I encountered Jesus as a young child in a church pew in the balcony of an old country church. Through a lifetime of trial, I knew he was there. I did not always know or understand what he wanted of me, but I knew I was wanted. We could go through all of the pain and abuse of my life and unpack each tiny detail, but that is not what this is really about. I love what Frederick Buechner said, “Pain is not the biggest thing that has ever happened to you.” That is true. I have beheld far greater glory. As I clung to his word through all of this, I knew he was there.
My story about trying begins long before I began trying to have children. I tell you this because almost half of the population has been abused in some way. The attack on my uterus began when I was four-years-old. I spent most of my life believing that I was broken and I was crippled by shame. I carried that shame into every relationship I had. As I encountered people in the church, I never felt safe enough to ask for prayer or help. I could hear in their words shame heaped upon shame, even when they were trying to seem compassionate. I simply could not bear even one more ounce of shame.
Through all of this, I had a relationship with Jesus. I knew and understood that he cared for me. I could hear the Sunday School answers to all of the questions I had raging in my heart. The problem was that I did not see one single person working this out practically. I did not trust people with what I was carrying in my heart. I had seen a terrible counselor and tried to share, but it honestly left me feeling worse. So there I was, feeling damaged.
The first person I really confided all of my past hurt to was my future husband. I was sure he would think less of me because of all of this. Fortunately, we went on to get married and he gave a safe place for my heart to heal. He gave me support in every way that he could so that I could sit with Jesus and heal. For the first few months of our marriage I was on birth control. Then I became personally convicted about telling God when to give me a baby. I thought I would become pregnant right away. Years went by. I began to believe I was failing the man that had taken my shattered heart in.
After several years of trying to get pregnant, I finally had a positive test. At my three-month check up, there was no heartbeat. They did a blood test just to make sure and called to tell me that I had lost the baby. That tore me to the core. I could not handle the shame of my failure at motherhood. The hardest part of losing a child was all the other people that knew. The ache of sharing pain like that was beyond anything I can explain. I did not want those people in this with me. People say horrendous things in situations like this. People will try to make your pain about them. It makes something awful that much worse.
To process through all of this, my husband and I painted our kitchen a Tuscan yellow. Jesus spoke something to me in there. Listen with grace. People are trying to communicate pain or hope that they have no words for. As I have quit being incensed about what people say to me, I have heard much more of the heart of others. I quit demanding that their story be like mine or their words be perfectly spoken and I heard them.
Miscarriage would go on to bring pain to my life five more times. I have lost a baby in a tragic accident, lost twins that I had to labor to deliver, lost a baby on a road trip to see my husband’s family in North Carolina. Waking up to gushing blood at a family reunion is one of the worst things I can remember. I did not want to ruin my husband’s time with his family and so I just tucked it away in my heart until I could grieve. I have these memories of being in labor and delivery and going home empty-handed. I have held a dead fetus that I miscarried early as it came out during a shower. I have been told that regular cancer screenings were needed to be sure that what hurt my children would not hurt me. There are things you cannot shake from your memory.
There are things I am grateful for through it all. I am not Catholic, but I am grateful for Catholic hospitals that believe in the sanctity of life. In the one hospital that I had a D&C for the twins, they bury your babies instead of putting them in a jar or the medical waste bin. There is also a memorial garden there where you can sit and pray. So often when you miscarry, you feel as though you made the whole thing up because you never held a baby. Someone offering you a place to grieve makes you feel like you do not need to pretend it did not happen or hide under shame. I am grateful for those who champion life.
During all of this trying, we also tried to adopt four times. We had one woman have her child taken by CPS, one had an abortion, one had a miscarriage, and the last kept her baby. It’s a completely different grief trying to adopt and failing, but it is grief nonetheless. We had made room in our hearts and our home to bring someone new into our family come what may.
Out of my nine pregnancies, six were miscarriages. My husband and I did end up having three girls. There has been some pretty significant damage done to my liver, but I am thankful. I am also humbled to share my journey with others. There are many beautiful women who are crippled in shame from trying and seemingly failing.
The thing I have come to learn is that we must tell our stories no matter how they turn out. One person’s story of trying is not more valuable that someone else’s. We simply need to learn to listen with grace, keep unwise comments to ourselves, and learn from each other. We are good together and must not let anger isolate us any further. God designed us as women to nurture those around us. Often, it doesn’t look like we think it will.
I look back at my stubborn approach to how God would give me my motherhood and I realize how I tried to usurp his lordship in my life. I have been arrogant in how I dealt with what people have said. The “how dare they speak to me like that” approach to life doesn’t honor anyone. It refuses to listen or care for the burdens of others. I learned how to kindly share with people what to say and let them mature in Christ. I learned to accept care how it was given.
Humility and trust in God will make you a spectacular steward of your pain. Decades of agony in the hands of Christ gave me a gift. I learned to care more about others than myself. That gift helped me lift the laser eye I had on my deficiency and shame and pour out the love of God on anyone God entrusts us with.
Thank you for listening with ears of grace to my story. I pray that you can have hope no matter what mile marker you are on in your journey. In reading scripture, I could see how one person’s story was really a gift to someone else. The gospel went out. So does what we carry in our hearts. “Choose wisely,” I would tell myself. What is the legacy you want to leave to the people around you? We could have had it all on our timeline and according to our agenda, but we wouldn’t be the people we are. We wouldn’t have been humbled to offer mercy and we wouldn’t know that God is truly there even in the darkest moments.
God promises that he is there with the broken hearted. I can tell you from experience that his presence gets more palpable the darker it gets. Sometimes, I want to sit among the broken just so I can feel that nearness again. Honestly, the gift of having the nearness of God far overshadows the pain of it all. Lean in to Christ. Weep through the Psalms. Read every ounce of God’s word, every story and you will see that their greatest hurt was a launch pad of redemption when they took it to Christ. Grieve when you need to, but hold fast to hope. There is more to our story than this moment. There is more beauty and glory to behold. Take heart. You are seen and loved by a beautiful God.
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.