Three years after David and I began trying for babies I walked into our church service one Sunday. The hubs was leading worship and when he prayed and walked off the platform, the main slide for the sermon notes appeared on the screen and made me catch my breath. My insides cringed and my brained screamed “Oh, HECK no! How dare you.”
“Contentment is not always getting what we want from him, but wanting what we get from him.” It made me angry. In my morning rush, I skipped breakfast, so it was even worse. HANGRY. Throughout the entire sermon I mentally dug my fingernails into my palms and scrambled to come up with my defense. Fire burned in my chest at the injustice of this message. I should not, cannot, WILL NOT be held responsible to live according to that statement. This pastor had no idea what I was going through. No matter what this scripture said, it was not talking about me. It was not talking about my empty belly and empty arms. Just NO.
The serious amount of inner mayhem I experienced that morning (and many mornings) boiled down to this fact: what I wanted was good. I kept trying to tell the Lord that. I wanted what was normal, wonderful, special, beautiful and right. It seemed like everyone else around me was getting what they wanted. I had so many pregnant friends. I couldn’t understand why He would not get on board with my plan. My two options for an answer to this were:
#1) I am cursed because of some great sin I committed and apparently haven’t done enough penance to appease His wrath.
#2) He doesn’t care and wants me to suffer.
Deep, deep down I knew full well that neither of those optional truths were actual possibilities, but I tended to operate on a daily basis as if they were. And it felt good to be angry about it.
The truth is, many moons ago I created for myself a scenario that left no room in my heart for God’s will to be anything except for my plan. No other reality was allowed to take root or bloom apart from my supreme vision. I hauled that weight around with me everywhere because I wasn’t willing to consider that my future could be anything other than the family photographs already hanging on the walls of my fantasized future. There is no other plan. This is how it is supposed to be.
I had this very specific vision for our family since David and I began planning our wedding and everything on the other side of that day. It feels strange now relating what was so strong in my head. When I put words on paper, it doesn’t hold the same kind of weight as it did when it was the only picture in my mind. No matter how I tried to negotiate it, I couldn’t get the vision out of my dreams. It was just there. It was like a best friend, but at the same time like an unwelcomed tenant that hadn’t paid rent in years. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to get it evicted.
The image in my mind consisted of a normal, healthy pregnancy and the birth of baby boy. By the time he was just six months or a year old, he had a brother the same age. Only his brother didn’t look like him. He was a beautiful dark brown. They played together, ate together, laughed together, fought together, and slept in the same room. Their entire lives they were tied at the hip. They had the same friends, played the same sports, and had so many inside jokes. No one understood them like the other. They were the best of friends, even when they were screaming at each other in unbridled anger.
It didn’t even occur to them until they were with other children who asked prying questions in their innocent curiosity about why they weren’t the same color and all that implies. We sat them down to talk seriously with them and tell the story of brother’s adoption, but they were mostly interested in resuming their play. Adoption. It was just a new word in their vocabulary and didn’t mean much at the time. I was sure it would mean more to him later on and would cause deeper questions with, perhaps, a season of hurt. But he would accept his story and peace would settle in his heart. Then their sisters would come along and turn all of our worlds upside down.
See! Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?! The plan in my head was perfect. Why didn’t God want me to have that? Why didn’t that picture make sense to Him? Why would He deny me the vision that I honestly thought came from Him all these years?
It occurred to me that particular Sunday morning during the contentment sermon that perhaps I would have to wait. I would have to put on my big girl pants and put the plan on hold for a few more months, maybe even years, but surely not forever? Then after this waiting period, God would come through and bring it all about in “His perfect time.” Contentment might mean putting this vision on pause for a while. I breathed in and out and supposed I could attempt to wrap my mind around waiting.
After an hour of scripture jabbing me in the ribs, I wrote this response, “So… what do I want? I want to just be married without kids until the right time. No need to worry, no need to wake up all night. Rest. Wait. Trust.” I wrote it on the notes in my phone and looked at it constantly over the next couple of years. I thought all I needed to do was wait, but it was still ok to hold onto that one specific dream.
Months did turn into years. The dream turned into a millstone. At some point I began reevaluating the assumption that the sermon application meant waiting and slowly I began to ponder if it actually meant having the willingness to lay my vision to rest. What if it meant that I was being asked to bury it in the ground and walk away? And even contemplating that thought was absolutely terrifying to me. It was like riding on the front seat of a roller coaster racing down the tracks and suddenly screeching to a dead halt upside down because of some unknown technical problem. Whiplash. Blood rushing to my head. One hundred feet off the ground. Am I going to live through this? Not to mention I paid good money for my ticket on this ride, waited FOREVER in line, and now I want my money back.
Even after He began to loosen my white-knuckled fingers, gently asking me to let go and be rescued from where I was dangling above the earth, I held out for a long, long time. Then David and I came to a fork in the road. He desired to move forward with fostering to adopt without having our own child first! What?! He felt like it was time. He longed to start caring for a child in need of our love, even at the expense of my vision. I felt so betrayed. I also felt guilty that after all of our talk about adoption and even advocating for different orphan care ministry platforms, I was not open to it. It was a horrifying thought to consider letting go of my dream and the mandatory order of events I emotionally set into motion so long ago. I couldn’t imagine anything being better. There was nothing better.
For an entire summer I begged God to come through in the nick of time like a coastguard ship finding a castaway. There I was, on my deserted island with only my dreams for company. They had become more than imagined. They were a reality to me. I spent so much time building a fictional city in which I was the only real citizen. And now I was the only one at the funeral.
During this process, I knew His presence was with me as I internally held my dream in my arms while it breathed its last. With sweat and tears streaming down my face, I dug a hole in the ground and laid my dream inside of it. I took the shovel and piled the dirt back on top. There was no pastor to say final words. There were no hymns sung or flowers arrangements gracing the lawn. There were no fellow mourners dressed in black quietly chewing chicken salad sandwiches delivered with a look of concerned empathy by the next-door neighbor. I was asked to say goodbye forever to the vision captivating my mind with all the life and vibrancy and beauty of the innocent, normal expectation that birthed it years ago. This dream was one of my most priceless possessions and now it was leaving me. All because HE asked me to. All because HE wouldn’t make it real for me.
Month after month that summer, gravestone after gravestone began to line up in neat little rows. Each 8x10 canvas print came off the wall of my imagined future reality and went through the same process of death and burial. I felt like I lived beside what was quickly turning into a cemetery. It was meant to be a yard with a slide and swing.
Real life forced me daily to step out from under the never-ending funeral dirge and go where people were. It felt like an alternate universe. I lived in a perpetually overcast grayscale world and walking through my door into other people’s life of sunshine and Lisa Frank unicorns was blinding. All of the sudden I would have to act normal and social and smile and laugh and enjoy sweet fellowship. I would try my best to engage in others’ joys, cares, aches, achievements, and baby showers and forget about my little cemetery. The constant shift between these two places made me feel crazy. No matter how good I became at digging the holes, even some months without tears, the gravestones still filled the yard and the years would not return.
In college I read a quote by the author Brennan Manning that marked me forever.
May all of your expectations be frustrated.
May all of your plans be thwarted.
May all of your desires be withered into nothingness.
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child,
And sing and dance in the love of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There are specific people that come to mind when I think about that quote; a professor that was dear to me whose wife was mentally ill and abusive; a pastor who was asked to resign after twenty-seven years at a church for all the wrong reasons; my sweet sister when her healthy body forever stopped being healthy seemingly overnight. The heartache each person experienced could not be answered by anything but the dreadful wonder that this would somehow lead them deeper, further, higher, and stronger into a marvelous and terrifying dependence on God. Now somehow I’m one of them. Now that quote is talking about me.
I remember writing in the margin beside that quote, “How could I wish this for myself? How could I wish this for anyone else? How can I truly live without it?” I cannot expect to go anywhere deeper or further with Jesus without facing the brutality of unmet expectations that He will not fulfill because it’s not His plan for me.
It is fundamentally Adam and Eve. If I rely on God for everything I need, I become dependent on Him completely and I can be content even in my ache. I walk with God in the cool of the day and the fellowship is more real than anything I could imagine. But, when I spend years questioning His motives and trying to judge His plan and decide whether or not it is good, I fall right back in the darkness and loneliness of the original sin. I sink into the pit where I think I know better, because my dreams are more perfect than His.
Four years after hearing that sermon, an option #3 slowly emerged with room for only one understanding: that my contentment is actually based solely on wanting what He gives me, not eventually getting what I want from Him.
I can declare with faltering imperfection, yet a heartfelt willingness to the Lord, “Show me what you have dreamed for me.” I have been able to stop trying to demand that He should give me what I’ve dreamed for myself. Allow me to blink back the tears when I confess to you that today, in my home right now, this option 3 includes real little people that are alive and well and fill my life from sunup to sundown.
Y’all, there are banana slices and building blocks and baby pools. There are high-pitched screams of joy when daddy comes home from work. There are real pictures on the wall with smiles and ice cream and boogers and baby clothes and poop stains. There is So. Much. Vomit. Every day there are tantrums and belly laughs and immense frustrations and immeasurable joys. And I still have no choice but to live with open hands. We are still not 100% sure if we will send them off to college someday with our last name. Daily I fight the fraudulent despair that comes with worrying about what tomorrow holds.
I am not saying I feel the completion of everything I ever hoped for. I’m definitely not saying I no longer have a desire to give David a baby with his eyes, because I do (even now I'm ramping up plans now to keep pursuing fertility treatments sometime in the next year). I’m not saying my life is now Lisa Frank unicorns. This foster to adopt world is a tough one. I’m also not saying this is the ultimate plan or prescription for everyone else going through infertility.
Being willing to live inside of His plan for my contentment has not been a mistake. He gave me these babies, at least for now, and I want them. Desperately. I want what He has given me. I want these specific little people and their slobbery kisses. They are my reality. These little siblings that are playing in the living room fill my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible. I would not have these two specific little people if things had gone my way.
David loves to play loud music in the mornings. We eat breakfast jamming to our playlist and inevitably there is singing and dancing with our babies waving their chubby, dimpled, little hands in the air. Sometimes I think about what I wanted so desperately. It doesn’t seem real now. I guess it never was. It’s ok that I had a dream. It’s ok that I wanted it so very badly. It’s ok that it was difficult to let it go. I learned ever so slowly and ever so painfully how to sing and dance inside of His reality instead of mine. His reality is eating Cheerios and smiling at me with two goofy little teeth right now. It didn’t come without pain, but I can tell you it is somehow perfect.