My Little Vine: Laura Jackson…What can I say? Your Nammy certainly has a way with words, doesn’t she? At least, that is, when she’s awake.
Ahh, a little humor can go a long way. Here’s another name for ya. Donna. The nurse’s name was Donna.
Have I ever told you about Donna Claudette Johnson? Claudette was given to her after her father’s namesake—Claude. Claude had died years and years ago. But Donna’s mother succumbed to the plight of diabetes only 9 months before.
Many, many moons prior to Donna’s shift that night in the hospital, in her younger years, Donna scooted around with her high school sweetheart—Milton—everyday except Sunday. Milton was the starting quarterback of the football team. He was a church-going kid like Donna. But, Little V, as I’m sure you know by now, church-going and God-dwelling aren’t twins.
Oh, how I love Donna and Milton. I loved them then. I love them now. I loved them enough to send them warnings; they had more than their fair share of almost getting caught. I loved them through obstacles and blockades. Sometimes, Milton’s rusty pick-up truck wouldn’t start; other times the window that Donna would sneak out of would jam shut. So, she would have to craft a nearly impossible plan to slip out of the front door or abandon her rendezvous all together. In rarer instances, I’d permit inclement weather to wear out their plans.
I loved them so much that I gave them dreams—projections of very possible realities, really. Ones that gave them a taste of pursuing their passion for each other a better way. I let them sample how great it would be to love each other from a place of satisfaction with me within marriage; rather than, trying to manufacture love by failing to be fulfilled by each other outside of marriage.
I loved Donna and Milton enough to let them choose. And I loved them so much that I let them own the consequences of their choices without the consequences owning them. I knew what was coming…the reality that would force its way to the forefront among its many alternatives. Whether her mind was conscious of it or not, deep down Donna’s soul knew what was coming. Milton’s likewise. They bumbled and tumbled around until they fumbled and…Donna was gonna be a mama.
Against the Backdrop of Others
Gwendolyn Johnson was furious when she found out her daughter was with child outside of marriage. I know ‘cause I was there. I knew the scene was coming and I had to watch it play out. But it wasn’t a soap opera over the radio (in those days). No, it was what you’d call “real” life. My dear, it hurt my heart to see her waters flow; they weren’t the healing kind—far from it. Gwen had a habit of crying when she was upset or flabbergasted like her grandfather. She was inflamed because the news crushed her. She adored Donna. She was zealous for Donna.
After she lost her husband to the War, Gwen promised herself that she wouldn’t let Claude down; she wouldn’t let Donna down. She’d love her well—do everything she could to channel the affection, connection, and protection of two parents through the confines of her one life. She’d raise her “right.” She’d keep Donna’s head in the books; her butt in the church pew; her heart under lock-and-key; her eyes focused on a better future.
Gwen would mother-and-father her little one while mothering the little ones she nannied during the day and cleaning houses during the evening. She promised herself that Donna would have a future her mother could only dream of. Her baby may have had to grow up without her daddy. But Gwen knew—she just knew—that her grandbabies wouldn’t grow up without theirs.
Gwen’s fear of “failing” her beloved Claude by “failing” her beloved Donna made her vulnerable to the lie that she did, indeed, fail. That lie turned into a belief. And that belief turned her pain into shame. I had to experience this reality manifest against the backdrop of a cacophony of viable others. But I was right there. I was just as present in the developing storyline as I was in the potential ones.
I was there holding Gwen’s hands clasped in prayer at many a midnight hour when she was on bended knee. I was there to command truth to evict the lies that were adverse possessors squatting in her mind. I was there wooing her heart to turn her pain into promise: Her daughter’s future wasn’t merely defined by Gwen’s diligence, but by my presence in Donna’s life. I was there giving her shame a new name…honor. My faithfulness redeems every loss, every disappointment, every setback beyond measure. And I was with Donna too. I’d preferred that it was under less tense circumstances. But I was with her because, well, she finally let me be.
Sometimes, my precious ones receive my loyal devotion through warnings. Sometimes, they become receptive to it after a wake-up-call. If I wanted to force things my way, there would be no need for warnings or wake-up-calls. But love—life too—is a perpetual dance between letting and choosing, choosing, and letting. The weight of becoming pregnant during her last year of high school woke Donna up to me and my love.
Held Her Hand
She let me love her from being a churchgoer to a God-dwelller. She let me buffer her against the gossip of classmates and scorn of pew-warmers. She let me walk her through the heartache of Milton’s decline to make her his Mrs. Donna let me transform her fear about motherhood into joy and expectation. She let me love her out of social circles that were confining her and into the arms of a few tried-and-true who really cared. She let me nurture her from the dregs of condemnation to the peak of redemption, from hopelessness to determination. She let All-Knowing-Me hold her hand as she walked into the unknown. They both did, Donna and Gwen.
I held Gwen’s hand as she held Donna’s during her final push-push-pushes into motherhood. Just like Donna was there to hold Nammy’s hand during her labor. Oh…wait. Did you think Donna was the nurse you mom told to stop telling her to stop screaming? Ahh, my Little Vine, Donna was there the night that your mommy–dear was born—not you.
I made sure Donna was there. You see, she was still healing from the pain of Gwen’s passing. She was nine months into grieving. She started picking up extra shifts and elected to be on-call more often. Her boys were all off to college, and the extra hours didn’t steal time away from her husband. Donna figured that more work would help her work through her grief. Her path wasn’t my ideal, but I had something to work with.
Over 20 years in the ward exposed Donna to a variety of patients in a variety of situations. But the night Nammy gave birth to your mom was different. Actually, Donna almost didn’t come in. She told herself if someone called in sick—a rarity among nurses—she’d fill in the gap. Lo-and-behold, a nurse did call in. So, Donna picked up the shift at the very last minute. She felt something was off the moment she walked into your Nammy’s room. Donna couldn’t put her finger on it. But, when it came time for Nammy to bring her first child into the world, it struck her. The mama to the mama-to-be was M.I.A.
Your Poppi, one of the souls who made it back from Vietnam, was there. He was at Nammy’s bedside, holding her hand, stroking her sweat-drenched fro. He was doing all he could to comfort his laboring wife. However, aside from the medical team buzzing here and there like busy bumble bees, that was it. No mother-in-natural; no mother-in-law; no grandmama; no auntie. There wasn’t even a midwife in sight.
Donna’s mom, Gwen, got to see her first grandbaby. She got to see Donna hustle her way into a solid career. She got to see Donna find love finding her. Gwen got to see Donna get married; build a family; build a life. Donna got to see her mom see her become the woman she knew she could be. But Nammy’s journey was a contrast. Little V, your great-grandmother, Mildred, witnessed Nammy sprout, bud, and bloom into a young woman. But her time on your side of eternity expired shortly before your mom was born.
Reviving, Redeeming, & Restoring
While holding your Nammy’s hand, Donna realized that she wasn’t there to merely fill in the gap create by an unexpected call in. She was there to stand in the gap for Mildred. A traditional mama wasn’t there. But she was. Another paradigm shift happened too. That moment in your Nammy’s hospital room took Donna back to when Gwen was present as the mama to the mama-to be. And it unlocked a treasure I had for Donna: a profound awareness that just because Gwen had passed on didn’t mean she stopped holding Donna’s hand. Donna experienced just as much healing while holding your Nammy’s hand as your Nammy did as she caressed your mom’s.
My Little Vine, you don’t know this. Nammy wasn’t aware of it either. But she didn’t believe she’d live long enough to see her grandkids. When your great grandma passed, doubt seized Nammy’s grief. Doubt fed on it. It savored her despair and gave her a lie in exchange: her life would end like her mother’s. That lie gave birth to a belief that she would cease before getting to witness her grandchildren sprout, bud, and bloom. I was working to turn her pain into promise, but Nammy’s courtship with fear kept her from receiving, opening, and celebrating it. That is, until the night my breath filled your lungs.
Sure, the circumstances of the prevailing reality surrounding your conception and entrance were less than desirable. Yet my redeeming devotion was moving outside of time to make an imperfect situation impeccable within it. My dear, the moment your Nammy laid eyes on you—afterbirth and all—the scales began to fall from her mind’s eye. She began to see the promise waiting to embrace her for far too long. Cutting your umbilical cord severed the chains imprisoning parts of her heart. Nammy could let my hope and joy bring these nooks and crannies back to life again. When she saw your mom hold you for the very first time, Nammy glimpsed Mildred watching the first instance Nammy held your mom in her arms.
Beloved, any given event is interwoven with moments embedded in people’s lives at an exponential magnitude. Unfortunately, every intersection is the byproduct of a corrosion that kills; that steals; that destroys. But this taint must contend with my love that’s always working to revive, redeem, and restore. My devotion acting to revive, redeem, and restore made the night that you were born as much about you as it was about Nammy as it was about Donna and countless others. I could tell about them all, but you don’t really need to know. Why? Frankly, you don’t need to know because it’s not your responsibility to know.
You say I only know when that’s not true. Knowing has less to do with exclusivity and more to do with capacity. You know in part. I know in full. And not knowing doesn’t mean you’re missing out. On the contrary; you’re getting in. You’re getting in on letting, choosing, and trusting. You’re getting in on letting go of what you can’t control; on choosing how to make the most of what you can; on trusting me to make the best out of the rest.
Oh, one more thing…I admire the way your Nammy’s face glows when she tells that story too. It reminds me of the matchless joy I had crafting you. If only you could see how my face beams every time she tells the tale. I tell you what—the sun would blush, and the stars would swoon in comparison.
With you always ~ Holy Spirit