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As her grey heart rhythmically pulsed on the monitor it was as if all of life rushed before me—all that it is to be human contained within the walls of a pumping muscle.
Today I took my daughter to the cardiologist to make sure her heart murmur was “innocent” as preliminarily diagnosed. While there, my sweet girl had an ultra sound of her heart. She lay down on the sterile table with a deepening dimple, heart socks, and ribboned pig tails peeking out of her medical gown. The lights were turned down and the medical technician soon had my daughter’s beating heart, twisting and fluttering in various shades of grey, on the monitor before us.
Without any warning my eyes filled with tears as I watched my daughter’s heart beating. My tears were not related to worry. Taking my daughter to the cardiologist did not even register as scary; both my son and I have innocent murmurs. “Why the tears?” I wondered as they continued to fill my eyes.
I had multiple miscarriages. When I became pregnant with my final child—my daughter—I was monitored closely. In the first thirteen weeks of her gestation I had three ultra sounds. I waited desperately to see my tiny thumb sized baby’s flickering heart appear on the monitor. I had seen too many of my babies still, suspended in the black of the monitor, no flickering heart to be seen. When I was fifteen weeks pregnant with my daughter, I had a panic attack. I was sure my child had died inside of me like the others. My midwife confirmed my fear when she could not find the baby’s heart beat with her portable monitor. My husband and I sank into sobbing despair as we waited for an ultrasound to confirm the worst. Thirty minutes later my 14 week old baby’s heart flickered on the screen, beating with life. She was fine. It’s just that she had found a place to rest out of reach of the midwife’s monitor. I watched that heart flickering for a long time before I decided finally, maybe, I could allow myself to fall in love with this child I was carrying.
Today as I watched that once tiny baby’s heart beat and beat and beat, I thought about all the life events that would break that heart wide open with love, compassion, grief, transformation. I thought of the many she would fall in love with and the many who would disappoint her. As her grey heart rhythmically pulsed on the monitor it was as if all of life rushed before me—all that it is to be human contained within the walls of a pumping muscle.
My academic husband makes our children watch educational documentaries (they are not allowed to watch TV on a regular basis so they happily will sit through any documentary, just to have a chance at screen time). Recently they watched the documentary I Am. My middle son was taken with the documentary and shared with me what he learned: the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. With earnest expression that only an eight year old can muster, he proclaimed, “You see, Mom, everyone thinks the brain controls everything, but it doesn’t. It’s the heart. That’s why it hurts all the time, Mom. That’s why I can feel it inside me when I cry. My brain isn’t telling me anything; it’s my heart!”
There you have it. I cried because I saw on a dim grey monitor my daughter’s very being, and for that matter the very essence of who we are as humans, why we ache, why we love, why we are so vulnerable to this beautiful and scary world.
When God makes a new covenant with the Israelites after their exile from the Promised Land, this new covenant is not written as a law code on paper. Instead God proclaims through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will write this promise upon your hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). And the promise is this: “You belong to me. You are my people.”
I did not see the words--you belong to me--on the ultra sound monitor today. But I am sure I could hear them whispered with each beat of my daughter’s heart. She belongs to me, I belong to her, all of us belong to each other. All of us belong to God.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.