Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Holy Week musings on birth and death April 20, 2011

Filed under: Holidays,Mary,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:01 am

Our daughter was born last week, a brave and beautiful girl who made an unplanned earlier-than-expected home appearance into her father’s arms. It was in many ways a beautiful experience – surprisingly so, given the stress of the situation, and the paramedics rushing in within five minutes of her birth. The Lord was with us, and His brushstrokes of beauty painted the event for us in ways we couldn’t have guessed.

The birth reminded me of Mary’s – who one imagines ( as I’ve written about before) may have thought to herself as labor progressed: “Really, God? This is where this we’re going to be doing this, this stable? Not quite what I envisioned.” Did she have anyone with her more experienced at delivering the baby than Joseph, I wonder? Was he the one to tie off the cord, like my husband did?   Poor Joseph… his first “intimate” experience with his wife being of this ilk. Uncharted, bloody, a bit frightening. And yet, as our own experience last week testified, God must have made it beautiful.

The timing of our baby’s birth stands in odd contrast to Holy Week this week, and the anticipation of Easter. We celebrate the new life God has brought to our household, just as God’s people prepare to remember the willing death of Jesus on our behalf. Our Father brought a new life into our family, just at the time we commemorate the life our Savior willingly laid down for us… And was resurrected into new life, paving the way for our own rebirths. Experiences of birth and death again come together for us this week, co-mingling, as we so often see in the mysterious life of faith.

A favorite poem of mine is T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” and its theme and words fit my musings and have been ringing in my ears this week. It’s about the wise men on their journey to visit Jesus at the time of his birth, and yet everything about their journey speaks to them about death – His death and, in a way, their own. “Were we lead all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly; we had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death but thought they were different; this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us; like Death, our death.”

As we praise God for our sweet new girl, we praise Him too that He’s Lord of life and death – one not more than the other. He’s sovereign over both, and both fit mysteriously yet perfectly into His plan.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Mysterious transitions: childbirth and death April 4, 2011

Filed under: Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:25 am

I’m in the final few weeks of my pregnancy, and my energy and motivation levels are unusually low. Typically writing is an outlet I seek and an energizer for me, but “typical” hasn’t been the order of things for the past couple months.

A  topic I’ve found myself ruminating a bit about, and this is going to sound morbid at first so bear with me, are the parallels between childbirth and death. You might think I mean that bringing a child into the world represents a ‘death-to-self’ event because the moment your infant enters the world, her needs supersede your own and thus a spirit of selfless servanthood takes over. You die to self in promoting your new baby’s life. That’s true, but that’s not it.

What I’ve been reflecting on is how strange it is that, on the eve of bearing my fourth child, the whole thing still seems so surreal. I mean, I’ve been through labor and delivery three times now, I know how childbirth works, and I generally know what to expect. But still, I can’t fully get my head around the fact that sometime in the next few weeks, a brand new human being is going to emerge from my body. That it will happen at a time and in a way over which I have basically no control. That once the process has begun, there will be no turning back until it’s complete. And that once it’s done, a brand new reality sets in – my life will never be the same again. Things will be wholly, irreversibly, wonderfully different for me and my family than they are today. Even though my infant daughter moves bulbously in my enormous belly right now as I type, it still seems bizarre to me. I know what will soon happen, and yet I somehow also can’t fathom it.

In what other arenas in life do we run into such strange and mysterious circumstances? Few that I can think of; probably fewer in our modern era than in prior generations. The one event that seems equally strange and mysterious – more so, really – is death. An event that I know is coming, and yet one I really know nothing really about (far less, even, than I know about the circumstances of my baby’s birth).  In death I will move from one state to another; it is apt – like labor – to be an uncomfortable and taxing process. The possibility of fear and dread are present in death as they can be in childbirth – though neither fear nor dread need be present in childbirth or death.

And what will meet us on the other side? For the follower of Jesus, we know that the moments following our earthly deaths will be wonderful and glorious. We know intellectually that the moment we encounter our God face to face and enter His presence, every other wonderful moment in our lives will pale in comparison. We can believe this; be empowered and invigorated by it; live confident and Spririt-filled lives knowing that here on earth “we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (in heaven). (Heb 13:14)  But what does that really mean; what does it look like? What will it feel like? We have no idea till we’re actually undergoing it.

So for me, giving birth to a child is akin, in some shadow-like sense, to leaving earth and entering heaven. It’s embracing a wild and unfathomable mystery, an event completely orchestrated by God, a transition in which I’m ushered by my ever-present, sovereign, loving God from one reality into another. I’m a passenger on His train, moving where and how He takes me on a journey beyond my control. May I give myself, wholly and trustingly, to Him and His perfect care, in this transition as in that one, whenever His timing directs. “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”


The truth about fragility July 7, 2010

Filed under: Culture,For moms,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:13 am

A few days ago my sweet nephew entered the world, three months premature and weighing just under two pounds.  To say that his arrival threw our whole family into a tailspin wouldn’t begin to describe it.  With my own children arriving at 40 and 42 weeks, I’m a stranger to preemie births; none of my friends have delivered much before 38 weeks.  So I personally have no experience in this realm- to say nothing of my dear sister-in-law (and brother), this being her first pregnancy.  In five years of mothering, I’ve experienced nothing remotely close to just the first hour of her child’s life – the medicalization, the fear, the surrender, the complete lack of control.  The desperation for the health of that tiny child.

Thankfully the sweet babe is stable and faring okay, though of course he’s at the start of a very long road.  He’s bathed in prayers from scores and scores of devoted family members and friends. In my sister-in-law’s words, “God’s faithfulness is great, and we rest in the fact that Sam is in Jesus’ arms.  What better place to be as he continues to be knit together.”   

When I pray for Sam I often see the image of the Holy Spirit in dove form, hovering over his incubator… And I believe that’s what happening in the unseen realm.  Counselor, Guide, Protector – keeping watch there over him.  It brings me great comfort as I ponder his tiny body.  Thirteen inches long and so delicate – to judge from the photo – you’d think he might break during a diaper change.  A picture of fragility.

The thing I’ve been pondering though, is that I’m really just as fragile as little Sam. We all are; according to the Bible, we’re all a vapor. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  And yet this truth is so far from the American psyche, so far from my own mindset.  The great lie of our culture is that life is within our own control – that we can plan and organize and have things the way we want them (at least to some degree).  A manageable, long, and comfortable life is expected, even assumed.  And our enemy is in the business of propagating this worldview.  His goal is to keep the true fragility of our situation as far from our minds as possible. (more…)


A time to be born August 21, 2009

Filed under: For moms,Mothering role,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 3:34 am

cfr0099Four days ago our third child was born in her own unique, perfect way that will ever be famous and remembered among the members of our family.  Like every birth, it was an intense and overwhelming experience… one that is not less intense after having been through it several times before but rather, I found, more so.  How can it be that a new human being emerged into the world through my body on Sunday?  It seems impossible that I – that any woman – would have the opportunity to participate in a miracle of this magnitude.  That she’s now sleeping casually on my chest on the couch only makes it all stranger still.

This afternoon as I was nursing our tiny newborn, my husband found one of our three chickens dead in our backyard coop.  As I saw him carry its stiff body through the yard, I suddenly teared up.  The dead hen was such a contrast to our fresh-from-the-womb daughter, I found it overwhelming.  Last weekend was my daughter’s time to enter the world; today was the hen’s day to leave it.  God’s sovereign over both.

“There is a time to be born and a time to die.” (Eccles 3:2).  I had the opportunity to not just witness the birth of my daughter last weekend but to actually facilitate it.  What an unspeakable privilege.  I did not create this wee girl; I have nothing to do with how her cells were formed, how her bones came to calcify within her skin, the sight of her eyes or the hearing of her ears.  I have nothing to do with who she is as a person. All that was – and is – God’s work.  Yet He involved me… intimately.  I get to be an integral part of her ‘time to be born,’ this inception of her life.  Amazing.


Pregnant Mary, reconsidered August 7, 2009

Filed under: Books,Mary,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 9:53 pm

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent more of this pregnancy pondering the expectant Mary than either of my previous pregnancies.  One factor is that my son, nearly 4, adores the nativity story and always asks to read it after we finish whatever chapter of the Bible we’re on…  and has taken to asking if his new baby sister will be born into a manger when she arrives.  Quite sweet.  [As an aside, we recently got a copy of the Big Picture Story Bible and I’m loving it, as is he – so much more appropriate to his age and developmental mindset than the others we’ve used.]

Here on the left page is this picture of Mary with an enormous belly wobbling atop a donkey while she’s going into labor…  and then on the right page, she’s reclining on the hard earth next to an animal feeding stall containing her newborn infant son.  Talk about challenging birthing circumstances. (more…)


Questions from the waiting room July 1, 2009

Filed under: Fear,For moms,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 7:56 am

doctor-summoning-woman_~vmo0198Pretty quiet on the blogging front as we’re on vacation for a few weeks.

Last week I had my routine OB check-up a couple days before our departure.  It was my 32-week appointment and I expected the normal quick in, quick out: weight, blood pressure, heartbeat, mini-chat with my midwife.  My mind was on packing and final preparations for the trip.  It caught me off guard, therefore, when the midwife detected that the baby’s heartbeat was irregular. 

Without panic or fanfare, the midwife arranged an appointment for me with the perinatologist in a nearby town for the following morning.  Irregular heartbeats at this stage were not at all uncommon, she explained to me, but were cause for information-gathering and possible monitoring.  As I emerged from the elevator and walked to my van in the parking lot, I began mentally scanning options for childcare for our two kids for my appointment the next day — while also fighting back tears. (more…)


Did Mary have varicose veins? June 13, 2009

Filed under: For moms,Mary,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:47 am

FRBW0179I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ birth and the Bible’s telling of Mary’s pregnancy and delivery experience with him over the past few weeks.  I’m not sure exactly why this pregnancy, #3, would be the one to kick off this line of pondering rather than the previous two, but today I wondered if  maybe it has to do with my varicose and spider veins.  I got them a little in pregnancy #1; they came out a little more in pregnancy #2; this time around they’re really glaring. I remember being a little girl and noticing that my mom’s legs did not look…  well, like other people’s legs (no offense Mom), and now I see those same legs gradually emerging in my own.

It made me think: did Mary have varicose veins?  Or stretch marks, perhaps?  What a bizarre paradox to be Mary, carrying in her womb the infant – the “second Adam” – who would reverse the curse brought on to us by our first parents…  And yet do so under the very curse that Eve accrued for herself and all womankind after her, the challenges and mars of childbearing.  Even she, carrying the child who would wipe out the curse, still labored (literally) under it. (more…)