Walking out onto the dock, I feel it welling up around me. It’s not the first time I’ve felt it.
It’s the last day of our summer vacation at the bay and I’m distracting the kids while my parents and husband load up all our gear. The big gate’s packed away and there’s no safe “pen” for the twins anymore, so I’ve loaded them into the double jogging stroller and am walking them around the yard in wide circles. The morning’s cool and fresh with dappled sunlight casting moving shadows on the ground as tree leaves tremble in a gentle breeze.
I call the older kids for one last walk on the dock that extends far out into our little piece of the bay. The land all around is flat and open with a gentle slope leading from house to shore. We march down in a grand procession – me leading with the stroller and the older two following behind in the wiggly, bouncy dance that’s passed for walking ever since we arrived a week ago.
Just as we step out onto the dock, I feel it. It lasts only a moment and feels like space falling open around me, a heavy fruit falling from the tree. All I can say is that in that moment I can feel the blessing of my children rising up around me. I feel the blessing of this tiny parade, me the momma duck with her brood waddling along behind.
It’s so clear to me in that moment – the blessing that’s there whether I choose to receive it or not.
* * * * * *
I wasn’t ready for a third pregnancy, in fact I was quite sure I had miscarried by the time we got around to scheduling the first ultrasound. But there they were, two hearts beating side by side, tiny legs and arms already forming. Baby A and Baby B.
We struggled to absorb the information. We drove around in circles for an hour doing the math – multiplying every part of our lives by two more. The surrealism and the worry of how we would do it was overshadowed by the fact that I didn’t want twins. I didn’t want to be a mother of four, didn’t want to make room in my already full life.
I told my employer in a pile of tears. I let John tell our friends, I wasn’t ready to. When I saw some at the store a few weeks later I couldn’t talk about it without crying.
People are quick to label most pregnancies a blessing and to name God’s hand in the matter. But it’s taken me awhile to come around. Months into it all I tell my spiritual director, “This is not the blessing I would have chosen.” I think of the writing, teaching, graduate school, my job at the church, the training program in spiritual direction, all the things I had in mind for myself.
There are blessings that feel at first blush like dying. Blessings that take us through the shadow of grief and loss before making their light known. I’m so thankful for the friends who listened without judging as I passed through this shadow.
* * * * * *
Standing on the dock, I wonder again at this blessing that’s dropped unexpectedly into my lap, my life. For some reason Leah from the book of Genesis comes to mind, the spinster sister who’s given in marriage to Jacob by her father’s sleight-of-hand. Leah longs for Jacob’s love, but he only has eyes for her sister Rachel. Leah doesn’t receive the blessing she would've chosen and it takes her years to come to terms with it.
At first the children God gives her seem like poor consolation for the blessing she wants so dearly. It’s not clear how many years pass, but the names she gives each son reflect her journey as each birth moves her from hope, to despair, to one last bit of hope. For her, the mourning process is long and she sees the children only as a means to that which she cannot have – Jacob’s love. Finally, with the birth of her fourth son, she turns a corner saying, “This time I will praise the Lord.”
I wonder when it happened for her. When were her eyes opened to the blessing that rose up all around her? Maybe it was watching those boys running in from the fields or listening to their heavy breathing as they lay sprawled all around her in the quiet of the night. Leah moves from mourning a loss to seeing, feeling, accepting the blessing she’s given and her response is to “praise the Lord.”
* * * * * *
There’s a scene in the movie, Stranger than Fiction, where Will Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, is given a plate of warm cookies by the girl he’s beginning to fall in love with, Ana. Harold argues with Ana, refusing the cookies, though they're warm and gooey, fresh out of the oven. Harold explains that he doesn’t like cookies and further conversation reveals that Harold has never had a homemade cookie.
Ana refuses to take no for an answer and slides the plate in front of him despite his protests. Harold eats, at first with caution, then with growing enjoyment. After he finishes Ana asks, “You like them?” to which he replies, “I do . . . thank you for forcing me to eat them.”
* * * * * *
“This is not the blessing I would have chosen.” I can see now how large the “I” in that statement looms, the “I” who chooses, the “I" who knows best without having tasted, without daring to imagine something beyond what's familiar and known. Over time, over conversation, the prayer continues and grows in wisdom, “This is not the blessing I would have chosen. But who’s to say that I would’ve chosen best? And, it is a blessing none-the-less. Please, God, help me to receive it.”
These babies are my cookies and God has placed them on the table before me. “Sit down, now,” God says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." And I do like them, I love them in fact, and I can say nothing more, but “Thank you, and thank you, and thank you.”