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TRUST JESUS TODAY
This is a piece of inspirational fiction.
Maddie screamed, not knowing what else to do. She had just gotten out of the shower and her knees were buckling from a pain that was ripping through her abdomen. She had been cramping a little, but nothing had felt like the pain that gripped every nerve in her body. She threw on her robe and somehow made it to the foot of their bed. Sam’s footsteps, bounding up the stairs, brought little comfort.
“Maddie!” He stopped. Maddie could see the blood drain from his face at the scene before him.
He was by her side in a second, helping her up on the bed. He smoothed the wet hair back from her face and made her focus on him.
“Talk to me, Maddie.”
Maddie was trying to concentrate on breathing. But the pain; she had never felt such pain before. What was happening? She was only thirty four weeks. The baby wasn’t ready; she wasn’t ready. The nursery wasn’t finished. Their friends were throwing them a shower next week. Maddie hadn’t even packed a bag! Wasn’t she supposed to have longer than this to prepare? All she could focus on was that she wasn’t ready, and then the pain hit and nothing but surviving the next breath mattered.
“Maddie? Tell me what it is.” Sam’s voice had gone from panicked to controlled in a second. She had only heard him use his current tone in dire situations, like when he told her about her mother’s death. Was she dying?
She shook her head. “The pain; it hurts. It feels like my insides are ripping.” And then Maddie looked down and noticed the blood. She turned white as a sheet, as Sam moved his eyes down to the comforter. Sam tried to remain calm, grabbed a couple of blankets from the chest and wrapped Maddie in them. He then immediately lifted her from the bed and headed down the stairs, out the front door towards his jeep. Sam gently placed Maddie in the front seat of his Jeep while reaching for his cell phone. He had programmed the number in the speed dial registry just yesterday; thankfully, they lived only minutes away. By the time he was finished explaining what he knew about their situation to the doctor via phone, he was pulling into the emergency lane. The ER crew was waiting with a gurney. Sweat poured off Maddie as she grabbed his hand. Her breathing was shallow.
“I’m….having….contractions….Sam….The baby….not ready….help…” Giant tears streamed down her face and he knew she had to be scared to death.
He took both sides of her face. “Madeline Grant, look at me. You are going to be fine. The baby will be fine.” He placed her sopping wet head on his shoulder; his grip tightened rejecting the idea of handing her over to strangers. But what else could he do? “Calm down, sweetheart. I am here. I’m not leaving.” He knew it wasn’t enough, but it was all he had.
She shook her head and continued breathing as the medical team assisted her onto the gurney. Sam ran down the corridor, holding her hand. He felt helpless and on the verge of falling to his knees. He had no idea what was happening or how to make it better. He needed help, but from whom?
“Mr. Grant! Mr. Grant!” It was Dr. Westin, the on-call OBGYN. Sam shook himself out of the panic-induced shock he was in. He watched as they were prepping Maddie; they had given her something and now she was unconscious on the table. What if she never woke up? The ten years they had together suddenly seemed like seconds. It wasn’t enough. He had pledged ‘till death do us part’. But that couldn’t mean now. Death was supposed to come in their sleep, when they were surrounded by children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. He begged whoever was listening to his thoughts to take him instead. Not his Maddie, not their baby….“Mr. Grant—Sam, you need to wait behind the double doors. We will let you know what’s going on as it happens.” Sam looked at the doctor like nothing was going to stop him from being with his wife, but then the older man put his hands on Sam’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. “We are going to do everything we can for your wife and your baby. But you can’t do anything for either of them in here.”
Sam could feel the tears streaming down his face. He cleared his throat. “What can I do?”
The doctor never took his eyes from Sam’s. It was obvious the physician didn’t want to scare him, but after a few seconds honesty prevailed. “Pray. Pray like you’ve never prayed before.”
John Miller paced in the ER waiting area. Kate was in the corner of the room praying with Sam’s parents. The Bryants and The Floyds were sitting opposite them, both couples holding hands and doing exactly what John was doing….waiting and praying. When Sam had contacted him, the doctors had not been able to tell him anything except Maddie and the baby were in serious danger. But that wasn’t what communicated the seriousness of the situation to John; Sam had asked him to pray, in fact, he asked him to tell all their friends to pray. To say John was surprised at the request would have been an understatement. He, along with Philip and Ray, had talked casually around Sam about their faith. Sam asked questions occasionally, but otherwise was pretty quiet and just listened, seemingly taking it all in. John and Kate, along with the other couples, constantly prayed for Sam and Maddie, but they all knew from experience that pushing the issue of God would only succeed in making them feel uncomfortable. John always knew God would show himself to Sam and Maddie; he just hoped it wasn’t in the process of grieving. John looked up as he heard the doors to the ER open. At first, he barely recognized Sam. His friend was usually flawless in his appearance; forever presenting the picture perfect businessman, ready for any audience. But not now. Sam had blood on his shirt and he was visibly shaken, but his expression didn’t betray tragedy. John saw something; was it hope? William and Janice Grant ran to their son. Everyone else stood but tried to give him some space. Sam hugged his mother and father and then drew back to address everyone else. John could see he had been crying.
Sam sighed before he began. He took his mother’s hand and kept his other arm around his dad’s shoulders. “Maddie had a placental abruption, which is apparently when the placenta separates from the uterus. That’s what caused the bleeding and pain. The bleeding was serious enough that they had to do an emergency C-Section to save the baby.”
John could see Kate, Ann, and Amy put their hands over their mouths in shock. Sam’s mother was crying. Sam put his hand out as if to calm everyone down. “They’re ok, guys. Both of them are ok. Maddie is recovering. The baby is tiny; but the doctors all seem to think he is fine.”
The realization that their prayer vigil was rewarded by Sam’s use of words like baby, he, and fine resonated with the group. At that point they all were crowding around Sam for a hug. Sam could barely speak for the emotion that bubbled out of him. The group waited while he gathered himself and finally got the information out. “We have a little boy; 4 pounds, 12 ounces and 16.5 inches long. They are checking him and cleaning him up right now. But so far….he is tiny, tiny and perfect.” Sam wiped his eyes and looked at all of them. “I have to get back, but thank you so much for everything. Your prayers…everything.” He looked at John. “I’ll keep you updated.” Sam disappeared behind the ER doors. The group looked at one another not knowing what to say, and then Sam’s mother, Janice started laughing. It wasn’t a manic laugh; it was genuine, one spurned by joy. Yet, everyone looked at her like she was having a nervous breakdown. She shook her head and looked at her husband who after forty years of marriage, immediately knew the cause of her giggles. He reached down and grabbed her hand. Finally, she spoke. “I don’t know what to be more excited about; the fact that I have a grandson or the fact that my son just thanked me for praying.” The group hugged and joined hands, offering a prayer of thanksgiving.
Maddie stared out the window of her suite at the hospital. There were three birds, she couldn’t tell what kind, flying in the sky—free. They soared with grace above the troubles of the world. What were they feeling? Peace. She was sure of it. She envied them. She, on the other hand, felt nothing; except relief to finally be alone. Three days in the hospital with a barrage of well-meaning visitors had left her exhausted. It seemed like hundreds of people had made their way in her tiny room for brief visits, wishing her well, bringing her flowers, leaving anything from diapers to stuffed animals to books. Sam rarely left her side, but today, he went home to prepare for the baby’s homecoming. Maddie shook her head as if to correct her thoughts; no, the baby had a name, Jackson Samuel Grant. Jackson was doing wonderful, or so they told her. Unlike most preemies, he would be able to come home soon, maybe by the end of the week. She, most likely, would go home on the same day. The two of them, mother and son, would be going home together. Every few hours the nurse would bring Jackson into her room to nurse. Jackson took to nursing like a pro; the doctors and nurses were shocked due to his gestational age. To top that, Maddie’s milk had arrived, so everything was going like it should. Maddie shifted on the bed; she was still sore from the surgery, but overall, considering the intense trauma she was doing better than expected, on the outside anyway. Uncontrollable tears started to flow down her face. Her heart felt heavy; that was the only way she could describe it. She had expectations of how she would feel holding her son. She thought they would have an automatic rapport; one that only they would share. She thought she would feel this tidal wave of love overflow from her heart and travel through her entire being. She expected to feel like a mommy. But in reality, she felt nothing. Maddie watched Sam with Jackson and their bond was palpable. Sam was created to be Jackson’s father, and it was evident to any onlooker. The sight of them left Maddie feeling like a fraud. Post partum depression was a topic she had read up on, maybe she just had the baby blues. Even though the statistics showed many women suffered from it, somehow in the depths of her being, she thought she was strong enough to always be ok. Even when her mother died, she didn’t completely fall apart. No. Maddie shook her head and wiped the final tears she would allow herself to shed from her face. She didn’t want anyone to worry about her. She would be fine. All their focus should be on the baby. She was determined this would pass, but until it did, she refused to let on to anyone.
Sam gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. He tensed as someone pulled in front of him with no signal, never before noticing the carelessness of the drivers that accompanied him on the road everyday. The urge to get out of the car and beat the poor guy up was overwhelming. His nervousness had to do with the precious cargo that was riding in the backseat; he knew that. A quick glance in the rearview mirror at his son carefully placed in the infant carrier snuggled next to Maddie caused him to warm all over. His family was coming home! Sam felt himself getting choked up reinforcing the fact he had changed in the last week. It was amazing to him how he entered that hospital as one person, and came out a daddy. He was a father; Jackson’s father. His little guy was a tiny combination of him and Maddie with Sam’s coloring and Maddie’s dark hair and eyes. Jackson was beautiful.
Sam thought of the last time he and Maddie drove this road together. Seeing Maddie in dire distress and witnessing the miracle of Jackson being brought into the world made him know there had to be something bigger than him. True, the miracle of modern medicine helped their situation, but even the doctors told him that the fact his wife and child were thriving like they were was nothing short of a miracle. Sam didn’t know exactly what he wanted or what he was feeling, but he made a decision, once he got everyone settled, he was going to make an appointment with his dad’s pastor and ask some questions, questions that had to be answered.
Maddie walked in the front door of her home, and the feeling of loneliness overwhelmed her. Nothing had changed in a week. The furniture and pictures were just as she had left them; yet everything was different. It was like she had new eyes, the eyes of a woman who had given birth to a child, the eyes of a woman who would never return to the person she was just a week ago. Her and Sam’s little family was no longer composed of two people, but three. Maddie glanced behind her. Sam was getting Jackson out of the car and she was relieved. Unless it was time to feed him, she really didn’t want to be near her baby. She would never admit it, but she was scared to death of her son. Scared to death of the feelings that weren’t there, and the feelings that were gradually surfacing. She walked up the stairs and turned right. The smell of fresh paint met her at the open door of Jackson’s nursery. She paused, absorbing the work Sam and their friends had accomplished in the last couple of days. Sam had assembled the cherry wood furniture weeks ago, but everything else was new to Maddie’s eyes. The sleigh crib had a bright red sheet surrounded by a checked bumper depicting little airplanes coming in for a landing. Tiny picture frames and an array of books sat atop the dresser. Yellow and white striped walls framed the space, showing off brick red and denim curtains. An infinite number of diapers, ointments, and wipes sat neatly on the changing table. Maddie glanced at the corner of the room. There was the glider she had so carefully chosen, covered in gingham, placed beside a small wooden table complete with a lamp, magazines, and even a CD player, so Maddie would be comfortable during nursing. Sunlight from the open window bathed the room. Maddie tried to take it all in, but was distracted by what seemed like the audible shattering of her heart. Tears of anger and frustration clouded her vision, but she blinked, refusing to let them spill over. She wanted so much to feel like a young mother, fueled by vision and the excitement about her new baby. Maddie didn’t turn at the familiar sound of Sam’s heavy steps, but watched as he entered the room and expertly took Jackson from his carrier, supporting his head and bottom, gently placing him in the crib. He had perfected the swaddle in the hospital; she noticed the way he meticulously wrapped and tucked Jackson in to his cozy cocoon. Sam’s eyes welled up as he stood silently, held the side of the crib, and watched his son sleep. The immediate intimacy between father and son was almost more than she could bear. Sam didn’t look at her, but reached out for her hand, knowing she was there. She reluctantly placed her hand in his and looked at the baby—Jackson. No doubt, Jackson was beautiful and perfect, but a stranger to her. Anxiety took root in her heart as she realized she wasn’t looking at a stranger; he was her son.
Pastor Mike Reynolds studied the man sitting across from him. Sam Grant was definitely William Grant’s son. Sam had the same strong build and straightforward approach to dealing with matters at hand. The only, yet most noticeable, difference between father and son was the light missing from Sam’s eyes. William Grant understood the peace that comes with having a relationship with Christ; Mike sensed that his son was still looking. Considering the nature of the man in front of him, Mike decided to stay direct and to the point. He looked in Sam’s eyes and asked the most obvious question. “So, Sam, why are you here? What can I do for you?”
Sam took a deep breath and slightly smiled, as if appreciating the absence of small talk. “Did Dad tell you about the circumstances surrounding my son’s birth?”
Mike folded his hands in front of him and nodded his head. “Yes. He and your mother asked the church to pray for you and your family. You’ve been on the weekly prayer list since the day he was born.” He paused, knowing the fact that Sam and Maddie Grant had been on his prayer list much longer than a week; William and Janice asked him to hold their youngest son up in prayer quite often. But Sam didn’t need to know that now. “I understand, though, that Maddie and the baby are both doing fine. Am I right?”
Sam paused. Mike could tell that Sam was emotionally spent. He was doing everything he could to keep it together. After several long moments, Sam answered his question. “Physically, yes. Maddie and the baby are thriving.”
Mike sensed that he was leaving something out, but he decided to let Sam share the details on his time. Sam shifted in his seat. He then looked at Mike, and the pastor immediately identified the look in the new father’s eyes: fear. “You see, I know what my parents believe. I was raised in the church, and I understand the theology behind being a Christian. I went to Sunday school and learned all the stories about Jesus. I was in the youth group, all that stuff.”
“But I always had doubts. Everyone talked about getting saved or being born again. That never really made sense to me. I always wondered what God was saving us from. Was it ourselves or the evil forces in the world? And if He is the Creator of all things, then why did bad things have to happen in the first place? I guess I decided to go it on my own, and stick by the assurance I had in something I could feel and touch—me. But then…”
Sam seemed to choke back a throat full of emotion.
“…Jack, my brother, died.”
Mike knew about Sam’s brother from William. He and The Grants had discussed September 11 on several occasions and the tragedy their family faced. But instead of blaming God, William and Janice took on the amazing insight that many of the victims’ family shared: the tragedy was further proof that there most definitely is a God. Mike nodded his head for encouragement to go on. “Yes, your parents have shared Jack’s death with me.”
Sam looked relieved to not have to relive it through explanation. “So then, after that, I took it as affirmation that a loving God couldn’t be possible. How could He have watched His children die? Thousands of them. And my brother…” Several more moments passed. “Jack was a believer. He received Christ when he was twelve. He lived the straightest life possible.” Sam was visibly enraged. He snapped his fingers. “And he was gone in an instant—almost like he never even existed.”
Mike sensed that Sam wasn’t finished. There was something else that brought him here. Finally, the pastor decided to probe a little. “So, Sam, it sounds like to me your mind was pretty well made up. September 11 was six years ago. Do you question your decision to believe God doesn’t exist?”
Sam leaned forward and put his head in his hands. He looked up at the pastor, and when he spoke his voice was full of exasperation. “Yes. Yes I do. I saw the love of my life almost bleed to death right in front of me. I saw my son come moments away from never breathing his first breath. My whole life was on the verge of being taken away from me, and there was nothing I could do. And then, well then everything turned out for the best. My wife and premature son came home in less than a week, and like I said, physically they are fine. The doctors themselves say that their unbelievable recovery is nothing short of a miracle. And it had nothing to do with me—Nothing. I was helpless. But everyone around me—our friends, family, even this church were praying for them.”
Mike continued looking at Sam. After a few minutes of silence, Mike asked one question. “So again, Sam, why are you here?” Sam looked at him with a mixture of anger and frustration. Mike clarified his question. “Sam, you were brought up in the faith. You were taught about God and Jesus. You said yourself you understand it. It’s obvious you chose not to believe in what you were taught because of personal reasons. And that’s your choice, Sam. But that choice was given to you by a sovereign God. Just because you don’t believe, doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. Just because you think you are in control, doesn’t mean you are. We all have a Creator who is in control. The question is whether or not you want a personal relationship with Him, and again, that is totally your decision.”
Sam stood up and began pacing in front of the pastor. He looked like a caged lion with no where to go. He ran his hands through his hair and finally stopped and looked in Mike’s eyes. “But why?”
Mike knew what he meant, but he wanted Sam to know. “Why did God save your wife and son? Why did your brother die?”
“No, I mean…yes.” Sam fell back in his chair and looked towards the ceiling. He then brought his head back down and looked directly in Mike’s eyes. “I want to trust God, more than anything. I want to trust that He is looking out for my family, their well being and health. But what if something bad happens to them? What if they did die, or were harmed in some way? It happens to people everyday. It happened in both mine and Maddie’s families.” Sam paused and then posed one final question, the one he really wanted to know the answer to. “Why is there so much pain?”
Mike rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He was turning the pages in his Bible. “Sam, first of all what I’m hearing you say is that you have a fear of trusting God with the lives of those whom you love. And that is definitely understandable considering your loss.” He paused a few seconds. “But what you have to understand is that a lot of your ‘why’ questions will not be answered this side of heaven. No one knows the answer. But, the scriptures do give us some pretty clear guidelines on the subject of fear.” Mike looked down at his Bible, and began reading. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” Mike paused again and looked up at Sam. He seemed to be intent on every word. Mike continued. “And deliver them who though fear of death were their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-15—Sam, God has already taken care of your fears, but you have to accept the sacrifice Christ made for you in order to be released from the bondage of death.”
Sam thought a minute. “Do you mean because death is only the doorway to eternity?” He thought a moment, but shook his head and looked at the pastor, obviously frustrated. “But I want to protect them here and now. I don’t want to lose them to eternity.”
Mike nodded. “Right, Sam. No one wants to lose their loved ones. And you will protect them to the best of your God-given abilities; but you are just a man. And every human being eventually struggles with their own mortality. You have to love Christ more than anything, or anyone, on this earth. You have to love Him more than yourself, but also more than Maddie—or your son. Only then does the passage bring peace and understanding.”
Sam drove home from the church in a daze, exhausted from the emotional roller coaster he had ridden in the pastor’s office. He knew and believed the gospel of his parents. But, Mike was right. Sam was afraid to trust God with his wife and son. He wanted to have the peace that God promises, but he couldn’t see past the immediate hurt, emptiness that he felt so acutely in his chest, heart, everywhere. Why weren’t his healthy son and wife enough to put his mind at ease? Deep down Sam knew why. On the outside they were ok, but on the inside, Maddie was anything but normal. She was despondent towards Jackson and cold towards him. It was like she was angry, but for the life of him he didn’t know at what or whom. Her misery was obvious despite the happy face she put on when visitors came around. Behind her smile was something he had never seen before, hopelessness. A blaring horn interrupted Sam’s thoughts. The light was green. How long had he been sitting here? Get a grip, Sam. He waved an apology to the person behind him as he gently stepped on the gas. He couldn’t focus for the frustration that clouded every thought. Why couldn’t he wrap his arms around this, whatever this was? After all, he solved problems for a living. Planning homes often began with grand ideas, thoughts that sometimes did not take into account money, weather, location, etc. But that is where he came in. One problem would make it onto his agenda at a time, and eventually at the end of the day he had done his best to help the real house with all its ups and downs develop into a dream come true. That is how he approached life, especially marriage. One problem solved at a time. But he honestly had no idea where to begin with Maddie. He knew she was probably hormonal, suffering from post partum or post traumatic stress, but any time he asked about how she was feeling she put him off. It was like the woman he married checked out the moment she checked in to the hospital. His desire to help and protect her was thwarted with every attempt to look at or touch her. And he needed her right now. He knew that was selfish, but his life had changed too. He wanted her beside him, as she had always been, through this journey to find faith, if indeed that is what it was. But she wasn’t there, and as far as he could tell, she had no desire to be there.
The sunshine poured over Maddie’s face, bathing her in light which felt wonderful because the external rays were the only exposure to warmth she felt these days. She rocked and tried to relax; Jackson was nursing and greedily taking his meal for the day. He was five weeks old and Maddie was counting the days until the end of the sixth week when she planned to stop nursing and start Jackson on formula. That would take a lot of pressure off of her and she was hoping it would make her feel better about everything. Maybe she wasn’t cut out for nursing. She read that some women are not comfortable with it; the only reason she continued is that she knew it was not only good for Jack, but also it was what everyone expected, especially Sam. She guessed that wasn’t fair; before they tried to conceive a child they both agreed breastfeeding was the only option, but that was before reality hit her in the face. She was ashamed, but she longed for the days when her most pressing concerns pertained to taking care of herself, Sam, and her job.
Her job. Maddie was so excited about returning to work. Earlier that day she had received a basket of spa goodies with a note from her assistant, Curt. It simply read, Come back soon. We miss you. Love, Curt. Maddie missed them, too. Maddie cringed at the selfish thought, but she appreciated someone sending her something. She was glad someone missed her. She thought of the woman who would be taking her place in the home when she resumed practicing law. She and Sam had hired a nanny; a nice woman in her mid fifties whose grandchildren had recently moved away. Debbie would help Sam with Jackson during the day, and would also be available some weekends. Before the birth, Maddie was reluctant about hiring someone outside the home to help; she wanted to be the one to care for her baby at all times. Now, she was eternally grateful. She was starved for her routine, the comfort and confidence associated with her job. Maddie longed for some semblance of normalcy and counted the days until she returned to the refuge of her office. Her eyes flew open as she felt a hand on her shoulder. Startled, she looked up at Sam gazing adoringly at his son. His eyes came to hers with a look of concern.
“Hi.” She tried to gently shrug her shoulder to move away from his touch. She didn’t feel comfortable being touched by most people, especially Sam. The old saying about skin crawling took on new meaning in her post-baby life.
“Hi.” Jackson had fallen asleep, satisfied. She handed him over to Sam and adjusted her undergarments and blouse. “He’s all yours. I think I’ll go take a nap, if that’s ok.” Maddie walked to her bed, looking forward to crawling into what had become her favorite place in the house. But, instead of Sam taking Jackson out of the room, he just stood there holding the baby looking at her. Her irritation at not being left alone was obviously evident as she sighed, exhausted.
“What is it, Sam?”
Sam placed sleeping Jackson in his bassinet that sat beside their bed. He sat on the bed near Maddie and she instinctively moved another inch away from him. Sam was looking at her, but Maddie only focused on the folded hands in her lap.
In hushed whispers, he begged. “Maddie, honey, talk to me. What’s going on? You’re obviously not happy. What is it? Is it me?” Sam paused almost afraid to ask the next question. “Is it him?” He nodded towards the baby lost in slumber.
Maddie continued to look down at her hands, but the tears pooling in her eyes began to fall down her face. She didn’t want Sam to know about her despair; she wanted him to think everything was ok. But it wasn’t ok; she wasn’t sure if it would ever be again. Sam put his index finger under her chin and lifted her face to meet his penetrating gaze. As soon as he saw the watery eyes he pulled her into his arms and began rubbing her back. “Honey, what is it? You can talk to me, Maddie. Nothing has changed.”
Maddie blinked away the evidence of her sorrow, and actually laughed. She got up from the bed, away from Sam’s embrace and whispered in hushed, angry tones. “Everything has changed, Sam. Everything.”
Sam looked up at her, obviously wanting to understand and desperate to fix what was wrong. “Honey, you’re right. We’re parents; but you and I can still be what we were…” He looked over at Jackson, and then back at her almost willing her to buy into what he was saying. “But better.”
“No, Sam. You can be better. But…” She looked over at Jackson and covered her face. “Not me. Maybe motherhood isn’t for me…”
Sam stood up and moved closer to her; he placed his hands on her shoulders. “Stop it, Maddie. You went through a traumatic experience; we all did, with the birth.” He paused as if he was about to go over a bed of hot coals. “I’ve been talking to dad’s pastor, Dr. Reynolds. He says that maybe you and I…”
Maddie’s expression changed from distress to rage. She looked as if she were going to crawl out of her skin and go flying out the window. Her tone was accusatory. “Why would you be talking to a pastor about me?”
Sam put his hands up in surrender. “Not just you, Maddie. Us. I’ve been worried about us. You haven’t been the same, and I was thinking maybe we should go see him together. We could talk to him about our fears, what happened….”
Maddie had heard enough. She turned her back on him and walked to the nursery across the hall. Sam followed, but she kept her back turned away from him and continued looking out the window. Across the street, she noticed her neighbors playing out in the front yard with their two year old little girl. The little girl’s name was Stanton. She had a shock of strawberry blonde hair on the top of her head and she had the adorable gait most two year olds proudly claim. Stanton’s mother was standing across the lawn with her arms held straight out, and her daddy was videotaping the experience. Even from across the street, Maddie could tell their faces reflected the perfect joy they felt. Why didn’t she have that joy? Was she being punished? If this were God’s will, why would he give a child to someone who was incapable of loving him? The thought of living a life incapable of loving her baby was more than she could bear. Panic rose in her chest and she could barely breathe. She heard Sam clear his throat and only then did she remember his presence. When she turned around to face him, her resolve was clear.
“Sam, if you want to talk to the pastor about how you are feeling and questions you have, go ahead. I can’t stop you. But don’t bring me into it and don’t expect me to warm up to the idea of counseling.” She watched as his face reflected deep concern, and then Maddie could see the fight go out of him, at least for now.
“Ok, Maddie. No pushing.”
“Good.” She walked past him and went straight to her bed, burying her head and wishing the minutes of the day away.
Maddie drove to her six week check up feeling like a woman who had just escaped from prison. She needed to be alone today, and thankfully, Sam and Debbie weren’t expecting her home until late in the afternoon. Thoughts of Debbie ran through her mind. The older woman exuded confidence the moment she walked in the door, expertly taking Jackson and getting him ready for his morning bottle. Mixed feelings of relief and guilt settled over Maddie; thankfully, she had to leave for her appointment moments after Debbie’s arrival. Today would act as their trial run for the following week, when Maddie planned to return to work. The weaning process was going as expected and Jackson was down to only one nursing session a day. Maddie felt guilty as the excitement welled up inside her. She didn’t know how to analyze her feelings for her son; he was part of her, she knew that. Even though she still experienced the fear, Maddie was desperate to comfort him when he was in need. She couldn’t sleep sometimes worrying about whether or not he was breathing. Some nights, she would slip out of bed and just watch him, hovering for hours sometimes to make sure little Jack made it through the night. She knew it was irrational, but she couldn’t get past it. In her heart, she knew she should talk to her doctor about it. She just hoped something within reason could be done to help her. What if she was losing her mind?
“Ok, Maddie. You can sit up now.” Dr. Maguire, a young OBGYN in her late thirties, spun around on her chair and began making notes on a chart. Maddie had always liked the openness of her doctor; she always felt like she could ask her anything. Dr. Maguire turned back around and smiled at Maddie with her eyes. “You are great. Your physical looks good. The stitches have healed. You have the go ahead on going about life as normal.” Maddie nodded her head, trying to hold back the tears, but the word ‘normal’ sent her over the edge.
Dr. Maguire immediately stood up and placed her hand on Maddie’s shoulder. Her face showed a look of concern. “What is it, Maddie?”
Maddie could only shake her head as the doctor handed her Kleenex.
“Thank you.” She tried to swallow back the sob, but it didn’t work. She couldn’t control herself. Dr. Maguire stood silently, and let Maddie finish. When Maddie had gotten herself together, she tried to explain. “I haven’t felt great since right after the baby—Jackson was born. I’ve just been sad, not excited about anything. I can’t enjoy Jackson, I’m too anxious. And when I do get a break, all I want to do is sleep. Sam is great, but it’s almost like he’s too good. Like maybe they don’t need me at all. And then I start feeling guilty, because the idea of them not needing me sounds too good.” Maddie looked down at her hands. “Most days I just want to run away from home.”
Dr. Maguire did not look shocked or disheartened at Maddie’s confession, just concerned. “First of all Maddie, what you are experiencing is normal. You went through an extremely traumatic delivery, and it is normal for your hormones to be completely out of whack. Many first time mothers go through the same feelings. I can write you a prescription for an antidepressant that will take a little while to kick in, but once it does you will begin to feel better—I only wish you wouldn’t have waited six weeks. Also, I’ll give you a prescription for some anti-anxiety medicine. It will help during those times when you can’t put your mind at ease.”
Maddie was looking at Doctor Maguire with wide eyes. “You think I need to take something? This won’t just pass?”
The doctor shook her head. “Maddie, at this point it is important to get your hormones and body chemicals back on track. And it’s the perfect time to do it, especially since you have almost weaned Jackson.” Dr. Maguire looked up from her prescription pad and held Maddie’s gaze. “Maddie, only you can decide to take the medicine. I can only prescribe it. I can’t force it on you. Is this something you want to try?”
Maddie thought. The idea of depending on a pill to help her cope was humiliating. She felt anger and resentment, even though she knew there was no one to blame, except maybe God. God could have prevented this whole thing. Was He trying to teach her some kind of lesson, and was Sam actually buying in to it with the whole counseling bit? She would take the prescription, because she had to pull herself together. But she doubted the pill would teach her how to deal with the volcano of rage that was building up inside her.
After her appointment Maddie drove to a café to meet Curt for lunch. She wanted to go over the details of what she had missed. There was rumor of a big case headed her way and she didn’t want to walk into anything overwhelming. Maddie pulled into the little coffee shop and checked her makeup in the rear view mirror. Ugh. She really did look awful. Lately, she had no appetite and hadn’t been eating right. She forced herself because of nursing, but sometimes she thought she could go forever without a bite. As a result, she looked gaunt and there were deep bags under her eyes, probably from all of the crying. Maddie looked at the clock and saw she had a couple of minutes to fix herself up. She was sure to see someone she knew, and didn’t want to look horrid. Shortly thereafter, she grabbed her briefcase and walked into Serendipity’s. Serendipity’s had only opened the previous year, but she had enjoyed many coffee breaks within the clean, crisp walls of the European-style café. There was an upstairs too. It was flanked with smaller tables, board games, and lounge seating. Maddie had always thought this place would succeed. Evans, the suburb of Augusta they lived in, had just the right market for this type of casual intimacy. Much to her surprise, Curt was already waiting for her at a table by the window. Oh my goodness, she thought. Had he just seen that display in the car? If he did, he didn’t show it.
He smiled warmly. “Hi.” His gaze traveled up and down her body, and she suddenly felt a little ill at ease. She bit her lip and returned his greeting with a shy smile. She quickly sat down across from her assistant.
“How are you, Mad?”
She nodded her head and looked around the tiny restaurant. After several seconds, Curt cleared his throat again. Her eyes found his questioning gaze.
“I’m ok, Curt.”
She looked down at her hands, noticing the shaking. She clutched them together in order to still them. Apparently taking notice, Curt did something slightly unprofessional and strangely intimate. He put his hand over hers and said, “I’m glad.”
Maddie looked at his hand for a moment. His thumb gently caressed the crease between her thumb and index finger. She didn’t jump away from his touch like she would have from Sam, or anyone else for that matter. Curt didn’t really know her on a personal level, he had no expectation from her, and at the moment she found that very appealing. However, she did remember the crowded café in the somewhat small of a community, and moved her hand away—reluctantly.
“Thanks.” She whispered softly.
He smiled. “Did you get the basket?”
She nodded. “Thank you and please say thanks to the rest of the office for me.”
The usually unruffled young man suddenly became a little flushed. He stammered over his words. “Actually…huh, well this is from the rest of the office.” She opened it; it was a gift certificate to The Retreat, her favorite salon. She looked at him, confused. “The basket was just from me.”
Maddie tried to mask her shock and look gracious, but she had a feeling it didn’t work. She thought about the gigantic basket of lotions, bubble baths, and perfumes. She just assumed some lady in the office had been elected to purchase it, and Curt, being her assistant was asked to write the card. Thinking of the intimacy of the contents in turn made her flush and she decided it was time to get down to business. Curt sensed the same thing, because he quickly went to the counter, placed their order and returned to the table, laden with salads and coffee, readily explaining the stacks of paper he had placed in front of Maddie. Maddie asked questions and made notes. She got out her planner and penned some dates. Over an hour passed before they wrapped the lunch up and walked outside into one of Augusta’s famous rain showers. She hadn’t brought an umbrella, but luckily Curt had one. He popped it open and put his hand on the small of her back and hurriedly led Maddie to the car. Once she was settled he bent down and kissed her on the cheek. Maddie’s head was swimming in the scent of his cologne and the nearness of his face. But then Curt shut the door and waved goodbye. Maddie drove away, the beating of her heart resonating in her ears.
Ann watched the scene between Maddie and Curt from the inside of her minivan. She had been upstairs drinking coffee and organizing paperwork for a closing real estate acquisition. She always enjoyed the solitude of the little coffee shop, but also enjoyed coming downstairs and seeing people she knew, except for today. When she descended the stairs she heard Maddie’s voice, and turned expecting to find her with Sam. But what she saw was Maddie and another man, his hand covering hers. The gesture itself was innocent enough, but the look in the young man’s eyes was not, and Maddie looked flustered by the whole conversation. Then, when Ann left, she could see the man’s face better; it was Curt, Maddie’s assistant. Wasn’t he just a kid? She was sure Ray had coached him not too long ago. Ann watched Maddie drive away, and then noticed Curt also watching her friend in a way that was transparent. He was smitten. What was Maddie doing? Ann shook her head, trying to erase the scene from her mind; but then thought better of it and bowed her head to pray for her friend.
Maddie didn’t go home. Before she left the house that morning, she put her jogging clothes in the car. An outlet she desperately missed since getting pregnant was her morning running routine. Each day before work, she would go down to the Savannah Rapids Pavilion and jog the three mile trail parallel to the Augusta Canal. The sound of the rapids paired with the wooded environment relaxed her and set her mind at ease. Sam didn’t like the routine; he thought the dirt trail bordered by the river and an immense forest of trees and foliage was the hiding place for some heinous serial killer. Little did he know, the greatest fear she had was not due to anyone else; she was only afraid of herself. Regardless, Maddie looked forward to strapping on her ipod and simply concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. It gave her a sense of peace, and considering that quality was lacking from her life right now, she could hardly wait to revisit her respite. The rain had stopped by the time she pulled into the parking lot and noticed a few families playing at the nearby park. Maddie thought of all the times she had witnessed the special play time and longed for the very opportunity to act out that scene with Sam and their child. Exhausted by thought, she was anxious to get started on her work out. She grabbed her clothes, quickly changed, and started towards the trail. This time of day it was deserted; yes, she was sure her husband would heartily disapprove. As she passed the head gates of the canal, the sound of the rapids provided a comforting background noise conducive to blocking her world out. Slowly, Maddie jogged down the first half mile of the trail, only trying to find her rhythm; once she did, her speed increased and her body remembered the path ahead of her. Maddie looked to her right at the canal; she thought of what life must have been like for the back wood farmers of the 1800’s. When she and Sam first moved to Augusta, they would ride their bikes down the trail, reading the bronze plaques detailing the history of the site. It was truly fascinating. The farmers would load their crops into Petersburg boats and head down the canal in order to make a profit to last them until the next year. It must have been thrilling to use the newly built structure that made a way for them to thrive. As she watched an egret fly over her head, Maddie desperately wished there was a head gate to her heart that would keep the sorrow out and lock the love in, much like the head gate of the structure beside her; if only someone could help her make a way for this new life she was supposed to live.
She continued running until she found the clearing that held a breathtaking view of the rapids. Maddie stood in the silence, angry at how the peacefulness of her surroundings contradicted what was occurring in her soul. How dare the world be at peace when she wanted to die! She understood now why people contemplated suicide. How easy would it be to wade into the waters and never look back? Suddenly, an anger born of intense frustration bubbled up in the form of the loudest scream she had ever heard. No one was around to hear it; not even the birds took a second glance. But still, it felt good just to let some of what was on the inside go. If only she could do that in mass quantities without hurting anyone she loved. But she couldn’t and she wouldn’t. She would hang on to it until there was no where else for it to go.
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