Every year my ward ushers in the Christmas season with a Wreath Making Party. There’s music, a program, food, and of course, wreaths. It was last night and I was asked to speak. Here are my remarks.
As I’ve contemplated the theme of this year’s program, Come let us adore him, I think of Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, the shepherds and magi, following the star, but mostly I think of the sweet Christ child and the joy His birth brought to the world. Let me share with you two stories, one about finding room in the inn, the other about following the star, both about hope and babies.
Story I: Surprise. You’re pregnant.
In 2001 I was pregnant with my third child, and fell into a deep depression. Much of it was hormonal, but it also had to do with our current situation. We were living in a small two bedroom and I’d lay awake each night mentally rearranging furniture and wonder where on earth this unexpected child’s stuff was supposed to go. I already shared a dresser with the toddler. My husband also traveled a lot and I was having a hard time managing two littles on my own. How could I add a newborn?
The bigger I got, the deeper I sank. I wanted to feel joy but couldn’t. Instead I was mired in a mixture of misery and guilt. What was wrong with me that I was less than elated? How could a Mormon woman NOT see pregnancy as a blessing? Even when things were going well, the depression could sneak up on me like the shark in Jaws. One minute I would be figuratively enjoying a nice swim and the next minute I was drowning in pain and darkness. I prayed as I tucked the other two in bed at night that they would not be damaged by my foul moods. I prayed as I drove to work that I’d be able to stop crying long enough to teach the 3-hour block. I prayed when the psychologist that my OB made me see told me that my depression would go away if I just ate more salmon. I hate salmon.
I have always had a hard time getting answers to prayers. This is not to say that I never get answers–I do. Sometimes. It’s just that when God does decide to respond to my pleas me, he uses creative means of communication.
When I was 6 months pregnant, some girlfriends decided we should go to the outlets up in Maine. They knew I was depressed and thought a little retail therapy might help. And if that failed, there was a Dairy Queen nearby. Salmon was not going to relieve my hormonal upheaval, but a Peanut-Buster Parfait might.
In one of those Swedish catalog stores where kids’ pajamas cost what my wedding dress did, I picked up a little knit cap, tried it on my fist and smiled. It was mostly green, a cheery Granny Smith with a few stripes, pink, yellow, blue. It was even on sale. But the last thing I needed was more clothes. By this point I knew I was having another girl, 22 months after my last. Same age, same season, same clothes. Everything else about the pregnancy felt so overwhelming, it was a great relief to know that I didn’t have to buy a single article of clothing. So I tossed the cap back.
But when I left the store I couldn’t walk away. I told my friends I’d catch up and I stood there, trying to figure out what I was feeling. There was no voice, but I knew God wanted me to buy that green hat. Yes, the Lord speaks to people in the language and means they best understand. So what does this say about me that God talks to me through shopping? Ignoring the slight, I obeyed the prompting, feeling a little foolish (and superficial), but glad to have ANY kind of divine communication in the midst of my depression which, more than anything else, left me feeling spiritually abandoned.
That night as I took the knit cap out of the bag, I imagined the tiny, warm head that it would adorn. I could imagine the soft cheeks against my breast. And perhaps for the first time, I didn’t think about the morning sickness or sciatica, the lack of space, my limited resources. I only thought about this baby as an individual. In that moment I felt peace. There would be room enough in our house, in my heart, for this child. I held the cap and cried.
The cap sat on my dresser for the next 3 months as a reminder of the comfort and knowledge I had received. It became a talisman, a symbol that my baby and I had not been forgotten.
Camille’s arrival signaled the departure of my depression. The moment she left my body I felt as if the clouds parted and the sun began to shine again. She wore the cap many times. I joked to my husband that it was the “cap of many colors,” representing my love for her. And now it is hard to imagine not having her in my life, hard to imagine that carrying her was such a burden on my body and spirit.
She arrived two weeks before Christmas, and we were crowded. Our tiny apartment became a mini Hong Kong, as we put shelves on top of dressers, got bunk beds and just kept stacking stuff up up up. But there was room for this precious child, and as we celebrated the savior’s birth, I had never better understood the joy of the nativity, that a tiny child could so enlarge my heart and fill my soul with love. There was room aplenty in the Inn.
Story II: We have some bad news for you…
In 2005 , I was once again expecting. This time I was elated but nervous as I’d lost 3 babies the previous year. My OB sent me to the high-risk practice at the Brigham and I underwent so many tests that I often felt like I’d been abducted by aliens. At 9 weeks a somber nurse told me there was a problem and ushered me into the genetic counselor’s office. I heard the words cystic hygroma, severe defects, chromosomal abnormality, and termination. I stopped listening and just concentrating on breathing
Once again I found myself pregnant and depressed. Every time I went to the doctor it got worse. The cyst was growing, and my doctor would list for me all the things that might be wrong with my baby—if I even made it full term. (The irony that this other depression surrounds being desperate to have a baby is not lost on me) Every time I went into her office, I felt bereft. She was like the dementors from Harry Potter, sucking all the light and joy out of me. I felt as if I’d never be happy again.
I turned to the Lord and prayed my heart out. I prayed for strength, for comfort, for a manageable disability. At church I remember looking at certain women, and thinking “So & so has REAL faith. She is the kind of woman who gets miracles, not me.” I wasn’t jealous of bitter—nobody’s mad—just observing that it seemed certain people get the yes answer, and others, like me, got the “not this time sweetheart.” Sometime around month 6 I had a conversation with a friend who’d also had a “we have some bad news for you” pregnancy. Her advice to me was simple. Ask God for what I wanted. Even if it was a miracle. Just ask. The Lord loves us and wants us to come to Him with our righteous desires. She said that there would be blessings in the asking, regardless of the outcome.
So I did. And it was terrifying to ask for a miracle, to lay my broken heart at His feet. I was so afraid that I couldn’t take the pain if my desires weren’t granted. But God heard my prayers and gave me a gift. Hope. I remember it felt tangible, this gift of Hope that I could choose to take or not take. It wasn’t a warranty against pain and suffering, or a guarantee of a glittery and shiny outcome. But it shone brightly, like a star you might follow through the desert or a wilderness. And I followed. The first thing I did was “fire” my OB. If I was going to make it I needed to find someone who could also also allow for the possibility of a good outcome. Next, a dear friend organized a fast for me, contacting many of our friends. The idea of being on the receiving end of sacrifice made me really uncomfortable. But I could not deny that their faith bolstered mine and gave me a peace that felt like being wrapped in one of those warm, minky blankets they sell at Costco. By month 8 I had the courage to go ahead and prepare the nursery. I painted it a happy lavender and my sister sent me the bedding she’d handmade for her daughter. I followed the star of hope and had faith that whatever awaited me in the manger would be a blessing.
Fast-forward to 3 days before Thanksgiving. As it came time to deliver the baby, the room was filled with doctors and nurses waiting to see what they would need to do for this child. None of it stressed me at the point. I knew whatever happened, God had heard me, comforted me, and I would not be left alone. Our child arrived chubby and healthy and it made us smile to have medical professionals dub our daughter “the miracle baby.” I felt like the Holy Family as hospital personnel and friends streamed in and out of our room to behold our miracle baby. “Come let us adore Him,” I thought. Dave named her Beatrice, bringer of joy and blessings. Thanksgiving took on new meaning for our family as we all drank in the beauty of our answered prayers.
Now at Christmas, I identify with many of the players. I see myself in the harried and busy innkeepers who can’t find room in the inn–and I am reluctant to judge them as I suspect they too were super stressed and eluded by peace . I see myself as a distant traveler following a star, weary but hopeful that I can survive the journey, praying that the gifts I bring will be sufficient. But mostly I strive to be like the tired but faithful mother who looks to the Holy Child and finds faith and joy. Oh Come Let us Adorn Him!