she grabbed my arm, forcefully leading me from the room. She put her index finger to her lips, making sure I remained silent. We both made our way quietly through the hall to the living room. It was there that I heard the soft cooing of my daughter. Mom and I walked slowly, softly through the living room to the kitchen.
There, sitting at the table, the same table where I had had my last words with my father nine months earlier, was a miracle. That is the only way I can describe it.
When my father turned to me and said, “She is the cutest little thing I have ever seen. I love her so much,” my heart stopped. I was unable to cry.
“This is my first grandbaby. I am a grandparent,” he said with a huge grin. He held little Maddi close to his face. Maddi responded by grabbing at his nose. Dad giggled. I mean, he actually giggled. He had been up since 2 a.m. holding this child and loving on her.
Mom’s wide eyes looked at me and we both looked back at Dad. There before us was a complete miracle. Our prayers had been answered after all. God had heard us and simply worked a miracle, for there was my father holding my daughter, the exact image of him. The man who had raised me and loved me from birth, this strong-willed, determined man, was kissing the most brilliant red hair you have ever seen.
“… for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8)
Written by Michael Gray Copyright 2006