Light In The Hidden Place

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By Ashley Larkin | @AshleyMLarkin

Geode_800Rebecca asks me to enter the sacred space of her birthing room.

The beautiful young woman, this dear friend I’ve mentored for several years tells me she wants my comfort, love, encouragement and touch.

I am honored and afraid and pray I’ll be fit for the task of first-time doula, abiding with my friend throughout the mystery of her delivery, whatever shape it might take.

I arrive at the hospital as soon as I can after receiving Rebecca’s call that their baby is on his way.

In the morning mist of the hospital courtyard, we walk with arms locked and examine rows of purple flowers, the curves of Dr. Seuss apple trees and a September sky marked by puffy clouds. We shuffle step together until Rebecca stops, looks at her feet and breathes deliberately, lips parted wide on the exhale.

We walk hallways through the afternoon, sunlight streaming across linoleum. We talk while Rebecca soaks in the hot tub, pausing in conversation when another contraction rises from the water. I steady the exercise ball as she presses against it and hard into my hands to relieve the growing pain in her back.

As night falls Rebecca’s contractions progress, and I watch helpless as her strain, sweat and cries intensify.

I ask Jesus to be her strength and hope. I tell her she is equipped for this life-bringing work. I speak that which brought peace and strength to me as I birthed my three daughters. I say: Your roots go down deep. You are not abandoned. You are not forsaken.

I speak words she’s asked me to whisper as holy reminders and see in her eyes no spark of resonance. In the throes of her pain, she looks far away, and my words float away like so much air.

Hours pass and loneliness settles hard across Rebecca’s brow, wraps around her swollen body. Her husband and mother brush loving hands across her hair and forehead. We offer ice chips and washcloths, and she turns nearly everything away.

Rebecca weeps as one lost and broken.

In the room’s dim light, I try to simply stand in that place of pain and loneliness with my friend, but I struggle to know what this means. I want to do something to take away her suffering, and I feel I’m failing her when she needs me most.

It is a familiar return to long-held feelings of inadequacy and the fear-filled belief that if I could only discover the right thing to say, do or pray that I’d be able to rescue this one I love.

Hours later, after Rebecca decides to receive pain medication and rests briefly in her bed, I sit in a chair to her side wrapped in a blanket. I attempt to recall Love that enfolds and to put new trust in the One who brings light from darkness.

As my breathing slows, I gradually begin to feel assurance that God has not abandoned or forsaken my friend. Things are not always what they seem, and the dark is not as dark to him. The unknown is not his unknown – only mine.

Though I cannot yet see, and though this delivery still seems hours off, God is bringing life from the hidden place, God is working his good from the belly of dark. God has allowed me to labor with my friend and to bear holy witness. Indeed, I am not the source of light, but a reflection of it.

When I was in elementary school, a gemologist spoke at an assembly in our cafeteria. I remember nothing else but the portion when he pulled from his canvas bag a rough, gray thunder egg, placed what seemed an ordinary rock on the table before him and took a sharp hammer swing to its top.

The thunder egg broke wide into two nearly even parts, revealing a hole at its core. But the dark cavern was not empty. Instead, it shimmered with crystalline life, facets shining like diamonds, the rock tomb sparkling with evidence of another world entirely.

At 3:40 a.m., I stand with my friend as sister-companion when she pushes her last, and God brings forth otherworldly shimmering glory from her womb.

And he is glory that wears dark hair, blue wrinkled hands and a grown-up nose. And he is beauty that cries from a small, still-forming throat into earthly air.

My friend and her husband hold their treasure – this fruit of mystery and struggle through rock and bone, this life unfurled like leaf and petal from seed planted in the protection of dark.

He is light, and they name him Elias, which proclaims, “My God is the Lord.”

Yes, he is, and we bear witness.

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About Ashley:

ashley gravatar-1Ashley Larkin is a story collector, wife to Michael and mother of three shining daughters. She longs to be a place of welcome and seeks hard after the hope and beauty found in broken things. Ashley and her family live in an old house in Portland, Oregon with a grove of horse chestnut trees that has clearly taken over. You can find her blogging about living fully awake to the glory and mess of everyday moments here and on Twitter here.
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Image credit: Deidre Wollard

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  • Bev Murrill

    I wept as I read this. How beautiful and how deep. I have seen 4 babies born, other than my own four. Two were my granddaughters. I know the sense of honour at being invited to this holy moment in someone else’s glory. i also know the sheer inadequacy of not being able to make it better, quicker, easier… and I know the wonder of the brand new life, born out of love and pain. Awesome.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Oh, dear Bev, thank you for sharing your words. My, you certainly understand this experience — having borne witness to so many lives entering the world through pain and glory! I appreciate your loving presence here today.

  • Shelly Miller

    This is glory revealed Ashley. I had a doula for my second and that birth was so dramatically different than the first, so much better in every way. There is something about someone holding your arms and steadying your legs when you feel you don’t have the strength to go on that buoys during hardship and birthing pains. What a privilege to be a doula. I can imagine your loving presence was perfect.Great to see you here at SheLoves.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      So happy to see you here, Shelly! My friend Rebecca, too, asked me to join her for this (her 2nd) delivery after a first birthing experience in which she felt very alone. It was a privilege indeed. I know that my own doula (my mama) provided exactly that which you describe…the hands-on touch that grounds, the presence that sits with in times of deep loneliness…and so I desired with every part of me to be that. Interesting how being the recipient of that kind of love is so different than wanting to be the one imparting it. We can often believe on the giving side that “just being there” is inadequate. Ah, but God.

  • Elizabeth

    Ashley this is so beautifully wrought, from your heart, with your words, birthing story with your gift of living and telling as one fully alive, passionate about life. What a gift you bring into the world, your stories of a life loved well. And your tender heart as a friend, one I know first hand, though not in the flesh, well you are a difference maker, and here so beautifully by a friend’s side.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Oh, Elizabeth, your words touch me deeply, friend. Thank you. It is a joy to co-labor with you in the telling of story. You bless.

  • Pingback: Light in the Hidden Place – Guest Post at SheLoves Magazine | Draw Near()

  • Mia

    Dear Ashley
    You did a holy work, dear friend! I have delivered kittens and puppies and that to me was a miracle. I can just imagine your heart filled with Pappa’s amazing wonder when you saw and heard the litte one! Please, ask you friend for photos of the baby! I would love to share in your joy!! Love you lots, my friend.
    Mia

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Sweet Mia, this birth was nearly two years ago now, and I will never forget it. Amazing wonder is right! What a gift little Elias is to the world — it’s been such fun to watch him grow from those first moments!
      And what joy for you to deliver those puppies and kittens…I’m sure it forever changes you to see life unfurled like that before your eyes. Sending you love, dear one.

  • Ah, friend. What a moving story.

    I love this line, and will take it with me into the days that come: “Indeed, I am not the source of light, but a reflection of it.”

    So happy to see your glorious words here today!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      You reflect it beautifully. Thank you, friend.

  • DeanneMoore

    So beautiful Ashley…so thankful you were whispering those holy reminders as she bore down to birth glory. Beautiful post.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      As I told you recently, Dea, your story of midwifing so powerfully dwelled with me as I wrote this one, your words serving as a writing doula of sorts. 🙂 Thank you for the reminder here, too, that though we may not know the power of holy reminders when we speak them, they possess power in the unseen. Blessings to you.

  • Karrilee Aggett

    Sweet Ashley… all of this – is glory-bringing beauty! But this line: “The unknown is not his unknown – only mine.” This line will stay with me forever!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Karrilee, friend, as always, you are such an encourager. I dearly appreciate you and your sentiments. With you, I’ll keep clinging to those words. How I need to continually be reminded of God’s sovereignty on this journey!

  • spree

    Ashley this is so beautifully written (as Elizabeth says, “wrought” and wrought it was, with bone, and stone and words of poetry!) Walking alongside another through her deepest fear, despair or pain can never take her pain from her – and sometimes it fails to even lessen it. And yet, the beauty of the walking with another in love isn’t lost. Love never is. And somewhere all this love, even if seemingly hidden in stones, is glimmering. It holds the potential of erupting into light when met by the love of the One!
    Your writing always holds such love and beautiful meaning. Thank you for the many times that love has touched me!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Mama, I love this: “Walking alongside another through her deepest fear, despair or pain can never take her pain from her – and sometimes it fails to even lessen it. And yet, the beauty of the walking with another in love isn’t lost. Love never is.” What a miracle that is. And, as the recipient of your loving abiding through my deliveries (and life), I can say with a heart full, Amen!

  • Amber Cadenas

    I feel a holy hush reading this story, dear friend. What a gift – and a deep pain – to walk with someone through the dark of her loneliness and ache… to still whisper words of truth and light… to wait with her, even in your own questions, for God’s life to come forth through the belly of dark. This speaks to me – that our unknowns are not God’s, for he has none. I needed to hear that today, Ash. Thank you for this beauty you share.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you, dear Amber. Yes, waiting with, even in our own questions…that’s it. For what a different posture that is to “be the helper” as one herself in need and struggling. One who is not summoning up her skills, tapping her reserves, getting her “A game” on to be the savior or rescuer, but one accurately seeing herself as a reflection of THE Savior and Rescuer. As always, our interaction in the comments helps me to better understand what I think. Thank you for you.

  • Angela

    Ashley,

    Thank you for sharing this message with the world.
    I am sure that so many of us have been near to loved ones in the depth of pain.
    Your story so eloquently describes the helplessness of trying to assist someone in pain and the reminder that God is the one holding the story is so encouraging.
    I love the ways you so truthfully and honestly show up to the journey and are so present in pain and JOY!
    I love you friend!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      I love you, Angela! And I know how well you know this experience as the helper and love-er of people that you are. Thank you for walking with me through the pain and joy of this life. You help me understand it all so much better.

  • Oh Ashley, wow! Thank you for the gorgeous imagery. You have a real gift with words.

    xoxo,
    Teen

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you, Tina, for your encouraging words! How I’ve loved reading your SheLoves words over the years. It’s a true privilege to be here.

  • goosebumps. Absolutely beautiful, Ashley. Amazing!!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you, dear Kris.

  • Ali

    Chills and tears as I read this poignant account of life; both the beauty and pain entrenched within. It brought me right back to those blessed moments I too saw first breaths.

    Through it all I will remind myself of your words, the unknown is not his unknown, only mine—what blessed assurance. You reflect Him brilliantly sister!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you, sis. No words for my gratitude at being able to walk these beauty and pain moments together. I will always remember your face upon seeing each of the girls for the first time in my delivery room. And to see you hold your own in their first breaths. Ooooh. I love you.

  • Becca

    Your poetic words bring emotion back into my memories of your steady hand, encouraging words, & ever present prayers throughout the very painful process of birthing my Elias. It was truly a blessing to have you by my side, & now for me to hear you share our story! I love you Ashley, & am thankful for the very special place you will always hold in Elias & my lives!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      I was immensely blessed by the honor of being with you through your labor and the miracle of beholding Elias’ birth…and I am continually grateful to live life with you, friend. Thank you for allowing me to share this story. I love you, Elias and the rest of your family so much.

  • Elizabeth Stewart

    Beautiful words here to describe the miracle of bringing forth new life. I so related to the inadequacy, feeling I must say something, do something, pray something…that somehow I am the fixer of people and circumstances by my knowing the right thing to say or do.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you for sharing, Elizabeth. I suspect that many women — as experienced comforters and care-givers — know these feelings. It is my prayer that we might lay down these gifts of love and care to pick them up again in his ways, as those able to partner with him in loving and giving. May it be privilege and joy, not burden, to be his reflections of light.

  • fiona lynne

    Oh wow, what a sacred and beautiful thing to have witnessed, and how wonderfully you bring it to life for us. “Evidence of another world entirely” Yes.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you so much, Fiona. It was indeed a sacred experience. I will never forget those glimpses of heaven I witnessed at Becca’s side.

  • Vickie Shaver

    Ashley, you can weave the wonder of life’s treasures so beautifully. This blessed me. Thank you friend!

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      You bless me. Thank you, sweet Vickie.

  • Kelly Greer

    There is nothing more wondorous than the birth of a child. I too have been blessed to be invited in the birthing room a handful of times and your words here brought them all clearly to mind. ..and I smiled. THANK YOU!
    Hugs,
    Kelly

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Wondrous is the word, isn’t it, Kelly? Such a privilege to be a witness. Thank you for your words, friend.

  • Alia_Joy

    I was in the room for both of my sisters-in-law as they gave birth. One ended up having to have a C-section after a very long and hard birth and the other went smooth and painless until the very end with the help of an epidural. Each was such a different experience but both were miraculous. I love how you brought every moment to life and how you explore such a beautiful time shared over the birth of this child. Beautiful write, friend.

    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      So happy to see your beautiful self here. I so agree with you, Alia. My sister birthed three babies through C-section (the first an emergency one), and I was no less struck by the miracle of life through those births — seeing her sacrifice of body and long recovery as she cared for needy newborns. It was a powerful example of God’s strength shining right through her weakest moments and of God — the life bringer — in all manner of ways.