The second line crept slowly across the end of the stick in my hand. Pregnant. Again. I put the stick on the edge of the bathroom sink and looked in the mirror, meeting my own eyes as they stared back at me. How would I tell my husband? How would I tell others who would criticize or make crude jokes? How was I going to have this baby?
Mary Mother of God and I were centuries apart and continents away. She had no stick with a second line, no bathroom door to hide from the outside world behind, and no mirror in which she had to face herself. Mary and I were in similar circumstances and light years apart.
She had few of the comforts I took for granted, and I was certainly no sinless virgin. She carried the Savior of the world, and I carried a child I thought would end my world. How was I to see myself in her or God working in me when my life was such a mess?
Our reactions were very different too. Mary was serene and full of Grace. She was humble. She questioned the Angel Gabriel, not about the health or abilities of the Babe she’d carry, not about how they would survive financially, what she would tell people who pointed fingers, or even what Joseph, her betrothed, would say. Mary only questioned how this was to be since she was pure and innocent.
Maybe it was because I was not pure or innocent that I reacted differently. I questioned everything Mary did not and could not question the one thing she did. I was not serene or full of Grace. I was neither humble nor pure and innocent. If anything, I was full of pride, selfishness, and fear. I was full of myself. I too questioned how this could be, but the tone and reasoning of my question were completely different from Mary full of Grace.
Mary and I did have something in common, though. We both said yes. We both said yes to that pregnancy. We both said yes to circumstances that we could not imagine only hours before. We both said yes without knowing what would lie ahead. We both said yes to baby boys we were given. My yes was to the God who created him; her yes was to the God who is Him. We both said yes to God’s will over our own.
Slowly, I began to discover other similarities too, similarities I had never thought of before. I began to put myself in Mary’s shoes and wonder what emotions this young woman must have felt. I tend to separate historical figures from their emotions. I tend to think that people long ago were stronger than we are or maybe that they were incapable of feeling as deeply as we do. By doing so, I minimize their suffering and dehumanize them, but Mary was very much an often suffering human being.
Mary must have felt confusion. She must have faced people who whispered behind her back and others who taunted openly. She must have felt fear as she and Joseph fled the slaughter of the innocents, but she must also have felt fear as she was jostled passing through the marketplace or when Joseph spoke of divorce. She must have questioned the injustice of what others said about her.
Perhaps Mary even longed for a more intimate relationship with Joseph. Perhaps Joseph, in his humanness, wished he could share himself fully with his beautiful bride. Maybe in some ways, even knowing God and feeling His Love far better than most of us do, Mary and Joseph each felt just a little alone. Maybe there were even days they felt very alone, but we would never know it.
Mary must have felt many negative emotions, but she handled them with Grace, and Grace makes all the difference. Grace took that Baby in the manger and raised Him to be a Man despite a world that was very much against Him. Grace protected Him from Herod and from the Pharisees for decades. Grace protected Him from those who mocked and ridiculed Him.
Grace did not, however, prevent those things from happening. The Son of God experienced real bullying prior to the Garden of Gethsemane, but neither He nor His parents complained about it. They handled it with Grace. Maybe Jesus was born with it. Maybe He learned it by watching His mother.
Finding Grace in the Holidays
The holiday season can be stressful for many even those with close families and lots of support. With decorating, shopping, and visiting, family friction, and ideas of what the “perfect” holiday should look like interfering with what the perfect-for-you holiday could look like. To make matters worse, spending increases and blood pressure rises as spouses express conflicting ideas.
I have certainly overspent on occasion. After sticking to tight budgets all year, I use this season and too-good-to-pass-up sales as an excuse to overspend on material goods for myself and my boys, but I also overspend in worse ways on more important things like time and energy. I rush from place to place hurrying along without remembering purity and innocence, patience and love. I work my way down my To-Do List with determination and purpose, precision and force. I fill my heart with what I should do and what the boys want and talk myself into thinking I need this and that when all we really need is Grace.
Living Mary’s Grace
Many Marriages crumble during the holidays. Decisions are made during this stressful period to divorce after the holidays. Expectations are high and experience is low. People crash and burn physically, financially, mentally, and emotionally this holiday. Tempers flare. Curses are mumbled. Feelings are hurt and defense mechanisms kick in. Retaliation, either passive or aggressive, seems the best method of self-preservation.
Fires are fed. Grace is not.
It is important to remember in all things, but especially in the heat of the moment, that Mary and Joseph and even Jesus suffered well beyond our Lord’s conviction. They suffered in their daily lives, but they handled that suffering with Grace. They did not gossip to their friends. They did not call relatives to complain. They did not retaliate against each other or give one another the silent treatment.
Mary never allowed her suffering to keep her from finding Joy or offering Love. She found Joy because she did not lose Hope. She gave Love because she knew she was Loved completely by the Lord, and He was enough. She learned to see those around her and all of life through filters of Grace. She was certain her yeses were always yeses to God rather than to the world, herself, or her desires. Her yeses were always offered because of the filter of Grace.
Mary’s life was full of suffering in many ways, but what Joy she must have had playing with that baby, nursing Him to sleep each night, watching Him take His first steps or speak His first word, and carve His first masterpiece! Her yes came with suffering she handled with uncomplaining Grace, and I bet if you asked her now, she would not have done it any differently.
The thing is, when you say yes to God, He always provides Joy and Love for those willing to find it. No matter how bleak things look in the moment, God sees long term. When you stop looking at what you want and make conscious efforts to turn to God repeatedly, you never regret your decisions.
Eight years ago, I thought my world would end with my surprise pregnancy. In many ways it did, but that wasn’t the end of my story. Over the years, I’ve come to a greater understanding of how Mary must have really felt. I have come to understand her better as a woman and as a mother. I have drawn closer to her through the Rosary and meditating on what she experienced firsthand and what she witnessed happening to her Son.
Eight years ago, I was full of myself and feeling pretty empty. Today, although I still feel negative emotions at times, there is a difference. Today, life is filtered by Grace. Today, I realize what my yes meant, how it ended the world as I knew it and began a world better than I could have dreamed! I realize how scary it is to let go of beliefs you cling to and the little power you think you have when they are all you’ve known. I realize the temptation to overspend yourself and react in fear and impatience or seek gratification through retaliation is strong. I also see gifts in places we would not expect them. I see those gifts far outweigh temptations when you see both gifts and temptations through the filters of Grace.
2000 years ago, a surprise pregnancy changed the world, and it all started with a woman’s answering yes in a difficult situation. Today, surprise pregnancies and saved relationships and countless other things continue to change individual lives and therefore the world when we answer with a yes to God, when we bite back sharp words but also take the extra step to love unconditionally, when our Joy is not reliant on someone else but in who we are created to be and in He who created us, when we view all God’s creations through the filter of Grace.
If you are questioning something this holiday season, whether it is a surprise pregnancy, a shaky relationship, a financial setback, or something else entirely, examine the questions you pose. Are your questions ones I’d have asked eight years ago when confronted with a difficult pregnancy or are they ones Mary would pose? Do the roots of your questions have to do with expectations or hopes? In a world where God turns things upside down in order to set them right side up, ask yourself, especially in the most challenging situations, “How can you complain less and give more?” How can you be like Mary, give your yes to God, and rejoice in the birth of Hope and Love this Christmas?