Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Do you remember the excitement you felt about Christmas as a kid? It was, as one classic holiday movie puts it, the event which the kid-year revolved around. As a child I devised all kinds of ways to count down the days to Christmas. One year, I had a Santa Claus calendar where you could glue a cotton ball to Santa's beard for every day that passed until come Christmas, Santa had a full beard. I made paper chains and I tore off a link for every day that passed. And of course, there was always the verbal count. I know I drove my mother crazy with that one. I would triumphantly announce the number of days remaining until the holiday and my poor mother would groan and shake her head, thinking of all that was still to be done.
I still love Christmas. The sights, the sounds, the traditions,the time spent treasuring family relations, meditating on the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord-- it is a wonderful time of year. But the thought struck me the other day: we are in the season of anticipation. Not for presents or family or carols, but for heaven. That's exciting to me! How I wish that I had more of my childish eagerness back... but for the coming of the Lord. I am waiting for the penultimate event of all time. For utopia! For rest! To see the Savior's face! What an exciting thing! How often I forget that He is coming. And how much greater will He be than any shadowy holiday. Here's wishing you a Merry Christmas and a season of anticipation that lasts far past December 25th.
There's so much going on in my life right now and so much that I'm learning that I need a forum to sort some of it out. Brian is in the middle of seminary and working full-time, I'm working full-time and trying to run a home, we're both studying and reading a lot, and we're in the midst of an adoption. I have a sense that my entries will largely be about theology, affliction, and our adoption. So if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, journey elsewhere my friend and plague yourself not with my ramblings.
Monday, November 29, 2004
This is not my plan for my life.
Our story is not an uncommon one in many ways. We'd been married two years and I was in my final semester of school doing my student teaching when I began experiencing abdominal pain. I went to a variety of doctors who believed I was constipated. After several months of tests and treatments, the pain grew. Finally, one night, it was too much to bear. My husband and I went to emergency room at about 3am. After hours of waiting, rocking back in forth to try to curb the pain and the desire to moan, I was seen. At 7am I underwent a sonogram which revealed an extremely large cyst on my right ovary. I was admitted to the hospital and after more tests the doctors decided to release me so that I could attempt to finish the semester and go to graduation, which was only about two weeks away. I had missed more student teaching days than I was allotted which made my school unhappy and they were threatening to fail me. Two days later, I was back in the hospital because of the pain and I had the surgery. The doctor told me that I could need a hysterectomy and that it could be cancer. I was 22. I had a laparotomy during which my right ovary and appendix were removed. The blood-filled cyst, an endometrioma, was the size of a large grapefruit according to the doctor. It took me about 2 months to recuperate from that surgery. By God's grace it was not cancer, and I did not receive a hysterectomy. I also graduated.
About 4 months after that surgery, I felt the familiar symptoms come back. The diagnosis: endometriosis. I would need another surgery. And this time it was on the left side. The death knell sounded in my heart at this point. I knew with a sinking certainty that my fertility was compromised. My husband was in school and I had graduated. I had taken a receptionist's job at my husband's seminary in order to have the flexibility to quit as soon as we were pregnant. We had only been waiting on my graduation to start our family.
After 4 more months of invasive tests and visits to several specialists, I had my second surgery. This was a laproscopy and was much less painful. The doctor had less than hopeful news, however. My left fallopian tube was inextricably adhered to my bowel and was completely sealed off. My right tube was fine, but there was no ovary there.
It is hard to put words to the intensity of emotion I felt when I discovered I was unable to conceive. It was the most painful experience of my life.
My complete ambition was to be a mother of a large family. I wanted to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the LORD. Because of that: I was an elementary education major, I was a receptionist, I spent countless hours studying theology, I filled my shelves with children's books, I spent my free time babysitting. I truly believed that my calling from God, my profession, was to be a mother. So I tried to prepare myself to be the best mother I could be. Children were and are one of my most captivating interests in life. Some people love music or math. I like kids. I truly feel that motherhood is one of the most important and meaningful callings that exists. I felt like God had slapped me in the face. I was trying to serve Him. Didn't I deserve kids? Surely of all people, I was ready to be a parent. Over and over I tortured myself by thinking of mothers who aborted their children, or neglected them, or were terrified and unhappy to discover that they had become pregnant. Why, God???? I saw stories in the newspaper about parents who starved their child to death or lit them on fire. Why give children to child abusers, and yet deem that I am an unworthy parent?
I also struggled with feeling like less than a woman. Isn't that one of the fundamental differences between a woman and a man? A woman can bear children-- men can't. Well, neither could I. What did that make me? I looked at my husband and felt ashamed that I couldn't present him with a child. Why would he want me anymore? He had always said that one of things he loved most about me were my thoughts on children and motherhood. I'm certainly no super model. Much wiser and braver and smarter and more efficient and more faithful women could be found anywhere. Why would he want to stay with me? I felt like a horrible burden. Every time the pain from my endometriosis reared its ugly head, I could see the strain on my dear husband's face. The doctors had said that my disease was incurable. I would probably need more surgery in the future. Every time that happened, the medical bills flew thick and furious. What little savings we had was eroded and we were introduced to a new friend: debt.
But it was Almighty God's plan.
During my wallow in the mud of self-pity, God spoke to me. Show me one person in the Bible who did not experience disappointment, He said in the quiet way God has of talking in your soul. The gentle conviction of His Spirit, which so often comes in Bible verses, spoke through my pain:
"For those the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son He
receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as sons; for
what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without
discipline, of which we have all become partakers, then you are illegitimate
children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and
we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits
and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but
He disciplines us for our good, so that we may have a share in His holiness. All
discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those
who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of
righteousness." Hebrews 12:6-11
"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off
the heavens with by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the
measure and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of
scales? Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD or as His counselor has informed
Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him the path of justice and knowledge and informed Him of the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales. Behold He lifts up the islands like fine dust." Isaiah 40:12-15
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed
me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners;
to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a
garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the spirit of
praise instead of a spirit fainting, so they will be called oaks of
righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah
"But Zion said 'The LORD has forsaken me, and the LORD has forgotten
me.' Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of
her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold I have
inscribed you on the palms of my hands. And all flesh will know that I, the
LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob." Isaiah
49:14-16 & 26
"Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm and said, 'Now gird up
your loins like a man; I will ask you and you will instruct Me; will you really
annul my judgment? Will you condemn me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His? Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity, and clothe yourself with honor and majesty. Pour out the
overflowing of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and make him low.
Look on everyone who is proud and humble him. And tread down the wicked where
they stand. Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place. Then
I will also confess to you, that your own right hand can save you.'" Job
"Then Job answered the LORD and said, 'I know that you can do all
things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides
counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not
understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear now and I
will speak; I will ask You and You will instruct me. I have heard of you by the
hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent
in dust and ashes.'" Job 42:1-6
God reminded me of the disciples. How must they have felt as they saw Jesus nailed up the cross? Surely they thought: This isn't how it is supposed to happen! Did we waste three years of our lives following this man? Are all of our hope and dreams for Israel dead? Why, God? But out of that event, which must have seemed completely disastrous and devastating to the disciples, God wrought His greatest work of all time. How limited is our scope! Who are you, o man, to question the Almighty!
People who try to comfort me by saying that God didn't want this struggle to happen to us rob me of my one true comfort: God is completely in control of the universe. If I know this, then I know that there is a reason, and a good one, that I've gone through this pain. A helpless is God is no comfort at all-- He can do nothing more for me than I can do for myself. I don't need another person to commiserate with me. I need the One who lends purpose and meaning to every life and event on this planet to reassure me that His way is best, even when I have to writhe in agony. And I know that the joy of heaven will be all the sweeter for the pain and disappointment that we suffer in this life-- whether it be death, infertility, sickness and infirmity, or humiliation. The day is coming-- O LORD haste that day-- when:
"The tabernacle of God is among men and He will dwell among them and they
shall be His people and God Himself will be among them. He will wipe away every
tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no
longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain, the first things have passed away."
Finding the sweetness of God's will.
After struggling with accepting the gift of infertility from the hand of the Lord, it was a joy to contemplate adoption. Knowing that there are children out there who need a good home, and finding ourselves a home without children, adoption made sense and gave me hope that we could still have children. Children to train and raise to love the Lord. Still, I had my doubts. With my husband still in school and myself being the primary wage earner, the timing for adoption looked a bit off. Still, we decided that there was no harm in doing the research. So we did and we learned a lot. First of all, adoption is not cheap! Secondly, a good agency is hard to find. We found a lot of places that we didn't feel comfortable with. We also found out all about the different kinds of adoption and decided that we wanted to adopt domestically, and on the advice of trusted friends, an infant, since this would be our first child.
The last research call I made was a long shot to a local maternity home for teen mothers. I sheepishly asked who they referred the mothers to if they decided to make an adoption plan. I figured the lady would give me the name of an agency I'd already researched, but instead she gave me the phone number for the center's director. That's odd, I thought. Hopefully, I dialed the number. When I spoke to the director she told me that they were starting a new Christian adoption agency very near to our home (some of the agencies we'd looked at were hours of driving from our house). The agency had just received their license two weeks before and hadn't even had their letterhead printed yet! After meeting the caseworkers and director in person and hearing about their 25 years of experience with adoptions, we were thrilled. The price tag for this agency was also incredibly low because of their commitment not to advertise for birth mothers, but to trust God to match the families without the expense of ads. The director cautioned us that because of this, it could be years before a match was made. That suited my husband and I just fine because he wasn't finished with school yet anyway.
Along the course of this adoption, we have simply taken the next step and it is amazing to see the way God has been working! We were told that the home study process could take as long as six months to complete-- ours has taken about 6 weeks. We were told birth mothers probably wouldn't be available for years-- we received a call 1 week before the beginning of our home study, offering us a 6 week old child by the next week. We weren't quite ready for a little one so soon, so we had to turn down the offer, but it spoke volumes to us about the unexpectedness and power of the adoption process. It also showed us that we could be parents a lot sooner than 2 or 3 years from now! We knew that my husband needed a full-time job to make this adoption a reality-- he was promoted to a full-time position as of Nov. 19th. We will be receiving the final copy of our home study any day now, and our profile has been placed in the book that birth mothers see. We don't know what God's plan is, but we are full of hope because we know that He is a loving and gracious God who works good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.
And we know when we hold our precious one in our arms for the very first time, that we will be experiencing the most beautiful gift of God manifest: His graciousness. We know that moment will be gloriously sweet because of the longing that God had placed in our heart for our child. We are confident that whatever the outcome of the events of our lives that God is sovereign and that grants us more peace and comfort than all the pregnancies, children, money, honor, or power in all the world. May His people say amen.
God again has proven that His ways are not our ways. Brian and I felt very comfortable and commited to the adoption plans that we made and the agency we chose, and had no intention of making a change. But I contined to struggle with health problems and the doctors could offer no solution. One doctor did suggest that pregnancy could help heal the scar tissue from my surgeries and give my body a break from the outbreaks of endometriosis. But of course I couldn't get pregnant on my own. Brian and I were not comfortable with IVF, due to some standard industry practices that we feel unnecessarily jeopardize babies, so that door was closed to us. Then we found out about embryo adoption/donation. This is a process where "extra" frozen embryos from IVF procedures are given to an infertile couple for implantation. There are 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States right now. Most of these children will be discarded or donated to research. Through God's grace and another family's generosity, I am pregnant with a little boy. This child is not flesh of my flesh, but God has given him to me, a barren woman anyway. If you want to read the story of his implantation and how we came to be blessed with him, you can read the archives of my blog.
Iain Zechariah Douglas is due June 6,2006. His name means "The Lord is gracious; He has remembered me". Truly the Lord has honored His promise not to forget His people-- and how graciously has He reminded me of that! We feel unspeakably blessed by God's great gift to us, and I can honestly thank Him for the pain that has taught me so much and brought me such joy. May His name be glorified forever and ever!