It felt like I had been slapped in the face. Or the stomach.
The air came gushing out of my mouth and I choked on the sob that threatened to escape.
Sitting in the third row of church, my back stiffened and I involuntarily tightened my hands into fists. Forcing myself to unclench them, they ran straight to my sides where they stayed clutching my ribs until I could no longer hold my composure. I reached down to the floor, grabbed my purse and tried (unsuccessfully) to make a quiet exit. I knew I shouldn't have sat in the third row, but there was a baby in the back and no where else to go.
Lately, it's been so easy to go to church. It's not like I'm always comfortable there, or really want to go; but the Spirit in me makes it quite obvious that I need to go. I need to hear the good news, the Gospel, and I need the community.
No, they aren't like me in tangible ways that are not always noticeable to those who don't know me or even to those who have forgotten; but we are all in the same boat. We are all foreigners in this land, struggling to live the lives we've been given by our Father.
These truths were easily forgotten yesterday when H. (our pastor) started in on some of most widely used symbols in the Bible. Conception. Birth. Infants.
I thought I could handle it. I really did. I underestimated H.'s ability to get carried away with symbolism and I overestimated my strength that day.
Do you remember these two sweet friends? Well, both their babies were born (living) recently. One just this past week. Oh, how I rejoice with her and over her precious little girl.
H. made reference to the latest baby born and how her mother was back in church four days later- "I had always thought giving birth was a bigger deal than it really is. I guess I was mistaken..."
Yes, he was just joking, but for me, it hurt like hell. And the hurt didn't end there.
With his next comment, I thought things had taken a turn for the better and my heart soared to hear his words. Oh, how they rang with truth. 'We rejoice over M.'s birth, but we must remember that her life began 9 months ago in her mother's womb. At conception. A miracle of God's orchestrating. Life at conception.'
My eyes began to tear and I smiled haphazardly up at H. Yes, I whispered, yes!
As you can imagine, he wasn't done with the symbolism. He hadn't even made his point yet.
I'm trying to remember word for word what he said, but honestly it's all a blur. Birth; I know his next words were birth and cries of shock and then came the details of a birth story I've heard of but not experienced. I'm going to get this all wrong, but I'll try to explain it-
The word is ugly and harsh after the beautiful details of a baby born alive and screaming.
My vision blurs and I honestly don't know how I lasted as long as I did. I felt like everyone was watching me and no one was looking all at the same time. Was Owen's death so long ago that the word stillbirth would echo in the room without anyone remembering my sweet child?
He spoke for a long time about stillbirth, each time he said the word my grip tightened around my waist. Maybe I could hold myself together...maybe...
I should have gotten up sooner. I shouldn't have put myself through the sermon, I didn't hear most of it anyways. I just kept thinking, 'Get to the point! Get to the point!' My brain kept telling me that the longer I sat there, the clearer it would all be. Maybe he would say what I was hoping to hear- a reprieve, or a nod of recognition. I just don't know what I was waiting for.
I walked what seemed a walk of shame down the aisle, away from the words of a man trying to point his congregation to Jesus. I walked quickly until I got outside the door and then made myself slow down so I could cry and walk at the same time. I fumbled in my purse for my phone and called one of the only people who would know what to say about what I had just heard. S. whose two daughters live in Heaven with Owen. 23 and 18 years ago they died.
'Where you in church this morning? What did he mean? What was he trying to say?' I had a hard time forming the words, but she understood. I knew she would.
Friends, I am still not so sure I can tell you what H. was trying to communicate to us through the imagery of birth and stillbirth. The part of me that was once a young naive Christian who had no wounds from a birth of a baby she desperately wanted...that part of me hidden deep inside, she can hear what H. was trying to articulate; but it is shadowed and overwhelmed by who I have become because of Owen's birth after his death.
The images of conception and birth are so ubiquitous, so widely known that it is something we all connect with. It is as simple and as powerful as this: we were all conceived and born.
For me ,though, birth is something sad. Silent, still, heart breakingly sad.
I pray for the redemption of birth. I pray for a different experience to draw from. I will always have Owen's birth etched in my mind, my heart. I don't want to forget.
I still pray for the redemption of birth.