Grief through the eyes of Mary

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Mary isn’t usually one that I connect with grief and loss, though she does experience quite a bit in her lifetime. Traditionally, Mary was quite young when she was betrothed to Joseph, a much older man. Mary received the news from the angel that she was going to have a baby while still a virgin. When Joseph finds out she is pregnant, he plans to divorce her quietly. This is not what is reflected in the law. It was well within his right to stone her.

In Deuteronomy 22, if her family couldn’t prove her virginity (which would have been hard to do with a growing belly), the men of the town were supposed to stone her to death. If they found the man who was sleeping with her, they were supposed to stone him, too. But Joseph is called a righteous man in Matthew 1:19, he wanted to protect Mary even before knowing who she was carrying in her womb.

While Mary is pregnant, she says a prayer recorded in Luke 1, glorifying God and prophesying the amazing impact that this little boy will have on Israel and the world. She even knows his power pretty early on. When attending a wedding banquet, she is the one who approaches her son when they ran out of wine.

And yet later, as Jesus is teaching, she shows up with her other sons wanting Jesus to come speak to them. And Jesus replies,

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

Matthew 12: 48, 50

I don’t think he was disowning Mary as his mother. Mary was special to him. In fact, on the cross, Jesus asks John to care for his mother once he was gone. But Mary had to learn to let go of her son, letting him fulfill the calling God had for his life. Which brings me to her biggest grief.

Mary watched her child suffer and die. The one she knew was a gift from God, a strong, intelligent, kind boy who grew into a powerful and loving man. One that valued his mission, even when she didn’t understand it, herself. I just can’t imagine hearing voices demanding my child’s death by torture. I can’t imagine the helplessness of watching my son die.

But at the same time, I wonder at the strength of Mary. There weren’t many witnessing the death of Jesus. Most of his apostles and followers had dispersed and were even hiding. But she stayed with him until his last breath. Maybe she was expecting another miracle. Of course, she didn’t know what was coming, but in that moment at the cross, I can’t imagine that overwhelming loss.

Even though her story seemingly ends at the cross, we know it didn’t stop there. Jesus would rise and show his power over death and sin. He really would change the world with his life. And Mary got to see it from first cry to last breath, and beyond. Mary’s prophetic prayer was fulfilled. And we know that whatever grief and loss we experience isn’t the end of the story. Jesus came to fulfill scripture, to seek and save the lost, to redeem the broken. He will wipe our tears away as promised in Revelations. And just like Mary, we, too are a part of that beautiful redemption story.

A Recent Find

When I travel, my go-to activity is to peruse a used or independent bookstore. I like going to independent bookstores for several reasons. First, the owner or the staff will talk about their love of books for hours, which is something I’m very comfortable doing as an introvert. I usually find a new friend by the time I leave. Second, each store is unique to its community. There are always events going on, even the book selection can reflect what that particular community reads. And third, I always walk away with a new book to read.

This year, we haven’t done much traveling. I feel like that is a common thread among a lot of people. But we did manage to go to Hot Springs, Arkansas this month to a lake house for a week. It was secluded enough for my anxiety, but there were still activities my family could do that were pretty socially distanced (like hiking and exploring nature).

Even the one day we ventured into downtown Hot Springs, we were still pretty careful. But as I was preparing for our trip, I learned a very sad truth. There are no independent bookstores in this town. So, I wasn’t expecting much that day, which led to a very pleasant surprise.

I only entered two shops. The first shop for a Christmas ornament commemorating our singular trip of the year. And the second a toy shop called The Toy Chest (because we had grandparents with us who wanted to spoil our kid just a bit). When I entered the toy shop, it was stacked with toys, but in one little corner were about six shelves of children’s books.

I spoke with the cashier who said that the shop had been open for over 20 years. In that time, the husband who, along with his wife, founded the store had been in charge of the book selection. He was a bookseller. When he started talking about the books, his love became infectious. Sadly, he passed away last year, but the family still lovingly chooses the books placed on those shelves.

The first book I purchased was Aladdin and Other Tales from the Arabian Nights. I want to add cloth bound books to my collection and this one was beautiful. I’m not as familiar with the other tales from the Arabian Nights, so I look forward to reading all of them.

And the second book I purchased was Julie Andrew’s Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year (yes, that Julie Andrews). I had been searching for poems and songs to share with my kid throughout the year. Some months had been quite difficult, so I’m excited to have this collection. Although, there are some holidays that have become problematic in more recent years (we will more than likely skip those poems), there are a lot of selections that are perfect to share.

Thanks to this toy shop, my tradition continues. I look forward to sharing these stories with my child as he grows up. As well as growing my collection to support independent bookstores and how important they are to their communities, as well as those who are just passing through.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting: A Review

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting directed by Rachel Talalay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to review a Halloween movie for this week, but I don’t really like scary movies. However, when I saw the trailer for this movie, I figured it was pretty safe since it was directed towards a younger crowd. I was also curious to see how scary kids movies were, since the ones I watched growing up petrified me (particularly Witches which I saw got a reboot on HBO Max, and I will in no way be seeking out that new release).

The story follows a girl names Kelly Ferguson who is really smart, to almost a superpower capability, particularly in seeing patterns in mathematical formulas, able to do them in her head. She is also teased because when she was five, she claims a monster in her closet attacked her. So, she has the nickname Monster Girl. There is also a typical school crush and a mean girl and a silly best friend, who are all pretty one-dimensional and are more props than characters.

But the adventure begins when she babysits for her mom’s boss. And the little boy, Jacob, gets taken by the monsters set on releasing nightmares into the world. We are then introduced to the secret society of The Babysitters whose sole purpose is to protect those left in their charge. These characters have a lot more depth to them, but overall everything is pretty light.

The movie is based on a three book series by Joe Ballarini. Knowing that it was based on a book series gave a little grace to some of the awkward emphasis on how smart Kelley is or some of the pacing of the movie at times. There are some moments I feel were missed opportunities to make the film just a little deeper in meaning, but overall, it is a fun movie about bravery and believing in yourself and standing up for your unique qualities.

This was pretty mild for a scary, Halloween movie. Not that I would want my toddler in the room for this particular film, but it is easily meant for the elementary/preteen crowd. The main scariness of this movie are the monsters hiding in your closet or under your bed. But there are some silly moments interwoven in those scenes to cut the scary aspect down a bit. Definitely a fun family movie night!

There is no profanity in the film. (They even referred to a week of initiation into the Society as “heck week”. No sexual content, not even a chaste kiss between the main character and her crush. Violence is a slight factor, but nothing gruesome. Some kicking and attacking with weapons, but even when a monster is vanquished, they dissipate into light, nothing remotely graphic.

Grief through the eyes of Bathsheba

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Bathsheba is the only story in scripture that discusses the loss of an infant. Technically, there was the infanticide that was carried out by Pharaoh in Exodus and King Herod around the birth of Jesus, and the death of the firstborn of Egypt, but Bathsheba’s story is the only account of an actual infant who singularly dies.

Bathsheba had a rough year. The basic story is that David was on his rooftop one evening, saw a lady bathing on another rooftop, sent for her, made love to her, got her pregnant, then tried to cover that up by bringing her husband home. When that didn’t work, he killed the husband. Nathan the prophet confronted David and told him because of his deeds, the child that was conceived would die. And the child did.

We don’t hear much of Bathsheba’s side of it, though there are a few hints throughout the chapter. It says she was the daughter of Eliam. Eliam was one of David’s mighty men, along with her husband Uriah the Hittite. Eliam is a Jewish name, though it is not perfectly clear whether she was Jewish or not, she did seem to follow the law as we will talk about later. Her husband was not Jewish, but he was a pretty well-respected military man. So, she was part of a very important family in the city of Jerusalem. Something that should have given her some sense of security.

Now, there are people who believe she was being seductive, bathing on that rooftop, but there was something in the verse that was particularly interesting. After it mentions that David slept with her, it says that she was “purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.” It is quite possible that she was bathing on the rooftop because she was separating herself from her household, which was required during menstruation. When a woman was on her period, everything she touched was unclean for seven days.

But regardless of whether she was seductive or not (which borders on victim shaming), David had the power in this relationship. He was the king. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. At the beginning of the chapter it says,

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabba. But David remained in Jerusalem.

1 Samuel 11:1 (emphasis added)

All the men in her family were off fighting a war that the king wasn’t even at. She was taking a bath on the rooftop during the time in her cycle when she purified herself, and was summoned by the king. We don’t know her thoughts as she entered the palace gates, the worry she might have had for her husband or her father. And when David was done with her, she was sent back home.

Then, she gets pregnant, sends word to the man who used her and cast her aside, and he tries to cover it up by sending her husband home. But her husband doesn’t even go into the house. Her husband couldn’t enjoy seeing his wife when all the men were still fighting on the frontline. Contrast that with the king who was still in Jerusalem, sleeping with married women.

After two attempts, David decides to have Uriah killed in battle. Still not setting foot in the war, David tells his men to pull back so that Uriah will die. And he does. Not only was Bathsheba used, but now she has lost her husband. When she heard that he died, she mourned him (1 Samuel 11:26), and when the mourning time was over (typically it was seven days), David took her to be his wife. She had a son, though he is not named in the Bible.

At this point, the Israelite people have no idea what has happened to Bathsheba. But God knew. And he sent Nathan to set David straight. But the consequence for David’s actions was the child was going to die. The child falls ill and seven days later, he dies. In that seven days, David is in mourning, crying out to God to change his mind, realizing all the wrong and pain and hurt that his actions brought.

When the child dies, David comforts Bathsheba. I get a sense that their relationship was also healing. They get pregnant again and give birth to Solomon, the next heir to the throne. Although, towards the end of David’s life, Bathsheba has to speak up to make sure Solomon receives that inheritance, which shows how fierce she became over her lifetime.

There was a lot of grief in Bathsheba’s life. Sexual assault, the loss of a husband, and the loss of a child. But God saw her. In Matthew 1, in the genealogy, she is mentioned as Uriah’s wife. I thought maybe that was a slight to her, to not call her by name, but it almost reestablishes who she is. She was the wife of Uriah, one of the mighty men of king David. Yet through it all, she is also part of the legacy of Jesus Christ.

I want to make clear that infant loss is not the result of some terrible sin in your life. That is something I had to work through, myself. But even in the darkest moments, God is working and moving. All the hurt will be redeemed. And one of the things that brings me most promise about my little ones is something that David says after his son dies. After a period of fasting, David’s attendants tell him the son has died. He cleans himself, worships God, and begins to eat again. When asked why he says,

Can I bring him back again? [meaning the baby] I will go to him, but he will not return to me.

2 Samuel 12:23b Parenthesis added

Just like David and Bathsheba, I will reunite with my babies again someday. But for now, I know they are cradled safely in the arms of God. Like Bathsheba, I was given a son after my losses, and I am so thankful for that gift. But I know that is not always the case in pregnancy loss. Still, even before my son was born, God was working in me. He provided community and hope when I needed it. Our stories do not end at pregnancy loss, they do not end in grief. God is a god of wonders who can use dark stories to shed the light of hope into the nooks and crannies around us. My prayer is that I continue to remember God is in control and he will never leave me, no matter may come.

On Immunity: A Review

On Immunity by Eula Biss
My rating: 4.5 of 5 star

This is a series of short essay reflections inspired by a mother trying to do what is best for her baby boy during the H1N1 health crisis. The book opens on a conversation she has with other mothers of whether or not to vaccinate their children against this particular virus. She decides to do more research which effectively becomes this book.

There is so much involved in the vaccination decision. Prejudices, fears of toxins, and fears of how this decision will affect the child’s future were a few mentioned. The author goes into the history of vaccines as well as the medical profession as a whole, explaining why there is a trust gap between doctors and mothers at times.

She speaks at length about how capitalism, paternalism, and class differences have played a part into the mistrust of doctors, and how maternalism is an essential part of the discussion (as it has been dismissed in the past under the label of hysterical mothers who are getting in the way).

Ultimately, she makes a case for why vaccines are important for the community at large, that the benefits outweigh the risks, especially considering just how many toxins and radiations we are exposed to in the womb as well as throughout our lives that the vaccine’s contribution is negligible comparatively.

The book is interesting and informative. And while her own opinion is pretty clear by the end of the book, she definitely gives the reader the opportunity to make up their own mind. This book is exceptionally timely considering the present pandemic and the impending vaccine. Definitely recommend this one.

There is some profanity in the book. There is discussion of prostitutes and being held at gunpoint to force vaccination on a community (that really happened), but not explicit sexual or violent content.

The Booksellers: A Review

The Booksellers directed by DW Young
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was an absolutely lovely documentary about the book world, specifically the rare book dealer world. It focused less on the stories within books and more on the stories of the books themselves. The only negative was that the film was too short, needing a more in-depth look into the collections of these booksellers.

The film focused on specific booksellers in New York City, but also about the history of book collecting and book binding. Did you know that there are books bound in human skin? Most of these books have made it into museums and libraries, but there are still a few collectors still in the game.

There has been a decline in collecting, though. Part of it is limited supply, and part of it is limited demand. Booksellers are having to pivot to keep up with the changes brought on by the internet and technology as a whole. Older booksellers would say the whole industry is dying, but there a still young people with a lot of ideas to keep it alive.

Book collecting is different than just buying a lot of books to add to a growing TBR. The libraries are curated to a specific theme. One collection may have just women writers, while another follows the history of hip-hop. And it is usually more than just the books, but other items that support the history they are collecting.

So book collectors are essentially historians with a love of their items. First editions aren’t always the best, sometimes it’s annotated copies or signed copies (especially signed to specific people). There was this infectious love of the search. The search that has been dampened by the internet, but it still out there.

It might have taken 20 years to find a particular book at one point, and now it may only take minutes on eBay or a bookseller site. But the love of books, the growing collections of books, is still a loved past time. It has definitely changed the way I will look at my own bookshelves and how I want those shelves to reflect me the next time I am ready to cull back or add to my own library.

There is no significant profanity in the film. Maybe some brief nude images on the cover of books for some of the stranger book collections. No violent content, either, though there is a section discussing how they wish their collections will be handled when they die.

Grief through the eyes of Rachel

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Last week, I talked about Leah, so I thought it was only fair to talk about Rachel’s grief this week. I don’t know what kind of relationship the two sisters had before being married to Jacob, but it turns into a bit of a train wreck afterwards.

Rachel’s relationship with Jacob started in a much more romantic, much less problematic way. She meets Jacob at a well, he cries and kisses her when meets her. After a month, he bargains for her in exchange for seven years of labor for her father. And then things take a solid turn for the worse.

We all know where Leah was that first night of the wedding party, but I wonder where Rachel was. For seven years, Jacob was wooing her and then Leah takes her place when the wedding day finally comes. As with Leah, I think Rachel was grieving the seemingly lost chance at love. That is, until Jacob signs up for another seven years of labor to ensure that she is his.

But still, even though marrying more than one wife was pretty common at the time, I doubt Rachel had in mind to share her husband with her older sister. Then, when Leah starts having children, she doesn’t. And her grief is recorded. Even though she is loved more, she blames Jacob for her infertility.

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

Genesis 30:1

She becomes obsessed with finding her place in this family. She uses her maidservant to produce two sons, both of which are named to reflect the competition she feels with her sister. Then, when she hears that Leah’s oldest son has found a mandrake root (which was supposed to help with conception), she bargains with the one card she has, Jacob. Eventually, she gives birth to Joseph and immediately asks for another son.

But there is more to the story of Rachel than just her ability to have sons. After she gives birth to Joseph, Jacob packs up her family and leaves after an altercation with Laban. Both Leah and Rachel agree that it is time to go, but it still must have been hard to leave. In fact, Rachel takes her father’s household idols (which was more than just a religious artifact in that culture, whoever had the idols would inherit the family’s fortune). She is crafty and quick on her feet when Laban pursues them and investigates. She hides the idols underneath her seat and claims she cannot get up because she is on her period. He never finds them.

They leave on good terms with her father, and when Jacob reaches his brother, they reconcile as well. Jacob continues on to settle in a place called Ephrath (which is called Bethlehem), but on the way Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. She doesn’t get to see her sons grow up. She is buried on the way to Bethlehem, not with Jacob in the family tomb, but her tomb is honored as a place in 1 Samuel 10.

Rachel was an incredibile woman, beautiful and smart and honored by her husband. She competed with her sister, left her homeland, and died giving life to a son that would represent a tribe that includes people like King Saul and the Apostle Paul. She was loved by God. And she is a great reminder that while our life might not look the way we think it should, God is working in the details to bring about his great legacy.

Faces in the Crowd: A Review

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
My rating: 2.5 of 5 star

I read this book as part of the Life’s Library book club which is probably the one way I really broaden my reading life. I don’t think there has been a book in this subscription club that I would have known about or picked up. And I have liked some of the books that they shared. But this was not one of them.

According to the back of the book, there were supposed to be three different narrators. But I could only see two. And the book isn’t divided in chapters, but instead just little snippets of storyline all mixed up. Plus, I believe this has been translated from Spanish, and I think some of it got lost in translation. There were a lot of times in the book that I had no idea what was going on, and I think the narrators were unreliable as well. The husband of the main protagonist kept dying or leaving the family but then, not really.

There was this one fascinating thread throughout the book about future ghosts. The poet translator kept thinking that she was seeing Gilbert Owen on the subway. And in a storyline narrated by Owen, he thinks he sees a woman fitting the description of the translator in a passing subway. This idea that all of the stories kind of fold on to one another was really cool.

I’ve heard that the audiobook is better as it clearly differentiates between the different narrators. So, that might have also added to the confusion. Overall, I didn’t feel anything for the characters because I couldn’t really tell what was happening. I know that there were a lot of literary allusions to things I love, Emily Dickenson and William Carlos Williams. But I could clearly see the allusions without understanding how they worked in the story which just made it feel strange.

This book wasn’t for me. But perhaps I will at some point try the audiobook version and see if that makes a difference. But for now, just not my kind of book.

There is profanity in the book. There are a lot of masturbation scenes and a few nondetailed sex scenes. There is talk of death throughout the book, this idea of dying at various points of your life but also dying in general. There is also an earthquake that happens and death is discussed then, too.

Knock Down The House: A Review

Knock Down The House directed by Rachel Lears
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to watch this documentary because I thought it would be interesting to see the process of a campaign during an election year. The film follows four women from various parts of the country who are trying to win in their primaries during the 2018 election. This is during the primaries, so at this point, they aren’t running against another party, but an established incumbent within their own party.

Did you know that there are organizations whose main purpose is to find new people to run against already established candidates? Two that were mentioned were the Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. They basically seek out working class people to enter into grass roots campaigns to replace well established incumbents.

Each of the candidates had separate motivations for why they wanted to run and different obstacles to overcome. Sometimes it was personal, sometimes it was to make a difference in their neighborhoods on specific issues. Immediately, I recognized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as one of the candidates the film followed. I also had heard of Cori Bush as well. But I knew very little about the other women.

It was really heartbreaking for those that lost (but I looked them up and one of them has won their primary this year). I really got invested in their stories.. The strategy and stress that go behind each of the campaign is incredible. Seeing AOC gather her community and acknowledge them every stop of the way, I can see why she won.

I think this is a great film to learn about the process, the work, and gain respect for those who campaign for public offices. They and their team put their hearts and souls into it. It didn’t make me want to throw my hat into the ring, but I gained a new respect for these women and all of the smaller names on the ballots. Even if I don’t agree with them on every issue, it takes a lot of guts and sweat and tears to get out there.

There is no profanity in this film, maybe a “hell” here or there. No sexual content or violent content. One of the candidates does talk about how her daughter died which was the catalyst for her to get involved in politics and advocacy.

Grief through the eyes of Leah

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

When I think about the women of infertility, I am drawn to Leah and her sister Rachel (don’t worry, Rachel will be later this month). Growing up, I thought Rachel got the short end of the stick. Now as an adult who has experienced my own griefs and now sees the world is a little more complicated, I see how much Leah was hurting.

When Jacob shows up in Paddan Aram, he is running from his brother who wants to kill him, but also so that he will find a wife. He meets Rachel first at the well and it is love at first sight. After a month of highly probable googly eyes, he makes the proposition to Laban that he will work for seven years in return for Rachel.

And here is where Leah enters the story. She isn’t just the older sister who probably had to endure the puppy love Jacob had for Rachel, but she is mentioned to have weak eyes, or delicate eyes. Maybe she was nearsighted, maybe she had a lazy eye, not really sure, but the main fact remains that Rachel was more beautiful.

Seven years pass and Laban throws Jacob a party to honor the union of Jacob and his daughter. But not the daughter Jacob had in mind.

But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.

Genesis 29:23

I thought it was Leah that had the weak eyes. After seven years, Jacob couldn’t tell the difference between the two sisters? How dark was it, and how drunk was he? Also, you have to admit, it kind of feels like he had it coming considering this is a very familiar to the trick Jacob played on his father.

When Jacob wakes up in the morning, and sees Leah there and not Rachel, he confronts Laban. Laban explains a loophole that the older daughter has to be married first. But if Jacob agrees to another seven years, then after this bridal week for Leah, Jacob can have Rachel as well.

This brings up three things. First, Leah has been on the sidelines with no prospects for seven years. Second, Jacob finished the bridal week, which means he continued to consummate this loveless marriage with Leah for a full week. And third, Leah was only married to Jacob for one week before Rachel entered the picture. I don’t know if Leah had a say in this trick, but I do know that she was unwanted and unloved, a pawn used and thrown away by her own father.

But now she was married, and God seeing that unloved status, decides to give her honor among her society. While Rachel wasn’t able to conceive, Leah has four sons. And as she names those sons, she reveals her internal struggle. With Reuben, “The Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now.”  With Simeon, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.”  With Levi, “Now, at last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.  And with Judah, she stops hoping and says, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

And right there, right when her focus returns to the Lord, she enters a time of infertility. There is a false belief that if we just do everything the Lord asks of us, turn our face to him, that we will get everything we desire. For Leah, that is not the case. But that doesn’t meant that God wasn’t working in her life, walking with her in this new grief of infertility on top of the grief of be unwanted and unloved.

Rachel and Leah then use maidservants (much like Sarah did, but this time it doesn’t seem as controversial to God’s plan since these sons are also added to the tribes of Israel). But then there is this whole conversation about a mandrake root. Reuben finds it and gives it to his mother which brings me to another thought. Everyone knows. The only reason Reuben would have sought out and gotten this particular plant for his mother seems to be for the aphrodisiac qualities and conception qualities. Even her own son knew her infertility troubles, possibly even the love troubles.

But Rachel gets the root and Leah gets pregnant with two more sons and a daughter. The final two sons reflect an acknowledgement of God’s glory. Leah doesn’t stray in her walk with God, even through being unloved, infertile, and watched by those in her community. Her life never quite reached the level of her own expectation, but her legacy would go on to King David and Jesus Christ.

Maybe you grieve the life you thought you would have some day, but didn’t turn out how you thought it would. Maybe you feel like your grief is in a fishbowl, being watched by your community (maybe with a little added unsolicited advice or judgement). But like Leah, God sees you. He sees what you are going through. He sees all of the injustice and is willing to redeem you. But in all the distractions, all the missteps, all the changes to your path, the truth remains and can never be taken away. You are wanted. You are loved. You are worthy.