Fifteen Years Later

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Taken in 2004 when we were still babies.

The day we got married fifteen years ago, we were babies. I was twenty-one; you were twenty-three. At the time, we thought we were so grown up, but now I see how naive we were. Our entire future lay before us: bright and overflowing with possibility. We were going to conquer the world! Not really, but it certainly felt like it.

We didn’t know that our first ministry position would be at a church plant that would fail before it fully launched, that in its final week you would become the lead pastor with the responsibility of shutting it down with dignity. You were amazing; I can’t remember if I ever told you. We didn’t know how bad the situation was until a veteran minister told us that what we went through was the worst he had ever seen. Surely not, we thought. But further corroboration came a decade later when we ran into several pastors who had seen what we went through and each told us the same thing: “We’re so happy you’re still following Jesus.”

When we were in the midst of that ministerial catastrophe, we felt like our lives were over. We had no idea our lives were just beginning.

We didn’t know that in less than a year, we would move to the Philippines and join the pastoral staff of the largest church in the country. (What a turnaround from what we had come from!) Our minds didn’t have the capacity to anticipate how much we would learn, how much we would heal, and how much we would fall in love with a people we never expected to fall in love with. When we eventually left the Philippines to follow the dream we had in our hearts since before we got married, we again felt like we could conquer the world.

We left the Philippines to move to Springfield, MO. Not really. We left the Philippines because we wanted to move to Japan to start a church, but we needed to prepare first. And God wanted us to prepare in Small City, USA. “Five years,” we said. “We’ll live in Springfield for five years and then we’ll move to Japan.” No we wouldn’t.

When we hit the two-and-a-half-year mark, we were halfway done with our gotta-do-before-we-go-to-Japan list. We were right on schedule. And then…

“Daniel, my hands hurt. Look, my fingers can barely move.” After getting a master’s degree in piano performance, we thought my hands were just tired. We had no idea our lives were about to get harder.

Months later you wouldn’t just be my husband; you would become my caretaker. Every morning, you would carry me out of bed and move my legs toward the bathroom because I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. You would lift my hands over my head to help my arms move as I would scream and cry in pain. It was torture, but it had to be done. It was the only way I would be able to shower on my own. When you weren’t at work, you were spending all your time taking care of me. I could see the exhaustion and worry on your face. Before we went to bed each night, I would cry because I knew the next day we would have to do it all again.

All of this was during your first semester of seminary. When I was in grad school, you supported me. “When you start working on your master’s,” I said, I’m going to support you.” I’m so sorry I couldn’t keep my end of the deal.

When I was diagnosed with lupus, people told me, “Your husband is amazing because he stayed.” This isn’t what you signed up for the day you married me. And yet you stayed.

“But what about Japan?” people asked us, as though God was completely shocked by my lupus diagnosis and had no idea it was coming when He placed the dream for Japan on our hearts. We didn’t know that the first time we would have a chance to minister in Japan, lupus would be the key. I would share my story of God’s goodness amidst suffering. It was Christmastime, so you would talk about Narnia, the darkness of winter, and the coming of spring. And God would do amazing things. We had no idea we would have to wait so long for this dream, but God has been good enough to let us have a little taste.

The excitement of that trip was soon overshadowed by more pain. “This is harder than the failed church plant,” I cried, “This is harder than lupus!” You nodded. You felt it, too. Finding out we couldn’t have children was devastating for both of us.

The day we got married, if I would have known the kind of suffering we would experience, I don’t know that I could have gone through it. I would have looked at all the hard stuff and walked away. But if I had, I wouldn’t have known the profound joy that has blossomed out of each painful experience.

In the months that followed the failed church plant, we found another church in Washington, D.C. where we were surrounded by people who spoke life into our hearts. In that church, God taught us to stand up again. Whenever we go back to visit D.C., I love that we always make a stop at that church’s coffeehouse as a kind of pilgrimage. How fitting that it’s called Ebenezers: “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” And as you sip your coffee and I sip my iced chai, we remember that we’re standing on holy ground, a place where God met us. And when we look back on our lives and remember all we’ve been through, we’re filled with fresh excitement for our future. God brought us this far; He’s not about to stop helping us now!

I’ve heard people say that you don’t really know what love is until you have children. But when you carried me—literally—each morning as we thought I might be dying, you showed me what love is. You showed me a capacity for love beyond what I could imagine. And as we have walked through the deep waters of chronic illness together, you have been my advocate and my champion. When I began to walk on my own again, you cheered for me and made me feel like I had conquered the world. I can’t articulate well the gratitude I feel knowing that I have such an amazing person to celebrate every victory with.

And as we walked through the wilderness of infertility, you refused to let me stop dreaming. I love what we’re doing with our lives now. We’re doing things we probably wouldn’t be able to do well if we had children. We wanted so much to be able to leave behind a legacy. We thought we needed children to do that; God showed us we don’t.

And the cherry on top: you’ve shown me how fun it can be when it’s just the two of us. Five Bookstore Friday dates, late night Waffle House runs, and spontaneous “Ooooh, what’s that? Let’s check it out!” adventures.

When we were young, we wanted so much for God to show us His plan for our lives. We know better now. We don’t really want to see all the stuff that God sees because it would terrify us. We would run the other direction and miss all the good stuff He has for us.

I don’t want to know what’s going to happen next. I just want to keep living this adventure with you.

Yet

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One of my favorite words in the Bible is “yet.”

yet

ADVERB
Up until the present or a specified or implied time; by now or then.
Still; even (used to emphasize increase or repetition)
In spite of that; nevertheless
CONJUNCTION
But at the same time; but nevertheless.
These three letters are easy to miss. We rush past “yet” to find the “good stuff,” not realizing that “yet” is the good stuff.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.”
“O you hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?
Why should you be like a man confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot save?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not leave us.”
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.”

God doesn’t stop being who He is just because life becomes hard. Darkness and suffering don’t negate God; they provide the canvas to make His light and goodness more visible.

So let’s make “yet” part of our anthem:

  • Though what I’m going through is hard, yet God is still good.
  • Though my heart is heavy and I don’t know how I’m going to make it, yet I will live with joy because God is my hope and my strength.
  • Though God seems distant and His silence is drowning the sound of my prayers, yet He is near, He hears my cries, and He’s working in ways my eyes cannot see.
  • Though my life is hard and messy, yet I will keep praising God, holding onto Him, and trusting in Him because He is still an amazing God who loves me and is able to accomplish infinitely more than I ask or think.

“Yet” is the kind of word where the tension between theology and real life thrives. It does not deny the reality of what we’re going through, but it chooses to focus on a bigger reality that our human eyes cannot always see. This word changes our perspective, taking our gaze off ourselves and lifting our eyes to the Almighty God who holds all things together and has the power to redeem people and situations.

 


 

Weep With Me,” by Rend Collective

Weep with me. Lord, will You weep with me?

I don’t need answers. All I need is to know that You care for me.

Hear my plea. Are You even listening?

Lord, I will wrestle with Your heart, but I won’t let You go.

You know I believe. Help my unbelief.

Yet I will praise You, yet I will sing of Your name.

Here in the shadows, here I will offer my praise.

What’s true in the light is still true in the dark.

You’re good and You’re kind and You care for this heart.

Lord, I believe that You weep with me.

Part the seas, Lord, make a way for me.

Here in the midst of my lament I have faith, yes, I still believe.

You love me. Your plans are to prosper me.

You’re working everything for good even when I can’t see.

Turn my lament into a love song. From this lament raise up an anthem.

Yet I will praise You, yet I will sing of Your name.

Here in the shadows, here I will offer my praise.

What’s true in the light is still true in the dark.

You’re good and You’re kind and You care for this heart.

Lord, I believe that You weep with me.

 

Grieving My Imaginary Child

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On, May 19, 2017, I wrote these words in my journal:

“For a brief moment of quiet, when the only sound was the cars driving through puddles as they passed our street, I remembered my barrenness and cried. There’s something strange about grieving something like this. There’s no burial. No ceremony. No moment of closure. People keep saying words like, “We’ll keep believing for a miracle.” But I don’t want to keep believing for a miracle. I want to lament then move on. I want to not cry anymore. And for that brief moment, as I felt a tear stream down my face, a thought occurred to me: Am I depressed? Will this profound, dark feeling ever completely go away?”

(Before I proceed, I want to say that the words that follow do not come from a desire to compare the severity of the pain I’ve experienced with anyone else’s or to belittle what others have gone through. Pain is pain. It’s not a competition.)

In the months that followed my final “failed” pregnancy test, I had to navigate a lot of awkwardness. I didn’t have a miscarriage. It’s not that a miscarriage is any less painful—walking with friends who had miscarriages taught me that—but it’s different. In a miscarriage, there is a specific event that people can recognize as the starting point of grief and a tangible someone to grieve. So people know when to start giving comfort and why.

But with infertility, things are more vague. Something didn’t happen; something simply didn’t happen. And what’s more, grief makes little sense when the object is not a tangible someone but an idea. But though this grief may not seem to make sense, it’s still very real. In fact, the lack of concreteness and tangibility makes it much more difficult to recognize and label, thus making it more difficult to face.

Though much time has passed and a lot of healing has happened—including many intense conversations with God, some counseling sessions, coffee with friends who have been down the same road, writing pages and pages in my journal, and a myriad of other things—I still feel this grief from time to time.

There are the times when I’m scrolling through social media and see it: “We’re having a baby!” Don’t get me wrong…I’m sort of like Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony. I love celebrating with people—high pitched squealing and all. So when people in my life have wonderful news, I genuinely get excited. I lose nothing by celebrating with others. But for every, “Yay! You’re having a baby!” I’m also confronted with the reality that I am not. Celebration and grief are not mutually exclusive. This is the tension I live in.

There are the times when I stroll through Target. I’ve gotten pretty good at staying away and averting my eyes from baby and children’s stores. But at Target, the baby stuff is right there in the midst of everything. It’s across from the men’s section (where I find myself when I’m shopping with my husband) and right in front of the books (I LOVE books!). No matter what it is that brings me into Target on a given day, it’s inevitable that there will be a moment when, from a distance, a tiny, little outfit catches my eye. Maybe a little, pink dress with ribbons. Or a tiny ensemble, complete with a bow tie and suspenders. I’m a sucker for cute things, itty bitty outfits included. But after the initial swooning, it hits me. Grief.

And then there are the moments when I remember the baby Winnie the Pooh sitting in my closet. I bought it years ago when my husband and I started our journey of trying to have a baby. I was on a work trip to Disney World. I know that sounds like a dream, but I was chaperoning seven high school girls with seven very different personalities, so yeah, it was not bliss. Anyway, If you’ve never been to a Disney theme park, then you should know that the end of every ride spits you out into a gift shop based on the theme of whatever ride you were just on. It’s genius. Me and the girls had a special bonding moment when we were on the Winnie the Pooh ride and it broke. Workers actually came and got us and let us walk around a bit before leading us out to—you guessed it—the gift shop. That’s when I saw the little Pooh Bear wrapped in a detachable, baby blanket. The moment I saw it, I knew I wanted my baby to have it, so I bought it and held it in my arms as I walked all over the park.

That was the only gift I bought for my baby. I still have it in a box of dead dreams along with my favorite jeans that no longer fit. I think about it from time to time. I think of it every once in a while when I’m reaching up to grab items at the top of my closet. Or whenever one of my friends gets pregnant, I think about passing it along to them. What a special gift it would make, I say to myself. But something inside of me just can’t let it go. Maybe I never will.

I know that the child of my imagination isn’t real, but the love I had for them is. I prayed real prayers for them so many times. I prayed for them to be healthy. I prayed that my husband and I would be a good father and mother to them. I prayed that they would love God and follow Him with their whole heart. I prayed for their future. I prayed for the person they would one day marry. I prayed for God to use them to change the world. And the more I prayed for them, the more my love for them grew. Oh, sweet baby, how I wish you were real!

So the pain of never getting a chance to hear their heart beat, to hold them in my arms and touch all their little fingers and toes, to hear them laugh, to read them a bedtime story and tuck them in at night, to talk with them about their first love and college and big dreams—this pain is very real.

Real love. Real pain. Real grief.

All for an imaginary child.

“You have kept count of my tossing;

put my tears in your bottle.

Are they not in your book?”

Psalm 56:8

Questions for Contemplation & Conversation

With a topic like this, there are no easy answers, no easy fixes. But I write about these things because I want to break down the walls of awkwardness that keep so many people hidden and unseen. It’s my hope that together we can provide places where conversations infused with empathy, compassion, and dignity can thrive.

1. Is there someone or something you are grieving? Why is grief so important? What are tangible ways you can grieve well?

2. Does the Church have a place for women (and men) who are married but don’t have children? What are things the Church can do to help people navigate this kind of grief with dignity?