I remember the day my sister told me. I was sitting at the dining room table in the chair closest to the stairs when she leaned in and said she was pregnant and that I was going to be an aunt. I was 9 so I knew what that was — and what it was like to have my cheeks pinched and be asked what grade I was in at family gatherings.
Within minutes I had started carrying my toddler-sized teddy bear on my hip to practice for the baby, and I had decided I would be a different kind of aunt. I’d know what grade my niece or nephew was in, and we’d always be close and have things to talk about.
When DeWayne arrived that June, I did my best to keep my promise. I learned how to hold him and carried pictures of him in a sailor suit in my wallet. I worked with him to learn my name and taught him commercial jingles that my sister really didn’t like for him to sing in public.
But one day, when he was probably between 2 and 3, he come to our house with a cold. His little eyes were watering. His nose was clogged, and for the first time, I couldn’t make him laugh no matter how many silly faces I made. This was something we’d just have to wait out, my mama said, let time do its work.
I tried to hold on to that when the phone calls started coming, the kind where you hear DeWayne’s wife is in the hospital and she and the baby aren’t doing well. The second call that tells you it’s too early, too risky, and the third call that says the precious baby is here, crying and pink.
I tied four ribbons on our makeshift prayer tree that night, one on the very edge of each of the tallest branches. I wanted my prayers of thanks to be the highest, most visible, ribbons on our tree because gratitude is an important prayer all its own.
We were in the clear, I thought, until the final phone call that made me want to snap the ends off those four branches of the prayer tree. The call that had me packing for Oklahoma.
Soon I was sitting at DeWayne’s table dividing up the Starburst candy like he was 10 again. There, among the reds and the pinks, we shared the sweet and the bitter. We talked of God and empty cribs and barren souls. Of leaving ribbons on trees even when you don’t feel thankful at the moment. Of questions that cut deep through the layers of religion and struck the essence of faith.
Some questions didn’t find their answers that day, or the next. But some things can’t be rushed. Sometimes we have to let time and God do their work.