“Do Not Be Afraid!” Luke 2.8-14

The following is the text of a sermon I delivered on December 6, 2015 for the second Sunday in Advent at The Creek Covenant Church.

John August Swanson, Shepherds, 1985.

In the region of Bethlehem, there are shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. It is moonless and surprisingly warm. Three shepherds lay on their bedrolls around the dying fire. Down the hill, in the distance, only a few windows of Bethlehem are still lit. The town is mostly asleep. The fourth shepherd, Annas, sits with his back to the fire and looks out at the flock of sheep, as he has the first watch of the night. A few sheep bleat out, but mostly he hears them breathing deeply in slumber.

The other shepherds don’t speak and though they are tired down to their bones, sleep eludes them. Their minds are full of those worries that seem to only plague us at night when all is quiet. The deep fears we keep at bay most of the waking hours through busyness and distraction. But when there are no more tasks to take our attention, our minds can’t seem to stop the flood of worst case scenarios, existential doubts, and thousands of forms of the unanswerable question, “What if?”

Josiah, the oldest of the shepherds rolls onto his side, feeling each muscle as it aches. As a shepherd, he’s a peasant in his world. [1] Like his coworkers, he owns a little land, but not enough to feed his family. Each year he tends someone else’s sheep, spending weeks on the hillsides around Bethlehem away from his wife and children and grandchildren. The pay is meager, but enough. Taxes from the local governments and the Roman Empire are costly. If he can’t afford those, he will be thrown into prison until his family can pay up. Living on a hillside among filthy livestock is better than rotting in a debtor’s prison.

Josiah rolls again, unable to find a comfortable position. He knows these are not merely the sore muscles that come with his profession. Each pain is more intense, and they linger longer than last year. He knows these pains are a sign that he won’t be able to meet the physical demands of shepherding much longer. And then he will have to scramble to find work. Just when he wants to be falling sleep, his pulse quickens as he worries about his wife and family. His younger brother recently fell ill and Josiah’s family has started to provide for his brother’s family. If they are any more generous there won’t be enough to go around. They can’t sell off much more of their land. They live close to hand-to-mouth as it is. Josiah feels like he’s on a sinking boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. It’s too far from shore to swim to safety. If he stays on the boat, he drowns. If he jumps off, he drowns. His boss probably won’t hire him for many more seasons. But where else can he find work?

Annas, with his back to the fire, now stares at the sky bright with stars. As the youngest shepherd, he is lowest in authority, even among a group of men who are essentially nobodies in their society. Annas gets all the menial tasks, including the longest watch of the night. His mind turns to the Roman Empire.

He wants Israel to be free. Annas can’t stand the Romans and their oppression. He hates the soldiers ordering people around. He despises the political leaders who announce new laws and taxes on a whim. Annas sees through the cynical attempts of the Roman leaders to buy the people’s good will through building theaters and arenas—just distractions to keep the people of Israel from remembering that they live in exile in their homeland.

Annas is terrified of the Roman Empire’s violent power. He’s seen the bodies of revolutionaries hanging on crosses along the road. These invading foreigners might destroy him, his family, all that he knows. They have the swords, the numbers, the might—and they don’t seem to care one iota about the lives of the Jewish people. Annas knows the history of what happened when Israel tried to fight Rome and was decimated. His fear of the Romans manifests itself in two ways: sometimes his fear becomes hatred and he imagines joining a rebel group and killing Roman soldiers. Other times his fear causes him to freeze. Will he live his whole life under the thumb of an Emperor several thousands of miles away? Tonight Annas vacillates between fearful hatred that makes violence seem reasonable and fearful surrender to the awful thought that he has no hope of freedom. His parents want him to marry and have a family. But how can anyone think of having children in a hopeless world full of so much terror?

Hezekiah lies on his side, his eyes nervously darting from the embers of the fire to each of his coworkers. Earlier in the day he lost four sheep. He thinks they wandered into a ravine, but he can’t be sure. He didn’t tell the other shepherds about it due to his embarrassment. Hezekiah can only hope they won’t find out until the end of the season. Their pay is determined by the number of sheep they return when it is time for shearing and slaughter. Some loss is always expected, but this has been a tough season already. And Hezekiah has been responsible for most of that loss. The other shepherds barely spoke to him for three days when two sheep died under his care.

Hezekiah came to shepherding reluctantly. He grew up working in the grain fields. He is much more comfortable harvesting plants than herding livestock. But the pay watching sheep is better and he has a growing family. He has never felt secure in this role. He is afraid his coworkers think he is incompetent or a fraud. He fears disappointing his wife and children if he does not bring home decent pay. He worries his neighbors will see him as a failure if he leaves shepherding. He dare not speak any of these fears to anyone because he doesn’t want to appear weak. Hezekiah takes a deep, nervous breath, and pulls the blanket over his head.

The final shepherd, Judah lies on his back, eyes closed, lips silently moving as he recites prayers. The other shepherds know him to be the most religiously devout of their group. He regularly quotes the verses from the psalms that refer to shepherding and often reminds the others that the great king David was a shepherd. But tonight, as he prays, Judah feels no connection to Yahweh God. It is as if he is speaking into a void.

Judah opens his eyes and looks into the darkness between the stars. As long as he can remember he has prayed for Messiah to come. His parents prayed for Messiah to come their whole lives. His grandparents prayed too. And their parents and their parents, going back generations. Why has God not sent Messiah, who will lead Israel back into faithfulness, and who will establish Yahweh’s kingdom here on Earth?

Judah thinks about the centuries of waiting for the promised messiah and he wonders why does God delay? Maybe God doesn’t really care about the people of Israel. What if Yahweh has decided to leave the world alone to its own devices? Or what if the belief in God’s redeeming messiah is just a story the people of Israel made up? Judah grows afraid as he entertains this thought. What if all his hope, all the hope of the people praying in the Temple and synagogues, is placed on a figment of someone’s imagination, or worse, on a hoax? What other answers can there be for God’s delay? Either God no longer cares or the hope of Messiah coming to Earth is a lie. And if the hope of Messiah is a false hope, isn’t the whole Jewish faith false too?

Judah finishes reciting his prayer and he receives no comfort. He doesn’t feel God’s presence. His certainty in God’s goodness is not stronger. Instead his doubt has increased. The fear that he is alone in this world has strengthened. Judah looks at the fire, the brush, the rocks. He sees the silhouettes of the sleeping sheep. He looks at the stars and the dark, dark night, and he asks that terrifying question, “What if this is all there is?”

Four shepherds around a fire, ruminating on their doubts and fears. Fearful there won’t be enough to provide for their families. Frightened of the violence and terror in the world. Scared others might reject them if they are truly known. Petrified at the thought that God does not care, or God does not exist and they are alone in the world. These shepherds, who live on one of the lowest rungs of society’s ladder, lie awake unable to sleep and overcome by fear.

Then an angel of the Lord stands before them, and the glory of the Lord shines around them, and they are terrified. But the angel says to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there is with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” [2]  Continue reading

The Most Powerful Verb

Pick up a writing manual or style guide and you will find exhortations for writers to use powerful, active verbs. These guides usually list “to be” and all its forms as one of the weakest verbs writers should avoid. Writing littered with “to be” verbs makes the author appear lazy and unimaginative. Instead of writing, “This pizza is delicious,” one could write the stronger sentence, “This pizza tastes delicious.” In the first example, the sentence only implies the pizza encountering something other than itself. It merely states the pizza is. In the second example, the pizza affects the eater’s sense of taste. The pizza evokes a response from the person eating it.

We would say, “There is a rock,” is a far less interesting sentence than, “The rock plummeted down the canyon wall.” What a shame. In the reality outside the written world, “to be” is the most powerful verb we have. The fact the rock exists at all is far more powerful than its plummeting down a canyon. The rock’s ability to plummet or crush or sit depends on there being a rock in the first place.

All our actions for good or ill, all our successes and failures, depend on our existence. Your abilities to create music, swim in a lake, or hug your family are not greater than the fact that you are. Perhaps we do not consider the wonder of our being because it is not something we accomplished. You did not bring about your existence, you received it. But you are. And that is truly an amazing thing.

We take existence for granted by subordinating it to utility. The tree in my front yard shades our house and it looks nice, but it is not wondrous primarily because of what it accomplishes for my family. Its very existence is something to behold. The tree is at once both gratuitous and necessary. That one tree does not necessarily have to be, yet it does exist all the same. And the very fact that it is, leaves an indelible mark on all reality. The tree is a part of this world and this world would not be the world we know without it.

We unfortunately see the wonder of being rarely and usually when the major turns of life overwhelm us. The birth of a child awakens us to the gratuitousness of existence. This new child comes into the world seemingly out of nowhere and we see her existence as a gift beyond our powers of accomplishment. The death of a loved one reminds us just how necessary that person’s existence was. Their absence forever changes the world and no amount of healing will ever fully replace the gap they left. Birthdays can be annual reminders of the miracle of existence, if we take the opportunity to reflect.

Some languages don’t use the verb “to be” much—it is implied by the syntax of the sentence. But your existence is not a verb implied by the syntax of our world. Your being is both a gift and necessity. Further, your neighbor’s, friend’s, mother’s, co-worker’s, classmate’s, child’s, brother’s, and enemy’s existence is both a gift and necessity. “To be” is truly the strongest verb imaginable.

The Damn Shoes

A prose poem about parenting.

Nothing has humbled me as much as becoming a father. Not my deficiencies as a husband when I see my selfishness firsthand. Not my inability (unwillingness?) to be a good long-distance friend. Not my failures as a pastor when the congregational leaders said they wouldn’t talk with me—and what else did I have to use as a pastor, but words? No, being a dad has revealed just how short my fuse is. How sensitive I can be—a three year-old’s smile fuels me for days, but his rejection is like having someone cut the power to our home. All my skills I pride myself in—responsibility, analysis, reason—mean nothing. I cannot convince him to put on his damn shoes. He screams and writhes about having to put on his damn shoes. And I’m about to throw  my own tantrum about the damn shoes. As I go to bed, I pray the examen, and shudder with embarrassment that my desolation for that day is the argument over the damn shoes. And how I stewed throughout the drive to the park, the spins on the tire swing, the tumbles through slides, the return home, about the fight over the damn shoes. I could not calm down. I began to harbor a festering grudge against my son and his damn shoes. When two days later I ask him to put on his damn shoes (minus the profanity) and he does so gladly. And I rejoice, nearly in tears, as if I were watching Neil Armstrong step on the Moon. I pick him up, smother him in hugs, and say a prayer of thanks for those damn shoes.

Adopting the Twins, Part 5: Home, the Miracle of Court Dates, Reflections

We came home on August 4 to begin our new life as a family of five all under one roof. I won’t go into many details here as it is a story still being written with fits and starts, successes and failures, and very little sleep.

God has blessed our kids with some extremely generous grandparents. For the first six weeks home, one or more of our parents stayed with us, helping with the day-to-day operation of the house as well as childcare. That childcare took mostly the form of playing with Elijah while Carey and I tended to the twins’ needs. I don’t know that we will ever be able to adequately express our gratitude for the grandparents.

While we signed agreements to care for the girls and received all the legal permissions to bring them home, we still waited to begin the next step of the adoption process: foster parenting. This could not happen until the courts filed relinquishments of birthparent rights. Again, I’ll spare you the specifics since there are several directions this journey could have taken. The short of it was once we had the needed paperwork, our lawyer instructed me on how to file it at the court. I went to the Contra Costa County Court in Martinez one Monday morning, papers in hand, waited in line, and prayed for helpful clerks. Thankfully the clerks I dealt with gave this novice patience and detailed assistance. I filed the papers and took and sent the needed copies to Independent Adoption Center (IAC) and our lawyer, respectively. Within a few days we officially became foster parents for the girls.

Twins

Until the relinquishments were signed and filed, all parties could change their minds about adoption. We therefore still refrained from using familial language with Elijah. Carey and I would cringe whenever an understandably excited and well-meaning friend would ask him if he was excited to be a big brother. Again, we did not want to confuse him more than necessary in case the adoption did not work out. We found this aspect of waiting for relinquishments especially difficult. We wanted to fully embrace being a family. Once the relinquishments came through, we celebrated. We could not tell Elijah enough that he was now Bethany and Joy’s big brother. A weight had been lifted.

We remain in another holding pattern waiting for the adoption to finalize, which will probably take about six months. During this time social workers from IAC will visit and interview us. They will file a report assuring the court of our competence as parents. At the end of this period I will go back to Contra Costa County Family Court to wait in more lines and file more papers. We will then receive a court date for our family to appear. Carey and I will then sign further paperwork and a judge will ask us to legally swear that we will care for the twins. I know, the miracle of childbirth. Except for the bureaucratic labyrinth, the finalization is truly beautiful in its own way. At Elijah’s finalization the judge told us he loves such cases because it is some of the only happy work he does as a family court justice. Normally the court intervenes to prevent abuse or neglect, often making the awful but necessary decision to remove children from their homes. With adoptions the judge helps to legally create new, loving families.

At first we could not convince Elijah to pose for pictures with the girls. This was a symptom of his adjusting to the new family reality. He also initially wanted nothing to do with a stuffed dinosaur we said came from the twins. (He eventually welcomed and named the dinosaur Pickle.) Then when we prepared to shoot the girls’ one-month photographs, Elijah asked to be in the picture with them. He beamed with pride as he held his baby sisters. He proclaimed, “I love them!” Ever since he has been a doting big brother, giving them kisses on the head and wanting to help when they cry. Granted, much of his “help” needs vigilant guidance, but we are grateful for his excitement and love.

Three Kids One Month

IAC reminded us each adoption is unique and we can attest to this fact. We matched with the birthmother beforehand instead of having a last-minute placement. We’ve had contact with the twins’ birthfather all along. These are singular relationships with individuals and we are all learning to be family together. Caring for twins is not merely twice the work, but an exponential increase in energy and resources—the speed with which we go through diapers is staggering. In many ways it feels like we are doing this for the first time.

Some similarities between the adoptions remain. I want to include a couple of paragraphs from my reflections on Elijah’s adoption, updated for the girls. I think they are relevant to our experience this time around.

Having heard the stories of birthmothers who have placed their children for adoption, I know that it is not an easy choice. I also know the way our society views the participants in our situation discourages women who do not want to parent from placing their child with another family. Adoptive parents are often seen as heroes, rescuing innocent children from the jaws of poverty and neglect. A birthmother is viewed as immoral and unfit and clearly does not love the child growing in her womb because no good, loving mother would never abandon her baby. Birthfathers are talked about even less and are seen as deadbeats at best. Abortion thus becomes a more attractive option because it can be done with greater secrecy and seemingly with less societal shame. But the stereotypes of birthfamilies are not based on much reality. The fact is Bethany and Joy have been surrounded by love their entire lives from their birthfamily to their adoptive family. Their birthmother made sure they received prenatal care and prayed for them regularly. This is not to make adoption a pollyannaish process, but to say that though this situation was born out of difficulty, the people involved truly love Bethany and Joy and express it in unique ways.

Having gone through two adoptions, I can say there are many disincentives for adoptive parents along the way. Private adoption, either domestic or foreign, is expensive. We were subject to background checks, financial checks, fingerprinting, and home inspections. All of these are reasonable, but as we proceeded in the process, I kept thinking, birthparents never have to do any of this stuff. A pregnant couple’s custody of their child does not depend on correctly answering questions about their philosophy of discipline or making sure all their medicine is in a locked box. Adoption agencies in most states are non-profit corporations and ours certainly earned their fees, but I could not help thinking that while adoption was an excellent use of our money, a good portion of our fees could have started a college fund for my child. In our research of which adoption route to take we also looked into the public foster-adopt system, which is even more difficult to navigate. There are similar background checks and home studies. While it is less expensive, the bureaucratic maze is worse than the private option. There are mandatory classes held over several weeks, each offered only once a year, meaning it could take years for parents to be considered ready for adoption if their schedules do not line up with the local government’s. There are groups in America working hard to ensure abortions are available regardless of ability to pay. I wonder why there is not a similar cry for making adoption available regardless of ability to pay. How many incredible parents are out there who would gladly adopt a child who needs a home but cannot because they are unable to afford the high costs? Health insurance plans often cover infertility treatment, but offer little help with adoption. With the large amount of kids in foster care and the continuing high percentage of unintended pregnancies, why do we not support adoption and adoptive parents with more resources?

I am more exhausted than I have been in years. The incessant childcare can consume my thoughts and I run the risk of losing my appreciation of this season. Strangely, Elijah, in his sweetness and excitement toward Bethany and Joy, reminds me just how miraculous these girls are. Gratitude overcomes me those moments I can stop, breathe, and simply hold the girls. Such moments seem to be increasing as the girls’ schedule has stabilized. They have both just started to smile. They can focus their eyes more and we can gaze at one another. I can say I am grateful to God for making us a family together. I cannot believe Jesus allows us to know these amazing people when they are so young and fragile. I am awed the Holy Spirit has given us the gift of knowing these girls as they grow.

Tyler and Joy

Adopting the Twins, Part 4: Intermediate Nursery, Preemie Care, Monotonous Intensity, Family Visits, Homeward

Bethany and Joy’s birth aunt and birth grandmother visited them in the Intermediate Nursery (IMN). As we marveled at the little girls we all simultaneously realized none of us had eaten dinner. The adrenaline that pushed us through the last several hours had worn off. It was close to midnight and we were famished. I volunteered to pick up food at In-N-Out for everyone. After I returned and we all had eaten, Carey and I were left alone with the girls.

The time came to give the girls their first feeding. While it had been a few years since I fed a baby, I figured it would come back to me quickly. We did not, however, anticipate the specific needs of premature infants. Holding each baby proved to be a challenge as we negotiated the tangle of cables attached to their probes. While I fed Bethany, her lips turned blue, and the alarm on her monitor sounded because her oxygen saturation decreased to dangerous levels. One of the nurses quickly and gently stepped in, told me to dip the bottle down. She explained preemies’ brains are not developed enough to do more than one thing at a time. They cannot breathe and eat. Preemies will eat until they pass out, so it is the responsibility of the feeder to pace for them. The nurse taught me how to hold the bottle to the side so the formula didn’t fill the nipple entirely. She coached me on when to dip the bottle down in order for Bethany to take a few breaths.

Given my exhausted state I found her instruction hard to grasp. Despite my efforts, Bethany’s lips still turned blue a few times. Nothing could reinforce a sense of ineptitude like a blaring alarm telling me my baby is close to asphyxiation. I grew impatient both with myself and the nurse. I thought I was failing as a father in the first hours’ of my daughters’ lives—I couldn’t even feed them without harming them. The nurse gave us a lot of attention, but in my tired state I took her watchfulness as hovering and I don’t respond well to that. I wanted to throw the bottle across the room in frustration or snap at the nurse. I believe the Holy Spirit gave me a moment of pause and reminded me I was tired and learning. The girls would be fine. I would soon know how to care for them adequately.

The hospital gave us a room on the postpartum ward. This step was just one of the first dramatic differences we had in our experiences between Elijah’s and the twins’ adoptions. The hospital where Elijah was born didn’t know what to do with us—it was as if they had no concept of adoption. Initially they shoved us into the nurse’s lounge before giving us a delivery room. The Kaiser Santa Rosa staff, however, treated us as full patients with medical staff checking in on us and bringing us food. Carey went to rest in our room while I sat with the girls. I held Joy on my chest and we both fell asleep. In the early hours of the morning the staff brought the birthmother into the IMN to see the twins. We shared a groggy greeting. I went to our room on the postpartum ward where Carey slept on the bed. I spread a sheet on the pullout couch and crashed.

IMN-Feeding

The next day combined monotony with intense focus. Our lives centered on the babies’ routine of eat, poop, sleep, which coincidentally was the the working title of Eat, Pray, Love. To visit the twins in the IMN we went through a security checkpoint. The guards were of varying help and kindness. We continued to learn how to care for preemies, growing more competent in feeding the girls. We reported every milliliter of formula they drank as well as the contents of their soiled diapers. I’ll spare you those details. Alarms still went off and nurses would silence them. Holding babies attached to wires became second nature. We picked up the art of swaddling again. On Friday morning Carey wheeled the girls’ birthmother into the IMN and we sat together in awe of the twins together. During the long hours we tried to read on our phones. Carey or I would peel away for a few minutes to eat food in the hospital cafeteria or take a shower. The new parent haze surrounded us.

The neonatal staff initially recorded the girls as “Baby A” and “Baby B” and their names remained that way in their chart, meaning the staff called them by those aliases. Each time they talked about “Baby A” (Bethany), I could only think of Radiohead’s song “Kid A” from the album of the same name.

Thankfully, the girls’ weight was the only real health matter that concerned us. Because of the girls’ small size and the fact that nearly every infant loses a few ounces after birth, we would probably stay in the hospital for several days. The pediatricians gave them higher calorie diets and a rigid feeding schedule in the hopes they would gain mass and we could go home.

Bethany responded well to the new diet and transitioned out of the IMN Friday night. The staff moved us into a room on the pediatric ward. New nurses checked her vital signs. We were finally sleeping in the same room as our child. During the next day, we would cart Bethany over to the IMN to be in the same room as Joy. One time Carey rolled Bethany back to our room on the same floor without a nurse escort. The security guard at the door nearly called a Code Pink—a stolen baby—and came from behind his desk to stop Carey. He then chewed her out despite the fact the IMN staff had approved Carey’s actions. He would give Carey grief just about every time she went back into the IMN.

Carey-IMN-Twins-BW

Unfortunately, Joy kept losing weight. Never enough to require further intervention, but nearly every conversation we had with a pediatrician at rounds included a discussion of possibly feeding her through a tube. She was so small and eating taxed her body to the point of exhaustion. She would fall asleep after drinking only a few milliliters of formula. One the one hand, the feeding tube could help her receive the calories she needed. On the other hand, she needed to learn and develop the stamina to eat and the tube would only delay this goal, keeping us in the hospital longer.

The girls’ birthmother stayed in the hospital a few rooms down the hall from us as she healed from surgery. She came to hold the babies a couple of times a day. She healed quickly from the surgery and the hospital staff discharged her Saturday. She and her family visited several times after she went home. We were grateful to participate in their bonding with the girls.

Working with the hospital social workers marked another dramatic difference between our adoptions. With our first adoption, the social workers displayed both an ignorance of how an adoption works as well as a reluctance to figure it out. We even had one social worker try to dissuade us from open adoption. This time around the social worker admitted helping with an open adoption was new to her, but she leaned into the experience. She wanted to learn. As we sat around a table signing papers she said, “I love this. We’re bringing two families together.” She took the extra steps, calling our agency, Independent Adoption Center, herself when she needed help, and made sure we could focus on childcare.

Along with the helpful social worker, the nurses and pediatricians all gave us excellent care. I cannot sing their praises enough. They showed wonderful concern for the girls and paid attention to Carey and my needs as well. One of our pediatricians had four adopted kids of his own, so he could relate to our experience and helped us attain some paperwork necessary for the process. We enjoyed sharing stories of our adoptions. This was a gift.

On Saturday Carey’s dad and Elijah drove from Pleasant Hill. Elijah met Bethany in our hospital room, but he seemed more interested in playing with the buttons on the bed. For that reason we elected to not take him to the IMN to meet Joy. We did not mind him playing with the angle of the mattress—pushing the wrong the button attached to a premature infant in the IMN, however, could have grave consequences.

The pediatricians discharged Joy from the IMN Saturday night. California law requires every patient to have their own bed. Since the girls were each a patient and the pediatric ward at the hospital had one bed per room, that meant the hospital gave us another room. We kept the girls together and used the second room for Carey or I to sleep and shower. We took shifts during the night with one of us feeding and staying with the girls while the other slept in the empty room. This system worked rather well for us.

The pediatricians shared our commitment to get us out of the hospital as soon as possible. All hinged on the twins gaining weight. At each set of rounds, twice a day, we were told we would have to wait and see. The girls slowly increased or steadied their food intake, but it was not yet enough. We set volume goals for each feeding. The uncertainty prevented us from planning our return home. On Saturday they told us it might be Sunday night. Then on Sunday the doctors bumped that back to Monday, perhaps. On Monday, our departure was again delayed.

On Sunday the girls went through a car seat test to make sure they could breathe freely. We brought the car seats and the girls back into the IMN. The nurses situated them, hooked up the appropriate monitors, and then we waited. The test took 90 minutes, which was also the amount of time it would take us to drive home. One nurse told us to get out of the hospital during the test. She volunteered to watch the girls once they were finished. She also recommended a frozen yogurt shop. We relished the freedom to be outside and have a treat, but of course the minute we sat down with our desserts, we wanted to return to the hospital as quickly as possible.

The girls passed the test. We were blessed that the car seats we owned were one of the only models on the market approved to carry infants as small as the twins. So now I was thankful I returned that car seat I bought in April.

We grew more anxious to go home. For the first few days of the girls’ lives we were so exhausted and stressed we did not care much about comforts. The hospital brought me a hamburger for dinner on Saturday night. I took one bite and said to myself, “This is the worst hamburger I have ever had and I’m going to eat all of it.” By Sunday eating hospital food, wearing the same few shirts and shorts, and being cooped up in a sterile room grew old. Earlier the thought of caring for two infants at home without a nursing staff helping worried me greatly. Now I wanted to be home with my family, finding a routine for our new lives. I wanted to be with Elijah, hear his stories, play with him in the backyard.

Monday morning our good friends the Seos visited. They lived nearby in Petaluma. Carey and Monica have been friends since junior high. We loved being able to celebrate Bethany and Joy with these dear people. They also brought us some fresh fruit and snacks, which were a godsend.

When we learned we would not head home Monday, Carey’s parents drove Elijah to the hospital again. He finally saw Joy in person. Carey’s mother met her granddaughters for the first time. The birthfamily also arrived and Elijah played with the birthmother’s daughter. Carey’s parents told us as they left the hospital and drove home Elijah had a meltdown. Because we did not know exactly when we would come home, we could not prepare him for how long we would be apart. Separation anxiety set in and stayed even after we returned to Pleasant Hill. For over a week he had difficulty going to bed and would ask us several times if we would be home when he awoke. He heard my car leaving the driveway when I went grocery shopping one night and he broke down in tears. In all our work preparing Elijah for two new babies at home, we had not considered preparing him for our hospital stay.

Carey,-Elijah,-and-Joy

On Monday night we began to see some hopeful signs. Bethany began to gain weight and it looked like Joy’s loss was slowing to the point of bottoming out. At the Tuesday weigh-in Joy not only had stopped losing weight, she had put on five grams. Technically she still weighed less than the medical staff wanted in order to discharge her, but because she was gaining, they said we could go home that night. We would monitor her weight closely and they made a pediatrician appointment for us the next week.

Nothing in a hospital moves as fast as I would like. We packed our belongings. Nurses came in to say goodbye. We prepared the car seats. The hospital staff brought in a Radio Flyer wagon so we could cart our stuff out to the car. I went down to the parking lot, packed the car, and returned. And we waited. I felt almost as anxious as I did when I sat in the waiting room during the twins’ birth.

Finally a nurse came in with the last bits of paperwork we needed. We strapped the girls in their car seats, placed the seats on the wagon, and bolted for the elevator. As Carey waited with the twins by the curb we caught a glimpse of our new life. Most of the hospital offices had closed and the parking lot stood still. From out of nowhere three women who must have sensed a tremor in the Force appeared and began to fawn over the girls. We knew from our experience with Elijah that babies have a magnetic pull. With twins that power seemed exponentially stronger. I imagine if you held a compass near the twins, you could not find true north.

We packed the twins into the car and began the hour and half drive home. I remember when we took Elijah home from the hospital, I drove incredibly slowly and carefully. The distance between the Kaiser Walnut Creek facility and our home is only 5.6 miles. Now we had 67.8 miles of road to contend with, including freeways and unlit country roads. Still, the terror of driving with newborns was preferable to another taxing yet mind-numbing day in the hospital. I pulled the car out of the parking lot and we drove to our new reality, grateful to God for the girls’ health and their birthfamily’s generous love.

Twins-in-the-Wagon-and-Garden