Monday, May 30, 2011

Connection & Community

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.-- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Connection. We all need it. God Himself said that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). The Bible gives important information on how to be a friend and why we need community. Real connection, real community. They didn't have Facebook in Bible times but I'm pretty sure that's not the type of relationship they were talking about. They meant the real old-fashioned face-to-face friendship. The stuff of 'Happy Days' and 'I Love Lucy'.

Community. In my experience that's been a word far over-used in the church. Like fellowship. Community should be about people coming together, sharing friendship, sharing faith, sharing trouble as well as joys. In my experience, that hasn't always been the case. But perhaps that's what makes finding a real community, or creating one, so amazing.

Connection and community, two things I've shied away from for the past few years. Shied? Okay, slight (major) under-exaggeration. I ran away from it full speed ahead, do no pass go, do not collect $200. Trusting people can lead to hurt, and being part of a community can lead to over-exposure and gossip. Can. Doesn't mean 'will' or 'always' or 'has to'. It means there is a possibility for it. Then again, there's a possibility that as I type this a 747 will drop the sky and kill me. Or little purple fairies will come out of the cd-rom drive and deafen me with their banshee scream. Both are unlikely but both could happen. Maybe. Not too sure about the plane.

Over the last year I've started to open my heart again. I realized that if I was ever going to have friends, real friendships, real connections with anyone outside of my family, I would have to take some risks. I'd have to do the reaching out. I found out that reaching out doesn't have to be a big production; it's a joke, a word of encouragement, it can be a moment of commiserating (isn't it so good to know we're not alone in our frustrations sometimes?). And those moments can build into friendships. Friendship doesn't mean hanging out together every weekend and going to dinner every Friday night. It can. Sometimes that's how it materializes. But sometimes friendship simply looks like people laughing, people looking forward to seeing each other (even if it is at work), people connecting.

Every now and then I am thunderstruck to discover I have a community. True, the people in it don't necessarily know each other. And if they met the might not necessarily like each other's opinions or beliefs. But they don't have to. It's my community, my circle of friends. I connect with each one of them. I may never 'hang out' with some of them beyond work stuff, but don't we all need work friends? Those people that keep us from going crazy, or maybe go crazy right along with us?

It's been my experience that friends aren't friends forever (even if the Lord is Lord of them, thank you very much Michael W. Smith...) The only talking I do with people from m high school are through Facebook. I have one or two college friends I see once or twice a year. But that's me. I know other people who still have friends from grade school--my brother and his best friend have been buds since they were 5 years old. The friends Curtis and I have had the longest are, in fact, our brothers (and now their lovely wives).  Sometimes friendships blow up but more often they just dissolve, time and geography and change gets in the way. Sometimes friendships can be rekindled; it's my deepest hope to have some of my old friendships take some form of what they used to be as God does His thing. I have no way of knowing how long the friendships I have now will last. I hope for a very long time. But I don't worry about it. I'm grateful for them. For every shared laugh, every late night, every impromptu dinner, every favor, every prayer.

I'm thankful to have that connection again. And while part of me believed I'd never say it, I'm thankful for community. God is right (whoda thunk it?), real connection and friendship is a beautiful thing. And I've been blessed to have some friends, in my past and right now in my present, that are gifts from God.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”~~ C.S. Lewis

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reading Old Friends

Every summer I make lofty reading goals for myself. I intend to use hot summer days and muggy summer evenings to devour books, some of which have been sitting on my shelf ignored for years. I never meet my goals. My job demands far too much of my time, especially in the summer, so many books continue living their lonely lives on my dusty bookshelves.

But, I feel the need to make a list and set some goals anyway. Every now and then I come across an old reading list and I smile. There was the summer I planned on reading all of the Harry Potters and most of Shakespeare's plays. Yes, in the same summer. For the record--I read none of either.

My list for the summer of 2011...

  1. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo: Finish! I have 300 or so pages left to read and seem unable to power through to the end. I absolutely refuse to start another book without finishing this one!
  2. ...And Ladies of the Club, Helen Hooven Santmyer:  One of my absolute favorite books. Chock full of wonderful characters and a beautiful story. I try to read it every summer; I didn't read it last summer and I really missed it.
  3. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte: I've read it before but it's been years. I really want to revisit this old friend and see what I understand/notice this time around. I was in 6th grade the first time I read Jane--I expect the experience to be different now!
  4. Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery: Or at least one of the books in the series. House of Dreams is one of my favorites, or Rilla of Ingleside. But I very well may go back to the beginning of Green Gables and reintroduce myself to all those old friends.
  5. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett: I've read this book before as well, but I was very young and didn't understand it. It seems like a marvelous story and I'd like to try reading it again. It's entirely probable that reading The Secret Garden will prompt me to read Burnett's other classic, A Little Princess, which I absolutely adore.
My list is short this year. I intend on reading a couple other small books for my students. I try to keep in touch with what they're reading (I draw the line at Diary of Wimpy Kid though, and Captain Underpants, or anything else that threatens my brain cells). I have a couple books for church/ministry work that I will read. I've also checked out a couple books from the library on fertility as part of the journey toward motherhood. But I want to keep my 'pleasure' reading list short. The books themselves are quite long. There's well over 2,000 pages of reading in just those five books--and Les Miserables is more than three-quarters completed! If it wasn't, the page count would almost double.

I've read Jane, Anne, and ...And Ladies, before. They are old friends. I know their plot twists, I know what to expect from them. And yet, every time I read them, I find something new, sometimes about the book but  usually about myself. Much like talking to a friend, especially an old friend.

There are probably 50 books on my shelves that I've never read. Books that I've bought or that have been given to me, books that seem interesting which is why I can't part with them. With books it seems as if I have to read them at just the right moment. ...And Ladies of the Club sat on my shelf for about four years before I finally read it. But it was my time to read it, I fell in love with it, and I wouldn't have if I'd read it before. Countless times I've picked up a book, read a few pages, a chapter or two, and just can't keep going. Then, months or years later I'll pick it up again and I can't put it down. It depends on where I am in life, with what I'm feeling, with what I need from a book. It seems that there's a time for Austen, and a time for Twain, and a time for Hemingway and a time for Lewis.

Only time will tell if I'll read any of the books on my list. If I never finish Les Miserables then it seems that I will never read again as I've vowed to not start another until it's done. Maybe an hour or two with the soundtrack will help motivate me to finish the book. In fact, four out of the five books I've chosen for this summer have been made into musicals. So you can guess what I'll be listening to this summer!

What are your summer reading goals? Are there any books that are just perfect for the beach? (I read Gone With the Wind on the beach when I was about 15 and I loved it!). Are there any books that you've read over and over? Try to find some time to sit outside, soaking up the summer sun and drinking in a good book. Happy reading!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Mightiest Sword

You can continue to grieve
But know the Gospel is true
You must forgive those who lie
And bless them that curse you
Is the mightiest sword...
('Forgiveness', Jane Eyre: The Musical)

Forgiveness. I've been extended grace through forgiveness, or forgiveness through grace, I'm never quite sure, and it has saved my life. Saved my life on both this side of heaven and the other. Saved me from myself. And, I've learned, that very same forgiveness-grace must be extended to others.

Grace doesn't come with strings attached. It's a free gift, you don't have to earn it any more than I did. But I feel that there is one caveat given in the Word. When you've been forgiven, when I've been forgiven, we're expected to forgive others. If God can forgive us our darkest trespasses, against Him and against His beloved creations, we must find it within ourselves (because the Spirit is in us) to forgive others.

We're not expected to do this on our own. To which I most sincerely say: Thank Heaven! I can't do it on my own. I don't have the capacity to truly forgive someone who has betrayed my deepest trusts. Looking back I see that many times I've "forgiven" someone so that I can be the "better person". This is not real forgiveness. This is self-righteousness. This is holding forgiveness over someone's head, lording it over them. This is not the forgiveness of Christ.

The forgiveness of Christ was given when He breathed His last, declaring once and for all time that "it is finished" (John 19:30). In that moment the way to God, through forgiveness, was made for all mankind. It would never have to be done again. The work was done by one man and it was complete. Finished.

This morning I was brushing my teeth and muttering. All the emotions tumbling about in me summarized in one long dramatic sigh. Frustrated. Annoyed. Exasperated. This is what unforgiveness will bring to the surface. Indignantly I let God know how I felt. He listened. I believe we're allowed to feel angry, disappointed, hurt, and annoyed when people do wrong by us. It's what we do with those feelings that matter. If I let all those negatives sit, fester, grow, and multiply I'll end up with a seeping infected wound of bitterness. My heart will harden as unforgiveness settles in. I will put space between not only myself and the person with whom I am angry, but between myself and the One who can fix what is broken. The One who already has fixed what is broken, because it is finished.

Forgiveness. It is so hard to give. But I have seen the benefits of both giving it and asking for it. Humility does wonders for the human soul. It's an antidote for almost everything that ails us. It takes the humility of Christ, the Sacrificial Lamb, to forgive others. We want to demand that they ask for it, that they give us an apology. The ones nailing Him to the cross never said they were sorry, as far as the Gospels tell us. But Jesus forgave them anyway.  

"Forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

I truly believe that the people who have hurt me the deepest need this kind of forgiveness from me. I'm not sure they fully knew what they were doing, how deep and how bad the scars would be. How far reaching into my life the pain might travel. But more than that...more than what was done to me, is what was done to God. A marvelous God-fearing preacher said once, and I will never forget it, that whatever was done to any of us was also done to God. Whatever betrayals were done to you or to me were also done to the God of all Creation. As much as my heart is broken over the pain, God's heart is torn as well. Torn because it is a violation against His commands, His desires for us, His love. And torn because I believe it causes Him deep, deep pain to see His beloved children treat each other badly. Not just bad, but hellaciously awfully bad sometimes. The true sin is not against me, but against God. And that is the forgiveness that is needed most.

It's a complicated issue. One that should lead you back to the Cross continually. For some people, for the deepest hurts, I find myself back at the Cross over and over again. Receiving forgiveness for my own heart which strays into bitterness, and receiving the promise that it is finished again and again. It is finished. It is in God's hands, nothing is out of His sight, beyond His reach, or unnoticed by His tender heart. And because it is finished, the work has been done, and I've been given His spirit, I can forgive. And through forgiveness find the ability to trust, to give, to forgive, to love another human being.

You must never lose faith
You must never lose heart
God will restore your trust
And I know you're afraid
I'm as scared as you are
But willing to be brave
Brave enough for love
('Forgiveness', Jane Eyre: The Musical)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Humbled/ Like a Dream Come True

I'm so humbled by this whole blogging experience. It started on a whim. I read a friend's blog, a friend from high school, someone I'd lost touch with. I clicked on her link which she provided on Facebook and soaked up her life for a few minutes. And it set me thinking. Thinking about how much I used to love to write, and thinking how much I used to love sharing with people. And a blog is essentially sharing with people through writing.

So I picked out a name, based on a book I'd read a couple years ago. And I started writing, not really sure what I'd write about or who would even read it. But I decided those details didn't matter much. I've learned through my studies that the best writers, the ones we put on the canon, are the ones who wrote for themselves, not for an editor or an audience. I have a feeling that many of those writers wanted success and to be read, but were surprised when it came. Anyway, I digress...I started writing for me, for God, for anyone who would read it.

I never imagined that anyone really would read it. Anyone other than my mom, to be honest. But for whatever reason, people are, you are. And every now and then when I don't let myself get in the way, God uses this rambly little mess of a blog to talk to someone, to comfort someone, to touch someone. Honestly, sincerely, and truly, I don't take the credit for that. Sure, I may be typing but it's God doing the real work. And I never really thought that He would or could use me. Yeah, I dreamed about it, dreamed so often of writing for real that it hurts, but I've never believed in it. I've kept my stories and ideas squirrelled away for only me. Everything but this. This merry heart journey.

Its humbling to be read. Its humbling to be used by God. Its humbling to open up my heart and expose my deepest vulnerabilities every now and then. God is good and lets me write and ramble about so many things, but every now and then He requires me to dig deep. And its humbling to see what He does with it when I am obedient. I always imagined that writing would sort of puff me up instead of humble me. Shows what I know, eh?

So, thank you for reading. If you read every post or every now and then or hardly at all, thank you. Thank you for keeping me humbled and amazed and honored. I'll keep writing, even if everyone stops reading, but it is really cool to be read. Like a dream come true, actually.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Never My Love/Believe

"How can you think love will end,
when I've asked you to spend
your whole life with me?
Never my love"
('Never My Love' by The Association)

Three years ago I married my best friend. I realize this is a rather common occurrence for people and as such has become a cliche thing to say. But it is true. As most cliches tend to be. My husband is my best friend.

It was a warm spring day three years ago. Nothing like the cold dreary day we had today. It was windy, all my relatives from the mountains of Pennsylvania had no idea how to handle the wind. Bu the sun was shining and the temperature was pretty warm for mid-May in northern Ohio.

We were married in an old-fashioned country church by Curtis' childhood minister. Curtis prepared the aisle for me, paving the way for his bride, by unrolling the aisle runner. Softly playing in the background was the love theme from Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet, a song called 'Kissing You'. Within the song Romeo whispers, "did my heart love til now? For swear it sight, I never saw true beauty til this night."

Left to Right: Alisha in blue, Rachel in green (our favorite color)
Melanie in pink (the color for her wedding the yr. before), and
Pam in purple. And of course, me in white.   :)
My bridesmaids, each in a different color of the same dress, followed after. Pam and Alisha scattered flowers in place of a flower girl;  Rachel carried the rings on a hand-made cross-stitched pillow my mom had made;  and Melanie carried a vintage tussey-mussey bouquet. The song chosen for my bridesmaids was 'Anne's Theme' from the movie Anne of Green Gables, one of my very most favorite movies from childhood.

I wore my mom's veil, and the lace from her dress was used on my ballet shoes. I had my grandmother's first engagement ring from 1939 made into a necklace for the occasion. My bouquet was fashioned after some photos my great-aunt had taken at a wedding she went to in the 1950s.  I debated between several different songs for coming down the aisle, everything from 'Moon River' to the love theme from 'Shakespeare in Love', but the clear choice soon became a gorgeous version of 'Amazing Grace' that I'd fallen in love with as a kid.

Our recessional after the wedding was 'I Do Believe in Fairies' from the live-action version of Peter Pan. It's such an exuberant and joyful song, and hello, I do believe in fairies. It was followed by Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood' which set the tone for the vintage reception our guests were about to enjoy.

We rented an antique Excalibur limousine to get from the church to our reception at Snook's Dream Cars, an antique car museum in Bowling Green. There we switched to a 1936 Auburn to make our entrance. It was really fun being driven into our reception and taking everyone by surprise. I remember sitting out in the car with Curtis and just giggling together in anticipation for our big entrance.

One of my favorite moments from the entire day came when we had to cut our cake. I'd arranged to have 'So This Is Love' from Disney's Cinderella play while we cut the cake. Our cake topper fit our vintage theme perfectly--a vintage bride and groom in an open-top limo. Actually cutting cake proved to be an adventure. We realized that we had no idea how to cut a cake that large together. For whatever reason, instead of melting down,  I dissolved into laughter at the absurdity of the situation. The pictures of us holding this giant knife and just laughing our heads off really capture that moment. It turns out that those unplanned moments are sometimes the best.

Our first dance was to Josh Groban's song 'Believe' from the movie Polar Express. Several songs were in the running, songs by Mercy Me, Delirious, a couple oldies tunes, a Big Daddy Weave song. I just happened to mention this song once to Curtis in one of the many conversations I forced him to have about this topic (I tend to talk things to death and he tends to like to make quick decisions), and he was adamant that was the song he wanted. We both like Josh Groban, trains, and Christmas...but it was the chorus of the song that won me over---"believe in what your heart is saying, feel the melody that's playing. there's no time to waste, there's so much to celebrate. Believe in what you feel inside and give your dreams the wings to fly. You have everything you need, if you just believe."

It somehow seems appropriate that there is
a giant Ford sign over our heads in this
shot of one of my favorite moments.

The other song I remember dancing to (clearly the music was a huge element to me) was The Association's 'Never My Love'. This is one of my favorite songs for so many reason. First, I'm a big oldies fan in general so I love the actual sound of this song. And second, the lyrics are amazing. I won't share all of them, but the first verse pretty much sums up the entire song, "you ask me if there'll come a time when I grow tired of you, never my love, never my love." For many reasons,  none of them really related to Curtis, I felt insecure in our relationship for a long time. I'd always ask him if he loved me, sometimes multiple times a day. I always knew he would say yes, but I liked getting the reassurance. This song speaks to that very idea. I remember dancing with him, and several other couples being out on the floor as brother and his wife, my brother-in-law and his wife, my mom and her boyfriend, my brother's in-laws, my dad and my step-mom. I remember thinking that it was cool to share this song and this dance with people that I love.

For me, the wedding was really made in the details. We personalized as much as we possibly could. I had friends read poems that I absolutely love, one by Lucy Maud Montgomery and the other by Christopher Marlowe. We had family members read selections from the Bible. Every song choice was full of meaning, even the ones just for dancing and having fun, like 'Hang on Sloopy'. Our guests tossed that special wedding rice that isn't really rice mixed with lavender, which was actually an old wedding tradition. And while many things didn't go according to 'plan', my biggest regret was not training Shiloh to be the ring bearer, or at least arranging for some pictures to be taken with him that day. After all, he is our 'first born ruff'.

I've written about my wedding before, but always in the context of my being a compulsive planner and a bit of a control freak. I've always presented the glass half-empty version of our wedding, even if it was intending to show some self-criticism/realizations. But the fact of the matter is, we had a beautiful wedding. And the even bigger fact of the matter is, it wouldn't really matter if we'd had an absolutely awful wedding or an absolutely perfect one. It's our marriage that counts. The last three years have been filled with good things. We've grown as a couple, we've bought our first house, got a family car, and another dog. We're trying for kids and learning so much about ourselves and our relationship through that process. In just three years it feels like we've grown up and changed so much. But one thing is the same as it was three years ago, and the same as it was five years ago when we met...Curtis is my best friend.

"We'll always be friends forever."--Tod the Fox
"Yead, Tod."--Copper the Hound Dog
(The Fox & The Hound...the movie we watched on our first date)

Friday, May 13, 2011

We're Not Alone

We're not alone. Wherever you're at in life, someone else is there, too. If not in this century, in another. I often take time to remember that the pleadings of my aching heart is nothing new to God. He's heard it all before but it doesn't weary Him. He's heard each woman across the ages cry out to Him. From Hagar under the tree in a desert, watching her little boy die of thirst, to Mary Magdalene searching for her Lord at the empty tomb. Lost, scared, aching, lonely. Frustrated, angry, nearly bitter. Burned out, exhausted, at the end of the rope. He's heard it all and He's handled it all. He provided for Hagar, she called him 'The God who sees'. He appeared to Mary, showing her that her faith, devotion, and love was not misspent.

I think about the women who read my blog. I don't know exactly who does and I don't know exactly what you're going through. But I would bet my bottom dollar that you are struggling with something as you read these words. In our fallen world it is an inevitably. But you are no more alone than I am. We may feel all alone but Jesus did, too. His three closest friends couldn't even stay awake to pray for Him in His night of deepest anguish. He knows how it feels to be let down, betrayed, disappointed, and all alone. He felt all alone so we could know that we never truly are alone.

Divorce. Death. Barren wombs. Empty nest. Disease. Financial stress. Teenagers. Toddlers. Broken cars. Broken hearts. You are not alone. Someone somewhere in the annals of time across the world has walked in your shoes, maybe is walking in them now. And the One who is in Heaven is also in You, walking in your shoes, carrying you when you're too weak and tired to walk, when you can't see the path, when you don't want to go on. You are not alone. We're not alone.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. --John 14:27

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Momma Jo

My middle name is Joanna, so it was no wonder that I grew up being affectionately called 'Becky Jo' on occasion. Apparently when I was very small I called my mother 'Momma Jo'...seemed logical to me! So when you look at my cell phone my mom is listed as 'Momma Jo.' There's been discussion of giving a little girl, should I ever have one, the middle name Joanna. But I suppose regardless I will someday be a Momma Jo myself. Which is no small task.

My mom is 5'2", eyes of the song. I've always teased her about being tiny. I say that she is fun sized and used to sing that 'short people've got no reason to live' song. At 5'10" I've been taller than her since sometime in middle school. But despite her being fun sized she is a formidable woman.

I've learned from her that there is nothing a woman can't do when she's put her mind to it. Shortly after my brother got his driver's license he bought a stick shift neon. My mom needed to leave for work and was blocked in, I was the only one home and she couldn't remember how to drive stick. With my guidance she turned her car around in the garage and maneuvered around the neon. I've seen her move objects too heavy for her, fix things she has no idea how to fix, and do things that she really can't do simply because she puts her mind to it. I find myself doing the same thing. The other day a female co-worker and I fixed my computer out of sheer determination and I said to her, 'there's nothing a woman can't do when she puts her mind to it!'

She taught me that women can be intelligent. I remember her coaching me with my reading, sitting beside her bed each evening. I would read my American Girl books aloud and we'd talk about the stories. In this way she shared two of her loves with me, which have become two of my passions--reading and history. When we'd go to history museums she'd encourage me to ask questions and learn as much as I could. In fact, this has been a life lesson instilled in me; learn as much as you can wherever you are. Learn and be educated simply for the sake of it. My degree is 'practically' worthless, but in an impractical sense it is invaluable to me. I learned a lot, I am well read, I am educated, I am intelligent. And rather than shying away from that I embrace it, as my mother taught me. It is okay for a person, for a woman, to be intellectual and proud of it.  

My mother is known for her hilarious one-liners. She's one of those quiet types that sneaks in a gut busting quip when you're least expecting it. And her sense of humor has saved several rainy, bad days. She makes the most of it, choosing to be cheerful when everyone else is glum. I remember being on vacation once and it just poured every day. We were all annoyed, irritable, and grumpy. Clear as day I remember her insisting that we were going to have fun if it killed us. And then we all went sliding long the slippery boardwalk, laughing in the rain. Perhaps this is why I see the rain as opportunity for laughing and memory-making rather than a reason to complain.

In previous posts I've written about her domestic prowess (check out the post on the side of the page which features her as a very happy kid with a pretend iron). She truly is a domestic diva. She's one of those 'from scratch' cooks and I'm pretty sure she's anti-Kool Aid because its too easy. In an age where a woman can go to the store to buy cookies and birthday cakes she's made it all from scratch. Before Ace of Cake's Duff Goldbloom had ever baked a cake, let alone had his own show, my mother has made some amazing birthday cakes--from a baseball game with teddy graham players for my brother to an enormous cake castle for me. I've always teased her that her definition of having a messy house is if there is a fork in the sink. But I have to justify that by saying that we didn't grow up in a museum. Our house was clean, orderly, but inviting and warm, like her.

We've always joked that she is Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. But the older I get and the more I really get to know my mother, I see that she really is. Like Mary Poppins there is magic and possibilities in every day. I've learned the freedom of having an active and boundless imagination from my mom. From believing that stuffed animals can come to life if you love them (as in The Velveteen Rabbit) and that dolls come to life as soon as you leave a room (as in A Little Princess) to believing that a positive attitude can change everything, I've learned the power of believing from my mother.

I know that I will never by just like my mom. Instead, I'll be a version of her. My take on her, if you will. But she's marvelous inspiration for mother hood. Momma Jo-hood, in this case.

I love you, Momma Jo!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Empty Arms But A Full Heart

A note from my heart: I wrote this post over a week ago. It's honest, it's personal, it's sincere...all things I believe this blog needs to be in order to be worth writing and worth reading. And I felt that I needed to write this, not only for myself, but because there may be someone who needs to know they're not alone. I am so thankful for the brave women who write, women I will never meet this side of heaven, because their honesty lets me know that I am okay and I am not alone. I would be remiss to not pass it on and share my story so someone else can know that they are okay and they are not alone.

There was a certain man... whose name was Elkanah... He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
... Because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her...till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.” (1 Samuel 1: 1-20)

I love this story because, you see, I am Hannah. I've been tested, blood drawn, womb checked, one test left me crippled in pain and throwing up for hours. The tests have yielded some answers but no results. Month after month I force a smile and say to my dear husband, vacant! As if it is a room for rent. Which maybe it is. A temporary home for someone--someone who may never come to hang the 'occupied' sign on the door.

My husband is Elkanah. He loves me. He sees the pain, the agony in my face. He knows he can't fix it. He tries to say the right thing, never knowing for sure what the right thing is. The poor man never knows if this month I'll shrug it off and really be okay with it, or if I'm going to sit quietly in the bathroom and cry. Why do women always hide in the bathroom to cry?

I can only imagine how much deeper Hannah's grief was at having to share a husband and know that his other wife could do what she could not. How much more broken did she feel? Because that is exactly how I feel. All broken. What good is a vase that can't hold water? Like the Island of Misfit Toys--a caboose with square wheels. Broken. Useless. There is a reason the text uses words like 'anguish', 'deeply troubled', 'grief'.

These are the words we associate with mourning, with loss. Isn't that what Hannah is doing? Mourning her loss? Mourning the closed womb that cannot bear life? Mourning the reality that she may never feel the kick in her belly, the pain of contractions, behold the cry at birth? She has every reason to mourn. Every month is an egg unfertilized, an egg dying, an egg that might've been a child.

I wonder if women talked about it in those days. Kind women, not just 'her rival'. I wonder if Hannah had a mother, a sister, a friend who tried to comfort her. With good intentions they tell her that she still has time, they give her remedies and tell her what worked for another friend. They tell her to pray to God. They tell her to stay strong. Oh, isn't that what Hannah wants more than anything? The strength to bear the anguish of a barren womb. It's so hard to be strong sometimes.

We see what desperate women will do for a child in Sarai, before she became Abraham's princess and the mother of Israel. So desperate for a child to raise, she pushes another woman into her husband's bed. Never thinking of what her feelings afterward would be, she can only picture the perfect ten fingers and ten toes, the cooing and crying, diapers hanging on the line with her husband's cloaks. The things women do in despair.

Her granddaughter-in-law, Rachel, would follow suit. Trying to compete with her homely sister who bore their shared husband child after child, Rachel pushed her servant into Jacob's bed. She claimed her servant's child as a victory for her, and yet, still felt empty, broken, anguish. This is how we got the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Rivalry between sisters, one loved but infertile, one unloved but fertile, and two servant girls dragged into the baby drama. Rachel died birthing Benjamin as Joseph proved to not be enough for this desperate mother, and the poor child is saddled with the name 'son of my trouble' until daddy renamed him 'son of my right hand'.

The Bible doesn't tell us much about Elizabeth's infertility journey. We see more of Zecheriah's unbelief at what Gabriel is trying to tell him. There is doubt because perhaps they've finally come to terms with the vacant womb. Maybe they've found a way to laugh like I try to do. Maybe they've embraced other people's little ones, doing for other people's children what they would've done for their own. Maybe they've just finally come to grips with it all and then this angel appears and throws it all into chaos again. I can hardly blame Zecheriah's doubts anymore than I blame Sarai's laughter in Genesis. It's hard to keep believing when hope seems to dwindle away every month. Hard to believe even when God Himself is telling you to hang on.

“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” --Luke 1:25

We want this verse to be outdated. We want to believe that in the 21st century with the women's lib movement and our enlightened minds that a woman is not disgraced when she can't have children. Let me tell you...that's not so. Every time someone looks at you and wonders just what you're waiting for when the reality is you've been trying for a long time. Every time someone asks you when you're going to have kids, and you hesitate before answering. Sometimes I smile and say, when the good Lord wills it. And sometimes I just smile and shrug, and hope that my eyes don't betray the pain.

I vacillate between peace and agony. Sometimes I can hold on tightly to God and His ways and find peace there. We've been trying for a little over two years, I know people who tried for over ten before getting pregnant. I think about adoption, I have a cousin who adopted a son. There are so many little ones already who need to have a family, to be loved. Sometimes I can even find peace in knowing that I may not be a mother, but I am already an aunt and a friend. There are plenty of small ones in my life that I can love on and teach them what I know. Other times I pour out my sadness. It aches, it's awful, it's heartbreaking to wonder if I'll ever have that joy that I've always, always expected.

But I don't want to become a woman desperate for a child. First, what kind of life is that for me? I am more than a womb, vacant or full. I am more than a would-be mother. I am a child of God, an intentionally designed creation, a much loved princess of the Most High King. Second, what kind of life will that make for a child, should I have one? If I've become desperate for a little one, I won't be able to let him go, to raise him as I should. My life will revolve around the little one, neglecting myself, my husband, my God. This isn't healthy for a child. Parents that give up their own lives, figuratively speaking, for their children are really doing them a disservice.

I love this story of Hannah. She is in agony, but not despair. Her husband is sensitive to her breaking heart and does what he can to alleviate her pain.  Eli comforts her but doesn't try to give her a bunch of answers. He simply prays over her, blesses her. And when Hannah receives this blessing she gets the elusive peace she's been seeking. She worships God, she eats food. She takes care of herself, and then, she gets pregnant. And she gives the child to God. This child who will become the anointer and advisor of kings.

I've written about Hannah before, but I didn't tell you why. I've wrestled with this for a long time. Wondering if I should be honest about my journey, if I could be. But I've been feeling God leading me from the darkness and into the light. There isn't shame in my journey as I am sometimes tricked into feeling. And God has been whispering into my heart that my husband and I don't need to shoulder this pain alone. Until now we've kept this 'news' in close family circles. In fact, many members of our families don't know. I don't want to be smothered by pitying looks and cliches. I just want to be loved and valued for what I already am. And, more than anything, I want people to come alongside in prayer. Praying that we will have wisdom to know what God wants, that we will hear His voice prompting us in this journey, that we will have strength to take the steps required. Praying for a miracle. And praying that if that miracle never comes that we'll see the blessing hidden in that.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...