It had been a strange 9 months for Blaine and Connie Stevens. They had it figured: he was conceived the very night they made up, starting to put their problems behind them. But it was their baby who had the problems now. Vitamin deficiencies. Diabetes. Seemingly every problem in the book had befallen their young, as yet unborn boy.
This is the second part in a story by Jason Kettinger. Find the first part, “the Woods,” here.
Blaine had decided that a child whose conception and birth were announced by angels needed a fitting, dignified name. It had been hard to convince Connie—first, not to name him Bryce (that was ridiculous)—and then, to name him what Blaine had decided without telling her why. The story is too unbelievable, Blaine thought. He wouldn’t believe it himself, except here they were, on the cusp of becoming parents. Parents to a most important son, or so he was told, though he didn’t yet know why.
Even as they sat there, listening to the doctor warning them that, in his considered opinion, their little boy with the underdeveloped lungs would probably be stillborn, not seeing the light of the world, Blaine knew. It was nice to know. He probably seemed insane to everyone else, absorbing all the bad news without a hint of upset.
Connie would have worried, too, but Blaine assured her several times with that look which says, “If I have to bend the universe itself to make this happen, I’ll do it.” She didn’t understand, but she knew he was often right about such things. He is a man of great faith, she thought. He may have some special knowledge from God. Blaine, for his part, was hoping for the right time to tell her the story of what had happened in the woods that day. Little did either of them know things were about to happen that would make Blaine’s future divulging completely unnecessary.
Connie has been in labor almost 12 hours, Blaine thought. “Any minute now,” he muttered to no one but himself. He began to reflect on all that had happened, how they really were on the verge of breaking apart before he took a random run into the park. What fun and what joy they’ve had for these months, he mused. And all nearly was lost because of a few minutes and hours here and there spent apart. Just like in sports, apparently, seconds count.
Blaine wasn’t the sort of man to watch the delivery, even though that’s the cool thing to do. He figured it would gross him out, and that his presence there would be a nuisance. Besides, he reasoned, wives tend to say things they have to apologize for later while in labor. Bill Cosby is right.
So he stood there—granted, he was pacing—as had generations of fathers before him, in the waiting room. It was odd that no other eager potential fathers were there to share it with him. Slow day, perhaps. Or the other men had the brass to watch their wives deliver.
“Old school, baby, old school,” said Blaine, hoping to bolster his self-confidence. He looked at his watch. It had been exactly 12 hours and 1 minute since he brought his wife into the hospital. It was now 9:01 AM.
Blaine had half a selfish thought that maybe this would be over soon so he could get a sausage biscuit from McDonald’s before they stop serving breakfast. Then he wondered when McDonald’s would get on the all day breakfast bandwagon. And for Pete’s sake, make the McRib a permanent menu item!
Blaine shook himself. He was going crazy from excitement and lack of sleep. Just then, a nurse rushed in to tell him his boy was born. She asked if he’d like to see him now, which is one of those gloriously stupid questions nobody minds.
They rushed down the hall like they were paramedics or something, which seems ridiculous, given the fact that the baby isn’t going anywhere. On the other hand, no parent wants to miss something precious.
The doctor was stunned. He’d done hundreds of deliveries before, and he’d never seen what he just saw. No one would believe it. Dr. Mike Abernathy wasn’t sure he believed it himself. But he knew what he was going to do. When his relief came, he scrubbed quickly, changed into his regular clothes, and darted out of the hospital. He’d be getting a break until 4.
He’d run to the place he’d decided to go. It mattered little if it was two blocks or two miles. Mike Abernathy stopped before he went in. He needed courage for his next task. It seems a small, everyday sort of thing. But not to him. Almost everything he knew up to now told him he was insane. But he saw it! And it changed him, right then. At 9:15 AM on October 11, 2009, Mike Abernathy—the committed atheist, rationalist, humanist raised by secularists—darkened the door of St. Athanasius Catholic Church.
The joyous parents saw nothing, just a beautiful baby boy.
Mike Abernathy knew that the newly-born Peter Thomas Stevens had led him here, crazy as it sounds. It was unmistakable—the baby gave me a blessing, making a cross with his little hand, he mused. Abernathy had spent the last months being evangelized by neighbors—Protestant evangelicals, it turns out—and knew this was a sign.
Up to now, he had politely listened to all the Jesus-talk with little real curiosity (but they were really great people, certainly). But now he had to talk to someone. What kind of God sends messages through little babies? He must really want my attention, Abernathy thought. Little did he know, he was lucky to have wandered into this Catholic church, led by the particular priest to whom he would speak.
Father John Lawton was the only faithfully orthodox Catholic priest for many miles in this slice of Ohio. Mike sat there in the sanctuary for the 45 minutes until the 10 AM Mass, and then sat through that, which was quite a feat for him. There wasn’t much in the way of participating, but he did plenty of watching and listening. It’s hard not to watch a Mass and not be struck with the beauty and reverence of it. Abernathy had done his share of mocking Catholics and other Christians, but never with the experience of watching them worship. He knew these reflections were worth thinking more deeply about, and he wondered if his heart had already begun to change.
Father John saw him as soon as he had walked in. Correction, he ran in. He wanted to ask him about the urgency, but the man began concentrating so hard as soon as he sat down that John figured it best not to annoy the man as he was praying. After the Mass, Father John noted that, unlike everyone else, the man lingered as if he had something to say. “Father,” he said, “do you have an office?” Lawton nodded.
“But I don’t hear confessions in my office,” the priest offered, hoping to save some time.
“It’s OK, I’m not here to give a confession. I just saw the most amazing thing, and I thought you might be able to help me understand what I saw.” Abernathy told him the whole story. “Well, I’ll do some checking, find out what parish they attend, if they do,” and he added, “and I should pay them a visit after mother and baby go home.”
Abernathy didn’t say anything about how this happening was affecting his possible future faith. He just thanked him and went on his way. However, after the priest went away, the doctor picked up a flyer about RCIA classes that were starting in November.
John Lawton found out through other clergy friends that Blaine and Connie Stevens were Protestants; more specifically, Presbyterians. But by all accounts, they are quite zealous and faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Good,” he blurted to no one but the car, “that will make this easier.” Lawton was quite convinced about the meaning of the story of this baby, but he knew it meant a hard road for his parents. He pulled into the Happy Cove neighborhood, and quickly found the house. He knocked on the door, and found Mrs. Stevens at home. “Can I help you?” inquired Connie.
“Yes, I’m Father John Lawton from St. Athanasius Catholic Church, and I’ve come to talk to you about your son.”
“The doctor who delivered him told me a most remarkable story about what your baby did right after he was delivered…he didn’t tell you?”
“He said the baby gave him a blessing.”
“Yes. He crossed him.”
“You sure he wasn’t seeing things? Sometimes people see what they want to see.”
“Not this guy. He said he was an atheist.”
“Hmmmm. What do you think it means?”
“I think,” he hesitated, “your son will be a priest.”
“Respectfully, Father,” she sighed, “we’re not Catholics.” Mentally, she added, “and we never will be.” For all the beauty of Catholicism, Connie thought, there’s too much unscriptural baggage.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, “you wouldn’t be the first.”
“OK.” Connie thought it best not to argue with him.
“In any case, can I give him a blessing?”
“Of course. Right this way.” She took him down a hallway off the kitchen to the right. “We named him Peter Thomas Stevens. He was just baptized this past Sunday.” It was Tuesday, the 22nd today.
Father Lawton was glad for that. Among Protestants, Lawton opined to himself, one can do far worse than Reformed theology. “Peter Thomas Stevens, I bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The baby didn’t know why, but as far as he was able, right then, he felt profound joy.
Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to Open for Business.