Encounter: Part 1 of …
There is so much of this story to tell….brimming and stirring within my heart that is begging to be shared. It is a lot to unpack. A lot to write out on this digital space. So I will attempt it to break it down as best as I can in a series of “parts…” and will try to post every Monday for the next few weeks. : ) Grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle in against some comfy cushions, wherever you are and let’s chat.
The winter in Portland has been a long one. Gray, wet, (even some snow!) with rarely a glimpse of sun. In many ways, you get accustomed to the dark and dreariness and you don’t realize how much it impacts your state of mind until you catch that ray of sunshine on your cheeks.
And in many ways, I’ve been in that “winter” for a long time. I realize that I don’t write here a lot but whenever I do, I try to be honest. That means the glimpses of doubt, pain, confusion, faith, and praise I provide in this space are very, very true. Yet, it does not provide the whole journey of my heart. It is an amazing thing to be on a journey…to be able to share pieces of it. But even if I had blogged every week over the last five years it wouldn’t have captured every nuanced thought, the steps forward, and the many, many steps back of this struggle. And that’s okay. That is the part of the beauty of it. Only my journal records the raw and sometimes brutal honesty that pours out of my heart on a regular basis. It’s like my scrawling pen is connected to a deep, hidden place of my heart that I don’t even know exists until I start writing. It records a sacred language. And these entries are what I want to start sharing with you. These raw, vulnerable words that help me tell my story.
In my last post, I talked about “dancing in places where I was once crippled,” and that is true…but there is much more to that story that I feel needs to be shared. There has never been a magic wand that God or I have waved to suddenly make everything “okay.” There has been no band-aid, no self-help book, no erasing of the pain this journey has brought me…even though I am now able to rejoice within it. In many ways, it is (and may always be), a bleeding hole in my heart. The pain is still there, I can assure you.
In fact, last year, in an attempt to take a “break from it all,” I spent nearly a whole calendar year and rarely expended a full, coherent thought to fertility and children. As those that have struggled with this will tell you, sometimes you need that break. Infertility is exhausting…it takes up space in your brain you didn’t even know existed, and month after month (and now year after year), the cycle of hope and disappointment drains you until you feel like you are left swaying on your feet. So, I told myself I was done and busied myself with my new job, and travel plans. I basically shut the door, locked it, and wiped my hands clean of it. And that worked for a while. A long while actually. Over a year.
But that changed on an early morning in early December (2016). This past year, I have been getting up really early before work to spend time with God and it has made a dramatic difference in my life. I was doing an Advent devotional called Preparing for Jesus by Walter Wangerin Jr. and on that morning the devotion was about Elizabeth and her own struggle with infertility and as I read, the tears saved up from the last year escaped in thick sobs. I think you will see why.
I’d like to share my journal entry from that day:
December 5th, 2016
Luke 1:13-17: “But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. 16 He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”
“Who knows when Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed the prayer the angel mentions? Surely it was long ago, before they had grown old. The prayer was a plea to bear children, of course, so it must have begun soon after they had married. It must have grown more anguished as longer and longer grew the time when God did not answer it. But after a certain age reality must have persuaded the childless couple to stop praying for the impossible.
By now they had probably forgotten the prayer itself. Surely, they believe its purpose was past – and that the answer long, long ago had been, “no.”
But here is the first of our lessons today: that God does not forget to answer our prayers. It is in the fullness of time that He answers them. He answers in that rich Kairos, when to answer, at all does the most good for the most people!
And you, my friend, you thought your older prayers had gone unanswered (because we live always in the particular present, forgetting the past, unknowing the future).
And you thought your personal praying had nothing to do with anyone besides yourself and a handful of intimate folk (because our own vision is confined to a particular space, place, community).
But your prayer is never yours alone. It is also God’s, you know.”
-Excerpt from Preparing for Jesus by Walter Wangerin Jr, 1999, Zondervan Publishing, page 38.
I read these words with a heart that had been, or rather has been, drained of hope and anticipation and the realization of it made me weep. I, like Elizabeth, have stopped praying for a child. The words seem hollow, echoing in an empty heart. I’m not mad. I’m not angry or resentful. I just haven’t let the words escape, even in a whisper, in a very long time. I’d like to say it’s because I’m at peace and freed from a longing that is not mine to have, but reading this devotion made me realize that isn’t true. I’ve become resigned out of hopelessness, of exhaustion, of faithlessness. I’ve pulled my prayers because I no longer believe that God wants to hear them…or maybe the real truth is that I am just tried. Tired of a bleeding heart, tired of hanging on to hope, and maintaining expectations MONTH after MONTH, YEAR after YEAR. The answer clearly seems to be, “no.” And so, I’ve tried to move on, and in many ways I have. And a part of me says that is okay. I’ve certainly been more “present,” and grateful for all of the other blessings in my life.
But underneath it all, for all the ways I’ve been moving “forward,” I now realize I’ve just shut a door. And the bad thing is that by shutting that door, and pretending it doesn’t exist, I’ve kept this from You, denying myself an opportunity to experience your full presence amidst pain. Your comfort in my doubt.
And yes, Lord, when I pull back that veil, when I open that door, I realize that my heart is still broken, still longing for a child. I’ve been persuaded by time and disappointment rather than sensitivity to Your spirit.
A part of me WANTS to forget this prayer, because Lord, I don’t know if I can take it. But my sight is so limited and YOU HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN ME. So, forgive me for letting my doubt and human resignation become bigger than faith in Your character.
Let this prayer be constant in the assurance of You and not a demand. And God, even though everything is possible in Your name, not everything is promised and when and IF the time comes when I am to let go of this prayer completely, let it be a gift from the Spirit, and not of my apathy and resignation.
This is where I find myself this morning. Caught between a promise and a possibility and it is a very familiar place. One I know quite well. So, instead of shutting the door again, I will blow the dust off of this called HOPE and ask what promise I am to hang onto.
And that promise is You.
More to follow…..Stay tuned.