Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, June 24, 2022

My Tulip Lesson

During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, I almost felt guilty because it had hardly disrupted my life. Year Two began to change that. Different views on the vaccine caused tension at home and everywhere we went. By fall, we were dealing with unemployment, uncertainty, and insecurity.  A broken relationship within our extended family was breaking our hearts. Despite releasing two books that year, my writing career discouraged me as unpublished manuscripts received nothing but rejections. Fatigue ruled. A cold, bleak winter closed in. My heart felt heavy.

While grocery shopping one day, a package of tulip bulbs caught my eye. I’m not normally an impulsive shopper, and the budget certainly didn’t allow for extras. Furthermore, I’d not experienced much luck with tulips in the past. But somehow, I sensed there’d be a need for some color, some sign of new life, as early as possible come spring—if indeed spring ever came. I bought a package of twelve bulbs.

I chose a spot in clear view from my kitchen window and planted the bulbs in my vegetable garden in two patches of six. I threw a layer of dead leaves on top for an extra blanket. “Please Lord, let these flowers come up and bloom,” I prayed. They became a symbol of hope for a brighter future and of God’s faithfulness even as I chided myself for assigning them so much weight. What if they failed to materialize?

Over the long, cold winter, I often thought about those bulbs buried under the record snowfall. How could anything survive out there? If those flowers refused to appear, it would feel like one more kick in an already difficult year. I shouldn’t have set myself up for more disappointment.

When April passed with no signs of spring, it confirmed my notion. Had we somehow crossed into Narnia, where it’s always winter, never Christmas? Just when we thought the snow was beginning to melt, another blizzard would come along and bury everything. Again. May came along and still no tulips appeared in my backyard. Though the snow began to recede, and though I saw happy tulips in neighbors’ yards, mine must have been dead before I even planted them.

Then one day in mid-May, I shoved aside the blanket of leaves I’d thrown over the bulbs. Small green shoots poked up! Would they grow? By this time, clouds, wind, and rain inundated us. Surely, these babies craved the sun as much as I did.

A few days later, I saw another. Then another. By May 28, all twelve of my tulips had not only grown tall and straight, but each sported a brilliant flower in red, yellow, or cream. I can’t describe the joy they brought to my heart. By the time the last petal dropped in mid-June, lilacs, apple, and plum blossoms had stepped on stage to display their glory.

My tulips accomplished even more than I’d hoped. Though they emerged and bloomed far later than expected, they reminded me that God is faithful. His timing is not ours. He alone can bring indescribable beauty from seemingly lifeless things. Perhaps most of all, the flowers assured me of his love and care. I had not been wrong to grant them that much power. I was not forgotten.

Neither are you.

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!" (Habakkuk 2:3, The Living Bible).

These tulips are not mine. Mine were this nice, but my photography skills are not.



Friday, June 17, 2022

A Journey of Infertility and Faith, Part 4 of 4

To close this series, I asked Hannah and Eli Abrahams (not their real names) what “rejoicing” looks like in the middle of unanswered prayers and unrealized dreams. That may seem like a weird question. It comes from the book of Habakkuk in the Bible—a short book well worth your study time. The questions Habakkuk asks will resonate with you, and God’s answers will shake and solidify your faith.

For Hannah, rejoicing looks more like connection. “We feel rejuvenated and like we’ve rejoiced when we have connected deeply with people over a good meal, had an intimate chat over coffee, hosted guests who needed rest at our Airbnb, provided a detox and sober-living home for people who have become dear friends, and more. Rejoicing is connecting, through God’s favorably given grace, with others. This is why we are drawn to hospitality. The ability to facilitate connection with Creator in any way allows us to deepen our connection to Creator.”

I also asked Eli and Hannah what they would say to other couples struggling with infertility.

“This is hard. It’s never really going to be easy. It just won’t always be this hard. It will look different than you first thought, and that’s okay. It is real life and life is precious. Embrace and enjoy it. I promise you will find what sparked your heart in your first imagining if you are open to seeing it in a different package than you first thought.”

Doesn’t this ring true in every area of life? Whether we admit it or not, we all wonder sometimes where God is. How can He stand back and do nothing? Whether it’s our own personal unmet longings or the broken world around us, “How long?” and “Why?” are the questions we most often ask. Is your relationship with God such that you can challenge Him with your questions the way this couple has?

I asked Eli whether he has a particular Bible verse he clings to. Not surprisingly, he loves the passage where Paul wrote about Abraham. “Without weakening in his faith, Abraham acknowledged the decrepitude of his body (since he was about a hundred years old) and the lifelessness of Sarah’s womb. Yet he did not waver through disbelief in the promise of God, being fully persuaded that God was able to do what He had promised.” (Romans 4:19-21)

“Acknowledging our own physical issues is not considered weak faith,” Eli says. “Rather, seeing God do what He can do despite what we see, is faith. I’m not impressed by Abraham so much as I am impressed with God being faithful in our realities as we see them.”

When you began reading this series, did you expect it to end with the arrival of a baby? With one of God’s “great reversals?” Are you disappointed that it has not? Could it be that the faith required to rejoice in the middle of unanswered prayer is no less miraculous than the faith needed to see prayers answered?

When I look at Eli and Hannah’s journey thus far, I see God’s hand all over it. He promised pregnancy and there was one. He promised they would be parents, and they are, though they did not have the privilege of holding their little one in their arms. God is watching over their child who they’ll one day get to meet and know. Meanwhile, he’s giving them other young people to influence and mentor. Does God have more in store? Certainly. We don’t know what that will look like or how it will come about, but therein lies the precious beauty of a living faith. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

A Journey of Infertility and Faith, Part 3 of 4

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I wrote about Eli and Hannah Abrahams’ (not their real names) thirteen-year wait for a child, followed by the physical and emotional trauma of ectopic pregnancy and therapeutic abortion. When I asked them how others help or hinder their infertility journey, Eli and Hannah offered some insightful answers. They know it’s hard and awkward for others to navigate this road with them, but they are helped by and thankful for friends and acquaintances willing to sit in that awkwardness and who let them share their story.

“We don’t know how to navigate it any better than anyone else does,” Hannah says. “But having so many people in our community willing to allow us to figure this out openly and not require us to hide this pain away so they can be more comfortable demonstrates what support looks like. There are no magical words that could possibly fix things, but the friends that can be present in this pain have been a healing balm to our spirits.”

I was surprised when Eli and Hannah didn’t offer a long list of ways people have done or said hurtful things. I half expected a catalog of “things not to say.” Instead, they shared the following.

“There are few things people have done that have been unhelpful, but if we needed to put a finger on one that has been the most baffling or draining, it’s those who find our story too painful to engage with, yet still expect to stay close friends. They want access to our hearts without letting us share our full lives.”

I asked Eli and Hannah what happens in their hearts when others receive the gift they long for. I love their honest answers. Hannah admits that baby showers and pregnancy announcements have been difficult to navigate with grace and with socially acceptable facial expressions. For a while, she even had a hard time celebrating Christmas because it represented the birth of Jesus.

“I have a hard time going to baby showers. Partly because it’s awkward to be the infertile one at a celebration of fertility. Some aunty always asks how many kids I have or when we’re planning on having kids. That bruise is deep and can still zing. The joy in hearing the announcement of new life coming is real, though.”

“We’ve both found a place inside ourselves that can be purely joyful at the prospect of new life coming, even if it isn’t our announcement. There are still things that are hard.”

I love how, even in the middle of all their questions, Eli and Hannah have learned to rejoice. When I asked what “rejoicing” looks like for them, I wasn’t surprised when Eli’s answer came from the heart of someone who has studied scripture in its original language.

“The word rejoice means to be ‘favorably disposed to God’s grace.’ That’s a funny way to picture this, considering our circumstances, but it sure takes the pressure off. Hannah and I have been favorably disposed to God’s ability to do what He says. Wow! That makes me happy right now. But the playful part for me is to be reminded that my wife’s name means grace. So it’s this double whammy of God being extra favorably willing and inclined to do what He does.

“I can picture God paving a road, putting us on it, then taking our hands as we walk into joy with Him (and even a few little ones I can see now and then with us). This can happen daily. This can happen when I need it to. That doesn’t mean we don’t face trials or troubles on this road. But, in all this, there is a hand firmly gripping ours attached to the words, I am willing.”

Next week, we’ll wrap up the Abrahams’ story with Part 4.

Friday, June 3, 2022

A Journey of Infertility and Faith, Part 2

After 13 long years of waiting and testing, Eli and Hannah Abrahams finally received a positive pregnancy test only to learn five days later that the embryo had implanted outside Hannah’s uterus. She could either terminate the pregnancy or risk losing her entire reproductive system or even her life. Either way, the embryo would not survive.

“That was traumatic and emotionally scarring,” they told me. “We are still processing and grieving that experience. Our faith is firm, but our emotions are still healing.”

Now the couple had even more questions for God. After all, babies are God’s idea. Eli says that the question that creeps into his mind most often is, “What gives?”  He’d felt certain God promised him they’d be parents.

The ‘What gives?’ question pops up at the most unpredictable times, like when seeing a parent patting their three-year-old on the head, or even a little tyke throwing a fit at Walmart. Deep within our DNA, Eli believes most of us long for these natural moments.

When Eli poses his 'what gives' question directly to God, it has not come without an answer. The answer, however, has never been new information but a reminder. Each time, he senses God saying the same thing: “Even though you see this, Eli, what was my promise I showed you?” 

“It doesn’t come as a jab, or even as a correction,” Eli says. “It simply feels like a new opportunity to experience God’s truth of his personal promise to me from a different angle.  When I have time to go and sit with the question of what God promised me, He usually shows up and shows me a new dimension of how he is present for me in my current pain, but still clearly at work in the promise He gave me.

“I see things sometimes. I feel things a lot. I hear soft whispers of his faithful words (both in the Bible and as peace-filled thoughts). And every now and then, I just find myself in a space where I ‘just know’ God is without a doubt faithfully true and good to fulfill what he has said.”

God promised Eli and Hannah not only that they would become parents, but that they would get pregnant. So, although their questions have changed over the years and although “what gives” is always present, others have emerged. When? Still? How?

Hannah says, “As we have wrestled with God about what his promise meant, I’ve found peace and energy in the answer that always comes: “parent those whom you influence now.”

“I have no clue what pregnancy will look like and how in the world we will have energy for a baby or toddler in our late forties. But I know that I am a good mom and Eli is a good dad because we’ve been able to mentor, guide, and parent those with whom God has trusted us to be in a relationship. Part of our faith journey is holding the tension between already being parents even while we are not yet parents.”

Watch for Part 3 next week for more of the Abrahams’ story.