Doing God a Favor

Three weeks past his due date, my baby boy was born at home.

Oh, hello. It's just me, coming back to earth. I've been on hiatus, in my own little world. First came weeks of living on pins and needles, waiting for baby to appear. So many "false starts" kept me entrenched in a mindset of imminent childbirth that I couldn't focus on anything else. I didn't want to talk to anyone, see anyone, do anything that required any degree of concentration since I knew that any second now, I'd be interrupted again by a contraction.

Then, finally, he came. When he was ready, he was ready and it was fast, intense. And I have the blessing of family who will drop everything and come help me, and a community who will keep meals coming every single day...and I thoroughly enjoyed my two-week babymoon. All hell may be breaking loose elsewhere in the world, but ensconced in my corner bedroom, I kept the world at bay and just stared at my baby as he slept, as he ate, as he tried to figure out all these strange new things his body was supposed to do. 

But the time has come - I knew it would eventually - and I have to transition back to the "real world". The world where I'm supposed to do my own laundry and cook for my family and take care of all my kids and basically stand on my own two legs. I'm venturing out slowly, blinking in the bright light, and realizing that just as I stepped back from the world in degrees as I got closer to delivery, I will return to it in degrees as time marches forward. And the question is, what am I bringing with me? What memento am I bringing back from my journey?

As I lay in bed recovering, I read a wonderful book by Rabbi David Aaron, "The God-Powered Life". He expressed the very lesson I'd been learning in such a beautiful way:

To serve God is to imbue each moment with the presence of the Great I. God wants to be present in the here and now, and our job is to serve God in that desire. In other words, we should ask ourselves: "How can I serve God right now?" If right now I imbue this moment with God's wisdom, I am serving the Great I. If right now I am with my son, I should see this moment as an opportunity to show him love and thus serve God, who is the source of all love. It's not my love. I didn't invent love. I didn't create love and I didn't give it its power and meaning. Love did not start with me and love will not end with me... My service to God - who wants to be present in this world right now - is to bring his love into this moment - or his compassion and justice if that is what he wants of me in this moment. This is the secret to living a full life: a life of holiness. We should not be living in the past of for the future. The goal of life is to be fully present in this moment, serving God - here and now - in spreading and sharing his love and goodness.

When the days of make-up-your-mind-already labor dragged on, I panicked. "Why isn't it progressing? Why isn't my body getting this baby out?" The only method I found for keeping the sense of overwhelm at bay was to pause and ask myself, "What is it that G-d is asking of in this moment? How can I serve Him right here, right now?" Instead of seeing anything other than labor as an interruption, a distraction, I wanted to see it as a special request from Hashem. 

"Would you please lay on the couch and snuggle with your three boys for Me? Thanks..." 

"Your husband is being extra patient; would you please give him a sweet smile and some encouraging words for me? Thanks..." 

"Your little baby needs to be warm and safe inside you right now. Would you please just love him and send him messages of peace and acceptance right now? Thanks..."

I failed at least as many times as I succeeded in trying to be mindful of the purpose in my moments. Then for-real labor happened. And I thought to myself over and over, "Stay in the moment. The only thing he's asking of me right now is to embrace this one contraction. Just this one." And for awhile, I danced my way through them with my husband and my mother as partners. Then, it was like my body said, "What the heck, let's just get this over with!" and the monster contractions came hard and long and left me barely enough time to catch my breath before the next one roared up on me. And then it became a long blur of yelling and silence, pushing and squeezing, holding my breath and breathing. And some subconscious presence that could sit quietly on the sidelines and observe told me, "You're not handling this as well as cooly as I thought you would. What happened to all that what-is-Hashem-asking-of-me-in-this-moment?." I only felt my calm return in the seconds before he was crowning, as my body stretched beyond and beyond and beyond and then just a little big more and then I was totally surrendured, dreading the pain, but moved by an unexplainable force to barrel my way straight into it anyways since I could see the light on the other side and it could only get better after this...

And then they passed him to me - "Take him! Take him!" - and I reached down and grabbed him and held him to me, happy and completely in the moment. All the discomfort and pain of pregnancy and labor are behind me, irrelevant. All the years of blood, sweat and tears that will come with raising him are in front of me, irrelevant. The only thing that I see at that moment is him, ten pounds of newborn sweetness. Today is Tammuz 17th, that window in time where the Jewish people historically have had to reckon with the consequences of their periods of straying from the service of Hashem. The period of scripture that is read during the afternoon is from Isaiah 55 and it begins, "Seek God where He can be found. Call to Him while He is near." Erica Brown writes a beautiful thought on this verse:

Seek God before life gets difficult, when God is reaching out to you, do not wait till things go wrong. There are always moments of tenderness in a relationship that should be enlarged, leveraged, expanded. Respond to those moments. Sometimes we let go too soon. We had the chance to say something that needed to be said, and the moment presented itself, but we let it go. There was a kind word or a compliment that should have been uttered, but wasn't. It's true in sacred times with others and also with God. There was a word of praise or gratitude we could have said in our tefillot, prayers, that we let slip away, or an apology that might have brought us closer to God, but we weren't seeking and so we lost it. If you're not looking then you won't find God.

In the hours that followed the birth, I reflected back on that final hour of labor and I found myself brooding a little, disappointed in myself. I wanted to be so much more collected, more mindful. I wanted to be aware in those most difficult moments that even then I could do something to serve God, but it seemed like all I could think - when I even could think - was that I wanted it to be over. "Did I let You down?" I asked G-d. "I really wanted to do You proud." And then I remembered two moments near the end of labor. I had pushed hard several times, but couldn't feel anything happening. A haunting familiarity, the cell-deep memory of my first two births and hours of pushing without any apparent result, brought my panic to a head and I lost it. "I can't do it! I can't do it! GOD, PLEASE HELP ME PUSH THIS BABY OUT!" Only minutes before, in one of those blink-of-an-eye breaks in between contractions, I had the weird sense that my perception of Hashem was coalescing with the Engineer's strong presence. I was so overcome with all the love I felt was being spent on me. I wrapped my arms around the his neck and just said over and over, "Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are so amazing. So wonderful."  Two ends of the spectrum, the high and low of my labor encapsulated. And when I reflected on those two moments, I felt the answer to my question. "You did do Me proud. You did." My mother always said something along the lines of, "When you are sick or tired, the stuff that comes out lets you know where you are really holding." Labor, with it's accompanying pain and unique exhaustion, brought out my most elementary fears and doubts. But it also revealed that the lesson I tried and tried to learn during the challenging days leading up to labor had penetrated deeper than I thought it had. Even without having my higher cognitive abilities at my disposal...I responded to those moments in labor where I could express awareness of Transcendence intersecting with the primordial experience of childbirth. In spite of my fears and doubts, an extra helping of godliness made in into the world.  So, here I am now, coming back to earth, being reintroduced to a world that is so full of competing demands that it's easy to lose sight of the opportunity in a single moment. But I'm making it my mantra. I'm practicing taking a deep breath and seeing that each moment brings me a special request for a favor from Hashem. Some of those requests will accompany situations that make me doubt that I can hold it together, like when Mr.Curious is trying to pour himself a glass of milk from the full gallon jug while Orange and Green are testing out their pugilistic skills on each other and the baby is fussing to be picked up while the phone is ringing with the Engineer needing to talk to me. And some of those requests will accompany situations that make me wonder how I could ever miss it? How could I ever forget that there is a Father Who loves me when I look at my new baby nursing, staring back at me?  Each moment, pregnant with meaning, giving us an opportunity to bring to reality Hashem's deepest wish to dwell with us. The moments can so easily pass by with their potential unrealized, and the remedy is in the prophet's message on this fast day, "Don't let the opportunity Him because He's waiting to be found in this very moment."


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