The Day I Began Living A Life of Gratitude
I'll warn you in the first sentence. For the past 9 years this has been the most meditative day of the year for me. As a Christian writing an advent series I should probably save that declaration for Christmas day - or Easter maybe - but I can't. Today is definitely the right day.
God cuts me some slack on that. I'm confident of that. He knows today is the backbone of so much of the love and gratitude I have for Him, it's the very first heartbeat of my passion for being a dad to both of our boys, and today is my lasting image of a wife and a mom who courageously outfought all forces trying to steal away her opportunity to be either. Today is the 9th anniversary of a prayer come to life miracle.
You see, it was this day, nine years ago, when we welcomed Elliott into the world. He came following a plan quite different from the one we'd imagined and rehearsed, one he continues to follow to this day.
So this morning, instead of my Christmas series thoughts, I'm simply going to share a letter with you. It's one I've sent in various forms the last several years to the Neonatal Care Unit at East Carolina University. I never get through it without tears. I'm sure I never will. And I never get through it without experiencing the true meaning of Christmas.
December 17, 2015
To the entire East Carolina University Division of Neonatal Care:
Christmas is here again. Like every Christmas for the past nine years, it brings an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the NICU at East Carolina University.
On December 18, 2006, our first born child, Elliott Thomas Cartwright, was rushed by air ambulance to Pitt Memorial Hospital’s NICU. He was born in Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City with what his delivery doctor called “little more than a heartbeat.” It was a traumatic delivery for both my wife and my son.
When the transport team arrived at Carteret General, they worked with the doctor hand in hand to save my son and prepare him for his trip to Greenville. They worked on my son like he was their own. When he was ready to leave, they wheeled him into my wife’s recovery room so she could get a first glimpse of the boy she had carried for nine months. They did so with a compassion and understanding that awes me to this day. As they quickly wheeled him away, none of us had much certainty about Elliott's future.
Shortly after, I left my wife’s side and went to Greenville to be with Elliott. When I arrived there, many prayers I said during my 2-hour drive were answered. I was immediately greeted by a NICU nurse who informed me that Elliott was going to be “just fine.” The tears that had been building up all day spilled out. I don’t remember that nurse’s name, but I'll remember the size of her heart forever.
It's a heart I came to know very well over the next week. From the staff working the reception desks, to the folks that went out of their way to make sure we had a place to stay while we were there, to every single nurse and doctor and administrator that touched my son and my family, they all may have had very different roles, but they shared one heart that poured out love in many directions.
We took my son home on Christmas Eve in 2006. On this, his 9th birthday, I will marvel at how far a baby with little more than a heartbeat has come. As I reflect back on your efforts from 9 years ago, a few of the tears from that day will undoubtedly revisit me. When they do, I will once again thank God for one more day to hug our son. I will once again ask God’s blessing on your hospital, on the loving hearts who serve it, and on the families and babies that will come under your care in the days and months ahead. I pray they too will take home years and years of hugs.
Please God, bless every one of you who might read or hear this.
Forever grateful for our miracle,
Our son in your NICU in December of 2006
Our son Elliott cheering me on at the finish of a half marathon in Montana back in July.
To read previous posts in this Christmas 2015 series, click below: