We live in a society that likes to know what to expect.

The online world is full of spoilers, for movies, for TV shows. We love forecasts, and we want details.

We don’t just want to know the temperature tomorrow, but the precise time the rain will begin. It’s not enough to know who will win the AFC Championship game: will they cover the spread, or beat the over-under? Our obsession with wanting to predict the future extends to life as well, and to having a family.

So when my wife got pregnant 22 years ago, we did what millions of Americans have done: we bought What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

And we thought it was great. It told us the symptoms Lisa would experience in the first trimester, the second trimester, the last week before the birth. It told me, as the dad, how I would feel – and it was spot on. As it foretold, I began to envision what my child might be like.

Because we’re both planners, the ultrasound offered a special kind of news, and we discovered that we were having a girl. And that made me even more excited.

Lisa and I are Roman Catholic, and I had always looked forward to First Communion Sundays. All the boys and girls who had received the Eucharist for the first time would come to mass in their suits and white dresses. I imagined the day when our daughter would wear her First Communion dress to church.

Great anticipation built up in those final weeks. And until the day she was born, things went by the book.

And then it all changed.

Gabriella’s birth was unlike anything in any guide. I’m not going to talk about that day here, but I will in a future post. Suffice it to say, from her first hours, we knew something was wrong.

By now we had our copy of What to Expect the First Year. In the weeks and months that followed, we watched for those impending milestones…but they didn’t come. And when they did, they weren’t when or what we expected.

Suddenly, I began to dread First Communion Sundays. I would tear up at the sight of those little girls in their dresses, afraid that Gabriella would never wear one of her own. And I was right. The year she would have celebrated her First Holy Communion, I knelt in the pew, my hands crushed together, alone. But the following year, again confronted with children in suits and dresses, something unexpected happened: I felt a little more at ease. Another year, and our son Alexander received his First Communion. Gabriella was there to share our pride.

Since her baptism, our daughter has never experienced sacraments that mark milestones in a Catholic’s life. I understand now that it doesn’t matter, as her place is assured. And that brings me peace. For I expect that someday, if I find myself before the pearly gates, it will be because of Gabriella. And she’ll be there to welcome me across the threshold, dressed in the white of the angels.