Certain things you expect to happen in life, things you would include if you were to write your life story. As a child, I was never one to 'dream' about being a mom. Even when I got married, the thought of having children wasn't really on my radar. Eventually, things changed. Call it the mommy instinct or the next stage of life, but something went off in my head, and I was ready. Naturally, I expected to get pregnant and start a family.
Almost eight years later, my life story has been written differently than I expected. After years of trying to start a family, an abundance of testing, three failed fertility procedures, and a lot of heartache, my husband, Nathan, and I found ourselves in the 'unexplained' category. The heartache and pain we experienced was indescribable. As my sisters, my two best friends, and even a girl in my own youth group became pregnant, the heartache intensified on a daily basis.
Prayer had become a staple in our lives, so when we had our third procedure right before Christmas, naturally we did what most couples struggling with infertility at Christmas would do'we prayed for a Christmas miracle! We asked everyone to pray. When you are a youth pastor and your dad is a pastor, the pool of prayer support is pretty big. Not only did we pray, but we expected that God would answer. But on December 6, life unexpected happened as our third and final procedure failed.
Adversity is a funny thing. We know we are going to face it, yet every time it comes, it takes us by surprise. We wallow in grief, we fall apart, and often, we shake our fists at God in anger because he just didn't come through. I didn't understand why God wasn't answering us.
Here I was, a full-time youth pastor, reaching out to teenagers 24/7, surrendering my life to his service, and he just couldn?t come through on the one thing I was asking for. I found myself trying to hold it together and attempting to believe what I had been telling my students for the past seven years, 'God has the plan. Trust him!' The truth was my heart was so incredibly broken that I wasn?t sure I trusted the plan.
I have discovered along my journey that it's in the times of deepest pain, brokenness, and questioning, that we find ourselves face to face with a loving God.
C. S. Lewis said in his book, The Problem of Pain, 'God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.' I don't believe that God inflicts pain on us to get our attention. I believe that it is a part of our fallen and broken world that he is in the business of restoring. Also, I believe that he uses those times to embrace us as his children, reminding us just how much we are loved by opening our eyes to the bigger story he is writing for our lives.
When we find ourselves with circumstances we have no power to change, our response is to pray. We pray our hearts out, we ask God to change our circumstances, we struggle to grasp any ounce of hope in the midst of the darkest pain. The truth is, hope can't be found in our circumstances. Hope can only be found in Christ. April Diaz, a friend and pastor whom I met along this journey of infertility, said to me, 'The crazy thing about God is that he weaves hope into our losses, into our deepest pain, into our less than desired futures. And hope transforms.'
I spent so many days begging God to change my circumstance and give me a child. My circumstance never changed, but God had been moving and transforming my heart. That December, my dad asked me this question, 'Andrea, have you given this over to God?' to which I replied in frustration, 'Yes! But he isn?t doing anything!' He then asked me, 'But would you be okay if he gave you a child that wasn?t from your womb, if you adopted?' I hung up the phone on him.
While I thought I had surrendered everything, I was still holding on to my dreams and desires. That December, I began to experience true healing and transformation in my life. To offer your dreams and desires to God, telling him that you want what he wants for your life, is monumental, but doesn?t mean circumstances will change. It means we make room for healing to take place in our hearts, experiencing the love of God in a transformational way, revealing chapters in our life stories we could never have imagined.
Surrender has allowed God to unveil a new chapter in my life. Months after that dark December, we began to pray that God would 'break our hearts with the things that break his,' and quickly found ourselves face to face with a dream that he had been birthing in our hearts all along. It was the dream for us to adopt a sibling group from Ethiopia. Through a journey of infertility, that at times has ripped out our own hearts, God has somehow transformed us, bringing us to a place of healing.
We have been on the wait list for our Ethiopian adoption for well over a year, and to be honest, our story continues to include many days of questioning God, dealing with disappointment, and trying to understand his plan. These days, I am embracing the story God is writing, choosing to surrender daily, and discovering a deep love of God that transforms. For that, I am blessed.
Note: In July 2013, Andrea and Nathan adopted their infant son, Biruk, from Ethiopia. They were heartily welcomed by friends and family who have supported them on the journey to parenthood.
Andrea Sawtelle is youth pastor at Hagerstown, Maryland, Church of the Nazarene. Her husband, Nathan, is a teacher working with immigrant students. Follow their blog at hXXp://nateandandrealifeunexpected.blogspot.com.