My youngest son, Gerhardt, was born on Thanksgiving Day one year ago. He's named for the great Lutheran hymnwriter, Paul Gerhardt, and I spent as much time as I could in the first several days of his life singing the hymns of his namesake to him. Those are some precious memories of mine, sitting in the hospital room cradling my brand new little boy and singing to him. The "cross and comfort" hymns were particularly helpful and salutary at the time, because the circumstances surrounding Gerhardt's birth were difficult for my wife and our whole family.
For the month or two prior to his birth, we were aware that he was positioned feet downward in the womb, and there was the possibility of needing to have a c-section delivery. This was quite troubling to my dear wife, and she was most anxious about it. We prayed and hoped that our baby would get himself turned about for a normal labor and delivery, but it was not to be. Instead, he turned halfway, so that he was then positioned sideways in the womb. Our doctor was willing to entertain the possibility of a breach delivery, but there was no way for Gerhardt to pass through the birth canal shoulder-first. At the last minute, therefore, we were left with no option but to go with an emergency c-section.
Little children often speak of babies in their Momma's "tummy," but watching my son pulled out of a hole cut into my wife's belly was surrealistic. Gerhardt's head was firmly wedged inside of her somehow, and it took a fair amount of tugging before he could finally be pulled free. It felt as though forever passed by in those few minutes of watching. I've seldom felt such a wave of relief and gratitude as when I could see him fully delivered, heard him cry, and then at last held him in my arms. Not having gone through the usual birthing process, his little head was beautifully shaped from the get-go, and I just stared in amazement at him, so perfect in his appearance after all the worry and concern. Early in the pregnancy, before we had even announced that we were expecting, there were indications that suggested a miscarriage, and even though that proved to be a false alarm, there remained that nagging fear inside of me. But there at last he was, safe and sound and very much alive.
I was torn between wanting to be with my baby and wanting to be with my wife, who had to go through the process of being sewn up and cleaned up after the surgery. She was groggy and out of it because of the anesthetics she received for the c-section, and she couldn't take Gerhardt to herself immediately, as she otherwise would have done. She urged me to stay close to him, which I did, but it was the beginning of my worry and concern for LaRena, which extended over the next month. She developed a quite nasty infection in the incision, which confined her to bed and required that she be on antibiotics for weeks on end. There's no way I could have coped at home and at church if not for the help and assistance of the congregation and our Assistant Pastor. Also, Zachary, Nicholai and Monica did their part to help me with our household, and we all did our best to allow LaRena the rest that she needed.
All's well that ends well, and by the beginning of the New Year things were finally beginning to return to a semblance of normal. The plus-side of LaRena's month of recovery was that she and Gerhardt had all that time together, which made for a very happy and contented little boy. He's been a cheerful child from the start, with a ready smile and a wonderful, hearty laugh. He gets such a delight out of life, and from his family of adoring parents and older siblings. He's well-loved, and he knows it, no doubt. It's been neat to see him bond with Nicholai, in particular, who appears to be his favorite person in the world after his Mom.
It's amazing to me, as always, to watch Gerhardt grow and develop. He's been walking now for a month or two (I've completely lost track of time since the end of September!). He also manages to say a few words, or at least what sound very much like words to all of us. His siblings hear more words from him than I do, but he warbles out "Mom" and "Dad" recognizably. He also coos "goo-goo," really, which is amusing in light of the fact that his siblings have nicknamed him "Goo." His oldest sibling, big sister DoRena, nicknamed him "Baby G" on the day of his birth, and he's been the "G-Man" and "G-Force" along the way. Frederick actually calls him "Gerhardt," and he says it so cutely; and I think I am more likely to call him by his given name, myself, than I do the rest of my children, all of whom have gotten nicknames from me early on: as if I don't already given them enough real names to begin with!
Gerhardt is named also for good King Hezekiah and for St. Clement of Rome (who is commemorated on the day of Gerhardt's birth). St. Clement is one of the Apostolic Fathers, a bishop of Rome in the first century, within a generation of the Holy Apostles, and his epistle to the Church in Corinth is one of the most important early documents after the New Testament. He writes with profound insight into the life of the Church in Christ, and I pray that Gerhardt will grow up to learn from such wisdom of the fathers.
There is finally St. Ambrose of Milan, as well, for whom my little boy is named. Not only was he a faithful bishop and profound theologian, but also a great hymnwriter, indeed, the father of western hymnody. Gerhardt's Baptism day, on Gaudete (the Third Sunday in Advent), was a festive occasion replete with hymns by Paul Gerhardt and St. Ambrose. What a glorious day that was! It was the only day between Thanksgiving and Christmas that my dear wife ventured out of the house, but of course she was determined to be there. DoRena was just home from college, along with Gerhardt's godparents, Jason and Emily Thompson (barely more than a month away from the birth of their own son, John Michael). That was the same weekend when Sam first asked DoRena out on a date, and consider what came of that! It was a day of good beginnings.
Naming a child after Paul Gerhardt might be considered a daring move, given the suffering that he endured throughout his life in the seventeenth century. There were times when my own Gerhardt's life appeared to be likewise under the Cross of bodily affliction, but all such things are to be received and weathered in faith. Whatever his life may hold, he has been marked by the Cross of Christ, crucified, dead and buried with Him in Holy Baptism, and his life as a Christian disciple is to be one of daily dying through contrition and repentance. This can be most painful in its own way, but it is also undertaken in faith, through which the Gospel of forgiveness bestows life and health and every blessing. The hymns of Paul Gehardt (and of St. Ambrose) sing that Gospel into our ears, into our hearts and minds and life, and I can think of no greater blessing or benefit to bestow upon my son than such a legacy as that. Already he loves music, and I pray that he will grow up always singing the songs of the Church. Soli Deo Gloria!
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