My heart beat wildly in my chest. “Bump, bump” Bump, bump, bump”. I was sure everyone could hear it. I walked slowly into the large worship center, eyes fixed on the bright stained-glass window over the altar, chin up, forcing myself to appear calmer, more secure than I felt. The fir Advent wreaths, flickering taper candles, and felt liturgical banners hanging on the walls brought a sense of calm, familiarity after a long absence.
Quiet organ processional music played as families settled into their cushioned pews. greeted families, neighbors greeted newcomers. Congregational members gave little notice to my family walking forward, looking for seats enough for five. Mom, Dad, my two younger sisters and I, all with varying shades of red hair, tall, lanky like my dad. Serious, but kind faces.
I walked behind her tall, serious, auburn haired mother straight down the center aisle. Her strawberry blonde hair pulled up in a high ponytail, bangs swept to the right, short ringlets hanging from her temples causing her to look sixteen, instead of 21, almost 22 years of age. Her hair and clear blue round collar revealed a young, clear porcelain face, high cheekbones, and a face meant for smiling. Warm brown eyes reflected trepidation, caution, weariness. The remainder of my family flanked me, younger sisters behind her, father bringing up the back. Although having my family surround her should have felt like a show of unity, of protection, I felt more shame, more insolation than anything I could have ever imagined. I wanted to cry, to be anywhere but here. My heart beat erratically, threatening an anxiety attack. I took deep, quiet breaths attempting to calm the growing desire to turn and run. I shifted my shoulders up and back, drawing the second-hand royal blue knee length empire waistline dress up, revealing my very round, very pregnant protruding basket-ball like belly to the world for all to see. As the family sat quietly in our pew, my eyes gazed down at the brownish-gray nubbish carpet and I flashed back to the conversation with my mother seven months ago…
“Mom, I’m pregnant”. The words hung in the air. “And I’m having the baby.” My eyes searched her face for some response, some comfort, some love. Instead I saw her anger, her disappointment reflecting in every muscle of her face. “Well, I guess you’re on your own.” And she turned on her heel, walked directly to her car, and drove away. Leaving me standing in the middle of the Village Inn parking lot, tears running down my face, lost and utterly alone. I sat in my car sobbing, waiting for the tears to subside. Then, with a sense of foreboding and shame, I drove quietly to the apartment I shared with two roommates. Sitting on the patio looking out onto the concrete volleyball courts, I struggled to reconcile myself to my mother’s reactions; to accept gracefully. After all, her first born daughter had done the unimaginable - I was pregnant. No husband in sight. Not even a boyfriend for that matter. With resignation and tears I whispered aloud, “Ok, God, it’s you and me. I have no idea what I’m doing. You’re going to have to do this.” As I laid down on my air mattress in my 10x10 room exhausted and spent, the Spirit within my soul whispered “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Somehow I slept.
Much later Mom had called. In the months that followed, she had done her best to offer support in providing me second-hand maternity clothes, offering me a couch to sleep on when my air conditioning broke in the middle of Phoenix 110 degree summer heat. I appreciated the much needed, although somewhat reserved assistance. It always felt forced, done out of duty or responsibility. There was no joy for her upcoming grandchild; no celebration of the life to come. I grieved for her for that. But that was my fault, after all. I didn’t follow the rules. It’s not like something awful had happened to me. I was no victim. I had chosen my actions. I had chosen to enjoy sex outside of marriage. I caused the pregnancy, the isolation, the grief, the shame. I caused it. So, here I was, going to church on Christmas Eve, at my mom’s request. Trying to build bridges that were wobbly at best. Trying to demonstrate my grief and sorrow for my actions, to be allowed to once again be a part of her love, a part of the family. Sitting in this church of my childhood. The service started. Stand up. Sit down. Stand. Greet your neighbors. Sit again. My thoughts swirled as I followed the Lutheran service, sang the hymns, and glanced shyly around the congregation, noticing all of my mom’s friends, hoping I had entered unnoticed - the prodigal daughter.
My focus drifted back to the service, the pastor standing at the podium, starting what I expected would be a typical Christmas Eve nativity sermon. And then I sat up, leaned in. Ok, maybe not physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually - leaned in. He was talking about Mary. Looking at her life, her predicament, her possible perspective of the events that led up to her baby’s birth; Jesus birth.
This is where my mind took it’s own creative turn on the pastor’s sermon. Mary’s world, according to the Bible, was in chaos. First, she’s pregnant. And not married. I knew that story, and had heard it a zillion times, but still it caught my attention. I felt a little less alone, a slight sistership with this beautiful woman of God. Granted, God’s spirit got her pregnant, not a guy she thought she loved, but still unmarried and pregnant. And sure, God came to her, told her God’s spirit had placed a babe in her womb, but who’s going to believe that? I could feel her worry, her confusion, her timid questioning and trying to sort out how the details of life would work out. Where will she live? How will she provide a home for this child? How in the world can she even be pregnant. Thank goodness for that angel clearing things up a bit. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you…”Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God… (Lk 1:28-30). And Mary responded “May your word to me be fulfilled”. So honest, so calmly. No wringing hands, no tears? No pleading or yelling? Evidently Mary wasn’t from my family.
And then there was Joseph - such a kind, trusting man. His woman ends up pregnant, and he decides to quietly divorce (Matt 1:19) to not antagonize the situation. Again, the angel of the Lord speaks, “ Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…”
My heart heard and understood, even related to the level of chaos circling around Mary, her family, her town. Even her country plotted to disrupt her life, calling them to travel across country to be counted in the Roman census. I thought worrying about how to buy a crib or support a child on my own was traumatic. And yet, as I listened, I felt the underlying spirit of the message. A message of calm. A message of love. A message of peace. The Spirit of God that lived then, that sent the angels to speak to Mary and Joseph lives now through the Holy Spirit. The love God felt for his son, He felt for me, his child, his daughter. Breaking through the sermon I heard His voice sweetly, softly remind me “I love you as I loved Mary. You are my beloved. As the pastor spoke about the Holy Night of Nights, the night at the inn, I felt the insecurity of their situation. I too had no home. I felt alone and isolated by circumstances in the middle of a crowd of people I had known since middle school. I had an apartment. I had a bed and a couch. That was it. And if there was peace in the manger, God could make a way for there to be peace in my humble home. If God could provide for Mary and Joseph, He could provide for my child, he wouldn’t hold my mistakes against her.
As we listened to Holy Night, tears rose. I have you. I love you. I am here with you. Right now. I love the child you carry more than you ever can. I created that child. It is not a surprise to me.
As I look back at that night, those months leading up to my daughter’s birth, God was working on my heart. He was showing me who He was - growing my head knowledge of him by planting heart knowledge of him. Allowing me to experience Him. I still worried about our future. I still struggled with shame and doubt. But that night, I began to understand how the Holy Night in the manger gave birth to the One True Prince of Peace. From that night on until now, I remember that first conversation with Him on my patio. “Ok, God, it’s you and me. And I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s got to be all you.” And I smile, knowing how He has blessed me with a peace that passes all understanding. We ask, and we shall receive.