There’s nothing like a pregnancy completely planned by God instead of me, bed rest, and giving birth to a new baby on Palm Sunday to make for a more meaningful Lent and Easter.
At long last after 40 days of fasting and penance, I now have 50 days to celebrate our Lord’s victory over the cross. I’m also celebrating a new baby, healthy and perfect in every way.
When Lent began, I had great plans (I always do). I made a long (and overly ambitious) list of Lenten resolutions. I took Lent’s call to conversion seriously. I was going to give my sorry spiritual self a holy makeover.
Today I am different, but my spiritual makeover had little to do with the Lenten resolutions I made or how I intended to grow closer to Christ.
Today I’m a mom to three. Right now I’m nursing my newborn, cradling my own version of new life at the start of the Easter season, new life that I can touch and love and nurture.
But just a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure if I’d have a healthy baby or if I’d ever have a baby at all. God blessed me with uncertainty. Would our baby come too early? And then: Okay, now that we’ve made it to 37 weeks and I keep hearing “any day now,” will our baby ever come at all?
While many of my intended Lenten resolutions fell by the wayside (never ever commit to huge chunks of meditative prayer just when your husband leaves for a month-long work trip and you’re pregnant with two small children underfoot), God knew what to do with me. My penance could be found in being sidelined on bed rest when I had an intense urge to nest and to just get up to care for my current children, including a toddler who would climb beside me and cry, “Mommy, up. Mommy, up,” because she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t picking her up anymore.
When we made it to the full-term mark, I thought my penance was over. I was thrilled that our bun had stayed in the oven and for a few days I enjoyed being a fully-present mom to Madeline and Rae again. Then the anxiety crept back into my psyche, and I found myself constantly wondering when the baby would come. At each prenatal appointment, I was told her birth was imminent.
And yet, I waited. I could not make my own personal Easter, the new life harbored within me, come before her time. Instead, I had to turn my fears and anxieties over to God and to trust him.
Then my “real” contractions began in the wee hours of Palm Sunday. While others celebrated Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, my husband and I would soon be celebrating the arrival of our third child. But not before I had to face some of my own suffering in the form of contractions sharpened by back labor.
Just before it came time to push, I was standing, holding the hands of my husband and my midwife and as I breathed through a very intense contraction, I gritted my teeth and moaned, “This hurts.”
“I know it does,” my midwife said. Then: “Don’t fight it. Offer it up.”
Unite your suffering with Christ.
And so I did.
Christ did not fight the cross. I didn’t fight the pain of my contraction. I let it overpower me and then it was over. A few minutes later our baby was born. I only had to push through one contraction and then I was told to pull her to my chest. My arms reached for her and there she was: rosy and pink, a bundle of perfection resting on my deflated belly.
There were no palm branches fanned out in her honor when our third daughter slipped out, but there were plenty of tears of joy. My Easter came early this year.
God called me to sacrifice through my pregnancy, bed rest, nausea, and labor. I’m at the other side of the cross now. I no longer see it as a sign of sorrow. I see it as a sign of hope and new life. I may have nibbled on chocolate this Lent. I may have not found as much time to fall on my knees and pray in uninterrupted silence. Yet, in his wisdom, God paved a way to holiness for me by blessing me with uncertainty, labor pains, and penances I never could have planned.
Today I am not only a new mother. Today I have a better understanding of Christ’s sacrificial love.
Jesus died on the cross as a supreme act of love for us all. Through his humble acceptance of his cross and his total gift of self, he showed us that sacrifice is actually desirable – a perfect way to show our love.
Jesus suffered to bring us new life. On a much smaller scale, so did I. Enduring the hardships this pregnancy brought was an act of love for my unborn baby. My final month of pregnancy spent mostly on my side was my Lent, my labor my Good Friday. And now I am basking in my Easter, victorious as I marvel at the miracle of the Risen Lord and the miracle of my new baby.