Testify, Celebrate, Lifted

Testify is a buzz word in the sect of Christianity I’ve come from. Testify, testament, testimony.. all words from the same root. As such, like many words from the same subculture, give me a slightly cringe-y feeling. Not to offend or dismiss the decade I spent in evangelistic charismatic churches. I wouldn’t even say I was burned. Not in the least. I just needed something different – a different avenue through which to practice my faith.

I still testify, just not in the ‘traditional’ or ‘pentecostal’ sense of the word. I testify when I go out in nature, when I breathe in aromas of a delicious meal or hearty wine. I testify when I create community among friends. I testify when I witness the miracle of sunrises and sunsets. I think there are different ways to testify, and all can be pleasing to God and welcoming to people.

We come to the word celebrate again. I see that this is a possible theme for Lent. With celebration usually comes the word “Alleluia” which is traditionally not sung or spoken all of Lent until Easter. Lent is a time of penance, reconciliation, somber reflection, inwardness. At least for me. Come Easter morning we will celebrate and testify to the resurrection of Jesus.

He will be lifted (see what I did there?) – banners will be raised. We’ll remember the now-dry palm fronds that graced his path in Jerusalem. Can you imagine – the King of kings and the Lord of lords riding into a holy city, the holy city, on a donkey? But he does. And a week later he’s lifted onto the cross to die a humiliating death – how could a professed king ever be killed, let alone in such a horrible and dehumanizing manner? But he is. Every year the story amazes me. Every year the power of Lent overcomes me and my soul heals and reconciles itself to God a little more.

Signs

Today I just had a feeling that it was going to be a weird day, a sign. Usually when I experience this, I do in fact have a weird day. I waited for a call for school to be cancelled due to the impending Nor’easter bound for the East Coast. No call came. Some schools cancelled. During our faculty meeting this morning, our admin announced kids would be released early, which usually means we would be, too.

It took me two hours to get home when it usually takes me 23 minutes, give or take. The free hours I had in my afternoon soon dwindled down to just minutes. It took my husband an hour to get home when it usually takes him 10 minutes. Since we got home, power’s been flickering on and off. Our sump pump somehow became dislodged from the hole it sits in in the crawl space.

Despite all these signs and then events of a day gone weird, I’ve been strangely calm. This is highly uncharacteristic for me. Even on my two-hour journey home, I only got angry once when some jerk cut me off. (Just once… I’m improving…). Even when the sump pump was askew and not doing its job, though my mind went to the worst case scenario of “Oh shit we’re gonna spend our Friday night, possibly weekend, and hundreds of dollars to get this fixed,” I stayed calm and somehow my lizard brain didn’t get to see the light of day.

I’m not sure what’s happening. It could be maturity, it could be that my broken heart is healing therefore so is the rest of me, it could be the good amount of savings we have in the bank, it could be God’s peace, it could be the zen following me off the yoga mat. But slowly I’m evolving into the person I had wanted to be when I was freaking out. During the years my heart was torn into pieces month after month. During all the lonely months when my husband was literally halfway around the world.

Signs.

The bend in the road: a reflection from January 2016

Again I write, not sure if these words will see the light of day. My last post was written almost four months ago, when I shared our story of infertility. I mentioned that there’s hope that can overshadow the disappointment that comes with this journey.

I wasn’t sure how hope would play out over the next few months. I was hesitant to try to put that into a vision of reality. But I hoped it would come in the form of a perfect baby, a product of our love (and genes).

Unfortunately, that’s not the hope that has come to fruition. We did another round of fertility treatment which wasn’t successful. I had more testing that came back normal. There’s just not an explanation. Hence, the ‘unexplained infertility’ diagnosis.

The fertility drug is the least invasive of treatments according to the doctor. But according to me, I felt invaded. My hormones were raging, I was in pain, I was moody, I was emotional. I did not feel like myself, and so we decided that that was the end of the line for treatment.

We decided before we even began this journey that noninvasive treatment would be the stopping point. And before you get to that stopping point, you can maybe make a list of the things to try after that… adoption? Fostering? Fostering to adopt? Living without children?

Now that our natural options are exhausted, we face a sea of unknown. I couldn’t even tell you how I feel about adopting. Or fostering. Except that I don’t feel ‘called’ to that right now. I don’t know if I ever will.

Living without kids? Well, living without our biological kids? That is something that blindsided me. I could have never foreseen that that would even be a path for our life.

I remember way back when Aaron and I had first started dating (almost 13 years ago…) that I saw him fling a kitchen towel over his shoulder. It seems kind of silly, as he was just helping clean up after dinner, but I was 17 and in love (only I didn’t know it yet) and made this image in my mind of instead of a kitchen towel, it would be a baby blanket or burp rag he’d fling over his shoulder, followed by holding our baby. Our baby. Ok. That’s a little crazy to think that. But it was my romantic idealized mind.

Ever since that moment, I’d always imagined what our kids would look like. I’ve had dreams about our kids. I’ve thought about what kinds of parents we’d be, and how Aaron would have to be the disciplinarian of the two of us because if we had a little boy that had his irresistible curls and his disarming smile, it would be impossible for me to give a stern look and mean it.

I’ve thought about how maybe if we had a girl, she would be interested in music, and computers, and sewing, and running. Or maybe not. But I knew I’d want her to have my blue eyes and Aaron’s thick hair.

For years we’ve had names chosen. Good, strong, meaningful names. I imagined that over my pregnant belly I’d pray for my children, that they’d embody those names. I imagined that the first time I held them, I’d say the name out loud and instead of it being in a dream, it would be proclaiming that new being’s existence in this world. An existence that would contribute kindness, love, and Christ’s heart to the world. An existence that would be light.

Maybe I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never bear children of my own. In anyplace we’ve lived, I never could truly see that a child would also live there. Even now, in our new house, each bedroom has a purpose and not one of them seems like it could be a nursery.

The past four months have been reflective, of course, and a little crazy. We’ve been taking a break from trying because of Aaron recently getting out of the Army and tackling our major cross-country move to the East Coast. I also didn’t want to be preoccupied with infertility and pregnancy while home visiting with family over Christmas. From what I read and hear, so many infertile people have a hard time enjoying the holidays, and rightfully so. But I wanted to make the most of it, and I did.

I look back over the nearly two years since we started this walk (May of 2014) and I’m astonished at how I’ve changed. Physically, I’m worse off. With hormone fluctuations, stress, and coping, I’ve gained 25-30 pounds. That upsets me because I worked so hard several years ago to lose that weight and was able to maintain. I’m back to square one with running. That also upsets me because I was doing great after the Transmountain Half.. I was the fastest and fittest I’ve been and I let it all go.

Emotionally and mentally, I’ve been through the wringer. If it weren’t for this break and also the cessation of fertility meds, you’d find me back in therapy. I’ve been in some dark spaces in the past 6-8 months especially. I’ve felt a disconnect with my body and a betrayal despite the positive thoughts I’ve forced.

Spiritually, I don’t know where I’m at, to be honest. I love God. I know Jesus died for me so I could have new life. I pray. I do devotions. I’m still motivated to be involved in church. But as far as ‘God’s plan’… I’m not even sure what that means completely in the context of these circumstances. I do know that it means that my gifts and talents are to be used to show Christ on this earth and draw people to Him. Does it really matter what I do as long as I’m doing that?

I teach. I embrace each student I meet as a person before we even get into the material. Right now I have a herd of about 150 middle schoolers that I sub for every day. Soon I’ll have community college and continuing education students who will sit in my classes to learn English. I’ve been taking a hold of every opportunity Maryland will give me.

Teaching is my passion, and it’s evident to those who know me. Talking about ESOL lights up my day and puts the pep in my step. Some women feel this way about being a mother.

At this point, despite trying to become a mother for so long, I don’t know if I would feel that way. It scares me a little bit to think that maybe I wouldn’t feel that way about being a mother. I’ve always joked about how being a stay-at-home-mom would drive me crazy after awhile, but I think there’s some truth in that statement.

Maybe I know deep down where my call is. Some women are indeed called to a life of motherhood. And I guess there is a maternal aspect to teaching. But there’s also this constant knowledge that the students I have are not my own. They go off into their own lives and directions and I’m totally okay with that. I want them to not need me. It’s a relief to know that most of the time, they’ll leave our time together not needing me.

After all that, what I really wanted to say throughout all these words is that I’m taking time to grieve and heal. I’m at a bend in the road. I see a little bit ahead of me – isn’t that only what we all see, always? – and right now, I see students in desks with expectant looks on their faces and the promise of new relationships. New opportunities to love people and give them practical tools for life.

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.

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.