We approached the Golden Arches on Ann Arbor Road, and Dad turned on his blinker. Each Wednesday night after youth group, the high schoolers met up at McDonald’s. I didn’t yet have my license, so he drove me. As I went to open the door, he tried to start a conversation.
“Yeah?” I responded, eager to get out of the car and join all my friends inside.
“Sweetheart, we know why Mom has been so sick.”
At this my heart beat faster. For several years my mom had suffered with health issues, and recently she’d been bedridden. We didn’t know what the problem was. I nodded, urging him to continue.
I couldn’t have heard him right.
“I know, it’s a shock to us too. We’re pregnant.”
My mind raced. I should feel happy. Mom’s okay; we’re going to have a baby in the house. I love babies. But all these thoughts were mired in embarrassment: Now all my friends would know my parents were having sex! I was mortified.
End to Slumber
Beyond the horizon of my adolescent embarrassment, greater tragedies loomed. Due to an earlier operation, doctors had thought it was impossible for my mom to become pregnant. Now they informed her that, due to complications, they didn’t consider the pregnancy viable. She would likely miscarry, and if she didn’t, the baby would have disabilities.
“They want me to ‘take care of it,’” she told my dad one night. “But I saw the heartbeat on the monitor. I can’t do that. I won’t.”
My dad, on the other hand, was increasingly fearful about the possibility of having a child with a slew of problems. My parents were already struggling relationally. Their marriage was not strong; in fact, it was on the brink of collapse. To add a child with special needs on top of everything else seemed too much to bear.
As they were going to bed that evening, my dad told my mom that, since the doctors were telling her she would almost certainly miscarry anyway, maybe they should just “take care of it” as the doctors advised. (He couldn’t bring himself to say the word “abortion.”) They were exhausted, both from fighting for their marriage and also fighting over this pregnancy. My dad was at his wit’s end and didn’t know what to do. He tried praying. He cried out for help to a God he didn’t know too well. He told my mom it was her decision and went to sleep having placed the full weight of responsibility on his wife’s shoulders.
That night he awoke with a start at 4:30 a.m. A reference reverberated through his mind: Proverbs 6:16, Proverbs 6:16, Proverbs 6:16. Having never experienced anything like this, he dragged himself out of bed, found a Bible, and turned to the table of contents. His index finger traced the thin page down to Proverbs. He flipped to the verse and read: “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:16–17).
Hands that shed innocent blood. His heart pounding, he woke up my mom in tears. “Honey, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. We’re going to have this baby. We will have this baby. I’ll never question it again.”
To the doctors’ surprise, the baby’s heart kept beating, month after month. And on November 25, 2002, five weeks before his due date, my brother Brett was born.
I remember being at the hospital with all its beeping machines and sterile smells when the doctors told my parents Brett would never respond to us. He wouldn’t smile, or walk, or talk. They told us his brain hadn’t developed properly, and they’d never seen a case quite like him. “It’s a miracle he was born at all,” one said. A miracle.
Brett stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit while we learned more about his condition. Born without a corpus callosum (the connector between the brain’s right and left hemispheres), he had congenital blindness and would never see. He had cerebral palsy and epilepsy, among other abnormalities. In short, Brett would need full-time care for the rest of his life.
We were devastated. We knew he was going to be atypical, but we had no idea how bad it was going to be. This seemed downright impossible. I remember people saying, “He’s such a blessing,” prompting an internal conflict in my then 17-year-old self. A blessing? This is just so hard, I thought. A hard blessing.
A hard blessing is exactly what we were given. My parents, who were nearly empty nesters, were now caring for a child full-time—indefinitely. Hopes of easy getaways and weeknight dates were dashed. And their marriage, already on the rocks, now faced a trial like no other.
Yet Brett surprised us again. Or perhaps I should say, God surprised us through Brett.
When my dad awoke in middle of the night, he was awakened to the sovereignty of God. He’s been a different father to me ever since. In fact, he would say he became a believer in Jesus only after that encounter with the living Word.
Not only did he become a different father, he also became a different husband. As he went to bed that memorable night, he placed the onus on my mom—it’s your decision. After he woke up, however, his language indicated a shift—we will have this baby. The “we” communicated unity, a step toward one another.
Fourteen years later, my parents are still married. They realized they were on the same team, fighting for one another and fighting for their family. Despite being a teenager himself, Brett still functions about the same as a three-month-old: blowing raspberries, lying on the ground and kicking, relying on others to feed and change him. In fact, we still call him “Baby Brettski.” But Brett has been a miracle baby in more ways than the doctors described.
God used Brett to save my parents’ marriage.
One might have thought a great marriage counselor or lavish family vacation would’ve been a more obvious way to rescue my family. But as God so often does, he used what is considered lowly and weak to bring about his restoration. He used a baby to heal a marriage. He used what would’ve been thought to be a terrible inconvenience as a vehicle for transformation.
A hard blessing, indeed. Praise be to God.