I smiled at my little girl and imagined what frame would fit best around this pose of hers. And then I stopped smiling. There were tears in her eyelashes. I looked closer and noticed the little pucker just below the left side of her lips that she always wore when she was sad or hurt. I wondered what was wrong. I forgot about the perfect frame and worried about my little daughter. I wondered if I should wake her up and ask what was wrong. Her mother would have known. But her mother wasn't here. I shook my head as I turned to go out the door and then I stopped. I heard a little sob in my daughter's breath as she sighed in her sleep. "That's it," I thought. "I need to know what's wrong."
I walked over to my little girl and knelt by her bed. She was so beautiful. I kissed her gently on the cheek squeezed her hand. Her dark brown eyes opened up wide in between tangled black lashes. I could almost see the question marks in her eyes.
"My darling, tell daddy why you are sad."
Her little eyes filled with tears as she mumbled into the front of my tee-shirt. "Emmie says she isn't coming back again, and I want her to stay!"
I did a mental face-palm. How could I have forgotten to tell my three-year-old that her babysitter was getting married and moving to another state? How could I have forgotten to line up another babysitter?! I was more than annoyed at myself. I swallowed it all down and hugged my baby girl to my chest. "It'll be okay," I said. "Daddy will find you someone else to be your buddy. Emmie has to move to be with her new husband."
"Can we move with her?" Birdy chirped. There was silence for a few minutes. How was I supposed to explain myself out of that?
Then finally, "...No, Birdy. You and daddy have to stay here so that Emmie can take care of her husband alone, just like she took care of you. You and daddy have to stay here so that daddy can work."
Birdy tilted her head to one side, just like a little bird (I remember thinking that we named her well).
"I guess that's okay. Does that mean that I get to take care of you for now, daddy? All by myself?"
"Yes Birdy, all by yourself."
I prayed over her and held her hand until she fell back asleep, then I tiptoed back into my room. I lay in bed wondering how I would find another babysitter for Birdy. My church was mostly full of guys about my age and then some middle-age parents with lots of young children. They all had their hands full...
I had just drifted off to sleep when my phone went off.
"Carl, it's John here. Derrick has been in a wreck. It looks pretty bad. Can you come with me to the hospital now?"
It took a moment for the news to sink in.
I shook myself. "I can't leave Birdy here alone."
I heard John say something to someone else on his end and then, "Mom says you can drop her off here to spend the night."
"I'll be there in ten."
I hung up the phone and rushed into some jeans and a pullover sweater before I tossed some clothes into a bag for Birdy. I hated to wake her up again but it had to be done.
"Birdy? Birdy dear, Daddy needs you to wake up for him."
She put her little lips up to my ear as I scooped her up and asked,
"What's wrong, Daddy?"
Daddy's friend was in a wreck so Daddy needs to go to him. I'm gonna drop you off with Mr. John's momma."
"Oh goodie! I like Mr. John's momma. I hope your friend is okay."
"I hope so too, Birdy."
It was only a seven minute drive to John's house, and from there it was a twenty minute drive to the hospital.
That was one of the longest nights of my life. The ride up there though short was intense. Neither one of us knew exactly what kind of injuries Derrick was facing. We were a pretty close trio and John and I did not at all like the thought of possibly losing this dear friend. I said a prayer for Derrick and then I said one for myself. I asked God to help me to trust Him.
The reality hit me that Derrick might be gone by the time we got to the hospital. I chocked back a sob and quickly wiped away the tear that was trickling down the bridge of my nose. I felt like a fool for crying until I heard a funny noise from John and realized that he was crying, too. Christian brotherhood is a beautiful bond.
When we got to the hospital Derrick was in surgery. We still weren't sure exactly why he was in surgery. A nurse showed us where the waiting room was and told us that Derrick's sister, Rachel, was already in there. I scanned the room and saw two young women, an older lady, and two middle-aged men in there. I couldn't really see the faces of the ladies but I wasn't really expecting to recognize Rachel. I had only seen a few pictures of her from when she was younger. And then the young lady sitting directly across the room from me looked up. She looked so much like Derrick that I knew it had to be Rachel. Her curly hair was around her face and her eyes were streaming tears. She looked scared. She put her hands on the armrests of her chair as if to get up and then hesitated. I smiled at her and she got up and walked over. I put my hand out to her.
"You must be Rachel."
"Yes. And you are... John?"
"No, I'm Carl. This is John."
She smiled and shook hands with both of us.
"Thanks for coming. John's number was listed as a favorite so I thought I should call him," she paused and bit her lip before saying, "I...I hadn't seen Derrick in nearly a year."
She started to cry quietly. John awkwardly patted her on the shoulder and said,
"I'm so sorry. We got here as fast as we could. We prayed for Derrick on the way over; would you like for me to pr-"
And then the nurse walked in. Rachel turned to her with a breathless "How is he?!"
The nurse replied in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, "He is stabilized. His legs are still paralyzed but the doctors have hope. You can see him in a little while. He is still under the influence of the anesthesia."
Rachel sank into a chair and rested her head in her hands.
John made the rest of the occupants in the waiting room jump with his hearty "Thank God!"
I said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving.
A little over an hour later we were allowed to see Derrick for a few minutes. He was sleepy but able to talk just a little bit. Rachel sat quietly next to him. I noticed that she looked a bit nervous and thought that maybe she was afraid to stay with him alone so I offered to stay the night with him. Rachel quietly thanked me and refused, which was slightly puzzling. She said that she was free to stay with him and that that was her place. John and I prayed over Derrick and then left after making a plan for John to drop in on his lunch break the next day so that Rachel could take a nap and rest.
Derrick was in the hospital for exactly two months, and over that period of time John and I (along with the other young men from our church) took turns going in every couple of days to give Rachel a break. Derrick and Rachel's parents were totally out of the picture. They had practically disowned Derrick three years before when he had become a Christian and joined my church. Throughout the two months I noticed a big change come over Rachel. It was beautiful to behold. She started out quiet and withdrawn, even strained, but became joyful. And best of all she grew closer to Derrick. She did so many fun and sweet things for him. About halfway through his stay at the hospital she threw a birthday party for him. She decorated kid-style and invited all of the little kids from our church to play games with Derrick and just have fun. Birdy was a bit younger than the other kids but Rachel invited her anyways. It was on one of the days that my shop was closed and I didn't have a photo-shoot scheduled so I volunteered to help keep the kids in hand. It was a fun party and a wonderful time. We even roped some of the nurses into coming in and playing "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" with us. They laughed so hard!
And then one day Rachel said to me, "Carl, Derrick is going to move out of his apartment."
Slowly, patiently she replied, "I said, Derrick is going to move out of his apartment."
"No, I heard you the first time. But why? Why is he moving?"
She tapped her chin in thought and then looked me in the eye and explained.
"Derrick will have to go to therapy several days a week. He will be strapped to a wheelchair for God knows how long. I mean that seriously. It could be months, it could be years."
She paused to let her words sink in. I looked at the floor for a moment and then looked back up at her.
"This is true," I said. She nodded.
"Derrick will need to have someone with him 24/7. I'm the only family member that is willing to own him. I'm the one that needs to care for him," I opened my mouth to say something but she said, "No. Let me finish. Derrick and I already talked it over and he agrees with me. I will definitely call on one of you guys when I need help or just need a day to myself."
"I agree. That's a wise decision. I was going to say, don't work yourself too hard. Care-taking is tough work. I cared for both of my parents before they died and it was exhausting. Not to be discouraging; it was totally worth it. It was wonderful. But please don't hesitate to call me or John or one of the other guys if you need anything, no matter what time it is."
She gave me a wobbly smile and said, "Thanks, Carl. That helps. More than you know."
That was a week before Derrick was released. Us guys from church volunteered to help Rachel pack out their two separate apartments and move their stuff into the new one. On one of the last days of packing out Derrick's apartment John found some old paintball gear of Derrick's in the closet and had this bright idea that we put on the masks and stuff and scare Rachel (who was in the kitchen at that time). We snuck around the corner and tapped on the wall behind her. She jumped and shrieked and then scolded is playfully. We all laughed together until some of us were on the floor holding our sides. I wished I had thought to get a video of her reaction. It was priceless. She had a great sense of humor.
On the day that Derrick was released from the hospital he and Rachel had all of us guys over for a pizza dinner and fellowship. John's mom offered to take Birdy for the night so I could go. Rachel had made their apartment into a home in such a short time. It felt so cozy and nice in there.
After they got settled in they started having us over every Friday night for a prayer time and fellowship. I couldn't make it every time because of my photo sessions and Birdy but I went as often as I could. John's mom helped me out with Birdy a lot until I could find another babysitter. But this sitter could only work for eight months and then she was going out-of-state to college.
Fast-forward ten months and Derrick took his first steps (it happened to be on the one year anniversary of his wreck). And then I offered the job of babysitting Birdy to Rachel. She accepted, much to mine and Birdy's delight. Rachel was perfect. She was fun and sweet but firm when needed, and Birdy loved her. And then I learned to love her, too. But first I respected her. I respected how she treated her brother, and what she did for him. She sacrificed a lot, and she worked hard so that they could be together. She was so joyful, and never complained about the rough life she lived. She was mature for her age (she was eighteen when Derrick wrecked), and she was great with Birdy. Her love for the Lord was as obvious as the joy that shone in her eyes.
After she had been babysitting Birdy for four months I had a talk with Derrick while Rachel was out with Birdy. I was never a very awkward person so I spoke right up.
"Derrick, I want to talk to you about Rachel."
He looked serious and then his eyes twinkled.
"About Rachel my sister, or about Rachel your babysitter?"
I laughed at him.
"About Rachel your sister. The thing is, I want to add "wife" to her title of sister, babysitter, and friend."
Now it was Derrick's turn to laugh.
"I like your way of putting it. I suppose you're asking for my permission to pursue a serious relationship with her?"
"Yes. I figured since she lives with you it would be the honorable thing to do. I actually attempted to talk to your dad and he basically (and not very politely) said that he didn't care about what Rachel dos with her life."
Derrick looked sober.
"That's sad." He drew a deep breath.
"Of course you can pursue a relationship with my sister, brother!"
"Hey now," I laughed, "don't get ahead of yourself."
We laughed and he gave me a bro hug.
The next day Derrick called and said that their car was having issues so I packed a sleeping Birdy into my car and headed over to pick Derrick and Rachel up. I dropped Derrick off at his worksite and headed back to my house with Rachel and the still-asleep little Birdy. Rachel was quiet for the first few minutes of the half-hour drive. Then finally, "So...Derrick tells me that you talked to him yesterday."
I gulped mentally. I fervently hoped that she wasn't going to say that she wasn't interested. I replied carefully.
"...Yes. I hope you don't have a problem with...with...what we talked about."
Rachel made a funny little choking sound that I supposed was a laugh. I didn't dare look at her. I just gripped the wheel with my sweaty hands and hoped that she would say whatever she had quickly. As if she had read my mind she shook her hair out of her face and started talking.
"Carl, I'm going to be honest with you. I noticed your godly character that first night that we met. Although I didn't know well enough to fully appreciate it then, I still noticed it, and liked you for it."
She paused, and I felt a tear running down my nose. She seemed to be choosing her words carefully. After a moment she continued with,
"After I accepted Jesus as my savior I started seeing how He worked in the lives of others around me; not just in my life. I appreciated the Christ-like love and care that you showed to Derrick and me. I know the other guys were there for us, too, but I seemed to notice you more. Now I know that God was preparing me for today. So no, I don't have a problem at all with what you and Derrick talked about last night. In fact, I couldn't be more excited!" She made another little choking sound, and I realized that she was laughing and crying. I was relieved and excited at the same time.
I pulled into the drive and carried Birdy in before heading out for a day of work at my shop. My heart just flowed.
Nearly five months after that I purchased a ring. Decided to propose to her on a Saturday afternoon at the park. Birdy was perched on Derrick's shoulders and they were headed for the swing set off to the left. Rachel and I were quietly talking for a few minutes before we mutually paused. I took the opportunity to turn to Rachel and take both of her hands in mine. I hoped she wouldn't mind that my hands were sweating. She shook her hair out of her eyes and smiled. "Yes?"
"Rachel, I feel like we know each other well enough by now to commit. Are you willing to promise to be my wife? I can't imagine going without your companionship."
She smiled through happy tears and squeezed my hands until she could talk. Then gently she said, "Yes, Carl. I am ready to commit to be your wife. I would miss both you and Birdy."
I whispered "Thank God" before slipping the ring into her left hand.
Birdy and Derrick were both ecstatic. I'm not sure about which one of them squealed the loudest or hugged the hardest, but I'm pretty sure that they tied at the amount of happiness they felt.
Rachel and I have been married for five years now and there are three more little girls that look like their mother.
Just yesterday Rachel came up to me and asked, "Do you ever wish that we had a son?"
I kissed the top of her head before replying with, "No, Honey. Not really. I love all of our little birdies too much to wish that one of them was a son. Besides, we never know what the future holds. With God all things are possible."
We felt the child in Rachel's womb kick in between us as if in agreement and Rachel laughed as she repeated, "Yes; with God all things are possible."