I think if a person writes a long post about faith on the upswing, it’s only fair to write a post about faith on the downswing. So.
Life stays messy, and part of faith is acknowledging the mess and then taking some deep breaths and moving forward in the decision to remain content instead of living in the feeling of discontent. I will now take this opportunity to step away from the “we” and reclaim the “I”, since J has no idea what I’m about to write and may or may not endorse these feelings as his own. Probably not, because it involves sitting in the Lowe’s parking lot on the day after Mother’s Day with a six pack of Dunkin Donut holes (I said holes, babe! Not entire donuts!) and a kid-size cup of caffeinated coffee. In moments of high stress, I like to place as few demands on myself as possible, which means eating whatever I want and watching back-to-back DVR episodes of Revenge or something. Let’s get crazy.
The day after Mother’s Day, I continued to not be knocked up despite our prayers and hopes, and also that tiny little piece of us that clings to the could instead of the is. Denial or Optimism? Who knows. Either way, it should not be shocking, but somehow each time it still is. And each time this happens, I find myself telling myself: Fine. You don’t care about me? I don’t care about you. Especially you, adrenals, which I have been so diligently protecting since last fall. About every 4 weeks, I feed them donuts and caffeine. And also, Tangeray and tonic and some of those tiny cookies from Whole Foods by the handful. Then I feel very sorry and tell myself I didn’t mean it. I buy myself annuals from Lowes and reschedule an appointment or two to get my shiz together, plant some flowers, water the yard, drink my kid-size caffeinated coffee, do some abdominal breathing, and take some walks. I confess everything to J that very night during the middle of some sentence about how I feel so fat, and he doesn’t judge. He says: Yeah. Sometimes it’s okay to do those things. I browse through some Prayers for a Privileged People to recalibrate my perspective (I am privileged. You are privileged.) and some tequila Anne Lamott to take the edge off. Then, eventually, I drag myself back to the salad train and resume normal life.
This process ranges anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days.
Sometimes a Dill Weed incident happens. You know things are bad when someone in the house opens the pantry door, and the Dill Weed falls out and shatters, and that person makes a joke about Dill Weed and laughs, and then you explode, like, 8 minutes later to the Dill Weed person, because your computer died and you blame it on the Dill Weed spill. Displacement much? In our house, we now call each other Dill Weed. We also apologize to guests for our lack of screens on their windows and make references to buying children instead of screens. We would very much like screens, but we have to purchase a child first.
The point to all this is that: a) coffee and donut moments exist even when you know that you know that you know God is good. It’s okay. Just try not to get stuck there; and b) God sometimes moonlights as a DJ. When I was sitting in the car at Lowe’s that Monday morning with my mini-coffee and my 6 holes, nurturing the disappointment in a way I can only do all by myself, because all by myself is the only place I’m comfortable grieving something that never was, God sent another song to me on the radio. I’ve heard this song a thousand million times, but it especially mattered that morning, and filled up all those tiny holes inside the coffee and Dunkin were pouring through.
I’m not real sure how to wrap this up except to say that sometimes donut holes in parking lots carry me to the next place God will meet me, because He always does show up.
The appropriateness of sharing with the entire Internet news about things like babies, or lack thereof, is unclear. For a minute (well, for 14 months) we have cocooned ourselves in a comforting and necessary privacy to navigate this strange experience together- the experience of not being pregnant. But in my own heart, which knows no interpersonal boundaries, which shares anything and everything with most everyone, a strange combination of fear/denial/uncertainty kept taking my words away. Taking my words away. This never happens! There are 190 posts over a span of 4 years on this blog. Part of the problem is that things like infertility aren’t so funny. I have a blackbelt in crafting hilarity out of awful and/or inappropriate things. Except this one time.
Then an old friend went and posted her journey in a space where I (on the comfort of my own porch swing) sat straight up and yelled inside my head, ME TOO! Not just the part about grief and sadness, but the part about overwhelming blessings and God’s presence in the middle of an awful experience. In my head I thought: GOD HAS SUSTAINED US! I HAVE TO TELL HER!
Which brings me to my own space: God has sustained us. I have to tell you.
After several rounds of blood draws, a laparoscopy, surgery to remove endo, an HSG (pray this procedure never happens to you), and several hours/days in a Reproductive Endocrinologist office, here is the punchline: I do not make mature eggs (yes, I will be using grown-up words like “ovary” and “egg”). I imagine my ovaries like that Cheeze-It commercial: A guy with a clipboard is evaluating the maturity of my eggs, who are just hanging around throwing paper airplanes and telling knock-knock jokes.
(Get it together, eggs!)
Throughout this process, we have experienced bottom of the barrel questions and thoughts that can be summed up nicely by my pal Anne Lamott: I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish (Bird by Bird). Here is an example: Why do some people have to pay $20k for a baby, and other people get to have one for free?
We have crumpled in shame immediately after those thoughts, because we have more blessings than we could ever list. If our lives remained exactly as they are today for the rest of our time on earth, we would be happy and thankful.
In those exact same moments, we have lived within the peacefulness and certainty of the answers to these questions: Are we enough for each other? Is God enough for each of us? Yes. And Yes. If He asks this of us, do we trust God to do something meaningful with our lives that doesn’t include a house in Carmel with a couple of kids? Would we be able to live with joy and purpose? Yes. And Yes.
Do you believe both the questions and the certainty of the answers can happen simultaneously? I do. I think that’s what makes it faith.
In the same vein, we have sincerely and wholeheartedly celebrated new birth and pregnancies of at least 4 friends within this period of time. Do you believe God can split a heart in half in such a way it’s able to feel such sorrow in its own loss, and such excitement in someone else’s joy? He can. He can do anything.
We have been 90% calm and confident in God’s goodness in our lives (J) and 10% loony and fit-throwy (Me). We have grief-eaten popcorn in bed and grief-watched International House Hunters and/or The Office for several hours on at least one occasion. J might deny this.
I have taken daily hour-long walks with Sara Groves on the iPod, creating a time and space for God to walk with me. Ask how many years its been since I carved out a time and space to be with God. Not to pray or ask or serve or showcase: but to exist with him in an unfilled space. A deep, peaceful breath began to flow through me during those walks. Don’t mistake this for resolved feelings, or unshed tears- the mention of this circumstance will bring up an emotional reaction in 10 seconds flat. But within 2 days, smiles returned, unexplained joy and gratitude filled us up, and life moved forward.
I have practiced yoga, and during my hour-long class, found myself commenting to God how amazing the body is, instead of how defective it is. How spectacular the circulatory system is, and the digestive system, and the liver. The miracle, I have realized—the exception, not the rule—is that we are alive. That our skin comes together and holds everything in. That our blood flows and our hearts beat. That we breathe in and out and are given a certain number of days to complete a certain task in the world, and that we think somehow our lives belong to us. We are created, and we exist so long as our creator continues to breathe life into our pile of bones and skin and muscle. Each time we breathe in and out, we are experiencing a tremendous, fantastic, unbelievable miracle. I believe that’s called worship. Worship in my yoga practice.
We have eaten the required amounts of fruits and vegetables (almost) every single day for 4 months. We have replaced coffee with tea. We have limited red meat, sugar and dairy. In February, after an entire Fall season of immune issues and blood draws, my doctor asked, “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” I said, “No. As a matter of fact, I eat cookies and bread and lots of cheese.” She prescribed me several vitamins, a probiotic, and a regimen of fruits and vegetables. Would you believe I fed my body cookies and bread and cheese for 31 years, and then got mad at it for not functioning with precision? If body were not connected to brain, it would have punched me in the face. Would you believe I asked God why my body isn’t working properly while eating a chocolate torte for breakfast? For 4 months, I have made salad jars on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week for lunch. Each morning I make a fruit smoothie with greens in it. Rest assured that even if I choose to eat Snickers for the entire rest of the day past 1pm, I will have already consumed my minimal daily required amounts of vitamins and minerals, and can now answer the previous question with a little bit of self-respect: Yes, I eat fruits and vegetables. I had never before taken the time or energy to feed myself adequately.
We have regained control of our budget. This is important because we never really knew we lost control until we needed something. Poor planning, a tiny bit of greed and self-indulgence, and some unavoidable life events (don’t wait 5 years to go to the dentist) forced us to re-evaluate our habits and values.
Those are the things we have done. Here are the things God has done.
First off, He didn’t drink gin straight out of the cat dish. He put his arm around me in my car when I was thinking those awful thoughts about how life couldn’t get any worse, and sent this song to me on the radio, demonstrating that God even provides words for the prayer when you can’t think of any (skip the ad):
He did hold on to me. He didn’t let me lose my way. And He may have broken my iPhone, too, I’m not sure. My iPhone shattered that day, and it pushed me to the cusp of sanity.
I called J on my shattered screen, and before I could say anything negative, the sound of his voice offered truth and perspective in these things:
For unknown reasons except grace and goodness, God has given me Jeff: a wholly undeserved shower of God’s own love, faithfulness, creativity, humor and compassion on a daily basis. A person somewhere is longing for this. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we are cared for by others. A person somewhere cannot identify one single support person in his or her life. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we live in a privileged place. A person right this very second is standing in a refugee camp somewhere waiting to live to any place. For no reason but the grace of God, we have too much food. Somebody very close to me is hungry right now. We have joy in our lives, not fear. A person right now is living in fear of bombs, or dictators, or ownership. And for unknown reasons but our privileged lot in life, we have one viable medical option, and while the money appears to be a significant setback, we are able to budget. Someone right now doesn’t have a single dime to his or her name, nor do they live in a place that offers a “Reproductive Endocrinologist”. For someone right now, even three months of injections with a 25% success rate isn’t an option. Lord, have mercy. Our cups runneth over.
God brought to the surface things in our lives that needed healing: our health, our diet, our finances, our faith, although all seemed fine before this crisis. And God has provided us with the warmest community of support and compassion in women/couples who “understand this most intimate pain” (Kim’s words) before we even had to ask for it.
The awareness of God in our lives, our communication with and total reliance on Him, our awareness of our lifestyle in regards to the foods we’re eating and the money we spend on things, and our thankfulness for other gifts- like eachother- have increased dramatically.
I heard a quote at the Global Leadership Conference last year about a missionary guy who was fleeing for his life due to the practice of his faith. When someone from the US told him we would be praying for him, the missionary said to the US guy: “WE will be praying for YOU! I hear there are people in America who can go an entire day without praying because they have found a way to be sufficient without God.”
I do not lie when I say this: I prayed that day God would make me more reliant on Him. I felt like a pansy over here, forgetting about God because I was accidentally meeting my own needs. And then we saw the Endocrinologist who said, Welp. You don’t make mature eggs, sorry.
I can’t fix my own eggs, obviously. And I don’t think God ordained my eggs to be immature. In fact, I belive God sits next to me on the porch swing with more empathy than I could fathom, heartbroken over the disaster his earth and population and creation have become. There are lots of things that can be traced back to the exact moment they went awry- BPA, antibiotics and hormones in chickens, melanoma. And there are lots of things that just don’t make any sense.
I don’t understand the theology of infertility, not even a little. But I don’t think God creates disorder. He creates perfect things, and the depravity of human nature disrupts them. This is not the way He designed it. And I just read in Crazy Love (Francis Chan) that God has as much right to ask us- Why are your bodies defective? Why are my people starving? Why is there cancer? As we have to ask him- Why is my body defective? Why are people starving? Why is there cancer? Humans create disorder, and God doesn’t always save us from it. I don’t know why. But what God promises is that He will use the disorder to draw us closer, and to make something beautiful out of what darkness tried to steal.
In a tiny whisper, I tell you: I am content in this circumstance.
Some things end, but then other things begin. My little NOLA church wrote this a couple years ago, and it stuck with me: We will remember the storm (or the aunt, or the friend, or the city, or the experience) and give sacred honor, but in worship we inherit all things anew for this day.
So thankful for all new and beautiful things inherited today.