The scramble and stress of preparing for a hurricane of unprecedented size and strength to make landfall; the waiting (and waiting and waiting) for it to arrive where you live; the terror of sitting in complete darkness through the night listening to howling winds, cracking trees, and thumps on the roof; the feeling of relief washing over as we woke Monday morning to discover daylight had come, we were all ok, and so were our friends and family members.
We stepped outside cautiously that morning to assess damages and marveled with our neighbors at what had fallen where, confirming everyone had fared all right and asking who needed what. Then we all picked up our rakes and chainsaws and got to work, on our own yards and each other’s.
Fallen trees can be cleaned up, busted fences can be replaced, wet stuff will dry, broken things can be fixed. Electricity will be restored… eventually.
I’ve read the book. Seen the movie—the old animated one—dozens of times. Was in the play as a middle-schooler when my school put it on.
The spider dies in the end. We all know this. Our beloved Charlotte saves her friend Wilbur, the pig whose days were numbered unless someone intervened.
And then her time is up.
As a child listening to my teacher read the story for the first time, as a 13-year-old acting it out, as a mom listening to my husband read the E.B. White classic aloud with the baby draped over one shoulder and our then 6-year-old on his lap, I got the sadness of Charlotte’s Web.
That’s what it was—sad. Books about animals always are.
But then last week, that little girl who once curled up with her dad to listen to the tale became Charlotte in a (highly anticipated) 3rd-grade, 30-minute version.
I sat there perched on the second row of that little corner theatre, camera in one hand and phone in the other, and watched her intently.
And my heart broke all over the place, because as she spoke her last lines in her little voice and the lights dimmed, I—for the first time—fully wrapped my mind around what Charlotte had just done.
You might look at our family of four and think, Picture perfect. They’re so blessed. And I wouldn’t argue with you—God has been good to us. Two healthy little girls, nearly six years apart, one favoring my hubby and the other favoring me (depending on who you ask).
But a photograph doesn’t tell you about the journey to today. It doesn’t tell you about the years of longing, about the negative pregnancy tests, about the envy, about the long conversations, about the prayers, or about the loss.
For every photo of a smiling family, there is a story.
I can’t speak to the unimaginable pain and grief that accompanies infertility testing, treatments, and the like. I won’t pretend to be able to understand what that’s like. But I have walked through seasons of unanswered questions, waiting, and wondering if my family dreams were just that: dreams.
Our story is, most simply, that pregnancy has never come easily.
Early in our marriage, I watched women around me become pregnant and families begin to grow, the news of each new life delivering a stinging blow to my heart. I wanted to say I was happy for others and mean it. I dreamed of being a mom. One year went by, then two, then three. I had a pretty intense fear of doctors at that point and chose ignorance as the better option, though I was secretly deeply afraid that I wasn’t able to conceive and carry a child. Looking back, my three years of struggling were nothing but a drop in the bucket—I know this now. But at the time they felt endless. I know women who have endured much longer and who continue to endure. Pain in the waiting is real, whether it lasts one year or 15.
Then one cool November day, I discovered I was pregnant. One season of my life ended, and another began. It was the beginning of what can best be described as a totally bananas pregnancy and birth (that’s the medical term for it, totally bananas). The curveballs started early and kept on coming (hyperemesis gravidarum and kidney stones were two), and God taught me lesson after lesson about adjusting my expectations. Those lessons didn’t stop after she was born, either, but that, my friends, is a story for another day.
Ten months later, I was blindsided by an emergency surgery for a problem I didn’t know I had until it was too late. (If you ever have a nagging feeling that you should go to the doctor, go to the doctor.) When I awoke from the anesthesia, there was a doctor by my bed explaining they’d removed a good portion of my reproductive organs but that I shouldn’t worry, because one ovary “should” do the job of two. Wait, what now? Don’t you know how long it took to conceive the last baby? And that was with two ovaries! Now I only have one? What if all my eggs were literally in one basket? What if that was my good side, and now it’s gone?
I felt robbed. The whole thing had been so sudden and so shocking. My feelings of loss were wrapped around dreams of babies that didn’t even exist, but I grieved. I felt my body had not only let me down, but my husband as well. What about his family dreams? Together we released our future to God and moved on, focusing all of our attention on our little girl. Faith sustained me. This wasn’t at all what I had in mind, but I knew I could trust Him.
I needed to believe with my whole being that God’s plans for me were better than anything I could dream up on my own.
For the next four years I hovered in a strange place of wondering whether I was capable of conceiving another child. If it was medically an impossibility, I just didn’t want to know. When you start marking years off the calendar, you begin to assume. We talked frequently about our daughter being an only child; we dove into adoption research; my previous health issue threatened to repeat itself; I went back to work. Life moved on. And then—just as unexpectedly as it had happened the first time—we discovered that after all those years of no babies, I was pregnant.
The nervousness, excitement, and complete shock gave way to grief when I miscarried several weeks later. (Can I just say? No one warns you about what that’s like, physically or emotionally. Perhaps nothing can truly prepare you for it. Still, if you’ve been there, I wish I could hug you and tell you—everything you’ve felt or are feeling right now? Go ahead and feel it. You have permission to grieve even the tiniest life.)
Our sadness swallowed us up for a while. When I came up for air, my practical response was to reduce the entire horrible experience to a big, flashing sign from God that we weren’t meant to grow our family further—our daughter would be an only child, and we needed to be okay with that.
But that wasn’t the end. He would soon remind me, once again (why am I always surprised by this?), that He was the one writing the story, not me. He had more chapters coming, and the next one just happened to be really good.
Our baby, our second little girl, turned 2 last weekend.
The chapter about the flood was followed by the part about the rainbow.
I know that no season in my life thus far has been without purpose—even if that purpose was simply for me to share this story with one of you reading right now, for His glory. I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe it for me, and I believe it for you, too—even if you are in the midst of what feels like the worst chapter of your life. He will redeem your story. There is more to come.
People have started asking if we’re planning to have any more kids. Close family and friends—and now all of you!—know our story, so at this stage of my life I don’t mind being asked. (But please, on behalf of those secretly struggling, don’t let curiosity get the better of you.)
I usually just laugh, shrug awkwardly, and stammer through some vague response. Knowing the twists and turns of our story so far, how could I assume to know the answer to that question?
I can’t peek ahead at the next chapter. The story of our family is in the hands of the Author.
We have to keep reading, turning one page at a time, soaking up the wonders, joys, heartaches, and love in every paragraph, trusting all along that He is good and that He loves us—and believing that He writes the best stories.
An extra note,because it is heavy on my heart this week:
If you are in a season of wondering and waiting, if you have received a diagnosis, if you are wading through the adoption process, if you are raising funds, if you are undergoing procedures, if you are grieving loss, if you are questioning what in the world God is planning for your family—you are not alone.
And if you have walked through the dark days and broken through to light on the other side, whether it be through a child born, a child brought into your forever home, or simply peace in the uncertainty, praise God! Share your stories and yell hallelujahs for the miracles. Continue to support those who are still in the thick of it. You don’t have to give advice—just be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on. Offer hope. Reach out. Squeeze a hand. Pray.
My sis and I made a slight detour to Savannah on our drive home from the Influence Conference last weekend to stretch our legs and soak up some history, wandering around the cemetery and various squares, reading plaques and admiring statues. We also listened to the Hamilton soundtrack in the car… for the second time that weekend. It was quite the educational road trip.
If you’re not familiar with the musical Hamilton (I wasn’t before my sister introduced me this weekend, but you’re probably cooler than I am), ittells the complicated story of the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton—set to R&B and hip-hop. It sounds a little crazy, and I was skeptical, not going to lie. But I was captivated from the first track, and for the next three hours got lost in the tale, the non-stop lyrics, the rhythm of it all. (I have to step into mom mode—or maybe just Rebekah mode—here for a sec and give you the PSA that this soundtrack does have some explicit lyrics and is labeled with a warning. If you know me personally, you know I can’t stand foul language. But I love musicals, and this show is phenomenal. Please don’t judge me. Thank you.)
After listening to this production twice in two days, I haven’t been able to get one song in particular out of my head, and it’s the final number. The chorus repeats: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” It’s haunting and powerful.
Who tells your story?
I’m in the midst of a season where this theme of storytelling feels like my pulse, repeating everywhere from the conference I just attended, to the ministry of Shama Women, to our current sermon series at church (it’s titled The Story—okay God, I’m listening), to, well, Hamilton (yes, God spoke to me through a Broadway musical).
Here’s the thought I can’t escape from, and it’s really all I wanted to say here right now, as much as I would love to keep talking Hamilton with you:
Our stories matter, whether they seem big and dramatic or small and insignificant. I’ve lived a good chunk of years thinking that no one wants or needs to hear about my life because it’s not exciting enough. That’s a lie. Don’t let the enemy tell you that your story isn’t interesting enough to make an impact. On the flip side, don’t let the enemy tell you that your story is too crazy or too much for people to handle, either! God is writing your story for you specifically, and nothing He does—and I mean nothing—is without purpose.
Your story is a gift to someone. It might be a gift to a lot of people.
I think I read that C.S. Lewis defined friendship as the moment when one person says to another, “You too? I thought I was the only one.” (I hope that’s a real quote and not just something someone stuck on a meme.) The point is, our stories show us we’re not alone, if we are willing to share them. They connect us to each other. They inspire and encourage. They teach. Most importantly, they point anyone who will listen (or read) back to the Author of them all, who deserves all the glory.
In college, I decided to major in journalism because I wasn’t quite sure what else to do with myself.
Most of my high school friends were education majors who had known from the time they were wee that they wanted to be teachers. Not having found anything that “made my heart beat faster,” as my old pastor used to say, I followed along for a while, even joining the Future Teachers of America club, because why not? I wasn’t an artist, wasn’t into science or math, and didn’t think anything technology-related would hold my attention. I could carry a tune and harmonize with my altos in church choir but I wasn’t a singer by any means, and the drama teacher always assigned me the role of peasant #6 or townsperson #2 so clearly acting wasn’t really my jam either. I was on the yearbook staff at my small high school and thought that was fun, so maybe journalism would be my best bet. I made good grades on my English papers and could diagram sentences like a boss, and I knew how to spell. And most importantly, a journalism track meant zero math courses, and I liked that idea a whole lot.
So off I went to the Communications building to first learn about marketing and the history of newspapers and magazines, which I found interesting. But as I moved through the years of college and into actual news reporting classes, I made a discovery. I didn’t really like writing the news—and haaated bugging people for interviews—and judging by the grades I received from my professors (mostly Orlando Sentinel adjuncts at the time), my writing was just okay. Feature writing was more fun—book review on Harry Potter? No prob!—but the feedback from my professor in that class didn’t leave me feeling too optimistic either.
Editing 1 though—the class where you memorize entries from the AP Stylebook (yup) and destroy sample articles with a red pen and proofreader’s marks galore—that class felt like home to me. Go figure. I got an A even though the prof said no one would… and thus began my career in copyediting. I guess if I’m not that great a writer myself, the least I can do is help other writers look better. Wah waaaah.
Yet somehow, here I am 10-ish *cough* years later with this blog and the stories in my head and the thoughts I try so hard to accurately express through written word. Lately I’ve struggled with this blogging business because the more I write, the more I want to read, and the more I read what other writers write, the more I feel like I’m back in journalism classes again with that disappointing, mediocre B scribbled atop every assignment, reminding me that I’m just okay at this and maybe I should just go back to helping other people with their writing.
There’s so much I want to do and often I feel too inadequate to even try. Too many things to attempt and not enough time. I want to encourage women. I want to help moms be better and kinder to one another and to our kids (and our husbands). I want to share these little thoughts I know God has put in my head for a purpose, whether it’s in a 1,000-word blog post or a quick sentence I throw out into the universe. I struggle with feeling like what I want to say is going to sound staged or fake or pretentious, because I hate that. I love it when people get real with each other in a way that is encouraging and promotes growth and change, steps forward—not pretty all the time. I still want to edit. I want to write a whole book. I want to organize all the photos I’ve ever taken and put them in albums so that when my children are grown, they will look back and know how much I loved them, because thousands and thousands of photos!
I am quick to let my head take over and my thoughts spiral completely out of control. I get lost in them.
What has Christ asked of me? For only the wisest and deepest words? For a sentence that will solve the world’s problems in addition to having layers and layers of meaning and mystery? For perfectly crafted, tweetable statements that someone will inevitably paste onto photos of sunsets and wildflowers to be reposted 26 times in a row on my Instagram feed?
No. He whispers to my heart simply,
Share the stories I have given you as best you can, and know that I love your meager gifts—your B grades, your “just okay” words.
Be present with your children—the children I have entrusted to your care—in the everyday.
Just follow Me.
We plant, trusting God for the growth.
We act in faith, trusting God for the outcome.
We build, trusting God to fill.
We offer, trusting God with the response.
—Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday
The truth is, I need those other writers, the ones whose beautifully strung-together words frustrate me (why can’t I write like that?). I’m learning that God uses other people’s gifts to inspire me to use mine, however unworthy they are to my own critical eye. To encourage me to dig in a little more, to think harder, to study, and to remember that whatever I have to offer, God can and will use it if I just give it to Him.