“You just wait. Your life will never be the same.” If I heard those words once, I know I heard them at least a hundred times between August 4 (when Marci and I shared the good news of her pregnancy with our church families) and February 4 (when Kelsie Olivia was born). I knew that people meant well with such a statement, but at the same time I thought to myself, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I do not wish to hear it anymore.” Little did I know just how true those ten words would ring the first time I laid eyes on my newborn daughter.
I must confess that my level of expertise, when it came to babies, was minimal at best prior to February 2014. I grew up an only child and while I had younger cousins (who were more like brothers) I was a complete novice to feeding, changing, and bathing an infant. The thought was a bit intimidating when it came down to the many new responsibilities that would unfold upon Kelsie’s arrival into our lives. Our immediate families and church communities have been quite affirming over the first two and half months of Kelsie’s life. Their compliments have been along the lines of “You all look so happy” to “Kelley you look like a pro at this.” I wish to emphasize the latter of the two observations because there was a time when I looked far from “professional.” Prior to becoming a father, I had very little interaction with infants. My cousins were so close to my age that I remember nothing of their arrival into the world. Growing up at Reedy Branch OFWB Church, I can recall a few instances of being given the opportunity to hold a baby, but even then it was brief in duration. There were a couple of times when people chuckled at how I went about holding an infant and it became quite clear that I was a bit uncomfortable with the whole ordeal. Some adults gravitate toward a newborn boy or girl, but that was not the case some years ago for me. I guess there was some trepidation in my mind for what might happen to that tiny bundle of new life. Perhaps it was fear of “breaking” him or her or failing to cradle the infant the right way.
It is interesting how my ten years in the ministry have given me the opportunity to adjust to babies. Soon after my arrival at Free Union OFWB Church, I found myself assisting in various ways with infant dedication services. To begin with, I merely read some scripture, but with time I was given more of a hands-on role in the ceremony. Of course, no infant dedication is complete without the pastor taking the baby into his or her arms, issuing a charge to the congregation, and then pronouncing a blessing over the baby and his or her family. It was obvious in the first few attempts that I had with an infant dedication that I was uncomfortable and things were perhaps awkward for the infant as well. With time and experience, a change began to take place in my heart and especially in my thinking. The nerves that once knotted up at the thought of a dedication ceremony loosed themselves and even the congregation at Free Union began to take notice. In my early attempts, the congregation would laugh as I received the infant from his or her parents, but in the past couple of years they have indicated that I seem more comfortable and my interaction with a baby much more natural.
In spite of the many changes occurring within me, to say that I was ready for parenthood would be an understatement. But then again, how hard could it possibly be? I was encouraged when Marci inquired about an infant care class in Goldsboro. After all, that would be the perfect opportunity to learn the ins and outs of basic infant care, what to expect during the delivery process, and clear up any doubts I might have been experiencing. All went well that Saturday morning in October, with the exception of me being the chosen husband to wear a 30-pound “sympathy belt.” The one hour or so that I was required to wear the belt was adequate enough for me to tell Marci, “I am glad it is you and not me.” Additional classes, videos, and booklets would follow, but even then was all this new-fangled information sufficient for a first time father? The definitive answer to this question would be, “No!” For only until Kelsie arrived would I have an understanding/appreciation for one of God’s greatest blessings in my 34 years of life.
At 4:17 p.m. on February 4, my life changed forever. I experienced many different emotions throughout that early morning when we arrived and as the labor process continued well into the afternoon. Questions constantly swirled through my head. What would she look like? How would I respond? What kind of father would I be to Kelsie? Once again, there is nothing in the world that can prepare a person for that moment. Free Union experienced the passing of a church member the day before Kelsie’s birth and that impacted the delivery day and the day which followed. My heart wanted to be with the bereaved family, but a part of me remained at the hospital. It is difficult to explain what her arrival meant to Marci and me. It was a joyous occasion which called for much celebration, but at the same time it was somewhat overwhelming due to the tremendous responsibility that I knew would quickly follow.
On Thursday of that week, we were able to bring Kelsie home from Wayne Memorial Hospital. At that moment, I believe the reality of everything officially began to sink in. “This is our baby, our gift from God, and we have been entrusted with her care. Not just physical growth, but also her Christian nurture,” I thought to myself. While we were at the hospital, we had the benefit of a nurse to bring Kelsie to Marci’s room and offer assistance, but now the ball would be in our court day and night.
I will admit that the first few weeks were a major adjustment. Getting up at all hours of the morning to change her and assist with the feeding was a bit much. Just when we would get her settled and ease off to sleep, she would begin to cry and that caused for many sleepless hours. Almost three months have passed since Kelsie was born and while she is beginning to sleep through the night and eat a little less frequently, the responsibility remains firm. I continue to learn something new each day not only about my daughter, but about life in general. Sometimes it comes in the little smile she gives me while squirming about on her play mat. She may not be able to verbalize the words “I love you,” but there is something in the innocence of her facial expression that says “You are my daddy and I appreciate you.” I will never forget the first time Marci and I read Guess How Much I Love You to her following one of her evening feedings. I have never been one to express a lot of emotion. That has never really been in my nature. But the love expressed by the Little Nut Brown Hare for his father and the Big Nut Brown Hare for his son really touched my heart. In fact, I find my heart softening a little more each day when I think about my beautiful wife, and precious daughter. I remember well an experience of keeping Kelsie by myself a few days ago. I had placed her down on her play mat to kick and grab at the little stuffed animals which hang above her head. There were a few things I needed to take care of in the kitchen, but I could still hear her and knew that everything was okay. A few minutes passed and as I peeked in to check on her, I said, “Daddy’s still here. You can’t see me, but I can still hear you.” I pondered that over for a moment and realized that is how God works in our lives. We cannot physically see God, but God makes His presence known in a multitude of ways and provides us with gentle reminders that we are His beloved and safe in His care. God’s love for His children is immense and difficult to fathom, and it is His love for me and my wife that must guide our nurture of Kelsie. I know there is still much to learn and as I adjust to one phase of Kelsie’s life things will change once again. A lot of people want to know if I plan to get Kelsie anything to wear with NC State on it or how long it will be before she goes with her daddy and Papa Smart to a race. When I think about it, such things are secondary in nature. Will she like the same teams or even care for sports at all is beside the point. It is my hope and prayer that I can not only be her father, but also a daddy to Kelsie. That is to say someone she can count on, who will provide for her, and teach her to walk in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Life is a precious thing in and of itself, but the blessing of a new life in Kelsie Olivia has indeed begun to change everything for this young family.