“O for a faith that will not shrink
Though pressed by every foe;
That will not tremble on the brink
of any earthly woe…”
- William H. Bathurst
The next morning dawned sunny and bright. It was as if the world itself had moved on from the grayness of my grief long before I had. It was Sunday and the thought of teaching Sunday School was beyond me. I hadn't slept well and was waiting by the telephone for the clock to report a time that would make calling the Superintendent reasonable. I figured 7:30 would be safe and I rehearsed what I needed to say to convey my need for absence and the last-minute finding of a substitute for my class of 14-year-old boys and girls from all over the Boston metro area.
As I sat there it kept coming to me that I just couldn't impose upon them my face blotchy and swollen from crying and my eyes blood-shot from lack of sleep. I needed to have it more together before facing those impressionable young men and women. They had been through this joyous 9-month-long journey toward parenting with me and I just felt that I couldn't let them down at this point by telling them that we had lost the baby. Didn't they deserve a Sunday School teacher who had actually been successful in applying the healing law of Christian Science and gotten the baby? As I sat there staring, again, out of the big picture window in the kitchen, it occurred to me that what they most needed was honesty.
"Honesty is spiritual power."
- Mary Baker Eddy
I realized that what had happened with our son's adoption--and it had happened--was our truth. It wasn't as important for my Sunday School students to see that we "demonstrated" a perfect, harmonious adoption, so much as it was important for them to see us demonstrate grace, forgiveness, humility, integrity...to demonstrate our Christianity....not as a doctrine, creed or dogma, or religion, but as a way of behaving with others and in every aspect of our lives. Well, that was the end of any thoughts of avoiding Sunday School. As terrified as I was of showing up without a baby in my arms that Sunday, I was now even more concerned about letting those kids down by not showing up at all...honestly and meekly.
I explained to my husband that I felt I really needed to be in church that Sunday...a conclusion that he had already reached for himself. Soon we were dressed and making the hour-long trip to Boston for church and Sunday School. The ride was quiet and I was grateful to see that the car seat had been removed from the van as we passed ice encrusted trees and houses with smoke puffing from their chimneys like the deep breathing of sleeping giants on snow-covered lawns. When we reached the highway I closed my eyes in prayer and stayed that way for the rest of our drive. . I hoped that by the time we reached Boston I would have "an answer of peace", not tears, to their questions.
I went quickly to my table in the bank of windows partitioned off into bays along the curve of the northwest side of the pie-shaped Sunday School building. I was early and sat with my back to the room looking to the west. The morning sun was bouncing off of the dome, granite walls, stained glass and clear windows in the building surrounding me in panorama. I couldn't see the sun...but I was absolutely sure it was out there somewhere by the mark it was leaving on my environment. I couldn't see our son, but I could feel the marked effect that loving him had left on my heart and how it continued to make me want to be a "mom"...a nurturer..even if just for this hour with this group of 14-year-old boys and girls. It would have to be enough for that morning.
One by one the students filtered in to our bay towards the end of the room...and one by one they saw my face. The questions...and the sympathy poured out. "How could she do that to you?" "You must be devastated." "I am so sorry.." "Do you want me to go beat her up...really I will.." (this one from my favorite tough guy/sweetheart of a hockey player). Soon it was time for the opening exercises and the first hymn literally took me out of play. "Mother's Evening Prayer" with its now hauntingly familiar and poignant:
"Oh make me glad for every scalding tear
For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain;
Wait, and love more for every hate
And fear no ill, since God is good
And loss is gain."
- Mary Baker Eddy
I was singing it and I was hearing it, as I had done since childhood. But now I was feeling it. Here was another "sister" standing next to me with her "story" of heartache, telling me that this loss was gain. God was sending me angels at every turn. Mary Baker Eddy, herself had had a child taken from her. This poem turned hymn was her response to that experience...her prayer for her son. It could be my prayer for my son too.
Once the opening exercises concluded and we turned to one another to begin that Sunday's class I realized that I could either press on as if nothing had happened, or I could let them into the sanctuary of my heart and let them know what I was facing and how I was praying. Again, the phrase from Science and Health, "Honesty is spiritual power." came with pointed relevance. Just be honest…how have the spiritual truths that you have been studying and praying with all week been helpful to you.
I began to share some of the journey my heart had been on and how I was praying, when one of the boys in the class interrupted my train of thought. I had noticed that he hadn't had much to say that morning...something that was rare for this very social young man. He had been listening, but really seemed to be in his own world. When he jumped in quite suddenly with a real sense of inspiration we all grew quiet. He began..(and I apologize if I don't get this verbatim...it's been 19 years...but I have also thought about it almost weekly ever since, as it was so profound to me) "Okay, you know how I am 14 years old, right? Well, my brother is 18, and he has lived at home his entire life, but my oldest brother who is 20 went away to boarding school when he was 13 and then he was at camp all summer every year...my mom has hardly ever made him breakfast since he was about 13. So...my mom has raised me every day for 14 years, my middle brother for 18 years, but my oldest brother for only about 13 years....which of us is more important to her? Which experience of being our mom makes her a valid mother or a better mother? She just is our mother no matter where we are or how long we live with her."
Then he turned to me and asked, "Did you love him completely every day that he was with you?"
"Why, yes." I replied."
"Then you are a mother. No one can take that away from you...time doesn't make you a mother, love does! And I bet you will love him for the rest of your life. My mom will always be our mother even after we go to college and get married, because she will always love us. And you will always love him."
With that it was over. I was no longer waiting to become a mother. I was a mother...and by golly I was a good one. I had loved him completely...it didn't matter how long. I had loved him enough to listen for what was the most right, most loving thing for him...it didn't matter if it meant it wasn't with me. I had loved him enough to let him go.
We continued discussing this for the rest of the Sunday School class. And more changed that morning than the way I looked at myself as a mother...the way I looked at Sunday School and my role in being there was also transformed. I was not a "teacher" coming to impress, inspire, outline, direct or define...I was a "fellow citizen of the household of God" coming to break bread with fellow spiritual thinkers. All I had to bring with me was my honesty, my love for God, and my sincere desire to grow in grace through study, practice, application, celebration, praise...and tears throughout the week.
By the time we left our bay-nestled table by the bank of windows along the west wall of the Sunday School, the sun had crested the tall buildings to our east and light poured across the plaza in front of us. I knew that my hard won peace was fragile...at best...that I still had to return to our home, dismantle the nursery, and we were planning to drive to Colorado and face the same mixture of support and sympathy there. But for that moment I knew that I had received yet another angel...or two...to walk with me on the next leg of the journey...and it was enough.
The words to a hymn that had before been only a taunting to the mother I was waiting to be...became my silent lullabye...to myself...on the quiet drive home that afternoon:
"God is known in loving-kindness,
God, the true, eternal good;
Zion, ne'er will he forsake thee,
Trust His Father-Motherhood.
Can a mother leave her children?
Can unchanging love forget?
Though all earthly friends betray thee,
Lo, His arm enfolds thee yet.
Every prayer to Him is answered,
Prayer confiding in His will;
Blessedness and joy are near thee,
Hear His gentle Peace, be still.
Hear His voice above the tempest:
I have not forsaken thee;
In My hand thy name is graven,
I will save both thine and thee.
- Johannes Heermann
A blizzard blew into New England that afternoon and we left for Colorado with snow swirling and every mile in front of us a slow, hard-fought battle to gain traction...both on the road...and in my heart. A battle had been won. But the war with self, with feelings of betrayal and abandonment, was not over...in fact it had really just begun...
But that is tomorrow's installment....stay tuned…