This Advent, in this Year of Grace, I can feel God’s grace stirring within. I feel stronger, more at peace, writes Debra Vermeer.
BY Debra Vermeer*
I’ve struggled with Advent in recent years. It makes me sad.
All this preparing and waiting for the birth of a baby at Christmas is painful when in your own life you are trying desperately to come to terms with the heartache of infertility. No baby is coming for me and my husband.
So, these beautiful weeks of Advent, so evocative, with the lighting of the candles and majestic readings of salvation history, pointing to the birth of the Messiah, have been hijacked of late by my emotions, my sense of loss, of grief for the babies I dreamed of, that will never arrive.
And yet, this Advent, in this Year of Grace, I can feel God’s grace stirring within. I feel stronger, more at peace. Looking back, I think this rich vein of grace began to flow when I surrendered. When, emotionally exhausted, bedraggled and flattened, I truly laid down my own dreams, plans and will for the future and surrendered with every fibre of my being to God’s will for my life.
As I type this, it looks so simple, to surrender. After all, that’s what we pray for every day isn’t it? Thy will be done.
But human emotions are never simple and so it has taken me the best part of eight years to acknowledge infertility, come to terms with it, and grieve for the babies we will never have. The babies that I had named already, that I had pictured in my mind for so long, the babies that I would have loved with all my heart.
I didn’t get to the point of surrender by myself. God blessed me with guides along the way. Apart from my family and friends, God sent me a wise priest who referred me to a gentle spiritual director. God sent me a work assignment which immersed me in the spirituality of St Mary MacKillop, with her utter trust in the goodness of God and her complete surrender to God’s will in her life, even when things were pretty crook for her. He sent me St Benedict and the Benedictine Sisters at Jamberoo, where I am now an oblate. They gave me the gift of space and silence and contemplation and listening, in which to discern God’s will for me and to experience God’s healing grace.
And God’s greatest gift to me is that he sent me the true, strong and deep love of my husband. Infertility is his sadness as much as it is mine. We are in this together. It is his strong arms that have held me during my darkest times and his gentle hand that has wiped my tears away, his crazy antics that make me laugh.
On top of that, I have been blessed to become a step-mother. My husband was a widower when we got together, with two teenage children. They welcomed me into their family from day one and have loved me without reserve. It has been such a privilege and a joy to be able to love them and nurture them into adulthood.
So, despite my sadness at not having babies, I am surrounded by indisputable evidence in my life that God is good. I am surrounded by abundance and I am thankful for it all. As I have let go, little by little, of the dream I held so close for so long, I have made way for channels of God’s grace to flow in completely unexpected directions.
And it is this grace and this abundance that I will take into the Advent season this year. As we light the first candle and listen to the prophets and the great women and men of Israel tell us to “Stay awake”, “Arise”, “Take heed”, “Watch” and “Prepare”, I will take time out in prayer to prepare the way in my own heart for the coming of the Prince of Peace.
Perhaps I’ll always feel a twinge of sadness when I see the empty crib at Church before Christmas and then the wonder of the baby Jesus appearing in it on Christmas Eve, but this year I feel better able to truly celebrate with the rest of my parish community.
In this Year of Grace I am finally strong enough to once again peer into the crib and truly contemplate the face of the Christ-child. What will I find there? I expect I’ll find something of the humility and vulnerability of God-made-man, who walked on this earth just like us and knows what it’s like to live, laugh, love and suffer. And I pray that in the face of Jesus I will be given the grace to see the hope, healing and new life that is happening in my own world and that I’ll be able to go out and share those gifts with others in need. God is good. Thy will be done.
* Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both the Catholic and secular media. When she’s not working, she loves early morning walks, summers on the beach and long Sunday lunches with family and friends.