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"Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” - Matthew 13:32

The past few weeks, I've been watering the soil in our front yard, hoping that the grass seed CJ had planted there would eventually grow. Day after day, I looked at the brown earth, at the little white seeds, and thought, "This will never work. It looks the same as it did yesterday. Surely the grass will never come. It is too late in the season, too cold. I have not watered it as much as I should have."

But then, one morning last week, a few tentative shoots appeared, suddenly. One day there was nothing, no sign of life, and the next, life was emerging in tiny little bursts of green all over the yard. Now, the shoots have stretched and blossomed, dainty grean stalks covering more and more of the soil everyday. We do not have a lawn yet, but we are on our way. I no longer doubt that we will get there.

Growth is like that, I suppose. For the longest time, it seems like nothing is happening, that nothing will ever change, that all of your efforts will prove futile. And then one day, you wake up and realize that life is really different, that somehow all that waiting and watching and watering you've been doing really did matter, that something really did happen during all those endless days of plain old dirt.

I'm trying to remember that raising a baby is like this, that when all I see is the "dirt" of seemingly endless fussyness, sleeplessness, and neediness, growth is happening. One day, I will wake up and realize that Ellie has remembered how to sleep through the night again or that she is no longer spitting up all over the place. One day, she will walk and speak and dance and help me bake cookies and go off to school and grow up big and tall.

The Blessings of the Wait, Part 3

The changes in my soul did not happen, as I often wished they would, in one fell, dramatic swoop, like the sudden, relieving cool that follows a thunderstorm on a humid, summer day. Instead, they came in fits and starts, like the first signs of spring in Northern Virginia where I live, thawing one day followed by icy winds the next, any sense of progress toward warmth and new life passing, for a long time, largely unnoticed.

But somehow, gradually, as the months passed, I began to soften inside, to trust God a little more, to believe with a tiny part of my heart that He was still real and good, to see small glimpses of His presence in spite of the still unanswered prayers.

God showed up in the friends who walked with me during these months, the friends I called on the bad, desperate days when despair threatened to overwhelm me. In particular, He showed up in Randi and in Becca, two friends who were willing to drop what they were doing on multiple days and come sit with me in my sadness. They cried with me. They prayed with me. They watched while I balled up tissue after sodden tissue and listened while I processed emotion after endless emotion. They empathized where they could and were honest enough to admit when they couldn't. They gently spoke truth to my soul.

God showed up in His word, in the stories of the man born blind (John 9) and of Lazarus (John 11), stories that pointed not only to God's ability to heal what is broken, but also to His redemptive purposes in physical pain and sickness and of His tender heart toward His children in the midst of their suffering.

God showed up in the writing of Paula Rinehart (Better than My Dreams), whose words resonated with my writer's heart and reminded me that I am not the author of my own story, but a character in a greater story, a story that is messy and confusing and scary in the middle, but does have an ending where things will evenutally resolve for good.

God showed up in my times with Him, speaking to my heart with a directness that I only rarely experience. He reminded me that this time of waiting was for my good and spoke to me clearly that at least part of the reason He was asking me to wait was because He wanted me to write and knew that if I didn't prioritize that now, before kids, I certainly wouldn't after.

God showed up in my husband, who often did not understand the depth of my disappointment and who often bore the brunt of my frustration and despair, but who continued to patiently and faithfully love me.

I wish I could say that God showing up in all these ways gave me perfect joy and peace as I continued to wait on Him, but the reality is that it didn't. My trust in Him still often faltered and failed, and there were many days where I failed to trace His goodness in any of my circumstances. And yet, I really do believe that though I am far from arriving at a place of trusting God fully, the process of waiting on Him brought a deepening sense of trust in some previously hardened places in my soul, that in some small but significant ways, springtime finally did come.

The Blessings of the Wait, Part 2

The word barren describes an absence of life due to an inability to reproduce. It is not death exactly, but it is akin to death. Death describes a life that has ended; barrenness describes a life that, for whatever reason, cannot be.

Barren was one of the vocabulary words I taught my eighth graders when we read a short story called “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes. Hughes used the word to describe a city stoop, and in my head, I picture the word barrenness like I picture Hughes’ stoop – dark, shadowy, cracked, and dirty, absent of flowers, light, and beauty.

That’s how barrenness often felt to me too, in the year that CJ and I waited for a child. Each month, I would allow myself to hope, believing that maybe, just maybe, this time would be the time. And month and after month, when I saw the tell-tale signs of an empty womb, I found myself bowled over by a deep and profound sadness, aware that I was, in spite of my deep desire to give life, still barren.

At church, I watched the women with their small children, envying their full arms and busy, bustling pews. In my own row, it was just CJ and I. No diaper bags, no strollers, no children to fill our arms or our laps. Empty.

At small group, where I was the only woman who didn't have kids, I tried my best to participate in conversations even when they veered, as conversations of young moms often (and understandably) do, to topics like cloth diapers and bedtime routines. I'd done enough babysitting to hold my own most of the time, but inside, I felt excluded. Alone.

In my times with God, I sobbed, wondering out loud why He would not answer my prayers, certain that He was holding out on me, perhaps punishing me in some way. Sometimes, I was angry. Sometimes, I felt so sad that I didn't want to get out of bed. Sometimes, I just felt a crushing sense of despair.

One day, I bitterly told CJ how much I hated the word barren. He listened and then looked at me with a gentle and compassionate twinkle in his eye. “There is another word, Abby," he said. "It's a good word. It’s God.”

Paula Reinhart writes in her book Better Than My Dreams about the phrase, “But God…” She describes it as a phrase we must remember when our lives don’t turn out the way we always thought they should. In those moments, we see disappointment, failure, and the absence of God. But, she says, in every story, there is always a "But God...." God is always at work, even in what feels like His absence, bringing good to His children.

In my barrenness, I would come to discover, He was breathing new life into deep places in my soul.

To Be Continued...

The Blessings of the Wait, Part 1

"It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." - Lamentations 3:26

If you ask my mom, she will tell you that even when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mom. If you ask my two younger brothers, they will tell you that even when I was a little girl, I acted like I was already a mom (they wouldn't mean that as a complement, by the way).

Motherhood is always how I have imagined spending the bulk of my adult life. Though I did quite well in high school and planned to attend college, I always assumed that I would grow up to be like my own mother, a stay-at-home mom to multiple children. In fact, even my dreams of marriage were primarily dreams of family. I did not imagine leisurely dinners with my husband after work or the freedom to stay out late and travel. I thought of babies, of little lives that we would work together to care for and nurture, of partnership in creating and maintaining a family. And I assumed all of this would begin as it did for my mother, with marriage shortly after graduation from college and kids in short order.

But, as the story so often goes for so many of us, God had other plans. I've already written about how God used seven years of post-college singleness in my life. But this is a story of another season of waiting for me, a season of trying for and waiting for a pregnancy for almost exactly a year, a season that was thankfully much shorter than my wait for marriage but one that was for me, much more painful.

I've already spilled the beans. You and I both know that this story of waiting will end in pregnancy. But for a whole year, I didn't know the end of the story. I'm not gonna lie. It was a hard year, a year in which my faith wavered so many times, but also a year in which God was faithful so many more times.

I know that it could have been much harder; I know that many, many people have waited much, much longer, are in fact, still waiting. I'm very aware that my good news might make someone else wonder why God hasn't yet answered their own prayers, whether they be for a child or some other unfulfilled desire. The last thing I want to do is make anyone struggle.

But I do want to take the next few posts to tell the story of my year of waiting, for it is ultimately the story of a tender and gracious Father who met me in my distress and who was kind in both unanswered and answered prayers. I tell the story not because I want you to know all about me and my life, but because I want you to know this God, for whom, I have found, it is good to wait.