A bigger promise

I have failed miserably at writing here every day. But I do that some thoughts that have emanated from my daily devotional on the YouVersion Bible App.

The current plan I’m going through now with a friend is all about devotions that speak to real-life. Really, that’s what I look for in any devotion. But one day so far struck me in particular.

Waiting is a tough thing. It can try the most patient person, and the type of waiting can really make that period of time hard to bear.  In the midst of it, we have to remember God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises.

This is a noble thing – and we should take hold of it, remembering God’s promises. But the way it was presented in the devotional text was not pleasant. It discusses different life events that can cause us to wait or question God’s promises, including infertility:  “When there’s no pitter-patter of little feet, remember Genesis 30:22: ‘Then God remembered Rachel; he listening to her and enabled her to conceive.'”

This sounds like a nice thought in theory, but I think it’s where much of the ‘Christian narrative’ says that if you just pray enough, or wait enough, or remember the promises enough, God will give you what you desire. That the happy ending is coming. And I’m sorry to say this in case someone hasn’t heard it yet, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen.

I can’t tell you how strong my desire was (is…?) to have our own biological children. It was (is…? still working this out) immense. Overwhelming, all-consuming. Even as recent as a few weeks ago, I would be bee-bopping along in my actually really great life, then all of a sudden see a little girl with dark brown curls marching down the hall with her adorably too-big backpack and BAM. I was hit with that desire and emptiness that is sometimes so strong it could knock me to my feet in tears. I wish I were being dramatic.

So, considering our infertility, according to this idea in the devotional, did we not pray enough? Wait long enough? We have to look at this promise of God in context, as it’s specific to one woman, one situation in all the history of infertility.

The attitudes and apparent words of reassurance around the subject of infertility need to change, not just in the world, but especially in the church. There are probably millions of hurting women that instead of finding understanding and solace in the church when they confide their fears or feelings about their infertility are met with these one-off quotations of Scripture that really do nothing but cause more pain, at least for me.

We need a bigger promise. More than just God will enable us to conceive, because as I’m a first-hand witness to, sometimes it doesn’t happen (and maybe there is not some mysterious reason.. it could just be), and I firmly believe that our failure to procreate has nothing to do with our level of faith.

My promises from God have to be bigger to encompass and devour my fears, my emptiness, my sorrow over children lost, however intangible those children may be. My promises from God have to ensure that He holds me, He knows me, He loves me and has important and impactful work for me to do that does not involve being a biological mother or spreading my ‘maternal instinct.’

I will quote another part of the devotional that I found to be the most comforting: “When hope is scarce, remember Luke 24:6-7: ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you,… ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” That is the bigger promise. That is the promise.

Lenten Journey: Day 1, Heal

Image result for lenten photo a day 2017 rethink

Last year for Lent I wrote a little bit everyday about a given topic and related it to my walk with Christ. Instead of spending time on social media, I spent time writing, praying, and reflecting. I will take time this year as well to write about a topic a day. I found the practice to be healing and introspective. Over the next few weeks, I hope to stay true to the spirit of freewriting by not editing or revising much.

MARCH 1: HEAL

Twenty sixteen was a year of grief. I hope 2017 will be a year of healing.

What grief do I need healing from? First of all, the grief of the intangible: infertility. I’m still wrestling with the reality that infertility unfortunately brings upon its sufferers. And I don’t think suffer is too strong of a word. Second of all, I need healing for the loss of loved ones – most recently my grandmother, almost a year ago now. Her death was sudden and heartbreaking, and I went through many weeks of reading and pondering all I could about grief, death, what our bodies actually go through when they die, and the hope we have in an afterlife.

A good portion of my healing so far has occurred through a practice of introspection and disconnection from things that bring me, well, grief. To put it plainly, I’ve deleted my Facebook once and for all. I’ve taken many steps back from social media in order to quit the comparison game. I’ve given myself permission to take back my time and head space. It’s been quite revolutionary.

Another portion of my healing, surprisingly, has been working with children. Exposure therapy, if you will. In August I was hired to teach elementary ESOL. I had never taught elementary in my life. I’d been an paraprofessional in first grade, but really had no idea about the #elementarylife. Funny enough, my office is situated in the hallway with the youngest children in our school – pre-K and preschool. Some days this has been rough, to see their adorable selves carrying their huge backpacks, thinking about if we had had a child when we started trying, he or she would be getting to that age. However, overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I never lack hugs or smiles…. but maybe I lack patience at times. 😉

And finally a third portion of my healing has been my yoga practice. I never thought I’d become a ‘yogini’, but I found a local yoga studio that’s just fantastic. I’ve been going about 3 times per week for about a month. The strength I’ve built is surprising… I keep joking that one day I’ll be able to do a legit pushup. Seriously, I’ve begun to love my body again instead of feeling so betrayed.

Running is always a part of healing for me… it’s also a part of celebration, of determination, of courage. It keeps me centered and gives me time to meditate and pray and appreciate the world around me. And for all these things I’m grateful.

Wait and see

Waiting has never been my strong suit. Patience is not something I’m known for, outside of the teaching space. I harness a specific amount of patience and use it up between the hours of 8 and 4.

I want results immediately. I’ve always been this way, even before our high-tech instant gratification world. I can wait if I know there are results coming from beyond the horizon. No problem. But to wait and see if something, or anything will happen? Not how I roll.

For awhile I chastised myself for this quality of mine. I prayed for patience. And my friends, that’s exactly the last thing you want to do! Because you’ll be overwhelmed with opportunities to practice patience, and waiting-and-seeing. My grandmother and I always joked that it was the mantra of the Army: “Hurry up and wait”. How I learned that phrase all too well.

Waiting and seeing gets me all sorts of anxious. So to distract myself from the anxiety, I usually do two things at the same time: fidget, and get to the root of my anxiety.

Most of the time, the anxiety comes from the not knowing. And do I have a newsflash for you – this is life in a nutshell. Nothing is guaranteed, even when we set the S.M.A.R.T.est goals out there.

The other quality of ‘waiting and seeing’ that I just despise is its passivity. I like to do, do, do and doing nothing or being bored is my #1 pet peeve and fear in life. Sometimes I occupy my mind with other things while I’m waiting and seeing, and that feels much better.

While that feels better, is it really better? I think it’s healthy to have a level of go-get-it-ness in one’s life. How else would we work and eat and pay bills and… fill in the blank? But sometimes it is okay to sit back, watch, and wait to see what might happen next.

In this time we sit and wait, we can find healing. In my own journey, time really has been a factor in much of my healing. It’s an old adage, but it’s an old adage for a reason.

Finding our voices

Every time I get the inspiration or urge to write, something stops me. It’s almost like a paralysis, but it’s completely intangible. I imagine it’s a bit like being under anesthesia, able to feel but unable to speak. Actually, that’s exactly what it is.

Two years of hopefulness followed by hopelessness ad nauseum can really render someone speechless. Screaming on the inside but unable to formulate shapes with the mouth and vibrations with the vocal chords.

There’s so much to say and nothing at all. Some days I feel like an old woman, content to sit in the silence, meditating or pondering the rays of light that come through the window. I move slow, think slower, and hours can go by with nothing more than a few sentences loosely parsed together.

I’m trying to find my place in the world. I feel like part of my soul is missing some of the time. At almost 31, I’m established in my career but not necessarily because this was my goal. I fell into career success. Great, right? Kind of.

Nevertheless, every day in my care are 20 children, ages 5 to 10, all learning English and finding their place in the world, too. They’ve been my focus of whatever maternal instinct has survived this descent. I cherish their smiles and hugs, and their insightful and goofy anecdotes about life. I help them write, putting the words on the page. And in helping them find their voices, I’m finding mine too.

 

Running through infertility.

It’s August 8, 2015. I’m relaxing post-run, breakfast, coffee, and shower in my (hot) house in El Paso, Texas. I don’t know if I’ll share this post today, tomorrow, or five years from now, but a voice in my soul is yearning to be heard, even if it becomes a draft somewhere in cyberspace. I don’t want to wait until I’m out of this particular tunnel before I get some thoughts down.

Sometimes the hardest things in life have no explanation. In fact, looking back on the nearly 30 years I’ve lived, I’d say most hard things have no explanation, or best case scenario, a very complicated one.

In the going-on-30 years I’ve lived, I’ve been running for roughly five of those. And I would say the past five years contain some of the most difficult life situations. I ramped up my training and signed up for a marathon when I knew that I would not be joining my husband in Korea, despite quitting my full-time teaching job and packing up half our belongings. I’ve trained through my sister’s horrible car accident that almost took her life. I continued a run streak while in Illinois for my grandfather’s funeral. I ran through mental and physical obstacles (i.e. hills and mountains) during my husband’s first and (thank God) only deployment.

Now I’m running through infertility. There. I said it. That’s tough, to see that word attached to you, your life, your experience on the earth. There’s something about that word being on the page that evokes emotions. Emotions that I haven’t always let myself fully feel or share. Somehow in 2015 there is still a resounding gong of pursed lips and shhh that surrounds talking about infertility, miscarriage, or if you put it all together, the failure to do what we’ve been told our whole lives is our biological charge in this world.

For the first six to eight months that we were “trying” (although I’d quip that anytime someone has unprotected sex, they’re trying), I stopped running altogether. We were adjusting post-deployment, which was hard. Inexplicably hard. I graduated from my Master’s program and had jumped in head first (or belly-flopped?) into a demanding four-week summer gig teaching beginning English eight hours a day. After that I was to begin my first year as university faculty, in what was pretty much my dream job. I was busy. And tired. And fulfilled from teaching.. but month after month went by and pregnancy test after pregnancy test found its way into the trash can.

Excitement. I can’t quite describe how it feels to be so excited, to think, Wow, now THIS will be the month! THIS will be the cycle! Better make plans because man, we’re gonna have a baby in nine months. I think about our baby announcement, names we’ve picked out (for years actually), logistics of taking maternity leave, where I want to deliver. Mind you, that lovely pink line hasn’t even been provoked yet and the mind goes crazy with these thoughts.

Anger. Then the one biological sign we as women have really been programmed to hate shows up. And it can’t just come quietly, either. It has to remind us with cramps and mood swings and acne (all of which are worse off the pill, of course) that yet again, my womb is empty. I’m angry. Angry at the world for telling me that this would be so easy. Okay, kids, if you have sex, you will get pregnant. You guys are healthy and active – it will happen quickly for you! My so-and-so was on the pill too and when she came off of it, she got pregnant in the first month! It’s okay if you guys don’t get pregnant right away, you’re young and you have time. So much anger and bitterness towards these words and attitudes, even if they’re meant without harm.

I’m angry. At myself for thinking this would be so easy. At my uterus, without a doubt. At the fact that I had given up “strenuous exercise” that gives me peace of mind in order to make my uterus apparently more hospitable (???). Judging by the first week of the cycle, nothing in my body is hospitable to anything except coffee and ice cream. Typical. Rinse and repeat.

Bitterness. This is the most dangerous part of the process, but the most difficult part to avoid. We’re at the age where people have been married a few years and are actually getting pregnant on purpose with first, second, third children. Twins! Natural triplets! IVF triplets! Wow! If I just hide enough friends on Facebook or unfollow enough people on Instagram, I won’t have to deal with it. The lies and comparisons creep in anyway. I think, Wow, by the time she’s my age, her kid will be in first grade. Then my heart sinks again. If I have a baby in the next year, I’ll be almost 50 when he or she graduates from high school. My parents are in their early 50’s now, and we’re all out of the house. They have a grandbaby. Congratu-freaking-lations, Elizabeth. You’re gonna be one of those “old” moms. Ugh.

So I start running again, through the excitement soon replaced by anger and bitterness. It’s my revenge at the world. Hey! Look at me! You’re sitting over there using your pregnant belly as a shelf and here I am! Running! On trails! With my husband! And I didn’t need a babysitter! Because we have no baby at home! Your kid is being a brat? Your kid is puking? Fantastic! Not my circus, not my monkeys, that’s what I say. I walk away thinking, Maybe this not-getting-pregnant thing is a blessing in disguise.

Grief. No one tells you about this. No one ever says when you’re in sex ed, Now kids, keep in mind that not everyone is going to be able to have their own biological children, so just, ya know, keep that in mind when you’re actually ready to take on the socially-acclaimed-to-be-prestigious and little-thanked full-time job of parenting. No one tells you that you could have dreams about your future children, see them, their faces, their hair, have names picked out but your dreams might not ever realize. No one tells you that this grief is actually real, though there’s not a tangible representation.

I run through the grief. It comes and goes, and sometimes I think about it on a run and sometimes I don’t. Mostly I just think about how I need water or how I wish a different song would come on my random playlist or, not surprisingly, that the run would be over. The endorphins afterwards help, especially paired with sugary coffee and a good ole West Texas sunrise.

Acceptance. I think I was at this stage prematurely, and because of that, it’s taken away most of my motivation to keep going. To endure more procedures. More tests. Set aside more money for co-pays. Our life is pretty darn amazing. I always knew it would be. But even a decade ago, I had this feeling like maybe our life would be hard. Na, I totally knew that it would be hard. We’ve seen others take a longer, more drawn out, more expensive road to parenthood. It’s not just the medical bills that are expensive. It’s the toll it takes on a marriage, on each person’s self esteem. On the hope that you had that one day you’d have a mini-you running around. Or many mini-yous.

I had it all planned out. Never in my life did I envision that I’d have trouble getting pregnant. Maybe I never thought about it because before we truly weren’t ready to bring kids into our life. Now that we’ve been married awhile and the military has graciously let our lives calm down a bit and actually live together for once, I’m becoming more and more accepting if this is not going to happen.

Contentment. I’m not quite there yet. I have a pretty optimistic and go-getter personality that I think can get me there sooner rather than later. I feel contentment in waves, much like grief. When I watch the sunrise from the rearview mirror. Or feel the warm water of a lake.  Or watch fog evaporate over mountains. Or sit in cozy silence with my husband, not having to say a word. In the laughter of nieces and nephews. My contentment will be found in other places, if not in my womb. Those places I will find as time goes on.

I’ll keep on running and training. I will focus on what my body can do rather than what it can’t do. Running provides mental stability and repair. It gives me an opportunity to pray and seek, whether over six miles or twenty-six miles. This is where I’m at. We all have different reasons for running; here’s mine.

This doesn’t make sense. I might even let my twenty-nine-year-old five-year-old self say that it’s not fair. It’s not logical. Egg, meet sperm. Sperm, meet egg. Ok? Ok. Or not. But you know what is logical? Feet on pavement. Step after step, mile after mile. The gently used stroller I preemptively bought from a friend might sit in the closet and collect dust, but my running shoes won’t.