Saturday, December 18, 2010

Birth stories



Last month my dear friend Carol brought her third son into the world. She did so two months after witnessing the agonizing death of her father from cancer (and only a year after losing her best friend to a brain tumor.) While praisefully baby Trent is healthy, her natural labor and delivery had some frightening moments.

On the day of his birth, as she shared the details with me, I remarked, "Wow, it just sounds so...violent." She replied, "Yes. Birth is violent. And death is violent. Having just experienced both, I can't stop thinking about the parallels between the two."

Two weeks later, her words still echoing in my mind, I stood before x-rays of my own bones. Aghast, I stared at my incredibly swayed spine and marveled at how much higher one of my hips is than the other. "Your pelvis is not only lopsided, but it was thrust forward," the doctor explained. Which explains why, almost three years after birthing my last child, I carry a little pillow with me everywhere to support my back, why I can't stand for more than five minutes, and why everyone still keeps asking me if I am pregnant. I know those injuries were caused by my pregnancies and childbirths.

Then we looked at the x-rays of my compressed and already degenerating neck, which has caused me daily pain for as long as I can remember. I wondered how it got so messed up? He shrugged his shoulders, "Who knows. Maybe it was a birth injury."

Because birth is violent. And death is violent. And we live a life of violence in between.

Recently a friend recounted the story of the unintended home birth of her daughter. Loralei described the pain and terror associated with giving birth in her bathroom after being sent home from the hospital. Then she added, "And oh my gosh, the blood. There was blood everywhere."


For years I have collected nativity scenes. I must have 20, 25 of them, from all over the world. All different materials, all different sizes. Each has Mary, Joseph, a swaddled baby, and a star. Some have angels and wise men. But you know what, not one of them shows any blood.

We have this image in our mind of what that first Christmas was like. Yours is perhaps similar to mine: under a great big twinkling star sits a stable. Silent Night tinkles in the background as snow softly falls. Inside are two or three calm, fragrant, and softly lowing animals. Mary, dressed in blue, reclines peacefully, smiling as though she had just received the most divine epidural. She grimaces slightly, and then, voila, a beautiful clean baby appears with a halo floating above his soft curls. Mary wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes, taking care not to muss the halo, and lies him in a manger.

This is the image that we receive from the snowglobes we're given in Sunday School. But we're grown up now, aren't we?


As a result of the sinful, violent world that we live in, because of the curse upon us since the beginning of time, there is pain - violence - in childbirth. Even the easiest childbirth is never easy, never without suffering. Mary fell under that curse as surely as I do. So I believe it is safe to assume that on the night that Jesus was born into this cursed world, she suffered.

The bible doesn't give many details about Jesus's actual delivery. I think the lack of details lends credence to the theory that Mary's labor and birth was ordinary for its time. Unremarkable in its similarity to every other woman's birth, then and even now. Drawing on my own four births, the births of my friends, and some ancient history, I can imagine our Savior's first birthday.

There was a young, frightened girl in a dirty, stinky cave in an overcrowded, noisy town, trying not to think of her friends and relatives who had died in childbirth. She was probably surrounded by women who had also made the trek to Bethlehem, some of whom she knew, some she might not have. Some who loved her, some who judged her and the suspicious circumstances of her pregnancy. Most who traded their own birth stories as her labor progressed and offered their advice. All of whom were witnessing her at her most vulnerable. But as her contractions came closer and closer together, the only thing Mary knew was that she had never experienced pain like this in all her life.

There was no whirlpool bath. There was no birthing ball. There was probably not even a birthing stool. There was probably a woman, perhaps even her mother, seated behind her to hold her still, rub her back, press on the top of her abdomen, and say repeatedly in her ear, "Miriam, you're doing great, good job, good girl, you're doing great."

There was no background music of a children's choir singing Away in a Manger. Instead there were probably grunts, and tears, and desperate prayers, and terrified cries of "Get him out! Please get him out!" and "I can't do this!" while the women soothed, firmly, "Yes you can, sweetheart, you can. Push!"

And then there were a few minutes when Mary thought her body was on fire, and she closed her eyes, and she panted, and she moaned, perhaps she screamed, and then he was out. And the women said, "He's here! He's beautiful! Look at him, Miriam, look at your son!" And he cried. And Mary opened her eyes, and she cried, and tried to move her exhausted body to see her baby. He was red, he was wrinkly, he was screaming, he was covered in vernix, but he was alive, and, at least to his mother, he was beautiful.

And there was blood everywhere.

He came into this world in violence.

He lived a violent life. As an infant, he screamed from gas pains. As a toddler he was covered in bruises from learning to walk. He skinned his knees. He caught viruses. He experienced the pain of losing his earthly father. His brothers scoffed at him. He wept when his friend died too young. His best friend rejected him when he needed him most. He suffered, both physically and emotionally. He empathized with others on a level we will never know. He knew the pain of being a human. He knew what it was like to be us, to be well acquainted with sorrow and sin and curses.

And he died a most violent death. He was arrested, accused of a crime he did not commit. He was flogged with a whip until his body was unrecognizable from the cuts and the bruises and the swelling. His beard was probably ripped out. He was stripped naked, and then his body was tied to a cross. A crown of thorns was pressed into his already mutilated head. Nails were pounded into the flesh of his wrists and his ankles and he was raised up. And as he slowly suffocated to death, he watched the anguish and horror on the face of the woman who had bore him, all those years ago, in that stable in Bethlehem.

And there was blood everywhere.

And because his Father deemed his tortured, bleeding body to be a worthy sacrifice, you and I have access to the throne of Heaven. For by that very blood, we have been washed clean of the curse of death. By that blood we are made righteous, by that blood we are justified, by that blood we are redeemed. By that blood, the blood that was everywhere, we are each reborn a child not of the curse, but a child of the living, loving God!

O, holy night!

64 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I agree, we often romanticize the birth of Jesus. It is often hard to picture Jesus as anything other than the grown man we all have seen 'pictures' of. Again, thanks for sharing, this brought tears to my eyes.

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  2. What a great post...love this perspective and deromanticizing of the Christmas story.

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  3. So powerful! I really appreciate readings that bring biblical occurances out of vauge story-ness and into relatable real life. And it's "funny", I was just looking at my 17 month old earlier today thinking about how Jesus was a toddler once, and wondering what it was like for Mary to get to love him like a mother does. Only like a mother can. As I wipe away the tears I just want to kiss my baby and praise God for the gift of His Son!

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  4. All I can say is wow...never ever thought of it this way before. Thanks for this perspective. You made me cry.

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  5. Yes!!! Thank you for writing this.

    I have never thought of the birth of Jesus the same way after reading "Unafraid" by Francine Rivers. I have the utmost respect and admiration for Mary.

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  6. I never comment here, but I have to tell you that this is beautiful.

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  7. This was an amazing post, Missy. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  8. Beautiful.

    I remember realizing a few years ago that virtually none of our ideas of the first Christmas coincide with reality. And yes, it was probably so much uglier and less peaceful and violent.

    But it's fitting. He was born to unmarried peasants in a stable. He came to the messy, to the yuck, to the real. He meets us there still.

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  9. Wow! you write and communicate so beautifully!! Amazing post...thank you for sharing and for reminding me of the gospel (which i need to hear everyday!!)

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  10. Oh, Mis. This made me cry. The precious blood of Jesus...for all of us...for ME.

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  11. Wow...thank you so much for sharing this. I've never thought about the Christmas story from this perspective, but I love the way you wrote it and will be sharing it with my readers. Thank you!

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  12. Well, it's not even 7 in the morning and I'm sitting here crying.

    So powerful, such truth. By that blood, I'm washed whiter than a December snow.

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  13. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.

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  14. Oh my word, thank you so much for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you!!

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  15. I don't have any words except "Wow!" Thanks so much for writing this.

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  16. If THAT is what comes out of you when you're "overwhelmed and undermotivated"... then girl, you need to warn us the next time you actually feel motivated, 'cause we're all going to need to get out of the way. Wow, that post was AWESOME. Thank you so much.

    -Nikki

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  17. Beautiful, Missy! What a poignant reminder of what it means to celebrate Jesus' birth, life, and resurrection.

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  18. beautiful.

    I keep trying to get our church worship director to let me put blood soaked rags at the back of the stable in our Journey to Bethlehem. But she won't hear of it.

    This is an amazing piece Missy. Really amazing.

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  19. Oh Missy, this is just beautiful. Thank you.

    I do a Friday links page and I am going to link this tomorrow.

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  20. I hope you don't mind if I share this...?
    it is such a moving post
    Thank you for writing it.

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  21. love identifying with mary in every way...even in the pain. reminds me of the cost to be a mother
    great post.

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  22. "And there was blood everywhere"... have been pondering the tabernacle for months now. "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin." "By that blood, the blood that was everywhere, we are reborn a child not of the curse, but a child of the living, loving God!" From one grateful child to another - thank you for such a real, blazing beautiful post!

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  23. I have often thought of Mary and how she dealt with childbirth in a stable, especially being a natural birth pursuer myself.

    This picture you have painted is breathtaking. It needed to be painted and shared.

    I'm so glad you did!

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  24. Thank you for posting this. I too have thought about this many times and wondered what it was like. Oh to have been one of the many flies on her wall that night. I plan to read your post at our Christmas gatherings this year.

    Also, I read that you are adopting from Ethiopia through Gladney. I live in FW and my BFF and her hubby just picked up their 3 y/o boy and 1 y/o girl from Ethiopia in May and they used Gladney. What a blessing! Can't wait to see your new baby.

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  25. Oh my gosh...I am just bawling. That was awesome.

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  26. Thank you so much for writing this, as I wipe the tears from my cheeks. I too have had this vision of a painless birth and a clean baby for Mary. What a different perspective!

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  27. Our church just did a Christmas production that was the Nativity as it might be if it had happened today. The infant Jesus was born in a homeless person's shack . . . there wasn't a dry eye when the blanket "door" was pulled back to reveal Mary and the Baby. Your post reminded me of that scene.
    Nancy

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  28. what a great post! really made me think tonight. I also wonder if Jesus had the terrible twos?

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  29. This is amazing and oh so true. Stopping to thank Him right now!

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  30. Oh my goodness. i almost didnt finish reading this as I got so busy today with other things. THANK YOU.

    THAT was absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. And i sit here tonight pregnant. Due to deliver, well, any time now. Thank you.

    I willl be posting the link to this on my own blog.

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  31. This...

    "But we're grown up now, aren't we?"

    Spoke.

    (I came over through Nancy, who celebrated you as part of our 12 Days of Community.)

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  32. Missy-I love this. You are such a good writer.

    I gave the sermon as Mary in church today, and some of your thoughts from your other Mary post influenced me and made it into my sermon...the purpose in the stable part. I think it really ministered to people...so your writing has gone further than you realized!

    If I end up posting it my blog...I'll be sure to give you credit!

    Thanks for sharing...

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  34. http://www.lyricsmania.com/lyrics/andrew_peterson_lyrics_8347/behold_the_lamb_of_god_lyrics_27949/labor_of_love_lyrics_305950.html

    This reminds me of this song. If you've never heard it, you should definitely listen to it. It's incredible.

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  35. Simply a beautiful and wonderful blessing. Thank you.

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  36. Sitting at my desk... sobbing. I am definitely posting a link to this.

    After my own "violent" birth experience this year, I am so touched by the thought of Mary and Jesus.

    Thank you for the reminder.

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  37. Amen...thanks for a beautiful reminder of what we take for granted...

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  38. Wonderful post.

    I am having a Nativity Blog Carnival, and would love it if you would link this post up to it.

    Happy Christmas to you and yours from N Ireland.

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  39. Have been reading a book about the birth of Jesus and surprised myself by bawling when I read about him coming out, slippery with blood. It was registering in the back of my mind, the bloody death He would suffer. Now you've seconded this message, and I feel that God is giving me a real urging of the meaning of the season.

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  40. Beautiful writing, Missy. Thanks. Isn't it a blessing that most of us moms consider our children worth any kind of "collateral damage" that occurs to our bodies as a result of bearing them?

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  41. Forgot to say I wrote about Mary, too, in my last blog post, trying to look at the Christmas story through her eyes--and Joseph's. It seems to me we seldom stop to think what it must have been like for him. He believed what the angel said to him. Period. If I try to put myself in his shoes it boggles the mind.

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  42. This is a GREAT post! I have often thought about it, but love the way you put things into perspective.

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  43. Beautiful post! You're such a great writer!

    I'd like to share something I wrote with you. I posted it on Facebook recently but I can't remember if you & I are friends on FB. ??? If not, look me up. I'm Liz Martin Reeves.

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  44. Amazing writer you are. I love the detail you bring, and life you give to ancient events.

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  45. Missy thank you...and Merry Christmas.

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  46. that reminds me of Jill Phillips song Labor of Love....its beautiful. you should check it out. Merry Christmas!

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  47. Nicely put Missy. Allow me to refer you (if you've not yet heard it) to Andrew Peterson's "Labor of Love". Actually, you should listen to "Behold the Lamb of God" in its entirety (and can do so here: http://andrew-peterson.com/players/btlog/), but "Labor of Love" goes along really well with this post.

    "It was not a silent night
    There was blood on the ground
    You could hear a woman cry
    In the alleyways that night
    On the streets of David's town

    And the stable was not clean
    And the cobblestones were cold
    And little Mary full of grace
    With the tears upon her face
    Had no mother's hand to hold

    It was a labor of pain
    It was a cold sky above
    But for the girl on the ground in the dark
    With every beat of her beautiful heart
    It was a labor of love"

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  48. Oops. Should've read the comments...clearly I'm not the first to recommend BTLOG... :D It really is excellent.

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  49. One of the best nativity stories I've ever read!

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  50. Missy, I was going to ask your permission to use your post when I teach my women's Bible Study on Sunday. But, I've been thinking about it and have 2 young women still healing from miscarriages in my class and am afraid of causing more pain with the descriptiveness of childbirth. So, I thought I'd write to you anyway to let you know that I was extremely touched by your words and your insight and your ministry through this post. God bless you and your family during this Christmas time.

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