Most people think I have two daughters and two sons. Unless I get to know a person well, I don’t get to tell about my firstborn, Johnathan.
It was early evening, January 13, and Kim was timing her contractions. Being first-time parents, we did not want to be premature about going to the hospital as is so easy to do, but the hospital was a half-hour away in Muskegon and we didn’t want to wait too long.
I was watching Happy Days, anticipating Laverne & Shirley. As the show was wrapping up, Kim announced, “We need to go.” Laverne and Shirley would have to Schlemiel and Schlimazel on their own.
As first-time labors go, Kim’s was typical, yet Kim was anything but. She rode the wave of spasms with quiet dignity. We heard another mother in the room next door not having such success. Okay, she was just plain screaming. In each of Kim’s five labors, she never uttered even a peep.
Labor went into and through the night. I stood by with my encouragements, but felt as useful as snow boots in a desert. Mostly, I read.
Just after 5:00 in the morning, the big moment arrived. Kim pushed. I watched in fascination. The top of our child’s head appeared and then, quickly, his entire little person.
“It’s a boy!”
And he was perfect.
We rejoiced. We placed calls to our parents. We debated whether we should name him Gregory Johnathan (my middle name is John, so we would not make him a Junior), or Johnathan Gregory. We wanted him to have his own name, so Johnathan it was.
Kim needed to rest, so I went home to shower, make celebratory phone calls, and catch breakfast at my folks’. In the early afternoon, Mom and I headed to the hospital.
Enjoying our first visit as a little family, Mom and I readied to head back to Montague. Johnathan had been taken from Kim’s room back to the nursery. We stopped for a final look.
I peered in at my boy. I hesitated to speak. I was immediately scared. I did not want to be scared.
Me, voice cracking: “Mom, he’s breathing hard.”
Mom, calmly: “Go get a nurse.”
I would not make it back to Montague that day.
I pause from writing to blow my nose. While my memories long ago ceased to cause pain, at no time do the emotions ease. I have never spoken of Johnathan without tears.
A doctor told us that they had cultured Johnathan to learn what had infected him, but it would be awhile before knowing the cause. In the mean time, he needed to be taken from Muskegon to Grand Rapids, to Butterworth Hospital and its neonatal ICU.
Having just given birth, they did not allow Kim to travel. Her folks drove me to Grand Rapids. It was now well into the evening.
We learned that Johnathan had a strep infection. Though Kim had not been ill, the germ resided in the birth canal. Had he been delivered via C-section . . .
It does no good to play that game.
Quickly, the strep overwhelmed Johnathan’s little body. At Butterworth, the doctor explained that they had Christian nurses who will baptize should a baby appear near death, and would I want that? “Yes. Thank you.”
I had been up for forty hours. Thankfully, some good friends lived near the hospital. I would sleep there.
Around eight the next morning, I was on the phone with Mom when I heard a beep I’d never heard before. The hospital was breaking in. A nurse spoke. “Please, come now.”
Johnathan had just died. He had been baptized. He lived twenty-seven hours.
We were, of course, devastated, but rebounded quickly. Eager for a child, we welcomed Erin before the year was out. Jackie arrived in 1983. Addison graced us in 1986, and then Alex in 1989.
Over time, I noticed how the Lord was using this tragedy for my good. My trust in Him was growing deep and wide. I was now very involved at church and pondering a great secret: I want to be a pastor, but how could that ever happen with four young children and my needing so much schooling?
In my eighteen years as a pastor, I told of Johnathan many times and how the Lord worked it for good. Johnathan has eternal life, and Christ will raise him up on the last day into a body that will be perfect, to enjoy the new heaven-on-earth Paradise, forever. (See 1 Corinthians 15.)
The Lord used Johnathan so that I am strong in the sure and certain hope for my own resurrection into Paradise. He has taken care of me that I might live to bear witness to His two great commandments: love Him with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself.
Who wouldn’t love a God like that?
The picture, above, is the only close-up I have of my son. It sits atop my computer desk, where I can see it throughout every day. I often say, “Hi, son.” I tell him that I can’t wait to see him. I know I will, because “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end He will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).”