It has been said there is power in your story. It connects you to others. A famous author was once challenged to tell a story with only six words. He accepted the challenge and wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” We also see examples of the power of narrative throughout God’s Word. He chose to speak peace, hope, love, and comfort through people’s stories. As you read our story, our prayer reaches out to those who might find themselves in a place called “infertility.” May you find a word of encouragement or comfort.
Our story began like many others: “Once upon a time …” Kent and I got married on a sunny Saturday, filled with hopes and dreams like other young couples—visions of a home filled with love, laughter, and children. As we raced outside the church that afternoon, attired in my beautiful long wedding dress and Kent in his fancy suit, our story began. Joyfully, our friends sent us off that day, throwing birdseed in our hair. It was expected the rest of the story would unfold, “And they lived happily ever after.”
Both of us had gone into ministry right after graduating from our respective Bible schools. We were going to change the world (or so we imagined). Kent became a youth pastor and then went on to work at Tupelo Children’s Mansion; I became an AIMer (Associate in Missions). We gave our lives to ministry—and then found each other. God was going to bless us, right?
We settled into our small two-bedroom home. We felt a burden for global missions’ work, and God led us to the mission field just a couple of years later. Though babies did not come during that season, we were hopeful. We came home and settled back into jobs and became involved in our local church. God saw us, right?
It all started with tests. Was it even possible to get pregnant? Tests showed endometriosis; after surgeries, we were hopeful. Children were still a part of our dream. We loved kids! Watching the calendar became our monthly ritual. We bought so many pregnancy tests that we joked we should buy stock in the company! There were fertility treatments, hormone shots—our emotions ran the gamut. We remained hopeful. However, each month our hearts were broken a little more with each negative result.
We watched as friends and family started having babies. Well-meaning individuals offered words of encouragement: “Don’t worry! It will happen at the right time.” Our questions came, sometimes quietly, sometimes not so quietly: “What is wrong with us? Why, God?”
You may be stronger than we were. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day became difficult. Churches celebrate mothers and fathers, and rightly so. In those days, there was not much inclusion of the childless—which hurt even more. I am thankful for pastors who are now intentional in these services to recognize the complexities of these holidays. They honor, yet minister to the many facets of the congregation.
After a few years, we received different ministry opportunities: Urshan Graduate School of Theology and then church planting. We stayed busy. The pain lessened. Then the dream became real again! An adoption opportunity became available. Then it fell through. Our emotions were like a roller coaster ride.
Kent tried to be strong for me, but he was hurting too. He sometimes hurt alone. He didn’t talk about it. Who wants to hear about one’s broken dreams? There would never be an opportunity to throw a football to his son or brush away the tears of his little girl. But God did want to hear. The last four words of Ezekiel 48:35 declare, “The Lord is there.” This was in Kent’s daily Bible reading. This verse hadn’t stood out to him before. God knew exactly when he needed these words! In our difficult circumstance, when life didn’t make sense, it was true. The Lord was there.
I quietly became bitter. No one knew. I told myself, You are a minister’s wife. Pull it together! I wore a mask to hide the pain. I felt inadequate. I did not think people understood. I didn’t fit into the conversations at church or with friends. I didn’t have “mommy stories” to share. Why was I broken? I felt I had done all the right things and served God with all my heart, so why didn’t He love me?
I attended a ministers’ wives conference in Alexandria, Louisiana, and went through a prayer line. When I reached the end of it, an older woman pulled me close and whispered, “God told me to tell you He loves you.” Even when we don’t understand why things happen the way they do, the Lord is there to give us strength to go on.
We continued trusting God for a different story. One day I wasn’t feeling well but figured it had to be a virus bug and I would get over it. It persisted. I finally considered I may be pregnant, even though our doctor had told us it couldn’t happen. The test came back positive! We bought three more tests. Positive! Our emotions were all over the place: excitement, fear, joy, and anxiety. What was God thinking? We were in our mid-forties. We would be fifty years old when walking our child to kindergarten!
We will never forget that hot summer day in 2009 in the doctor’s office: “It looks like we will have a December baby!” Then the ultrasound and the technician looking intently at the screen: “I’m sorry, but I am going to have to get the doctor.” We were confused. Things became blurry. Something was wrong; I was having a miscarriage. We were sent to the hospital. There wasn’t much time to grieve in that moment. I was taken into surgery and Kent was left sitting quietly in my room with questions. “What is the purpose in all of this? Why?”
We were numb but we kept moving forward. We had planned to make a ministry presentation out of state, so we went. Kent tried to act like everything was OK, but inside he was heartbroken. We both were. We leaned on each other during those weeks. God took us back home to Indiana where He put some important people in our lives to help us heal. God puts the body of Christ into our lives to help carry us.
Infertility can become your identity; don’t allow it. It does not define you! You are beautifully and wonderfully made—perfect in God’s sight. Those suffering from infertility issues or who may have lost a baby due to miscarriage carry a hurt that often cannot be seen. Someone once said, “You are unsure which pain is worse, the shock of what happened or the ache for what never will.” A miscarriage often does not afford the ceremony of closure. No funeral. No gravestone to visit. Are you a parent? You are! You may not have been able to hold that child, but that child was still a gift. We named our gift Hope.
God led us back to the Urshan community and placed amazing young people in our lives that have adopted us. Life looks different than I had anticipated, yet I trust the Master’s story. In a sense, we now have more children than we ever could have dreamed: “And they lived happily ever after.”
Here are things we’ve learned on our journey:
- It’s OK to question. God knows your heart. He knows you are hurting. We went back to personal encounters. Remember, the last four words of Ezekiel 48:35 declare, “The Lord is there.” He will give similar messages to you.
- Grief is a journey. Everyone will deal with pain differently. Allow God to be the source of strength. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
- You will be changed in ways you can’t imagine. You will find yourself more empathetic and sensitive to people’s pain if you will allow it. Your pain can become a tool in God’s hands.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable to others. The body of Christ is there to support you.
Jennie Russell has been serving in ministry with her husband, Kent, for thirty-five years. She is a credentialed UPCI minister and serves as executive vice president of Urshan College and Urshan Graduate School of Theology.