The words belonged in another world. Surely they were destined for the ears of another couple in another time and another place.
Not here! Not now! It was a succinct statement that changed the course of life as I had lived it. “You can never have children!” Immediately I wanted to fight, to argue, to take control. I wrestled with the doctor's insensitive announcement and began to second guess the test results delivered like cold steel that cleaved my heart in two.
My wife, Mel, and I were catapulted to a previously unknown environment.
A place we had never dreamed we would be. A place we did not want to be. As the results of the tests were delivered with clinical coldness, we entered a world of darkness and despair, a world of hope and denial, a world of grief and suffering. We had just entered the world of infertility.
Years earlier I had read Martin Luther King. One idea he wrote about had always troubled me: “All suffering is redemptive.” As an unwilling participant transported to a frightening new world, I was about to test the veracity of King's statement because infertility and suffering are soul mates. There was nothing redeeming about the doctor's announcement. It was a kick in the stomach that left me gasping for air. It was a blow I struggled to recover from.
How could this happen to me? I'm a man of God! Everything was going so well. We were about six months into our first year of marriage, full of excitement and expectation. My role of pastoral ministry in caring for a wonderful congregation who loved and supported us was rich and rewarding. Life was good and promised to get better. Newly married, we were looking forward to starting a family.
The doctor's assertion caught us by surprise and shattered our dreams like a mortar from the enemy. Our dreams blew up in our hands—the strewn body parts of the child we never knew.
The days grew into months, merging together in one long, black nightmare.
Months became years; awake or asleep I was assailed by grief and fear. Infertility had covered my life with suffering, and I was slowly suffocating.
As a couple we seemed to be walking a dry road that led nowhere, with pain and grief, our only companions, mocking us along the way. I was so angry, so hurt, so confused. I moved daily— no, hourly—between rage and peace, between feeling totally abandoned by the God I served and fully loved by Him.
I wandered through the weeks in a daze, bouncing off walls and staggering through life. It was like being trapped inside a washing machine stuck on wash. I felt like I was drowning. Yet, there was something going on deep down inside of me that was getting rid of all the unwanted stains in my life.
The pain was crushing. I had no other hope but God.
At times I let go of Him. Consumed by anger I would turn my back to Him, walk away from Him, and reject Him.
Other times I just barely hung on, with what little faith was left, clinging so desperately to His hand—which I knew was love. It was so hard! And all the time as a Christian minister I had the responsibility of leading a congregation to trust God for all things in their lives.
I was learning to live what I preached.
Why had God placed such a strong desire for children within our hearts? We longed for offspring, and we felt incomplete without children. We understood that the deep-seated longing for a son or daughter was God given. We struggled to understand why we were being denied and refused. We prayed—oh, how we prayed! And what followed was a series of ethical decisions that seemed endless.
Now we had entered the world of assisted reproductive technologies as we began to pursue IVF. With each procedure came a moral decision and a financial drain. It seemed like I was being stripped of everything I had. I was becoming more and more exposed.
In the crucible of infertility my life was being reduced to dust. I wasn't alone; my wife suffered too. We supported each other. When darkness closed in on my wife, I was her light.
When I was drowning, she rescued me.
We walked the road together.
Our endless hours of research looking for answers and searching for results led us to discover the extent of infertility in the general population. We launched a support group in our local community.
During the next 12 months we met and supported many couples walking roads similar to the one we were on. So many heartbreaking stories of childless couples are being lived out in every community!
After years of praying, multiple failed IVF attempts, an almost completed adoption process, and having been taken to my personal limits of coping, God intervened and graced us with successful procedures—first a son and then twins, a boy and a girl.
I will never capture in words the emotion of hearing my wife say, “You're going to be a daddy!” My entire being erupted in joy and gratefulness.
“All suffering is redemptive.” I now understand this to be true. I have few if any answers to the questions about the origin of painful events in life. Those unexplained tragedies like the infertility my wife and I faced, or couples who experience perinatal loss or sudden infant death syndrome or incurable diseases— I have no idea where they came from or why. They strike so indiscriminately.
But what I have found in my journey through infertility is redemption that comes through suffering.
I'm learning that during the times I want to escape to some place free of pain, a place where my heart is full and free and not imprisoned by suffering, where there are many escape routes— I'm learning that in those moments of escape I'm actually running away from God. I'm a slow learner, because I still flee down these routes at times—looking for escape.
Suffering is where Jesus is. Every time a human heart is hurt, Jesus is there.
After all, He is no stranger to it. He knows throbbing wounds. Jesus' death on the cross will ever be the summit of suffering, the pinnacle of pain.
God manifests Himself in the midst of suffering. He comes to us as a loving father when we stagger with pain. As soon as He sees us dazed with grief, He comes to love us and redeem us from our suffering. He comes with His own broken heart to dry our tears and bind our wounds.
I'm beginning to realize that the only place to run is to God. The only road to escape down is the one Jesus walked.
It's a road paved with suffering. But it's on this road we find Jesus.