Word of the Week


This Advent, I’m thrilled to offer you the voices of some articulate storytellers— writers with wisdom to share about how their experiences of pain or loss is birthing in them something beautiful. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way of course, but in the spirit of what Leonard Cohen once wrote: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”  

And isn’t Advent is all about light shinning in the darkness? 

If you missed Meredith’s,  Mary’s or Anne's story, check them out. Today, I’m glad to introduce to a friend, Susan, who knows a lot of about actual birthing for she's a midwife!  


I’ve had the privilege of witnessing love at it’s most primal, it’s most raw. 

Midwives talk of a woman wandering off to “labor land,” where her neocortex is quiet and her animal body is in charge. 

So often we relegate love to the realm of emotions and ideas: feelings, thoughts, a list of qualities we like or don’t like in a person.

But there is deep power in the non-verbal, embodied-ness of love: the way your lover smells, the comfort of his touch, your breathing synchronized in sleep. 

It’s this embodied, animal love that we see in birth.  Yes, there are thoughts of meeting baby, this new person swimming into the world.  There are words of affection and mantras of courage, but mostly, it’s a body sort of love. 

It’s an excruciating, exhilarating, wide-open labor of love. 

The sounds and smells of labor are unique, earthy, grounded, and guttural.  There is sweat, blood, vomit, humid warmth from the tub, and the scent of lavender wafts in the air.  There is also timelessness: the sun rises and falls, we cover the clock, and the moments are marked by waves of intensity, surges of overwhelming body-love. 

Transition, the final stretch of cervical dilatation before pushing, is one of the most powerful bits of labor. 

It’s the moment when a woman, out loud or deep in her secret thoughts, will declare, once and for all, that she cannot, will not, do this any longer. 

She will throw in the towel or die, because she has reached the brink of impossible and beyond, and it seems the magnitude of her own body’s power will crush her. 

To this I whisper, “Yes, good, now you are close.” 

While the laboring woman fears drowning in her own intensity, I see the final signpost preceding the finish line.  This all-spent, everything-you’ve-got labor of love not only asks her for all she has, but also reveals her unbelievable capacity for courage, power, and strength. 

She dives deep into reserves she never knew she had, and resurfaces as a mother, ready for the daily diving deep into self-sacrificial, redemptive, instinctual love.

I see that God, too, labors and births in and through this world, redeeming and re-creating it bit by bit, moment by moment, day by day. 

This is not the kind of creating that snaps the finger, waves the wand, and “Voila!” 

This is a slow and steady love, a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, then back-to-the-starting-block sort of love. 

The sun rising each morning, the flower opening each day, the child forgiving her sibling, the husband loving his wife, these are the moments of new life, birth and redemption in this world. 

These are the wafts of lavender and the warmth of water soothing our groaning souls as we labor through the darkness and pain of this world.  

God, the mother, moans through our failures, pushes toward our freedom, labors in love to birth us anew each day.  If we open ourselves wide to this gift of aching love, we are invited in as co-creators with the creator of all. 

We stretch, open, dive deep, and find our place in the excruciating and exhilarating labor of redemption.

Susan Smartt Cook lives in Edmond, Oklahoma with her husband Josh and her two beautiful pups, Ruth and Waylon. On any given day you will find Susan nurturing her small midwifery practice, her kitchen, and next year’s garden.10497114_10154831267000176_3144303686286236450_o


Over the next 4 weeks of Advent, I'm thrilled to offer you the voices of some articulate storytellers--- storytellers with wisdom to share about how their experiences of pain or loss is birthing in them something beautiful. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way of course, but in the spirit of what Leonard Cohen once wrote: "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." 

And isn't Advent is all about light shinning in the darkness? 

Today, I'm glad to introduce to my friend, Meredith Holladay who I met this year while attending a writing workshop at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. Sometimes the best we can do is be exactly where we are now. 


I’m still waiting to get my period. That is something I never thought I’d feel the need to say to strangers, on the internet, by way of introduction.

In October I miscarried, and now we wait until we can “try” again. (A phrase I’ve never entirely understood, but that’s neither here nor there.) And when it finally does come - and flow - and go - we get to wait again. This whole ordeal is such a series of waitings. There is very little either my husband or I can do to affect anything. Even the “trying” is just a shot in the dark (weak pun, weakly intended).

We were pretty surprised that the pregnancy happened as fast and as easy as it did. So surprised, that I took no fewer than 5 pregnancy tests. We both know too many people for whom the journey from trying to parenting was long, difficult, sad, that it just seemed too good to be true.

No one told me (why would they tell me?) that losing a baby - an embryo - would hurt so bad. In retrospect it seems so obvious. I had never felt more like an unwelcome guest in my own body. My own attempts to understand are defied at how we could want something so bad, and my own body turns in on itself. Of course the doctors say all the right things about chromosomal abnormalities and how “this would have happened anyway,” and all the medical stuff to offer comfort. But that did not change the fact that my body had rejected a life it had helped to create and I was the one curled up suffering pain in all the ways I could possibly feel it - physical, emotional, spiritual.

One of the worst parts was the distance I felt from my husband, whom I love more than anything, more than any idea of a child.

As much as he tried to understand and help, he could not be inside me in the ways that the grief seem wrapped up in the cramping and bleeding and hollowness. How could he understand the feeling of his own body rejecting life - rejecting something that is supposed to be good and right? It was, to say the least, hard.

My counselor suggested that we find some way to find closure about the loss. I didn’t know what that looked like. (I still don’t. It seems part of the waiting.)

My husband likes to be outside and likes to work on our yard. He likes to discover new plants, flowers, shrubs.

The idea came to me that we should find some kind of flower that would bloom about the time that baby would have - should have - been born, and something we could plant now. It seemed like a small way to say - here’s this life we lost - we’re putting it in the ground. We’ve turned that life over to the earth, and the seasons. It seems too poetic, but perfect, that the life we meredith-headshotlost, and then planted, must first endure the frozen ground. And then the miracle of sun and rain and warmth will bring blooms into our yard.

The flowers seem enough for now.

But we’re still waiting. I’m still waiting. Hoping, longing, that life that breathes and cries and poops and walks and talks will be birthed from this.

We don't know. Maybe closure will be a much longer wait- A Come, O Come Emmanuel kind of waiting.

Living in the middle is where we are. It's almost too poetic that we continue to wait as we have officially entered the Advent season. I'll try not to overthink that part.

But for now, we are just hoping my period comes back soon.

By day, Meredith teaches 7th grade English in Kansas City, Kansas; by night, she is dog-mom to the two cutest cockapoos around. You can find her reading and laughing alongside her husband, Zach.