I look out at the early morning light from a hospital room as the city sleeps, and I am reminded of another time very similar to this. Same hospital. Same sleeping city. Then as now, the city seemed completely oblivious to what was going on only a few stories above them. With my dad laying almost unconscious, the lights of the city had looked cold, indifferent. But today there’s a soft light pouring over the mountains in hues of rose and gold, and the lights of the city look like little stars that refuse to give into the dark.
It’s a beautiful day to have a baby, I think.
And so it is.
Whether it’s just my nature or the nature of watching a baby being born, I am very contemplative. The night has brought tears, and fear, struggle, and sweat. To get my sister Rachel’s labor going, we walked the first and second floor. The third. And then… the fourth.
My heart clenches as we step off the elevator and I realize where we are. The floor is different here, so I recognize it immediately. My shoulders tense involuntarily as we pass the patient’s rooms, and memories come flooding back.
Inside one of these rooms, I looked out at a sleeping city and begged God to wake Dad from his deep sleep. Inside one of these rooms, someone else might be doing something similar.
I ponder this as we make our way back. Same hospital. Two totally different experiences. A place of both sorrow and of joy.
Rachel has thrown up from the pain and lays writhing on the bed. Her body curls and uncurls from the contractions, and she begs for a warm bath. The tears streak down her cheeks, and I feel them filling my own as she’s lead away to the bath and the door closes.
I sink down onto the couch and bow my head. I didn’t expect it to be so hard to watch her be in such agonizing pain.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I whisper.
I whisper, even as she screams it: “No, no, nooo–I can’t do this!” And Mom says soothingly back, “You can, honey. You’re stronger than you think. You’ll be able to do more than you ever thought you could.”
Her body tightens with the next contraction, and she holds her breath until we all say as one, “Breathe, Rach. Don’t forget to breathe. Work with them.”
All of this reminds me of the verse that says, “But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:20-22.)
I feel the truth of it now more than I ever have before.
Remembering my dad’s pain. Thinking of all the pain we passed as we walked the halls. Seeing, hearing, feeling her pain even now–and being completely powerless to stop it. If there was just something I could do! But nothing I say can calm the fear. Nothing I do will ease the pain. And isn’t that the toughest thing of all? Seeing the ones you love in pain?
In the kind of emotional pain that wracks the body with sobs the same way as the contractions take over my sister now. All encompassing. Impossible to get away from.
My own pain, I can handle. But seeing a loved one in that kind of pain… it’s almost more than I can bear.
I get it now. The verse. All of creation groans and waits. The earth contracts and eases with its own kind of labor pains… ever watchful for the day when the Savior will return. And when He comes, He will wipe away every tear. (Rev. 7:17)
With the city just below, my sister in front, and all the memories in my heart of the hallway we walked, I recognize it for what it is now: the continuous labor for what we lost when we lost Eden. It contracts and eases with both death and new life. And in my own heart and life, I see the same. Was it only a year and a half ago that my heart was contracting with the pain, curling into itself? And now, for a happy occasion, and the pain has eased and a sense of anticipation lingers in the air.
Always the anticipation. Always searching for… something.
With all the rest of creation, I wait. Through all the labor pains, we breathe…and cry…and moan. Like waves, it ebbs and flows, carrying us along, trying to suck us in, releasing us onto the shore.
I wonder… does the same way of dealing with physical labor pains apply to the emotional kind as well?
It makes sense, somehow. To just breathe.
Sometimes, it’s the only thing you can do.
To let the pain have its way and let it shape us into whatever it is that needs to be birthed. That way, if we work with it instead of fighting against it, maybe we can give birth to hope. To joy. To love or peace. To forgiveness or grace or mercy. For has He not promised to make everything beautiful in its time? (Ecclesiastes 3:11.)
All Creation waits for the glorious day when He will return and all pain will be taken away…breathing through the contractions, and holding our breaths in anticipation of the coming majesty. And we were given the Holy Spirit to help coach us through… He who is called our “advocate,” or “counselor.” (John 14:26.) Like my mom beside Rachel’s bed, He leans down to grip our hands and remind us of the truth: “With me, you’re stronger than you think. Together we’ll get through this.”
Rachel’s been pushing for almost two hours, and she falls against the pillow and gasps, “I can’t do this. I don’t think he’s ever going to come.”
And the doctor and nurses are all quick to say, “Yes, you can. You’re almost there! He’ll be here soon.”
None of us can see him yet, and we all exchange doubtful glances. It’s been a long time, and we see no sign of progress. No sign whatsoever that he’s coming. How can they be so sure?
It’s only a week until Christmas, and all of a sudden, I’m in a stable where another young woman falls against the straw and cries, “Joseph! I can’t do this!” He squeezes her hand even as the terror clenches his heart, and forces out between quick swallows, “Yes, you can! You’re almost there. He’ll be here soon!”
And all of Bethlehem waits, even as the star shines down proclaiming His life and all the prophets and the wise men promise, “He’ll be here soon.”
How can they be so sure? A Savior? Sent into this ugly, messy, painful world? And the pain just keeps on coming and we’re not sure it’ll ever end.
But in hope, we wait… and through the stillness… a cry! Our Savior is born! He who is called Counselor, Father, and the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6.) He who is come to take away the sins of the world! He who came to win victory over the grave! He who came to cry our tears and feel our labor and bleed our blood. He who will come again to wipe away every tear from every face.
I cry as baby Boe arrives–all perfect eyes and ears and toes. He gives his first cry–gurgly and strong, and Rachel stares wide-eyed in shock. Her head falls back for an instant, then she’s looking up once more in awe and amazement. The cord is cut, and Boe is laid close to her chest. He snuggles in and blinks at her, and Rachel says with reverence in her voice, “Yeah. I’m your mommy.”
My heart shouts and leaps with joy, and I am certain as I stare at this new life: HE is here.
Emmanuel, God with us.
And He always will be.
For just a moment, a glimpse of heaven’s beauty in front of me.
And all creation waits…