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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kids, Part 4: Where We Go From Here

Two weeks ago, I finished a rather bleak post on the aftermath of the infertility issues Steph and I have experienced with the question: If two-thirds of all childless marriages end in divorce, how have we made it nearly ten years?  The answer to that query was found in 1 Corinthians 13:7, which says Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  To finish this series, I’d like to show the world that there is life and love in a childless marriage.  That while God blesses most with children, He blesses others differently—and that’s okay.

Love Bears All Things:
It’s very easy to think that love bears all things and endures all things are the same.  In fact, when I looked up with word endures in the Thesaurus, the first synonym listed was bears.  However, in this verse, bears is meant as “being open.”  Sharing your thoughts, feelings, fears, worries, pain, etc with someone you love.  Privately or publicly.

Bearing all things is not something Steph and I have done well for the last 6-7 years.  We have not always shared with each other how we were feeling.  We have not always shared our internal pain.  Not with each other.  Definitely not with friends and family.  We have kept everyone—including ourselves—at an arm’s length.  This is not the secret to our sustained marriage.  As you have read in previous posts, behaving this way has been a detriment to our marriage, and probably cost us relationships with others as our lack of openness likely pushed many away.

Fortunately, we have begun to rectify this situation before it became too late.  Communication was our strongest asset before we started trying for children, and we’re working hard to make it a source of strength again.  Furthermore, these posts have been our way of coming clean to all of you.  We are bearing our souls to you.  Sharing our faults.  Our fears.  It isn’t always easy—nor will it become any easier moving forward.  Finally discussing our infertility publicly does not mean that we’re “over it” or that we’ve “moved on.”  It will always be a struggle.

The future haunts us.  Who will care for us when we’re old?  What will we do for family Christmases once our parents are gone?  What do we do with all the baby stuff we slowly bought when we first started trying?  Steph and I had a strange conversation once where we both acknowledged that while we were closer to accepting the idea of not having children, the idea of not having grandchildren depressed us.

I recently read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love.  In it, he says, “Sometimes when I come home from work, my little girl greets me by running out to the driveway and jumping into my arms before I can even get out of the car.  As you can imagine, arriving home has become one of my favorite moments of the day…Nothing compares to being truly, exuberantly wanted by your children.”  All my life, when I thought of being a father, it was moments like this that excited me.  That warmed my heart.

Barring a miracle, I will never experience this, and sometimes that breaks my heart.

Pay attention to television shows.  Whenever a couple want a child, the process of conceiving is almost always an entire season’s plotline.  This buildup allows for a very emotional moment for the characters (and the viewers) once they finally get their good news.  These moments are usually just slightly more emotional for us.  What sucks is that because infertility is on the rise, it’s actually creeping into these shows as well…and you usually never see it coming.  This season, one of the characters on a show we watch was pregnant (after it took all of last season for it to happen).  While we witnessed all the cliché craziness of sitcom pregnancy, the other main female character—who has never wanted children—found out that she will never be able to have them.  This shocker came out of the blue and hit us like a big rig.  Years of emotional hell came flooding back in an instant.  We bawled.  Needless to say, the rest of that evening was shot.

Love does bear all things, and we’re getting better.  That night, we cried together.  We suffered together.  For years, we would have dealt with that moment separately…which would have caused it to fester in our hearts even longer.  We’re not perfect—we’re very much a work in progress, but as long as that work is being done hand-in-hand, then we’ll see our twentieth anniversary…thirtieth…

Love Believes All Things:
Treasuring Christ is more important than bearing children. – John Piper

When you’re going through infertility, the last thing you want to hear is, “Maybe God has a different plan for you.”  The selfish, human response is, “I don’t care what God’s plan is, I want kids!!”  Full with arms crossed and a foot stomp.  At that moment, God’s plan doesn’t mesh with your plan, and in our puny brains, our plan is the only one that makes sense.  I would say that Steph and I were probably at this stage for 3-4 years.

As the realization hits that children are likely not going to come, the selfish “I want kids” tantrum becomes the pity-cry of “Why me?”  Why was God’s plan different for me?  There were times (“were,” I write…There are times) when I become self-righteous.  I look at all the dead-beat dads in the world.  The workaholics that want nothing to do with their children.  The abusive drunks.  I see them and think, I would have been an amazing dad.  They get to have children, but I don’t?  How is that fair?  Steph and I didn’t always feel this way at the same time, but overall, I would guess that we were at this stage for 2-3 years.

Eventually, acceptance settles in, and you begin to look at the big picture.  You read that God does all things for good (Romans 8:28), and start wondering what God’s plan is for you.  Okay, God…I surrender.  You can see all, You know all…please shed some light on me.  Help me to see just a sliver.

Remember, Steph and I have done a poor job of bearing all things for the majority of our season of infertility.  Due to that, we have been privately searching for God’s plan for a couple years.  It should be no coincidence that once we began communicating with each other and asking God to share with us (instead of share with me), answers seemed to fall.

John Piper says (here) that marriage is meant for making children disciples of Jesus.  He says that having children is God’s will.  “Marriage is for making children—that is, procreation.  Having babies.  This is not the main meaning of marriage, however.  It is an important one and a biblical one, (but) the purpose of marriage is not merely to add more bodies to the planet.  The point is to increase the number of followers of Jesus on the planet.  The effect of saying it this way is that couples who cannot make children because of issues of infertility can still aim to make children followers of Jesus.”

There is significantly more to that sermon, and I encourage you all to click on the link and either watch it, or read the transcript.  I honestly believe that this message was God’s answer (or at least His current answer) to me/us.

I’ve said numerous times that I could not be the teacher I am if I had kids.  I simply would not have the energy.  Steph has said similar things about her job.  Maybe that’s why God has told us no.  Look at the lives we play a factor in every year.  I have over one hundred students in my class each year.  I have the chance to be a major influence in one hundred lives every year, and I know that if I had a child, that influence would diminish.  What’s more important in the long run?  Influencing one child their entire life, or one hundred teenagers for one year…and some beyond that (through media outlets like Facebook and this blog)?  It seems God believes the latter for me.

Two weeks ago, I asked the question numerous times: Why weren’t we blessed?  Perhaps the answer resides here.  God has blessed me with the ability to teach and connect with my students.  When I was leaving college, one of my education professors told me that my greatest strength was connecting with my students.  She said my ability to do that was one of the strongest she had ever seen.  The music students at Illinois Wesleyan University (where she works) love Steph.  LOVE her.  They go to her for advice on everything from what classes they should take to problems with professors to problems with friends to problems with romantic relationships to struggles with faith.  It seems as though this is her missionary field as well.

Mark Driscoll: “Do you want God to use you greatly?  Then He must wound you deeply.  You can serve people through your suffering.  When you’re weak, you’re strong.  Suffering is the means by which God will allow you to do great serving.  Serving comes out of suffering.  Your suffering could be God’s gift to you to serve more people than ever before.”

Our purpose as Christians is to bring as many people to Christ as possible.  Each of us will do that differently; meanwhile, God has given us all unique gifts to do exactly this requirement.  If we trust in God and believe in His Will, then we’ll use these gifts rather than reject them in the attempt to fit our own will into His.  Steph and I believe in God’s plan…we believe and trust in each other…and while it took a season of suffering for us to find, realize, and accept these gifts; we are more ready, willing, and focused to do His work than ever before.

Love Hopes All Things:
For the last sevenish years, our lives have been put on hold while we waited for something that wasn’t coming.  Career decisions were tossed aside.  Continuing education plans were dropped.  No vacations.  No updates to the house.

We realize now that it’s time to unpause and resume our lives.

For the time being, we feel as though God has called us to work with the children that our currently in our lives.  Maybe that will change in a year…or five…or ten.  Down the road, if God sees fit to deliver us a miracle baby, we will welcome him/her with open arms…but that does not seem to be our mission presently.  Still, our hope remains that somewhere in the future, God’s plan for us includes children.

Which leads me to the question most of you have been wondering: What about adoption or foster care?  My honest answer: I don’t know.  We don’t know.  There was a time when the issue was discussed, but we’ve rarely been at the same place at the same time.  For example:  Initially, Steph was more interested in going the adoption route than I was.  Later, I was personally starting to warm up to the idea of adoption when Steph made an off-handed comment about becoming more comfortable with the idea of no children ever.  Then, just as I began to tell friends that I was leaning towards no children, Steph made an off-handed comment about being ready to discuss adoption or foster care again.  This back-and-forth has been going on for nearly three years.

Here’s what I know: I have had an ache in my heart for foster kids since my mom read The Pinballs to me as a child.  My problem, however, is I couldn’t be one of those foster parents that takes a kid in for a few weeks or months and then lets them go back to their parents.  That would kill me.  If foster care is the way we’re going to look, then it would have to be some form of a fostering-to-adopt program.  This idea is the closest Steph and I have come to agreement.  Furthermore, if this is our destined route, we have discussed looking into slightly older kids (somewhere in the 5-10 years old range) and possibly even siblings.  We even went so far as to meet with an agency a few years ago.  It was not a pleasant experience, however, and the topic died quickly after that.

Overall, it’s a conversation that really hasn’t come up in almost a year.  Then, a couple months ago, I felt a pull at my heart to revisit the idea of fostering-to-adopt.  I just assumed it was part of the emotional rollercoaster that we’re always riding.  The tugging eventually led me to writing this series.  Following the second post in this series, a friend contacted me via Facebook.  She said that she was going to stay out of it, but couldn’t anymore because it felt like “God was literally YELLING at me to write this to you…and has continued to nag me all day” (her words and CAPS).  She went on to ask if Steph and I had not only considered foster care…not only considered fostering-to-adopt…not only considered fostering-to-adopt older kids…but had we considered fostering-to-adopt older siblings?

Goosebumps literally ran up and down my arms when I read that.  I believe my exact words (out loud, in my empty classroom) were, “Touche, God!!”  When I shared this with Steph, we both agreed that we had some serious talking to do.  In fact, we’ve set a date to do just that…while we’re in Hawaii in July for our ten-year anniversary/honeymoon we never went on/years of skipped vacations.  Hey…we finally pressed unpause on our lives, why not do it in style, right?

So…please pray for that.  Pray for the discussion.  Pray that we can reach an agreement.  Pray for His guidance to make the right decision, whether it’s adoption or foster care, or fostering-to-adopt, or holding out for the miracle of our own child.  Even if the decision is to accept no children at all, let it be a decision we come to together with God’s guidance.  While we hope for children in some way, if it is God’s Will for us to do something else, please pray that we understand that and find peace—and excitement—in that.

Love Endures All Things:
In marriage, it gets better or it gets bitter. – Mark Driscoll

Why do so many childless marriage end in divorce?  Honestly—they probably aren’t very good friends.  When it’s just the two of you, that’s a LOOOOOOT of time together, so you’d better like that person.  Hanging out with that person.  Watching movies with that person.  Sharing hobbies with that person.  Talking with that person.  Mark Driscoll tells us that God created man and woman to stand face-to-face.  That we are to be friends with our spouse.  He says, “The most important friendship you have (outside of your relationship with Christ) is with your spouse.”

This is my lover, this is my friend – Song of Solomon 5:16
A friend loves at all times – Proverbs 17:17

Steph was my best friend once upon a time.  No exaggeration, the first time we spoke to each other, we spent the next ten hours together…just talking.  Eventually, that friendship blossomed into a relationship and into a marriage.  It wasn’t until we began trying to have children that our friendship drifted.  Our love for each other never waned, but the friendship suffered.  That’s what we’re working on now.  Things that help: Looking at the positives of not having children.  Yes…there are positives with a childless marriage, and while we would trade any and all of these for children, allowing yourself to look at the positives 1) helps you unpause your life, which ultimately leads to 2) helps rebuild that friendship with your spouse.

-         More personal time with each other.
-         We’re not exhausted every minute of every day.  If I want to come home from a long day at school and take a nap, I can.
-         More focus on our careers and God’s purpose behind them (see above).
-         More money.  No allowances…no college…no wedding…no braces…no clothes they constantly outgrow.
-         We can travel anywhere at any time if we choose.
-         We can have more junk food in the house (more or less).
-         We don’t have to sneak sex while the kids are sleeping.
-         We can watch whatever programming on television that we want.
-         We have time for our hobbies instead of theirs.
-         During the teenage years, we won’t have the constant fear of where they are at night.  No worries about drinking, smoking, doing drugs, having sex, etc.
-         No diapers…ever.  Friends and family with kids almost never ask you to change their baby because they assume you don’t know how.  It’s awesome.
-         It’s a lot easier to switch careers, pack up, and move if that’s what we decide.
-         I sleep about 6-7 hours a night.  Uninterrupted.  Due to this, I have never shown up to work wearing two different shoes (parents know what I’m talking about).

Ultimately, why are Steph and I still together?  Because we love each other.  This love has helped us endure the biggest obstacle we’ve faced.  We haven’t come out of this battle unscathed, but we came out of it together.  While I was reading about the marital strains of infertility, I really liked what one husband said to his wife:  “Couples have to get married because they love each other, not because they want to start a family.  Having children should be considered a bonus not the decisive prize.”

A lot of people want to define love, but you cannot put some dictionary-level definition on it.  Love is defined by the actions of each couple.  Want to know what love is?  Steph knew how badly I wanted kids.  Emotionally, it killed her that she couldn’t give me something that I yearned for that much.  So when the infertility treatments didn’t work, even though we put an end mark on the treatments, even though Steph was physically and emotionally tortured through every step in the process, she said that she would continue and do the injections and in vitro fertilization if I wanted her to.  Steph was willing to do all of that—was willing to sacrifice her body, her emotions, her sanity—because of her love for me.  That’s love.

You know what else is love?  I told her no.

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