Sound asleep. A squeal that I barely heard form the back corner of a dream. Open eyes, drowned in blackness and silence. I thought I heard a scream, but maybe it was residual imaginations from my sleep-state world. Waiting, straining to hear, eyes wide open even though I could see nothing. Holding my breath, listening for the tiniest movement of space and time that would involuntarily jolt me fully awake. Nothing. Silence. Drifting back to sleep, slowly floating into my relaxing river of constant maternal exhaustion.
Not even two minutes later, that screech pierced the darkness once again. Stabbing at my heart like a needle of adrenaline, my body convulsed into a full sitting position. Dizzy from the sudden movement, panicked at the shrill alarm that tormented my precious few hours of rest, this time I knew I wouldn’t be able to return to sleep. Rhythmic screams pulsated from beyond the dark hallway, as if orchestrated by a twisted, dark choral director.
The baby was awake, again.
I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open, I had trudged this midnight path for so many years that I knew it by heart. Right foot down first, kick the laundry, toys, shoes out of the way. Left hand slides along the edge of the bed until it covers the corner, protecting my blind shins from the impact of turning towards the angry cries. Both hands up, probing the darkness to feel the door frame. Then slide the tips of my right hand fingers down the hallway wall to until I feel the molding of the bedroom next door.
Here the screams were in full volume, a eerie orange glow outlined the tiny slumber-jail restraining the loud prisoner of the night. Every step I shuffled closer, her screams became louder in protest. Scooping her in my arms, it was a challenge to get a hold on her irritated, rigid body. Her purple soft sleeper was hot and sweaty with rage, her smooth infant cheeks were burning with tears. With every ounce of 8-month-old muscle, she pushed my comforting arms away. With every shrieking breath, she voiced her anger in the face of her mother.
And no wonder. A young life who depended only on me to feed, clothe, and soothe her. How terrifying it would be to wake up alone in this dark big world? Where was her mother, her father, if she could not feel their embrace? Where were they if she could not see their face? Did they leave her alone to brave the night on her own?
And no wonder. Young children in the household of Faith who depend on the church to feed, protect and soothe them. How terrifying it is to wake up and realize we live in a dark sinful world. Where is their Father, the creator of all things? Where is their mother, the church that had birthed them into such a life of faith and hope and love? What if they could not clearly see the work that was meant for their salvation and comfort? Did God leave His children alone to brave the darkness on their own?
In my own infant nursery, during my imperfect and selfish nights, I somehow knew how to hold my child close. She fought and screamed, but I embraced her. She pulled away, yet I never let her go. A mother is certainly a defective vessel of the love and mercy of God, but He still uses her to give His gifts. In our own confused churches, He has promised to hold His children close. We fight and scream, but He gathers and enlightens. We pull away, yet He is ever-present in His Word and Sacrament, He acts in hidden ways, but will never let us, his children, go.
That night, as the screams subsided and her breathing calmed, she sighed and finally gave in to rest. Right there, I will eternally cherish that moment. That is the highlight of the gift of being called mother. Grace and mercy outlasting anger and fear. Shining hope in her darkness. Comforting the children.