I was standing at the front of the sanctuary in a very old mountain church, looking up at a painting of John the Baptist. He was wrapped in his camel hide, hair unkempt, wild eyes. I knew God was telling me something, but I just couldn’t place my finger on it exactly.
We were there with John’s family the day after Thanksgiving. We had all spent Thanksgiving day with his grandfather, and then drove up to the Blue Ridge Mountains to spend some time together and to pick out our Christmas Trees, a sweet family tradition. Again, as it happens every month, I was waiting to see if I was pregnant this time. Just a few more days until I would know for sure. I have learned not to get my hopes up, but not to let hope die, either. Trust, sometimes, looks like slowly walking the olympic balance beam.
So there we were, all sitting in the pews of the tiny wooden chapel, listening to the automated message about the story behind the frescoes. There were three – two small pieces on either side, a pregnant Mary to the left and John the Baptist in the wilderness to the right, and Jesus on the cross in the middle. Together, they told a story about the Promise of God – expectation, preparation, then fulfillment.
Mary was looking dreamily at her pregnant belly, her skin fair and flushed, representing the expectation of a promise. I looked on, my first thought being, “I just want to be like that. How long will our expecting season last?” We feel like God told us a promise about our own children, and we expect it to happen, but we’re not past this stage yet. The waiting is long. A small pang of sadness. I thought, perhaps, her picture would stay with me through the day.
But then, as the message moved on to John the Baptist, something stuck out to me. He represented Preparation. After the expectation of a promise being fulfilled, is the preparation for the fulfillment. The promise still isn’t there yet. The “waiting” is in two seasons. I felt God telling me John and I are past Expectation, and are going into our Preparation. “But what does that look like for us, God?” I whispered in my heart.
We are walking a road we didn’t expect to be on for so long. The first year of trying ended in a brief pregnancy followed by loss. We are now, as of this month, one year after that. As the months have passed, I have wondered about God’s promise. Did we hear him right? Is it just not like we pictured it? Pregnant Mary was a picture of the Expectation of the promise, the hope of fulfillment – but it wasn’t just hope, there was substance. There is substance in hope and expectation, in waiting, even if the fulfillment is not yet.
I had made the phone call earlier in the month that made my heart shatter like glass. There was nothing more my regular doctor could do – the next step was to go to the fertility specialist. “We can’t be there yet!” I thought, agitated. That is not something any healthy 29-year-old wants to hear. I have prayerfully gone through healing/deliverance, I’ve changed my diet, had people pray over me, exercised more, cut caffeine – you name the wive’s tale remedy, we’ve probably tried it. We have tried not trying. We were in the parking lot at Aldi, my face frozen with the phone to my ear, and John waiting patiently (in the car before a grocery run is as good a time as ever to call the doctor, right?) After praying and waiting some days (and more than a few, “Is this still faith?” conversations) we felt like it was time to make the appointment, still several weeks out, and just see what we felt in the meantime. Though I felt sadness, and a little fear, I felt peace.
This past Wednesday we had our first appointment. I was a little on edge, as going into any unfamiliar situation can be. I woke up that morning and, before my feet hit the floor, I very clearly heard, “Read Matthew 3.” I have learned not to question when those sorts of specifics pop into my head, just investigate! I sat down in the living room on our blue chair and flipped my faded Bible open, “Okay God, what are you saying this morning?”
Matthew 3 is the story of John the Baptist in the wilderness, preparing the way for Jesus. I began to weep as I read the description of his appearance, over and over again – “…a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey…” – just like the fresco that stood out to me so much that morning in the mountains. God was letting me know, so clearly and gently and perfectly timed, that this stage is not without him. This stage is not our white flag giving up on waiting for him, it is a part of our preparation. He is doing something extraordinary, all I have to do is trust him.