Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Psalm 30:5 KJV
"We're going to be late!" Janice Dawson moaned. Her eyes darted to the golden anniversary clock sitting on the fireplace mantel. "Mary, put on your shoes. Lisa, come here and let Mommy tie on your hair ribbons."
Five-year-old Lisa shuffled into the living room, her tiny fist clutching the piece of pink ribbon that matched the ruffles on her Sunday dress. Limping behind her in stocking feet came eight-year-old Mary. She held one shoe in her hand with confusion written in her dark brown eyes.
"I don't know where my other shoe is, Mommy," Mary complained.
Janice picked up the ribbon from Lisa's outstretched hand and looped it around the ponytail behind her head. She stole another glance at the clock ticking down to their departure time. "Look under your bed or in the coat closet. Really girls, I must be there on time today. Last week I was late and I can't do this two weeks in a row."
"Where's Daddy?" Lisa inquired. She reached up her hand to tug on the ponytail Janice fashioned. Brown hair fell in soft tendrils around her face. The ribbon came to a rest at her feet.
"Oh Lisa, now look what you did!" With a swipe of her hand, Janice yanked off the hair band. The tiny girl shrieked, accompanied by tears that squirted out of her hazel eyes and rolled down her cheeks. "Oh honey, I'm so sorry," Janice murmured, scooping the distraught child into her arms. "When Mommy gets woken up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep, she ends up a mean ol' grouch. I know I shouldn't take it out on you."
Lisa giggled, even as her fist wiped away the tears. "Did Daddy go help with the babies again, Mommy?"
Janice nodded, once more fixing Lisa's hair by twisting the soft strands in her fingers and slipping on a hair band. "Yes. Daddy got a call in the middle of the night. Mrs. Clark is ready to have her baby."
"So Daddy is at the hospital?" Mary inquired. She tugged on the other patent leather shoe found beneath the couch, then waited patiently for Janice to fasten it to her foot.
"Yes. I haven't heard anything, so I guess he's still there." Janice sighed, swiping back a lock of wavy brown hair that fell across her forehead before her fingers fumbled to fasten the buckle on Mary's shoe.
"Daddy sure helps bring a lot of babies," Mary remarked.
"That's his job, honey. He's a family doctor, you know, and that's what doctors do." She stood to her feet and picked up her purse and Bible from the counter. "All right, I think we're finally ready."
Both girls skipped ahead of Janice who closed the solid oak door behind them with a thump. Bright sunshine greeted her on this pleasant spring day. She wished Len was here to accompany the family to church, but the flight of expectant mothers racing to the hospital in the middle of the night was a fact of life for a family practitioner. Despite Len's success with his medical practice and her happy home life, Janice felt herself on edge these days. She could not settle a terrible sense of foreboding welling up within her. Every night she thanked God in her prayers for the love of her husband, the stylish house they owned, the lovely gardens she managed with care, and her healthy daughters that never ceased to amuse her with their childish antics. Yet she worried that one day her beautiful life might come to an end. Len laughed when she confessed her fear the other night after the girls were tucked in bed.
"This isn't something to laugh about, Len," she told him, wiggling her way out of his arms and climbing to her feet. She paced the carpeted floor of their master suite in agitation. "We've enjoyed so many blessings...I'm afraid I'm due for a healthy dose of tribulation any day now."
"Jan, if you allow your Christianity to bring forth fear and not faith, what good is it? God wants you to trust Him and not your circumstances." Len rose from the bed at that point. His six-foot frame towered over her five-foot-five in a picture of strength and security. His dark eyes that she found so appealing stared lovingly into her face, tracing every defining line of her narrow cheeks, sloped nose, and green eyes that he said reminded him of the dazzling Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.
"I know I should be thankful," she murmured, enjoying the feel of his arms curled around her. "You have such a wonderful job with this family practice, and we have two sweet girls...."
"...and I have a beautiful and talented wife," he finished, supplementing his statement with a kiss that for several moments diverted her thoughtful contemplation.
Janice dwelt on the kiss and the delightful intimacy shared afterwards until Mary's girlish voice piped up.
"Mommy, aren't we going to church?"
Janice awoke from her dream to realize she had not yet started the engine. "There goes my mind," she murmured, shaking her head and turning the key in the ignition. "I'm thinking of Len when I'm supposed to be driving us to our Sunday school class." She proceeded down the tree-lined drive of the affluent neighborhood where they had purchased a home only a year ago. She missed Len on the weekends when he had to work. During the week, she was involved with a hum of daily activities that included home schooling her girls in the morning and running a cake decorating business in the afternoon. Janice was grateful for the fine home, complete with a large gourmet kitchen where she could fashion her cakes. The girls loved to watch her create a funny Big Bird or a sweet ballerina out of the cakes she baked in the oven. Creating and decorating cakes in her spare time allowed Janice the opportunity to put her skills to use while keeping the girls at home with her. Most of all, she was happy that Len supported her work - even helping her finance the bakeware and the purchase of a convection oven.
"He's so sweet to me," Janice murmured, steering the car into the parking lot of the neighborhood church. "Oh, how I miss him." An idea suddenly sparked in her mind. Perhaps after the service, she could surprise Len with Sunday dinner at the hospital. She glowed at the thought of his reaction to the gesture - his dark eyes lighting up and a smile creasing his face, displaying the even white teeth in contrast to his tan complexion. "I can buy a box of chicken from the market, along with some side dishes," she mused, "and of course we'll need dinner rolls, paper plates, perhaps a gallon of sweetened iced tea..."
"Hi Lisa! Hi Mary!" A cheery voice greeted the family when they entered the foyer of the church.
"Aunt Katy!" the girls cried together. They raced into the arms of a tall woman with chestnut brown hair and a large smile, stylishly dressed in a two piece suit.
Janice was still thinking about the surprise dinner for Len when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She whirled in a start to find a set of familiar dark brown eyes peering steadily into her own.
Laughter filled her ears. "Ah ha, so he left you alone again, did he?"
Janice turned her head away to avoid him seeing the crimson flush that tainted her cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Paul. I don't know why I do that to you all the time."
"Not all the time," he corrected good-naturedly. "Just when you miss my brother. You're forgiven."
"So is Len at the hospital again?" Katy inquired, her arms cradling her two little nieces.
Janice nodded while trying to regain her composure. "Yes. We got a call around two in the morning. One of his patients, Mrs. Clark, went into early labor. He knew this would be a difficult delivery."
"You poor thing." Katy stared over at Paul. "I bet you didn't sleep a wink the rest of the night."
Janice eyed her in amazement. "How did you know?"
"Because we know how much you two love each other. It's hard to sleep without your honey by your side to kiss you good night."
"Mommy and Daddy kiss a lot," Lisa remarked.
"That means they love each other," Mary added.
"That's right," agreed their Uncle Paul who suddenly grabbed Katy in an affectionate hold. "So what does this mean, girls?" He proceeded to plant a firm kiss on her rosy lips.
Katy pushed him away. "Really Paul, and in church, too!"
"I was greeting you with a holy kiss," he said innocently, but with a mischievous grin.
"Enough of the holy kisses. Our nieces are late for their Sunday school class."
"I guess Pat, Dan, and Karen are already in their classes?" Janice remarked, glancing around for the three children belonging to Paul and Katherine Dawson.
"Yes, so you'd better go on to your classes," Katy instructed the two girls, patting their heads affectionately. She added, "And why don't we mosey on in to ours?"
Janice was grateful on this lonely Sunday for the companionship of Len's older brother Paul and his wife Katherine or Katy, as she was known. Janice walked behind the couple who held hands as they entered the church sanctuary, thinking of the family resemblance between Paul and Len. Despite the five years difference in their ages, both men possessed the dark brown eyes and tawny complexion of the Dawson line. Paul's hair already showed telltale signs of aging with gray streaks running through his head of black hair. Len maintained his youthful appearance with hardly a gray hair to be found. Just the other day, Janice teased Len at finding a solitary gray hair among the jet-black strands on his head. "Soon you'll look just like Paul," she joked.
"I certainly hope not."
Janice frowned at the sharp retort. Despite their appearance, both brothers were staunchly different, waging a silent war from the past that kept them apart for most of their adult years. When Janice tried to broach Len on the subject, he only swatted away her concerns and steered the conversation around to her cake decorating business.
Janice knew better than to allow the subject to slip, but once he engaged her in conversation about her favorite pastime--cake decorating, she couldn't help herself. Immediately she launched into her ideas for her first wedding cake, explaining in detail the lacy design in the frosting, accompanied by wedding bells on the top tier. The job itself proved tedious, but the results were stunning. Janice delivered the cake with confidence to the reception hall and found the bride overwhelmed by the presentation. The next day, a photographer and journalist arrived at the house, eager to run a story about her in-home cake decorating business in the lifestyle section of the newspaper.
"You're famous!" Len exclaimed to Janice, giving her a hug as they scanned the article that followed.
Janice only wondered when all this would come to a screeching halt. She flipped through her Bible, searching absentmindedly for the Gospel of Matthew, which the congregation had been studying the last several weeks. She never noticed Katy give her a sideways glance before whispering to Paul. He nodded and rose. Janice jerked her head around and jumped when she found him sitting down beside her.
"Since you miss Len so much, Katy thought I could help out," Paul whispered with a twinkle in his eye.
"Don't be silly, Paul. I know I mistake you for Len all the time, but you really don't look that much alike. You have too much gray hair, for one thing."
He chuckled. "Then just pretend I'm Len. That way you can concentrate on the pastor, knowing your husband is right here by your side. Here, you can look at my phone with me, I have it right here."
Janice shook her head, forcing a smile at his suggestion. "Nice try Paul, but you will never be Len. Your personalities are like night and day."
Paul snapped his fingers in mock rejection to the annoyance of two elderly ladies sitting in the pew directly in front of them. One lady turned and gave them both an icy glare.
"You're getting us in trouble with the Addington sisters!" Janice whispered furiously. "Go back and sit with Katy where you belong."
He raised his hands in defeat. "All right, I tried. But from now on, keep your mind on what's going on in the pulpit."
"Thanks, I will," Janice promised, accompanied by a sheepish grin. Paul winked and returned to his rightful place beside Katy. For the remainder of the Bible class and throughout the service that followed, Janice concentrated on the words spoken by the pastor and the songs of praise that filled her heart. Afterward she was greeted by many of the congregation who commented on Len's absence from the service. Janice maintained her composure during the cumbersome task of informing everyone of Len's late night duty at the hospital. When she managed to tear herself and the girls away, she hurried outside to the car. The voice of a young boy halted her steps.
"Aunt Jan!" he cried, waving his hand. Janice turned to see her ten-year-old nephew, Daniel, running to catch up. "Hey, Dad and Mom want to know if you can come over for lunch today."
Janice watched Paul and Katy in the background with their two other children by their side - eleven-year-old Patrick who was an image of Len in his younger days, and eight-year-old Karen, the same age as Mary. "I can't today, Dan. Tell your mom and dad I plan on surprising Uncle Len with lunch at the hospital."
"Okay," he acknowledged, rushing off to deliver the news.
Janice ushered the girls to the car and fastened their seat belts securely.
"So we're gonna see Daddy at work?" Lisa wondered, staring down at the picture of Jesus in her hands, colored in with crayons during her Sunday school class.
"I think it would be a nice surprise. I'll call the hospital, though, just to make sure he's not in the middle of a delivery." Janice fumbled in her purse for the cell phone. Her fingers trembled while punching in the number for the hospital.
"I'm sorry, but Dr. Dawson is unable to speak with you right now," a haughty voice informed her.
"Is he involved with a delivery?"
"Not at this time."
"This is Dr. Dawson's wife and I would like to speak with him." Janice tried to steady her voice, all the while wondering who was the new nurse on duty. Most of the OB staff at the University Hospital recognized her voice and were prompt in bringing Len to the phone unless he was involved with a delivery.
Again the nurse snapped, "I'm sorry, but he can't come to the phone. I suggest you call his answering service and leave a message. Thank you."
A dial tone met her startled ears. Janice stared at the cell phone in dismay before flinging it into her purse. "We'll see about that!" she huffed.
"What's the matter, Mommy?" asked Mary.
Janice smiled shakily in an effort to settle the concerned expressions filtering across the faces of her daughters. "Oh, it's nothing, honey. I guess Daddy's pretty busy at the hospital. I'm wondering now whether we should bring him lunch."
"I want to see the babies," Lisa protested.
"Yeah Mommy, let's go see the babies," Mary chimed in. "That way you'll know if Daddy's busy or not."
"That's a good idea," Janice admitted, driving out onto the highway. "We'll stop at the market and grab a few items for lunch. Maybe we can steal Daddy away for a quick bite to eat."
Both girls giggled at the idea of stealing their daddy with a delightful noise that warmed Janice's heart. The oldest daughter, Mary, displayed a carefree personality in contrast with her younger sister, Lisa, who proved studious and quiet. Janice often wondered what she would do without the companionship of her two girls during the lonely times when Len was away. She cherished the ability to keep her girls at home with her during the day. Many of her friends objected to her decision to school the girls at home. They warned her that she would grow weary of them and feel unsatisfied as a mere keeper of the home. Yet Janice did not feel anything but satisfaction with the way she was bringing up her girls, along with having her cake decorating business on the side. She enjoyed the idea of teaching her girls reading, writing, and arithmetic in conjunction with her beliefs in the Bible. Hearing the childish whispers in the backseat as Mary read to Lisa out of one of her books, Janice felt proud to have taught them.
Janice steered the car into the hospital parking garage after picking up lunch at a nearby market. The mouth-watering aroma of chicken filled the car. Everywhere she looked, people were scurrying into the stunning brick and white complex of the University Hospital, holding flower arrangements or other gifts for the sick. Janice picked up the food bags, and with her girls in tow, walked across the causeway above the busy thoroughfare below. Once inside the elevator, she allowed the girls to push the button for the eighth floor that housed the obstetrics unit. When the steel doors parted, the shrill of newborn babies in their bassinets met their ears. The girls' childish voices begged Janice to see the tiny infants.
"We'll go right after we find your father," Janice whispered. She came to the nurses' station and breathed a sigh of relief at finding the friendly face of Cathy McPherson, one of the staff nurses who often assisted Len in delivery. "Hi Cathy," she greeted the young woman manning a seat before a computer screen with a pen light in her fingers.
Instead of her usual perky smile and friendly greeting, the woman looked up at her in surprise. "Why Janice, didn't they tell you downstairs?"
"Tell me what?"
"Dr. Dawson...I mean your husband...he's....he's in the emergency room. He suffered an attack a short time go and....."
"No!" Janice cried, leaving the lunch bags at the nurse's station and rushing for the nearest elevator, dragging her girls behind. No! Her mind screamed in panic. Not Len, please God!