The familiar words of the holy sacrament of baptism seemed to drift through me in slow motion, and I felt the prickle of goose bumps race down my spine as the priest leaned forward, dipped the gold shell into the font and three times allowed the water to gently trickle over the child's baby-fine hair.
Nicholas' persistent cries seemed fitting, as if he could feel the importance of the moment and wanted to express his excitement. I could almost feel the strong hand of his grandpa squeeze my hand, and with a twinkle in his eye and the friendly bump of his shoulder, hear him whisper, "Ain't that somethin!"
I was quickly brought back to reality as Nicholas continued to cry, demanding my attention. A sense of peace washed over me, and I knew this sacrament was as much for me as it was for Nicholas.
Participating in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism has always been a very emotional experience for me. To witness the blessing of God and the power of the Holy Spirit enter the heart of an innocent little child or an adult is like witnessing a miracle. I realized that I needed to be reminded of that miracle.
Here it is, just a year and two days since my world fell apart -- the day my dear husband, Norm, Nicholas' grandpa, passed away.
I met Norm at a Parents Without Partners group and was quickly impressed with his wide smile, his booming laugh and his unique personality. The fact that we had both lost a spouse through death and were familiar with the emptiness and hopelessness of grief gave us a common bond. I found Norm to be a hardworking man with an adventurous spirit and a romantic heart. He never saw a challenge he was afraid to tackle. Falling in love with him was easy.
I didn't know being so happy was possible. I laughed more in the months we shared than over the last 10 years of my life. He always said, "How could I be so lucky -- twice?" However, he worried about the difference in our ages, as he was 13 years older than me. I never saw that as a problem. Norm seemed healthier and more energetic than most of the younger men I knew. I always reassured him, "God put us together for a reason." We were married on Thanksgiving weekend. Norm's three sons and their families graciously welcomed me into their lives.
Seventy-three days later it was all over. Pancreatic cancer came out of nowhere -- and won. The blanket of grief threatened to smother me. My sense of hope had been shattered. My future had been snatched away by something evil, something stronger than all of us. I couldn't stop wondering, "Why? Why was this happening to me? Why would God give me so much happiness, then take it away?"
Calls, messages of condolence, help with the farm from neighbors and relatives, and visits from my children and grandchildren gave me a reason to get up each morning. But my days were mostly filled with remembering, trying to hang on to every word, smile or moment we had shared. I seemed to merely exist in a lonely world of sadness.
A few weeks after Norm's death, I was having a telephone conversation with the wife of his youngest son, Paul. She told me about a strange dream Paul had had that week. In the dream, Norm had come to Paul, handed him a baby and said, "Here's your baby boy." We wondered what the strange dream meant.
After our conversation, I kept thinking about the dream. I could imagine it in living color, with Norm in his bluejeans, his green eyes sparkling and a huge grin on his face. I hoped he would come to me, too, in a dream.
My thoughts went back to a time more than 10 years ago. My first husband had just passed away. One night I dreamed he was standing next to my bed looking down at me. He was smiling so radiantly, he seemed to have a glow about him, and he looked like a very young man again. He was happier than I had seen him in years. He didn't say a word. He didn't have to. I realized he was trying to tell me he was happy and at peace with God. I had almost forgotten that dream.
As the days went by, I continued to think about Paul's dream and wonder.
Before long, Norm's daughter-in-law called again. "I have some good news: I'm pregnant! Can you believe it? This is really a surprise!" Norm's son and his wife were both in their early 40s and already had three wonderful children. The youngest was 10 years old. We talked about the dream again, and we agreed it had to have been a sign -- God's way of speaking to us.
I finally began to focus on what I had known all along, but the emptiness and pain had gotten in the way. Norm's soul resides in his heavenly home with God and all the other saints. He is truly happy, without pain and at peace. He wants us to look to the future. Death, in itself, should be a reminder to cherish life. God must have decided that Norm had fulfilled his appointed duties here on earth and had better things in mind for him. I know that God did not take him as a punishment to me. He had already blessed me by allowing me to be there for Norm in his final months.
Updates from Norm's son came over the following weeks and months. Yes, the ultrasound showed the baby was, indeed, a boy -- more proof that this was not an ordinary dream, but a message sent from God to all of Norm's grieving family -- a message of hope and comfort, a reminder of the never-ending love he has for his children. God is aware of our pain.
"Nicholas, child of God marked with the cross of Christ, go forth now, a new disciple in God's kingdom ... Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven ..."
As a Christian I know that life and death are part of the human existence and because of sin we will have pain and suffering. The birth of the Christ child is the reality of hope, the assurance of a new life in heaven, free from guilt, sin and death. We have the reassuring strength of God's presence through dark and difficult times, if we will only accept it. I thank God for His love and all the wonderful people he has placed in my life who comfort me and have walked with me through this valley of the shadow of death.
I could see Norm's smiling face as we participated in the final prayers of Nicholas' baptism, and I couldn't help remembering the words from Revelations 14:13: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord ... they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."
Norm was never one to rest for very long. He was totally committed to mastering every responsibility to the best of his abilities, whether at the office, on the farm or as husband and father. I can easily imagine him in heaven, relieved of all his earthly duties, but it's hard to imagine him completely at rest. I'm sure God has plenty of assignments to keep him busy. Perhaps his appearance to Paul in his dream was just one of his saintly duties.
What we do in this life is a testament to others of who we really are. Norm's example of hard work, his enthusiastic and adventurous spirit and his love of God will follow him through the lives he has touched along the way. This was his service to God, and this is his legacy to us. I am ashamed and humbled that I ever questioned God's decision to welcome him home. I would never want to deny him such happiness.
My eyes overflowed with tears as the priest raised his hand, made the sign of the cross and said, "Go in peace, serve the Lord."
Norm will live on in our hearts and the joy of Nicholas, child of God, marked with the cross of Christ and touched by the saints in heaven, will be a reminder that God speaks, even in our darkest hour -- ever so softly.
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and he saves those whose spirits have been crushed." --Psalm 34:18.
Norman Rechenberg passed away Feb. 6, 2008. He lived on a farm near Burfordville, Mo.