though a desert should surround me

It’s been three years since we made the decision to “just see what happened” in terms of starting a family. Many other things have also happened in our life during those three years–job promotions, house purchases, career changes, and a move, to name a few–but these three years have been most heavily saturated by our journey through infertility, a journey perhaps more obsessive in the beginning and now a more silent (yet constant) presence as time in the wilderness lengthens.

One of the hardest parts has been that there is always something else–always another test, always another procedure, always another option to consider. Then after you do some sort of test, there’s the wait for results, then the potential second test to confirm the first test, then the attempt of trying some sort of medicine, then scheduling a third test, and on and on. And once there are a few potential answers, there are then a plethora of opinions when it comes to natural remedies or supplements or prescriptions or procedures for more next steps.

Y’all, this could go on for years, and for many people it does. I think this is one of the reasons that couples are more reluctant to talk about it. Either because there’s always the hope of more information in a couple of months or the potential for it to change with this one procedure, so they don’t want to talk about it just yet; or they have talked about it and endured this continuous testing cycle and still don’t have a conclusion so they begin to feel like a broken record among their friends. There might be something new to report, but really there’s nothing new to report, because they still aren’t pregnant, so why bring it up?

I really don’t want “infertility” to define my life, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from.

There are many other areas of waiting or grief I am sure are similar–unwanted realities that feel so monumental you don’t know how to stop defining your life by them: The single adult who wants to be married but whose last relationship was so long ago that it doesn’t seem to “count” and who doesn’t even know how to hope. The continual burden of job-searching (combined either with unemployment or unhappiness in a present job) and the feeling of being stuck but unable to control your own motion. The grief in the loss of a loved one and uncertainty of how to manage life without that person, or how to process the loss of a child you never got to hold in your arms.

Even in seemingly-less monumental pain, we can find ourselves creating an identity pattern in our lives that has larger effects on how we view the world: the loneliness in a lack of friendships, or the regret of a wrong decision that you can’t let go of, or the comparison of your skills to everyone around you.

We allow our pain and disappointments to color the lenses through which we view the world. We label ourselves as “inferior” or “to be pitied.” We see these things as an injury that holds us back or a deformity we must learn to live with, and we allow them to taint our perspective (especially related to God).

But if I were to pinpoint one of the major things that I have learned as I have walked through these past few years, it would be the ways I have learned to find joy because of my pain, a perspective of gratitude for this season even though it’s not what I would have chosen. While there have been months where I certainly was not grateful, there have also been months I have considered it a privilege to be entrusted with such circumstances as I reflect on the intimacy I have gained with the Lord and the story I have been given to relate with and encourage others as they walk through their own pain (whether infertility or otherwise).

We are molded by our circumstances but also by our experience of God in those circumstances–for better or for worse. And much of that is our choice, how we will respond to our pain. Especially whether we will cling to the Lord or bitterly reject him for allowing this in our life.

As I encounter God in the wilderness, my perspective changes, impacting the way I will walk in the future.

I recently stumbled across the delightful book Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster (1912), and I couldn’t put it down! It’s a story about an orphan girl whose college education is funded by a mysterious benefactor, to whom she writes letters to report on her college experience. Judy has only seen his back and his distorted shadow, which gave the appearance of long skinny legs and arms, hence her nickname for this guardian. Throughout the book, Judy is wrestling with her upbringing at the orphan asylum as compared to all of the other girls in their traditional homes with loving families. It isn’t until the end of the book–the end of her four years at college­–that she comes to appreciate her own story, even with the sadness of her circumstances:

It gives me a sort of vantage point from which to stand aside and look at life. Emerging full grown, I get a perspective on the world, that other people who have been brought up in the thick of things entirely lack. I know lots of girls (Julia, for instance) who never know that they are happy. They are so accustomed to the feeling that their senses are deadened to it; but as for me—I am perfectly sure every moment of my life that I am happy. And I’m going to keep on being, no matter what unpleasant things turn up. I’m going to regard them (even toothaches) as interesting experiences, and be glad to know what they feel like. ‘Whatever sky’s above me, I’ve a heart for any fate.’

I feel a lot like Judy Abbott. It’s taken me time to appreciate the vantage point I have been given. I may not be “perfectly sure” that I can always be happy, but I do feel confident I have the understanding that contentment–and the happiness we experience as a result–is not based on my circumstances or my possessions. Rather, like Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). My broken, selfish nature may at times keep me from finding strength in Christ, instead attempting to control or perform or succeed to gain what I want. But when I again (and again) lay my own plans down in surrender, I accept his will and find contentment in his purposes.

Not that any of this negates the reality of pain. Even my new friend Judy says that unpleasant things may turn up. But in the understanding of God’s love for us and thus his goodness being played out in our lives, we can face the unexpected and unwanted with a confidence that there’s something sweet to be gained. No longer must our pain define us negatively, but rather we can find the “vantage point” that it will give us going forward, confident that there is goodness below the surface.

At the end of the excerpt, Judy is quoting from Lord Byron’s poem “To Thomas Moore” when she writes, “Whatever sky’s above me, I’ve a heart for any fate.” The stanza following these two lines reads:

Though the ocean roar around me,
Yet it still shall bear me on;
Though a desert should surround me,
It hath springs that may be won.

Byron’s words remind me of what Charles Spurgeon so eloquently wrote: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

The springs God has shown me in the desert of the last three years have held more refreshing water than any I might experience from a dependable faucet. So while the story of infertility will certainly continue to hold weight in my life, my hope is that my attitude toward my reality is shaped by the vantage point I am climbing toward as I more clearly see God’s presence in the story.

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