I remember making fun of my mom for crying while she listened to “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac, or anytime we heard what I then considered sappy songs. Now I’m the one with tears running down my face at lyrics referring to children growing up or the progression of life. I turned thirty this past year, and suddenly realized that I’m not getting any younger. I’m in a new season, and like Stevie Nicks, I’m wondering if I can handle it.
Winter is hard for me. I grew up in the desert of Tucson, Arizona, where winter is defined by whether you need to add a hoodie to your regular wardrobe. As kids we bundled up in the morning and shed our layers by recess. We tried to evoke a sense of the seasons by throwing on a scarf or enjoying a pumpkin spice latte, but mostly it was a ruse—an attempt to convince ourselves that the world was making its rotation when the evidence was more than doubtful. Time there was a blur of sunny, dry-heat days.
When my husband and I moved to Chicago we realized that the Midwest experiences seasons in an entirely different way. After two weeks of sunless days during our first winter, I doubted I would survive. Now each year when we finally get to March and it’s still snowing, I think the same thing: I’m going to die cold.
The winter of 2010 was especially difficult. I was pregnant with our first child. This had come as a surprise, so I was a reluctant mother. Visiting family that Christmas just weeks earlier, we had responded to their queries with, “Kids? Ha! Ask us again in a few years.” When a string of friends from church made their own pregnancy announcements, I declared, “I’m not drinking that water!” We’d been married two and a half years, and we officially felt ready for…a puppy. The plan was to pick one out when we got back from a trip to Ecuador.
When friends heard the news of our soon-to-be addition, they playfully mocked me. “Want to see God laugh? Tell him your plans!” I feigned smiles, but with rising hormone levels I became a sloppy crier. I did not feel ready to bring a new life into the world. If anything, I felt more like a child myself—that and nauseated. When I envisioned the future, I wasn’t capable of seeing joy. Instead, I saw myself disappearing—the person I was, shriveling into the sacrifices of motherhood. It didn’t help to hear all the well-meaning comments about my rapidly changing body.
In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the gift of Jesus. We acknowledge the life of God in a human being. Unlike my life in Tucson, our lifetime is marked by its own seasons. In A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer uses the seasons as a metaphor for journeys. Of winter he writes, “Some life has died, of course. But much of it has gone underground, into hibernation, awaiting a season of renewal and rebirth. So winter invites us to name whatever feels dead in us, to wonder whether it might in fact be dormant—and to ask how we can help it, and ourselves, ‘winter through.’”
A dear friend helped me make the transition from seeing only the darkness to noticing the dormant seed that was waiting to sprout. In a card in which she congratulated us on what would soon be, she wrote, “I think it is also important to celebrate past-Alex, single-Alex, student-Alex, just-married-Alex, and happy-go-lucky-Alex and realize she is not disappearing—just maturing and changing.”
Now I wonder how it took me all those months to realize the blatantly obvious reality that God was working not only in my womb but in my soul. How did I fail to see that when I held my child’s little body for the first time I would understand the love of God in a whole new way? Sometimes you have to mourn what was, before you can embrace what will be.
Embrace we did. I embraced my shifting identity, and we embraced our beautiful daughter so much, in fact, that we decided she needed a sibling. Recently I visited my family in Arizona to introduce our newborn son. Living half a country away means our time together is infrequent, and each visit brings the realization that we have changed again. The grandkids have grown taller and speak more articulately. The great-grandparents, the opposite.
My grandmother’s skin has gotten thin—literally. Her hair has grown fine, and instead of humoring her grandchildren with Spanglish, she responds only in Spanish now. It’s hard for me to see her so delicate, jarring to hear her ask the same questions several times in a row. Even though she has long been dependent on her children to take care of her, I still think of her as the petite but sturdy woman from the Andes Mountains whose heritage was more indigenous than Spanish.
My brother and I lived with Mudgie (an Anglicized version of my one-year-old attempt at Mamuchi) on and off while we were growing up so that we could attend school in a better district. This was the woman who cared for us. The woman who insisted we all “make our exercises” (her translation of hacer ejercicios) each morning and allowed us to drink coffee with our breakfast. We learned to distrust the contents of her pantry after one too many run-ins with crunchy marshmallows. She harvested water before it was the cool thing to do. Over the years we have seen her cry as one by one she lost five of her eight siblings.
This last visit I saw my mother tucking her mother into bed with care. She gingerly walked her across the carpet, lifted her frail legs under the covers, stroked her hair delicately, and whispered a prayer. She is clearly in the winter of her life. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes. Life is hevel—Hebrew for “breath” or “vapor” and the name of Adam and Eve’s short-lived son Abel. Life is fleeting. The seasons pass too quickly. Just when we have gotten used to one, we pass into the next.
Winter is here. And something may die. But can we see what lies beneath? Just as the Epiphany season calls us to see God through his human life—precious in its stages from birth to death and rebirth— may we do the same in our own lives. When we are conscious to savor the current season, we are able to experience it as the gift from God that it is.
Contributed by Alex Macias
About the Author
Alex Macias is associate director of Seminary Academic Services at North Park Theological Seminary. In addition to being a wife, mother, administrator, and student, she is a new blogger. To check out more writing from Alex and other women of the ECC, go to theoloqui.net.