The Gift of Lack: Infertility, Miscarriage, Singleness, and the Long Wait

We have braved our way through Mothers and Fathers Days now, each with our own measure of sadness and grief, and surprising joy. "Is this day hard for you?" I ask my husband yesterday. We know the little lives we've lost made us parents for a week, two, three, but neither of us stood with the others on our respective days in church when the mothers are honored and the fathers applauded. "Is it hard for you?" I ask him. And he says no, not now, because we have been given the gift of lack, this is what we've been calling it recently: the gift of emptiness. 

I remember, with startling clarity, the moment I decided to never put my name on an Internet dating site, to not whittle my time down crafting the perfect profile, hoping some man would take a fancy and pick me. I decided, instead, to look at the gift of emptiness God had given me in my singleness, and do my best to be faithful with it in my local church. I knew this was an unpopular opinion. I knew the odds weren't in my favor. I knew it would take a miracle for me to find marriage. But then, one day, there he was, standing in the foyer, meeting me. A non-event in both of our minds, no idea that four months later we'd meet again, become friends, and three months after that we'd pledge our lives to one another. He was just serving our church. I was just trying to be faithful. Living quiet lives. Working with what was in our hands—even if it seemed to the world to be emptiness. 

Being unable to have children is a bit like this. Well-meaning strangers ask when we plan to start a family. Well-intentioned folks probe for a diagnosis. Well-loving friends mostly fear asking, because, well, it's hard to scratch a surface not knowing what's beneath it.

Lack is strange in the world in which we live. We are all trying so desperately to fill, fill, fill, and when we can't fill it with the thing we want, we try to get another thing to stave off the pain. Boyfriends, babies, big-screen tvs, better phones—none of us are immune from the fill. Emptiness points to insufficiency and none of us can bear that for long. Even the ones who love most don't want to broach the subject of what emptiness might mean. 

Nate had a conversation with a mutual friend of ours recently and when he recounted it to me, I remembered their situation, similar to ours in many ways: married later, no children for years, faithfully serving the church and the nations, and then, one day, the gift of a baby, given to them by an acquaintance, adopted, and now raised as their very own. It reminded me of my choice to, as long as I remained single, be faithful with that time, and if God brought a husband, it would be through my church family. This comforting reminder has buoyed our childlessness in recent weeks and months. We feel a growing excitement in the gift of this lack—because we know God doesn't give empty gifts, even if the box seems empty to the rest of the world. 

God is doing something in this lack. He's showing us something of himself. He's refining and proving and conforming and comforting. He has not withheld from us anything he has promised to give us. The desire to have children and be a parent is no more a promise that it will happen, than the desire to be married means God will provide a spouse. God has promises galore in his Word and not one of them will return void, but if we begin to live as though the things we desire have been promised to us when they have not, we will begin to live within a constant funeral of our idol. No one wants to say marriage or children can become idols, or even the desire for them can be, but if the getting of something God has not promised to us in Scripture begins to steal our joy and diffuse our hope in him, it is an idol. 

I did not want my pursuit of marriage to become like a carrot in front of me, shifting my life and career and home and hopes constantly with marriage as the goal. I made that mistake more times than I know, but I did not want the whole of my singleness to be marked by the goal of marriage. And now, in childlessness, I do not want the whole of my life to be centered around the getting of that which has not been promised. Children are a blessing, so is marriage, but they are not better than faithfulness and they are not better than the King of glory. 

I know many of you are unmarried and many of you are unable to have children, and there is the two-fold hurt of being unmarried, with the barrenness that comes along with it, but I want to stand beside you in that hurt, that lack, and say with you: this is not empty, though it feels as if it is. God is doing something in this lack. He's doing something with this void. He's showing himself to be better than a spouse, better than children, better than security, and better than what our culture perceives as normal. He is the gift within the gift of lack. 

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:16-17

Reading Suggestions and Fidelity Poster Link

I'm going to tell you something I'm not proud of: in the past two years I have watched more television than my cumulative life. 

I don't want to make excuses, but the reasons are real: we dated, got engaged, planned a wedding and a move, and got married in three months flat. We moved into an AirBnB for five weeks. We moved into a house. I started a new job, my husband lost his. We put our house on the market. We moved to DC, to another AirBnb in Maryland for five weeks. We moved again to Virginia to a house for a year and then moved again to Texas. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying there were a lot of transitions and most evenings we were too tired to read or talk or do other things newly married couples do, so we opened Netflix or Amazon Prime on the laptop, and scrolled mindlessly. We finished West Wing and started it againWe watched some great foreign films and series. We watched The Night Manager and An Honorable Woman. We loved River and we really liked Bleak House. Endeavor is great too. We also watched a ton of other shows I wouldn't recommend or have mostly forgotten. We had spurts of not watching shows every night, but mostly we watched. About a month ago we put the kibosh on mindless watching—after all, isn't this why we don't own a television? Instead we've been reading every night and I feel like, for the first time in two years and three months, the fog of my mind is beginning to clear. I know that's not only due to reading instead of watching, but I think the reading is helping me along a bit. 

Folks are always asking for recommendations, and I thought since it's the beginning of summer, maybe now would be a great time to recommend a few we've loved. 

Nate read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead last month and I finished it last night. It was one of the most engrossing stories I've read on one of the grossest injustices of our country. 

We were reading a few of Andy Crouch's books in tandem, Strong and Weak, and The Tech Wise Family (both of which I've mentioned recently here on Sayable). They're short, easy reads. 

I really love a good mystery and Tana French delivers. Her spectacular use of the first person narrative, embodying very different first persons in each novel, makes each one unique. If you don't like one, try another. I loved The Likeness and In the Woods the best. 

Nate is reading through Chaim Potok's works now. I've loved him since high school and am so glad my love is getting into his work and loving it. Start with The Chosen and The Promise

I'm also getting into Louise Penny's mysteries. Hers are a slow burn, proper and well-written. 

Nate is reading Disciplines of a Godly Man for a book study he's doing with a group of men from our church, and so far it's provided good conversation. 

I started paging through some old favorites: The Supper of the Lamb and Tender at the Bone

On the recommendation of a few trusted friends I began The Gift of Being Yourself, which makes me wildly uncomfortable, but which is also deeply convicting. 

Nate started reading Coming Apart by Charles Murray last fall and has still been working his way through it as we try to educate ourselves apart from quick news and media hits. 

I have been slowly, slowly working through Jen Pollock Michel's newest book Keeping Place, and as I've come to expect with all of Jen's work, it must be chewed slowly and thought about deeply.  

I know for lots of you the opportunity to read even one of these books sounds like a pipe dream, you're grabbing 15 minutes once a day to gather what remains of your sanity. It's a season and I hope and pray the Lord will sustain you through it, and you get to read again. Maybe others of you have been in a similar season to ours above: just trying to get through and subsisting on Netflix shows in the meantime. Maybe today's a day when you can unsubscribe, though, and grab a book from the library (we love our local library!) or a used bookstore, and spend the summer reading. Enjoy! 

P.S. A bunch of you have asked for a download of the poster pictured above. "Fidelity to the Word of God and not to an outcome," is a saying we've had in our marriage almost since the beginning, so I made it into a poster for Nate's 40th birthday. Reminding one another of this has protected us from so many unwise things, even if the outcome looks crazy to the rest of the world! Here's the download. 

How Do I Know if I'm Settling in My Search for Spouse?

For a lot of years I thought I was going to have to settle for a husband. I was never the girl getting asked out dozens of times and having to perfect my "I think Jesus is calling me to be single...for now" refusals. I dated occasionally, lots of first dates, usually with men I knew fairly well already, but nothing ever really seemed to fit. I began to think maybe my expectations were wild, maybe my requirements were too extreme, maybe I was waiting for some guy who didn't exist. 

I don't know when it happened, somewhere in my 33rd year, but I began to believe being single was actually better than all the mid-life marriages I was surrounded by. Many of my friends were getting divorced or on the brink of divorce or just sort of "meh" about their spouses. I heard more about how hard marriage was than about how good it was. I watched couple after couple face circumstances they didn't expect and end up in the arms of another or just passively facing life together as roommates. I knew that wasn't what I wanted, but I also knew I was getting older and the pickin's seemed slim. The question, for me, became not "Should I settle?" but "What is settling?" That's a hard question to answer for any unmarried person because it doesn't really have a solid answer. You have nothing to compare what not settling looks like because, well, for obvious reasons, that person isn't on your radar. There were plenty of guys I admired for their work and theology ethic, and for their love for the local church and their families. But either they were married to someone else or they hadn't noticed me in any fashion. It was easier to answer the first question (Should I settle?) than to answer the second: What is settling?

It turned out that I didn't need to ask the question or find the answer, because at the proper time and not one minute sooner, Nate and I began to have conversations.

Friends, there was no spark. There was no voice from heaven saying, "This is the one." There was no giddy butterfly in my stomach fluttering up into my heart. There was no chorus of angels announcing my wait had come to an end. There was none of that. There was not one bit of assurance that this guy would be anything other than a guy with whom I had a series of cool conversations about pacifism. The question of settling didn't come into the equation, it didn't have a chance to, because in the space we'd embarked on, I began to think of him as my friend.

Without doubts, without questions, without "What ifs?" Nate was simply my friend. I won't deny there was the hope of something more, but there wasn't space for it to breathe, not much. Not really at all. He was so completely clear with me from the very beginning that it was friendship, and not until he picked up his phone and called me to ask me on a date, could I assume it was anything more. And once it was something more, he continued to use his voice to ask me on more dates, ask me how I felt about continuing to date, and then ask me to marry him. And since then, there have been thousands of more asks from him to me. 

He was not the first to ask me on a date, but he was the first for whom there was a complete absence of doubt for me. People ask: "When did you know he was the one?" I never knew he was the one (I don't even know if there is a such thing as one.). What I knew was day to day to day to day, I was going to walk forward as long as I had faith as it led me to the altar. And then, only then, would he become my one, the question of doubts and fears and what ifs and expectations always taking a backseat to the vows we said standing in front of our friends, family, pastors, and elders. 

We have a really beautiful marriage. It's not perfect. It's not without disagreements or failures or misunderstandings. But it's a really beautiful marriage built on a singular point: faith. Not faith in one another to never fail us, but faith in God that we came together without doubts, with the confidence of our church family and elders, with the joy of our families, with the cheers of our friends. There was faith that we weren't settling. 

God, in his goodness, gave me a husband beyond any of my wildest hopes and dreams, with specificity and precision, with attentiveness to my needs and my wants. God crafted a husband for me as specifically as he crafted me himself. I have not one single doubt that my beloved is mine and I am his, and I never have had one doubt. 

I wanted to say this because since we've been married, I've encountered so many couples for whom doubt was a big part of their dating and engagement. A feeling they couldn't flee from, an uncertainty they couldn't get past, a sense they couldn't shake, a feeling of settling. Or there were doubts of others: concerns of immaturity, fears of unequal yoking, desires to protect from what seemed not good. And yet, they got married just the same, and every day since then their marriage has suffered for it.

These marriages began on what they could see and feel (looks, money, chemistry, security, appearance of godliness), and not on what they could not (faith from God and in God, hope from God and in God, love from God and in God). They made a pragmatic decision to marry for whatever reasons, and now their marriages have suffered for it. It might have seemed to them and others that they were not settling as they said their vows to one another based on appearances, but deep in their hearts they were settling for less than "perfect peace" (Isa. 26:3). 

Listen to me: if you are married or will be married, there will come hard times when money will be scarce, looks will falter, houses will be lost, jobs will be gone, churches will be difficult, and children will be a source of ache: what sustains you in those times is that strong and certain faith in the God who drew you to one another. If you married your spouse, or they married you, without a certain faith and an absence of doubt, ask God today to give you the gift of faith that this is your beloved and ask him to give your spouse the same gift of faith. God wants to give you that gift! He's longing to give it to you. 

If you are unmarried, trust God. You will know you are not settling because there will be not only an absence of doubt in you, but an absence of doubt in them, and an absence of doubt in your community.  If you do not have community, then do not get married. I mean this. Wait. To get married without a strong, loving community who will speak truth to you even if it's painful, is to invite trauma into your marriage before you've even started. If you feel the presence of doubt, the question of whether you're settling, might that be the Holy Spirit, protecting you from future angst and trauma? Marriage is so full and so fun and so wonderful. I want that for you, but you have to want it for you and you have to believe it can exist for you. God wants to give good gifts to his children! Believe that he wants to give you bread and fish instead of a stone and serpent. 

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11

The enemy is crouching at your door, waiting to devour you. He's waiting to devour your singleness, your future marriage, or your present marriage. Do not give him a foothold by moving forward without faith. Trust the Lord: it would be better to remain single than to be in a marriage headed for divorce as soon as the vows have been said. 

*I also recognize that there may be some couples who thought they had this absence of doubt in themselves and their community and moved forward, only to find themselves in a train wreck of a relationship today. I ache for you and pray God would show himself to be enough for you in the wake of disappointment, failure, and sin. He is enough. Put your faith in HIM and not in a fixed, healed, or whole marriage as you would see it. I'm praying for your marriages today. 

 

Sowing in Tears: Vulnerable Bloggers and the Crushing Whirlwind of Fame

Nate and I first heard Andy Crouch talking about the relationship between authority and vulnerability on Mike Cosper's podcast, Cultivated, several months ago. I ordered Andy's book, Strong and Weak, immediately, Nate finished it a few weeks ago and I finished it this morning. If you've read anything by Andy, you know he's remarkably talented at communication and articulate in a way the church culture today needs. Today's thoughts are born from what I'm learning through Andy. 

In the past decade or so we've seen an uptick of tell-all, self-described Christian bloggers and storytellers, particularly women. There are some common themes in their writing: they're funny, they're sacrilegious in the sense that they'll talk about anything, they seem common, relatable, real. It's something that was missing in the buttoned up culture of Christianity most of us came from. And it's refreshing in a way. It also tastes like sewer water in a way. But it's refreshing until the sewer water aftertaste comes. Most of these tell-all bloggers have gone from Christian-lite to Universalism or embracing new doctrines, and eventually being famously farewelled. 

What is refreshing about it is there is a kind of vulnerability present in the beginning. Sure, it's from behind a keyboard in a house far away, but the writer is tapping out her treatise dressed in last night's pjs and yelling at the dog to stop barking and ran out of coffee yesterday, but plunks on with her piece. There's a vulnerability that's appealing about that: they're real people with real problems and probably have bed head too.

There's also a vulnerability that can be manipulative though. It's the sort that only opens the shades enough so the mess can be seen, but not enough that the writer is actually vulnerable. It costs nothing to tell you I'm writing this in my pjs with the dog barking at the neighbors and drinking chai tea wishing it was coffee. To be a tell-all blogger costs virtually nothing. We can wax eloquent about our reputation and how painful some people's comments can be, but most of us well-adjusted adults can still go to bed and sleep fine because all that cost is out there, not in here. 

To be truly vulnerable, there must be risk involved, and risk comes with the people closest to us, the ones who matter most to us. If we use vulnerability as a tool, or even a shield, the world sees us wield and we get our jollies from it, it's not real vulnerability. It's manipulation—gaining approval, gaining a following, gaining a title by being real, authentic, etc.. 

John says this, "He must increase, I must decrease," and that's an awfully difficult thing for any communicator or faithful worker of any sort in this world to do today. By virtue of our work, we run the risk of increase. How does one decrease—embrace true vulnerability, the sort that involves risk with those closest to us and never becomes a platform on which our ministry is based, because our boast is Christ alone—and yet also be faithful? Especially because one of our callings as Christians is to show the world we are not better than them, that Jesus came for the sick, and that we all are in equal need of Jesus. How do we be weak and in our weakness become strong, without outshining the strongest One of all? 

I don't know the answer to that, not fully. But I think it looks a little like saying "I don't know" when asked questions we really don't have the answers to. It looks like saying less when we might be expected to say more. I think we can expect some growth, perhaps explosive, perhaps incremental, but we should also expect to be able to say "I can't be faithful to love Jesus and people, and have things in my life I refuse to lose." I think it means never getting to hob-nob with the big folks and maybe never getting noticed by anyone but the Master of the house (Who's waiting, with joy, to say "Well done, my servant."). 

If you're reading blogs or books or going to conferences and gushing over how vulnerable the communicators are being, ask yourself what the cost to them truly might be. You probably don't even know, and might not even be able to see until decades later when their kids are grown or their marriages have been through hell or they confess they've become an addict of drugs or alcohol or their ministry falls out from underneath them. 

. . .

There was a period last year when everywhere I looked in my life there was pain and loss and I could barely breathe as I walked through it. Yet I kept writing through it, trying to find redemption quickly. I thought it I could redeem something bad quickly enough, then it would become good. But a wise friend and fellow writer said this to me: 

"I have often marveled at how detachedly you write about all you're going through on your blog. Seriously, though, I wonder if writing about all this for the public while in the middle of it serves to exacerbate the emotional distancing. Writing inherently distances us from our inner life simply through the process of externalizing and reifying it. I wonder if this might contribute to that kind of detachment."

The cost to my writing vulnerably was unseen except to those who knew me personally. It might have seemed to you that the cost was in people knowing my junk, but that's never felt like much of a cost to me. The real cost was to my soul. Writing quickly about what was going on was taking a great toll on my emotions, spirit, and mind. I had to take a break. And I did. And it was really helpful to me, and I hope, really helpful to you, the reader. 

If you read and love a blog, a book, an author, or a speaker, and marvel at how much they just get you, they feel kindred to you, ask yourself at what cost is their story coming. You're not responsible for how they wield their gifts, but you are responsible for how you wield your listening and worshipping. The truth is real vulnerability takes time, a lot of it, and there probably won't be a celebration but a crucifixion that follows it.  

One of my new favorite writers is Anne Kennedy, and she said this about these sorts of leaders: "Don’t be fooled. The woman reaps what she sows. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy, but those who sow the wind won’t get anything back but a destructive whirlwind on the last day." 

I want to be one who sows in tears—quiet, real, deep, agonizing, and vulnerable tears. 

 

The World Spins Madly On, but Find Joy

It has been nearly nine months since I pressed mute on the clamoring crowd and invited in the poets and home-makers and song-singers and the unknown pastors. I made it my aim to listen to the folks who were just going about their days, practicing quiet faithfulness in a world gone rogue. Here's what I've found there: joy. 

I unfollowed the instagram feeds showing me their perfect salads day after day because when you're in the middle of moving for the third time in two years who has time to make a salad with every color of the rainbow? I unfollowed all the obvious Republicans and Democrats on Facebook—if I could tell their political leaning by their status, I unfollowed. I muted all the pithy pastors and wanna-be-published-ers racking up their followers on Twitter. I mostly stopped mindless scrolling and but mainly stopped mindless clicking. I stopped reading anything on the Big Christian Article/Blog Sites unless I knew the author personally. I wanted to be as woke as the next person, but I could not sacrifice my soul on the altar of information, and my soul was wilting. 

Instead I started reading fiction again (I'm super into mysteries right now, like this and this.). I started making salads when I could, but also was just a-okay with eating a PB&J for the seventh day in a row because everything was packed. I started reading non-fiction that didn't beat me over the head with All The Things Wrong With This World and instead stuff that was interesting to me as a person and a human (Like this, and this, and this. Oh, and this.). I opened my bible before I opened Twitter most mornings. I found myself genuinely sad when tragedy hit, but not really sad or surprised when the next political brouhaha happened. I gained a gross distaste in my mouth for quick Christian articles that are a dime a dozen. I read blogs about making homes and preserving tomatoes and folk music and the process of illustrating children's fiction and rural pastoring—the slow, faithful work of being. All these people, doing what they were made to do, and finding such joy in it. 

I expected to find monotony and boredom, wondered what people were writing about when they weren't trying to get hits or likes or link-backs or their fifteen seconds of fame. I expected to find simplicity, deep thoughts, and intentionality, but I didn't expect to find joy. 

It's pretty brilliant what you find when you're not waiting for applause or note or double taps. You begin to find joy in the way the sun coming through the curtain hits the wall not just one day, but every day thereafter. You're amazed by it day after day. You pay attention to the ombre of an overwatered leaf and to the cadence of a sentence and not just the content—and in these, you begin to find joy. 

My friend Steve said this yesterday, "The day you stop trying to do the thing God gave to others and instead do the thing God gave to you is the day your contentment blossoms." It's an awful lot like what dear old Beuchner said, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." Or what the master said to the faithful servant in Matthew 25: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

Don't you want to enter into the joy of your master? I do. I really do. But I can't do it if I'm following naysayers around at a rate that would make our ancestors go mad. There are probably a lot more of me, maybe even you, out there right now, and I just wanted to check in and say, nine months in, it was good decision for me. If you're considering it. If you've grow battle-worn and are walking around limping with your arms and legs so battered they're numb, check out and check off. Shut it down. Close it. Unfollow (Even Sayable. Seriously. If this place is just noise for you, click that unsubscribe button. I admire you for it.). 

Some books that are helping and have helped me in this little journey (And seriously, the best way to start this journey of unplugging from the mass of media, is to engage in media that fills that gap and points you in the right direction):

The Tech-wise Family (short, solid, very practical)

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (mid-length, readable, and practical)

The Big Disconnect (long, full, very informative)

Abundant Simplicity (mid-length, solid, and convictional)