December 1988. It seemed the worst of times for my family. My husband was jobless. We were homeless. We were two states east from what had been our home and found ourselves in an unfamiliar community in Pennsylvania. I was pregnant with our sixth child who would be born mid-December according to the due date. We were packed into a tiny, old, and not very clean hotel room. Our refrigerator was an ice chest; our stove, a hot plate. There was no kitchen sink—only the bathroom sink—and the temperatures were so cold outside that it took many minutes for cold water to finally turn a bit lukewarm. The police were called nightly for some upstairs neighbors and we were pretty sure drugs were involved.
“ December 1988... I was pregnant with our sixth child... We were packed into a tiny, old, and not very clean hotel room. ”
I was sick with anxiety and anger toward my husband for letting things get this bad. For the past three years we had gone through one bad situation after another. But I tried not to rock his boat, because he appeared to be looking for a job. He would constantly tell me how sorry he was and assure me that everything would soon be alright. Yet, day after day, here we remained.
I was too ashamed to let any of our friends or family know what was happening. How could I bring a new baby into this? Intuitively, through all of it, I tried to “normalize” our circumstances for our children. Cry after they go to sleep. Make an adventure out of the experience and shower them with love and encouragement. Think of fun things to do and games to play. Remember the positive, pray for God to intervene. Keep trusting that He will not allow this to be anything more than temporary.
“ Gradually, my hope began to shift to the fact that God’s provisions seemed to be coming through these systems right now. ”
When I look back now, I can see that what I experienced during those weeks would change my view on the less fortunate around me. Raised on a farm in Ohio by conservative Christian parents, I had internalized the idea that it was up to me not to end up on the welfare system, which was only for those who didn’t work hard enough. But now here I was, rubbing shoulders with people who I imagined were drug users and lazy folk who never helped themselves. I sat among them in the welfare office waiting rooms for the first time, signing up for medical assistance, cash assistance, and food stamps.
Gradually, my hope began to shift to the fact that God’s provisions seemed to be coming through these systems right now. Maybe only for a time—but help was available, and I had the benefit of using it. I also saw that the people around me were struggling to deal with their current lives just as I was. They, too, were sick with anxiety. They had feelings and concerns like mine and were often far more hopeless than I was.
I found out I was pregnant back in April, while we were still living in Indianapolis. My husband and I had faced many hard times together. I was beginning to realize that he had a lot of inner turmoil and insecurity that he hid with shame and lies. He believed himself to be an utter failure and totally worthless, but refused to admit it to anyone except for me, on occasion. Instead, he pridefully put forth a very arrogant face, and schemed plots that he thought would get him out of his problems—often by taking advantage of others.
“ I was confident success would happen again. ”
My husband was born in Puerto Rico and raised in stark poverty in Brooklyn’s inner city. With his very high intelligence, he had learned to pretentiously lie about his background. One of his strongest desires was to be rich and as far removed from the shame of being poor as he could possibly get. He educated himself through books and read extensively, even though he never finished high school and only had a GED. At age 16, he signed up for the Marines to serve in the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he became involved in all sorts of plots, legal and illegal, to come into lots of money quickly. Each one backfired and he ended up in prison; but after serving only three years of his sentence, he was released even before his earliest parole date.
That’s when I met him. He had a good job and a lot to offer; but something always seemed to go wrong, even when he was trying to do the right thing. Wanting to obtain better employment, he pretended to be a college graduate with more experience than he actually had. With such a precarious web of lies, he always risked being found out. Even so, we had spent ten fairly profitable years with an excellent job, and were able to purchase a house in Queens, New York. I was confident success would happen again.
Eventually, we made our home in Indianapolis, and were living in a beautiful four-bedroom condo in the woods. A job loss had forced us to move from that into a newly built two-bedroom duplex. The bedrooms were large, and the oldest three children shared one room, while the youngest two stayed with me and my husband in the other. We had a garage that we used for storage and everything fit comfortably. My husband soon found another decent job, and everything went well for a time.
“ When we arrived, there was no house on Long Island. ”
However, it was here, early into my sixth pregnancy, that things started to unravel again. Suddenly, my husband’s new job was gone, and he made a quick decision to go back to New York alone, where his family was. He had never fit in very well with mid-western culture, and could carry out his schemes to make fast money better in the city he was familiar with.
He found a job in real estate on Long Island and was sure he was going to be able to get a house through the job. So, he told me to hire a moving company to pack up our stuff and join him in New York. When we arrived, there was no house on Long Island. After two weeks in a nice hotel there, the job was gone, we were out of money, and we had to move into a summer house in the Poconos that belonged to his nephew. But the nephew had plans to utilize the house throughout December and we had to get out.
“ I wanted him to live up to my expectations, and I couldn’t get past that. I was right and he was wrong. ”
I blamed my husband for not dealing with things correctly, but it seemed to me that staying with him was the only way to keep him acting responsibly. I wanted him to live up to my expectations, and I couldn’t get past that. I was right and he was wrong. We both professed Christ, but Christ was never who we turned to when things were bad. Even when I prayed for my husband, I prayed for what I wanted him to have, which was usually a job. We even prayed together for a job; but we didn’t really trust God to do things His way—only ours. We never discussed the motives behind our thoughts and desires, and pride was certainly mired deep in both of us.
“ ... we didn’t really trust God to do things His way—only ours. ”
Now, forced into this dingy motel in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, I began to see that God was still directing the circumstances, still providing, and that this wasn’t the end. “I will never leave you or forsake you” echoed in my mind. He hadn’t forgotten us, and was still guiding and caring for us. We didn’t miss any meals. There was a roof over our heads and we were all together. We loved the beautiful Pennsylvania mountains and the border towns along the Delaware River. The people we met were welcoming—even the caseworkers in the county assistance office were kind and understanding.
I still feared having this baby and no home. All our stuff was packed into storage in Long Island which required us to pay a hefty bill just to retrieve our things. I had no crib, no infant clothing, no baby supplies of any kind. Worst of all, I dreaded thinking about what our Christmas celebration would be like. We had always celebrated Christmas extravagantly—not by spending a lot of money, but rather with fun traditions and a day full of activities and happiness. Now, we had no way to make any of that happen.
“ I began to see that God was still directing the circumstances, still providing, and that this wasn’t the end. ”
I thought a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus, travelling during the last weeks of her pregnancy. Not near her home or family—and though she didn’t know it at the time, she wouldn’t be heading back home for years. She knew Who she was carrying and probably had many moments of wondering why things were turning out as they were. It gave my soul assurance to know that our family was not beyond God’s sight and we were not alone.
“ I thought a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus, travelling during the last weeks of her pregnancy. ”
Several days before Christmas, my husband had gone into NYC for the day to check into a job (or so he told me). He called to say it had not worked out. I wasn’t sure when we would receive the first cash assistance check, and at that moment, I couldn’t guarantee my children a good Christmas. Nor could I imagine them spending it in the hotel room. And who would take care of them while I was in the hospital giving birth?
I called my brother in Ohio. I asked him if he would pick up the kids (and our cat) and watch them until after I had the baby. Could they spend Christmas with him and his family? He said yes and never hesitated. A couple days later, he took off work and met me off Interstate-80. I cried all the way back to the hotel. The worst thing I could think of at the time was happening. Since our youngest child was not quite two and was still in diapers, I kept him with us.
By December 24, I was ten days overdue. I had signed up with the local hospital and didn’t want to go too far away from it. My husband’s sister had invited us to spend Christmas with her family. They lived in an apartment in Brooklyn. My husband reminded me that I always had hours of waiting once I went into labor and we would be able to make the hour and half trip back to Pennsylvania in plenty of time.
“ It gave my soul assurance to know that our family was not beyond God’s sight and we were not alone. ”
We had found former friends from our church in New York who had retired to the Poconos. They knew our predicament and had offered various kinds of help to us. They let us leave our station wagon with them while we used our other car to travel to Brooklyn. Out of money to continue staying in the hotel and knowing that the baby would arrive any day, we packed up our stuff into our station wagon and left that awful hotel behind. With our little son, we headed into Brooklyn for Christmas.
Being with family took my mind off the fact that my other children weren’t with us. We called them Christmas morning and they excitedly told me about all the presents they had received. How grateful I was for the kindness and generosity of my brother and his wife. I knew that their four children with all their families had come home for Christmas. It must have been a real burden to have my children as well, intruding on all their plans—but they never let my children know it.
In the early morning hours of December 26, I realized I was in labor; but the pains started and went away. Nevertheless, we decided to return to the Poconos that night, even though we had nowhere to stay. Not knowing what else to do, I called our friends back in Pennsylvania. She was one step ahead of me and had already gotten permission for us to stay at the conference center where she worked. I was beginning to see that God was going before us and making a way when I couldn’t see a way.
“ I was beginning to see that God was going before us and making a way when I couldn’t see a way. ”
We arrived on the evening of December 26 at cabin 26 in Tuscarora Conference Center. There was no phone, no TV, and in 1988 there were no laptops or internet. We settled in and played cards, turning in for the night around ten. Sometime after midnight I awoke, startled to realize my water had broken. With all my previous births, my water had never broken on its own. The doctor had always broken it, and minutes later, the baby was always born. I realized that I had gone into transition.
“ ... the nurse was looking very concerned and my husband told me to listen to her. ”
We took our youngest son to our friends’ house. My husband had to wake them up by banging on the door. After that, it was a 20-minute ride to the hospital, where an ER nurse helped me into a wheelchair and rushed me to the delivery room. One lone nurse was waiting for me. I knew we didn’t have much time. After checking my progress, she told me to try to hold off pushing until the doctor arrived. “I can’t!” I argued. She quickly got the assistance of another nurse and I began to push. I had been in the hospital all of ten minutes.
“ Only then did I learn that the cord had been wrapped around his neck three times... In the quietness of the delivery room... the delivery nurse explained that she was a Christian and had been very scared during the delivery, but she had prayed. ”
Suddenly both nurses told me to stop pushing. One nurse said, “Single cord, double cord, triple cord.” I had no idea what she was talking about, and since I’d never had any ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy, I wondered if I was having triplets! However, the nurse was looking very concerned and my husband told me to listen to her. I stopped pushing for a moment and I heard the nurse snipping something, and then she told me to continue pushing. The baby came out, and we had another boy!
Only then did I learn that the cord had been wrapped around his neck three times—but the relieved nurses pronounced his coloring and breathing perfect. In the quietness of the delivery room while she was preparing the baby to give to me, the delivery nurse explained that she was a Christian and had been very scared during the delivery, but she had prayed. We told her that we, too, were Christians and that we knew God had used her to save our baby. Before we left, the nurse also recommended visiting the pregnancy resource center in town to get supplies for our baby.
“ “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” ”
It was 23 years later as I was training to be director of the Pregnancy Resource Center of the Poconos—the very same place that she had recommended so long ago—that our paths crossed again. She was one of only two OB/GYN nurses from the hospital who taught our childbirth classes. How amazing that God worked out all the unlikely details and had brought me back to serve in the very same place where I had been told I could receive help during that difficult time.
A few days after the delivery, my brother and his wife came for me and my two little boys. We stopped at a restaurant and the baby was in his carrier seat next to me. We were all admiring him, when he suddenly locked eyes with mine and smiled. I know they say it is just reflexes or gas when a newborn smiles, but it didn’t seem like it to me because he was looking at me so intently. My sister-in-law didn’t think so either. “That was a real smile,” she insisted, “and I think it was meant just for you.”
“ How amazing that God worked out all the unlikely details and had brought me back to serve in the very same place where I had been told I could receive help during that difficult time. ”
I stayed in Ohio for a couple weeks, until one evening my husband called and said he had both a job and house for us to live in. I met him on I-80, and we drove east leaving Pennsylvania. He surprised me by making a stop in Hackettstown, New Jersey. He knew I remembered Hackettstown from passing through it years before with my college friends. We had detoured through it then and admired the quaint little town. I couldn’t believe my husband even remembered I had told him this—and even though our house was only near Hackettstown and not in it, I was elated that God had worked out another thing so lovingly. It was here we ultimately found the church family who in years to come, would walk with us through the most difficult of all our journeys. But we didn’t know any of that then.
“ Many times I have pondered all the events of that Christmas in 1988. They were a training ground of more to come that taught me to trust in Mary’s Baby. ”
I’ve celebrated a lot of Christmases, and I don’t remember many details about most of them; but I will always remember the Christmas of 1988—the closeness I felt to God and the special gifts that He provided. Mary gave birth to the Son of God in very humbling circumstances. Luke 2 says she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Many times I have pondered all the events of that Christmas in 1988. They were a training ground of more to come that taught me to trust in Mary’s Baby. God was with me and His refining process was in full swing. I said it then, and I’ll say it now, even as Mary once exclaimed: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”