Hope

Chapter 2

I would love to be able to say that our first week in our new situation went unexpectedly well- that all my worries and fears had proved groundless and that I went to bed every night encouraged and hopeful. But the arrival of an unprecedented amount of rain quenched our enthusiasm before we had hardly begun our work. It was rain in the truly southern style- drenching downpours that turned the lovely spring landscape into sodden rivers and our yard into a bog of clay. We slogged along as best we could for the first half of the week, but with the sudden and dreadful loss of my sister’s baby on Wednesday, all thoughts of our house were put on hold and the rest of the week was spent with her, visiting with family, cooking, cleaning and simply commiserating.
Saturday was the funeral- a slightly sunnier day, although the graveyard was still swampy from the recent floods. We said goodbye to my mother, who had flown in for a whirlwind 24 hour trip and then stumbled home to the trailer late Saturday night where I dimly registered, as I fell asleep, that we had church in the morning.
I woke up in plenty of time to get ready- it was difficult not to as the rain had begun to pour down and the thunder to rumble yet again. Feeling miserable, I crawled out of bed and grabbed the key to the house, reaching for a flashlight and an umbrella. But the umbrella had disappeared. There was nothing for it but to run. It wasn’t cold outside, but the drops of rain seemed to be as big as chicken eggs, so that by the time I reached the porch, I was completely drenched. I shoved the door open and lifted my lantern high, heading through the darkness to the bathroom. Halfway there, I stepped in an unexpected puddle of water. I groaned. Despite the boarded up windows, the house was leaking somewhere. Making a mental note to tell Steve, I completed my task and taking a deep breath, headed back through the rain, slipping and sliding through the mud as I tried to run, the hem of my pajama pants soon sticky with orange clay.

We were all so exhausted from the week’s events that it was no easy job getting everyone out of bed. I threw some bread in the toaster and tried to piece together some nice clothes for the boys since they had gotten their Sunday outfits dirty at the burial the day before. The rain continued to pour so hard that our driveway had become a stream, flowing out to join the river that an hour before had been the road behind our house. Once we were all dressed and fed, Steve and I watched the flooding outside.
“Do you think they will cancel church this morning?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “Do you want to try and go?”
I hesitated, but then, imagining being stuck in the trailer all day and missing out on the fellowship I was craving, I said,
“Let’s go.”
We had managed to find our one wonky little umbrella- a child-sized Winnie the Pooh emblazoned thing that was completely bent out of shape, but it did little good. We were all pretty well soaked by the time we had crossed the few yards to the van.
Then, as we hastened to buckle carseats, Steve looked across at me and said,
“You remembered to lock up the house, right?”
My falling face was answer enough.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll do it,” he replied as he wrestled with the stubborn buckles on the baby’s chair.
But seeing as I was already drenched and we were running late, I hopped out of my seat and ran. There was little point in tiptoeing through the puddles now. The water simply poured over the sides of my shoes.
When I got back to the van, dripping and panting, hastily applied mascara running down my face, I couldn’t blame my husband for laughing at his bedraggled wife. The whole week had been so awful, and now this. I had to laugh too. It was either that or cry, and I had cried enough that week.
We managed to get to the freeway, slowly making it through the waterlogged streets, and we were almost to church when I heard the hubby moan,
“Oh no, not again!”
“What?” I gasped, wondering what else could possibly have gone wrong.
He simply pointed in front of him where I saw the needle from the temperature gage on the van bobbing up into the dangerously hot zone. My heart sank as he pulled into the nearest gas station, stopped, rolled up his sleeves and popped the hood. He soon ascertained what he thought might be the problem, rectified it by pouring a full jug of coolant into the system, and started off again, fingers crossed. But by the time we limped into the church parking lot five minutes later, we were back in the danger zone.

I’m still glad we chose to go to church that day, as embarrassing as it was to show up looking like a drowned rat in a vehicle that was smoking around the edges. And even though the week’s events caused me to cry through most of the service, comfort was close at hand in the form of understanding hugs, smiles, and offers of help from fellow brothers and sisters. We managed to get the van home by means of a tow truck although it took two trips in smaller cars to get us all back to the trailer.
The rain had stopped by mid afternoon, all our visiting family members had flown back home, and it was time to start back where we had left off. The first step was to try and do something about our yard. After a week of slipping and falling through the mud on the way to the bathroom, we went to work with a will, Sunday though it was, to fix the problem. If an ox falling in a ditch qualifies for help on the Sabbath, surely we do too. And I was determined to have something prepared before the next rainfall, which was due that night. Thankfully the solution was near at hand- a long sheet of plastic and an enormous pile of gravel in the backyard, leftover from building a retaining wall a few years ago.
Even the boys joined in, struggling along with unwieldy half-filled shovels until the job was done- a straggling gravel walkway leading from the trailer to the house, giving a much needed foothold for whenever the yard should choose to become a river again.
We finished just as the sun was going down, and after a quick bite of dinner, decided we would all just go to bed, exhausted from the labor and the residual grief of the past several days.

We have managed to fall into a somewhat normal bedtime routine- the boys all bunking down in the ‘living room’ while her highness, princess Caroline sleeps in her royal pavilion. ( a sheet tucked in around her portable crib).
Christian, however, has continued to find excuses to be with us at night. Sunday night was no different. As I crawled into bed after brushing my teeth, I heard a scuffling and bumping from the cupboard above my head. Slightly alarmed, I reached up and pulled open the small door to be greeted by an impish face half hidden in his security blanket. Trying to be severe and failing utterly, I hauled him out of the cupboard and sent him back to his bed, ignoring his many protests.

He went to sleep quietly enough, but unfortunately that was not the last we were to hear from him that night. At 1:37 the following morning, I was awakened by an awful, gasping, choking noise interrupted by the occasional strangled scream. Behind that, I could hear James talking in a soothing voice and whacking someone on the back. It took me a minute to realize it was Christian and that something wasn’t right. I shook Steve awake as I jumped up, but Christian had already stumbled to our bed.
Steve picked him up, trying to figure out what was wrong, trying to calm down the boy who was writhing in his arms, struggling for air and turning blue in the face. My first thought was that he had somehow swallowed something and was choking, Steve wondered if he were having an allergic reaction. But after a few panic-filled minutes of trying to ascertain the problem and having no success, we got dressed and headed for the hospital, Steve flying through the streets and I in the back, holding up my baby’s head so he could get some air.
The streets were of course empty, as well as the Emergency room when we arrived, all three of us breathless to varying degrees. Within minutes, they had him hooked up to a breathing machine, and within a few more, were able to tell us that he was suffering from nothing more than a sudden and very severe case of croup. This surprised us both, seeing as he had never had any problems with respiratory illness before, and the severity and suddenness of the attack had taken us completely unaware.
But it was a relief as well, having such an obvious answer and the means to fix the problem quickly. They said they wanted to keep him for observation for a few hours, so needless to say we were exhausted when we were finally discharged and went back home. Christian was all right, but I went to sleep with a sense of foreboding, hearing the rain begin outside again and wondering just what the next day would bring.

But when we woke up (a little later than usual) it was to a morning so glorious that it felt as if the sun were brand new. The sky was so blue and free of clouds, the air so clean, with the oppressive, stormy mugginess gone. And optimism, in spite of everything that had happened, rose up in my heart.
Things seemed so inexplicably hopeful that aside from being thankful my youngest boy was all right, there was joy to be found even in the mundane tasks ahead of me- making breakfast, teaching school, taking out old windows and restoring them, mowing a yard and then keeping my baby from eating the grass- even walking up the gravel walk we had made the day before that now kept the residual mud at bay.

It felt like an unmerited gift, this peace that had descended in the face of trouble- a gift from God, granted no doubt on behalf of the many prayers that I know have been going up for me and my family of late. Goodness knows, my own prayers lately have been full of little more than despair and hopelessness.
And I realized, in a way I never have before, just how important those prayers are going to be if we are going to see this thing through- that though I have been so worried about the needed labor and money, it will all be given in vain if my faith is weak and I allow depression to creep in, sapping my energy and determination and putting limitations on what I think God can and can’t do.

And so we have pushed on in the strength that I now know only God can give. Progress has been small but it has been there. And Lord willing, tomorrow, the first work party begins.

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Be not afraid

Life has been hard lately.  And not just one hard providence, but one after another after another.  There are so many areas in my life that are broken right now that I find myself compartmentalizing them, unable to think of them all at once.  Today is a day to pray for this, tomorrow for that, and I will get around to worrying about the third and the fourth at some other time.

Today was the heaviest day of all.  Today we went to a funeral for a child- a dear little child, no older than some of my own sweet children.  And the death of a child- that trumps everything else.  All other concerns and worries and cares- you can’t help but put them aside and deal with this one all-consuming trouble now before you.

As we were driving home from this funeral, eyes still swollen, throat still aching, I was trying not to think of all the things that must happen in our own family soon.  Big decisions concerning my dad and his illness, and how to be a support to my mother and sisters in the difficult days ahead when we are so far away.  How to be a help to so many other friends whom we know are undergoing many other trials.  And then of course, our big move and the project looming on the horizon, a project that has drained so much time and so many resources for so long- a project that, for my own sanity, I just need finished, one way or the other.

I was trying not to think of all this, trying to pray for the family we had just seen mourning the loss of their son, trying to focus on being thankful for what we do have instead of dwelling on what we need.   And then our van died. There In the middle of busy Saturday traffic at one of the busiest intersections of the city, we were suddenly sitting ducks while angry drivers zoomed around us, or honked impatiently as we made them miss green light after green light.  And my husband and I sat and stared at each other, while five children clamored in the back seat, wanting to know what was wrong.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, trying to figure out what to do- it sure felt like an eternity.  But I do know that my first feeling was one of anger- anger that such a long and crappy week had to end in this humiliating way, with my husband taking off his suit jacket and tie and popping the hood to see if there was anything he could do while I tried not to notice all the other passing drivers rubber-necking our situation.

And  then I was worried and afraid.  After all, we need our car, especially since our other car died a few months ago and we have been trying to make do with just one.  We knew the van was on it’s last legs, but I often felt like that van had been our widow’s jar of oil that just kept coming every morning.  And now it had run out.

There was a little despair mixed in there too, a few questions asking myself why we bother to strive and struggle and overcome at all, when things were just bound to get worse. It was as if our van became the proverbial “dead engine” that broke the camel’s back.

But before I could make matters worse by sobbing in front of my children, my husband, and a whole bunch of unhelpful onlookers, an apparition appeared. It was a short man crossing the street and wearing a ten gallon hat and a large, silver, belt buckle worthy of the state of Texas.  He could see that the hubby was trying to figure out how we might push the van backwards and across the next lane into a small parking lot and was willing to help by offering to direct traffic for us.  The boys were immediately interested in this “Yosemite Sam”,  pointing out his long drooping mustache and wondering if he had a couple of six shooters in his belt. (he didn’t)  So as this man masterfully halted traffic (he seemed to be hugely enjoying this power) I slid over into the drivers seat and tried to man handle the steering wheel while daddy pushed.

My faith in humanity slightly restored, I was looking intently over my shoulder, trying to steer, but when I turned back around, there were now two people pushing, and new arrival wasn’t Mr. Texas.  It was actually someone we knew- a friend from church. As soon as we were off the road, Mr. Texas disappeared, but our friend remained- helping us get our car into a safe place and then spending the afternoon shuttling us around to car repair shops and even his own home.  Not only did we need a bathroom, but he saved us from sitting in front of the Tax store, having to watch that ridiculous person in a statue of liberty costume twirl his sign for two hours.  We made it home in the end with a temporary fix, but things are looking pretty bleak for our van, the old dear.

I have now had several hours to think over the day’s (and week’s) events and have come to this conclusion.

I talk big about believing in a sovereign and all powerful God, but my words and actions simply do not show it.  The way I worry and complain, the way I grieve with fear instead of hope, the way I get angry when things do not go my way, you would think my “big God” was smaller than even me.

But as the simple actions of one man turned our afternoon from one of despair to one of hope, so my worry also began to change to a realization that God is big enough to send help, even for a seemingly insignificant little broken down van. I began to see that I don’t like to ask God for help, because I feel sure he is busy with so many more important things.  I take it upon myself to fix my own life, perhaps thinking that I am saving God much time and trouble.  I live in fear of bothering him, since he must be trying to deal with the rest of creation that is groaning so loudly.

And then my anger at our circumstances began to take a proper turn- towards the only entity who could possibly want me to think that God has limits. Surely there is only one power that wants me to forget that God is the God of little things as well as the big. So I shook my fist at the prince of darkness grim, and reminded myself that not a hair falls from my head without the will of my father in heaven. Or as William Cowper magnificently said,

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue, the theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new.

Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing, but he will bear us through.  Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people too. 

Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed.  And he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread. 

Or in stronger language still, from the book of Isaiah-

I, even I, am he who comforts you.  Who are you that you are afraid of man who is made like grass, that you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.  Be not afraid, for I am thy God.  I will strengthen thee.

Who am I indeed that I am afraid, grieving, and tempted to despair.  I have forgotten the Lord my Maker, who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth.  I have forgotten the Lord my Shepherd who clothes the lilies and feeds the ravens.  I have forgotten that he holds us and our children and the details of our lives in his hand, even down to the most stubbornly unfinished house or the most erring of old vehicles. And in the forgetting comes the fear.

So I ask for help- help to remember the simple command.  Be not afraid.  

And help to take a big God at his Word.

I am thy God- I will strengthen thee.

Love Came Down

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This short story is my first attempt at fiction. Or perhaps I should say a true story in a fictional setting. Most it is based on experiences in my life, but it’s pretty jumbled up chronologically and I added quite a lot to it.  It just seemed the best way to share what has been going on in my mind this Christmas season.  It’s a very personal story, (the strangest parts are the truest) and I’m a little nervous to share it, because sharing my heart makes me feel vulnerable and because writing fiction somehow makes me more self-conscious. But I’m going to risk it. It’s a little longer than usual.  Hope you don’t mind.  Merry Christmas!

The hike had started at midnight.  According to the locals, this was the best way to experience the mountain, and with perseverance and luck, one could reach the end of the trail just as the sun was rising.  It sounded good in theory but at 3 am, half the hike completed and legs already like putty, I was done. I had always prided myself on being an excellent hiker, but this mountain had me beat.  I sat down on the side of the trail, ignoring the snow that covered my boulder chair, and howled.

“Just leave me here honey,” I moaned. “You can finish without me.  I probably won’t freeze to death before you get back.”

My husband gave me one of his infuriating smiles- those smiles that expressed all too plainly that he was about to ask me to do something for my own good.  And he of course, with his calm demeanor unimpaired by weakness or emotion, new best.  He knew how sorry I would be if I didn’t continue- how I would always regret not finishing what I had started. He also sensibly reminded me that if we didn’t keep moving, we actually would freeze, and that the closest way to warmth and rest was the cabin at journey’s end. Then pulling me to my feet and dusting the snow from my pants, he took my hand and we continued on our way.

We pushed on for a few more hours, my legs soon finding a steady rhythm as they pounded the frozen ground. I began ignoring the pain and trying to take in my surroundings. Up until this point we had been hiking through dense forest, bathed in that eerie light that only comes from snowy landscapes at night.  Seeing nothing but snow laden trees on either side, I looked up instead, and stifled a cry as a huge ghostly shape floated overhead, enormous amber eyes hunting the ground for prey.

“Honey!” I gasped.

“It’s a snowy owl,” came the whispered response.

I was amazed at the sight and also completely spooked. All was silent in the dark wood except for the crunching of our boots and I found myself shivering from more than just the cold.  It felt like something out of a fairy tale, and not one that would end happily ever after.  I started to wonder why we had come at all.

But in a few moments, the darkness seemed to lessen and the trees thinned.  We rounded a corner and the forest came to an abrupt end.  The vast expanse that suddenly opened above us made me feel light-headed and I clutched at my silent husband’s arm. That eerie feeling was replaced by awe, and I no longer wondered why we had come.

We were standing in an enormous valley- a deep, snow-filled bowl surrounded by mountain peaks. Above us, the broad swath of the milky way dominated the velvet sky, excepting where the edges of the jagged peaks stood out against it in sharp outline.  My mouth opened, but words were futile.  Tears came instead.

We had arrived at our destination earlier than expected.  In the distance, across the starlit snowfield, I could see the small cabin we had been striving to reach.  But all thoughts of cold and exhaustion had disappeared.   This was not a moment for creature comforts.  It was a moment to see our Creator.  We held our breath and gloried.

Eventually the icy flow of tears slowed and we breathed again.  The stars were fading, the cabin inviting us to warm our numb hands and feet.  When we finally reached it, we found the door unlocked, as promised.  It was a rustic space but well furnished, and a neat stack of wood was ready in the fireplace.  The flickering light of crackling flames soon added to the beauty of the moment, and the discovery of the means to make a pot of hot chocolate were thankfully taken advantage of. With a sigh of contentment we sank deep into armchairs. The whole front of the cabin, we were elated to find, was constructed of broad glass windows, which gave a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains.  All we needed to do now was watch the show.

It started along the outline of those jagged peaks that only moments before had been cutting off the starlight.  A barely perceptible flush crept along each edge and slowly slid down the silent, snowy faces of the cliffs.  Rose pink light, tinted with gold made the mountains seem to grow taller.  We gloried again, forgotten hot chocolate growing cold in our hands.  After a long time, a sliver of the burning sun broke the mountain barrier, filling the valley with a glittering light so bright we had to close our eyes.  The sunlight warmed our upturned faces. Without knowing when, we both fell asleep.

The descent from this transcendent experience was almost as silent as our ascent.  As brief as it had been, I felt sure I would never be the same person again.  I was marked for life by those few glorious hours on the mountaintop and never again would it be difficult to find God.  Reading my husband’s expression, I was pretty sure he was thinking the same thing.   And though our faces might not actually have been shining, I felt that that was as close to Moses on Sinai as I was ever going to get.

It was a bit of a shock, several hours into our descent, to find the snow growing thinner on the ground, and then disappearing altogether.  I had forgotten, in the magic of the night before, that it wasn’t even winter yet- had forgotten just how high we had climbed to reach that unseasonably snowy world.  September’s leaves were only just beginning to fall off the trees at the base camp where we had left our car.

With a groan of relief, we lowered our heavy packs to the ground and loaded them into the trunk.  Opening the doors we stood for a moment gazing around, holding onto the moment.  Then, with a sigh, we got in the car.  Real life was calling.

The first several days after our return were wonderful.  It is always delightful to be reunited with a child, even if you have only been away a few days. And it was the first time we had been away from our son, so we were doubly glad to kiss his chubby cheeks again.  Both of us were exhausted from the physical strain we had endured, but  with the euphoria of our hike still hanging over us, we smiled through the days of aching muscles and blistered feet.  How loving and kind we were to each other as we returned to daily life, with the influence of Creation upon us.  How patient with our fussy baby, how cheerful to do our work.

But my fatigue did not go away.  My husband recovered quickly, but each morning that first week, and for several subsequent days, I felt weak and nauseous  One day he came home from work to find me sobbing in bed.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I wailed.  “I’m grumpy and moody and I have no energy at all!  I just feel sick all the time and I don’t know what to do.”

He waited for my sniffling to subside with another of his infuriating smiles playing at the corners of his mouth.  He then kissed me on the top of my head and went to buy a pregnancy test.

So another baby was on the way.  Sure we were living in an apartment too tiny for even three people.  Sure we were starting work on a bigger house and it would be a lot of hard work to get into it before this baby was born.  It didn’t matter. We pushed ahead excitedly.  Pregnancy wasn’t going to slow us down.

But hardly had we gotten used to the idea of a new life when I was awoken one night with a terrible suddenness.  At first I thought it was a nightmare, just remnants of the fear leftover from our first pregnancy and the baby I had miscarried.  But soon there was no doubt- I was bleeding.  I hated to wake my sleeping husband and tell him this news, again.  But as soon as I woke him, he seemed to see it in my face.  He asked if I wanted to go to the hospital.  After our last terrible experience in the hospital that landed us with a 10,000 dollar bill and a lot of emotional damage, I told him I wanted to avoid it if possible.   So we lived again through several anxious and heartbroken hours.  There was soon little doubt that I had lost the baby.

I was racked by guilt thinking that our wonderful hike had somehow hurt my baby. And I was confused.  It had seemed like a precious gift, that transcendent moment we had shared under the stars. But now the taste of it was sour in my mouth- tainted by grief and doubt. I clung to the memory, hoping to bring it to my aid, but it was ebbing away like a pleasant dream.

After a week, everything seemed to be back to normal, physically speaking.  We informed our families that we had lost another baby.  We tried to move on.  Busyness helped with the grief.  Our housing renovation was in full swing and my spirits and energy returned.  I was still young, there would be other babies to help fill our new house.

“After all,” I was soon able to reason to myself, “for every mountaintop there must be a valley.”

I spoke those words glibly, but nothing could have prepared me for how deep that valley would get in the next few months.  Just two weeks later, my husband unexpectedly lost his job, and we had to say goodbye to all of our plans for the new house.  It seemed to me like another death.  But even as we struggled to reconfigure our future, we received a devastating phone call.  My father had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  While we were trying to absorb the shock of this discovery, and with a suddenness that left us reeling, my brother-in-law died.

The Christmas season was now upon us and there was nothing but grief and death, confusion and heartache in all directions.  I cried out to the God of the mountaintop, but he was too far away to hear me.  The clear alpine air had turned to a dense and dark cloud of misery.  And now, wherever I turned, I saw the misery of others.  So many were hurting, so many fighting dark battles, so many longing for a moment where they could see the face of God on the mountain and be comforted.   I grew depressed and bitter that I couldn’t climb back up to that place of peace and assure myself that God was in his heaven.  I felt sick and tired all the time again, with strange pains in my stomach, terrible heartburn and problems sleeping.

“I’m pretty sure I have an ulcer,” I told my husband one morning as I described my symptoms.  He didn’t smile this time.

But it was Christmas.  I was too busy and distracted to go to the doctor. I felt as if I was hanging on by a thread in every way- physically, emotionally, spiritually.  And as I struggled one morning to find meaning in and make sense of the burdens now placed on me and my entire family, and as I longed to bridge the distance between me and a distant God, one simple line suddenly flashed through my mind-

“Love came down at Christmas.”

I couldn’t even remember where I had heard it before, but the words continued to pound in my ears.

“Love came down at Christmas.”

I grabbed my computer and looked it up.  I remembered.  It was Christina Rosetti.

“Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.”

A breeze was stirring my foggy thoughts.  Of course it was a truth I had known since I was a child, that Jesus had come from heaven to earth at Christmas. But I had never until now had even a taste of just how low he had had to stoop. For the first time, I had an inkling of what it might have like for him to trade divine glory for human misery. Phrases from the old carols came thick and fast now-

“He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall

Mild, he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.”

Come to earth to taste our sadness, He whose glories knew no end”

“Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”

“As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.”

“Sacred Infant, all divine,
What a tender love was Thine,
Thus to come from highest bliss
Down to such a world as this.”

Then with a final phrase, I was undone.

Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies”

There in that dirty house that I hadn’t cleaned in two weeks, surrounded by piles of unfolded clothing and dirty dishes, in my grief and despair, I realized that the God of the mountaintop was right there with me.

My husband came home to find me sobbing again, but there was joy in the tears this time. I tried to tell him my thoughts and express my sudden lightness of heart, but once again, words seemed futile and the tears just flowed.  Even so, that night I still felt sick and the sharp little jabs in my stomach kept me from sleeping.  I made an appointment.

When I got to the doctor’s, I told them my suspicions.  They did some basic tests, asked me some questions about the stress in my life, and told me they were going to draw some blood.  But when the nurse came back in, she wasn’t carrying any needles and she was smiling.

“Honey,” she said.  “You’re pregnant.”

I was floored.  With all the turmoil in my life of late, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me.  My jeans had been feeling slightly snug of late, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“Do you know how far along you might be?” she asked.

Feeling like an idiot, I told her I had no idea, but that I had been feeling some strange pains in my stomach lately.  She looked surprised and came to feel my belly.  With a quick look at me, she wheeled the ultrasound machine over and called in the technician. Within minutes, they were running that little wand over my belly.

“Well, we have a healthy baby here,” said the technician.  “Would you like to know what it is?”

“You can tell already?” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Yes, I’d say you are about 5 1/2 months along.”

The room began to spin.  5 1/2 months?  How on earth was that possible? But that meant…that meant I had never miscarried my baby back in September.  It had to be the same pregnancy.  And all the heartburn and insomnia and the strange pains in my stomach- that was a baby?  And I was hardly showing! There were so many questions and so much mystery.  I tried to explain all of this to the nurse, but could only stutter. She just smiled and said,

“Well, it’s definitely a boy.”

And there, sitting in that little room, dressed in a paper gown and surrounded by strangers, the God of the mountain and the manger- the Great Giver of good gifts, was with me again.