Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Still Running

I'm not a runner. Honestly, I hate to run.

When I was in college, one of my friends suggested that I start running with her. She'd been running for years. I thought I'd give it a try and told her that I would have to start pretty slowly. Let me tell you, to put it nicely, it kicked my butt. I was able to keep up with my friend, but I noticed that I had to focus nearly all my energy on breathing in and out. I found it amusing that, while we would run, my friend would chat. Finally one day I told her that I absolutely didn't mind listening, but I would be a terrible conversationalist during our runs! I found it impossible to keep up my end of the conversation while gasping for air.

If any of you are runners out there, please don't be hard on me! I did my best to try to hang with my friend who obviously had more experience than I did. She knew what she was doing! I didn't, and I never quite caught on. We eventually quit running together (probably due to our schedules more than my dislike for it), and besides the occasional game of chase with my nephews, I haven't run for the sake of running since. I admire those who do it, but it's really not my thing. Truthfully, I've never been much of an athlete by any stretch of the imagination.

Figuratively speaking, however, I'm a runner alright. I'm a veritable track star.

Many times I run to escape my problems. Right now I'm running from seeing my fertility specialist. I haven't set foot in his office in a year and a half. We're supposed to be "trying again." But after all these months have passed with no change, I have become more and more afraid. So, I'm running. Every day I think about picking up the phone to make an appointment, but every day I find a reason not to. Maybe this will be the month that it happens again -- that we get pregnant and it actually sticks. You see, up until now we haven't sought a doctor's help to get to that point. My problem is with miscarriage. But now that pregnancy won't come, for whatever reason, I feel stuck. I feel afraid. I don't know what to do, which direction to go. So I've been avoiding it. Even worse, I'm afraid of someday hearing that we may never overcome this. This is a hard thing for me to admit to you today, but it's true.

I'm also running a race of endurance. I recently read something that compared infertility to a marathon. It is long and it is challenging. It feels like it may never end. I would almost prefer a sprint, I think, which is more intense but far shorter. This is my eighth year of running, and yes, I've been lapped many, many times. Sometimes I want to quit because it seems so hard and I wonder if I'll ever reach the finish line or achieve the goal.

Sometimes I feel less like a runner and more like a spectator. Others around me are running while I'm standing still. And some days I take on the role of a cheerleader, encouraging others who are pursuing their goal and rejoicing with them when they reach it. While I'm honored to be in that position whenever possible, there's no denying that it's hard and it's painful. It hurts to be the one left behind, the one still waiting and still running.

While I think the race analogy is a pretty accurate one in many ways, I'm not entirely comfortable with using it in terms of winning and losing. I certainly don't view my life as one big race to have a baby, while competing with my peers for one ultimate prize. In fact, I don't consider it my one and only goal in life to have children. While it may be my desire, my passion, and my dream, it is not all that I live for. If I never get there, I don't consider myself a loser or my life a waste. If I never become a parent, I am still a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. Above and beyond all of that, I'm a child of God.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy Endings

I love a good story. For me, there's almost nothing better than getting lost for a few hours in a great book or a great movie.

I'm not sure how many people will agree with me here, but I don't even need a fairy-tale happy ending. My sister, for example, wants that happy ending every time! She wants to know before she commits to the story that all will be well in the end. As long as the story is engaging and is at least mostly resolved by the end, I'm good with that. Although I always root for the characters and hope that their story will end well, I would much prefer an ending that feels realistic. Now, if there were a happy ending that also felt real, what could be better?

Honestly, I can't remember if I've always felt this way or if I've arrived here as a result of circumstances in life. Oh, it's certainly true that I've always had very realistic expectations. One look at my senior memory book from my last year of high school will tell you that. While most of my peers were recording their hopes and dreams for rich spouses, tropical vacation homes, and fancy cars, I was hoping for a much simpler and far more attainable future. I wanted to go to college (which, in itself, was a pretty lofty goal coming from a poor family), fall in love, get married, have children, and live a happy and peaceful life with my family. I really never hoped for much beyond that, and certainly not for anything fancy.

Some may see this as the difference between an optimist and a pessimist, but I don't. I'm somewhere in the middle. I always hope for the best, but I never celebrate until I have actually reached it. And that way, if I don't get there, maybe I won't have to fall quite so hard.

My favorite kinds of stories are the ones where you get to take a peek into the characters' lives. You get to see how they live and what challenges they face on any given day. There will most likely be some big event or action scene that you definitely want to see resolved. Hopefully by the end of the tale, you've seen them overcome something and come out on the other side better than when you found them. Sometimes this may not mean that the sick person got better, or that the infertile person had babies. I guess what I look for in a good story is more of an internal change, rather than one where a person got everything they ever wanted and now they can live happily ever after.

A few weeks ago I finished a book in which one of the main characters was barren. I didn't know this when I started the book, but it was communicated several times throughout that she could not ever have children. Besides that, this character had a very hard life and many obstacles to overcome. Page after page and chapter after chapter, I pulled for her and hoped to see her find happiness! It was a great story, and by the time I got to the last chapter, I cried tears of joy that she was going to be okay.

Then came the epilogue.

In the three or four extra pages tacked onto the end of the story, the author gave the reader a glimpse into the future. The woman had children. We are never told how or when, or what in the world had transpired. Although I know that this is a work of fiction and I felt some happiness for the character, I couldn't help but think that I would have been just as satisfied with the book had it simply ended, leaving the future to my imagination.

More often than not, I watch movies and read books that have a very nice, fulfilling ending. Then, during the closing credits or the epilogue, we get that look into the future that usually feels too forced for me. It feels unreal, almost too good to be true. We don't know what the characters went through to get those twins that they're holding in their arms. We don't get to see how they got from point A to point B. We must just accept that they did, that all of their dreams were achieved, and that they will be happy forever. I always have a hard time accepting this ending (in a story, I mean). I think it takes away from my own ability to imagine them happy whether they got all they ever wanted or not. Maybe I should start skipping end credits and epilogues!

I'm not saying that "happily ever after" never happens. Deep down inside, I know I hope for that. I want my happy ending to include having children, and I want that particular happy ending for all of my friends who struggle with infertility. But I want to believe that there can be lots of really great stories without reaching the goal, stories of people who find happiness and fulfillment, who show amazing strength and grace in the face of hardship, even if they don't get exactly what they'd hoped for. Can I be happy with that kind of ending in real life, like I am in a story?

How do you feel about happy endings, whether realistic or not?

Friday, August 14, 2009

More of the Same

It's that time of year when many people are busy with the beginning of a new school year.

I seem to always have a hard time with these "new beginning" and "moving forward" kinds of occasions. Right now most of my friends are school shopping, meeting new teachers and new friends, and watching their children grow and learn. Don't get me wrong - I'm sure that if I had school-age kids, I might not be looking forward to sending my little ones off to school. I know it's often a stressful time for parents and kids, but I find myself once again feeling left behind.

For me, a new school year means just a couple of things:
driving carefully through school zones again;
blissfully empty and quiet movie theaters on weeknights;
realizing that I am in the same place as last summer,
and the summer before that,
and the summer before that...

It's definitely not the time of year that gets me down. Each year around this time I look forward to the end of summer and the prospect of lower temperatures (although we have to wait a while for that where I live in Texas). Autumn is actually my favorite season. Typically, Chuck and I try to plan vacations in the fall, because of the nice weather and the smaller crowds. This year, however, we traveled with my family much earlier, in May, which leaves me longing to have something to look forward to this time of year. I certainly don't long for my own school days. I'm very happy to be done with my own days of classes and homework and schedules!

I think I'm just missing something. Something different. Some progress, maybe. Instead, I feel stagnant. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, like I'm stuck while people around me keep moving forward.

A new school year for me means more of the same. Another day in the life of a stay-at-home-wife.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Love of God

I've heard it said many times that a person can't fully understand the love of God until they've become a parent.

Many people have stated that it wasn't until they saw, held, raised, loved, and cared for their own children that they truly realized how much God loves them and what the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross of Calvary really was.

I hope you know me well enough by now to hear my heart here if you're a regular reader of this blog. If you are not, please understand that I don't know what having and raising my own children is like. I may never know. And I would certainly never, ever take away from a person's own experience of parenting. I don't doubt at all that so many have better understood God's love through parenting. If having children is the way that our Heavenly Father has helped you to truly realize and grasp His amazing love for you, then I think that is a wonderful thing.

What bothers me, however, is the idea that NO ONE can understand it unless they've become a parent. It is one of those statements that I hear that, as a barren woman, cuts so deeply.

I wonder if anyone who has thought or said this has ever realized how much an infertile Christian woman relies upon the love of her Lord. In fact, I would even say that I may not have realized the greatness of it until I experienced infertility! And perhaps that is just the point I'm trying to make here. We all have different paths, different trials and afflictions that we will face in life. We will even have different joys and different blessings. And we all will decide how to accept and live with all of the combined circumstances that make up our lives. I believe that God is big enough and strong enough to reveal His deep and relentless love to His children no matter where they are in life, whether they will ever experience the joys of childbirth and parenthood or not.

It is unfair to suggest to someone that she may never understand God's love and sacrifice until she has a child. Many of us can identify with a portion (however small) of what He may have felt when He sacrificed His only Son. Although I've never held any of my children in my arms or looked upon their faces or even called them by name, I knew them and loved them while they were a part of my body and after they were no longer. Many have had to continue to live after having lost a child inside or outside of the womb. Furthermore, many have had to face the fact that they may never have any children. This too, friends, is sacrifice.

For me, it is the very love of my Lord that gets me through that pain every single day.

I understand sacrifice. I understand love. I don't know if any of us can ever truly grasp the depth of God's love until we see Him face to face. Until then, if the Lord has used giving you a child to reveal His love to you, what a wonderful and special gift! If instead He has used infertility to reveal how much He loves you with an undying love, what a wonderful and special gift that can be as well.

Your Love is Deep (song lyrics by Jami Smith)

Your love is deep
Your love is high
Your love is long
Your love is wide

Deeper than my view of grace
Higher than this worldly place
Longer than this road I travel
Wider than the gap You filled

Who shall separate us?
Who shall separate us from Your love?
Nothing can separate us
Nothing can separate us from Your love

(Ephesians 3:17-21 NIV)
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.