If this room were hanging on the wall of a museum, like a painting, I would call it “After the Celebration.”
The fabric birthday banner is draped over a dining room chair (having fallen, gracefully, from the top of the china cabinet). A pile of gift bags, in shades of pink and purple, is stacked on the floor waiting for a return trip to the third-floor closet. I think there may still be a few candles, slick with the crumbs of a cinnamon-apple cake, hiding beneath the birthday cards lined up across the tabletop.
I am not yet ready to sweep away the remains of this past year or the party with which we ended it. I am following the trail of these crumbs trying to piece together the story of my baby girl’s first year.
I suppose it is more my story than hers. One day she will look at photos from this day and feel utterly disconnected from the beautiful baby in the pink dress. If I can discover the story, the meaning that lurks in a messy pile of remembered odds and ends, I can pass it on to her.
A better gift, I think, than any doll or keepsake book or slice of cake.
I don’t have what it takes (and what does it take? Time? Skill? Dedication?) to pray long or complicated prayers for my children. Instead, I ask for a verse, I write it on an index card, and I pray it just whenever I find myself sitting at my desk.
All year my prayer for this child (my second daughter, my last of four babies) has been less of a prayer and more of a long exhalation of gratitude. I have prayed this: “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul” (Proverbs 13:19a).
However, this story doesn’t begin with longing. It begins with my determination not to ask or desire. It begins with a hole in my heart where longing should have been.
After the birth of our third, I gave away the baby things. I packed clothes in boxes and mailed them off. I left books at the used-book store. I sold the pricy breast pump on consignment.
This made perfect sense. Having finally earned my PhD, I was embarking on a career that left little space for more babies. I would soon round the corner of my late 30s. But beneath the reasonableness was something much darker: fear.
I had three children, but I had never conceived without doctor visits, invasive tests, medications. Even the surprise of my third pregnancy arrived only after months of tearful prayers.
I had always assumed we’d have another daughter. I sometimes remembered the tiny pink things I had packed away years before, but when I tried to imagine praying for another baby, waiting for another baby, I couldn’t.
Whatever store of desire had fueled my prayers for three children I had used it all up. I was empty, so I gave away every last object that might say hope.
Here, then, is the beginning of the story.
It is the quiet, twilit hour of bedtime. I am sitting at the end of my daughter’s turquoise bedspread. Her face is lost in shadow, but I can hear her voice clearly: “I want a sister.”
I have heard these same words before. I have heard them many times. I think it is exasperation that prompts my reply, but I wonder now if it was my own desperation?
I tell her, “I can’t give you a sister. Only Jesus gives babies. If you want a sister, you have to ask him.”
You might think this memory became meaningful only in hindsight. But that is not the truth. I knew something had happened as soon as the words left my mouth. It felt as if a boulder had shifted. Where there had been nothing within me but irritation there was something new.
Was it desire? Was it hope? I’m not sure I can name it, but it felt like this: pain.
My daughter prayed, and here is where hindsight does color this memory. Looking back, I really cannot say whether it was her prayer being offered or my own.
“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.”
I Samuel 1:27
*first photo by Kelli Campbell, second photo by Christie Purifoy
This is not only beautifully written but so completely relatable to me. Several months ago, I decided to give away all my baby stuff. (My baby was conceived after many doctor appointments, blood draws, high-tech procedures, etc.) And yet, I haven’t given away anything: the mess covers the entire ping-pong table in my basement. Deep down, I know that getting rid of the stuff won’t take away the desire.
Thanks so much for sharing this. Happy birthday to your beautiful girl!
Oh, Em. I know, I know.
Hope, desire. I’m so grateful for them, but they hurt us so much.
And isn’t she glorious! I love the way you write Christie. I hear you pulling up water from the deep wells, where they’ve sloshed around a bit in the ebb and flow of your days. You pull the bucket up holding your memories and meaningful thoughts and offer a drink to all of us. It tastes good and refreshing. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.
I’m so glad to hear it, Shelly! I’ve been given such refreshing water. It’s a joy to pass it around.
Blessings to you and yours this weekend.
So tender and so true! Desire often starts with an ache and sometimes the ache feels deeply like pain. I love the “desire” series my friend! It touches something deeply in all of us…something hard to describe, yet you do it so well!
Thank you, Summer. You were the one who helped me realize I had something to say about desire. I’m grateful. Also, I’m missing you.
This is just. . . perfect. And yes, yes – desire feels like pain. And also like a tiny sprig of hope and an opening. I thank God for it because is is so often the impetus for new life, not always as beautifully concrete as this beautiful baby girl, but newness. Thanks you for this.
Thank you, Diana. Yes, you describe it exactly – pain, hope, an opening. I hope I never run away from the possibility of newness. It hurts at first, yes, but, oh, is it beautiful.
Oh man. I have been waiting for a chance to sit and read this post all day today. And now, having read it, I feel such warmth wash over me. Christie, your words–the way you weave a story…absolutely breathtaking. I felt the longing, and the hope of this, and love that you just celebrated your baby’s first birthday!! God in his mystery never ceases to amaze me with His generosity and grace. Only God can give babies, and how delightful that He answered your child’s prayer, and fulfilled a hunger in your own heart. So awesome.