Rev. Michaele LaVigne
Today is Epiphany, the day when the Church remembers the Magi who worshiped toddler Jesus after a star signaled his birth. In the season of Epiphany we remember that God reveals himself to us in ways that we understand. It is the season of being astonished, and it is the season of responding in equally astonishing ways.
When I found out I was pregnant on January 1, 2016, I was astonished. My previous experience taught me that pregnancy was hard, that there was a lot of waiting, and that my body had a 1 in 4 chance of seeing it through to the end. So a surprise pregnancy was something I never imagined would happen to me.
In fact, I had been hesitant to start trying for a second child. Not because I didn’twant a second child, but because I didn’t feel ready for the emotional roller coaster that had accompanied our first journey to parenthood. I knew what it had been like – the turmoil of waiting and wondering, afraid to hope but unable not to, excitement and fear all tumbling around inside – and I just didn’t know if I had it in me to do it again yet.
So on that New Year’s Day I did not feel a single emotion. I felt ALL the emotions – shock, excitement, fear, joy, even sadness. And I confess, fear was probably the strongest of them all. I feared another loss, the disappointment and grief. But I also feared that I didn’t have what it took to be mom, wife, friend, and pastor during the ups and downs of pregnancy, or while being a mom of two.
Even after the first doctor appointment and early ultrasound that assured me all was well, fear was there. I fought hard against it, but fear was present, always lurking in the background. As we entered the season of Epiphany, I helped lead our congregation to experience and understand what it meant to be astonished by God’s goodness. But I couldn’t fully get there myself.
And then, on January 17, I preached from Isaiah 62. In the midst of nausea and exhaustion (the hallmarks of the first trimester) I prepared a message about God bringing delight out of what had been desolation. I preached the wonders of God’s goodness, of how he reveals himself as a shining light of hope and redemption even in the midst of devastation. I invited people to receive from God what they could not do for themselves. And, I said with conviction, that the astonishing work of God is astonishing precisely because it’s not something we manufacture or control.
When I invited people to come forward to receive the Eucharist, I asked them to also receive whatever it is that God wants to do. I asked them to reflect on an area of desolation and be open to God making it a delight.
I sat down on the front row and watched the first people step forward with outstretched hands to receive the bread and cup. And then it hit me:
Desolation to delight.
Astonishing because it wasn’t me trying to make it happen.
God revealing himself to me in the way that I understood.
There are very few instances in which God has spoken to me as clearly as he did right then. I didn’t hear precise words, but here was the gist: “Michaele, what if this pregnancy is my gift to you? What if I want to delight you with something that you didn’t have to try hard for? What if I want to replace your experiences of disappointment and desolation with joy?”
As this realization washed over me, the wonder and awe of Epiphany took hold. This was astonishment in the best way possible. This was the knowledge that God had broken into my little life and showed himself to be even better than I imagined him to be. He answered the prayer I hadn’t even dared to ask! I wept for joy and gratitude and for the first time I felt excitement without fear.
When we found out I was carrying a girl, the astonishment deepened. In my adolescence I had decided on a peculiar name for a future daughter: Galilee. Over the years I had come to understand the name to mean “a surprising source of joy.” I could not have imagined a more surprising source of joy! Our daughter was born September 2, after a healthy and mostly uneventful pregnancy.
On January 1, 2017 Brent and I rang in the New Year with our astonishing gift, Galilee Ruth (brother Austin only lasted until 10pm). I know that her life is about so much more than redeeming my own pain and past experience. I know that God has good dreams for her life, and ways for her to participate in His Kingdom coming. But I am so grateful that our God is big enough to accomplish all of that and more –healing of the past and hope for the future.
This is my Epiphany story:
The story of God revealing himself to me in an astonishing way,
a way that I understood,
a way that I could not have created myself,
a way that showed him to beeven better than I already knew him to be.
I have no doubt that God intends to write a beautiful story of Epiphany in your life as well. It will probably look much different than my story, and it may not happen exactly in the season of Epiphany. But our God is in the business of revealing himself, shocking and delighting us in the process.
So get ready.