The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1897
I don't have any new words, friends, for this old, old passage seems too full of light for me to grasp. Although Mary has been my Advent companion for the past several years, this week I find myself out in the dark, cold fields with the shepherds, out somewhere in the wild darkness still, waiting for the light, yearning for a star and a song to rend the night. But I can share a few old words of my own, a story written back in the early days of being a family of six, when the shock of a surprise pregnancy of twins was still wearing off in the summer of 2012. May you be blessed wherever you find yourself this week.
* * * * *Impossible . . .
Snacks at our house are served in small glass Pyrex bowls - that and baby food and cereal and anything else that needs to be consumed. They’ve also been used to serve cheerios to pet ants in the back yard and make a perfect bed for my daughter’s small, white beanie-baby kitten.
We have almost ten of these bowls and go through nearly all of them on a daily basis. When the twins are old enough to take part in the great American tradition of sitting in front of the TV with a snack in hand we will go through even more of these bowls.
The other day I ordered four more from Amazon, thinking we’d stock up, but I accidentally ordered the wrong size – 6oz, not 10. One morning I served my four year old his cereal in one of these new bowls and he noticed the difference right away.
“Mom, this bowl shrank! How did it shrink?!”
I couldn’t resist telling him that I did it. I wove an elaborate tale about how I was very tired because shrinking bowls was hard work and I’d stayed up all night to do it.
His questions abounded, “How did you do it? Can you shrink more?”
“No, only four – it’s very hard work,” I replied.
“Did you put them in hot water?” “Can you shrink me?”
Later, on the way to preschool, he commented from the back of the van, “Boy, you must be really tired if you stayed up all night shrinking bowls.”
He questions everything, but not the idea that it can be done because for him there’s no reason it can’t be done. There’s also no reason for him to think he won’t be a jungle explorer when he grows up (along with the whole family, and my job will be to stay back at the hut with the babies!) or dig a hole big enough for us all to live in on our next trip to Grandpa’s house (my job, he says, will be to stay at the top and make sure it doesn’t fall in on everyone else).
He’s too young to absorb the laws of physics which declare that glass bowls can’t shrink (though they do break!). Too young to separate with clear lines the possible from the impossible.
A few weeks ago I met a new couple at church who asked, in getting to know me, “Do you have kids?” My reply to such questions until now has been something like, “We have two kids, six and four, and then we also have twins.” Splitting them up this way seems to make it sound more sane, less the impossible reality that it is. But that day, for the first time, I replied without qualifying, “I have four kids.”
I wander around the house these days, treading water, trying to stay afloat while crunching layers of cheerios under my feet and endlessly ferrying dirty glass bowls from one room to another.
I tell myself I’m the least likely candidate to be in charge of what feels like a small daycare. I think to myself, “This is not me. This is not possible. How can I be a mother of four kids?”
Children don’t know the difference between what is and isn’t possible. Maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when he said we should become as little children if we’re going to be able to enter into the kingdom of God - the kingdom where the lines between possible and impossible and all the other polar opposites we think the world depends on are so deeply blurred.
God's doing something strange here at my house, something no less amazing than shrinking glass bowls. God works late into the night – taking my tiny heart, my too small life and cracking it open.
It’s very hard work you see - with human hearts it’s two steps forward, one step back, as the muscle contracts God reaches out, yet again, to pry it open.
I’m learning to lean into the expansion, to believe in the impossible and say with Mary, “Let it be unto me . . .”
God, make me, make all of us, like a little child, like Mary. Teach us to believe beyond what we can see, grant us the courage needed to live into the impossible things that you have made possible.
I've been blessed this Advent to journey alongside of John D. Blase and Winn Collier - as we reflect on the same scripture passage each week. Stop by their spaces to see the story through a different light. I'm honored that they accepted my request to cast my lot with them this year and my heart has been blessed by an opportunity to walk with others through this darkness toward the coming light.