My Mission this Mother’s Day

Not long after I signed with Harvest House Publishers, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book they were publishing about infertility. Mothers in Waiting: Healing and Hope for Those with Empty Arms* is a collection of 30 women’s personal stories as they tried to become mothers. It was compiled by a mother-in-law–daughter-in-law team with the goal of meeting women along their infertility journeys so no one walks that tough path alone. I instantly agreed because that had also been my goal with Barren. You’ll find my story in chapter 9.

In the five years since I wrote Barren among the Fruitful, David and I have accepted that we won’t be biological parents. Our lives have been upended several times as we moved across the country twice, endured my 3 gynecological surgeries in 10 months, supported a loved one in prison for a crime that never happened, mourned career disappointments, and celebrated career successes. In hindsight, we see how God was able to use us and our resources differently in these and other situations because we weren’t raising kids. We had more time and attention to give, and we are thankful for that.

Don’t get me wrong–we would both still give our right arms to have had children. We are reminded of them each Mother’s and Father’s Day as so many churches dedicate babies, rightly extol the virtues of parenthood, and maybe give flowers to the moms. Each year we debate whether or not we will attend services on those holidays, and we usually agree that our emotions would inhibit any joyous corporate worship. I’m not sure that will ever change.

Sharable+5.pngWhile I will always remain tender and attentive to the causes of infertility and female cancers, the publications of books such as Mothers in Waiting and the incredible ministries that accompany many of them reveal how God is using other authors and speakers to show His love to people struggling to grow their families. As He has enabled them for this important work, God has prepared my heart, head, and life for a new mission.

I will be spending this summer in Israel digging at Tel Shimron and writing my next book, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel (February 2021), and with a little luck I’ll “dig Egypt” the following year! God has made a way for me to return to my first love–biblical archaeology–and share the field’s insights into Scripture with the world. He has filled this “hopeful” woman with joy and thankfulness and excitement through situations I never could have manufactured myself. I understand that I would not have the time, energy, or will to devote to writing and travel if I were a mother, and I thank Him for this opportunity to serve Him and for the peace He has given me about the future.

God always knows the outcome before we know the circumstances.

*I receive no compensation for my contribution to or endorsement of this book.

Backhanded by Infertility

Yesterday was my birthday, and all the sweet Facebook messages from people I haven’t interacted with since my last birthday made me realize just how lonely I’ve been lately.

For the last few years I’ve developed more and more female problems. Last November, my doctors scheduled a surgery for January that led them to schedule another surgery for April. Based on pathology and radiology results, they believed (incorrectly, it would turn out) that I had ovarian cancer.

I vividly remember the October morning when the Today Show reported on a then-new study that had found infertile women who undergo treatment are 60% more likely to have ovarian cancer. The risk is even higher for the women in that group who never have a live birth, they said.

That report made an impression on me, maybe because it came out on Barren among the Fruitful‘s first anniversary. It left me thinking how unfair it is that women who suffer the physical pain, emotional drain, and financial stress of fertility treatments are then more likely to fight the most fatal of gynecological cancers

For 3 months I thought I was one of those women. My team of gynecologists had me visit a psychologist and scheduled an oncologist to be present at the second surgery. The hospital requested that I update my will and designate a power of attorney. 

David and I didn’t want to tell anyone what was happening until we had definite answers ourselves, but as time went on, circumstances caused us to tell family members and a few close friends. We ended up with about 40 people praying that I would be healed and spared months of chemotherapy.

When David and I spoke with my primary gynecologist about the April surgery’s results, she showed us pictures from the endoscopy and talked for about 10 minutes about the ugliness they had removed from inside me; but she never said, “You have Stage thus-and-such cancer.”

David finally asked her directly, “Does Amanda have cancer?”

“No,” she laughed. “I would have led with that!” 

As she left the room to schedule me for more post-op tests and whatnot, David and I sat in stunned silence for 20 minutes.

I had spent the previous 3 months preparing to be sick. Yes, I had updated our wills, but I had also repointed the house, replaced a toilet, painted my office, replaced the tires on our Subaru, bought a new guest-bedroom mattress, wrote a blog announcing my cancer (at the psychologist’s suggestion), and contracted a company to tear down and rebuild the entire exterior of our house’s 1920 addition. In hindsight, I wasn’t planning to be sick. I was planning to disappear.

In spite of the prayers of our loved ones and an expressed belief in God’s healing power, I never actually thought I’d be cancer free after seeing January’s images and test results. I was hoping to be Stage II or lower and expecting to survive because those same doctors who once told me, “you’re too old to get pregnant,” were now saying, “you’re too young to have ovarian cancer.”

The shock turned into guilt–why had we worried everyone unnecessarily?–and then embarrassment.

I don’t think we had a moment of joy or thankfulness. It was weeks before it occurred to me that maybe God had actually answered all those prayers. Maybe He literally transformed malignant cells into benign cells.

I would argue there is precedence for this; I am not the first woman to endure years of gynecological pain:

Now a certain woman [traditionally called Veronica] had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”

But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”

And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25-34, NKJV)

Thanksgiving 2017 will mark 4 years since my present physical troubles began. But I don’t have even a third of the faith of Veronica, who endured three times as much pain as I have. And the loneliness, guilt, and embarrassment I’ve felt have been self-induced whereas hers was culturally motivated. I now realize the tragedy of my situation is not the illness itself but the lack of faith that illness has exposed.

The 2 surgeries have not helped–the constant anemia is physically debilitating and socially awkward–and I expect to schedule a final surgery at my appointment in July. Between now and then I won’t be able to literally touch Jesus’ clothes, but I desire to have Veronica’s faith that He will heal me when I reach out to Him.

Facing Favoritism

On February 24, 2016, I lost my Granduncle Fred. He was nearly 88 years old, lived more than 500 miles away for my entire life, and saw me twice per year (when I was lucky). Based on those facts alone, you wouldn’t think I’d be close to him. But he was and remains one of my favorite men of all time.

He and my Aunt Dare never had children of their own. For that reason, they were more involved with my father’s family than most aunts and uncles are with their nieces and nephews.

Growing up I took for granted that I had a third set of grandparents. Once I discovered that, like them, my only “children” would be future nieces and nephews and godkids, I finally appreciated all the years of love they’d poured into me.

I think that I was closer to my Uncle Fred than my cousins were. I hazard to think that I was his favorite. He never made differences between us–gifts were always equal, and that’s how a kid knows who loves her best–but I always felt closer to him. Probably because I got to see him every summer, which my cousins did not. Maybe because he expected children to be tiny adults, and I was “born 30” according to everyone who knew me. Since before I was able to sit still insomuch as a church service, he loved to show the same bazillion slides every summer when my parents and I would visit Richmond. I happily listened to his narrations of Bermuda during the Korean War, Aunt Dare’s parents’ store, and Daddy’s gangling childhood. By the time I was 16, I could have done the narrations myself.

I don’t know why some families have favorites while others don’t. Someone once asked my father-in-law, “Anna is your favorite child, isn’t she?” He was mortified by the thought. They equally love their children (and children-in-law, as it turns out). Truly.

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David, Copper, and me on our way to visit Aunt Dare and buy Uncle Fred’s truck over Easter Weekend. I am now the proud driver of his 2000 Ford Ranger–with only 50,000 miles on it!

I grew up with both “sides” of that favoritism coin. On one side, I had a grandmother who had favorites. I knew I wasn’t it because my Christmas gifts were always noticeably cheaper. She also sent something called “birthday dollars” to my cousins that I never received. Granny would send a dollar bill for every year of life in the birthday card. As an adult I found out about them, but I was about 5 years old when my mother found out about them. As she told her own mother what was happening, Grandma was so incensed by the situation that she decided to put 5 dollar bills in my birthday card that next year. Now, I have no doubt that my other cousins on that side also received an extra $5 that year. Because this grandmother made no differences–every Christmas one or two of us would have a couple of quarters taped to the top of our presents because she had accidentally spent just 50 cents more on one grandchild!

So why have these joys and wounds of my childhood been dredged up by Uncle Fred’s death? Because just 3 weeks earlier, I became an aunt with 2 nieces. And I don’t want to have a favorite. (The same goes for my 2 godsons, who are brothers.)

I never thought showing favoritism would be an issue for me because I know how psychologically damaging it is to feel less loved than those around you. I have felt it myself, and I have watched other not-favorites experience it. But I worry that my physical proximity to one niece may mean I am naturally closer to her than I am to her cousin who lives 2 hours away. Will I love one more than the other? No way. But will I know one better than the other? Maybe. And will that make the girls think that I favor one over the other? I fear the answer is yes.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Dare filled a gap for me. There was something intangible about the way they loved me that made me feel better about not being my grandparents’ favorite. I am eternally thankful.

I want to be a gap-filler, too, not a gap-maker. I know we won’t be filling love-gaps for the kiddos because their parents won’t pick favorites. Instead David and I want to be the cool aunt and uncle who take all the kids on adventures and have an awesome play area on “the kids'” as-yet-unfinished third floor of our house. We want to give them things they wouldn’t have otherwise. And we would love nothing more than for all of them to think of us as second parents–as I thought of Uncle Fred as my third grandfather.