Waiting with unanswered questions

081916 garden bench

A little over three years ago was the last time I saw a positive pregnancy test. After months of fertility treatments, the month we did nothing, I was pregnant.

And three years ago this week, the dream crashed and burned at our ultrasound appointment, which ended in me being whisked off for an emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy (and a fallopian tube).

Looking back at the blog posts then, I see my hope that God could bring about a pregnancy shrinking as I took stock of my new reality. I found myself asking: “What happens to faith in the midst of unanswered questions?”

Three years ago, I was consumed with me. Will God tell me whether I’ll have biological children? Will God help me carry a successful pregnancy? Okay, magic 8-ball Jesus: give me a sign.

The answer I wanted was about God providing a baby. I’ve still not gotten an answer to the questions. I’ve gotten silence, which feels like no. But, friends, silence and no are not the exactly same.

Somewhere in the last three years, I realized maybe I was asking the wrong questions. I wanted God to rubber stamp my life agenda. I wanted the 2.5 kids, picket fence and stability. I wanted the god of security and normalcy and middle-class morality. I wanted God to vindicate me, as though infertility was a scarlet letter branded to my forehead.

I saw infertility as an enemy rather than a teacher. Infertility is not okay, and, at the same time, it has taught me things I might not have learned apart from this struggle. This is an attempt to say the journey isn’t wasted. I don’t wish the struggle on anyone, and yet I need God to redeem something from the situation.

In the space of waiting on God, who doesn’t arrive or answer the way I’d like, I found myself softened. And instead of asking God to reply to my agenda, I started asking how do I stay sane in the midst of my own brokenness. How do I navigate this?

I’m not plucky and sunshine and roses about God’s providence. I’m still not happy about three miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy (or the years of infertility). But, the sorrow has been a teacher.

I learned something about privilege that I might not have recognized otherwise. Not all things are possible with hard work.  What a burden it is to strive for something you desperately want but are not capable of achieving (regardless of whether it is because of your own capabilities or systemic limitations)!  That pill is made more bitter by watching the ease with which others seem to obtain the very thing you so desperately want.

And in growing frustrated over the struggle to have children, I also discovered the darkness lurking in me. I grew up a goody-two-shoes. I’m a rule-follower. Once upon a time, I’d likely have fit right in with the most rigid of the Pharisees. I thought if I was good enough, if I did the right things, then my life would be God-honoring and stable. I was a good little achiever.

Right up until I ran into the thing I couldn’t achieve: biological motherhood.

And the ugly two-headed jealousy monster took up residence in me.

Eventually I recognized jealousy for the destructive, soul-destroying evil that it is. Denying other people something because I can’t have it myself ultimately poisons my life and relationships. It’s utterly and rapidly toxic.

I do not want to be the person who tries to drag other people back into the miserable box just because my life didn’t turn out the way I planned. I don’t want to make other people  small just because I’m insecure or frustrated by my own life.

Instead, I want to be the person that’s offering step stools and ladders to help people climb out of their misery boxes. It’s one thing to say, “we need more ladders or elevators out.” (That’s a fair point!) It’s quite another thing to say that because I can’t climb out, nobody else should either.

I could’ve gone the other way. I could’ve gone brittle and sharp. I spent a couple of years there in my 20s. Maybe the only thing that holds me back is this question: who do I want to be when I’m 80?

And I absolutely DO NOT want to be a bitter, sour-faced woman without a kind word for anyone else.

I still have moments when a pregnancy announcement or news article about abusive parents has me rolling my eyes heavenward with a snide “Seriously, God?!?” I don’t win any merit badges for sainthood. I’m just figuring out how to survive. And I know firsthand how jealousy will leech all the joy from my journey if I leave it unchecked.

Perhaps what the battle with jealousy teaches me is my need for grace. I happen to be an ungrateful receiver much of the time. Goody-two-shoes me knows she needs grace on some intellectual plane, but she can sometimes forget why. After wrestling with jealousy (and the shame of feeling like a totally horrible person), I feel my need for grace. I see I don’t have it altogether. Pretending is impossible.

And somehow, knowing my need for grace opens my capacity for grace for others. A+ achiever me gets bitter when she doesn’t get what she thinks she deserves. But, facing the jealousy in the mirror reminds me I’m broken too. I am no saint. When I’m not perfect, I stop expecting everyone else to be perfect, too. Because, honestly, none of us is as perfect as we might pretend; we’re all nursing wounds. And the capacity for evil lurks in all of us.

I don’t have much time for outward finger pointing these days. I’ve got enough darkness in me to battle.  If I spend enough time listening to others (especially the ones I’m really tempted to judge), I find most of us are just trying to make sense out of the mess we’re in. Some folks are just better at owning their messes than others (and I tend to have more patience with the honest ones).

But, really, we’re all scared. We’re all lost lambs hoping to find our way back home in the dark.

How do we choose life in the face of disappointment? How do we navigate the bad hands we’re dealt? How do we sit and wait for the news we’re afraid to receive? How do we make peace with the fact that we are actually beloved, even in (or especially in) our brokenness?

Like most of us, I still have unanswered questions. Perhaps in the long days of waiting I’m instead learning how to navigate life in spite of the unanswered questions. Navigating life looks like speaking my pain as I feel it, choosing the discipline of gratitude, and listening to others stories only to realize I’m not as alone as I’d thought. Those moments of “me too!” in conversations are like a cold, refreshing glass of water.

Somehow, in the midst of these practices, God shows up. I am vindicated there. Not with a biological baby. But, with the sense that even though I am infertile, I am not ultimately forsaken, nor abandoned. Maybe that’s what I needed most.

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