The Word Among Us

Advent 2015 Issue

A Child Is Born to Us

My Journey of Faith to the Christmas Crib

By: Carmen Mullen

A Child Is Born to Us: My Journey of Faith to the Christmas Crib by Carmen Mullen

The birth of every child is an occasion for rejoicing. At Christmas, though, we’re all invited to celebrate a birth like no other. Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah and Savior is here! “A child is born to us, a son is given us” (Isaiah 9:5)!

All my life I have known and loved this story of Jesus’ birth. One Christmas, though, it became more real and alive to me than I would ever have thought possible.

Where Are You, God? It all started back in 2001, when I was living in my home country of Peru. I was a dentist and had been in practice for seven years. Despite the country’s unstable economy, I was relatively successful; I had a nice home, and my family and friends were nearby. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. I longed for a husband and family of my own, for one thing, and I was restless.

I confided all this to a nun who knew me well, and she suggested that I consider moving to the United States. Her order had a residence in Washington, DC, and I could live there, she said. “But,” I protested, “how would I support myself, when I could speak hardly a simple sentence in English?” Sister’s answer was simple: “If God wants you to go to America, he will make a way for you.”

She was right. By January of the following year, I had moved to Washington, signed up for English classes, and found work as a dental assistant.

My unhappiness, though, was more deep-seated. Essentially, it stemmed from my lack of faith in God. I didn’t really trust him with my life. I wanted to believe, but my practice of the faith seemed a matter of rituals and not part of a living relationship. Increasingly troubled by this, I began praying in earnest: “Where are you, God? Where can I really see you?”

Then one night, I dreamed about one of the nuns I lived with—she was holding something she didn’t want to show me. When I told her about my dream the next day, she gave me a video about the Eucharist that she had not wanted to lend for fear of losing it. As I watched, I felt convicted of my unbelief and started to cry. How could I be a doubting Thomas, when Jesus loved me so much that he died for me and makes himself so near in the Eucharist?

My journey of faith wasn’t over, by any means. But something in me had changed. I knew absolutely that God loved me deeply, and I knew I could trust him, no matter what.

Lord, I Trust You. Eventually, I met Mark, a wonderful man who loved the Lord and had a great sense of humor. We began dating, but then came a real test of my faith: my mother fell sick, and I had to return to Peru to help care for her. Saying good-bye to Mark, I placed my future in God’s hands.

Our separation was only temporary. Mark came to visit me the following year—and asked me to marry him! Our wedding took place on Thanksgiving Day 2006 in the parish church of my home city, Chincha Alta. I applied for immigration to the US, and as we waited for the papers to be processed, we began our married life at my mother’s home. Two months later, I discovered I was pregnant.

My heart rose and then fell as the doctor gave me the sonogram results. I was bearing a child, but the sonogram also revealed a tumor in my uterus. Was it benign or malignant? Without a biopsy, which would risk injuring the baby, there was no way to tell.

Every step in my journey of faith seemed to have prepared me for hearing this troubling news. Distressed as I was, I said a silent prayer: “Lord, I know you love me. I don’t understand why you’re allowing this to happen, but I accept it. And I know that you will give me a son.”

Danger and Difficulty. We began looking for a doctor who could help us. The first one we consulted told me to have the tumor removed right away; not wanting to jeopardize the baby’s life, I refused. The second doctor offered no advice because he’d never seen a case like mine. The third doctor was wonderful. He couldn’t take care of the tumor, but he promised to do everything possible so that the baby would have time to develop properly.

Still, it was a pregnancy with many dramatic moments and opportunities to trust God. There were numerous complications requiring emergency visits to the doctor’s clinic. And then there was the event of August 15, 2007.

Mark and I had just decided to wait a few minutes before leaving for church when an earthquake struck. The house began to shake . . . and shake. Huddled under a doorway with my mother, we prayed every prayer we could think of as we watched walls moving, glasses breaking, and plates flying. Water from the upstairs storage tank, which had broken, came cascading through the house.

My mother had always been terrified of tremors. And to Mark, who had never been in an earthquake, it seemed like the end of the world. I was frightened, too, but my mind went to Luke 6:48, where Jesus says that the house built on rock will not be shaken. That helped me to stay calm and trust that God would see us through.

The damage from this 8.1 magnitude quake was terrible indeed. Just 30 miles away, 400 people died when their church collapsed on them. In my city, 125 people lost their lives; in our neighborhood, every other house was in ruins. Daily life became very difficult. Finally, because the baby had to be delivered by caesarean section, we moved to Lima, where hospitals were functioning.

Faithful Waiting. The devastation and displacement, the anxiety and the waiting—sometimes it all seemed like too much. Three times the delivery was scheduled and then postponed.

Then a friend in the US e-mailed to say that whenever she prayed for our family, she kept envisioning Mary and Joseph fleeing Herod and living in exile in Egypt. I began thinking about Joseph and Mary; their faith strengthened my own. They, too, believed God’s promise of a son and held onto his word despite the obstacles. And as their journey continued beyond Bethlehem—into Egypt and, for Mary, all the way to Calvary and beyond—they kept trusting in the Father’s loving plan. That’s what I had to do, too.

Finally, at just the right time, our son came into the world. It was Christmas Day 2007.

“Do you believe in miracles?” the doctor asked me afterwards. “So do I. This is a miracle baby.”

And the tumor? It was benign.

Carmen Mullen lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, Mark, and their two sons.