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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


J. Grant Swank, Jr.

After Priscilla had brain surgery in 1970, her neurosurgeon told her that it would be wise for her not to have another baby. The pressure in giving birth could be too much for her neurological state, particularly what had been done in the brain area during her operation.

She had had a shunt inserted between the brain and heart for fluid to flow from one to another. The neurosurgeon had discovered that that was necessary because she had developed scar tissue atop the brain that did not allow enough space for fluid to reside healthily, hence the shunt. Pressure, such as a delivery in giving birth, could endanger that network.

Therefore, we were most thankful that we had Crystal born to us prior to the brain surgery. She was and still is precious.

As time moved along, we became more involved in the civil rights movement, just as we had been committed during the early 60s. It was then that we assisted in pastoring a black church in High Point, North Carolina.

In my last year in seminary, I was praying for a full-time black congregation to pastor. In fact, we drove from Kansas City to East St. Louis one Saturday with the express purpose of seeing where a particular black congregation met.

We cased out the church building with no one there to meet us. We peered into the windows. We checked out the section of the city. Then we went back to our apartment convinced that God would lead us there. But of course there had to be contacts made with the powers-that-be. And when we made the contacts, all doors closed. We were learning God’s detours.

We ended up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, just about as far from the civil rights problem in the United States as God could fling us.

“No doubt God was protecting your lives,” a friend reasoned to us one day. Then I thought about that. Perhaps he was correct. We were more immersed in those doings than we had thought.

In fact, when we lived in the black pastor’s parsonage in North Carolina, my mother later confided to me that she wondered if would be shot. She pictured us seated on the couch just alongside the large bay window in the living room.

“That would have been a perfect spot for someone to put a bullet in your head,” she said. I had never thought of that. Am glad that I didn’t for we two enjoyed that summer like no other summer. It was filled with excitement and joy.

With all that work with the black folk, we wanted a black child of our own. Since we could not have a second child of our own, we set plans for adopting a black baby. One day while watching television from our Fishkill, New York, parsonage, commercial-type announcements were being telecast. They were appealing for people in the greater New York area to adopt black children.

“We should look into that,” I said to Priscilla. So we did.

And when speaking with the Poughkeepsie social worker in February, we were gifted with Jay, a 2 l/2 month old multi-racial son, in September. His mother was white. His father was black. Other than that we did not know anything about him except for a few medical notations the mother had jotted on a scrap piece of paper.

We wrapped Jay in a new blue blanket, then took him from the social worker’s office to our home. Proudly we showed him off to our congregation that next Sunday.

We had our Crystal. We had our Jay.

But lo and behold, we next found out that Priscilla was pregnant. Yet she was not to have another child. It could hurt her. The brain might not be able to take the pressure exerted in delivery.

“Perhaps you should consider having an abortion,” the doctor told me wife. An abortion? He dared to suggest that to an evangelical pastor’s wife? Yes, he did. And he was Roman Catholic at that. We were quite disappointed in that doctor’s lack of faith.

As the months progressed, we prayed. And we prayed. And then we prayed some more.

I did not want my wife to be in danger. And yet she was to have a baby. I wanted the baby healthy, as we all want our babies healthy. And so there was a full plate I handed God when thinking of our future. What did it hold?

In the meantime, we changed pastorates from New York to Ohio. After arriving in our Ohio parsonage, still unpacked, my wife closed the garage door down on her three fingers. She was rushed to the emergency room. Near to the time of delivering a baby, Priscilla impressed the receptionist as entering the hospital to deliver. No, she was there because her fingers were badly hurt. She received medical care and returned home.

Several days later she was rushed to the hospital again, this time to deliver Heidi, our third child.

And how did my wife fare in the delivery? Of course, it was like other mothers giving birth — not a picnic. But she was quite healthy through it all.

And our new baby girl? She was just as healthy as the mother who delivered her.

How thankful we were. How star-struck we were in the wonder of God to gift us with
still another member to our family.

In counting up life’s marvels the other day, this one was listed near the top: Heidi, our miracle baby.