Several weeks ago my husband sent me flowers. The flowers were gorgeous, but what really made them special was the note that came with them, “You are gonna make one hot mama!!”
Shortly after that a woman from my church sent me a message. She was worried it would sound weird, but to me it was a message from God. She told me that she would sometimes see me sitting across from her in church and would see a flower growing out of my belly. She felt like God was telling her to tell me, but fear kept her from saying it right away. When I posted the flowers, she felt like it was time to obey God and let me know. I cherish that message dearly.
But on Saturday my flowers had finally bit the dust. They were faded and dried and had that sickly sweet smell of death on them. Every time I walked by and stirred the air close to them, more dried petals would fall and litter the ground. This had been happening for a couple of days, but I didn’t want to get rid of them. So instead, I would give the flowers a wide birth so as not to disturb them. But on Saturday the smell had grown and the faded blooms fell to floor with the smallest movement of air and I knew it was time.
As I crushed the dried flowers into the trashcan I couldn’t help but feel like the promises God gave me were fading and dying just like those flowers. As a vacuumed up the fallen petals I tried to fight the fear and despair that often plagued me when I started to lose hope…like two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago I was a little shaken when I got my period. I guess I had assumed that if I was healed then I would get pregnant right away. I have associated health with pregnancy, but God cleared up that little lie for me, and reminded me that a period is healthy, especially when the full cycle was in the 28-35 day range instead of my usual 11-49 day range.
But the period was still a blow. I still felt let down, disheartened, and scared. “What if I’m wrong? What if I didn’t hear God the way I thought I did? What if I just told all these people about a miracle God performed for me and now my life afterwards just proves to them that God is a fraud?”
I was tired of praying, not because I didn’t want to pray and believe, but simply because my body, mind, and spirit were all exhausted from the spiritual battle. I was fighting the battle with prayer and praise; arms raised to the sky and worshiping my savior! But my arms were exhausted, I needed to just rest them for a second.
When I first got home from my Holy Yoga retreat it was easy for me to hold fast to the promise of God’s healing. Everything was so fresh, so vibrant, and so real, but as the roaring fire in my soul slowly died to hot embers, I felt like I was trying to keep a fire going without any logs to sustain it. It took so much energy just to keep a small flame going; constant fanning of the embers to create a flame that would stop the second I stopped fanning it.
God spent a week showing me that He was present in the darkest of times, that He never abandoned me, and that I can trust Him with my life. God pursued me without ceasing so that I would, to the best of my ability, feel and understand His love for me in all circumstances. And finally, God healed my body from my past abuse and my current infertility. But now I’m home. I’m home and the ones who were with me when I was healed are miles and miles away.
When I got my period the first thing I wanted to do was fall back into my old pattern of thinking, “why not now? Why not me? God, do you even care? What is your plan? I don’t understand. I can’t make sense of this, let me try…”
I used to run down rabbit holes trying to make excuses for God and explain to myself why He didn’t pull through; why he didn’t fulfill his promises yet; why right now was not the right time. I would say things like, “Well, maybe this egg would have grown up to be a serial killer, so God is really protecting me.” Or “He is just waiting until I get back from Africa” or “He must really want me to get my HY Instructor Certification.” Or “Once we move, it will happen.” I would set new dates in my mind to protect God from my doubts: “Mother’s day is coming up, so God probably wants me to find out I’m pregnant then, what a gift that will be.” And when Mother’s day passed without a positive pregnancy test, instead of grieving the loss I would say, “oh, well, maybe this baby is our adopted child and has been conceived, but I just don’t know it yet…”
God has been teaching me that He doesn’t need me to defend Him against myself (or anyone else). I’m not holding Him up, He is holding me up. But it’s hard to recognize my patterns of thinking and it’s even harder to change them. Something in me desperately wanted to go back to that place of being a victim.
I quickly texted my seven Holy Embers ( my yogini sisters from retreat) asking for prayer. Right away they reminded me of the truth and goodness of God. They reminded me of His promises and used their own strong faith to help me with my faltering faith. I rested in their strength. I felt like they were holding my arms up like Hur and Aaron did for Moses so that the Israelites could win the battle.
Exodus 17:11-13 (NIV)
11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
They sent me verses, songs, and videos to encourage me. They spoke their own faith into me and told me what God had done for them. One video that was sent included this verse:
“How lovely is your dwelling place,
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.[c] “
The speaker talked of the swallow, and how it cannot help but produce young when it is in the presence of the Lord. I want to be that swallow. I want to make a nest for myself in God’s presence, at his alter, because in God’s presence one can’t help but be fruitful. I want dwell in His house and praise His mighty name, I know I must, even though my heart is hurting, I know nothing else works. Nothing soothes the pain like crying out to my God. Nothing lifts my heart like dwelling on His goodness.
And then it hit me… I was reminded of the dreaded verse for anyone struggling with infertility:
Isaiah 54:1 “Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous Than the sons of the married woman,” says the LORD.
I used to hate this verse. I loathed it. How dare you tell me to break forth in joyful shouting, you clearly don’t know my pain. How can I be joyous and full of praise when I am hurting so deeply?
But now, I get it. It’s the joyful shouting in the pain that soothes the pain. It’s not joyful shouting because there is no pain. It’s not ignoring the pain. It’s not condemning the pain and guilting myself into being joyful. It’s praising God just as I am. It’s coming to Him and declaring His goodness even when I can’t FEEL His goodness. And it’s in the pressing into Him that relieves me of the pain, even if just for the moments I am completely immersed in Him. I know my escape and it’s not the wine, beer, or cupcakes. It’s not the ice cream calling out from the freezer. It’s not the likes on Facebook or the clothes that make me look thinner than I am. It’s not a good hair day or the affection of my husband. My saving grace, my escape, is the goodness of my savior.
But it’s not always as easy as that. I’m going to get really authentic here. I want to preface the following paragraphs with this little note:
*I love you. I love your children. Please DON’T stop asking me how I’m doing and DON’T stop asking me about the adoption. Please DON’T stop being you, please be boldly, bluntly, authentically you. Please DON’T fear hurting me, God is growing me in ways I would never be able to grow if it wasn’t for this pain I feel. And this pain is NOT your fault and it’s NOT your rolly-polly child’s fault either. Even if you say something stupid or somehow make me cry, it’s not your fault! Some of the things I’m about to say involve you or your kids, and I would NEVER change this for the world. Please believe me. I’m not writing this to vent about how insensitive people are or bla bla bla. I know your heart, I know it’s loving, I know you love me, I know you are praying for me, I know you don’t want to hurt me. I write this because I know I’m not the only one out there struggling with God’s timing and plan. I know I’m not the only one waiting and hoping in the Lord for something. I want to be authentic, these are the thoughts that go through my head and the feelings I feel in everyday life while I wait on the Lord. I want you to know, if you feel this way, you’re not alone and your emotions don’t make you a “bad” Christian.*
Ok, so this past week and a half has been a bit brutal for me emotionally. It started out not so brutal. Actually it started out with me really seeing growth in myself. My friends had their baby, and I was bringing them dinner. On the way over I prayed to God to protect my heart. I knew I was very fragile because (sorry TMI) I just got my period. I wanted to bless my friends with food and I wanted to see their baby, but I was scared. I almost turned around so many times. I wanted to feel joy, I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to bless them during this time and not burden them with my broken heart. So the whole way over I prayed for God’s protection. God came through. Mommy and baby were feeding in their room and my only interaction was with my dear friend who is now a daddy. I only spent 5 minutes there and I left filled with joy. I got in my car and was feeling pretty good about myself. My new mommy friend called me as I turned onto the road to tell me that she just finished feeding the baby and I could come back and see him. I declined for my own heart’s safety and also because I was running late to hang out with another friend.
“Well done Liz.”
“Why thank you, Liz!”
Next I hung out with my very pregnant friend and we even talked about pregnancy and children and I was fine. She blessed me immensely (with food, hand crocheted yoga socks, and her friendship) and I left feeling uplifted, and I had a wonderful time, and it was good. Growth.
“Wow, Liz, I’m so proud of you!”
“Me too, Liz, me too…”
After that is when things started getting shaky. I spent the following week with a lot of babies and kids. I mean a lot! Way more than I am used to and it was authentic real time with them: holding them, playing, talking, feeding, caring, changing, etc. It was wonderful, I felt like I could finally be me without bursting into tears at the pain of my longing. I felt like I could finally interact with people’s children without my awkward “hi, he/she is so cute, bye” safety conversation.
I know it sounds weird, but if a kid likes me, it kills me. If a kid grabs my hand it could crush my already fragile heart. When my niece ran off the bus into my arms yelling, “AUNT WIZZY!!”I almost cried. When my nephew smiled and placed his hand on my cheek I just about died. It was the best death of my life. That’s what I imagine dying for someone you love feels like. I am so blessed by them, and I love them more than words can say, but that love makes my heart feel like it just might explode, especially after it’s over and Dean and I are back home without any children of our own.
Being around children and babies doesn’t always feel like my heart exploding, but usually it feels like what I imagine the show Wipe Out to feel like: It looks fun! But once I start to play it’s only a matter of time before I get walloped by something.
I made it through the multiple days of hanging with babies, each time thoroughly enjoying myself, but it was when I was back at home that the longing hit. The kids were gone, my arms were empty, and I had no idea when I would have the chance to be the nurturing, protecting parent that I felt so called to be.
I feel like I am in the final stages of pregnancy…I mean I don’t know what that actually feels like, but I hear women say things like, “Ok, my feet are killing me and I can’t stop peeing, it’s time for this little one to come out!” or “I’m getting antsy, I just want to hold him in my arms” or “everything is in order, I’m ready, just waiting on the little guy,” or “Being induced, little girl is 5 days past due.” And I’m here thinking, I’ve been ready for years…maybe not the entire 7 years of infertility, but I would say I’ve been so ready for the past 4 years. I’ve already read a million books, painted my nursery, bought tons and tons of baby things (although never for my own children…just for everyone elses…) and I’m just so ready to hold that baby in my arms. I’m so ready to quiet her cries and I’m so ready to kiss every one of his toes. I’m so ready to finally find a cute outfit that my own baby gets to wear. But I don’t have a due date, I think that’s the hardest part. I feel pregnant…the baby is coming, I know that, but when?
On Sunday I felt so ready. I felt like I was going to burst. My heart was literally aching. I believe what God has told me, I do, I trust Him, I really, really do. This ache wasn’t doubt, this was longing beyond what I felt like my body could physically handle. I felt like if this didn’t happen now, I was going to die. That sounds really dramatic, but there is no other way to explain it and that doesn’t even come close to fully explaining it. It doesn’t even capture that feeling. This time I decided not to run away from that feeling. I decided to meet God there. Everything He has taught me is to come to Him just as I am and not to try and fix it myself before coming to Him.
But I was scared, not because I was scared of God, but because now, for the first time since retreat, I was coming to God just as I was, while in front of others. I can come to God just as I am in the safety of my own home, or in the privacy of a hiking trail, on my parent’s treadmill, or even in Celebrate Recovery. But now I was in a church service surrounded by Christians that I dearly loved and my fear of making them uncomfortable with my tears and heartbreak was crippling. What would they do? Would they try to fix me? Would they have thoughts like, “there she goes again, Liz is crying like always…” I love my church, they are a huge support to me, and I feared being abandoned by them because God has not yet healed me of my pain. It sounds silly when I write it out…but it’s the truth.
If God hasn’t answered my prayers yet, I fear the pain I feel during the waiting could lead others astray, or encourage them to doubt God, when I so dearly love Him and quite honestly, I need THEIR support. But I knew I needed God above all things, and I needed Him right then and there. The only thing that mattered was that I run into His presence.
So despite the fact that I was in church and surrounded by my church family, I went to God in it. And do you know what happened then? My friends walked in with their brand new baby. Their little family made their way through the church. It was the most beautifully devastating scene. I was trying so hard, so so so so hard not to cry, and for a while I did it. I smiled, I felt the joy, I didn’t look away, I didn’t hide, I didn’t leave, I didn’t wish to be somewhere else. I sat in it. I felt it, all of it. I felt the joy for them and I felt the sorrow for me. Not like, “oh, woah is me, look at me empty handed” but like, “When Lord? When will you remember me? I can’t wait much longer.”
When we started singing again I couldn’t help but cry. When I worship God, when I go fully to Him, I cry no matter what. He moves me to tears every time. His greatness is just beyond me and I can’t hold it in, I just have to let my emotions out, because I need to make room for Him. So whatever I’m feeling just gushes from me! Laughter, tears, all of it. So there I stood, crying, while I praised my God. Calling out to Him, claiming His goodness, fighting doubt with truth. My pain gushed out all around me, and God’s goodness filled me up. Tears streamed down my face and I didn’t even try to hide them. And I felt Him, I felt God filling me up, I felt Him say, “stay here with me, my love, I will protect you.”
With my husband by my side I knelt at the alter of my Lord, and there heard my Pastor bless the sweet newborn child next to us (in the arms of our friends). A couple with arms full of joy kneeling beside a couple with hearts full of pain, both at the alter, both receiving Christ just as they were, joy and sorrow…all are welcome.