January brings a breeze that rustles my butterfly wind chimes. The streets are void of snow, and winter rains are finally silent in Hampton. I unpacked last night from a week and a half of travel, and I finally feel at home on my own front porch nestled into a blanket on my love seat. Charming will join me on Friday, and I’ve made no promises about whether Christmas will be put away by then.
Life has been anything but normal since I left my driveway and started the punctuated journey north. An early Christmas with Charming’s family in Maryland, onward to New York for the holiday with my family, then a quiet getaway in the Poconos before ringing in the New Year with Charming’s friends over good food and video arcade games.
Now that I’m home, I can hear what my mother would say, that it’s no wonder I had caught a cold before the weekend even began. Travel finally behind us, we began Saturday morning, the last day of 2016, watching Friday Night Lights while multiple doses of cold medicine took effect. I had to save up my energy if I was going to stay up and party ‘til midnight.
There was this moment while we were cuddling on the couch watching the first season finale when, cloaked spoiler alert, a woman says to her husband, “We’re gonna have a baby.” All he can do is repeat it back with this goofy grin. She’s glowing; he’s already anticipating the joy to come. And I could not stop the pitiful tears that came, clumsily batting at my eyes to little avail.
It’s just empathy, right? Like Charming’s friend Felipe back in Wheaton told us this summer, the impulse to yawn when others yawn is evidence of empathy. He and Charming don’t catch yawns, but his wife and I do. A slight moist gathering at the corners of my eyes I could explain away as empathy. No, this was something else. It was self pity or fear or sadness.
Or longing. I long to look into my husband’s expectant face and say those words: We’re gonna have a baby. I’ll be thirty-four in a month. I don’t even have a husband. Surely, I should have started a family by now. Those words are still years off, yet I await them in an attempt at patience for God’s plan for my life.
His plan is an illustrious anomaly, however good and right and prosperous, particularly when it doesn’t feel good or right, when it’s punctuated by loss and unexpected heartbreak. Unfaithfulness, divorce, drug addiction, mental illness, financial distress, cancer, and problems with fertility. My mom suffered the emotional pain of two miscarriages before my older brother was born. My friend Mulan has battled this for years. And while she started trying when she was in her twenties, Charming’s friends that recently miscarried while abroad are well into their thirties. Like me and Charming.
Over a few rounds of Ski Ball, I talked with the wife about our baby drama. My apprehension pales in comparison to her fresh loss, but the longing for a baby is something we share. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know her a bit at lunches after church, but this was our first heart to heart. She’s nothing like me, and I like her immensely. She’s confident, independent, brave, and resilient. She’s Aladdin’s Jasmine with serious left-side brain enhancements.
Jasmine and I both want children, and our varied journeys have brought us to the simple intersection of our own absence of guaranteed fulfillment. Her miscarriage is heartbreaking. My familial future is road blocked. I remember settling in on a scripture during a devotional time in Psalms 127 four years ago. The words rocked me: “Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.”
I was floored. The fruit of the womb was a reward. The heritage was from the Lord. How could I not long for such a Biblical blessing, to be entrusted with a tiny human life to shepherd into fullness of spirit? This scripture made it clear, though, that having children isn’t the result of my own personal labors, but rather a reward given by God, apparently in His timing. There’s no criterion there, no minimum or maximum age, no limit on the number of miscarriages one might have before giving birth to a healthy baby.
Sitting in a living room down the hall from a room that should have been a nursery, I considered Jasmine’s journey of disappointment and pain; after the couples had kissed at midnight and toasted the New Year, I could agree that 2016 was not a good year. We slept soundly, left early for church, and spent the rest of the first day of 2017 streaming our show, slow rolling through Old Town in search of Pokémon, and watching football. Charming even introduced me to his favorite computer game, Civilization VI, the kind of intense mental long-game that the intelligent enjoy in their “down time”.
It was while he was explaining how to give orders to my Warrior avatar that I realized I couldn’t agree that 2016 was not a good year for us. Without kids, we have experienced adventure after adventure, packing in the kind of memory making that’s at the core of a quality romance novel, not family fiction. Our year began in the Bahamas and wrapped up in the Poconos before concluding in DC. Before I said goodbye to Charming, resting against his shoulder, I looked up at him and said, as if realizing it for the first time, “We have a good life, don’t we?”
The longing for children is a real one, a valid one, but what we focus on the most tends to be magnified, skewing our perspective. I have an incredible job with amazing students. My brother’s family is close by. My mom talks to me on the phone nearly every day. And I am hopelessly in love with a quality man who continues to steal my heart in surprising ways, even when he’s teaching me to play a video game.
Sitting here on my front porch, adventures behind me, I believe my favorite moment of the last week was horseback riding in a snow-laden forest. It was bitter cold in the mountains of Pennsylvania with what seemed nearly a foot, freshly fallen. My Honda could barely navigate the narrow, winding roads, but we wanted an experience, and the dog sled option was out due to ice on their trails.
I typically hate the cold, but I was determined not to let that stop me from making a memory with Charming. I bundled up with plenty of layers, and I didn’t even feel the cold. Riding on faithful Dillon behind Charming with the guide up ahead narrating our horseback riding story, it was like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia had materialized. It was breathtaking and inspiring. I never knew how much I wanted to go horseback riding in the snow until we were there, in that moment, and in itself that felt like a reward undeserved.
Had I focused on the desire to be warm, I might have missed that snowy trail. And how much more will I miss if I continue to focus on the desire to have children? There’s that reward, yes, but there are other rewards. I believe God knows the desires of my heart, even the ones I don’t know like our cruise at New Year’s last year and our Poconos trip just last week. These are treasures, and I see them as such.
My greatest comfort will not reside in the future fulfillment of my dream of having a child. No, where I need to find comfort is in my now, in my present, in my real life existence in a snowy haven I couldn’t have dreamed into existence, riding horses with a man that looks as comfortable on a saddle in the mountains as he does with a military general at the Capital or playing with my nieces and nephews at Mom’s.
We have a good life, don’t we? It’s not what I dreamed for myself at this age, and I have to cut myself a little slack for the impenetrable biological clock I keep tampering with unsuccessfully. We’d watched It’s a Wonderful Life with my family, and the comedy of errors teaches the protagonist to see beyond the current struggle that was magnified in his eyes to ultimately realize that his life was filled with people and things worth cherishing.
If it’s not this reward, God will have another. He always surprises me that way. With Charming. And horseback riding. It’s not what I pictured, but I couldn’t have known how to picture horseback riding through snow covered pine trees until I was living that moment.
We have a good life. Jasmine has a good life. And maybe, for now, that’s reward enough.