Nothing about our third child, Evangeline, has been ordinary. In 2015 Julie and I thought we were done having children. We had a boy in 2003 and a girl in 2006 and our three-bedroom home was just the right size to fit the four of us, our crazy Goldendoodle and all of our stuff. But God had other plans for us, and an openness to life is always and openness to surprises.
In January that year, the day after the March for Life concluded, my wife told me she was pregnant. We were both happy, but we had weathered some financial storms over the years, so we were also a little worried. God had always provided for us though, so I reassured Julie that everything would be okay and we focused on preparing to welcome our new baby. Shopping at Babies “R” Us again after so many years was strange indeed! That year turned out to be a good year for us financially, so everything that we were initially worried about turned out fine. However, we would face other challenges.
A few months after the big news, routine sonograms revealed that Evangeline had abnormalities in her lower spine and cerebellum. Further tests came back negative or inconclusive. The doctors asked us whether we wanted to have an amniocentesis done to obtain more definitive results since the sonogram images still showed something could be “wrong” with our child. The amniocentesis, which is basically inserting a needle into the amniotic sack to gather samples, would pose a small risk to our baby, so we decided against it. We wanted whatever God wanted for us and no test results would change that, so our thinking was “Why have another test done, any test, that would pose even the slightest risk to our child?”
During my wife’s pregnancy I heard words during our discussions with doctors that no parent wants to hear. Words like Dandy-Walker Syndrome, spina bifida, Down Syndrome, and so on. I was scared. Then I got angry. “God, we are both close to 40. We are open to life because that is what we believe you want for us. I do my best to be a good Christian man. And this is what you are giving us? Why? Why should I have any worries at all about this child after everything I have tried to do to please you?”
Time passed, and I continued to pray, but I was tired, so I asked others to hold me up in prayer, to carry my spirit as Evangeline’s birthday approached. Many people from our family and our parish community did just that. Though we had real concerns, Julie and I remained optimistic, believing that everything would be okay.
The day finally arrived. It was September 4, 2015. Julie and I hoped that whatever was going on with Evangeline resolved as she grew in her mother’s womb. The doctor performed the cesarean section and brought Evangeline forth into the world for the first time. That was when I almost passed out.
Immediately I could see a large bump on Evangeline’s lower spine. The room was quiet. Our baby wasn’t crying. The nurses brought Evangeline over to a table and started prodding her. I noticed that our daughter’s legs were not moving. I sat down on a stool to avoid falling and I continued to watch what was happening around me. Everyone in the room was calm, but my head was buzzing, and I felt like a 500 pound weight was on my chest. After what seemed like forever, Evangeline started crying and the staff attended to her and then took her to the NICU.
Steady on my feet again, I leaned over Julie’s shoulder as she lay on the operating table and I asked her, “Are you sure you want her name to be Evangeline?” Without hesitation she said “Yes, that is her name.” I asked her to be sure about the name because she had a name in mind from before we were married that she wanted for a girl. I had second thoughts about that name and so I “negotiated” a different name, “Christina,” for our first daughter. Then when we learned we were having another girl, “negotiations” began anew, and we settled on “Evangeline.” Even though we were both happy with the name we chose, I wanted Julie to have the chance to change the name we agreed on and use the name she had wanted to give her first daughter so many years ago, but she was sure. Our baby’s name would be “Evangeline.”
As I sat in the recovery room with my wife I contemplated our new baby’s name. It means bearer of good news. The Archangel Gabriel is a kind of “Evangeline.” Disciples of Christ, evangelists, are little “Evangelines” too. I started asking God questions again. “God, what are you telling us with this name? What good news is she bearing? She is in intensive care. She may be airlifted to have emergency surgery in a little while. She may never walk. How is this good news!?”
As I write this, today’s Gospel reading is about the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25). Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Julie and I were not expecting a child. Like Zechariah, I was troubled and fear came upon me. Like Zechariah, my child’s name was told to me. Zechariah doubted and asked “How shall I know this? For I am an old man …” and so I doubted when I asked, “How is this good news!?”
There is more of Evangeline’s story for me to tell you. I will share the rest later.
For now, as we have made it to, and continue to journey into, Christmas — expect the unexpected. As I said earlier, nothing about Evangeline has been ordinary. In fact, everything about her and the effect she has had on our lives and on the lives of the people she meets has been extraordinarily beautiful. That is how I know God is with us. Emmanuel. He works through the most unlikely people and events to accomplish his will which is never ordinary, but always extraordinarily beautiful in ways we could never imagine.