This Mother's Day post is shared from Pastor Heather Zempel on her blog, heatherzempel.com
Many of you have heard about the birth of our daughter, Sawyer Elizabeth Zempel. She has already brought us so much laughter and joy. But as we approach Mother’s Day, I wanted to share some of the darker side of my story. With special emphasis on the word “my.” Every story is unique, and I don’t presume that my story reflects or defines anyone else’s story. This is descriptive of me and in no way prescriptive for anyone else. Some may find resonance in my story while others may find it furthers their frustration. My prayer is that it could bring a measure of hope and celebrate the glory of God.
Ryan and I wandered the valley of the shadow of infertility for about seven years. That’s a short time for many women, but it certainly seemed like an eternity for us. During that season, I celebrated with genuine joy as many of my friends became moms, felt honored and humbled to dedicate babies atNCC, and learned more about the character and goodness of God and the power of community than I ever thought possible. Here is how I navigated it.
I Went Public
For the first few years, Ryan and I kept our struggle with infertility to ourselves. When asked, “Do you want kids?” or “When will you have kids?,” I always responded with some lighthearted, witty, or dismissive comment. But there came a point when I realized we needed to include others. The notion that “God will never give you more than you can handle” is not Biblical; furthermore, I believe it is a lie straight from the pit of hell to isolate us when we need others the most. God gives us more than we can handle so we can experience the life-giving and healing power of community. We shared with our families and close friends. We built a team of intercessors. We needed the community, but we also realized that others needed the community, as well. Most people don’t talk about infertility until they are on the other side of it, and we wanted to share the struggle while we were in the midst of it. People needed to hear my story in the darkest and messiest moments of it…not just at the “happily ever after” moment or the “we’ve come to a peace about it” moment.
Perhaps the most public declaration came on page 124 of my book Amazed and Confused. I never planned on including anything about our story, but a friend challenged me that I should at least write it down. I included it in the book as a declaration of the faith I had come to embrace— that God was good, faithful, and sovereign regardless of what our circumstances seemed to scream.
I Focused on God’s Character
Going public helped sharpen my focus on God’s character. I made an intentional decision that I would let what I knew to be true about God to frame my circumstances. Too often, we let our circumstances dictate what we believe must be true about God instead of letting what we know to be true about God dictate how we view our circumstances. I focused on God’s goodness, faithfulness, and sovereignty. I recounted every blessing and answered prayer I could remember.
On April 22, 2012, I preached a message on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and was challenged by their statement to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16: Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to defend our actions in this matter. We are ready for the test. If you throw us into the blazing furnace, then the God we serve is able to rescue us from a furnace of blazing fire and release us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He does not, O king, you can be sure that we still will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue you erected.”
I made another bold declaration of faith as I preached that message: Faith is knowing God can, believing he will, but worshiping him even if he does not. It was perhaps the most personal message I had ever preached, even though most in earshot had no idea.
I Extended Grace
Not everyone knows what to say, when to say it, or how to say it. A comment that could bring me great peace one day had the potential to be unsettling the next. My friend Amanda Hope Haley wrote a book on infertility, and each chapter title reflects an inappropriate comment made by a (hopefully) otherwise well-meaning people: “Just give it time.” “Maybe you waited too long.” “Are you sure you are doing it right?” Um…seriously? No one ever asked me that one, but there were a few comments that carried enough potential energy to detonate a small internal bomb. I made a decision to extend grace. I would rejoice in the heart and the gesture of those who desperately wanted to encourage and discard the dumb comments.
For those of you who are walking with someone through infertility, just remember it is your presence and not your words that bring hope.
I Changed My Prayer
Finally, I changed my prayer. Instead of asking God to “give us kids,” I asked him to “make us parents.” Ryan and I intentionally and strategically began to parent. There were loads of twenty-somethings at our church who had never been parented, needed reparenting, or simply needed spiritual parenting. There were dozens of children at our church who needed other positive voices in their lives. I made it a point to encourage and inspire any child that crossed my path. Just because we didn’t have biological children didn’t mean that God had not created us or called us to be parents. We found great joy…and still do…in being spiritual parents. Now, our precious Sawyer has dozens of spiritual brothers and sisters loving her, praying for her, and helping her grow.
These are just the ways that I personally navigated infertility. If you are walking through it yourself, or if you know someone who is, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Barren Among the Fruitful by Amanda Hope Haley.
And pastors, can we talk about this? I guarantee you there are women…probably many…in your congregation who are silently struggling in the pews on Mother’s Day. You probably don’t know because they don’t come to your office to talk about such a private matter. But they’ve come to my office in droves. Let’s create a safe place in our churches for women, couples, and families to bring their hurts, hopes, and prayers into the light in the only place where true healing can be found— the Church, the Body of Christ.
Heather Zempel leads the discipleship efforts at NCC where she oversees small groups, directs leadership development training, and serves on the weekend teaching team. She lives on Capitol Hill with her husband Ryan and daughter Sawyer Elizabeth.