Many of you know, because I haven’t been the slightest bit shy about it, that our little family’s growth came to a grinding halt after our second child due to sudden Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome symptoms and what’s known as “secondary infertility.” We had two daughters very easily and then nothing. Suddenly I was riddled with strange symptoms. My body was like a foreign alien, and my main dream in life was shattered.
I’ll just give the recap of our family’s story so that I can share about what God taught me in November/December of last year – the point of this blog post. It will be a long post, but stick with me and please read through until the end.
Some people dream of being corporate businessmen, others dream of being teachers or social workers and training and saving children. Some dream of traveling the world or being a firefighter or an astronaut.
All I dreamed of, besides writing books, was having a large family that I could raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and homeschool and love.
When I became a mother almost 5 ½ years ago, I called my husband one day at work and said, “This is what I was MADE for. This is the most fulfilled I have ever been.”
Four years later, when I began homeschooling, I called him again and said, “I take it back. THIS is the happiest I’ve ever been. A mother AND a homeschool mom. It truly doesn’t get better than this. I could do this for the rest of my life.”
My girls became Christians young (both at age 3) and are my best friends and usually nothing but joy. Yet strangers in grocery stores would make comments like, “Must have your hands full” and I thought, “With these two?!” Never. Matter of fact, I had time on my hands enough to write a few books these last two years in the evenings. These girls are sweet, quiet, adorable things.
I was totally ready to grow my family. The girls prayed for their dad to be ready for #3, I prayed for my husband to be ready, and we waited. After a year, my husband heard a Bible study talk on the Leviticus passages on discharges and mildew – passages most likely to skip over! But the teaching leader’s sermon was on obeying God in the things that don’t make sense. He explained that even when God’s commands seem like they might be a challenge, if we just obey, his yoke is easy and light. And my husband came home with a new peace in his heart, and said, “I feel led to try for #3.”
My “Happiness Wall” for my first baby back in 2010
I went out and bought a stuffed animal, homecoming baby outfit, and journal – all prematurely of course – just because it’s what I always do.
Over time, I stuffed that bundle of baby stuff under my bed in a grocery sack and hoped I’d someday look at it again. We couldn’t get pregnant.
My emotions were a roller coaster. I had a doctor who waved my concerns aside, saying I was 28 years old and got pregnant fine before. “Just give it time, girl. Don’t stress.”
I said, “No, I know my body. None of this is normal. Something’s wrong.”
She finally gave in and gave me Clomid, which made me swell up until I had to take my rings off, my shoes were tight, and I felt like my face had become a balloon. I put on weight and couldn’t take it off. I got medicine-induced mood swings that made me so depressed I would sob and rant and not know what was happening to me. I was filled with so much self-loathing for my body, that didn’t work and looked like a balloon, that I finally covered up my bathroom mirror in pillowsheets and Bible verses so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. I hated myself so much, I had thoughts of harming myself. I finally understood what it was like to have a touch of chemical depression as the meds messed with my head. I have so much more sympathy for those who have to go through that. After three months, I got off and gave up on meds.
Our church went through a merge that we didn’t feel was a good fit for us personally and we started looking around. At the first church we visited, which we eventually went back to, the pastor’s wife and I hit it off and she mentioned a new doctor and a new drug. So I tried that too, especially after the claims that it wouldn’t be as bad as Clomid. Letrozole was the new up and coming thing, after it had only been used for breast cancer before. It was this new doc that found the polycystic ovarian symptoms I had, and informed me, after an ultrasound that I bravely submitted myself to, that I actually wasn’t ovulating at all.
In the midst of all of this, my emotions were a rollercoaster. Every first Sunday of the month, during communion, I would confess my discontentment, my desire for control, and my idol of this perfect, large, homeschool family I dreamed of. I wanted to be the women with twenty kids. I used to name my twenty fake kids when *I* was a kid. I used to write stories about my future family. Even my peers said I was “motherly.” There was the one that described me as a “fuzzy mother hamster.” This was what I was made for. Then why did I only have my two precious daughters? Why wasn’t God answering their persistent prayers for a baby sibling? Would I never even get a son? Would that longing for a constant stream of babies through my arms be snatched away from me?
Me with Baby #1 in 2011
It’s hard to even write this knowing how some people want children and can’t have any at all – yet I had two. I even watched my godly mother-in-law lose her youngest daughter. I was awestruck, even then, by her righteous response. But I was too new into our infertility journey, and my heart was unwilling to repent at that time. I would think back to her amazing response later though, it sitting with me in spite of my own anger at God.
But one day I woke up and went, “Pathetic or not, stupid or not, THIS is shaking my faith. So I need to come to grips with the fact that it’s serious and I better get down on my knees daily about it instead of comparing myself to everyone else and trying to shove it under a rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.”
But it was still a back and forth battle. I would pray before every single pregnancy test. I coped in a variety of good and bad ways – the time I walked out of communion and my husband had to find me in the side alley next to the church vs. the time I read through all of Job and wrote a really special blog post about how amazing God was and how I could trust Him. Or the time I thought, “Fine! I’ll just splurge on clothing spontaneously!” and bought myself a fancy dress that ended up getting ruined the first time I wore it vs. the time I wrote a poem about God working on my heart and asked everyone to pray. Or the time I cried for hours at my husband and blamed him for more than his fair share of everything vs. the time I sat down with my kids and talked through idols and how God was working on me. It felt like there wasn’t a single day I could predict how I could react, and the inconsistency and fight to surrender was killing me
And the worst part was that, all throughout this battle, God was silent.
I never heard from Him, I never felt His peace, and He did not take away my suffering. He didn’t cure me or heal me or even take away my desire to have more children. I prayed hard that He would just take away my desire. I prayed hard that I would feel His presence. But it felt like He vanished, and that made me more heartbroken and angry.
In November, one of my very best friends in the whole world, Bethany Jennings, informed me that her 3-year-old daughter was regressing. She couldn’t drink well out of a cup, she was stumbling when she walked, her speech was slurring, and her eyes drifting.
At first I didn’t want to believe her, hoping it was just motherly paranoia, but I’ll never forget the day I requested she video her daughter, Cora, so I could see. I watched, horrified, at how much the little girl had regressed from when I had seen her in April. Something was seriously wrong, and it was probably in her brain. My chest tight with anxiety, I prayed that their visit with the specialist would come as quickly as possible.
Cora Jennings was diagnosed with an AVF (arteriovenous fistula) – like a swollen blood vessel – over her brain stem. It was compressing her whole brain, causing many neurological problems; she was losing the ability to walk, talk, chew, swallow, and other dangerous effects. My friend went to the best neurointerventalists in the nation, and he had never seen anything quite like Cora’s specific problem and its unusual formation. He was stumped and went into strategy mode with a ton of his colleagues.
There was a real possibility that my best friend’s second born daughter, her precious little fair-haired princess would die.
I had a three-year-old daughter. What if it had been me?
For the first time in a while, God shook me out of my own stupor to care for my friend, who showed nothing but firm resolve and faith that God would do what was best. If God planned on taking her three-year-old out of this earth, then she wanted to lead thousands to Christ because of it. Her posts, and even her private IM chats with me, showed nothing but beautiful faith, real raw emotions coupled with such a love for her Savior, and a hopeful attitude about how God would use their family. We started the page Praying for Cora together, and Bethany wrote her godly thoughts down for thousands to read, people who were touched and followed her page, eating up her words and being moved by the Holy Spirit inside of her.
I couldn’t imagine having that kind of faith and peace, and wondered why God had never given that to me. I wanted more children and I was being a brat. I couldn’t imagine contemplating one of my children being taken away! I felt awed and humbled.
The Jennings live on the east coast, and the risky, never-been-done-before operation to stop the swelling flow of blood was happening in the morning. For me it was in the middle of the night.
I set my alarm to 4 AM and started praying. On my knees at first, then jogging in circles around my living room, I pleaded with God for her life. I had never gotten up in the middle of the night and stayed up to pray. I knew so many people were doing so with me, but in my house it was silent, still, and I was alone. I had to come face to face with God, and it finally wasn’t about my secondary infertility. It was about something more important. I would take infertility over my friend losing her little girl, and that was the first time some of my clenched fingers came loose in my heart. Maybe I was willing to surrender my dreams after all.
I watched the sunrise, something I hadn’t done for possibly a decade, and took pictures, feeling closer to God than I had in a while.
When the call finally came hours later that Cora had been saved, that the operation had been a smashing success, and that she was going to okay, I fell into a relieved, exhausted sleep. Praise the Lord for His mercies!
I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my husband’s family that next week, thanking God for new answers to prayer, reading IM messages from Bethany about Cora’s progress and recovery.
My heart was being softened and I didn’t even know it.
A mere few weeks later, I traveled to Iowa, to a town on the border of Nebraska, to a part of the country I forgot existed and had never been to before. It was a mild winter for them, with only one thunderstorm and a brief bit of nippiness. I had been invited to play the piano in the wedding of a former piano and voice student, who was a kindred-spirited best friend as well. He was marrying the young lady he met in school in Iowa and I was his honorary “groomsman,” his former teacher playing his favorite songs. It was a special honor, and playing in my students’ weddings was always on my bucket list. This was the second time I got to do so, and I was thrilled.
My friend, the groom, can be scatterbrained, to put it mildly 😛 , and he didn’t even let me know who I would be staying with while I was out from Thursday-Sunday until the day before. I was told I’d get to board with an honorary aunt, a friend of the bride’s who was as close as family, and who had also put my friend up when he came out to stay and work there a summer. He gave me her number and we texted each other a picture so we’d know who was who when I showed up the airport. I thought, “Here goes nothing!”
She walked in with a cane but had a young face. I later found out she was in her early forties, so not old enough to be my aunt, but not quite a peer either.
I was in and out in a whirlwind of joyful fellowship, enjoying old Texan friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and wedding prep and practice. But every evening the aunt and I would sit and talk far too late into the night. She’s one of those that it’s easy to just get started with and never stop. It came out that I was a writer, and I gave her the address of this blog. Unbeknownst to me, she perused a bunch of my articles.
Me with my iconic pink tips 😛 next to the groom to my left 🙂
The very last night, after the wedding was over (It was beautiful!) and I had stayed and laughed my head off with the other young people in a hotel room, I returned nice and late to the aunt’s house. She and her husband were talking, and let me in on their chat.
After the aunt’s husband went back to work (Hard-working man that maintains multiple jobs and puts in many late hours at night doing so!), the aunt decided to trust me. Based on the recommendation from the groom? Based on what she had read from my blog? Based on the comments I made? Based on the look in my eyes or our conversation? I should ask her sometime. But for some reason, even though I was still a bit of a stranger, she made the plunge to trust me with her story.
Guys. I met Job that day.
On December 12, 2015, the same day my good friend and student got married, I met Job.
I didn’t know that Job lived in the twenty-first century, nor that he had an auto-immune disorder that left his limbs aching and hurting most of the time, nor that he was a 40-something homeschool mom in a big, beautiful, older home in a little town in Iowa.
But I tell you, he does.
Those of you who remember my Job post from last year might recall that the only thing that truly comforted me in the time of so many “whys” was Job, specifically when God speaks at the end.
Nothing else can comfort in this broken world better than the thought of how great and big God is.
How He doesn’t answer to us for His decisions, how He does what He deems best, and how He so poignantly and even sarcastically points out how much He can do as God that Job couldn’t dream of. In my darkest hours, when I truly thought, “I’d stop trying to be a Christian right now except that I know I can’t because I am His, and because there is nothing else,” I’d read Job and know that I could never escape Him, and the best place to be was by His side, even if it felt like He was crushing my soul with His decisions. That, in the end, my only hope of peace and comfort and understanding was sitting at His feet.
Because Job suffered so very, very much.
And so does this woman in Iowa, this adopted aunt of my dear friend.
In all my life, I have never heard a story as horrific as hers. I didn’t think anyone could suffer this much.
I won’t go into the particulars because of my broad audience, and because that is her private story that I would never want the responsibility of telling, but just know that this woman and Job will sit at God’s right hand some day. I know it in my deepest heart.
As she sat and talked to me, and as the tears ran down my cheeks, the horror and jagged broken pieces of my heart piercing me, and as I held her hand and listened, she said words I will never ever ever forget:
“I. Love. God.”
I was dumbfounded.
She continued. “He is good. And I can say that, even though my trial hasn’t ended for all these years, even though I’ve developed health ailments on top of everything and been rejected more times than I can count, even though I don’t see an end in sight, even though I was once suicidal and didn’t think I could stand living… I know that God is good and that I love Him and want to follow Him all of my days.” She was not bitter. Her pure faith filled the room. I was seeing someone again who had it far worse than I did – far worse suffering than I could imagine. And, like Bethany Jennings, she had nothing but faithful joy radiating from her eyes.
But she took it a step further, and that was the clincher. “So I saw on your blog that you were struggling with some infertility,” she soothed kindly. “That must be so hard. I know what it’s like to have your womb just cry out.”
My chin was quivering now and I was trying to keep from sobbing. “You… DEIGN… to talk to me about my MEASLY ‘trial’ after all you have been through? Why?”
And she said, “Because it’s still a trial and because I care and because I feel for you.”
And she went on to counsel me in a way only a Job reincarnate could. And she didn’t see me as pathetic under her feet but she engaged in my pittance of suffering. And she challenged and encouraged me.
I went to my bed that night and cried until I fell asleep. I cried the plane ride back home. I cried when I saw my husband and little girls coming towards me in the airport bearing flowers. I cried when I told my husband the story at home. I cried every day that next week.
The very next day after I got home, it was a surprisingly warm day for the northwest, and I took the girls to a new park. The sun was out, which was also a rare treat, and the sky was clear. I sat on the park equipment, my face lifted to the sun, my eyes closed, and I began to thank God for all that He had given me. For all that I had.
And lastly, my bitterness finally gone, I opened my hand completely, baring my palm to Him. And I said, “Thank You for my infertility. Because I know that, without it, I could not be Christlike. Thank You for what You have decided to do in me.”
I was not the same after that.
Now God didn’t magically heal me just because I said, “Thank You.” I pretty much despise when people tell me, “Just stop stressing and it will happen” or “All I had to do was surrender and then God gave me what I wanted,” as if we follow this works-religion that tells us our life is all up to us and we just have to repeat some magic words or go through a chain of actions to make God do what we want. I know some pretty godly people who aren’t stressing and have fully surrendered, and are still fully entrenched in their trial.
I still teared up when I got negative pregnancy tests, and I realized that was okay. It wasn’t me being angry, it was okay to still be sad. I still had times I really doubted He could heal me. And He still felt distant and I couldn’t hear His voice or feel His peace.
Six more months of this passed, during which I started going to the new doctor recommended to me by the pastor’s wife, conquered a decade-old fear (Woot!) that I won’t talk about here, and started a new med. I was convicted I needed to have faith that God could do a miracle, while still trusting that even if He didn’t, this was what was best for His glory and our family. And encouraging my daughters to not lose their faith as well, but to continue to pray.
I still had emotions that swung up and down, but never the same depression, never the same anger.
I was changed.
Fast forward to the present. I was on a double dose of the new med, Letrozole (Femara), trying again after a failed month of it. My childhood friend was in town from Idaho for the weekend, and my parents were flying into town the next day. Summer was in full swing, and the days were longer and easier. I got over two colds and a stomach bug all through the month of May, and was just grateful for good health and sunshine.
I had recently shared my testimony at the end-of-the-year Bible study (BSF) fellowship day, and had spoken about what God had taught me through studying Revelation, Job, and my good friends.
“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!” Revelation 4:9
After I spoke at BSF, I had finally felt God’s presence subtly, like he was holding me around the shoulders, pleased with me. The sensation filled me up.
Putting out feelers into my author community, I asked for audio book suggestions while I gave my house a deep clean. Jennifer Westall replied to me and sent me a free copy of her book Healing Ruby, a depression-era story seeped in the gospel and realistic drama. Doctrinal disagreements aside, main character Ruby’s faith made me tear up. She was nursing a sick young man with tuberculosis, and challenged him boldly when he got depressed.
She admonished, “God CAN heal you. God has the power to heal you. Have faith in what He’s doing! Have faith in His love for you! Never let your faith waver!”
After finishing the book, I laid my hand on my stomach and prayed for God’s healing, asking Him to forgive me for doubting Him. I may not be angry any more, but I thought God had moved on and wouldn’t do what felt like the impossible.
I pulled out my pregnancy test two days ago on Monday, for the umpteenth time, just going through the motions. I sat down on the bathroom floor, my back to the wall, waiting to check to make sure the test was negative so I could go back to bed. I prayed like I always did, that my attitude would be peaceful and godly when I got yet another no, and I counted the seconds in my head, my heart racing like it always did in spite of me. The light was off and the bathroom was dark, dimly lit by the sun poking up over the horizon.
After only two minutes, I wanted to crawl back in bed, so I got up on my knees and peeked at the test. There was the clear, bold, negative line. Immediately my mind spun with, ‘What will the doctor say next? This was the third month of Letrozole. I thought it was working, and I was ovulating for the first time in who knows how long. Does that mean something else is wrong with us? What other options are there?” But immediately I shut down my brain. Go to bed and don’t worry. The night before, when I had prayed to the Lord on my face about the pregnancy test of the next day, I had finally heard Him speak. “Rest,” He seemed to say. “Go to bed and rest.” So I had. And I wanted to do so now.
Yet something pulled me back. Did you even look at it in the light? Before I tossed the pregnancy test in the trash, disappointed but resigned, I flipped on the light.
In the darkness, I had missed it.
It was so faint.
But it was THERE.
A faint, light, SECOND LINE.
I AM PREGNANT!!!!!!!
When I called Bethany and the aunt in Iowa, they cried with me, telling me their hands were shaking, voices full of tears.
I am SO THANKFUL for God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You will now glorify me more by being pregnant than not. This valley is over.”
And, as my ecstatic five-year-old remarked, “God answers prayer!! This is God’s love gift to us!” Because the due date? It’s Valentines’ Day 2017. Yep, February 14th.
God’s love gift indeed.
I may never know God’s timing, or why He had me wait, other than knowing it was to clean house in my heart and make me more like Him. I may also never know why He decided, like Rachel in the Bible, to “remember me” and lift His hand and bless me in this way.
But I am thankful. SO VERY THANKFUL!! I am thankful for the prayers, encouragement, testimonies, faithfulness, and love of all of the saints who surrounded me in this process, and I am thankful that God gave me my heart’s desire when I didn’t deserve it. I am thankful that He showed Himself the doer of things impossible to my little girls, and answered their prayers.
I am excited to share this happy-surprise-twist ending with you, but would have shared what God taught me no matter how it ended, even if I didn’t have a single other child.
God can do anything. But sometimes He first wants you to sit and meet Job. ❤