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HA! Well, we DID have children, and I have had a wonderful time with them. So THERE, Mother!
A ways back, I had the honor and privilege of officiating at my mom's second marriage after many years of widowhood. She was 74 at the time. As we stood in the sacristy awaiting the time to enter the sanctuary, I told her, "Just one piece of advice...Ma, you should not have any more children, because you are old and set in your ways and you would not have enough energy to handle them." She stuck her tongue out at me.
Now we have Erin's 18th birthday. A woman now, she says. She has been reminding me for weeks that March 27th was coming up, but she did not have to. I was there.
It was a Tuesday, about 5:30 in the morning. Normally, I am not awake at that hour but on this particular day I was beginning to stir. My eye caught sight of something in the pre-dawn darkness. Christie was sitting up in the bed. One wants to always sound intelligent but at that hour my question probably came out "`at's `e madder?"
"I think today's the day," she replied. She was more awake than I.
"Oh really?" I responded. I was much more awake now. "What makes you think so?"
"I've been feeling some twinges. Nothing much. About every ten or twelve minutes, but not bad...they only last about fifteen seconds."
By this time, I was really awake. I was hoping that she was right...that today WOULD be the day. This child was already five days overdue and both of us were getting anxious about it. Three-and-a-half years before, our David had been kind enough to make his appearance six days early, so we had hoped that this one would be equally prompt. HA! We were not particularly concerned about it; we just wanted to have done with it! If today WERE the day, both of us would be relieved.
"Are you sure it's not false labor?" I asked. Not that I knew anything about false labor, but I had heard that there was such a thing.
"No. I don't think so," she answered. "I've never had any false labor before."
I remembered hearing her doctor tell her that if the pains were indeed false labor, she should just lie down for a couple of hours to see if they would pass. If they stopped, it was false labor; if they did not, it was the real thing. Boy, it took a rocket scientist to figure that one out, didn't it?
At any rate, all that extra waiting around for this baby to be born had made me right blasé, so I told her to lie back down for awhile to see if the pains would stop. After all, it was still 5:30 in the morning - I would have been just as happy for some more shut-eye.
We may as well not have bothered. By this time, both of us were too wide awake. Despite Christie's lying back down, the twinges kept on at about the same pace.
To be sure, my wife and I were not the only ones to be affected by this news. Our David (who at that moment was asleep between us) had been looking forward to this new baby as much as we had. For months, he had been praying for the new arrival by NAME before he went to sleep at night. We had long before told him that if it were a girl, we would name her Erin and if it were a boy, we would name him Jonathan. But David was convinced that it would be a little girl, so "God bless Erin" was part of his nightly litany. I wondered how he would handle things if the new arrival proved to be a Jonathan.
By about seven AM, we had come to the conclusion that this was NOT false labor, so we made plans to head in to the hospital. David was awake by now and had been told what was going on. Christie's folks had come to visit and were up now too and making plans to hold down the fort telling me to call the MINUTE I knew anything. So, with kisses all around, my bride and I headed off.
We got to the hospital at about twenty after eight. As soon as Christie was checked in and put to bed, the staff told me that they had some preparations to make, so they suggested that I wait outside for awhile. Within a few minutes they summoned me, and I went into the labor room to find that things were moving along at a right rapid pace. I mentioned to the nurses that this was no real surprise because our first one had also come with some haste. With that bit of information, they decided to make a few more preparations and threw me out again telling me that they would call me in about a half-hour. That was all right with me - I went to get breakfast.
I returned in about twenty-five minutes to find things in a flat out panic. This baby wanted to come NOW!!! The nurse on duty told me where to get some scrub clothes. I changed as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the baby was letting us know that she was ready...REALLY ready. We wheeled into the delivery suite, called the doctor to come quickly, got mother all set up, and in a flash, it was all over. Erin Alison Leininger had made her appearance...a nine-pound, eight-ounce bouncing baby girl...eighteen years ago this week. Boy, time flies!
Needless to say, we were elated. We were glad that things had gone so well. Christie and I were alternately laughing and crying. I was taking pictures. I went over to the warming tray where they put the newborns for their first few minutes of life. I did the normal fatherly things...1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10...everything was right where it should be. She was a good-looking little girl...healthy as a horse. Come to think of it, at 9-pounds, 8-ounces, she WAS a horse. I just stood over her and beamed. MY BABY!
The only thing that bothered me was her crying. I did not recall David crying quite so long and so loud as this one. We were stuck for about 45 minutes in the Delivery Suite waiting for a room to be prepared, and during that three-quarters of an hour, that little girl did not shut up once. I thought, "Uh-oh. Is this what we have to look forward to?" You see, in the months we had been waiting for this new arrival, I had heard more people tell me, "If my second child had been my first child, there would not have BEEN a second child." Uh-oh!
I asked the nurse about it. "Is she supposed to cry this much...this long, this loud?" But the nurse did not think there was anything unusual.
I said, "Maybe she's hungry." But the nurse said, "Don't worry, when a baby is born, they have enough food in their system to take care of them for three days."
"Big deal," I thought. "I have enough food in me to last for three MONTHS, but that doesn't keep me from being hungry."
They finally got us out of the Delivery Suite and into a room across from the nursery. They had taken our daughter from us to do all the things they do with newborns. I looked through the glass in the nursery to see little Erin and watch the nurses working on her. I could not believe it - she was STILL crying. Oh me! Oh my!
As it turned out, she cried till two o'clock that afternoon: four solid hours, and did not quiet down until she was finally brought into her momma for a little lunch. Then she shut up. She WAS hungry...my little baby. As soon as she got some food into her, she was fine, and she has been fine ever since. She is a wonderful girl, as you who know her can testify. All my "second child" worries were for naught.
As soon as I could get away for a moment, I went to the telephone. After all, I had been INSTRUCTED to call as soon as I knew anything. "Hey, hey, hey! We have a little girl," I reported to the grandparents. "Let me talk to David...David, guess what. You have got a new sister." He was underwhelmed. No big deal. He knew it was going to be a sister. All he wanted to know was when he could come to see her. I told him that he would have the chance that night and to be a good boy and mind his Danny and Pop-Pop. Right. Sure. THEY, at least, were excited. They put pink balloons on the church sign to let everyone share in our joy. Confusion, actually. They put up four balloons - folks driving by thought we had had quadruplets.
Once I got back in the room, Christie and I began calling everybody. After all, this is not the kind of news one keeps to oneself. We phoned the family and then the long list of friends who wanted to hear. Off and on throughout the day and night, either Christie or I was on the phone telling SOMEONE our good news. That joy was tempered somewhat when we got the telephone bill, particularly the call to my mother who was in Pakistan at the time, but, so what! Sometimes you just have to do it. You've got to SHOUT! Good news has to get out.
Perhaps that is what those folks in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday were feeling. After years and years of waiting for something GOOD to happen in Israel, someone very special was coming to the capital. That was good news for those who had come to look on Jesus as more than just a country rabbi, for those who were looking to him as their Messiah. It was something to shout about, something to share with all the world. "Hosanna... Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Halle-bloomin'-lujah!"
The faithful of the Holy City cut down palm branches and spread them over the road just as their ancestors had done over 150 years before when Simon Maccabeus finally completed the overthrow of Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus had been a particularly harsh ruler. He had forbidden the practice of the Jewish faith on pain of death. He had taken over the Jerusalem Temple and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus. He desecrated the altar by sacrificing pigs on it. After a 20-year guerilla war, the Jews finally won...and it was time to shout. Hosanna!
Now a different generation was on hand. Jesus had come, and it was time to shout again. Just like parents at the birth of a baby, people were bursting with good news. They could not keep quiet. It must have been a great day.
I know how they felt...just like I did 18 years ago when our Erin came along and 21 years ago when David was born. I will admit that I have not done that much shouting since. No reason to. We have had many wonderful moments in our family, but none to really run up massive phone bills on...except holidays... birthdays.
I wonder. Perhaps there is a similar phenomenon when it comes to matters of faith. Think about it. How long has it been since you felt like shouting about Jesus? We Presbyterians are not too much on that anyway.
There is a well-worn story of a dear lady coming into a Presbyterian Church for worship for the first time. Every time the minister said something with which she agreed, she would shout it out. "Amen...Hallelujah...Praise the Lord." Finally, one of the ushers came over to her and asked her to please keep quiet. She responded, "I just can't help myself. I have found JESUS." To which the usher replied, "Well, you didn't find him here, so shut up!"
What about that? Granted, we come from a very reserved tradition, but is there anything about Jesus that really makes you want to shout...like when your child or grandchild was born? Or has Jesus taken on the character of something familiar and comfortable...like a child as it grows? Still wonderful, but no longer COMPELLING you to let the whole world know?
Perhaps there is another problem. Perhaps we are not inclined to shout so much anymore because we have been disappointed...just as our children sometimes disappoint us. Neither Erin nor David has been any disappointment...thank goodness...but disappointments come - we know it.
That was the problem after Palm Sunday, you know. Disappointment. The good citizens of Jerusalem were looking for a deliverer like the Maccabees had been so many years before. They brought out their palms just as their ancestors had done. They wanted someone to lead them to a glorious victory over the hated legions of Rome. But they soon realized that such was not to be. THIS deliverer was like none they had ever known before. The result? Disappointment. And the disappointment moved them from Palm Sunday to Good Friday in the blink of an eye.
Perhaps you or someone you know has been disappointed... perhaps with the Lord because the answer to a heartfelt prayer did not come in the way expected. A husband or wife was NOT delivered from the cancer. A son or daughter was NOT kept free from drugs. A marriage that had begun with such high hope has crashed and burned. Or perhaps there was disappointment with the Lord's Church, disappointment because the church sometimes proves to be not quite that "fellowship of kindred minds...like to that above." Those things can stop joyous shouting very quickly.
Maybe that is why we need a day like Palm Sunday, just as we need time for family celebrations of birthdays and the like. To remind us that, in spite of everything that might tend to douse our shouts, to zip our lips, to steal our zeal...in spite of EVERYTHING, the news we have is still GOOD news, and we cannot, we should not, we MUST not keep quiet about it...just like the birth of a baby.
The coming of Erin Alison Leininger into the world was some of the best news her mother and I could ever share...and we wanted to. But there is news about another life that deserves to be spread abroad too...the new life that is available to ALL in Christ Jesus. To paraphrase the words of the grand old hymn,
That shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light.
And the darkness shall turn to dawning
And the dawning to noonday bright
And Christ's great kingdom shall come to earth,
The kingdom of love and light.(1)
THAT is something to shout about!
1. "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations," H. Ernest Nichol, 1896