Infertility

Born for You

fullsizeoutput_a9

My routine is identical every year.

I watch the last child leave the church — the first Christmas Eve service rehearsal officially in the books — then I drive home, unlock the front door, set my purse and music down on the front entryway bench, walk to the living room, lower myself onto the couch, and cry.

I usually cry for the entire afternoon.

It’s not that I am unhappy. It is that I am sad-happy.

So many hugs. So many songs. So many curious queries. So many eager entreaties for personal attention. So many little heads turned toward mine for affirmation. So many children, and none of them mine and all of them mine.

My barren heart overdoses on the sweet stimulation, and it comes out as salt water on my pillow. Grief is strange that way. It’s triggered by happiness. To be loved stirs up memories of loves lost. So many children, but none of them from my home. None of them in my home.

This year, the tears started long before any of us left the church.

“Christ the child was born for you!” the children sang into my face. The words entered my ear but landed in my heart. “Christ the child was born for you!”

The final chord faded, and the children — my children — stared openly at my red cheeks, my wet eyes. One of them giggled nervously.

“It’s okay,” I reassured, wiping at the river. I tried to think of anything but the present moment. It wasn’t time to commit to the annual cry. Not just yet. I took a deep breath. “Do you realize what you just sang to me? Those words are so comforting. Jesus was born for me! He is born for you! Thank you for comforting me with your song.”

The children simply watched, mystified.

“I will try not to cry when you sing on Christmas Eve,” I winked, still wiping, “but I might. This song comforts me, and I sometimes cry when I am happy.”

One boy scrunched up his nose. “People cry when they’re happy?”

“Adults do,” I said. “At least, some of them.”

“Why?”

No one was giggling anymore. Everyone was listening.

“I think,” I started, “it’s because adults have known a bit of sadness in their life, so when they hear something comforting, it relieves them of their sadness. Crying is a way of relieving sadness. It is a way of being happy.”

It could be explained better, I think, but the children took my answer in stride. They usually do.

We sang some more songs. We practiced some more notes. Before the children left, some of them waited in line at the piano to tell me some of their wishes, to confide in me some of their hopes, to cry onto my shoulder some of their own sadnesses, and to hug my heart close to theirs.

Such sweet stimulation. Such sad-happiness.

I cried the rest of the day.

 

Yes. No. Wait.

“Does God answer prayers? Does He really? I’ve been praying for many years for a child, and it’s taking FOREVER. I’m trusting you, God, and I’m ready for children. Please, Lord, if it be Your will.”img_8280

Dear sister in Christ, I’ve been there. For many-a-year I prayed and prayed that God would give children to my husband and me. In my sin-sick mind, I just knew that His answer would be YES…immediately. That was not to be the case. With the help of some medication to boost the proper hormones, our daughter was born. Thanks be to God! He had given a YES to our prayers.

A couple of years later we hoped to add to our little family again. This was not to be the case, though. After multiple appointments, my doctor suggested IVF. I was firmly against the procedure. That seemed like a strong NO to our prayer. It took some time for my husband and me to pursue adoption. There was so much to consider: change in family structure, the wait-time, the finances for adoption, the mental adjustments for everybody. After much prayer, we decided to try the adoption process, even though there were no guarantees.

The paperwork was huge, but we pressed on. We were told that the entire process for adopting a child from China would last 13-14 months. Hooray! We could wait that amount of time. Perhaps this was another YES to prayers. The process would take much longer than 14 months. The months stretched to years, many years. Could this be a WAIT from God? During the interim, we were given permission to try a domestic adoption as well. This seemed agreeable to us. After completing even more paperwork, our profile was circulated among pregnant moms. Nobody seemed interested in us. Was this to be another NO to our prayers? Our two-year commitment to that program expired, and we did not renew our file. Still we waited.

After seven long years of praying and mourning, God answered our prayers with a YES. On this day, five years ago, we received our referral for our second daughter! Prayers of thanksgiving and tears abounded!

We were informed that we would be traveling a few short months later. Due to several hiccups, our trip to receive our little girl occurred more like five months later. It turned out to be a time of more waiting. God used this time to prepare ourselves, our families, and our church family for the joys that were to come.

Dear sister, I share these things with you, not to teach you that God will answer your prayers in the way that you want. Rather, I want you to know that God answers your prayers in the way that He deems best. Our desires do not always line up with God’s plans for us, and we desperately would like to be the ones who run the show. Not so. God knows our needs and provides in the best ways possible. He really does.

During our family prayer time this morning, we sang the hymn “What God Ordains Is Always Good.” The words are comforting and encouraging. I commend them to you this day.

What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed In every need
Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.

Lutheran Service Book 760:1

Second Edition

Have you had a chance to read He Remembers the Barren, yet?

If not, catch up on what’s new in the revised and extended second edition by listening to these recent interviews on Worldwide KFUO’s Faith ‘n’ Family show:

 

All Barren Women

I usually identify most with the shepherds in the story of Jesus’ birth, but this quote from Luther, brought to my attention by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes – husband to our Rebecca – bonds us in our barrenness to Mary:

“Although the boy [Isaac] was born from man and woman, he was born in such a way that he was born from God’s promise. Thus Paul calls him the boy of promise [Gal. 4:23], not of the flesh, because his mother was barren; but by the power of God she became fruitful. Hence all the barren women in Scripture are a figure of the virginity of Mary.”*

Yet another arrow pointing straight to Christ Jesus – the Author of Life, the Prince of Peace, and the Promise Fulfilled. How comforting!

Let it be to us according to Your Word, Lord.

* Martin Luther, sermon for Easter Tuesday afternoon (April 3, 1526), WA 20:353 (LW 56, forthcoming).

IMG_1445

“Porous Boundaries”

In his article “Why the Church Needs the Infertile Couple” (Christianity Today, May 2017), Matthew Lee Anderson openly addresses the well-meaning but oft-misplaced correlation the Church makes between the barren and adoption:

“Within the church, the pressure to have children is compounded by the rapidly expanding adoption movement. The correlation of infertility and God’s calling to adopt is sometimes left implied, but is more frequently overt and direct. But as writer Kevin White has observed, there is no more good that needs doing in this world than each of us are commanded to accomplish. The general exhortation to love one’s neighbor may sometimes require a couple to adopt, but sometimes it may not; infertility does not on its own make adoption obligatory. In fact, infertile couples might be uniquely at risk of treating adopted children as a means of fulfilling their own frustrated desires for a biological child, reducing them to an instrument of the parents’ happiness. It is tempting to view adoption as a path toward alleviating our own suffering and emptiness, rather than an expression of charity toward the child. In its ideal form, the call to adopt expands the horizons of a couple’s imaginations for their lives. Yet in its institutionalized expression, it risks reducing adoption to an obligation upon the infertile, which would undermine its gratuitous character.

Which is not to say that those who choose medical intervention or adoption are selfish. By no means! But like any good, they can tempt toward idolatry, transforming human life and God’s graciousness from a gift to an earned reward for years of hard work and pain. 

The church might want to resist the pressure for marriages to have children through any means possible, and hold on instead to infertility as a unique and irreplaceable witness within its inner life. It is easy to look at such sadness and think that if we can avoid it, we are best off doing so. But the church might lose something crucial if there are no childless marriages in our midst. That we can make children through IVF does not entail that we should. But widespread acceptance of IVF means that we risk forgetting both the struggles of permanent barrenness and its unique virtues. The special vocation of the infertile means recalling the church to goods that our technologically sophisticated world has forgotten and obscured.”

Anderson goes on to explain that barren marriages give testimony to the true Source of life:

“One aspect of the vocation of the infertile is that the frustrated willingness to bear children reminds the church that our children are gifts from Providence. The glad assumption of sorrow and laments – a paradoxical, but necessary form of life – by those who are barren testifies within the church (and beyond) that the power to make new life comes from God and not from ourselves. Children are not made; they are given. Man and woman throw themselves upon the grace of fate in trying to bring a child into the world. The emergence of new human life is a miracle, as the infertile well know.”

Yes, we do.

Anderson also explains that the “porous boundaries” of the barren’s paternal and maternal love “take their form beyond the walls of the family” and “allow for strangers and neighbors to receive gifts they would not know otherwise.”

“[I]nfertile couples help expand the scope of familial love. Like adoptive couples, their ongoing hope bears witness to the church that the most basic character of parenthood is not biological. But unlike adoptive couples, the infertile must extend their marital and parental love outside the family itself. Maternal and paternal love are not given only to mothers and fathers, biological or otherwise. They are the mature form of married love, and thus are available to any couple, fertile or not. The glory of the union of man and woman can be given to others through non-biological, non-procreative means.”

Even as we wait on the Lord for children of our own, sisters, let us not neglect our God-given “porous boundaries.”


Anderson, Matthew Lee. “Why the Church Needs the Infertile Couple.Christianity Today. May 2017: 49-52.

Dear Mothers

Do you know what I like to hear?

I like to hear the sound of your children crying and fussing in church. It’s not that I want you to be having a hard time in the pew. It’s that I am so thankful you are in the pew, period. Your children may be throwing an unholy fit on Sunday morning, but you are doing holy work in parenting and teaching and disciplining your children. Keep coming, even though they cry. Keep heeding Christ’s call to “let the little children come to Me,” and know that you are not alone. I may be childless, but I am praying for you and rooting for you and, yes, admiring you.

Do you know what I like to see?

I like to see your children in restaurants and libraries and concert halls and museums. I don’t mind when they knock over their milk glass or take too long in the bathroom stall or read too loudly in the fiction aisle or clap inappropriately in the middle of the Et in Terra Pax movement of Bach’s B Minor Mass or giggle at a Picasso. How else will they be able to learn and understand and appreciate and interpret the arts if they are never exposed to them? You are serving all of us when you take your children to these sanctuaries of beauty, and it is magic watching you apply measured instruction to the curious eyes, noses, tongues, hands, and hearts of your children. If I can be of any help, please ask.

Do you know what I like to hope?

I like to hope that I will someday be given the chance to mother children like you. But as I wait on the Lord, I am comforted by the sight and sound of your children. They remind me that your vocation, though blessed, is nothing for me to covet. You have your own challenges and sorrows and burdens to carry each day, and my empty hands have been made to help you.

I am so thankful that God has given us to each other.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Love,

Katie

6a00d8341c3e3953ef017ee3e59c34970d-800wi copy

Mayday

No tree wants to be barren, especially in the height of spring.

And when the sun rises on the second Sunday of May, the barren tree closes her eyes against the dreaded dawn. There is no hiding her leafless limbs in this public light. Her bare bark stands out in stark, dark contrast to the other verdant trees in the forest. No blossom crowns her head this Mother’s Day, no fruit snuggles against her naked breast. She has but one, lone Shoot growing from her sterile stump.

“I can bear no fruit,” she laments to the sunrise.

“I AM bearing all of the fruit you need in this life,” answers the Shoot, sprouting leaves of salvation, truth, and love. “I AM the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me bears much fruit. By this my Father is glorified.”

“But my children are dead,” she cries.

The Shoot stretches its arms wide to shade her gaping womb. “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

“I am alone,” she mourns.

“I AM with you. And so are they.”

The tree opens her eyes to see a robin returning from a morning scavenge, feeding her babies nesting on a forgotten limb.

“But these are not my children.”

“They are yours to serve,” explains the Shoot. “They depend on you for support. I give them to you to shelter and protect. Love them as yourself.”

The barren tree – through no strength of her own – stands tall, lest the baby birds should fall.


Artist Edward Riojas has captured the poignant reality of barrenness in his exquisite cover artwork for He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition.

This moving painting is now available for purchasing. Do you have someone in your life who might appreciate a giclée print of it this Mother’s Day?

He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition