A Mother’s Broken Path to Joy

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This year I get to celebrate my first Mother’s Day as a mother. This year a delightful little girl named Azalea Joy calls me mama. I have wanted to be a mother all my life. But for over ten years the answer to my prayer for a child was “not yet.” It was during those years that God did some truly amazing things in my life to ready me for the perfect plan He so graciously purposed for my family.

I wasn’t raised in the church, and neither was my husband Amzie. We met when I was 18 and he was 20, fell madly in love right away, and got married the summer after my graduation. Amzie gave his life to Christ during our college years and wisely chose not to push me, but rather to pray and maintain his hope that I’d come around. I told him I really did want to believe, but I wouldn’t say I believed in something that I didn’t know to be true. Now I can see that my heart was hard and not yet ready to receive God’s grace.

But the events that unfolded in my life during my 20s completely humbled me and made me realize how desperately I needed a savior. It’s not a pretty story. It’s messy and there was a lot of ugly darkness before the light broke through. But I can’t boast effectively about the light Christ shone into our lives without first telling you about the darkness we experienced without Him.

When I was 20 my mother died unexpectedly. My father remarried pretty quickly, which was difficult. But then he also died suddenly just three years after my mother did. My big brother and I were left behind, quite lost. My brother struggled terribly with severe depression all his life and his suicidal desires were increasing. I tried my absolute best to save him. But I didn’t. Two years after losing my father, my brother took his own life.

It’s impossible to describe the devastation I felt when I lost my big brother. I idolized and adored him and then lost him in an awful way. Even though I knew he was struggling with suicidal fantasies, I didn’t think he would ever really leave me behind. But the lie believed by many who succumb to suicide is that those you leave behind will be better off without you.

Amzie and I started trying to build our family when I was 25, in the year before I lost my brother. We had been married for a couple of years and my desire to become a parent had really ramped up when I lost my own parents. It’s a very strange place to be. when you don’t have parents and you aren’t one. I lived in that place for 14 years. I felt very unanchored and vulnerable, particularly in the years before I came to know Jesus Christ. I knew there was no one alive who had to love me no matter what.

When Amzie and I made the decision to start trying to have a baby a thought occurred to me and seemed to settle in my soul. I thought “What if, after losing my parents, I can’t become a parent? Wouldn’t that be the worst possible thing?” As soon as the thought came to the surface I wished it existed in a thought bubble like in a cartoon and I could grab it and stuff it back where it came from. I had this feeling that releasing that thought and naming my worst fear was like speaking a curse over myself. Then the months of trying to conceive turned into a year. The doctors called it “unexplained infertility” for a long while.

After losing my family and then facing infertility, I was just completely adrift and living in a place of dread, believing I was cursed, maybe even despised by God, if he existed at all. I was asking for help, seeing therapists, trying antidepressants, reading all the self-help books, and a ton of books on eastern religions. No doubt talking to the therapist was beneficial, but I was still a total wreck. I was drinking too much, engaging in self-harm, and fantasizing more and more about suicide. Amzie was my life raft. He and his parents were why I woke up every day. I was living day by day; looking ahead more than that was impossible. But every day I woke up and thought that I could try one more day for Amzie.

But in my desperation, I read even the Christian books that my friends Richard and Rebecca had given me. One of those books helped me understand the nature of faith. That new understanding was coupled with a heart that had been humbled and a soul that was desperate. I was keenly aware of my own limitations to overcome the death and destruction that had intruded into my world and I realized I needed a savior to survive. So one night, alone in a dark bedroom, I surrendered my life to Christ. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. I didn’t really understand what I was doing. I just knew that I wanted to be His and believed He was my last and only chance.

After making this momentous decision, I set my mind and heart on learning what it meant to be a Christian. We found a church home and Amzie and I were baptized together in 2006. We were faithful attenders on Sunday morning, I joined Bible studies and no doubt irritated everyone with my questions, I read books by Christian authors, tried to get in the Word most days, and even started trying listening to Christian music – which I had previously been pretty vocally critical of!

But I can’t tell you that life got easy and all my hearts desires were given to me after I became a Christian. There was still much I did not yet understand about God’s grace, about my own sinful nature, about God’s expectations for me, and about how He had created us to live in community. And Amzie and I continued to struggle with infertility, which continued to be gut wrenching. There were times when I wanted to give up on building a family. I asked God to take away my desire to become a mother if that wasn’t the path He had chosen for me. But the desire never went away, so we persisted.

In 2010 we moved to Frankfort, Kentucky for my husband’s work. We set out to find a church home and eventually were led to The Point Community Church. We had first attended a large church near our home, but when we met a man named Jonathan and over time met several of his friends from TPCC and we were intrigued by them. It seemed that these people were really hanging out together and living their lives together. We had never really had that before.

At the time, TPCC was meeting in an old factory that had been somewhat renovated. I say “somewhat” because while it was a perfectly wonderful, warm gathering place for a time, it was never exactly fancy. It didn’t look like the sanctuaries we had been in before. But not having church backgrounds, it really didn’t matter to us one way or another. What did matter was that we quickly started learning things about the gospel, about God’s grace, about our identities as Christ followers that we had never before learned. We were really being discipled. And then we started attending a Point Community Group, or PCG for short, where we got to meet with several families every other week to enjoy a meal, to share about our lives, and to dig into God’s word. It was awkward at first because it felt like you just show up at a stranger’s house and kind of force all the people there to be your friend. But they were glad to receive us. And now, years later, I do not want to imagine what my life would be like without them.

Right around when we found TPCC, we finally got a medical diagnosis that explained my infertility and a recommendation to pursue in vitro fertilization. There were a few families we had met at TPCC that had grown through adoption. One crazy family even told us they had an open adoption arrangement. I remember looking at Suzanne, the mom in this crazy family, with eyes wide and seriously thinking she was either crazy or possessed by faith the likes of which I would never know. So Amzie and I briefly discussed adoption as an alternative, but quickly dismissed the idea. Our hearts really just weren’t ready for it.

So we went the path of IVF and for some reason both Amzie and I believed we’d get pregnant the first time. And we did. My faith and trust in God had grown to such a point that I was able to get through the IVF process and enjoy our pregnancy without worry or anxiety. We shared the news with our friends and family. I lifted the previously self-imposed ban on looking at baby things and allowed myself to fantasize about a nursery and plan for our child’s arrival. We saw the baby’s heartbeat at six weeks and again at eight weeks. It was a wonderful time in our lives, filled with hope and praise.

Then we had an 11 week ultrasound. (You have a lot more of those when you get pregnant through IVF.) The first thing I noticed during the procedure was that the baby did not look any bigger than at our eight week ultrasound. Then I noticed the technician’s pursed lips. Then she said “This is not good news.” She could not detect a heartbeat and also noted that the baby had not grown in size. As soon as the technician delivered this news, God blessed my heart with the gift of praise for Him. I sang “I Will Praise You in the Storm,” a Casting Crowns song I knew well. A doctor came in a moment later and confirmed that our baby had died.

My husband and I cried together in the ultrasound room. Then in the parking lot. I had to go through a terrible, painful procedure later that day. The procedure was in a labor and delivery room that had pictures of babies all over the walls. God would be worthy of praise for just getting us through that day, for just allowing us to survive it. In my experience, the pain of loss does not heal over with time. I have felt cumulative pain from the losses, each new loss made the prior ones feel new and fresh again. I felt them all again, each time I experienced a new loss. I struggled each time to believe that another blow had come.

After all we had suffered already, the weight of losing our baby would have been enough to crush me. But there is One perfect in power and perfect in love who held the weight off me. So we didn’t just survive the loss, we came through with a greater understanding of what it means to say that Jesus is sufficient. We came to believe with our whole hearts that we have all we need if we have Christ to call upon as Savior, Lord, and King. We had a new understanding that the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had saved us from the one thing that we need fear and that the indwelling Spirit that raised Him from the dead would strengthen us to not only survive but to increase in Him and to do whatever it is that God would require of us.

I don’t pretend to know which events in my life God purposed and which were the result of sin and a broken world ruled by an enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. But I know that God turned tragedy into triumph, ashes into beauty, and darkness into light.  I know that on my own power I was ruined and dying. Romans 8:28 promises that God will work all things together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. And Amzie and I got to see this unfold in our lives just as promised. And for that we are eternally grateful.

After losing our baby, we grieved for a good while. Then we started thinking about what would be next for us – another IVF procedure? Something else? Nothing else? Pretty quickly my heart opened up to adoption. I was no longer bound up by fear and anxiety. I knew that if adoption was His plan for me that He would equip me for it. Amzie’s heart joined mine after he was blessed with the opportunity to spend time doing construction work at a Haitian orphanage.

So we began the adoption process in March of 2016. We attended classes and read a few books. We had a ton of conversations with other families at TPCC who had grown through adoption. We are blessed to be surrounded by many other families who have chosen adoption. We learned how little we previously understood about adoption and open adoption arrangements, in particular. While there absolutely is a ton of uncertainty and the possibility of a long, excruciating wait, a lot of our fears were based on misconceptions. And the “legitimate” fears didn’t really have to be feared since we knew we could trust the Lord, no matter the outcome.

We eventually finished the mountain of required paperwork and on Wednesday, July 20th at 9:15 in the morning I dropped off the final thing we owed to the adoption agency – a photo book expecting mothers would look at when considering the family for their adoption plan. And so my heart settled in for what would likely be a long wait. But that same day at 3:15 p.m. I got a call from the adoption agency asking if we were available to meet with a young lady who had chosen us! I called Amzie and asked him if he was sitting down. We were in total shock! We had prepared our hearts for a long wait, but we had definitely not prepared ourselves for no wait.

The very next day we met a beautiful young lady (I will call her B) and her two-year old daughter. She was 39 weeks pregnant with a little girl. We asked B how she liked the name Azalea and she loved it. We all decided to go forward with an open adoption arrangement. We left that meeting and went to Costco because we needed some of our normal items. We wondered aloud if we should buy diapers while we were there. It felt strange, almost ridiculous, but we bought a box of diaper and wipes. The next day was Friday, and by then it sunk in that we needed way more than just diapers. So we did a massive shopping trip, where I called my friend Suzanne,  the one that I said was crazy for having an open adoption relationship, and asked questions about bottles and baby monitors and onesies.

We went to bed deciding we were safe to skip packing the hospital bag that night. We were wrong. A few hours after we went to sleep we got the call that our baby would soon be born. We hastily packed our bags and headed to the hospital. At 7:32 a.m. on Saturday, July 23rd, our baby girl was born. Thirty minutes later we were invited into the delivery room. B held Azalea out as if to hand her to me, and like an idiot I said “Are you sure?” Thankfully she said yes, and I held my daughter in my arms for the first time. We spent a few hours with B that day. We asked her to help us choose Azalea’s middle name. We gave her our top three ideas and asked her to choose. She chose the name Joy.

So, after more than a decade of waiting for a child, the comment I hear most often about Azalea joining our family is “Well, that was fast!” It’s tough to imagine that God isn’t having a good chuckle over that little bit of irony baked into our story!

Once Azalea was born we were in the phase of the adoption process that used to scare me the most. The termination of parental rights would take some time, and until then we had no certainty that we would be allowed to adopt Azalea and make her our forever daughter. I chose not to address my anxiety by attempting to pacify myself with the thought that most likely everything would be alright. Instead, I trusted that whatever the outcome, He would work it for the good of Azalea, for B, and for us, and that He would get me through whatever would happen. Because I had been in the pit and He had raised me out, I knew He could be trusted.

Almost seven months after she was born, we finalized the adoption of our daughter Azalea Joy. Our pastor Andy Lawrence and some of our friends were able to be there with us when the judge proclaimed that Azalea would thereafter be deemed our child the same as if she had been born of our bodies. The rejoicing in that room with my family is a treasure my heart will forever hold.

I worry sometimes that sharing the story of Azalea’s adoption will seem like I’m tying a “happy ending” bow on my story. But my prayer is that anyone reading this will know that my happy ending was before she was born. It was when I came to treasure Jesus in my heart above all things, to trust God’s goodness, and to daily die to self and fight my sin.

My hope is that those of you who are mothers, who hope to be mothers, or who do the business of mothering and nurturing others, may be encouraged to lay aside the anxiety that so often comes with motherhood.

My hope is that, whether your anxiety is about becoming a mother or the business of mothering, you won’t be satisfied by telling yourself “most likely everything will be ok and nothing bad will happen.” Because if you do, you will miss an opportunity to really know what it means to say that God is faithful, that He can be trusted, that Jesus is sufficient, and that we need not fear anything that this world or that the enemy can do to us.

God’s Word tells us that in this world we will face tribulation, so I’m not here to tell you that we won’t. Just because Azalea is here with me and healthy today and life is looking a little rosier than I’m used to, it doesn’t mean I won’t face tribulation tomorrow.

But our fears and anxieties about the trials we may face can be put aside by remembering that He has promised to work all things for the good of those who are called to His purpose. He has promised to equip us with everything we need. He has given us the indwelling Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus. Telling my story does not paint a picture of a genie in the bottle God who grants prayers like wishes, giving us our hearts desires at all times. Sometimes He says no, or not now, because He has greater plans in store.

God knew the plans He had for me and that it included adopting Azalea. And in His unfathomable mercy, He extended me the grace of calling me to Him, of saving and redeeming me through Christ Jesus, and of revealing Himself to me through his Word. He used everything that happened in my life to equip me to answer the call to face my fears about adoption, to plunge in headfirst despite the uncertainty and the risk, and now to be the mother He wants me to be.

It is my prayer that this rambling story may be read by mothers and mothers-to-be and by those who are wounded or embattled by anxiety and that they may take heart that there is one who has overcome this world. He offers His peace to us. And as it says in John 14:27, His peace is not like what the world gives us. In Him our hearts need not be troubled, no matter your struggle, and we have nothing in this world to fear.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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