The doctors call it cancer, the kind that attacks the bones. There are treatments but no known medical cures. So a couple times a week, my mother in-law drives him down to the edge of a cliff. Somebody carved a road in the side of the cliff, and at the bottom, after your ears have popped several times, two mighty rivers meet like ancient, dueling serpents. And marksmen in white coats ask my father in-law to stand perfectly still while they shoot chemical bullets at the cancer apples clinging to his fragile bones.
I suspect theyíre the best sharp shooters we have in the industry, and so weíre really quite thankful. But Iím not sure they fully understand. Itís easy to forget that heís in labor. Weíre all pregnant. Once youíre alive youíre pregnant. And as my wife has pointed out to me on more than one occasion: once youíre pregnant, youíre committed. Thereís no turning back. No matter how the pregnancy goes, no matter what: there will be pain, there will be labor, there will be a delivery.
I know my father in-law is in labor because of the pain. The pain grows. Iíve watched my wife go through pregnancy and delivery a number of times. Iíd recognize it anywhere. I remember how the small aches and pains grow. I remember how the discomfort increases. Acceptable sleeping positions dwindle and then there really isnít one. And thereís sleeplessness, trips to the restroom. Barely noticeable at first, the Braxton Hicks begin tightening, gripping the body. They will grow. They will intensify. The body is practicing for the big game, for the main event.
But the whole pregnancy is practice for the main event. The new life will feed around the clock; the new life will not understand our sleep cycles. The new life will need attention, care, vigilance. And yet, that new life will make us smile, make us laugh, make us gape in wonder.
My wife says that being in labor feels like dying. And I believe her. Iíve held her as she moans, as she breathes through the pain, as it grows sharper and louder in her body. A woman goes into labor like a man goes into battle, into combat. So we praise her. We encourage her. She’s our hero. She makes us proud.
I have a daughter buried in the humid South, and I have a son nestled under towering Spruce in the North. They have already finished their labors ahead of me. They have already won their crowns, their medals, and they are waiting for us on platforms with flags waving proudly behind them while their anthem plays.
But a stillbirth, a miscarriage is also a warning for all of us, a picture, a parable. On the one hand, we plant these seeds in the ground, laughing at Death because those who sow in tears always reap with shouts of joy. And we already have the Last Word. We have met Him. He was born on Christmas. But on the other hand, the warning is in the loss, in the dark, in the sorrow because it is possible to live and labor and lose it all. Itís possible to go through the motions of planting, to drive various tractors over the field of your life and just be playing at farmer. Itís possible to sow nothing but wind and reap only whirlwind.
Of course you never ask a woman if sheís pregnant. You just donít. At some point it may be safe to ask when she is due, but even then itís important to ask with a certain combination of care and casualness. If youíre too concerned, it may sound like you think she should be going into labor any minute when sheís still got two months to go. Or maybe she was due last week, and now youíre just rubbing it in. Or maybe you think she looks funny. You never can be too careful. Itís probably best just to congratulate her when you see the baby.
But if youíre alive, you are pregnant. Youíre pregnant with something. Youíre either pregnant with life or death. Youíre either expecting new life or youíre expecting sorrow and pain and loss. Once youíre alive, once youíre pregnant, thereís no turning back. Thereís no other option.
My father in-law is expecting a boy. Heís a clever boy. Heís a strong boy with thick wavy hair and deep green eyes and a quick smile. He has a mind for math but he loves history. He loves to tell stories, and he loves to go to where the stories happened. He loves to act them out, to think about what it was like to live then, to see the hills where they fought and lived and loved. He loves the ocean and taking walks. But he loves a good book too and good food and good drink. He loves to talk, really talk, to have a good conversation.
His boy will be named William, but we’ll call him Bill for short. Which is of course his name. Because as it turns out, he is in labor with himself. He is pregnant with himself, and at some point before too long heís going to be born.
I watch him smile through the pain. I listen to him joking with his nurses, thanking his doctors, making fun of quirky receptionists. He laughs at himself. Thatís how heís carrying. He carries joyfully. He carries gratefully. You can tell when they carry like that, when they carry well, that itís going to be a good life born.
He tells the truth as well. It hurts, and it hurts more and more. Itís getting more intense. My wife holds him as he labors, as he breathes through the pain. And we cheer him on. Heíll be out under the lights soon. The big game, the main event is approaching. We wear his name and number on our jerseys. He’s our hero. He makes us thankful. He makes us proud.
But we know this story. We know what happens. We know the Last Word because we have met the Last Word. And He was born once like us, and labored for us and then He was born again from the barren womb of the grave and somehow at the same time, He gave birth to us. And now our lives are pregnant with Life, pregnant with His life because our lives have been safely hidden in His.
It will be hard. Labor is always hard, always painful, always a kind of death, but then comes life, then comes new life, then comes laughter and tears of joy and we gape in wonder at the beauty. And so despite the coming pain, we can hardly wait to meet my new father in-law, my father in-law made new. We can hardly wait to meet ourselves made new. We can hardly wait to see him come walking down to meet us with his medals, telling us stories of men and wars and talking, really talking, and laughing like a boy in the sun.
We are so proud to have you as our pastor. Thank you.
Thank you for a great post about your fatherinlaw and faith.
Melissa Joy says
Speechless and tearful in all the best of ways… Praise the Lord for you and your family.
James Robert says
My mother-in-law is in the last innings. She doesn’t really know the coach and she doesn’t really even know she’s in the game. To take the metaphor to a painful extreme, she is just holding on to the ball, wondering how it got into her hands. My wife roots her on, encouraging, cajoling, often kindly but sometimes in frustration, willing her to see the obvious. I pray for God knows what… for her salvation, peace for her daughter, understanding for myself or perhaps the proper words? Thank you for writing it out. Thank you for reminding me that we must be born the second time; we must be birthed into the King’s eternity. Your words are a salve and a balm. They are also an astringent.
I know this story. Thank you for putting it into written word.
Madeleine Schmitz says
Love this! So wonderfully put and so true.
Seth Haynes says
This was a touching gift to read and an encouraging blessing. Thank you, Toby. My prayers are with you.
Rod Story says
Amen. See you again, Bill, one great day