We’re told to rejoice with those who rejoice. But sometimes that’s an awfully hard slog.
Hi everyone – this is Joanna, one of Sheila’s assistants. This week in September, Sheila (and all of us at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum), remember Sheila and Keith’s late son, Christopher, who passed away 22 years ago today. I asked Sheila if I could write a reflection on the refining fire we experienced when I was an infertility patient. Sheila, Rebecca, and the rest of the team are back in Canada and are enjoying the thrills of jetlag after their missions trip to Kenya, but Sheila will be back on the blog tomorrow with the start of this month’s series on women and submission. Please pray for them as they process their time in Kenya, as well as for the many people they served there. We hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend!
In my daughter’s nursery sits what is perhaps our most prized possession – a cradle made out of wood in Egypt by hand many years ago by our dear friend, Dr. Kenneth Bailey. He crafted it for his daughter, whom I have always called Aunt Sara. He made it while they were missionaries there and the cradle has made its way around the world. Aunt Sara gave it to me when I was expecting my daughter and we are so grateful for it. We actually used it as a part of our newborn photo shoot (by the way – newborn photo shoots are totally worth it!)
Dr Bailey was a very important person, though he never acted like it. (His book, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, is, quite literally, life changing). He had so much wisdom for us and I can’t express how much I miss being able to ask him all of my questions. I felt, when we were together, that I’d gotten a taste of what it was like to sit at Jesus’ feet. (A cover story he wrote for Christianity Today in 1998 on the prodigal son is a wonderful introduction to his work, if you’re interested.)
Dr Bailey had a hard life. He fled Rommel during the Second World War (he was an MK in Egypt), lived through a war in Lebanon (during which it was unsafe for him to leave the house), and lost his only son to brain cancer. He knew sorrow – and yet he was a person who chose joy.
One of the truths he shared with my family was this: it is harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than to mourn with those who mourn.
I’ve thought a lot about that fact as I’ve gone through my life, and I think he’s entirely right.
And so when I found myself in a desert period of my life, I was determined to rejoice.
I didn’t do it perfectly, but I did my very, very best. During that season my husband couldn’t seem to find a job in his field (he’s a lawyer) and I couldn’t get pregnant.
Josiah made call after call to firms, got lots of interviews…and nothing worked out. I began having tests done and scheduled each month around my cycle, while privately finding it hard to live in the uncertainty of whether I would get to be a mother.
This is the desert: when life feels literally barren, empty, void.
We kept finding mirages, a job potential, a new treatment for my infertility… but they’d fade to nothing as we got closer.
I found a podcast episode on infertility, and I listened to it whenever I struggled. I listened on repeat to Andrew Peterson’s “The Sower’s Song,” and I clung to the promise that the seed planted “will not return void”. I trusted that my life would be abundant, somehow, whether I was a mommy or not.
Of course, the challenge is that while we were in the desert, lots of our friends appeared to be in gardens.
I was invited to lots of baby showers and, as I served as the chair of the children’s ministries team at church and taught Sunday school… my life was full of children. I ached to have one of my own, but I also found it to be such a balm to have kids I could love. Maybe I wouldn’t be a mommy, but I could love these kids. I could be the best Sunday school teacher I could be.
I didn’t always manage this perfectly. A friend (who was pregnant with her second baby) had her husband (who is also in law) get a prized position clerking with the Supreme Court of Canada. And I was filled with ugly, green envy that I had to confess to the Lord. My heart broke when I looked around our church at all of the women whose bodies had managed to nurture new life, I wondered why I was so defective.
But, I persevered. Even when it was hard, I went to the baby showers (even if I cried beforehand) and I didn’t bring up my infertility. I took my Sunday school girls to watch baby dedications in the service and we celebrated together. I went to church on Mother’s Day and I honored the many mothers who I loved in the congregation, including my mother in law and my grandmother in law. I also recognized that I was in the beginning of my journey of infertility, and so, while it was hard, I also knew that it would get harder if I stayed in the desert, so while I had lots of goals, I also realized that I might need to move the goalposts eventually.
Now, did I do this to simply pat myself on the back for being “the bigger person”? No. You see, my mother was also an infertility patient. She talked often about how the Lord had used it in her life and how much she’d learned through the experience. I was determined that my own experience would not be wasted. I was determined to emerge from the refining fire better than when I’d gone in – a bit battered, sure, but purer.
And so I chose joy when my friends and family had joyful experiences.
Joy, you see, is often a choice. Sometimes I didn’t feel joyful, but I chose to focus on the person who I wanted to be, the person who I trusted Jesus to make me. And, somehow, the knowledge that I was doing a hard thing that was also very much worth doing gave me a great deal of comfort. It helped me to persevere.
When I did, after 18 months of trying, manage to become pregnant, I found myself not in the desert anymore. Instead, we were in a jungle. Teeming with life, but full of changes and dangers and challenges. It has been another good, but hard, season. As we’ve dealt with a number of health issues, two moves, a new job, and adjusting to parenthood, I’m grateful for the muscles I built while training in the desert, for the refining I had there.
We all experience times of testing in the desert, when life feels empty.
We also face times in the jungle, when we hold on for dear life as we face danger around every corner. But in all times, we can hold onto the words written by James, the Lord’s brother:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4, NIV)
I’d love to hear your experiences of desert and jungle in the comments!