The Mounting Snow
A silent snow fell over Westerling. White flakes, tranquil little blessings, glided to the Earth and piled one on top of the last. Tricia Langley watched the peaceful winter scene from the drafty front room of her modest home. This was the Lord’s work, this snow, the white landscape proof of His brilliance. Fire popped and cracked from the hearth in the living room. The glory of God’s snowfall warmed Tricia’s heart.
When she was a girl, snow meant sledding with her sisters. The three of them, all bundled up in their coats and hats and scarves, raced awkwardly to Hardy Park and ran up the hill, their tiny little steps leaving tiny little tracks in the snow. They lied on aluminum trash can lids and sped headfirst to the flat, grassy area near the swing set, practically flying until they slid to a stop and, giggling, ran back up the hill. Those were the best of times, those winters when life felt wondrous and the world felt big. She only saw them on holidays now, her sisters. Cathy was in Chicago and Pat had settled in Philadelphia, but Tricia, the youngest, stayed in Westerling with her parents and her husband and her memories of those fun days in the snow.
Colored lights on her blinked on and off on the house across the street. A plastic Santa Claus waved from the front yard. In a matter of days, Tricia would spend her thirty-third Christmas in Westerling. How she loved Christmas when she was a girl. Accompanying her father, a pastor for Wednesday night service and Thursday night caroling and for delivering turkeys to the shelter on the outskirts of town. She looked forward fondly to the annual production of the Christmas story and singing “Silent Night” by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Alone in the den, the memory of the solemn voices echoing through the sanctuary put a lump in her throat.
Tricia watched her sisters depart Westerling and eventually depart the church. She grappled with her sisters’ choices over the years. She cried for them. She prayed for them to come home, clasping her hands together so intensely she drew blood. She begged them to repent, to rededicate their lives to the Lord, but alas, it was for nothing. Watching the snowfall, she wondered if she had done enough. Was the Lord was pleased with her effort to save her sisters?
Headlights crept along the suburban street. Tires crunched slowly. The snow fell and fell and fell, a serene white blanket over Creation that buried its regrets and kept its secrets. Like how much Tricia loathed Christmas.
The holiday season as a pastor’s wife was worlds different than it was as a pastor’s daughter. Christmas made Tricia a widow. She lost her husband to meetings with area businessmen and speeches to the VFW and presentations to the Westerling Chamber of Commerce to goose end-of-year fundraising. She lost him to rounding up coats and hats and gloves to donate to the homeless. She lost him to hours in his office, perfecting the Christmas Eve message. For a pastor’s wife, Christmas meant a month of loneliness, nights spent with only the snow and her drifting thoughts. The thought gripping Tricia Langley that particular night was how differently her life would be if she had children.
The Langley’s had been unable to conceive. That was its own disappointment, a desire the Lord withheld from Tricia for reasons she could not fathom. The couple spent years trying. Trying. The word alone darkened her mood. When people know you’re trying to have a baby, that’s all they want to talk to you about. And when people know you’re trying to have a baby and you don’t, they always say, “Well, keep trying,” as if she wasn’t giving it enough effort. As if she wasn’t trying everything.
There was the ovulation app. The breathing techniques. Keeping up with the latest articles and research. The Mommy Blogs. The prenatal vitamins. The scheduled intimacy. The awkward and uncomfortable positions. Praying and fasting and praying some more. Not getting pregnant was a full-time job that paid in pain.
Tricia exhausted herself drumming up hope. Every period was a fresh devastation. The disappointment wrecked her. She cried hard and ugly at a moment’s notice. She spent entire days in bed, alternatingly praying to the Lord to forgive her for whatever sins she had committed to deserve this and cursing Him at the top of her lungs, the spittle flying from her mouth, her bitterness filling the house. She reached her wits’ end putting on a brave face. Every piece of unsolicited advice lashed across her back and stung her somewhere deep inside her soul in places only God knew.
Tim made things worse. Tim was never angry. Tim never grieved. He was never down. He smiled and played Mr. Positive. He hugged her and promised her they would try again. It was like he wasn’t in it with her. She wanted her husband to hurt like she hurt. He just didn’t.
He left her utterly alone to carry her cross to the top of the hill and offered no help when, twenty-four days later, she was inevitably cast down to the depths of the valley.
Back then, back when they were trying, God taunted her with other women’s pregnancies. Everywhere Tricia turned, there was a friend or a relative or a member of the congregation unexpectedly with child. She saw women at the grocery store, women wearing no wedding rings on their fingers, pressing their big, round bellies against the handles of their grocery carts. They were so lucky, these women. The Lord had seen to bless them with the gift of motherhood. But not Tricia.
What was the point of all this faith and all this duty if God was going to withhold from her the one thing she wanted most?
Then there was that stupid potluck. It was October. Tricia and Tim were in their fifteenth month of failing to have a baby. As the Lord would have it, six women from church were pregnant at the same time. They were all within three years of Tricia’s age. Every Sunday morning, she hugged these women to her and told them she loved them while she swallowed her resentment. It shook Tricia to feel, at one time, such acute and contradictory emotions toward her friends, women who volunteered to make coffee and teach Sunday school. Her love for them was as real and tender as her jealousy was bitter. This was a test, Tricia told herself, a test from the Lord. She was to obey Him, to humble herself and love these women with her whole heart, no matter how much it hurt her or how hard she cried at every Instagram birth announcement. And maybe if she passed this test, He would show her His favor and give her a baby.
The greatest test came not from the Lord, but from Tim. He had the gall to suggest they throw a joint baby shower after service one Sunday. How could he be so oblivious, so blind to her heartbreak? What a cruel thing to ask. Anger flared inside of her and she wanted nothing more than to scream at Tim, to plunge her thumbs into his eyes and blind him as the Philistines did Samson. But Tricia held her tongue. She smiled and agreed to plan the potluck because she was a preacher’s wife. Ministering to women was part of the marriage pact. She had to hold up her end of the bargain.
Tricia poured everything she had into planning the party. Her anger with Tim, her frustration with her body, her disillusionment with the Lord, her jealousy and bitterness, the guilt she felt for carrying that jealousy and bitterness, her confusion, her sadness, her self-pity, and her self-loathing. Tricia directed it all at making sure the potluck baby shower was a success. She stayed awake after Tim went to sleep, cutting pink and blue cardstock into onesies until she had uniform pieces for an adorable banner. She went from store to store in search of the perfect vases for six charming tissue-paper-and-diaper bouquets. She painstakingly glued together paper invitations and curated a party playlist with an ear for pace and mood. She planned games and ordered brisket from a local barbecue restaurant.
Tricia arrived at church early the morning of the party, earlier than Tim, and decorated a large conference room so they could start the party as soon as service ended. She ducked out as the band started the closing song to confirm the tablecloths were straight, the decorations were pert, and the balloons were ebullient. The food was arranged logically—meat first, then sides, then desserts. Everything was perfect.
When the music stopped, Tricia propped open the double doors and waited. She rubbed her palms together. She would show the Lord how big she could be, how much she could love these women, how skillfully she could pass His test. Nerves danced in her stomach. She smoothed the hem of her garnet dress.
As partygoers rounded the corner, Tricia Langley clapped. “Welcome to your shower!” she shrieked. Jaws dropped and eyes widened, their faces stretching like delighted cartoons. All seven women, Tricia and the pregnant six, hugged as a group. Their bellies rubbed against her and Tricia held on for a moment longer than she should have. As if she could catch pregnancy by touch. If only.
After a couple of hours, the party began to wind down. The games had been played; the gifts had been unwrapped. Visitors had come and gone. Tricia’s mind was a step ahead, considering how to tear down the room most efficiently when the event was over. She was so preoccupied that the suggestion didn’t register when it was first made, but suddenly she had the vague sense that everyone was waiting on her. Indeed, all six mommies-to-be and the few remaining guests were looking at her with expectant smiles on their faces.
A woman she didn’t recognize, she must have been someone’s relative, nodded and waved her hand. That’s when Tricia noticed the pregnant six standing in a line in front of the cardstock onesies.
“Go on, get in there. Get in the picture,” she said.
Tricia brushed her hair behind one ear and let her hand rest on the nape of her neck. She smiled with the practiced humility and charm known only to a preacher’s wife.
“Oh no, I couldn’t,” she shook her head. “It’s their special day.”
“Come on, now. Don’t be modest. You put all this together, now get in there with your friends.”
The other women implored her to join the photo. Tricia could feel tears screaming toward her eyes. She focused her mind and halted them dead in their tracks. Tim’s face flashed in her mind. If he was there, he’d remind her not to be prideful. Tricia left her seat and joined the other women. She stood there, humiliated next to those vessels of life, and smiled like it was her birthday.
The persistent snow continued to fall. The bushes out front were covered in white. Tricia pulled up the baby shower photo on her phone. She looked great; thin and fit with just a hint of bicep definition. But that’s not what she wanted. She wanted to look like them, round and uncomfortable and teetering on the brink of unkempt.
After the party cleared out, Tricia stayed back to clean up, kindly refusing any offer of help. Finally, it was just her. Alone. She leaned against the conference room door and locked it behind her back. Trembling, she melted to the carpet.
Growing up, Tricia was obsessed with Mary’s obedience and faith. An angel–a marvelous, frightening creature–visits her in the middle of the night and tells her she is going to give birth to the Lord’s son, mankind’s savior for all eternity. What a heavy thing to drop on a teenage girl. The responsibility must have felt like an iron necklace. But Mary is full of grace. She asks the angel how her, but never why her.
She carries that baby in her belly as she crosses the desert of Jerusalem on foot–on foot–so she and her husband may be counted in the census in his homeland. Then in Bethlehem, she gives birth in a manger. No hospital, no epidural, no nurses. The birth was humble and dangerous, but Mary did it. What an inspiration.
Tricia continued to put herself in Mary’s place when she heard the Christmas story, but in her twenties, her attention turned to the moments not recorded in the Bible. Waking up the morning after encountering the angel and wondering if it was all a dream. The anxiety she must have felt before telling Joseph the news and the argument the two of them must have had. He probably accused her of infidelity at some point. How that would have shattered her. Here she was, scared, pregnant, with the literal weight of the world on her shoulders and the one person she needs for support wants to abandon her. No wonder the Lord commanded an angel to bring Joseph in on the plan.
Mary must have felt tremendous doubt in their abilities as it dawned on her that the birth was the easy part: They were tasked with raising the living God. What pressure.
Tricia liked to imagine her and Tim having three children, two boys and a girl. The boys would be named Philip and Luke, and the girl they would call Ruth. In their teens, the boys would be broad and athletic, like their father. The pair would play football and lead a group of kids that performed service projects around Westerling. She could see the brothers, with no more than two years between them, raking leaves from front lawns as their elderly neighbors watched from the window with grateful smiles on their faces, or painting classrooms at Westerling Elementary, or repairing wheelchair ramps that had grown shoddy with time. Between their athletic accomplishments and their acts of service, everywhere Tricia went people would compliment her on what wonderful young men she had raised.
The girl would be a spitting image of her momma–blond and blue-eyed–but with her father’s sense of purpose and determination. A woman of faith with those qualities would be unstoppable.
Tricia and Ruth would be inseparable. They would sing songs in the car together when Ruth was a girl, each Langley woman belting out Hillsong and Phil Wickham and Taylor Swift. As Ruth would grow into a woman, she and her mother would grow closer, behaving more like best friends than mother and daughter. Tricia would sit up late with her budding beauty, and the headstrong, self-aware girl would reveal her plans to leave Westerling behind, desire smoldering in her eyes as she described her future.
Tricia imagined herself visiting the boys at the small colleges they attended on football scholarships. She and Tim would dress head-to-toe in the home team’s colors and cheer the loudest when either of their sons sacked the quarterback. They would see less of Ruth. She’d be off at a west coast school–maybe Cal, maybe Stanford–studying medicine. When she did come home for Christmas and Tricia’s birthday, she would confidently tell her parents and her brothers that she was going to cure Alzheimer’s or cancer, and the men would laugh at her temerity, but Tricia would know what they did not know. That as sure as Christ rose from the grave, there was no stopping Ruth Langley.
Tricia saw herself holding grandchildren, her son’s babies. Ruth would marry a researcher or a professor or a physicist and they would choose not to have children so they could dedicate themselves to their work. She pictured Ruth visiting her when she was an old woman, after Tim passed on. Her daughter would grab her by the hand, look her in the eye and say, “We did it, Momma. We found the cure.”
In one of her darkest moments, Tricia wondered if the Lord would not give her children because of her fantasies about their lives. Was He angry at her for wanting to put them on her own path? Did He resent that she wanted certain things for them instead of putting it all in His hands? Or was it that her plans weren’t good enough for Him? Maybe He wouldn’t give her children because He had bigger plans for their souls, and she was going to mess it all up.
Or maybe, Tricia thought as she watched the snow pile higher, the Lord wouldn’t give her children because He knows her better than she knows herself. Maybe He knows she would be a bad mother. Maybe He was sparing her pain.
She thought she was pregnant once. It was June, the week before Father’s Day. She and Tim had failed to make a baby for twenty-seven months. Tricia was late, as late as all the magazines said she would be when it finally happened.
That Sunday morning, she watched Tim preach on the Sermon on the Mount. He was effortlessly brilliant that morning. His movements, his cadence, everything about his delivery was pitch-perfect as he brought Christ’s teachings to life.
“Christ’s message in Matthew Seven transcends a mere warning about false prophets. He’s holding a mirror to the faithful gathered on the mountains. And today, friends, I am holding that mirror to you.”
Ushers brought a pair of potted plants on stage. One plant was vibrant, with ripe red tomatoes. The other was twisted and withered. “I ask you, friends: What are the fruits of your choices? If you look at your trees objectively, what do you see?” He gestured to the healthy plant. “Are your trees lush and plentiful? Are they life-giving? Or have the desires of your heart and the words of your mouth produced thorns and thistles? Is your tree corrupt and barren?”
Tricia felt the Holy Spirit moving through her husband and expanding over the room, growing like a balloon. At the end of his sermon, after he encouraged his flock that there was hope for them no matter the fruits of their tree, he invited the band back on stage for one last song, a high note to carry the congregants into their week. He went with a modern piece about the goodness of God.
After the second chorus, just before the bridge, Tricia felt something familiar. She rushed from the sanctuary to the women’s room and dashed into a stall. She leaned her back against the seafoam green stall door. Music pumped through the walls as Tricia’s chest heaved. Sitting on the toilet, she reached under the hem of her dress and pulled down her underwear. Blood dotted the white cotton. Tricia sobbed under the weight of God’s judgment. The worship song rang through the bathroom,
“You’re never gonna let… Never gonna let me down…”
Tricia became aware of headlights beaming down the dark street and disappearing before they passed the house. Must be Tim. Finally. He stamped the snow out of his boots in the mudroom and his zipper jingled as he slipped off his winter coat and placed it on a hook. She listened to his heavy steps against the hardwoods, grateful for those familiar noises and happy that another December night was behind them. In a few more days, she would have her husband back.
He entered the front room, a halo of positivity glowing behind him. He wrapped his enormous arms around her, enveloping her in warmth. His beard scratched against the crook of her neck. It felt like home. Tricia looked at their reflection in the window, the neighbor’s Christmas lights illuminating the shadowy window version of her and her man. They looked perfect.
Tim told her about a few new connections he had made, promising conversations with men of means who could help them lease a bigger space, shoot more videos, and develop an app so they could reach more people.
“It was a big night, Trish. I felt the hand of the Father in the room,” Tim said, his voice booming. “It was a miracle.”
Miracle. Tricia didn’t let on, but the word plunged a knife into her heart. She laid awake that night, staring at the ceiling thinking about that word. Miracle. What was a miracle anyway? Was virgin birth really a miracle? What about Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin? She was in her sixties when she became pregnant with John the Baptist. Did she think her pregnancy was a miracle? An answered prayer? Proof of God’s favor? That’s what the Bible would have her believe.
But Elizabeth was an old woman living in the desert thousands of years before indoor plumbing, modern medicine, and air conditioning. Seems more like a punishment than a gift. A sick joke, really. Most of Elizabeth’s friends were probably talking about their grandkids by then.
Tricia sighed and rolled over. The blinds were open on the window nearest her. The snow continued to fall and fall and fall. There was no stopping it.
Tom Brewer is an aspiring author who lives in Greenville, South Carolina with his wife and dogs. He works in marketing for a construction services company, and he writes fiction about the complexities of faith and societal issues.
Photo Credit: “Snow” by Rachel, via Flickr.com.