For the childless and parentless this Father's Day (and those who love them)

IMG_0547Do you have one? A Father's Day game plan, that is. 

After posting "For the childless this Mother's Day (and those who love them)", I received heartening comments and understanding on Facebook, on the blog, on twitter—and most heartfelt, stories that arrived via private message. There are some things that are hard to speak of at all, and talking about pain in relation to Father's Day and Mother's Day is a potential minefield. (Ask Anne Lamott who wrote a post "Why I Hate Mother's Day." She said she got a wounded, angry response from half her facebook people.)

One year I preached in Sunday morning service on Mother's Day, and after the pleasantries, I said something like this: "Mother's Day is also hard for many of us for different reasons. Some of you have lost your mothers, others have difficult relationships with moms, or maybe you are like me—you long to be a mother yourself, but that hasn't happened for you." 

You could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium.

Then I reminded myself and the congregation of a God who promises he is close to the brokenhearted.

Years of infertility and dealing with childlessness have made me long to comfort those in deep pain of all kinds. I want to take down the church mask and say "hey, I see you" and "you are loved just as you are, with all the loss and pain and heartache and brokenness. Pull up a chair. This place exists for you."

So what I believe about church and these parenting holidays is this: I don't care where you attend, it would help if those who lead would acknowledge how difficult these days are for so many. Two or three sentences is all it would take, but to the hurting in your midst, those words can be a healing balm.

Not sure what to say? Try this and modify as needed:

Even as we celebrate parents today, we acknowledge that this day is filled with struggle for many. Some may already have cried this morning over a parent who has died. Others struggle with whether they are a good parent, while some haven't decided how they will interact with a parent with whom they are in a difficult relationship. Some long, almost more than anything, to be parents themselves. Or simply to be validated for where they are on their journey. And for each one, we pray and long that they would experience Church today as a place of safety and healing. No matter your situation, you are loved.

But until these acknowledgments become part and parcel of regular church on these parenting days, there are many of us who have to deal. Sometimes we will deal with the heartache for just a few years—for many, it will be a lifelong source of painful feelings hidden only to surface again on these memorable days.

So already my husband and I have talked a few times about our "Father's Day plan." For us, it goes something like this:

  • Go to the 8:30 a.m. early service where they will make the least fuss about the day and it is easy to slip in at the last minute and get out at the end.
  • If we're feeling up to it, make a trip to see the graves of my husband's mother and father who died a few years ago.
  • That evening, get together with our book club for a cookout—because it just feels good to have plans with friends on this difficult day.

This last week, I came across some writing in which the writer, a male, said something like this: "Infertility is one of the most horrible things that can happen to any human being." And it took my breath away to see it spelled out that way, especially from this man's perspective. My husband says that one of the things that hurts most on Father's Day is not having children who will carry on after him. He feels that he is judged for not being able to create a child—the impression that he does not have what it takes to do this.

Even as we experience the pain that can come with Father's Day, David and I also remind ourselves of a greater reality: Jesus, the one who came and lived and breathed and healed and served and died and rose again on our behalf did not have children of his own. In his Kingdom, it became clear early on that the spiritual family trumps the physical family. Blessed are the parents, of course, and those with parents to love...but more blessed are those who hear my word and obey it (Luke 11:28). Those who love and are loved, spreading the sweet aroma of relationships made possible not by bloodlines, but by the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11).

And so, whatever you are feeling as this Father's Day approaches, I hope you know you are not alone. If you have lost your dad, your pain is real and you matter. If your father is distant or absent or abusive, I pray that you would know that you are enough and that you are worthy of dignity and extravagant love. If you would like children but are childless, this is a hard thing to bear, and I cling to the knowledge that God sees us. Either way, my hope for you is that you will enter and exit this Father's Day with glimmers of grace popping up, with mercy raining down in unexpected places, with clear reasons to love and to hope.

What about you? How will you handle this Sunday? What are some helpful ways to deal with pain on this sometimes  challenging day?

On #ReclaimingEve: “An important addition to the growing chorus of voices calling for women to live as God designed them to live, free and fulfilled.” -Jim Henderson, author, The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone?

"When We Close Our Wombs" on Christianity Today's Her•meneutics

A month ago, I joined millions of women who have gone before me, making the difficult yet freeing decision to close my womb through surgery. After getting married at age 35, I unsuccessfully tried to conceive a child for over five years. And then my general reproductive health issued what felt like an ultimatum: I experienced such intense pain and bleeding during my monthly cycle that something must be done.

The Centers for Disease Control found that 27 percent of women in the U.S. use female sterilization as their method of birth control. And according to a leading reference in reproductive health, Contraceptive Technology, "Sterilization continues to be the most commonly used contraceptive in the United States… with 700,000 tubal sterilizations and 500,000 vasectomies performed in the U.S. annually."

Read the rest at Her•meneutics

 On #ReclaimingEve: In Reclaiming Eve, you’ll find solid biblical thinking to help you shake off false mythology about womanhood and grab hold of much-needed freedom to embrace your destiny as God’s woman. Pick up this book, throw off the ‘old’ and live out your influence! -Elisa Morgan, Speaker, Author, She Did What She Could and The Beauty of BrokenPublisher, FullFillwww.fullfill.org 

A few thoughts on bandaging the wounds of the childless

I have never felt more exposed. After posting my recent experience on closing my womb and realizing the finality of not being able to bear a child biologically, the reactions have been mixed:

  • Some read it and cried and thanked me for helping them become sensitive toward the childless in church.
  • Others have or understand overwhelming loss, childlessness or other, and they were so thankful to have someone explore sorrow and Resurrection. They were thankful to have someone give voice to such painful places.
  • My impression is that others are baffled by my emotional gush—at what point will this girl get over the fact that she's barren? She really needs to move on. And also, what can I say to comfort her without offending her?

In the spirit of helping us all better understand how to embrace the childless, I would like to offer some suggestions: 

Recognize the childless person's grief is different from other kinds of grief.

  • A person who longs to bear a child biologically often doesn't have a set point for their loss. Someone in your life may have died, at which time you started the grieving process. For the person who leaves their womb open, each month there is a silent death of sorts, and this can go on for years. In fact, in my case, it went on for five years. I knew the likelihood of getting pregnant diminished with time, but there was always the hope that it was possible, and the regret that it didn't happen. Some months were more excruciating than others—but there was never a month when I didn't think about bearing a child of my own.
  • A person who wants to adopt a child also has many obstacles in front of them. Please understand: not everyone who wants to adopt a child gets a child. When an adoption appears hopeful and then does not happen, there is tremendous grief and questioning. (The same is often true of a miscarriage.) But there is no ceremony or way to acknowledge the loss; the person or the couple often find themselves just "trying to get over it," rather than having spiritual companions who can help them grieve through the heartbreak and eventually find Resurrection hope.
  • The single person who wants to get married and longs to have a child? They bear a double grief. For reasons they cannot understand, they have not found a spouse to live, laugh and love with. This grief for something that never was cuts to the core. And as the years tick by, the possibility of having a child grows more distant and unlikely. They, too, need spiritual companions who will listen to and enter into such a continuous loss, providing them deep roots in community and a treasured place in their spiritual family.

Some healing things to say or do.

I know what you're thinking: "Yes, there must be something I can do!" In reality, this process should be more about you being there than doing. Traveling together, bearing pain and loss, laughing and living and celebrating when there is cause for joy. But, still, there are a few things that help—or at least they helped me.

  • Send a card acknowledging their struggle. My favorite one came from my sister-in-law. It said, simply, "My soul has been touched by your strength and my heart by your struggle." I felt like someone saw me.
  • Come closer and show up for the hard stuff. "How is your heart?" "How are you dealing with everything going on?" And one of the more lovely things: "I'm sorry for your loss" or "I'm so sorry for the pain this causes." Even "I'm thinking of you today." This assures the person that you see the loss and validate it.
  • Do the practical stuff, too. Bring a meal, celebrate other things happening in their life, invite them for holidays, encourage them in using their influence and unique, God-given personality to mentor and bless others.

And,if you're wondering, I did show up for Mother's Day at church, though I skipped the services that had a baby dedication. And it was more inclusive than I thought it would be. And, because I wanted to reach out, I introduced myself to the man in front of us, who promptly told us he is almost 92 years old and that he has been married for 67 years. Yet he sat alone.

"My wife has Alzheimer's," he said. "And I go to her nursing home each day and feed her lunch." He fondly recalled some arguments in their younger years and how he learned to love her through them. And I said, "God bless you in your care for her."

And I thought about how the body of Christ is supposed to function. And how, in showing up for another's pain, we somehow feel ours lessening a bit. I hope the Church continues to grow in learning how to fully embrace and include singles and those who are childless, as well as anyone who comes into church with unresolved loss and pain.

In so doing, we share the care of Jesus and make it visible and tangible, making the journey less lonely and a little less difficult.

"He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds." Psalm 147:3 (NLT)

Your turn: what is the most healing thing someone has said or done during a time of loss?

For the childless this Mother's Day (and those who love them)

photoYou will forgive me if I did not turn to greet you this morning as the pastor instructed.

Part of me wanted to, but the other part heard the church leader greet you and your baby right before service.

"Your baby should be in the church dedication on Mother's Day!" he said.

You replied: "Actually, she has already been dedicated!"

And I gripped my belly, the pain of last week's surgery that closed my womb still smarting,

the emotional sear from the finality of my childlessness closing in.

And I tried to remember why I had come to church this morning, but it was hard to come up with anything. 

***

Funny enough, or perhaps not so funny, the entire sermon turned out to be on raising up the Next Generation.

It was an important sermon; I appreciated the way in which it was preached; I actually marveled a bit that the pastor addressed the childless in the congregation twice.

But the sermon did little to address the pain churling inside of me, a pain that cannot be tamped down by the drugs the doctor dutifully prescribed post-surgery.

I needed someone to identify with the suffering that came when the nurse said, happily: "Well, the most important thing to know is that she's not pregnant. That's good!" before the general anesthetic knocked me out for an hour or two.

It is finished. It is finished. This long journey is finished.

The End.

And, finally, I awoke again.

***

So when it came to church this morning, the only thing I could relate to at all was Communion.

This was his body broken for me, and his blood spilled out for me, and his death, looming, opened a gateway.

By his wounds we are healed, I am healed, somehow I will be healed.

Here was Jesus, 33 years of age, unmarried, childless, too; having finished the work the Father gave him to do;

and he said, "It is finished!" after bloody tears, and nakedness and scorn and tearing flesh and, worst of all: abandonment.

Yet in the middle of our under-way Redemption, he also cried out: "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

***

"My God, why have you forsaken us?"

Wanting to create and give birth to life, wanting to follow in the Creator's footsteps, longing that leads to longing.

Monday morning dawned. Today, for the first time, I imagined the children that might have been ours.

It is quiet in this room and their faces match ours, and this dream passes before my eyes, swirling. And in the quiet Abba is here, too. What a saving grace, since I admit it can be hard to let another in. I have found he is one of the few who can bear with the childless in their unique grief—a grief for something that never was. The only way I know how to explain it is he is not uncomfortable or agitated or helpless in the face of my deep loss; somehow, he is just sitting here, with me, in the worst of it.

And the wounds of Jesus, still present in his body, feel present in this room.

He is the one who said, My God, why??? And yet he showed us there is hope in our wounds:

...as people of the resurrection, our promise is that our wounds will not and forever bleed us of our lives and our vitality. The promise of the resurrection is not the assurance of an easy, simple life without wounds, but a life in which our wounds, even if they define us, do not bleed us. The promise of the resurrection is that, eventually, after the bleeding stops, our wounds, while they won’t ever heal, might just begin to heal others. -"The Hope in Our Wounds: A Homily for Easter"

Dear childless one, I cannot, will not, try to minimize your wound. I cannot tell you that better things will fill it, or that all things work together for good, or carelessly, "Just think of how much freedom you have!"  So often well-intentioned words mock, and sometimes what is needed are not words but quiet understanding. Shared burden. "This hurts!" Shared tears.

But I can say, that in Jesus, we are Resurrection people. It may be that the new life we long to bear physically eludes us. There is no neat and tidy reason for this; it is part of the effects of sin and brokenness; it just is. Yet the new life of the Resurrection covers us, encircles us, winds us in its power and inclusiveness, its enoughness. And if Scripture is true, and I believe it is, he also gathers us under his wings like a mother hen, he quietly sings over us, he would never dream of leaving our side. Jesus tenderly whispers, "You are enough. I have made sure of this."

After all the "I'm-not-measuring-up feelings" that childlessness can bring, no matter how much we know differently, this Resurrection enoughness may be what is needed most. For the childless this Mother's Day—and for those who love them, too.

A few notes: Mother's Day in church opens a can of worms this post is not designed to explore. But know this: the Body is for your healing, and if you cannot experience that healing in your church body on Mother's Day, please worship elsewhere, maybe a walk through the woods or a bike ride. Do not add to your pain by placing burdens on yourself that are impossible to bear. Be as gentle as Jesus with yourself. You are God's Beloved, the one Jesus loves, and he delights in you just as you are. No pretending needed.

Motherhood does not make a woman more godly. See this recent post. We can be fully grounded in a theology that tells us we are complete, single or married, mothers or not. This is the Jesus way, most certainly. But some, if not many of us, will still grieve the loss of the life-giving function our Creator gave to his daughters. This is well and good, honest and necessary, and I live in this tension with gratefulness for a Savior who sees me as whole and longs to provide a place of healing in his community. I pray that the Church would be, would become, this place—especially as one in five women now find themselves childless.

A few more resources for churches: Loving the child-free people in your church and Dear Church: "What is a woman if she is not a mother?"

If you are without children this Christmas

Once while calling to schedule an adoption physical, the nurse said, "Oh, when are you adopting?" I said, "Well, actually we don't know that we'll ever adopt. We're just calling to schedule a physical for an adoption application."

"Well, I sure hope you do. Because children are what makes the world go round!"

***

I will never forget her words or the emotions that shot through my veins. Because in my blurry brain, they meant this: Your life will certainly not be complete without children. That better work out for you. Otherwise, life is basically hopeless. One might even say, worthless. 

Emotions are funny things, I tell you, because despite my theology informing me that it is actually the Triune God who makes the world go round, I tend to believe the world instead. Left unaided, I tend to believe the lie that I will never be happy or fulfilled without children of my own.

***

The day before Thanksgiving, we found out an adoption opportunity that was beginning to appear so hopeful would not happen. It was horrible timing; I can't imagine it being worse unless they had actually called us on Thanksgiving Day or something while we were sitting down to a turkey dinner. We were on my way to my sister's house to help with prep for the big day. And I think the wisest thing to do would have been to go home and sit on the couch and cry for the evening, then to venture out on Thanksgiving morning again. But, clearly, we weren't thinking straight. So we soldiered on.

My body did this strange thing, too: I had a wool scarf on for all of 15-20 minutes, and I broke out in a red welt on my neck that began to grow, red, throbbing, absorbing. It was as if the adrenaline in my body that had been building for 2 1/2 months came in for a crash landing, and my body cried out in confusion. It took the steroids five days to calm the allergic reaction down.

Body, soul, and spirit, all felt like a tumbled mess. And no one knew what to do or to say. Lament. Grieve, mourn and wail. Cry out to Abba. Even when it is impossible to think clearly, to even sort through the mess, he is somehow here.

***

Hope binds itself around the heart like barbed wire. It hurts to hope and it hurts not to hope. -Cindy, blog commenter, on "How this barren woman says thank you"

  • If you are single and hoping for a spouse and children, then a married person who has no kids may not seem so sad to you. You may be hoping for just a warm touch, just the reassurance and comfort of the presence of another. This was how I lived most of my adult life. Double grief can be hard to bear. I am so sorry.
  • If you are married and you have been through umpteen failed cycles, or your adoption dreams just never came true, and you long for a child of your own, I am sorry for the endless hoping and hopes dashed. The emotional whiplash you have endured is real and raw.
  • If you are a parent but your kids are separated from you this Christmas, my heart pounds for you. This is a hard thing, one I wish you did not have to bear.

Let's skip the tired cliches and the "Well, there's always next year!" comments. Let's be real here, if only for a few sacred moments.

I do not know that you will ever be married or have the children you desire, or that you will spend next Christmas with your kiddos. I will not give you false hope. I've endured so much myself that I can only tolerate the real deal.

And here is what Jesus has been speaking to me, here is why I haven't yet given up on hope:

Dear child,

In this life, you will experience many deaths. You will participate in my suffering; you will taste of the cup I bore for you.

Gratefully, the cross was not the final word. The tomb is empty. And I know you already received this memo: but I am Risen! I have conquered death. What I said is true: behold, I am making all things new! Resurrection is possible; I proved this once and I am proving it again each day.

These are your spiritual guarantees, the promises you must put your weight upon. But let me be clear: all of this great news does not mean your dreams here will be fulfilled. Some marry young, some never marry, some die of starvation when these things should not be so! Some have ten children with no means to care for them, some lose children growing in their wombs, some never have children to call their own.

So don't believe those who tell you that they are believing God to give you all the things you've ever wanted, that he will come through for you! He has already come through for you. He is working in and through your sorrow to create beautiful, abundant life. This pruning is for your good.

And, behold, I am doing a new thing—haven't you noticed? My inbreaking kingdom means new life and Resurrection is occurring constantly. But my ways of working are not based only on your pleas and your desires: they are based on my knowledge, my love, for your good and the good of my kingdom.

So while the desire for a child is good and holy, don't miss the new things I'm up to by clinging to a dream that may or may not happen for you. Open up your eyes again, tilt your chin up toward me, let me go about loving you in the ways I long to. 

No matter the loss or heartache, redemption is happening. Right here, in the pain. Have you forgotten the one thing I was hoping you would never forget? I will never leave your nor forsake you. I specialize in bringing hope in the most barren places. As you experience deaths and difficulties of all kinds, I am waiting to bring you new life. All this is yours if you remain in me.

With great affection,

Your Abba

What difficult struggle do you face this Christmas? Do you feel it is possible to find Resurrection even in this hard thing? Why or why not?

How this barren woman says thank you (for all those in barren places)

Here is this week of thanks. And here are millions of people in a barren season, in the  middle of a mess, and how will they say thank you? Can their lips even form the words? Can their trembling hands accept the mashed potatoes with gratitude as they are passed (provided they have food at all)? What about their wavering hearts? Who will remember those in barren places?

God will. He always does. I don't always know how to explain it, but he comes for us.  

***

This is the cry of a barren woman whose womb is closed The one who hoped she might be a Hannah (minus the five additional children) that God might hear her prayer and present a miracle of a child.

She would then present her child to the LORD and the LORD would use this one in his Kingdom of love And the circle of family would feel complete, finished, the tiresome journey worthwhile.

***

Except the child did not come and the womb is closing for good and others are bearing children, yes But her womb and arms remain empty. How she longs to move on! She thought she had But for reasons unknown to her God keeps the door open, if only a crack.

***

The tears go and come again And she is weary Weary of this one thing withheld Wishing it didn't mean so much And she wonders how to begin in all this lavish giving of thanks.

***

"I am thankful for . . ." the family I do not have?

***

There are no distractions here What do I really want? Wholeness, shalom. Only the Shepherd can give it; But will the sheep receive it? Her bleating reaches his ears The promise remains: The Lord is my Shepherd I won't be wanting.

***

And I. And I will. And I will dwell. And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever! For this, I lift my hands, saying thank you, thank you, thank you, gentle Shepherd.

***

For in these barren places he makes it so that we may feast on Him. Our true hunger can be satisfied Our longings, though unfulfilled, leading to a deeper longing which may always be filled.

I can't always explain it, but he comes for us. 

In thanks for you, dear reader, meditating on this song of dwelling in the house of God forever. Enjoy.

How about you? What barren place do you find yourself in? And how do you seek to find God in the midst of it?

Dear Church: "What is a woman if she is not a mother?"

g9510.20_Childfree.Cover A few weeks ago, Time Magazine featured a cover heralding “The childfree life: when having it all means not having children.” The news circuit lit up with the topic, dishing about why one in five women today lives childfree, a trend that is obviously growing: after all, only one in ten women in 1970 remained childless. The writer of the article, Lauren Sandler, had this to say on CBS News This Morning:

“A lot of women just don’t have the jones for it. And they’re frankly feeling a little bit more empowered to stand up for that right now.” 

The child-free movement is picking up steam as the birthrate in America has hit its lowest point since the Great Depression. But frankly, I’m not so concerned about the social and financial repercussions of a reduced birthrate. I’m much more concerned with how the Church will respond to the question Sandler posed on live television, even as she admitted women are still being judged for living child-free:

“What is an adult woman if she is not a mother?”

Society at large may not be able to answer this question, though some women are trying. Up till now, most of the answers have revolved around self-interest. But the Church? One would think that the Church would be ready with an answer that grounds every woman’s identity firmly in Christ alone.

As you may have guessed, my question is not merely a theoretical one, but a personal one. After a later-in-life marriage, five years of infertility, and a year and half invested in an adoption agency that has failed to produce even a single match, I’m beginning to wonder about my childless state. Does God mean for me to follow every possible route in order to find a child? Or might my heavenly Father want to use all this brokenness and my childless state for the advancement of His Kingdom? And if so, will I be able to accept this? More to the point, will the Body of Christ accept my child-free status?

I’m wondering what our theology says to the growing number of childless women among us. Do they know that according to the Bible and the ministry of Jesus himself, they are not second-class citizens of the Kingdom?

  • To the woman who has chosen to remain child-free, you are an imagebearer of the living God. As such, you serve as his representative, and you have a job to do, bringing his love and justice to your work, your home and your world.
  • To the tired one classified as “infertile,” you are not a reflection of how hard you try to conceive. You were created as an ezer, the Hebrew word used in Genesis 2 referring to the creation of Eve—a strong power who rescues others from isolation. This Hebrew word is used to identify our Creator himself throughout the Old Testament and how he comes through for his people in times of great need. And this is your soul-identity, mother or not.
  • To anyone who is not child-free by choice—whether single or married—your tears are recorded by God, and your heavenly Father sees you not as a statistic or a failure, but as a woman whose broken places he longs to and intends to fully redeem as your story and lifeprint touch others in healing ways.

And now, a few questions the Church must wrestle with if we are to offer a robust theology for both women and men, some of whom may have already left the Church:

  • Does the Old Testament/Old Covenant command to be fruitful and multiply still apply today, as parts of the Earth struggle with a lack of resources to provide for the population it contains?
  • Can a married couple choose to be child-free, with great joy, for the sake of the Kingdom?
  • Should believers in Jesus exhaust their emotional and financial resources, even going into significant debt, to get pregnant or pursue adoption costs that may or may not bring them a child? In other words, is it possible that we have, however well-intentioned, erected an idol out of parenthood?

Even as I type these hard questions, I also affirm that children are a blessing from God.

Bearing them, adopting them and nurturing them can be an act of faith and trust in what God has done, is doing, and will do. The ability to procreate and nurture young life are wonderful gifts from our Creator, and they should be celebrated. But hear me well: they are not the reason we exist. We exist, as the whole of Scripture tells us, to glorify God.

Beyond the statistics and the theological questions we must ask, my greatest concern is that the Church of Jesus would provide a more welcoming place for the childless in their midst. Speaking as one of those who is childless by circumstance, I often feel invisible in church. Knowing that someone sees me, makes room for me—and is willing to think through what it means for someone like me to advance God’s Kingdom on earth—is a priceless gift. A gift, in fact, that keeps on giving, whether I become a mother or not.

See also: Loving the child-free people in your church Dear Mentor: Can a Christian couple choose not to have children?, Susan Bruch, Intervarsity, The Well

Your turn: How will you answer the question"What is a woman if she is not a mother?"

Loving the child-free people in your church

Silence on my blog may or may not indicate a personal meltdown on this end of the computer screen. In this case, however, it does. There are many reasons a menagerie of losses have piled high and deep, making me imagine myself lying on the ground, loss after loss pressing down in a heap upon my chest, stealing the air I breathe. There are reasons, I tell you. Do you have a few hours?

But rather than dive into all of them, I'd like to highlight one that has laid me flat of late.

In the last several weeks,  the husband and I have begun to ask ourselves if we are being led to live a child-free existence.

We are wondering, as devoted followers of Jesus and passionate lovers of His Kingdom, can we be content with living without children? Should we be? Can we be? Will we be?   

[A moment of silence, please.]

Can we possibly let those questions sit for a minute without judgment, without comment, without somebody trying to rescue us from this deep pain? Can we, Church?

Because here is the reality, my friends: as far as I know, in 4 1/2 years of trying, I have never been pregnant. We are not comfortable with pursuing chemical fertility options. We have knocked on the domestic adoption door, we are waiting, but our agency doubts we will ever find a placement through them as we have entered year #2 on the list. We have been through the wringer, my friend, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Before you say it, I am aware that there are other options; I'm just not sure we're meant to try all of them to find a child. I'm not sure this is the best use of our time and money and energy in God's Kingdom. I think it could easily become an idol (and has been one), a way of grasping for control, of forcing God's hand. And we are just so very tired, to be honest. We are wondering at what point do we release this desire and trust that God will take care of us if we never have a child of our own?

In terms of Kingdom-gains, what might be on the other side of a child-free existence? 

Meanwhile, as it has become so painful for friends and family to walk with us through this, I offer these suggestions for those who want to be Jesus to people like us. I offer them humbly, as a gift, realizing they may not hit the target for every child-free individual you know. Still, I feel they could be a beautiful start.

Ways to love the child-free people in your church:

  • Assume nothing. Whether single or married, don't assume a person does or does not have children. (Or that they do or do not desire them.) Above all, do not approach them and ask first: "So, do you have kids?" Instead, "tell me about yourself" or "what brought you to our church?" or "what are your interests and hobbies?" or "how can I help welcome you into our church?" You assume these are awkward ways to get started, no? They are much less awkward than asking the kids question up front and having someone who has struggled with infertility and adoption for five years hear that you are most concerned not about her, but her parenting status. Because Jesus is not so concerned about parenting status, my friends. And neither should we be.
  • Let them know you see them. Child-free people often feel invisible, especially in the Church. In what can only be described as an odd theological leap, churches often glorify marriage and parenthood as the greatest Calling in life. Clearly, Jesus disagrees (as does Paul). The big, beautiful body of Christ is supposed to be our first family, and it's time we started acting like it. Take time to sit with those without children and ask them to tell their stories; honor their journey (and their anger or sadness, if they are experiencing it); include them in your body life; bear their burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Some of the kindest things ever said to me include these: "This is so hard, and I don't know how things will turn out, but I am standing with you in this. You can count on me." "How can I encourage you in this?" "This desire you have is a good desire from God. And I will faithfully pray for you in this."
  • Make room for them. Do you know how I felt when I went to a new church in a new city and was asked if I wanted to attend "Mom's Night Out"? As it was the only social opportunity for women at the time, I believe the woman who asked me was trying to include the newcomer. When I informed her I was not a mom and I asked if they had considered calling it "Ladies' Night Out" to include the childless women in the church, I was eventually told: "Sorry, that's just what we call it." I never attended—I did, however, immediately feel marginalized. Does your programming immediately ostracize the childless person in your midst? How about the weight of your Mother's Day and Father's Day observances? How does your Church observe community in a way that makes everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, the family with the quiver-full and the person who attends Church by themselves, feel that they are essential to the functioning of the big, beautiful body of Christ? In my humble opinion, how you answer that question can be a great indicator of the health of your church.

Meanwhile, we are still wondering, as devoted followers of Jesus and passionate lovers of His Kingdom, can we be content with living without children? Can we be? Will we be?

In this, will you pray for us, my friends? And, above all, if you pass us in Church or on facebook or the like, will you simply remind us that the Lord is here with us in this space, that you are here for us in this space, and that you aren't going anywhere?

This will be balm for the soul of this childless woman, I assure you.

It will be like drops of rain after a dry and dusty season.

It may even feel like sheer grace.

Barren guilt by association

Welcome to barren Mondays, the place where our places of greatest barrenness—physically, emotionally or spiritually—provide fertile ground for the beauty of the Kingdom to break through. Two weeks ago my post titled  "Where does every infertile woman get a child?" revealed my grief in finding that in the Bible, the infertile woman always appears to get a child. This week, I discover the one exception. And in the next and final installment, I reveal how I am surprised to finally find comfort in the first chapters of Genesis.

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Last week's post included this prayer, a cry of lament: Seriously, Lord, the women you trumpet as barren and dried up, depressed and despairing, the ones with no fruit on the vine, always get a baby in your Book? Seriously? And this is supposed to bring me comfort how? Could not one of them remain barren, could not one of them find a way to joy beyond childlessness, could not one of them be the poster child for a kind of spiritual fertility that makes the dried-up womb bearable somehow, redeem-able somehow?

After my initial discovery that every well-known barren woman in the Bible ended up with a baby (In Hannah's case, six of them!), I made another less-than-pleasing discovery. There was indeed a woman declared permanently barren in the Bible: Michal, the "obstinate" first wife of King David. 

Do you see where this is going?

2 Samuel 6:16, 20, 23, NRSV As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart . . . David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!” . . . And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

(Note: 2 Samuel 21:8 is used by some to say she did indeed have children, but today's translations believe this reference was to her sister, Merab.)

David, the "man after God's own heart" was mistreated by his first wife, or so the story goes. I had always placed Michal in the category of Scripture's "bad girls of the Bible," believing from early Sunday School lessons that she dampened the praise David willingly offered to God, and obviously paid for it. She is the villain; David is the hero. End of story. So she gets no baby.

In this scenario, barrenness *appears* to be a punishment from God, making a barren woman like me feel a sort of "guilt by association."

If Michal is barren because she did something wrong, than I am barren because I've done something wrong, too. It is not hard to see how one might draw this conclusion, considering that every other woman in the Bible who mourned her barrenness received a baby!

Unless...we have misread our Bibles. (Say it isn't so!)

A closer look at the above passage has me asking, Where does it say God punished Michal by making her barren?

It does not. Perhaps instead of casting stones at Michal, we ought to look at the desperateness of her situation:

As for Michal, who can guess her emotions? She had loved David dearly during the short time she had been his wife in the rustic simplicity of her father's court. But to discover, on her arrival at Hebron, that she was only one of a number of wives in the royal harem would have been a bitter pill to swallow and cause her to wonder whether her return was an affair of the heart or a matter of politics. To have the daughter of Saul as wife would undoubtedly be a point in David's favor when he appealed to the men to change their allegiance. - The IVP Women's Bible Commentary

Oh, dear. This woman, whose name means "who is like God?" seems to have been played like a royal pawn between her father and her husband. She has returned to find David dancing after her father Saul had given her marriage for political favor to another until David demanded her back. She may not have been so opposed to David's dancing before the Lord as she was to being treated like a pawn rather than a person.

And here is where reality bites: it's quite possible that "Michal the daughter of Saul had no children until the day of her death" because a) David refused to be with her again; hey, he had options; and b) David wanted the lineage of Saul extinguished that he might gain favor with the people. Who is the victim in the story, then? Is it David—or Michal?

Let me just say it outright: polygamy never ends well in the Old Testament. 

As I've read the story of Michal through to its conclusion, my attitude on her barrenness has changed from one of anger at feeling lumped in with the Bible's well-known "praise-basher" to a wistful sadness. I wish her story would have played out differently, I wish she would have been treated as an image-bearer of the living God, I wish she would have had the agency and options in her life that I take for granted.

Michal and I are still in the same boat, of course, as far as childlessness goes. But I have the power of a resurrected Savior in front of me, surrounding me, promising me that there is new life in Christ, no matter how dried up the womb. For this, I find it hard to express my thanks. But I will try; yes, I will try.

How about you? How has reading someone's story helped you through a time of physical, emotional or spiritual barrenness?

Where Does Every Infertile Woman Get a Child?

Welcome to barren Mondays, the place where our places of greatest barrenness—physically, emotionally or spiritually—provide fertile ground for the beauty of the Kingdom to break through. Where does every barren woman break forth with child? In what place might every infertile be granted fruit and multiplication in her household? Where might this happy-clappy place of fertile abundance be reality?

The Bible.

Yes, the Holy Scriptures. And trust me, God and I have had conversations about this. 

genesis1Seriously, Lord, the women you trumpet as barren and dried up, depressed and despairing, the ones with no fruit on the vine, always get a baby in your Book? Seriously? And this is supposed to bring me comfort how? Could not one of them remain barren, could not one of them find a way to joy beyond childlessness, could not one of them be the poster child for a kind of spiritual fertility that makes the dried-up womb bearable somehow, redeem-able somehow?

Not a one that I could see.

The Bible's most popular fertility stories include those of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elisabeth and Ruth. And each story has a turning point, a climax, a solution to their terrible pain. The solution is a baby. A bonafide, viable-sperm-meets-egg-after-ovulation miracle pregnancy. But then, in my mind, every pregnancy ever conceived is a miracle.

For Sarah, the babe came after searing infertility, menopause, and old age had already arrived. In Genesis 25:21, after 20 years of Rebekah's barrenness, Isaac pleaded with Yahweh to open up her womb—and out popped Jacob and Esau. Admittedly, Rachel died in childbirth, after she had given birth to the long-awaited Joseph and Benjamin. Hannah's womb, once void, produced five more children after Samuel was born, the angel announced Elisabeth's treasure in her golden years, and Ruth's infertility dried up when her kinsman-Redeemer helped her conceive a child that would rescue her mother-in-law's family name from disgrace.

In a patriarchal culture where a person's seed symbolized their salvation, each of the women above were dramatically rescued from one of the worst fates that might befall them: barrenness.

"For nothing will be impossible with God," the angel said to Mary the mother of Jesus, after announcing cousin Elisabeth's miracle baby.

Allow me to be blunt. After years of childlessness, my monthly cry has often been this: nothing is impossible for God except for me to have a child. Only this.  

If hope deferred makes the heart sick, hope denied is worse. 

So how might one find any kind of hope again when they are not promised a child, when their arms remain empty and their heart lies bruised and questioning?

This Book I love, the one that contains the truth that lights my way, may not offer up the permanently barren woman with whom I can commiserate. I wish it did. But it does winsomely point the way to my suffering Savior, those bloody teardrops in the garden, arms outstretched, nails pummeled through his broken flesh, redemption and the future secured, anchor-sure. Human body, he had, human disappointments, betrayal, angst, loneliness, and yes, despair. Jesus may not have had a uterus, but he is somehow acquainted with my sorrow.

This is hope, and it will be enough.

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What about you? Describe how hope does—or doesn't break through—in an area of barrenness.

Next week: Another "barren Mondays: Guilt by Association," as I discover the one woman declared barren in the Bible and what it might have to do with me.