Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mother Mary

Perhaps it's not surprising that I’ve found myself thinking about Mary in this Advent season of being “great with child.” Some pretty amazing things happened to her - an angel appearance seems pretty spectacular, and it’s not every day a heavenly being says you’ve found favor in the eyes of the Lord.  Still, she had to put up with an awful lot of unpleasantness as well.  As I reflected last year on that “holy, messy night,” I imagine the whole experience looked less like a Christmas card and more like Imogene Herdman crying and crying over the baby Jesus.

While her cousin Elizabeth was celebrating a long-awaited baby and the removal of her reproach, Mary was facing shame, suspicion, and likely shunning. The turned backs of neighbors and friends may have seemed a lot more real than the memory of being highly favored. While she was busy laboring in a stable, the shepherds got the whole hallelujah chorus.

Mary experienced a whole lot of trouble along with the glimpses of glory, but after all she had no ordinary role.

After the shepherds and wisemen faded from sight, off to share their moments of epiphany, Mary was still there. She was the one to hold baby Jesus, to gaze into his face, to touch his pudgy cheek.  She nursed him and held him through sleepless nights. Imagine seeing the first of Jesus’ smiles, hearing his childish whispers of love.

Mary was there for the quiet years of his growth. The rest of us know so little about his childhood, but she was there through each moment of it. She knew his favorite food and favorite friends. She laughed at his silly jokes. She wrapped skinned knees and dried tears. He was hungry and she fed him, thirsty and she gave him something to drink, naked and she clothed him, sick and she cared for him - every single day.

Jesus’ closest followers got three years with him; Mary had thirty-three. There was much she did not yet understand, but by the time he started his ministry, imagine how much she already knew of him! She had known he was special from before he was even conceived.

She was there at his birth, and she was there at his death. She stayed nearby and watched him suffer, because how could she turn away now? Though she was helpless and brokenhearted, she gave him all she could: her presence in a time of abandonment. And even in his anguish, Jesus made sure his mother would be cared for.

I think it’s appropriate that Mary was one of the first to know of his resurrection. And how did she come to find out? She was going to fulfill her last motherly duty - anointing her son’s body with burial spices. She wasn’t expecting a miracle - she was doing what she could to care for her son, just as she always had.

How is it that she got to be a part of so many big moments - his announcement, his birth, his first miracle, his death, his resurrection? Certainly she was special, blessed among women. But I think she witnessed these things because she was there.

She didn’t miss the big moments because she was already there for all the little moments. She was already there washing his clothes and making his food, worrying if he was getting enough rest. She swaddled him at birth, and she prepared to anoint his body at death. She had the opportunity to see Jesus from the first to the last. After all, she was his mother.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Third Child

In most American families, the first and second children are more or less a given. Sure, there are some couples who don’t have any children, through their own choice or not. But since most people expect kids, they probably get a lot of inappropriate questions about why they don’t have any. And there are certainly people who only have one child, but in general after you have one, people are wondering when you’re going to produce the sibling and don’t you want one of each sex?
But plenty of families stop at two kids. It’s really the rational thing to do. You have fulfilled your obligation to provide a sibling and reproduce yourselves. You have quite enough insanity to keep your busy and you might as well stop before you are outnumbered. We are well past the age of needing help around the farm, we have access to birth control - there’s really no practical reason for that third kid. (Granted, one could say that having children in the first place is an insane decision, practicality wise.)
By the third child, you know what you are getting yourself into. I didn’t love my first pregnancy, but it was more or less a piece of cake compared to these later two. The second pregnancy was pretty much miserable, so this time I knew what I was in for.
Maybe you got lucky with a super easy first baby and thought, “I can handle this; I must be really good at this parenting thing.” But unless the universe is super tilted in your favor, the second child is bound to come along and prove you wrong. (I was fortunate to have the “high needs” one first, so the second seemed easy in comparison).
At any rate, by this point you have realized that when you finally get through the sleepless nights, you still have the tantrums and potty training and blatant defiance and education worries...and you have discovered that sleepless nights do not end with babyhood. This parenting thing just keeps being hard, so why in the world would you go and start over again with another baby?
Unless it’s a total surprise, the third baby is usually more of a decision. You weigh the pros and cons. The house isn’t going to get any bigger, which means three kids in the same room waking each other up. In America you will have three car seats. I know those things are live saving, but it's going to take 30 minutes just to get everyone strapped in. In China you will have to somehow rangle three children down five flights of stairs. Three kids sure don’t fit on a bike, and can you really get that many on and off a bus by yourself? You may never go out again.
While I understand the principles of addition, they don’t seem to apply to children. Each added child seems to multiply the laundry and mess and chaos and tiredness. You already rarely see the bottom of the laundry hamper as it is, and now you are thinking about adding 5x the laundry (because somehow, that’s how it works)??
So why in the world do you have that third child?
Just because you want to. It’s not for convention or practicality or obligation. It doesn’t make sense. But you look around at your two child chaos and feel like something is still missing. Your family is not complete. You have the third child just because you want them. (Hopefully and presumably you wanted the first to as well, but the third child is just special. Which I’m not just saying because I am a third child...) The third child is like a bonus.
Besides, you know what you are getting into. You don’t have to worry (too much) about all the weird pregnancy symptoms, and it’s going to take a lot more than a few stretch marks to faze you. You know that pregnancy will in fact one day end. You feel like you could probably deliver your own baby on the side of the road, if it came down to it.
You already know about the heart-melting first smiles. You know how incredibly awesome it is to finally sleep through the night, and you will never again take it for granted. The first two have eaten an awful lot of fuzzy stuff off the floor and fallen head first off an awful lot of chairs without dying, so there’s a pretty good chance this next one will survive too. You know that one day this baby will be able to wrap its arms around your neck and say, “I wuv you, mama!”
You already know how much the siblings will enjoy each other, fighting and all. The first child is old enough to understand what is going on, to feel the baby kick and discuss again the mystery of just how it’s going to get out of your stomach. You know the coloring and block building and dancing around the living room will be that much more exciting with someone else to join the party.
You have seen how incredibly different those first two children are in looks and personality, and you cannot imagine either of them not existing in the world. You know this third will be a totally new surprise.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s not practical. You’ll lose a lot of brain cells and gain a lot of gray hairs. But you have that third child anyway, just because you want to.
This is the irrational season
Where love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
-Madeleine L’Engle