It was two weeks before my due date and during the previous month, we had been living in a construction zone, pending a renovation of our kitchen and upstairs bathroom. Plastic draped our doorways, floors, and furniture. Every morning, I would spread a covering over the top of our bed and down the length of our dining room table table, each anticipating a fresh dusting of drywall before they would be unrolled for our evening rituals.
Three days after I found out I was dilated three centimeters, I was eating a pumpkin waffle and sensed a tingling on the right side of my tongue. Two days later, it felt as if the entire right side of my face was going numb. A stroke!? the frenzied side of me freaked. Instead, it was Bell’s Palsy, a somewhat rare virus that temporarily weakens the muscles on one side of the face and is three times as common in pregnant women. It would likely disappear in a few weeks, but in the meantime I was told to rush to an eye doctor to make sure there was no damage to my cornea, because, of course, I couldn’t close my eye now without the help of my hand. Also, the doctor recommended, maybe best not to keep living in the Dust Bowl of 2017.
We decided to evacuate to an extended stay accommodation not five minutes down the road from the hospital where I would be delivering. The kids seemed to think it was an adventure to make our home in a hotel. “Can we pretend we’re going to live here forever?” Gabriel asked.
A few days later, I was rocking in a friend’s living room, devouring Dove chocolates and popcorn, when I felt that tell-tale hardening begin crawling up my abdomen. Braxton Hicks contractions had been a constant throughout my third trimester, and even a few weeks prior I had waited out some more intense tightenings. This was different. I left my friend’s house and drove home to pick up my hospital bag and baby car seat before heading to join my husband and children for another night in the extended stay.
By midnight the contractions had begun pacing themselves at around five minutes apart. The magic number. I got up and began packing the kids’ stuff, shoving cookies in my mouth in anticipation of the inevitable hospital-induced fast that awaited, and drew myself a warm bath. I knew from experience with my other birth that rushing to the hospital prematurely only meant more waiting and more time without food. Better labor as long as I could in the hotel, I told myself.
At 3:30 a.m., my mother-in-law pulled up in her Jeep to pick up my dazed three- and six-year-old.
By 4, we were in triage. I was told I was seven or eight centimeters dilated. And then my water broke … while we were waiting for a room to be ready.
Five hours later, some Pitocin, a few minutes of excruciating bad-ass-no-epidural-mitigated-pain, and three forceful pushes, and Baby Lucy Jean made her entrance.
Despite the barely-numbed stitching for me and a few hours in the NICU for some labored breathing for Lucy, we were overjoyed at the new life we’d been entrusted with. Glad for a couple days of rest, hospital-cooked meals, and snuggles with our newborn.
The lull didn’t last long.
The day after Lucy was born, Michael was driving all over town picking up toilets, replacing bathroom vanities and mirrors, and trying to assess exactly how long it would be before we could move back into our house. Apparently, the work was far from complete and we decided it would be best if baby and I holed up at my parents for a few days while Michael and our other two took to couches at my sister-in-law’s.
Three days later, we were still living in suitcases, this time moving in with friends from church who graciously opened their home to us for a second time that month. We took over their basement apartment, the children sleeping on couches and air mattresses, while the baby nestled in a portable bouncer.
On Thanksgiving day, Michael hired a cleaning lady and together they conquered the mess that was our house. Although there were still a few weeks’ worth of punch list items left for our contractor, our home was habitable, and sparkly clean to boot.
As I type this, our house has been free of workmen’s boots for several weeks now, although we still find remnants of the upheaval here and there—a poorly installed bathtub drain, an uncovered light socket, a forgotten ladder. The big things—the extra space in the kitchen, a second-floor laundry, and a master bathroom—are there to enjoy. And we are enjoying a peaceful Christmas. For the most part.
Disarray still lingers in the stickers and Play-Doh ground into the floor and dining room table. In the arguments about how many carrots one has to finish in order to earn dessert. In the cries of a newborn in the middle of the night. In the bickering of siblings about an insignificant plaything. And in the stubbornness, hatred, and pride that I daily have to battle at the base of my heart.
John Piper writes in “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy”:
“But there is … a peace that must happen before there can be peace on earth. There must be peace between us and God. Our unbelief and his wrath must be removed. That is our deepest peace—and our deepest need at Christmas.”
Again, I remember that peace isn’t found in good health, a restful place to call home, or even when we all get along well—from toddler siblings to nations at war. Peace is found in the Baby who grew to be a killed Man, who came to conquer the greatest enemy to our unrest: the soul at war with its Creator.
Before we can truly sit back and enjoy the gifts of restored health or cozy dwellings or pleasantness among peoples, we must reckon with the One who has formed us and called us by name—the One we are naturally at odds with. The One who became our peace by His own shed blood.
So in this Advent season, I echo with the writer of the classic carol “O Come, O Come Emmanuel;”
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.