If you haven’t read Rachel Kathrine’s post “The Widow,” well, it really is very good. I think perhaps I’m enamored with her peek at Jesus and the Widow because writing Survivor Songs has so far been for me an exercise in sacrifice. I perceive poverty; I feel as though I have so little to give. In a temple filled with rich writers each pouring forth golden-laced words, what are my two copper coins?
One of the commenters on Rachel’s post, a woman named Anna, made note that humility, a trait of the widow, comes from the word humus.
Humus: the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms.
She writes, humility, “essentially meaning being earthed/rooted in God. It fits so beautifully here- she (the widow) was earthed in God, in His deep love for her, and out of this flowed her gift. And I like to think of Him using her deep grief to earth her more deeply in Him.”
Isn’t that an incredible thought? Our griefs earth us more deeply in God.
I have given birth to six children. I have birthed them all in water, through a ring of fire into a waiting pool, and I have felt in each birthing a death, and a resurrection. I have roared and wept and moaned and surrendered, I have pushed and breathed and felt every sensation of six human bodies breaking free, coming forth.
But our last baby, a girl named Eden Grace, I birthed in silence.
Hers was a pregnancy carried in a season of grief – not a broken-hearted grief, but the grief of a upended life; a life misplaced, a life unrooted.
She had been conceived mere weeks before my husband’s Afghanistan deployment – he departed a week after her surprise was discovered, and returned two days before her birth – and I carried her, all, completely, alone.
I’m surprised by my tears as I write this. I’m surprised at the invitation I hear to mourn. I didn’t want to go here, this isn’t where I intended to take this post. Why is it rising now?
My mama, in her worry, once referred to these nine months of pregnancy, these nine months of deployment, as “the hardest time in your life,” and it was both true and false. It was not hard like a crisis, or a tragedy, or soul-scraping counseling. But to keep up with what was demanded of me?
It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
To wake up every day of my pregnancy, no matter how sick, how tired, how deep the sciatica, and care for five children. To school them, potty train them, keep the house clean, cook the meals, be kind. To hold in the heart all the concern for a husband in battle, to wait out the long nights and days of silence, never knowing when his call will come, hoping always that he’s all right. Worrying throughout the night hours…that he’s not.
To leave my home behind. To say goodbye to one of my dearest friends because, with our husbands both deployed, we had nothing left to give to each other, we couldn’t be the other’s support. To have nothing, absolutely nothing left in my body or my brain. To need so much, to not know how to meet the need.
To move move back home with parents. To be acutely aware that I am both welcomed…and a burden. To pack all of my life into a minivan and travel across the continent, too sick to eat, a mess of tears, utterly dependent on my daddy.
To become ill from the stress, to find myself on the floor, pain writhing, to be told to buck up and pull myself together. To be misunderstood. To be hospitalized. To depend on friends and family and all the while…
Hold deep inside, deep, deep inside, a child.
A promise of something more.
I changed in those nine months. A dependency upon God etched deeper and deeper into the rock of my heart. My spirit dug deep into the rich soul-earth, shoving down roots, entangling Him, holding on and being held and drinking from the hidden, buried streams.
I gave birth at Bella Vie Gentle Birth Center on Jerusalem Road in Hopewell, Oregon. Everything about the name and the location whispered Promise.
As the due date approached I found myself each week surrounded by the comfort of midwives, midwives who offered giving touch, something I missed so achingly with the absence of my husband. These midwives cupped my belly and my face and smiled, offering joy; they rubbed my hips and massaged my back and listened to every word that needed said, every feeling that needed expressed. These midwives rejoiced in my baby. I was not a burden, nor was the child. She was a miracle anticipated. I was strong, competent, whole. “How crazy-delightful to have a pregnancy during a deployment,” they seemed to beam, “excellent choice! Bravo.”
“The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” Exodus 1:17.
The midwives helped me live, too.
Shall I tell you a birth story? I’m still crying, silly girl. Perhaps I will let this be my own Survivor Song?
Eden Grace Eliya was delivered at nearly 3 AM, after a labor of only a few hours. (She was the sixth baby, remember? My body had done this a few times!)
The birth center smelled of coffee, essential oils, candle wicks; midwives in yoga pants huddled in the chill of an early spring night to greet me as we crept up the drive; and I had a doula, a nurturing stand-in-the-gap doula who had prepared to be surrogate husband had David not arrived.
But David had arrived, and here he was, smelling still a little like Afghanistan, crouched low in a tub to bear the weight of my glory.
This is where I get to why I started this story at all.
In all of my labors I have birthed with noise – good, strong, low noise, powerful noise. But noise came falsely from my throat, now, and I flailed.
“I’m tight, and I cannot open,” I whispered to the midwife. “I have kept this baby safe for so long, kept her tight, kept her alive, and I don’t know how to open and let her come out.” Each time I visualized the baby emerging, I saw her hit her head on the floor. I had worked so hard. So hard for nine months to eat well, despite my exhaustion and distracted attention, and I had taken such solace in knowing she was inside growing on her own. I had known that I had nothing left to give to the baby, but so long as she stayed inside, she would be alright. Everything was suddenly different – David had returned – we were moving home – it was time to let go.
“Let go,” the midwife whispered back, “let her come down, all the way down and out – push her deep, deep down, down into the earth, like a root. Imagine a root. Push her all-the-way to the tip. Dig deep into the soil and give her away.”
I know it sounds silly, but it was as though her words were the voice of the Holy Spirit. At the word root, my mind hooked onto an image of a parsnip. A parsnip! A parsnip, long, fat at the top and curled to a string at the end, growing fat and secretly in a rich, black earth. And oh, I pushed. I pushed from the top of that ridiculous parsnip to the furthermost tip, pushing the baby into the imagined soft ground, pushing silently, without a single noise.
Eden Grace emerged in sacred hush.
I was astounded.
“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'” Isaiah 30:15.
Something had changed inside of me during the nine months of pregnancy-deployment. The griefs and stresses had decomposed into a rich, organic soil. I had grown, just as the baby had grown. I wasn’t who I used to be.
All of this hit me powerfully because this silent birth represented what I had been required to learn during the nine months of deployment, and said to me, you did learn it, and you learned it well. Throughout those months I had possessed no choice but to fall silent, as I had neither the time to write nor the energy to connect with many friends. In order to survive, and survive well, I had been required to drill deep inside myself to find sustaining resources rather than look to my typical outside helps. Now I was fascinated to see this reality manifest itself in birth.
There was a steadfastness to this God who had anchored me deeply in Himself.
Humility, humus, “essentially meaning being earthed/rooted in God. It fits so beautifully here- she was earthed in God, in His deep love for her, and out of this flowed her gift…(he used) her deep grief to earth her more deeply in Him.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who are earthed in Jesus.
They shall be…
I still can’t believe he took such care of me.
This post is part of Survivor Songs, a 31-Day series. A full list of posts is found here.