Waiting for the baby

Earlier this year towards the end of my pregnancy, a friend sent me this meme causing me to laugh wryly:

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The last trimester can feel like it lasts forever but I knew it wouldn’t be long until the wait (and the physical discomfort) would be over and I could look at my baby’s face and hold her in my arms.

How did Mary, the girl chosen to be the mother of the God-baby, feel as her time to give birth drew near?

Giving birth to Small Boy just before Christmas gave me a fresh appreciation of Mary’s courage and obedience. In the final months of pregnancy I felt HUGE (this is because I was), struggled to sleep and suffered from dyspepsia (yep – the nausea and vomiting wasn’t just first trimester). I waddled rather than walked and stayed close to home and the hospital. You wouldn’t have found me making a five-day journey sitting on a donkey.

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Mary wasn’t the only one waiting for her baby to arrive – this was the moment the Jewish people had been longing for: the arrival of the Messiah, the one who will rescue God’s people.

A friend recently asked me if I had a favourite Christmas carol. ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, I replied immediately.

This is my favourite section:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings

These lyrics come from the ancient prophecy of Malachi and look forward to the Lord’s coming:

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. (Malachi 4:2, New Living Translation)

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These words speak to me of emotional healing and freedom. Christmas can be such a difficult time emotionally: we can feel sorrow or regret as we remember absent loved ones and we can get stressed if high expectations aren’t met. Spending time with family can mean we revert to playing the roles we had in childhood. Even in precious seasons, there can be challenges – a friend of a friend has written some great advice about Christmas with a baby. If you think this Christmas is going to be a tough time for you emotionally, then please be kind to yourself and maybe talk things through with someone. (In the UK, the Samaritans can be called for free at any time.)

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament:

It would be four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew. History didn’t stop. Kings and kingdoms came and went. But God’s redemptive plan stayed on schedule. When the time was right, Jesus would bring salvation to both Jews and the Gentiles. God’s kingdom arrived in the person of his Son.‘ (They Spoke from God: A survey of the Old Testament, p. 836)

Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting is so much harder when I don’t know how long I have to wait. If I’m waiting for a bus and I know one is coming in a hour, I am content and productive. But if I’m waiting and I don’t know when (or even if) a bus is coming, the time passes slowly and I’m on edge. Would I have waited differently if I’d known at age 18 that it would only be 12 years until I met Mr Pilgrim? 

I love these words from Shane Claiborne about how to wait: ‘And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God’s reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As any expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise, nutrition, care, prayer, work; and birth involves pain, blood, tears, joy, release, community. It is called labor for a reason. Likewise, we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world.

On Christmas Day, we celebrate the birth of the God-baby and ‘Hail the Sun of Righteousness’. The wait is over. If you’re currently waiting for something, then wait with God. His timing is perfect.

Merry Christmas! Have a good one.

Dido x

Take the child and his mother and flee

The God-child had to flee persecution and sought sanctuary in a foreign land:

Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him. Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. (From Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 2 – The Message)

refugees-1008393Several years ago, I was involved on a very practical level befriending and assisting individuals and families who were refugees, asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers. Working for a small community project in inner-city Birmingham, I met many people from Africa, Europe and Asia who had fled torture, war and persecution and had sought sanctuary in Birmingham. In my relationships with these people, I gained more than I gave. I learnt about generosity, community, faith and perseverance. It was a privilege to serve these amazing people in often quite small ways and I was humbled by the gifts and hospitality I received from them.

The most important lesson I learnt during those years was the power of ‘just sitting’. I didn’t have words of comfort for the homeless and destitute woman sitting next to me. I couldn’t offer a solution to her plight in the UK or to her family’s problems in her home country. But I learnt that by sitting next to her in silence, I could show care and compassion.

For global situations such as the current refugee crisis, it can be hard to know what to do and how to make a difference.

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The problem is so vast and the scale of suffering unbelievable. The numbers are incomprehensible and the individual accounts harrowing. I feel overwhelmed by the issues, the political arguments and the horrors of what humans can do to each other. But yet, I believe we should act and that our actions make a difference.

Here are some ideas of actions we can take:

  1. Get involved with your local charity helping refugees: In the Watford area, there is the Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership which needs volunteer befrienders, financial support and donations of food. Current needs are: rice (in small packets), washing gel for clothes, tinned meat, tinned sponge puddings, milk and fruit juices. In Birmingham, I can recommend supporting Restore and in Manchester, the Boaz Trust. Other cities and large towns will have their own projects (have a look at the Naccom network).
  2. Give to an NGO working directly  with refugees: The Pilgrim family like to support Tearfund.
  3. Speak up: Many times I have not had the courage or the up-to-date information to counter arguments with someone who is being negative about refugees. I’ve found this helpful short leaflet produced by Refugee Action and am going to familiarise myself with its content so that I can confidently refute any myths. I’ve also now signed Amnesty International’s online pledge to stand up for rights for refugees.
  4. Become better informed: This briefing from Christians in Parliament about migration is a short informative read. Again, I’m going to get to grips with its content and look at the suggested follow-up reading.
  5. Campaign: For example, the Set Her Free campaign from Women for Refugee Women aims to end the detention of women seeking asylum in the UK and Stop Funding Hate is a social media campaign lobbying companies to cease advertising in newspapers which use ‘fear and division to sell more papers’.
  6. Buy these beautiful cards: The money provides phone credit for refugees across Europe and the pictures will be a visual reminder to pray, which leads me to the most important point…
  7. Pray: What if we thought prayer was the best action we could ever take on behalf of an other? Too often, I think of prayer as the weak option for when I have no other resources. But surely prayer is the ultimate action I can take? This article from a Tearfund worker in the Middle East inspires me to take prayer more seriously. I’m going to pray from now until 6th January (Epiphany) for refugees bearing in mind how Mary, Joseph and Jesus sought sanctuary in Egypt. I’m going to pray for:
    • A just asylum service in the UK
    • Healing from emotional trauma and physical wounds
    • An end to the conflict in Syria
    • Wisdom for politicians in creating solutions to the global refugee crisis
    • An end to hateful and inaccurate stories and headlines about refugees

 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19 from the New King James Version)

Not drowning, but swimming

As a young teenager, I got caught in a large Atlantic wave while swimming on holiday in France. Turned upside down and surrounded by water, I didn’t know which way was up. 

This is how I feel when caught in the throes of anxiety: It feels like I’m moments from drowning, I don’t know how to get to the air I need to survive, I’m alone, afraid and can’t escape the powerful forces pressing down on every side. 

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Sometimes it feels like a radio is playing and I can’t turn it off. The negative thoughts just keep playing in my head: ‘you’re the world’s worse mum’, ‘you’re such a rubbish wife’, ‘your friends don’t really like you’, ‘you’re no good at your job’, ‘the good times won’t last’. For much of this year, the soundtrack in my head has been constant anxious thoughts about the health and well-being of my baby: ‘is the baby moving?’, ‘is the baby going to have a safe and healthy delivery?’, ‘why did I think I could have two children? I can’t even cope with one’. It was a struggle rather than a joy to tell people I was expecting. Sometimes I wished I could hide the obvious physical signs.

I couldn’t swim to the surface. I couldn’t turn off the radio. All I could do was cling to a promise from God: he said to look at Small Boy as a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Just as he had brought my son into the world safely, so he would this baby.

While in labour I started feeling a failure for having a epidural. I remembered a counselling idea I’d heard about. I think it’s called ‘sympathetic’ or ‘compassionate friend’. I imagined asking some of my close friends if I should feel guilty for my decision. I couldn’t visualise any of them saying yes. I then thought how I would respond if a friend came to me and said she chose to have an epidural but felt a failure. I knew I’d confidently tell her she’d made the best and right decision; giving birth is not a competition. Sometimes it’s easier to show more compassion to others than ourselves! As I rejected the guilt, I drew closer to the water’s surface. 

Somehow in the process of giving birth, the fear dissipated and my strength returned. I have decided that the only mum I can be now is a Dido Pilgrim Mum. This will look different to how others parent. As I make mistakes and muddle along in this motherhood adventure, I’m determined to say no to guilt and fear.

This is not to say that I’ve been totally free from anxiety, panic, guilt and fear since the birth of Little Miss but it seems that something has shifted. I’ve reached the sea’s surface and am swimming.

‘The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes’

Mr Pilgrim was once bemused by me explaining to our crying Advent baby (Small Boy) that Away in a Manger wasn’t an accurate reflection of the incarnation.

God became a baby. The more I think about this, the more incomprehensible it becomes and the more overwhelmed I am by the contrast between the one who spoke the universe into being and a baby.

I hang out with babies. They can’t do much. Many mammalian offspring are born highly developed (a baby giraffe can stand and walk an hour after birth) but human babies are incredibly helpless and dependent. The first three months are now commonly called the fourth trimester as a way of expressing the vulnerability of a newborn. They’re outside-inside needing cuddles, snuggles and the familiar sound of a heartbeat.

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And God became a vulnerable baby and this God-baby (Jesus) would have cried (just as my baby does) when hungry or tired or needing to be changed. And why? I love the way the Storybook Bible puts it: ‘The God who flung planets into space and kept them whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just a word, the one who could do anything at all – was making himself small. And coming down … as a baby. Wait. God was sending a baby to rescue the world?

God moved into the neighbourhood

God ‘moved into the neighbourhood’

I love this description of the incarnation from The Message (modern paraphrase of the Bible).

It reminds me of a church I read about last year running a Love your Postcode project (I can’t remember where I read this and a Google search only brings up an estate agents in the Midlands). This phrase (Love your Postcode) echoes in my spirit: I love where we live.

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So how I can express some of the love of God to this neighbourhood?

(This isn’t a rhetorical question! Ideas and suggestions welcome please!)

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things (U2 – Grace)

One of my favourite Christmas tree decorations is this wooden star. It was made two years ago by New Hope’s Community Market Garden team for the St Mary’s Church Christmas Tree Festival.

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Created out of some discarded damaged wood, I bought it after the festival to hang on our tree at home for Small Boy to enjoy. He was almost one then and enjoyed saying ‘dar’ whenever he saw a star. This unwanted and imperfect piece of wood became something beautiful to us as the three of us celebrated Christmas together.

To me the star became a symbol both of the work of New Hope and of my own life. I often torment myself with thoughts of hurtful or shameful things I’ve said and done or decisions I’ve made that I regret. Sometimes I look back over my life and wish it had been different but then I hear God say ‘you are a trophy of grace’.

‘A trophy of grace’: all that I am now, all that I have is due to God’s grace.

Soli Deo Gloria.