She came too early, willing her way into a world she knew nothing about. How could she know she may be too small to survive? How could she know it would take weeks before her parents wouldn't cry anymore and before her grandparents wouldn't grieve for both their children and their first grandchild? She couldn't know. She only knew it was her time to be born.
Jeff and Alicyn had married young, against everyone's better judgment except their own. But Alicyn was pregnant, and they did love each other. They stressed to both sets of parents that they weren't getting married because they "had to"; they were getting married because they loved each other. It didn't take long for the newlyweds to discover that life had many lessons to teach them. Their love was soon tested.
The pregnancy had been uneventful. Alicyn was young and felt healthy, with the exception of the first two months when every smell she encountered was offensive. The young couple had rededicated their lives to God, and their families had joined them in their excitement about a new baby.
But no one was excited when Alicyn went into labor at twenty-eight weeks and when baby Amy was born weighing just one pound, fifteen ounces -- or nine hundred grams, as it was officially recorded. Little Amy lay in her incubator with so many tubes and wires surrounding her that she looked like a tiny switchboard operator.
Several times a day, Jeff and Alicyn made the journey to the hospital to stand beside Amy for the fifteen-minute
visits the Intensive Care Unit allowed: 8:00-8:15, 12:00-12:15, 3:00-3:15, and so it went. For three months, Amy maintained an unsteady balance between life and death. Jeff and Alicyn learned the true meaning of sacrificial love: giving their time, their energy, and their money.
As Amy neared the one-month mark, her tiny body got tinier as her weight dropped to one pound, twelve ounces. The doctor told the young couple that he suspected a heart murmur, which was common in premature babies. As gently as he could, the doctor informed Jeff and Alicyn that Amy would require surgery to repair a heart valve that was smaller than a cat hair. Jeff and Alicyn were devastated to realize what Amy would have to go through, but days earlier they had turned Amy over to God. Their prayers had been that God would keep Amy free of pain and give them the strength to handle whatever happened. They both knew that their most important job in life would be to get Amy to heaven, and if she were to die now, their mission would be completed.
Jeff was so fascinated by her small size that one evening, while Amy was still in the hospital, he had placed one of Alicyn's rings on her arm -- and it went all the way up to her shoulder. It was one of those really big life-moments for Jeff. Seeing that ring on Amy's arm made the reality of their terrifying adventure grab his heart like a vice. His heart ached as his thoughts turned to every occasion he could envision his daughter receiving a ring -- a birthday, graduation, engagement, and then marriage. Would she make it to all those events? Tears streamed down Jeff's cheeks, and once again he prayed for his daughter.
Little Amy persevered. Weighing a mere four pounds, eleven ounces at the age of three months and with a scar halfway around her body, she was finally able to move into her red-and-white-gingham Raggedy Ann bedroom. But life's lessons were not quite over for Jeff and Alicyn, as Amy had to be fed every three hours. There would be no more evenings of uninterrupted TV and no more weekends of sleeping in. Someone smaller than a newspaper had changed all that.
Their evenings were spent pacing the floor, rocking and singing, all the while praying for complete healing. They set an alarm clock to go off several times each night so they could make sure that Amy was breathing. Amy's reflexes were underdeveloped, and she sometimes couldn't breathe or swallow sufficiently. And the doctor had warned them that only time would tell whether Amy had suffered any brain damage. Yet they were amazed at how much they loved Amy and even more amazed that they were capable of caring for someone so small and fragile.
The days and weeks and months and, finally, the years passed -- and Amy grew. Her little scar faded into her body, though it remained visible to remind her of her brush with death. More important, it reminded her of the healing power of God. Amy rode bikes, played basketball, ran up and down the street, and enjoyed her role as big sister.
As time passed, Jeff never forgot the feeling he had that night when he placed Alicyn's ring on Amy's arm. Amy's sixteenth birthday was coming up soon, and he wanted to do something special to honor the life of his firstborn. She had truly been a survivor, and he was very proud of her. So he planned a night of blessings for her. He invited her closest friends and family to be a part, asking them each to say something about Amy to encourage her as she grew into adulthood. He had a video made of her life, chronicling her difficult beginning and ending with the beautiful smile of a happy sixteen-year-old. Amy felt very special and very loved.
At the end of the evening, with tears in his eyes, Jeff told the story of the ring and how his dreams for his daughter's life had been challenged. He told of Alicyn and her devotion to Amy and how she, more than he, had endured sleepless nights to care for Amy. He then took the ring from Alicyn's finger and presented it to Amy. As he did, he said these words: "There is no greater love than the love a parent has for a child. Amy, you have taught us so much about life and love and God's richest blessings. With this ring, we rededicate our lives to you. As you enter into adulthood, know that we will stand beside you through every adventure, great and small. This ring stands as a symbol of your physical growth and as a reminder of our devotion to you. This ring connects you to us in a way many parents never experience. We were not sure the ring would ever fit your precious finger. So your mother and I now give you this ring."
And the ring that once went to Amy's shoulder now fit perfectly on her finger. Dad, mom, daughter, and a roomful of loving friends cried tears of joy for a gift they had been given sixteen years earlier and allowed to keep.