Sunday, December 18, 2011

Exquisite Tears

I cupped my chin in my hand to prevent my mouth from gaping wide open. The aerobic effort to hide my state of incredulity at her words left my heart racing. We were genteel southern women. I knew my manners. My hand pressed my chin harder into my jawline. I fought the urge to roll my imaginary set of inner eyeballs in secret derision.

Southern sweet tea would have seemed hard candy sour compared to her. A soft, feathery voice slipped out of perfectly bowed lips. Her lilting speech reeked of well-practiced affectation. She was the kind of girl for whom antique fainting couches existed. I was crass by comparison. I smiled and nodded as she droned on in that syrupy way meant to punctuate the intensity of her spiritual devotion. I'd never be THAT sweet nor THAT spiritual. Sigh.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It was the season of Advent. Holidays brought out the weepy in her. Truthfully, everything brought out the weepy in her. Life had already battered me enough that not a lot reduced me to tears. Except maybe having to endure much more of this little window into her world. I was captivated and repulsed at once. Maybe there was a tiny little piece of me that wished I was her. Or wished I had her southern sweet tea kinda life.

I had given birth within the previous year. Altho' God created the process of childbirth to include something akin to amnesia, thus enabling any woman to sign up for a 2nd trip to the delivery suite, my amnesia had not quite kicked in. I remembered. Fraidy cat that I am, I had opted OUT of natural childbirth. She, of course, had panted and focused and chanted her way perfectly through the most perfect of multiple natural deliveries.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
She began to glow as she recounted her birthing experiences and then asserted, “I don't think Mary had a bit of pain from birthing our Savior. I think it was such a joy to bring forth the long awaited Messiah that any pain she felt was swallowed up in the knowledge of her role in history.” I sat up sharply and squirmed a bit at my own memories of waiting on the doctor of wonder drugs to hook me up and ease my pain. It's a wonder I didn't crack my teeth from the force of holding my jaw clenched shut.

In what would have been considered the sedate amount of 'southern time', I let her comment hang in the air while she awaited my response. It was an act worthy of an Oscar on my mantle. I wanted to explode with the intensity of my digressing opinion. I tried to match her polished poise lest I appear as crass as I felt.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I had not yet lost faith in my good God nor been compelled to go searching for him. Yet, even then, it was apparent that she had an easy, trusting nature. She was that cheerleader kind of girl whom God would scoop up in his lap to love on while I pandered at his feet waiting for my turn. If my turn ever came.

Really, “I asked, “Really? She was traveling on the back of an animal while 9 months pregnant, maybe even in labor, and you think she didn't have pain? Oh, Girl, I don't think God handed her some supernatural IV epidural. I think she felt everything I felt if not more. I had the comfort and ease of a modern, well staffed delivery room. She had a caravan ride between her and a stable filled with farm animals. No. I think her birthing experience and mine weren't all that different.”

My companion sniffed a bit, dismayed but too genteel to tell me how pathetic I was given my inability to catch the fire of her Advent glow. Doing what genteel southern women do, we agreed to disagree and delicately changed the subject.....before the hair pulling started. Bless our heart, honey.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Many years later I thought of her when Son #2 made his unexpected way into the world. I was again waiting on the doctor of wonder drugs to deliver my epidural. Balancing on the newest of birthing gadgets, a stability ball, I worked my way through yet another contraction. It was not Advent, but I had an epiphany. The motion reminded me of the few times I had ridden a pony.

My mind slipped seamlessly from the sway of the stability ball to the sway of the pony ride to Mary swaying back and forth on the beast of burden that carried her into destiny and beyond into the echoes of history. The magic of the stability ball helped me cope for just a little while longer. As the pain intensified and I became fretful in advance of the doctor's arrival, I wondered if the swaying journey eased Mary's pain up to a point. I wondered at what point she cried out and wished for an end to the pain. I wondered how it would be to endure the pain of delivery knowing the child she carried was destined to suffer for humankind.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It is Advent again. As Christmas approaches, I remember both the conversation and my stability ball epiphany. Historians tell us Mary was young enough to be on a modern version of an MTV show about unwed teen pregnancies. Her story was just about as sordid unless you understood how it began and who set it in motion. I wonder how she coped. I wonder how her faith and hope remained secure despite the sensitivity of her situation in her day and time.
I see her on the back of the donkey wondering how much longer, how much farther, how much more pain before it would be over. Her suffering was, perhaps, different than mine. She suffered exquisite pain to bear an exquisite gift for someone she never knew: me. Before I know it, something exquisite happens. Tears flow down my cheeks. Exquisite tears. 
Luke 2: 4-7 (NIV)
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.


  1. Good perspective. For some reason people seem quite happy with the divine side of Jesus' birth and life but shy away from the very human aspects. Personally, I think Jesus had colic, all the childhood diseases AND acne when he reached puberty.

  2. I think scripture seems to bear that out...but then I'm not the theologian...just the cheerleader in training. Thank you for continuing to come back for a bit more of my skewed perspectives on life. You are one brave chaplain-preacher!