Dear Carolina Grace
We first found out about you in early January. A lot of people around the world were celebrating the commencement of a new year, and we were anxious to know if a pregnancy test would reveal another child for us in 2011. We were so excited and thankful when, after months of unfulfilled hopes, we discovered your eternal soul had been created.
We started by telling your brother Valor all about you, and where you were, and how he was going to help us by being a big brother. He was frequently confused about whose abdomen was carrying you—sometimes it was mine, sometimes his own—but he was unmistakably aware that there was a baby on the way, and he seemed pretty happy about it. Eventually we told others: a few people got jigsaw puzzles with the news on the back, and then I made up a little hidden wordplay puzzle in a blog post that a few people solved. That wonderful feeling when you’ve solved a puzzle and found something secret is my strange way of sharing with others the joy I feel in being your daddy. We started thinking about your nursery and anticipated often how your arrival would affect our family.
Today we found out that you are a girl.
But just before that we found out that your fifteen-week-old heart was no longer beating.
All the flutters and kicks your mother felt over the past week have been phantoms. Your mommy and I are now in Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville. It’s a new place for us, but it’s a tearfully familiar routine: We’re waiting for the arrival of your precious and fragile body, and remembering that your actual person has already gone on far ahead of us.
I’d have loved to have been your daddy a lot longer. But in the short time we have to say goodbye to you today, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about your name.
“Carolina” is a very old name for us, something we had picked out for a girl long before we moved to North Carolina. It was before Valor, and before Dora, and even before James. The name “Carolina” was actually our front-runner girl name back when your crazy parents were infertile and thought being proactive with making lists of names would somehow help us through the despondency.
When they hear this, some of my friends are going to think this has something to do with Tarheel basketball. Others are going to assume, naturally, that it has to do with our relocation to New Bern a year ago. But this is why we’ve named you Carolina:
36 years ago, I was born in Watts Hospital in Durham, NC. The hospital was later closed, and became a residential high school, the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics. This is your namesake. (We thought you would prefer “Carolina” over “Science.”) It’s your namesake because it was here that I was born—not 36 years ago at Watts, but later when I returned as a student at NCSSM.
The school was an incubator for human achievement, an institution focused on honing intellectual acuity. But though my mind was well-prepared to solve puzzles and pass tests, it was shamefully sick and unequipped from a moral perspective, wandering aimlessly and pursuing self-glorifying ambitions. My heart was perverse and destructive and regularly sought evil under a disguise of innocence. I fooled many people, but mostly myself. It was through some friends at this school that I heard who Jesus was: a perfect specimen of humanity who willingly embraced his own death as a justice-satisfying substitute for the death that I deserved. This was not the “good person Jesus” or “moral teacher Jesus” I had heard about growing up, but authentic, historically-reliable, “rescue-agent Jesus” speaking to me personally. I echo what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim 1:16)
Which brings me to your middle name. Your mother and I believe you know this Jesus, and that you’re in his presence even now. But you may not know much about this word “grace,” which is basically deserving eternal suffering but receiving an eternal reward instead. I remember with great wonder how profane and unrighteously I acted as God’s enemy, and how mysteriously and undeservedly he endured the cross to win me as his friend. We who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:36-50). Though there is some measure of comfort in knowing you’re already home, I had wanted you to have a testimony like both your parents: sinners who have tasted grace.
We love you, Carolina. Greet the rest of the family for us while we stay here a little longer.