Empty Womb, Aching
By Marlo Schalesky
was the Sunday I hated most of the whole year. I almost stayed home. I almost
pleaded sickness, just as I had done in years past. But it never helped. Besides,
this year my husband hadn't been able to wiggle out of his church duties.
And if he showed up without me, there were sure to be questions, followed
by murmurs of pity and trite advice. So, I had donned my most comfortable
dress, lifted my chin, and decided to grin and bear it.
Now, as I stood just outside the church sanctuary, I wondered if I'd made
the right choice. With trembling hands, I clutched my Bible to my chest until
my knuckles turned white. Then, I stepped from the foyer into the sanctuary.
Gauzy dresses and scrubbed-pink children met my gaze. I closed my eyes. Around
me, snippets of muted conversation floated through the air as the music leader
played softly at the piano. I paused to allow the quiet notes of "Great
is Thy Faithfulness" to waft over me.
"Are you really faithful, Lord? Even today?" I felt goose bumps
rise along my arms and a lump form in my throat.
With a sigh, I opened my eyes and turned my head from the bulletin sticking
from my Bible. I knew what the bulletin read. Happy Mother's Day. But,
for me, there was nothing happy about it.
I took a few steps forward and could smell the roses even before I saw them.
I tried not look. But that made it worse. Slowly, my gaze lifted from the
ugly green carpet, traveled down the aisle between the long rows of pews,
and stopped at the vase brimming with beautiful pink roses. Their velvety
petals shimmered with tiny drops of dew beneath the church's incandescent
lights. How I hated the sight. Dozens of perfectly formed roses - one for
every mother in the congregation. But not for me.
I was childless. As hard as my husband and I had tried and as much as we
had prayed, we still weren't pregnant. So, month after month, year after year,
we planned and waited and hoped. And still Mother's Day came along and left
me sitting there, with a hollow feeling in my gut and a tissue gripped tightly
in my fist. I didn't think this year would be any different.
Quickly, I slipped into a side pew, as far from the vase of roses as possible,
and dropped my head. Before I could stop it, all the insensitive comments
I'd ever heard came flitting back through my mind. "Gosh, by the time
I was your age, I already had five children." "Well, God knows best.
Maybe He knows some reason why you shouldn't be a mother." "How
long have you been married? And you don't have any children yet?" "What's
wrong? Don't you like kids?" "Why don't you just adopt?" Chills
again ran over my arms.
I rubbed my hand over my pimply skin and listened as DeWayne played the
chorus of "Great is Thy Faithfulness." Thou changest not, Thy
compassions they fail not . . . The words tingled across my senses.
Compassion, Lord? Where's your compassion for me today? You know what's
going to happen. It's the same every year. The pastor will call all the mothers
up front, and all the women will go, smiles wreathing their faces, some with
babies in their arms. And I'll be left sitting out here in the pews, the only
woman among all the men and children. Then I'll have to hear another sermon
on the joys of motherhood. I don't think I can bear it.
Bryan came in and sat beside me. I sniffled and blinked back unshed tears.
Quietly, he reached over and laid his hand on mine. With my free hand, I pulled
the bulletin from my Bible and turned it over so that "Happy Mother's
Day" lay facedown.
Then, Bryan made his way to the front of the church to join the worship team.
In a few minutes, the service began. Too soon, the part came that I dreaded
the most. Pastor Bill stepped to the pulpit with a huge grin on his face.
"Can I have all the mothers come up front, please?"
Here we go again. I clenched my jaw and tried to keep from trembling
as dozens of flowered dresses rose from their seats and swayed toward the
altar. Then, as I feared, it was only me, the men, the children, and . . .
wait a minute!
There, to my right and three rows from the front, a little old lady with
white hair still sat. I rubbed a hand over my eyes. It was Dora. Why hadn't
I noticed that she never went up on Mother's Day before? Could it be that
she, too, was childless?
I edged up in my seat to get a better look. From where I sat, I could see
that her shoulders, though rounded now with age, didn't tremble as Pastor
Bill began to hand a rose to each mother. Her eyes weren't watery like mine,
her mouth wasn't turned down, her hands didn't fidget in her lap, and I suspected
that her bulletin lay face-up beside her. Even as the women came back down
the aisle, their roses in hand, Dora was smiling. Really smiling, not just
that "I-need-to-try-to-look-pleasant-so-no-one-suspects" type of
smile. Her whole face was a-bloom with contentment and joy.
As the pastor announced a Mother's Day potluck that would follow the service,
I studied Dora. I remembered countless times when she had stood up and praised
God for His love and faithfulness in her life. She'd told stories of how He
was with her in the tough times as well as the good, how He helped her during
the Great Depression, how He stayed close to her when her husband died, how
He healed her when she was in the hospital. And through it all, I could now
see the strand of joy that held her life together. Joy - even though she never
had children. How did she manage it, especially on Mother's Day?
When the time came to stand up and greet one another, I hurried toward Dora.
She turned and smiled at me, her hand extended.
"How do you do it?" I asked.
Her smile broadened, as if she knew just what I meant. "It will always
be hard, dear," she said as she patted my arm with one thin hand. "You
never get over the wishing." Her voice softened. "But for today,
just today, let God be enough."
"Enough of what?"
Dora paused and looked me directly in the eye. "Enough to love."
The music started again, and I was forced to scuttle back to my seat.
Enough to love. The strange words haunted me. I don't understand.
What does it mean? No answer came except for the swelling of a hymn around
me as the congregation burst into song. My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou
art mine. . .
The verse swept through me, probing, beckoning, bringing the tiniest hint
of understanding. It was true that I didn't have children, but I did have
Jesus. I knew He was mine. And, despite my pain, my grief, my anger, I did
love Him. I really did. So, maybe, just for this moment, just for this day,
that could be enough.
The last line of the verse stirred me, and I found myself singing too --
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.
Yes, I love You now, when my heart hurts so much I think it will break,
when the reminder of what I may never have is all around me, now when I can't
ignore the fact that You haven't answered my dearest prayer. Now, Lord, I
want you to know that I really do love you, despite it all.
As the second verse neared its end, I sang the final line even louder --
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus 'tis now -- and this time, it was as
if I could hear the echo of God's voice through mine, only a word was changed
If ever I loved Thee, my child, 'tis now.
Then the tears did come. But I didn't care. These weren't tears of grief
but tears of understanding. When all the country was honoring mothers, Jesus
remembered me. He took special note of me, in my pain, in my sorrow, in my
longing. I was not forgotten. The same Jesus who cared for the weak and downtrodden,
cared for me, especially today. Especially on Mother's Day.
As if hearing my thoughts, Dora turned and lavished her beautiful smile
on me. I felt my own face lift in return, and I knew that from that moment
on, I would view Mother's Day differently. It would always be hard. The pain
and longing would always be with me, and I'd probably still cry sometimes
when the women came down the aisle with their pink, dew-tipped roses. But,
from now on, Mother's Day would also be a special time to remember God's love
for me, and mine for Him.
And for this one day, it would be enough.
Excerpted from Empty Womb,
Aching Heart by Marlo Schalesky. Schalesky is the author of three other
books that are currently in the Christian market: Only the Wind Remembers,
Cry Freedom, and Freedom's Shadow. She has had nearly 500 articles
published in over 100 different Christian magazines including Focus on the
Family, Decision, Moody Magazine, Today's Christian Woman,
and Discipleship Journal.
Used by permission of Bethany, a division of Baker Book House Company, copyright
2001. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to e distributed
to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored
at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company. Visit
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