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.

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