Once upon a time, two kids – seriously, very young kids – got married. As we all know, these marriages are doomed to failure. Except this one. This marriage was special and real and the two kids were committed to loving each other forever and ever no matter what. One of the early “no matter what’s” was the discovery of a baby on the way just two years after the wedding and about 27 years ahead of schedule. In spite of fear and poverty and fear and ignorance and more fear again, the two kids faced the coming arrival of their baby with excitement. They bought baby clothes in neutral colors and decorated the nursery of their basement apartment with hand-me-down yellow gingham accessories. When they ran out of ways to prepare, they packed and unpacked the baby’s hospital bag night after night. Sometimes, when no one was watching, the almost-mom would lay a little sleeper in the crib and imagine she could see the baby lying there. And in those moments, her heart would ball up in uncomfortable knots which turned out to be just tiny previews of the onslaught of emotion that was about to blast through the walls of her formerly-peaceful world.
On May 31, 1987 the baby was born; six days late and 27 years early. Those gathered in the hospital to welcome her to the world were quick to point out the likeness between her and her father. The mom could see it too, and it made her love her all the more. The baby was named Whitney (after no one) and Ellen (after the best woman the mom had ever known.)
The baby grew and laughed a lot. She loved people – ALL people – to a dangerous degree and the parents feared she would one day just climb in some nice family’s minivan because they had a cute dog and popsicles and that would be the last they would see of their little blonde girl. She had an amazing gift for remembering things and kept a running list in her head of all the people she knew with the same names. “That’s two Frank’s” she said one day after realizing the usher who gave her candy at church had the same name as a neighbor. When she was 3, she met our friend Steve Carpenter and was excited to have found Jesus’ brother…because He was a Carpenter too.
The baby grew into a girl who laughed and loved a lot. And she worshiped. When she was five, she worshiped so exuberantly in church that the parents had to determine to not be embarrassed by it. They got used to people telling them her worship was beautiful.
The girl grew into a young lady who laughed and loved and worshiped a lot. And also cried. And struggled to fit in and find her way. Her steady and solid personality became more vulnerable and wobbly with the dramatic entrance of adolescence. She watched and worked to maintain sanity in the midst of the silliness. She watched and wept over the condition of the generation around her. She watched and wished and sat alone.
The young lady grew into a woman who worked a job faithfully and loved Jesus passionately. Her world stabilized as truth sustained her. And then she fell in love. She fell in love with a boy who realized that behind the beautiful face lived some very deep water and a lot of hidden treasure. The boy realized what the mom had known all along and for that, the mom decided to love the boy too.
The day of the wedding, as At Last played, the mom remembered all the days from the empty sleeper in the empty crib to the extravagant worship to the sitting alone. And she cried a little, but gave thanks a lot that the baby who showed up 27 years early had become her dearest friend.
Happy Birthday, Whit. I love you,