What images pop up in your mind at Easter time? Bunnies and painted eggs, or Sunday brunches and budding spring bulbs? Easter always makes me think of the beginnings of new life, and the hope that naturally brings. That promise was all the more present in my mind when I discovered that I was expecting again after two and a half years of trying to start a family. While this soon led to more dashed hopes, the joys that resulted through adoption surpassed the pain of pregnancy losses. We all experience discouragement in life, whether from losing a dream partner, ideal job or perfect family. But in looking back, can you also see the good that resulted?
As the cautious hope for a child persisted for several years, God used this time to draw me closer to Him–an unexpected gift from this trial. Without the comfort of this presence, I would have continued to feel a gnawing emptiness inside. Do you know that kind of ache and longing–as you try desperately to fill a void? We will fill the hole with whatever eases the pain. Until the desire takes on a life of its own. In a recent sermon, my pastor John Ortberg described how “Hope Does Not Disappoint.” It took me a few trials to discover this.
During prolonged waiting for a child, for recovery from illness, or for a steady job, I did feel disappointed in God at times. But eventually I came to discover that the temporary pain we experience in this life is only a fraction of the pain that God’s son, Jesus Christ, experienced on the cross. Christians believe that upon Christ’s death and ascension into Heaven, He equipped us with the gift of the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us in life. As a believer, however, I had rarely tapped into that resurrection power. Or even heard much about this part of the Trinity. Yet as I sank further into despair, I knew I needed something solid to put my hope in.
Whether you believe in the Lord, or another higher power, we cannot always achieve fulfillment by our own merit. For years, I neglected to call upon the Comforter for help in every day situations and stressors. I buried myself in a new career and chased ever-rising quotas, reaching the top of my company’s sales force year after year. With my bonus awards, my husband and I purchased a condo and took tropical windsurfing vacations.
As I powered through each distraction from pain, whether pursuing publishing courses after work or playing on a soccer team, I continued to obsess over the state of my ovaries. I endured yet more fertility tests and treatments, creating enough eggs to make a carton full. I still had no answers for the reproductive “failure.” It was the first time I had worked so hard at something that I felt utterly helpless to control. As rabbits are thought to represent fertility, the irony of a pregnancy loss at Easter did not escape me. (I also found it ironic to receive the fertility goddess statue at our church’s Christmas gag gift exchange–after miscarrying a week before.)
Eggs have long symbolized new life. But despite all the fertility symbols that continued to surround me during that painful season of my life, the symbol of the cross is the one that gave me the most hope. When I surrendered my dream of bearing a child and turned my heart to adoption, I received another unexpected gift. I had so longed to have a birth story to share like everyone else. And our birth mom invited us to attend the birth– and to even cut the umbilical cord! She and I each insisted the other hold the baby first. That is what love looks like. As she handed me our new son for the first time, she said “I think you have a good egg here.” Indeed!
Sharing the Gift
It was interesting to hear how people reacted when I mentioned our open adoption. While we rarely communicate with our son’s birth mom now, by her choice, we were originally the poster family for open adoption. Nothing pleased me more than sharing the gift of our son with her. But initially the skeptics looked us quizzically, wondering if the birth mother would want her baby back. Or whether our son would be confused about who his “real” mother was. It did not occur to me then to receive a treasure and keep it to myself.
I took joy in celebrating this precious gift with our birth mom, and wanted to help ease the transition as she recovered from this loss. She exhibited tremendous courage in making an adoption plan for her child. From the moment he was born, she wanted us to feel like the parents right away. While our birth mom’s nurse peered at us disapprovingly after his birth, continually reminding her that she still had time to change her mind, I trusted God’s plans to be fulfilled. (I did take satisfaction, though, in seeing my son throw up all over that nurse! The only “negative energy” that she alluded to was coming from her. Don’t let other people steal your joy.)
It comforted me to see how my past pain could be used to bring hope to others in crisis. My pain developed meaning and a purpose; it was not wasted. People acted like I was so charitable to adopt, but the birth moms of my two sons were as much of a blessing to me as I was to them. They possessed more courage to relinquish their babies than I did to adopt them. Often society look more favorably towards ending a pregnancy than a mom “giving up her own flesh and blood to strangers.” The beauty is that when we choose to invest in the lives of others, they do not remain strangers. And the gifts that we share together are those that continue to give.
The Gifts that Keep Giving
When I later experienced the pain that often accompanies the teenage years, God reminded me that my children are not my own. God has a perfect plan for them. During challenging times, when my controlling tendencies started to take over again, my wise 80-year-old Christian mentor encouraged me to let God be the parent. And now my sons are flourishing, contributing to society and finding their own paths. They are giving back and blessing others.
How often do we cling to our toddlers or our teens, our time or our talents? Or do we hesitate to relinquish our resources? Michael Dye, an addiction counselor, once looked to church members to help those struggling with addiction. But he discovered that often people could not relate to addicts until they could make connections to idols within their own lives. And he taught these believers that to give back, you must first give something up.
In his book The Genesis Process Dye writes: “When you choose to invest your life and resources into ‘that which is unseen’ you glorify him…When you are glorifying God in this way, the result is faith, peace and a life that has meaning and purpose.” It takes courage to step into the unknown and to expose our hearts to others. When we do, we can all experience the gifts of community. What are you willing to sacrifice in your own life?