Tag Archives: Infertility

Grappling With "Never"

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

“I don’t know what to with never,” Wendy confessed to me one afternoon.

There are some moments in this life journey that are etched indelibly in my brain’s memory bank, and this is one of them. When the two of us were married Wendy inherited two teenaged daughters. Still, we had always desired to have a child together. After multiple surgeries and what seemed like endless months of fruitless attempts to conceive, Wendy’s admission of fear as we stood silently in our despair on the back porch felt like a giant weight on our souls.

The story of John the Baptist’s parents in today’s chapter holds a special place in my heart. There is so much happening in the subtext of Zechariah’s conversation with the angel Gabriel that is completely lost on any reader who has not walked through the long, depressing, desolate path of infertility.

A few of observations:

  • I find it ironic that Dr. Luke diagnoses Zech and Liz’s infertility as “Elizabeth was unable to conceive.” Perhaps there’s more to this story than is told. Nevertheless, having walked this journey I know that it’s also possible the low sperm count or poor motility were the culprits of their childlessness. Of course, this medical knowledge was not available in their day, but it makes me sad that Elizabeth got the blame.
  • I’ve been digging into the theme of exile on this chapter-a-day journey over the past months. The truth is that Elizabeth and her husband were in a personal exile of their own. When you are walking the path of infertility you realize that the vast majority of people don’t understand and it’s usually emotionally painful when they try. Furthermore, you’re not sure you want to talk to those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who walked the path and ultimately conceived are just a depressing reminder that it hasn’t worked for you. Those who never conceived are a reminder that “never” is a possibility which you don’t want to face and don’t know what to do with (a la Wendy’s confession). Infertility can be horrifically isolating for the couple going through it.
  • When the angel tells Zech “Your prayer has been answered.” My husband’s heart shoots back with a cynical “Which one?” If Zech’s heart was like mine, then there’s a section of it calloused over from month-after-month, year-after-year of fervent, unanswered prayers and wiping away his wife’s river of tears.
  • When Zech asks Gabriel “How can I be sure of this?” he is, once again, being defensive and protective of the hearts of both his wife and his own. Infertility is a vicious cycle of summoning faith, raising hopes, and having them dashed again and again and again and again. The last thing the elderly husband wants to do is put his wife through it one more time.

It’s easy for the casual reader to point the finger at Zech’s lack of faith. I’m sure many Jesus followers will hear messages this Advent season comparing Mary’s simple acceptance of Gabriel’s message to Zech’s rather obvious doubt. My heart goes out to the dude. He’s been made the Steve Bartman of the Christmas story for two thousand years, but I get where he’s coming from.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the long-term effects that disappointment and unanswered prayer can have on one’s spirit. As for what to do with “never,” Wendy and I worked through it together with God. We discovered, and continue to discover, deep lessons about joy, grief, faith, perseverance, character, maturity, and hope. At the same time, there is a lingering sadness that rears itself unexpectedly at odd times, which in turn pushes me back to the lessons already learned. I plumb their depths once more.

Still, if Gabriel showed up in my office this morning and told me Wendy was going to have a baby, I totally believe that the subtext of my reaction would land somewhere between sarcastic and cynical.

Zechariah would understand.

Weeping and Joy in the Valley of Infertility

No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:13 (NIV)

For the past month, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been in a series entitled “Summer Stories.” Each week an individual has shared experiences from their own personal stories and the spiritual lessons they have learned from them.

Last Sunday, it was Wendy who chose to stand and share a piece of her personal story. When she and I married almost fourteen years ago, she was 33. She not only gained a husband but two teenage daughters. Nevertheless, having children together was something we wanted to do. We tried for many years.

Trekking together through the valley of infertility may be the most difficult stretch of life’s journey that I have experienced to date. I’ve heard experts say that tremendous stress either brings married couples closer together or it tears them apart. Looking back, I can certainly appreciate why many marriages don’t make it through the valley of infertility. It is a long, lonely and trying slog on multiple levels. We plumbed depths of grief and relational stress I didn’t think was possible during those years. Wendy’s message, however, was not about the pain as much as it was about her discovery of joy at the end of that journey.

I couldn’t help but think of her message as I read the chapter this morning. The exiles return home to Jerusalem and begin the arduous task of rebuilding God’s temple which lay in ruins after it had been destroyed decades before by the Babylonians. After laying the foundation for a new Temple, the people gathered to worship and praise God. Those who were old enough to remember the original temple wept while the others shouted their praise until “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping.” 

Yeah. I get that. That description captures our journey through the valley of infertility pretty well.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of one of the points that Wendy made in her message: “One can’t simply ‘choose joy’ any more than you can simply choose to get up off the couch and run a marathon.” As Jeremiah observed in his lamentation (over the destruction of the same Temple the exiles are rebuilding in today’s chapter): “Weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” In the valley of infertility Wendy and I learned that you can’t always distinguish the sounds of weeping and the sounds of joy, because they are often the same thing.

For any interested, here is the audio and video of Wendy’s message, posted with her permission:

“From a Distance”

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance….
Hebrews 11:13 (NIV)

Yesterday morning a woman came up to me amidst our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and shared with me some things that God has been teaching her of late. These things dove-tailed with some of the very insights God has been revealing to me in my contemplation.

I just wonder why it’s taken me 35 years to see these things,” I laughed, shaking my  head.

Because we didn’t need to see them until now,” she answered matter-of-factly. “They are for this time and place.”

I find it equally fascinating that I can read God’s Message over and over and over again, but there are certain things which leap off the page as if I’ve never seen them before. That’s what happened as I read this morning’s chapter, which is a very famous chapter about faith. The author of this letter to  early Hebrew followers of Jesus is a Hall of Fame walk through of the ancient heroes of faith. From Cain and Abel through Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho (I love that Rahab was included in the list), the writer shows how each of these ancients embraced faith.

What I had never seen clearly until this morning was that twice the author acknowledges that in many cases these heroes of faith did not receive what was promised during their earthly journey. First it’s mentioned (vs. 13) that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed that their tribes would become a great nation and have their own “promised land” to call home. The “promised land” was never established during their lifetimes. They lived in pursuit of a promise that they would not realize in their lifetimes.

At the very end of the chapter, the writer reiterates [emphasis added]:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

I have learned in my own journey, particularly as Wendy and I have walked through the long valley of infertility, that there is a certain depth of faith that one only realizes when what is promised is not received (or not received as expected) in this lifetime. I have never understood why God answers the prayers of some and not others. I don’t know why some are healed and some are not. I don’t know why some get pregnant and we did not.

There are answers out there. My spirit sees them “from a distance” as the author of Hebrews wrote.

I have faith in that.

Hope We Never Wanted to Imagine

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”
Isaiah 54:4 (NIV)

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted. In yesterday’s post about our vacation in Palm Springs I gave a host of reasons why I’ve been on an unintended sabbatical. This morning I had to wake up to the realization that I was, perhaps, simply trying to avoid today’s chapter.

I don’t know what to do with ‘No,'” Wendy often said to me in the depths of our journey through infertility. Walking with Wendy through that stretch of our journey I had the same fear. Though I still don’t pretend to fully understand just how pervasive that fear is for a woman whose body and soul is uniquely crafted to bring a child into this world, and is then repeatedly denied the opportunity.

Yes” is the answer on which you place our hopes.

Yes, you are finally pregnant.”
Yes, the pregnancy will take this time and you will bring it to term.”

Wait” is the answer we didn’t want, but we would be willing to put up with.

Wait, it will happen – just not yet.”
Wait, you are going to realize what you so greatly desire. But, just like so many other women, you will have to wait longer than you wanted.

No” was the answer we didn’t know how to handle.

And yet, “No” was what we, and so many others, have walked through. It is a part of our story. We couldn’t fathom it in that moment. We couldn’t go there in our minds. We couldn’t wrap our hearts around it. We avoided the thought like the plague. And, then it happened. It became part of our story. But, it is not the story.

In today’s chapter Isaiah uses the barren woman as a metaphor of lost and forgotten hope. Out of the depths of hopelessness Holy Spirit breaths through the old prophet’s poetic pen to bring new hope to the people of Judah whose lives and city lay in ruins. At the same time, Holy Spirit breathes a much needed reminder of renewed hope to all of us who have realized some of our deepest fears.

Our stories are still being written, and the pain of the chapter called “Infertility” is a part of it. It is just a chapter in the story. It is not the story itself.  Wendy and I have experienced God’s compassion and everlasting kindness. In witness of Isaiah’s prophetic word, Wendy and I can attest that God’s unfailing love has not been shaken, nor has His covenant of peace been removed. I write this knowing that it will not bring comfort to those who find themselves in the reality of that same fear. Those who live in acute fear of “No” will desperately distance themselves from the thought of it possibly happening to them. However, things that are true need to be written, and they need to be said for those who may not want to hear it in the moment.

This morning I am thankful for the chapter of our lives called “Infertility.” The grief of it will never fully recede in this life. That grief marks all who make that journey. We are, however, truly thankful for what that chapter of our journey has taught us and for the good places to which it led. Sometimes in this life our deepest and most natural of hopes and desires go unrealized. For those willing to follow, the journey leads further up and further in to good places you never wanted to imagine in the moment.

Message: “Love Hopes All Things”

I mentioned the attached message in Monday’s post Hope and Disappointment. The message, in which I share about Wendy’s and my journey through infertility, talks about three important waypoints we went through in coping with the disappointment, when our strongest hopes remained unrealized.

I’ve included the message here in both audio and video formats. These are posted with the permission of Third Church in Pella, IA who holds all rights.

Hope and Disappointment

Surely it was for my benefit
    that I suffered such anguish.
Isaiah 38:17a

Sunday was an emotional day for Wendy and me. I had the privilege of sharing the morning message among our local gathering of Jesus followers. The topic came from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth; One of the most well-known chapters in all of God’s Message. “The Love Chapter” is what it’s commonly called and I had been asked to speak to the phrase “Love hopes all things.”

As soon as I realized that I had been assigned that phrase, I knew in my heart that it was time for Wendy and me to share openly about a particularly difficult  stretch of our own journey. I have touched on it from time to time on my blog, but we’ve never really spoken about it openly and publicly.

For many years Wendy and I eagerly attempted to conceive and bring a baby into this world.  We started with high hopes, each of us endured surgeries, and we repeatedly travelled down the path of virtually every medical procedure and homeopathic suggestion available to us in our hope of having a child.

As hope waned for this desperate desire, Wendy and I experienced all of the stages of disappointment and grief. We felt doubt, anger, envy, despair and rage. We cried. We screamed. We fought. We wrestled with all of the hard questions. If God loves us, then why…? Why her? Why them? Why not us?

It has now been a handful of years since we surrendered our hopes of conceiving. To this day the grief still surprises us. It’s amazing how the sadness and tears well up unexpectedly in the oddest of moments. Nevertheless, Wendy and I recognized in the depths of the valley of infertility that we had come to a spiritual fork in the road. One path led in rapid descent into hopelessness, anger, brokenness and despair. It was an easy path to follow as are most paths of descent. The other path was a much longer road of ascent. It would still traverse hopelessness, anger, and despair, but the long slog eventually climbed toward trust in a larger narrative God was writing into our stories.

In my message this past Sunday I tried hard not to make it about our infertility as much as speaking to the myriad of hopes and disappointments each of us experience along this journey. In today’s chapter King Hezekiah’s hopes were for a long life and a prosperous reign. Those hopes are dashed with a terminal diagnosis, yet Hezzy comes to the same spiritual fork in the road that Wendy and I faced. He chooses the faith slog, and comes to recognize that there was purpose in his pain. There was benefit in the anguish.

Wendy and I can relate to that. Just was we are sometimes surprised by the grief that appears in unexpected moments, so are we often surprised by joy in the midst of our grief. It has taken years, but we can honestly say we experience a deep sense of thankfulness for having to traverse that valley. Our faith journey through infertility has led us further up, and further in. We have experienced facets of life and love that we didn’t know existed with clarity we didn’t know was possible. From our current position on life’s road we now look back and affirm the lyric of Hezekiah’s song.

Anguish has it’s benefits.

Faith, hope, and love have led us through disappointments, but they have not disappointed us.

Here are the audio and video of the message (used with permission of Third Church, who holds all rights) in case you’re interested.

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Surprised Anew by the Struggle to Hang On

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.”
Judges 13:2-3 (NRSV)

Any who sojourn through God’s Message will run across a number of stories of divine fertility like the one in today’s chapter. You can’t escape them. It is a recurring theme. When you have journeyed along the path of infertility, stories like this carry an emotional wallop. It is not a knockout punch as from a lone opponent standing before you. It is more like being surrounded and getting sucker punched from various directions before you have time to react.

Grief from giving up hope pushes one way, while eternal hope kicks in from another direction sending me spinning in two directions at once. Anger from “Why not us?”  hits hard in the gut just before faith in the possibility that God might still do something miraculous tugs me suddenly upright. Shame slides in from behind to trip me with “What have we done wrong?” and I struggle to maintain equilibrium with a less than confident “Thy will be done.” Contorted suddenly in unexpected ways, scabs stretch to the point of tearing old wounds open. I consciously reach for Joy that appears in this moment to be just beyond my reach.

Joy is not beyond reach. I grasp it. I cling. Some days I’m surprised anew by the struggle to hang on.

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featured image “El Angelus” by Jean-Francois Millet