My Audra (6), will often ask: "Mommy, will you tell me the story of the girl and the boy who prayed and prayed and prayed for a baby and then God gave them one? And then God gave them more babies? Can you tell that story, mommy?"
It's her favorite story.
A few mornings ago, she tucked herself into bed with me to snuggle and chat. Her head was nestled on my shoulder and we'd been talking for awhile when she asked for the story. I was reluctant at first, wanting instead to get into the shower, but I agreed. And I began as one should always begin stories, with once upon a time....
Once upon a time, there was a girl and a boy who loved each other so much that they got married. After they'd been married awhile, they wished for a baby, but no baby came. Many months and even years passed, and still there was no baby. So they prayed and prayed and prayed and waited and waited and waited and they kept praying and they kept waiting, and then finally, one beautiful day, God answered. And when the girl discovered she was pregnant, she immediately ran out to her car to go find her husband at work. (She didn't even grab her coat, though it was a very rainy day.) She saw the boy she loved and she ran up to him, and with the rain pouring down on both of them, she told him he was going to be a daddy....And so the story goes, from my first pregnancy, to the next, to our first adoption, to the next adoption, all the way to six years ago when God gave us the gift of her, my dear Audra. As we get closer and closer to her little self entering the story, her eyes are eager with anticipation and her smile gets wider. Sometimes I add in more details, sometimes more description, but the outline of the story remains the same. The older kids love this story, too, and they will often tag on details they know and each of them love it when it's their time to enter the story.
As I'd been talking, all cozy under the covers with my Audra, Ella had joined us, and there I was, sandwiched in between my oldest and my youngest. The girls giggled when I first slipped and said "daddy" (as I always do) and then we came to Audra's entrance into the world, and I talked a little about her birth and our delight and then said, "And that's the end of the story."
Immediately I realized that it wasn't, actually, the end of the story, and so, haltingly, and through tears, I went on. "Actually, that's not the end of the story, is it? After we had Audra, we continued to pray and long for another baby, and-- years later-- we found out that God had made another little baby, growing inside of me. And then our baby died. And six months later, He again began to grow a baby within me, and that baby died, too.
...That's kind of a sad ending to the story, isn't it?" Ella squeezed me and agreed it was. And Audra said something about being sad that the babies died. And in an effort to give the girls a happy ending, I said I was so thankful for them, and that I loved being their mommy and that I am so richly blessed that God has given them to me. When they had started chatting about other things, I slipped away to the shower, and there I wept.
* * *
My heart is hurting. Around me everywhere is the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, celebrations, parties and smiles; songs and lights and the joy and the anticipation.
And I'm a pretty good pretender. I am smiling, I am showing up for the celebrations, but right beneath the surface is the grief; the lump at the back of my throat and the sorrow that sits in such sharp contrast to the joy of this season.
Yesterday I spoke with a dear friend on the phone, and when she asked me how she could pray for me, I thought of the two choices before me: I could give her a "surface request", and tell her to pray for our health and rest in the midst of what will be a very busy week, or I could go deeper, and tell the truth. So I went there, and with my telling came my tears, and I sat on the edge of my bed, cradling the phone and weeping for the second day in a row.
It was two years ago, in early December, when Mark and I told our kids that a new baby brother or sister was growing in mommy's tummy. We were near-to-bursting with the news we had kept to ourselves for several weeks, treasuring it and speaking of it in hushed tones when it was just the two of us, marveling at this answer to prayer. There aren't words to describe how happy our kids were. We talked and planned and dreamed and celebrated together for a few precious weeks.
Then on Christmas Day, 2013, I was so sick I could barely sit up. We were at my mom's house-- there for our traditional Christmas breakfast which would be followed by the Christmas story, then songs, prayer, stockings and gifts. I tried to sit at the table to eat, but excused myself to the guest room to lie down. I had a high fever and chills all day. All I could do was sleep. I was so sick I didn't even care that I was missing out on all the fun. When my fever broke, and I was more coherent, I began fearing for the life of my baby; I worried about what this fever may have done. In early January we went for our ultrasound and there was no heartbeat. I don't know if it actually was the fever that instigated my miscarriage, but that is the day marked in my mind and heart as the beginning of the end of our baby's tiny life. Had our baby lived, we would be celebrating this Christmas with a little one, toddling around all the wrapping and presents, touching the ornaments and lights on the tree, pointing and jabbering and delighting us all.
However, that is not our story.
Before I hung up the phone yesterday, my friend encouraged me to journal and process this grief, and yes, even this year, two years later-- and not push it down and pretend it away. Good counsel, that.
Yet when I sat later with my journal open and pen in hand, I didn't even know what to pray, what to ask. So I prayed simply this: that He would sit with me in my sadness. And He does. And I am reminded of this truth: He is Immanuel, God with us. And therein is the happy ending to all sad stories.
There is a greater story. A story with angels and dreams and danger, twists and turns and surprises (a stable? Really?) A story that the prophets foretold, a story that opened here on earth with words, not on a page from a book like the stories we read- but from the mouth of an angel speaking to the young girl Mary. Then we turn the page in the story and find Joseph being visited by an angel in a dream. And we read of the instruction to name this baby Jesus. The story shifts and there is peril- the evil King Herod who wants the baby Jesus dead. Then the wise men who followed a star (a star!) to find the child Jesus and worshiped him, then were warned in a dream not to return to evil King Herod. The shepherds, listening to the settling down, nighttime noises of their flock of sheep, and peering up into a dark sky only to suddenly see that same sky alight with an angel- an angel! Can you imagine?- and one who was talking to them. How stunned they must have been. And then not just one angel but more of them? This is THE story. May we all be filled with the wonder of this story; of Light come into darkness, of Immanuel, God with us.