In November of 2022, I found myself silently weeping in the lobby of the University of Chicago Hospital, having just concluded my 38th doctor visit/medical test of the year so far.
I was 15 months into an unexpected journey with autoimmune disease, which often left me feeling intense pain, exhaustion, and helplessness. Moreover, one of the treatments we’d tried along the way had led to additional bizarre, life-altering symptoms: heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and—worst of all—an inability to tolerate temperatures below the high-60s. Usually indoors, horizontal, and anxiety-ridden, my body—which had taken so long for me to even begin to know and love—often felt more foreign and troublesome than ever.
The neurologist I had just seen believed I was suffering from an autonomic nervous system disorder called dysautonomia, and that I needed to pursue treatment at another hospital with the one dysautonomia specialist in our area. So I called immediately to schedule.
“Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a wait. We have no openings until December…of 2023.”
Simultaneously last fall, after many months of effort, we had begun pursuing fertility support in hopes of growing our family. The process was stalled repeatedly, however, due to my other medical concerns. What now? I was devastated. These were not the sort of doctor visits I had anticipated in my early-to-mid-thirties.
The surprises continued all last winter, as an amazing functional medicine doctor accompanied me through hours upon hours of creative, personalized therapies that, over time, would reset my nervous system and free me to return to nature, movement, and basic functionality. Thank God.
And in mid-May—still healing, processing, reflecting, rebuilding, unknotting, grieving, imagining—I found out I was pregnant, exactly as I was. My joy overflowed.
Full of grace.
The Lord is with you.
She was troubled.
Do not be afraid.
You have found favor with God.
Today’s Gospel does not read, “The Lord will be with you if…” or “…will be with you once you…” Mary was favored by God as she was—a poor, unmarried, young, lay, Jewish woman in Galilee, which was occupied by Roman oppressors. She was already favored because she was, not because she did or didn’t do. She was favored in and of herself, not just as an “ideal vessel.” Mary’s “virginity”—her youthful hope and openness, her radical availability to God and self—allowed her, in freedom, to welcome God into the home of her humanity.
Can it be that we—you, I—might be favored by God too? Full of grace, even, as we are?
As of today’s writing, I am one day shy of nine months pregnant, and acutely aware that this profound gift of my first child is not a reward, neither for perfect holiness nor for sufficient suffering and effort. Nor is this gift of my child the first or last or only real invitation to birth Love into a world that so deeply needs it. I have participated in God’s Love in friendship and partnership, in learning and teaching, in work for justice and peace, in music and in silence. And so have you, each in countless beautiful ways. In solidarity with Mary and the never-ending chain of women, from long before her to long after us, might we all say yes to God’s abiding presence within and between us. God is with us in these bodies of ours…with these troubles and these ponderings…with these limitations and these possibilities.
As I packed my hospital bag a couple weeks ago—just in case—I included this candle, featuring this breathtaking modern icon, Mary: Love Forever Being Born, by the artist Kelly Latimore. This piece is inspired by a poem by Sr. Ilia Delio, which reads:
What do the stars say?
The light that meets our eyes after millions of years summons us to look beyond.
The dark that hovers over us is filled with light.
That underneath the appearance of the stable heavens is the bubbling energy of the universe.
We are forming, forming, forming and nothing can stop us.
There is a palpable power of attraction, pulling us toward we-no-not-where.
Love alone is the guide of the universe and the whole universe is in the human heart.
Tend to the heart and the power of love will name itself as God.
As I welcome this newest manifestation of God’s Love in my world, I pray that this art will help connect me to the varied experiences, people, and spaces within which I have encountered that Love already…and to the power of Love yet to unfold in labor and motherhood. The celebration of the Incarnation once again invites us to revel in God’s closeness, forever being born in each era of these bodies and souls of ours.