My arms wrap around a large basketball belly (Let’s be real…it’s a beach ball.) in order to reach the laptop that is running out of room in its home. God has been so faithful in seeing us through every single milestone–large and small–of this pregnancy. I was humbled to tears two weeks ago when I realized, at 37 weeks, that we were praying through our last big milestone. There have been so many along the way that standing near the end of the road just feels surreal. Now we wait. And trust. To be honest, I’m thankful for a little more time. There is one more thing that I had hoped to share before we meet Chet face to face. It is this very simple but often neglected truth that we are–at this moment, with only four sets of praying hands among us, four mouths to feed, four pairs of feet to carry us on our lives’ journeys–we are presently a family of SIX.
Collectively we pray for the individual members of our family every day. Eden’s request typically follows a predictable pattern, with only a few variations here and there. “Please be with Mommy and Daddy, Eli, and me, Thea and Baby Berry as we lost Thea and we’re getting ready for Baby Berry.” It steals my breath; she prays for Thea. Every time. This is not a habit that she learned from me. I have petitioned God on Thea’s behalf. Maybe it’s silly, but there have been times when I’ve asked Him to hold her especially close, sing her a lullaby, share with her something that we are thinking, feeling, or doing, let her know how much she impacts our lives. However, I don’t pray for her in the same ways that I do for Eli and Eden. I know that she has God’s love, guidance, and protection in ways that they don’t yet. She is safe in a way that they are not. Those truths influence the direction of my prayers for her. Not to mention, those prayers for Thea are some of the most intimate prayers that I offer from the very depths of my soul. I don’t recall ever sharing them with anyone, especially not the kids. But Eden never skips over her little sister in prayer. When she is tasked with praying for our family, she always remembers our Thea girl, because she is a natural part of our family to Eden. I figure that one day she will outgrow or out-think her need for it. Until that time, I certainly won’t be the one to take that away from her.
There will never be a time when Thea is not acknowledged in this home as part of our family. Her name is inscribed on the jewelry that I wear, just as it is forever inscribed on each of our hearts. The fact that her physical presence isn’t with us is by no means reason to wipe her existence from our lives or our family. In much the same way, we already count Chet as a member of the Powell tribe.
Almost a year ago now, the kids and I were preparing to meet my sister and her family for a trip to the zoo. At the time God was growing a beautiful little life inside of her. Eden made this simple observation: “They’re a family of four just like us!” She paused for a moment of thought and then, “Well…not exactly like us.” Here I thought she would insert the distinction that their baby had not yet been born, but instead she continued, “We have a baby in Heaven, But we can take her EVERYWHERE! And she’s really light!” (When Eden gets sad about not having Thea to hold, I remind her that we can hold her in our hearts ALWAYS.)
My initial response to her words was wonder. That and gratitude. I marvel and am so thankful that even at five years old, she already recognized and acknowledged the beauty and sanctity of life, even in its earliest stages. In Eden’s mind they weren’t waiting for the baby to join their family through birth. There was no waiting for them to be a family of four; they simply were, even with three months remaining in the pregnancy.
I often think about how we use this or similar terminology, “We are expecting a baby” when the truth is, we already have one, he or she is just not yet there to hold in our arms. I see pictures of couples and families the night before a scheduled birth that are captioned, “Last night as a family of __________”. I understand the sentiment behind them, and I don’t fault them at all. However, the truth is, our hearts made room and our families grew by one the moment we saw that little indicator on the stick. Just something to consider: might we better champion the battle for the sanctity of life if those of us who believe so strongly in it more consistently acknowledged it from the beginning?
Every life is a gift, every child a blessing, regardless of age or gestational development. When you see our family with your physical eyes, you will only see two of those gifts, but truthfully there are four. Lord willing, in the very near future you will see a third. However, if you look with your heart, even now you will see four of them, and six members of our family.