Monday, December 19, 2011

Part 2, What I Would Have Included

This year, more than any year, I think Christmas is about families. And not just family parties and matching pajamas, but the creation and maintenance of families, and the way God meets us as we participate in the wild, thrilling, sometimes heart-wrenching events involved in building them. I can't seem to get enough of thinking about this, so, as promised, I'm posting the quotes I would have included, had I but world enough and time. (If you don't know what I'm talking about ... see my last post.) As I mentioned, there were dozens of beautiful, meaningful, deep deep quotes I wanted to include, but just didn't have time or space. And since I want to hold onto them, and since I think they're beautiful and you might too, I'm posting them here. This is a long post, but I've resisted the urge to split it into two. I think the stream of them is important. Thank you, many many thank yous, to those who sent these thoughts to me. I hope they deepen your sense of this season, as they have mine. 


“When Garret was born, […] I remember looking at [Terry] holding Garret and looking into his eyes, while Garret stared fiercely into his.  Not crying, just staring.  His father was glowing.  I remember looking at them both and feeling how right everything was, in spite of the fact that [the doctors] were trying to repair the damage they inflicted on me at his birth.  I felt at that moment that [Heavenly Father] was in charge, in spite of the injury, and that everything would be all right.”


“When we brought Tia home, I was so nervous. It felt like she was so special and important and I was worried I'd mess up or she wouldn't like our home.” 


“[Ada] did not settle peacefully into my arms or open her eyes to look lovingly up at her mother. No, she squirmed and grunted, and then the nurse took her away from me (because the grunting indicated respiratory distress). And I [confess I] was relieved to have her gone. All I wanted to do was sleep. For the next several weeks, I barely slept or ate since I had to spend all my spare time attempting to sleep. Often I lied down to bed thinking, "If I spend all my time and energy taking care of that baby, who will take care of me?" Time and again, the answer to my question was that the Lord would take care of me. Each time I found myself at the point where I could not function from exhaustion, Ada would miraculously take an extra-long nap, and I could sleep for two, maybe three hours at a time. I knew the Lord blessed that baby that she would sleep so I could sleep.”


[When I had my miscarriage, I wrote in my journal:] “I haven't wanted my husband to leave me. At night I reach out just to touch him, and he reaches for me too.”


“Lee and I have been agonizing over if we are done having children or not. […] I went to the Temple Saturday [to pray]. As I was leaving I stepped into the atrium and prayed, waiting for an answer. I heard a voice. It was a women's voice and […] and it was a familiar voice […]. She told me I was done. I cried out that I did not want to be done (which was a surprise to me). She told me that it did not mean there would not be more babies for me to love or lives that I would influence but that my body was done.  […] I felt the partnership with God in planning my family. She told me to love, enjoy, and adore the children I had.”


“A few hours later, when the epidural wore off and he was stabilized, I went in to the NICU to meet [Nicholas]. I remember thinking, as I walked into the room and they brought me to his bassinet. "This is surreal. Did I really do this? Is he really mine?" I felt like I was pretending, and any minute the nurse would tell me to hand him over and go home. Nicholas, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do. When they gave him to me, all wrapped up in white blankets, he snuggled into my arms and then he looked deeply into my eyes. I watched his pupils focus and as he held my gaze, I felt a thousand things. I knew he was a gift from God and I had a huge responsibility to protect and nurture him, but I wasn't alone; my heart pounded with a love that I could feel swelling so big, I literally felt my world tilt. I felt I had already known Nicholas for a while, and though he is mine for now, he's on loan from his Father.” 


“I am still amazed by the helplessness of a newborn. Wes is over a year old, and refuses most food, insisting on nursing regularly. His entire body exists and subsists because mine provides. And it stuns me that our Savior humbled himself, condescended to come to us, to rely on some of us, to sustain His life so He could save ours. And I also consider it a demonstration of His trust in us. That He loved the world enough to come as a defenseless child to follow through on the plan. I guess it's easier for me to understand this sort of trust and love and sacrifice. The atonement is so vast. I've never seen a perfect man. But I've seen perfect and defenseless little children, [so thinking of Christ as a baby at Christmastime helps me understand him as our Savior]. […] I have to say that I have thought often of Mary. Of the careful, wise woman she must have been to be entrusted with the baby Jesus. And how short I fall with my own children.”  

“Even though my struggle to get pregnant was not unique, God met me there anyway—in those moments, once a month, when I curled up under the covers and cried. He never told me when the baby would come. He just sent me the same message over and over: I hear you. Those are the same words I tell my little girl whenever she starts to cry.”


“It was crucial to me in both the births of my children that I get to hold them right away.  […] Especially with my first, it seemed hard to believe that a baby was really coming.  It amazed me when the baby did come, that the pain was gone—emotional pain as well as the physical.  I felt that instead of the doctor being there, that it really was Heavenly Father handing those babies to me.  They're really not ours—they're His, but what a privilege He gives us.”


“[The nurse] held my hand […] while Adam held the other and she coached me through the pushing. This nurse stayed right by my head and told me when to breathe, when to push, what to do. All my training and Bradley method stuff that had gotten me through the contractions went out the window. But she kept me grounded. Her voice cut through the haze and the fear and the pain. And I listened. After it was over and I was holding Elizabeth and just bursting with love and gratitude, she came to check on me. I'm sure I was high on hormones and maybe she thought as much. But I remember taking her hand and tears falling as I thanked her. I think my exact words were, ‘You were like an angel.’”


“Our ward had their Christmas party last Friday. We had a night in Bethlehem; the cultural hall was made to look just like Bethlehem, complete with life-size papier-mâché palm trees and camels. And Joel, Tennyson and I were Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. And Tennyson just cooed and waved his arms even though he was so hungry. And I couldn't stop looking at my beautiful boy. It didn't matter that there were hundreds of people watching--it was just the three of us. It must have been that way for Mary, though she had strangers coming to adore, it must have been so personal as well. And I can't help but think that dirty as that stable may have been, I would far prefer it to a crowded, bustling inn for giving birth to my baby.”


“Looking at [Kershisnik’s painting Nativity] made me think of how alone Mary was. I wonder if Joseph knew anything at all about childbirth. I wonder if anyone came to help Mary. […] I wonder how scared she was, a young woman far from home.  My Mississippi hospital doesn't let you touch the baby right after it is born. […] I was able to hold her for less than two minutes before they took her to the nursery. I'm not smiling in those first pictures. She was wrapped up and I barely got to touch her skin. Kevin went with her to the nursery. The doctor and nurses finished cleaning me up, and they all left. I've never felt so very alone.”


“Becoming a new parent is remarkable in so many ways, but what has stood out to me over the last three and half years is that parenthood is an exercise in love and sacrifice. In blessing us with responsibility for some of His beloved spirit children, God gives us the opportunity to be more like Him and to know our Heavenly Father and Savior better. Before Lucy and Elise were born, I was a little concerned. I couldn't imagine loving anybody as much as I loved Annika, and yet I had not one, but two new spirits coming to our family. How would I have enough love to share with three children? Of course I loved them immediately, but in the following two weeks as I trudged back and forth in the snow at all hours of day and night to visit them and feed them in the NICU, my love grew and deepened until I felt that my heart would overflow. I had prayed and prayed that I would be able to show two new, demanding babies enough love and those trips from my hotel to the hospital in the snow were the answer to my prayers. By allowing me the opportunity to sacrifice for my new baby girls, the Lord taught me how to love them.” 


“I have been thinking about this a lot, because we found out two weeks ago that I am having a boy.  His name is Jack, my little hero.  It somehow seems like a private, sweet miracle that I am pregnant with a boy during Christmastime.  All the lullabies I want to sing Jack are Christmas lullabies, and I hope Jesus doesn't think it's sacrilegious that I think about my little boy when I am singing Christmas songs that are actually about Him.

I think one of the reasons I love Christmas so much is that it's an entire season where the holy, unearthly, and mystical parts of the Gospel manifest themselves in the most humble and universal stories -- of a baby's birth.  As Jack's parents we are already pouring all of our love and hope into this tiny doll-child that has started nudging my innards.  At night I lie in bed, hoping to feel a reassuring squirm or two from him before I fall asleep, and I think how there's nothing I would not do for him.  I mean, he's not even out of the womb yet.  I will be a crazy mama.

But it humanizes Mary, and Jesus, in a way that is still so sacred.  In recent years I have thought a lot about Mary and Joseph's faith and bravery.  Why should anyone have believed her story?  Since when does a woman actually conceive a baby, if not by a man?  Probably no one did believe her, and probably one of the purest and best of women put up with being ridiculed and cruelly judged by her own people.  I think however, of how much she must have loved the little boy growing inside her, not just because he would be her Savior, but because he would be her baby.  Undoubtedly her bravery came not just from her faith and goodness, but from a mother's love.”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And Pondered Them in Her Heart

I was asked (or did I volunteer?) to do the script for a church Christmas activity for the Relief Society (the women's organization). I thought and thought, and couldn't get the idea out of my head that I was to ask women I know about their experiences with birth and family, that the words I would get would illuminate the spirit of Christmas in a way I needed to learn, and ultimately share.

Writing it wasn't exactly as neat and tidy a process as I had hoped/planned. Firstly, every single email I got back on my request made me weep. Seriously. Every.Single.One. And not just because just about everything baby-related tugs on my sad little heart lately. But also, and mostly, because they were all so deeply, astonishingly beautiful to me. I could have never guessed what a flood of beauty and spiritual reality I was opening gates for. I think God wanted that flood for me. But there was nearly a week where I was just sort of swimming in these words, riding them up and down, praying in gratitude, aching for aches and joying for joys. 

I couldn't include everything I received, and believe me, I tried. So I'll do another follow-up post to this one with the quotes I would have included had I but world enough and time. But I thought I'd share the script. I've sought permission for everything I've used here, and I even got permission to use the Kershisnik painting on our programs and display it at the front of the church.(He didn't technically give me permission to use it here, but hopefully he won't mind .... I mention it in the script.)

Anyway, enjoy.

And Pondered Them in Her Heart: Wreath Making Program
December 2011

Congregational Hymn: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”


Reader 1: Across the world at this time of year, people are unpacking their nativity sets. They pull out boxes from closets and garages and basements, brush off dust from a long year in storage, and unwrap last year’s January newspapers from three little figures: Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus Christ. Other figures follow—angels and camels and shepherds and wisemen and sheep. But tonight we’ll focus on these three figures, this Holy Family, this trio of players in one of the central events in human history.

Reader 2: Luke 2 tells us of this family’s experience: “And so it was, that while they were [in Bethlehem], the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Musical Number: “I Saw Three Ships”

Reader 3: When the angel announced to the shepherds the birth of the Savior, “they came with haste,” and we get our glimpse of the holy family through the eyes of the shepherds: “[they] found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

Reader 4: The shepherds went off to tell of the Christ child’s arrival, and we are told that while everyone wondered at the story, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Reader 1: It’s easy to understand Mary’s impulse to keep her sacred feelings to herself, but what might she have told us? What more might we know of the angelic annunciation, the long days of her pregnancy, the journey to Bethlehem, the search for lodging, her laboring, the delivery, and the quiet moments after when it was just her and the baby and Joseph in the stable, perhaps a few animals, a brightly shining star, and likely some manifestation of a heavenly presence?

Reader 2: Prophet Gordon B Hinckley said, “Christmas is more than trees and twinkling lights, more than toys and gifts and baubles of a hundred varieties. It is love. It is the love of the Son of God for all mankind. It reaches out beyond our power to comprehend. It is magnificent and beautiful. It is peace. It is the peace which comforts, which sustains, which blesses all who accept it.”

Reader 3: We may not have all the details, but we do know that on that night, in the humblest of circumstances, to a family who already loved Him and anticipated his arrival with joy and hope, the Savior Jesus Christ came. It was a silent, holy night.

Musical Number:  “Silent Night”

Reader 4: While we don’t have the direct story of Mary’s birth of Jesus, our world is full of stories of births, and what we learn in our own collective experience informs our understanding of the Christmas story: it seems that when a baby arrives—in whatever circumstance—that God meets the family in that arrival. Creating our own families, or even preparing or longing to create our families, changes the Christmas story, deepens it, makes the birth real.

Reader 1: Perhaps we can feel a little of what Mary felt on that sacred night as we listen to these personal accounts, which we’ve collected in hopes that they will help us feel the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of physical service and sacrifice, of new and fierce and earthshaking love.

Reader 2: “It’s difficult to describe the moment of that first breath of life for my babies. They have been the most sacred moments that I have experienced. Nate's entrance was the most vivid. I thought he would come out a girl so when he [arrived] with a little scowl on his face, the emotions were so powerful. I was entranced with him and I wouldn't let him sleep in the bassinet, only next to me in the bed no matter what the nurses said.”

Reader 3: “When Paul was born, only Chuck and I were in the house. The midwife was on the way—[we hadn’t realized how short the labor would be]. So in that moment it was still and quiet. […]This new babe looked at us and we looked at him and the whole experience seemed to transcend any worldly care. We were just family. Two links in an eternal chain that had somehow managed to add another link all by ourselves. We created him. It was amazing.”

Reader 4: “Josh was born one month before Christmas.  It was our first Christmas in our first home.  We bought a tree and some ornaments and a star for the top which we used [until] last year—44 years from when we bought it—when it no longer would light.  Even so I didn't discard it, thinking that I might be able to fix it sometime. […] I think Mary and Joseph came to know that their Son would go out and be sacrificed to save the world.  Sometimes I think that parents feel that they are sacrificing their children just so that they can go out into the world and be good and productive human beings.  It is never an easy thing to do […].”

Reader 1:  “After my daughter was born, I wrote [in my journal]: ‘Joy. Joy. Joy.’”

Special Musical Number: “Christ Child, Christ Child”

Reader 2: “When Ari came, I had the strongest feeling that I knew her [... ] It was like I recognized her.  I think I needed that witness for what [the two of us would go through together]. “

Reader 3: “I remember lying in the hospital bed thinking that I now knew how Mary felt when Jesus was born.  Relieved , a little frightened of what the future held, and so honored to be the child's mother.”

Reader 4: “After years of visits with doctors and tests, and what I thought was a successful IVF attempt, I had a miscarriage. […] As my body worked to heal from this loss I would wake up in the middle of the night, [feeling] sad and alone. It was in one of these moments that I thought about Mary, and I started to feel better. I am sure Mary felt alone and isolated, even distant from the people that loved her the most. At times she must have been overwhelmed by Heavenly Father’s plan for her. She surely wondered why she had been chosen. My situation could not be more different from hers, and I don’t pretend that I could ever be as good and faithful as she. Yet, in my saddest moment, thinking of her strength and bravery helped me to be strong and brave and helped me to continue following God’s plan for me, even when I didn’t understand it.”

Reader 1: “There is this holy moment when you first hold your child, when the sweat is still on your brow and your hands tremble with adrenaline, and your entire body aches and feels drained of life, and you hold your child and brush your finger over his soft cheek. It is holiness. It's God's gift of meeting.”

Reader 2: “For me, the true difficulty and trauma of childbirth came as a surprise. I've thought about Mary delivering a baby almost alone, in a dank, probably dirty place and I realize that it was such a humble circumstance for the Savior to have been born into. Humble for his parents—maybe scary and traumatic for them, humble for Him as a tiny newborn to have his first little bed be a place where animals eat. So lowly. And yet it was the greatest birth ever to have taken place, presided over by angels.”

Musical Number: “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella”

Reader 3: In Brian Kershisnik’s painting, which is on display at the front of the chapel, an eager and steady stream of angels flows above the intimate moment just after Christ is born. Mary is recovering, nursing her baby. Joseph seems overwhelmed, holding his hand to his face. A pair of midwives wash out stained rags, their eyes on the baby.

Reader 4: The original painting measures 17 by 7 feet, fills an entire wall, and Brian Kershisnik says that he painted it after his son was born. He says, "In my experience with the birth of my children … those felt like very heavily attended and witnessed events on a spiritual level. The room felt very occupied and full," he said. Those experiences make him wonder at how many spirits must have been present at Christ's birth, at "how many unnumbered people were all depending on this going through." 

Musical Number: “What Child is This?”

Reader 1: “What Child is This?” is the question we all ask of our Savior. Do we believe that he was who he said he was, that he came to rescue us from sin and sorrow and death? We ask it of our children—as we get to know them, as we bear and love and long for and lose them. We ask it of ourselves, as we seek to understand our place in the world.

Reader 2: And if we find the answer: that we are children of God, that Christ did indeed come in great love and power to sacrifice his life for us, then we begin to understand Christmas. We understand the meaning of the humble stable, and in part it means this: that God loved us enough to send his son—not to a grand royal court, or a wealthy estate, but right here with us, simply, the way we all came, to enter our hearts, to heal us. Christmas, the spirit of the season, is about God reaching down to us, as we, in turn, reach up to Him, and reach out to each other.

Reader 3: The current prophet of the LDS Church, Thomas S. Monson said, “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.  [The Christmas Spirit] is the spirit each true Christian seeks. This is the spirit I pray each may find. This is the Christ spirit. No quest is so universal, no undertaking so richly rewarding, no effort so ennobling, no purpose so divine. The Christmas season seems to prompt anew that yearning, that seeking to emulate the Savior of the world.”

Reader 4: May we seek to bless one another and remember our Savior this Christmas season. May we keep in our hearts the humility and power of the simple birth in the stable and babe in the manger. May we, like the shepherds, spread the love evidenced by His birth.  

Congregational Hymn: “O Come All Ye Faithful”