I hate the sound of it, the smell of it, the notion of it, more than anything I hate the feeling of it. I hate needing people, help, love, affirmation. I don’t want to need anybody. I don’t even want to want anybody. I’ve lived years trying to fool myself into believing if I just tried hard enough, I could avoid weakness altogether and I would never know brokenness or pain.
My last baby boy, Shepherd, was born at home. I had several emotionally traumatic hospital births and I knew if I wanted a different experience, I would have to choose to do things differently for myself. So, I did. I called the midwife and put my head down and tried to just keep going, minute by minute, through my pregnancy. I taught until I could hardly stand. Fear of the unknown could just about take my breath if I sat down before I was so tired I could fall asleep sitting up. I was afraid that if I tried to prepare myself with books, or DVDs, or mantras, or conversations, I would give up on myself before I gave myself a chance to have my baby the way I wanted. So, I just didn’t prepare. There were supplies on the required list that I literally never ordered because I just couldn’t face the fact that I was about to do this. Myself.
I don’t go into labor on my own, I just don’t. Not a week after my due dates, not ten days, not two weeks. My body holds onto babies just like my heart, we just can’t let go of them.
Twelve days after my due date seemed as good a day as any, so my beloved red-haired midwife came over late in the afternoon to break the water that stood between my baby and the wide world. Labor began, with it came my first experience with the full scope of the anticipation and pain and fear and internal fight that mothers have breathed and rocked through since the beginning of time. I walked and prayed until I could no longer do either.
My hand-picked few took their cues from me and gave me space and quiet and stillness and dark.
I was desperate for relief from the pain but also afraid of the respite the water would offer. What if I am reaching for help too soon? What if I am weaker than everyone else, my body more broken, less capable? What if I am using the warmth of the water to catch my breath before I have even entered the realm of what billions of women know of birthing babies? What if the strength I need isn’t there when I need it? What if I’m just not strong enough and He doesn’t answer my cry? I let go a little and stepped into the water.
I got scared.
I felt alone.
I finally cried out for my midwife Sheryl, realizing deep in the back closet of my mind that there was no way back now, only through. Her voice cut through the voices in my head telling me I couldn’t and she told me I could. And then she told me how, as only her experience attending 1,000 births could inform her. It took a gift of impossible strength to get from the floor to the bed. Minutes later, I heard my baby’s cry mingled with triumphant joy from the mothers in the room. They knew there was a death and a resurrection happening in my spirit in those minutes, and they knew we were all here to birth more than a fresh newborn babe.
I was changed. God met me on my way, and He changed me.
I learned how weakness is transformed into strength in the company of wise women. I learned that there isn’t anything particularly particular about me. My body breaks and bends, rebels, and relents, and recovers. In that moment, in that room, my crying out couldn’t have been deciphered from anyone else’s.
Mothers have always cried out like that. Mothers who never got to hold their children, or never will again. Women whose empty arms ache for their own babies to mother and to whom God has said not now, or not the way you thought. Spiritual mothers, laboring in prayer and fasting over the broken and beautiful body of Christ on earth. Raw, newborn mothers broken by our way of life, isolated, depressed, overwhelmed. I have sat with mothers weeping over another mother’s child, far away and out of reach. I have wept with foster mothers as they breathe and rock and weep through their own labor; working their way through inadequacy and old wounds, being born again into the cracked jars God fills to pour out Living Water for the thirsty.
Women have a unique way of pointing straight into the heart of God with their lives as they live and move and suffer and breathe for the tender new life shooting up around them. This mothering life, spiritual and physical, has been my path to the Holy time and again. This life giving, from beginning to end, requires of us more than we have to give and points us to the source of life. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! Remember the feet of Jesus’ friend Mary, running to preach the Gospel of the risen Christ in joy. Remember the mother Mary, preaching good news of mercy, justice and strength. Open your mouth, O woman, and speak forth what He has done for you! Beat back the flames of hell with your songs of praise.
The suffering of women is a bit of a recurring theme in humanity, isn’t it? We have an enemy who knows too well the power of women who know God and the gifts he gives. He hates to see mothers operating in freedom, with strength, dignity, and power. He works through the systems of humanity to cut mothers and daughters off from clean water, education, agency, voice, and joy and bind them in the cords of poverty and violence. He knows the life givers threaten his kingdom of death and so he attacks women strategically.
I have been in the room to see the enemy of women banished by the prayers of a mighty mother-warrior, praying the kingdom of darkness down to set another mother free. In congregations where the voices of women are silenced or warned against or shamed into hiding, you’ll find women quietly making their way from doorstep to doorstep, bringing the Good News, the Great Joy, the healing of the whole world to each other. They will never seek recognition for their secret priesthood, and they likely won’t receive it. But the God of the universe is watching, supplying the power and authority these women walk in.
I have seen women walking in freedom, joy, and quiet confidence; full of gentleness that earthly language can’t explain in a world that only understands the language of power and aggression. It can be terribly tempting to shed the quiet and gentle Spirit we see modeled in our Savior in favor of a way that seems safer to women, who are so often used, hurt, left, and in danger.
When the chains of people pleasing, self-obsession, comparison, misogyny, brutal patriarchy, victimization, fear and doubt are broken, brand new women are raised up to carry love to a hurting and broken world in unique and beautiful ways.
The fruit of the labor of women is all the beauty in the world.
And tonight, I remember her.
Mary, the mother of God, knelt down in the straw bringing Light to the darkness. When God could have spoken life into the world any way He chose, he chose this way. The way of the woman, quiet and gentle, strong and courageous. He was sufficient for her and she was sufficient for us. And the weary world rejoices, the angels sing, time stops, and we are never the same!
I remember her tonight, the night before the Third Sunday of Advent. We will light the candle of joy, and the light of the world will enter our darkness once again. Joy to the weary world. Rejoice, Mary holds our hope in her arms, made strong by the Spirit of God. In her we find our call, in her we find our way. His banner over you is love and in Him you find all you need to bring life to the weary world. He has made your arms strong to carry it.