Planting Our Stories

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I believe there is power in telling our stories.

There are parts of my story I feel passionate about telling: my hard days with chronic illness as well as victories (both big and small) in the midst of it, my wrestling through the deep waters of infertility and the joy of discovering I could arise a mother in different ways, and on social media I enjoy giving glimpses of the quirky side of my marriage with the hashtag, #thisiswhatmarriagelookslike. In different settings, there are other stories I tell. Maybe some will one day make it onto the blog, but some are precious and reserved for trusted relationships and special moments.

As I share my stories, people tell me theirs. And they tell me how my story made them feel seen, or gave them hope in the midst of something hard, or even inspired them to pray a courageous prayer…”because I know you went through this.” My favorite is when someone tells me how a story I shared however many years ago is helping them through something they’re going through now.

Stories are like seeds. When they’re told, they’re buried in minds and hearts. And one day—maybe even years later—they bear fruit.

I’m 38 years old. I’ve been married for 17 years. And I have no children. This is not the story I would’ve chosen for myself, but it’s the one I’m living. And though it’s not an easy story to live, I love it. After all, who wants to read a story where the characters are always happy and never experience anything hard? Give me the stories with adventure, surprises, and conflict, the ones that end with the characters completely transformed.

So here I am in my wonderful, messy story. And as I type these words, I’m sitting on my couch with a heating pad on my belly as I recover from a total hysterectomy.

A number of years ago, a dear friend of mine (who’s only a few years older than me) walked the road of infertility, multiple surgeries, and then ultimately a hysterectomy. She chose to be open about her struggles and anguish. She poured out her heart in the beautiful, dissonant words she typed on social media. I don’t think she had any idea what kind of seed she was planting in my heart as I silently read her posts. Neither of us knew I would live her words several years later. The difference for me is I had less to discover on my own. Her wrestling emboldened my battle. And her hope in God became kindling for mine.

When it was my turn to get a hysterectomy, I knew it was a good thing, that my life would still be abundant and beautiful. I knew because I saw her go through this. And in the moments when I felt afraid or discouraged, her story gave me courage. After my surgery, I texted her, “I remember when you walked this road. Knowing you went through this made it less scary for me!”

The surgery is over, but I’m suddenly in another chapter. My surgery thrust me into menopause, no transition to ease me into it. And I find I’m completely clueless. I grappled with questions about my womanhood when I came to grips with my barrenness, and now I’m asking questions about my womanhood again as I take my first steps in the sea of menopause. I don’t know how to swim in these waters.

Menopause is one of those things in our culture we don’t discuss beyond a few jokes here and there. And because of that, I grew up believing menopause was something to be dreaded, something that carried all sorts of horribleness and no possible good. I don’t quite know what the truth is about menopause or how to discover it. Generations of women have walked this path before me, yet I feel like I’m clearing the path for myself all alone.

The areas we choose to make taboo are the areas where we rob the next generation from flourishing. I wish I could have entered this new phase of life armed with the stories of women who have gone before me. I can’t change what was. But I can change things for those who will come after me.

So here’s my challenge to all of us:

Whatever our stories are, it’s time to bring them to the light. And let’s create a culture that cherishes these stories and celebrates their telling, no matter how mundane or painful or joyous. Let’s plant these seeds so those who come after us can eat of their fruit and flourish!


When I’m embarking on something new, my default is to search for a book. Here’s the first book I got on my new adventure with menopause. I approached each book my Google search yielded with hesitancy and skepticism. What made me decide this book was for me? The endorsements on the back cover from Sarah Bessey and Christine Caine.

***Some words of caution about sharing your story that I added later:

While I believe we could powerfully impact the generations that come after us by giving space to tell stories about things that were once taboo, I’m not advocating we share every detail about everything. We need wisdom and care with the stories we share.

I consider whether or not a story is one I’m willing to be vulnerable about. Being vulnerable means opening ourselves to the possibility of being hurt. So when I’m considering whether or not I’m willing to share something, I ask myself, Can I handle someone saying something mean or insensitive about this right now? I don’t believe we should open up everything in our lives to that, especially areas where we’re still in the process of healing.

When a story involves other people, I consider whether or not a story is completely mine to tell. There are stories I’ll never blog about because even though I feel comfortable sharing my part of the story, it’s not my place to decide when other people will be vulnerable with their part.

One last thing: some stories can be shared openly and publicly. But there are some stories that should be reserved for spaces where we feel safe, whether that’s a small group or a one-on-one conversation with someone we trust.

The Prayers We Stopped Praying

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In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.”

Luke 1:5-7, ESV

“Why is this happening? How have I sinned? What’s wrong with me?” Years of living for God and doing everything right, and still she was barren.

“Lord, please give me a child.”

How many times did this prayer escape her quivering lips? How many times did she allow her heart to hope, only to be disappointed? And with each passing year, her window of possibility got smaller and her wounds grew deeper.

She was barren, marked with shame. And her years of hoping were over.

She knew the story, the one that happened millennia ago. Sarah, the mother of the Jewish people, was 90 years old when she conceived. “But God has been silent for centuries. Could God still do things like that today? And if He could, would He?”

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.'”

Luke 1:8-17, ESV

He was chosen by lot. What appeared to be the luck of the draw, something completely random, was divine. God was in the randomness. And as he performed his duties, something miraculous happened. Prayers he had stopped praying years ago were extravagantly answered. He was finally going to be a father.

How do I know Zechariah had stopped praying for a child? Because what he said in response were not the words of a man who still prayed to have a child, but the words of a man who had given up:

And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.'”

Luke 1:18, ESV

He had just heard the most wonderful news of his life, but He couldn’t praise or give thanks. How many times had he prayed for a child? How many times had he consoled his crying wife? How many times did he mask his shame as other men in the community beamed with pride because of their growing families? How many years had God disappointed him before he stopped praying that one, painful prayer?

And after all those years, when his peers were enjoying the births of their grandchildren, was God really going to finally give him a son? Maybe he was numb. Maybe he still felt the sting of old wounds. Either way, the idea that God would bless him now in this way was preposterous.

But this man who had dedicated his life to God’s service had more to learn about God and His ways. Zechariah’s age, circumstances, and limitations were no match for what God could do. God could do anything. But after everything Zechariah had been through, could he believe this—really believe in a personal, non-theoretical, hope-risking kind of way?

And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.’ And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.

Luke 1:19-22, ESV

I used to think that Zechariah was being punished for his unbelief, but now I’m not so sure. Because he was suddenly unable to speak:

  • he could no longer speak words of doubt
  • other people were able to see he had a divine encounter, so they became part of the story and Zechariah wouldn’t/couldn’t walk this journey alone
  • he was constantly reminded of what God had done
  • he could spend more time listening, remembering, and reflecting on what God had done.

(How often do I think God is punishing me when really He’s blessing me and preparing me for something beautiful?)

Sometimes when God answers prayers we’ve abandoned or forgotten, He needs to break through the walls we’ve raised to protect our hearts and get our attention so we don’t miss what He’s doing. For Zechariah, he was speechless. Not in a metaphorical way, but in a literal, inconvenient, and disruptive kind of way. For nine months.

Nine months to let this glorious miracle sink in. These nine months would transform Zechariah to his core and make him the kind of father that his son would need him to be: a father who wholeheartedly believed in the God who can do anything, who hears our prayers, and who keeps His word.

When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. How kind the Lord is!’ she exclaimed. ‘He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.’”

Luke 1:23-25, NLT

No one could look down on Elizabeth any longer. Not only did God make Zechariah and Elizabeth a father and mother; He made them a father and mother like Abraham and Sarah. How kind the Lord is!

And this child would have a special place in history. He would be the one who would prepare the way for the Lord, the one who would baptize the long-awaited Messiah, the one of whom Jesus would one day say, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”

God knew what Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story would be all along, writing their story so much more beautifully than they possibly could. However, I’m sure it didn’t feel beautiful to Zechariah and Elizabeth as they navigated the many chapters of barrenness and abandoned prayers. But God didn’t stop writing their story when others declared it to be written. When the plot seemed to be at a standstill, everything changed. Their future would not be the quiet they anticipated and their past now had purpose they had never been able to see before. For them, it was as though God rewrote the story they thought they knew.

And for us…

God remembers the prayers we prayed long ago, the ones we gave up on and stopped praying, the ones that became too difficult to pray as the years went on and left us wounded. He remembers and does something more wonderful with them than we can imagine. 

God is kind even when prayers go unanswered, even when He delays, and even when His ways make no sense.

And God writes beautiful stories. If you feel like your story isn’t beautiful, just wait; God’s not done writing yet.

Reliving Pain

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I dreaded this doctor’s appointment. The last time I saw him was a little over year ago—the last check up before my last round of fertility meds and my final pregnancy test, the one in which, like all the others, the strip did not turn blue. In the ten months leading to that last appointment, I saw this doctor at least once a month. Each time, we spoke about things that felt too painful to talk about, I was poked and prodded while wearing a funny gown, and in the moments when the doctor stepped out of the room, I whispered desperate prayers.

So now, about a year later, I was afraid that sitting in his office would bring it all back and I would fall apart. I can do this, I told myself. It’s going to be okay. I’m not going to cry.

I had seen this doctor so much that I had gotten to know him and the nurse that assists him. I liked her. She was sassy and told me stories when I wanted to be distracted from the poking and prodding. And as I sat in the waiting room, I waited for her to call my name and greet me.

“Esther!” It wasn’t her. The woman who greeted me was friendly, but she was a complete stranger, and my heart sank. When this woman looked at me, what she saw was another patient who had come for a routine check up. She had no idea that I was in anguish.

She didn’t know that at my last appointment, I asked the doctor if I needed to send him a message if my final pregnancy test ended up being negative. “No need to send a message,” he said, “If I don’t hear anything, I’ll assume you’re not pregnant.” At the time, I thought he just didn’t want to deal with all of that. But now I understand that he knew that despite my best intentions, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to call or write.

She didn’t know that the months that followed my last appointment were the darkest of my life and that it was a miracle that I no longer woke up crying every morning.

She had no idea about any of this when she looked at my file. In the midst of all the questions she had to ask me before I saw the doctor, she asked, “You’re still married with no children?”

Yup. She did nothing wrong; she was doing her job. But I really wished that the person asking me the questions in that moment was the nurse I knew and the one who knew me in return. She would have known to not ask; she would have known that my heart needed different questions altogether. But it doesn’t serve us to dwell on how we feel our circumstances should have turned out. And in that moment, I focused on the one goal I had for that day: don’t cry at the doctor’s office.

She left the room and I was alone. And it all came back to me. I relived all the pain I experienced over the past year and a half. But something else began to wash over me, something I didn’t expect: I also relived every beautiful moment of God’s grace and comfort. This isn’t how I expected my life to look, but it’s more wonderful than I could have imagined.

When God brings healing to our souls, it’s not a one time deal. The comfort of God doesn’t remove our memories. At some point, we will remember our pain. We’ll see something or someone will say something in passing, and we’ll remember.

And when we relive the pain of old wounds, we must allow God to heal us again. The key word is “allow”: God can’t heal us if we don’t allow Him to.

We tend to avoid reliving pain—we must protect our fragile hearts, after all—but we must be careful to not avoid reliving pain altogether. Sometimes reliving the pain can help us remember all that is beautiful: the victories, the moments that kept us going, the ways God entered our darkness and gave us glimpses of His abundant goodness.

I don’t want to forget. I want to remember all of it, even if that means feeling the pain again. For by remembering, I can know hope and joy and gratitude. By remembering, I can keep moving forward.

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.

A Woman’s Highest Calling

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She ran to me after church, beaming with excitement. “I wanted to tell you before I told anyone else…I’m pregnant!” (Insert squealing, and hugging, and a flood of happy tears.) This sweet friend of mine had walked the painful road of infertility and made my journey through infertility less lonely. I had prayed desperate prayers for her—the words were easy because I had prayed them so many times for myself—and God heard. She was no longer barren. Now she is a mother.

As I walked out of the church building, the happy tears were no longer happy. Buried emotions welled up inside of me and grief took over. I know that God has been overwhelmingly good to me and has filled my heart with beautiful Kingdom dreams. But during that car ride home, I felt like I had gotten a bad deal. My dreams paled in comparison to the dream of motherhood, and I felt ashamed of them.

As I type this, the absurdity of these words is glaring. The Kingdom dreams bestowed upon me by the Almighty God and Creator of the universe seem like a bad deal compared to motherhood? Absurd.

Struggles with infertility are excruciating. I’ve spoken with women who know pain and hardship, and who speak of how the pain of infertility are greater than anything else they’ve experienced. Infertility crushes dreams and mocks our desires. This is hard enough, but it’s made harder still by a lie that we were taught when we were still young:

“Motherhood is a woman’s highest calling.”

“I see women believing and repeating the lie that motherhood is the highest calling for all women. Did you know that’s nowhere in the Bible? The only reference to a chief call on anyone’s life is found in Matthew 6:33: Seek first the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness. We watch as that lie discourages those who are unable to be mothers and immobilizes those who love their children and still feel called to serve in other contexts. I see broken women believing the only role for them is quiet service and the only pace is nonstop. They exhaust themselves as they serve out of obligation, not worship. I see women believing it’s brash and wrong to seek the wisdom of God, waiting on others to intercede and teach them the Word rather than seeking first the kingdom themselves.”

(Jess Connolly in Wild and Free)

Motherhood is NOT a woman’s highest calling.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my mama friends! Motherhood is an amazing calling—mothers shape the world!—but it is neither the highest nor only calling for a woman. And when we reduce women to whether or not they have children, we minimize the potential God has for their lives.

The world needs mothers.

And the world needs women who are not mothers.

Let’s stop reducing women’s identities to motherhood and empower them to be all that God has called them to be: the daughters of the Almighty God, called to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and to fulfill big, beautiful Kingdom dreams!

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, tt 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?

A Wilderness Prayer

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During a dark, wilderness season of my life, trying to pray was a battle. But even though I struggled to verbalize prayers during this season, there was a brief moment when I was able to write one in my journal. There were numerous days when I desperately wanted to pray “better,” something with actual substance, so I would open my journal and recite my written prayer.

Throughout my life, I’ve prayed so many prayers that God didn’t answer the way I hoped He would. But this prayer is one that He answered infinitely more beautifully than I could have imagined. He always knows what is best. His way is always better than mine.

So if you find yourself in a wilderness and wanting to pray (or wanting to want to pray), but you just can’t, that’s okay. Know that God still sees you and hears the cry of your heart. His grace is sufficient when you have no words to say. And when your soul is desperately grasping for words and falling short, may these words from my journal help you get started:

Giver of Life, Redeemer of dreams, and Comforter of my soul,

Be near me.

Clothe me with dignity and strength, and help me to laugh at the time to come.

Give me eyes to see as you do.

And make me useful for Your Kingdom.

Amen.