A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
As a young single woman I enjoyed my life, my friends and my freedom (the last, admittedly, sometimes too much). I valued my independence and the ability to do as I pleased, but still there was a place in my heart that longed for the stability and routine of marriage and a family. In fact, these seemed like a foregone conclusion, the natural course of my life once I was settled and ready – whatever that means. A few near-misses with guys I thought were The One were bumps along what I viewed as an otherwise smooth path to my destiny. With the passing of years, and a fairly serious spiritual conversion, what I’d taken for granted as the certain outcome of my life’s dreams now seemed an elusive prize for which I did not possess the winning ticket. When at last I met the man who changed everything for me, we were both in our 40s, and had each envisioned driving kids to ballet and soccer practice by this point in our lives. Instead, we were suddenly on the fast track to starting a family. Life takes turns where it will, dreams are modified or exchanged for new ones, and we press on. For us there are no baby carriages-turned-big wheels, no school activities, and no graduations and weddings to anticipate. There is just us. But not only us; there are family, good friends, nieces and nephews, godchildren, and a host of activities and interests enjoyed separately and together. Above all, there is our God who has been faithful to us even in our sorrow and disappointment.
The more I grapple with our infertility and allow myself to give in to the process of grieving, the closer I come to experiencing freedom. Not the freedom I thought I had as a young woman who considered the people around her to be extras in the movie of her life. No, the freedom that is slowly revealing itself is not the unrestrained self-satisfaction of my youth, but the sweet constraints of responsibility, fidelity, self-gift, and generosity. Do not think that I have mastered these! Far from it; if I had a priest on-call I’d probably be in the confessional every day. But perhaps the measurement for me – for you – is not hitting the target spot on every time, but staying in the game, continuing to work on selflessness and resisting the temptation toward constant self-soothing. It’s hard work and I can’t do it on my own. Fortunately I have good models to follow.
My mother was the second of five girls, and all but one of the sisters had children. For as long as I can remember, Aunt Annie (for whom I am named) was the quintessential “fun aunt,” planning birthday parties, acting as “Santa’s helper” by filling the space under the tree with gifts, and thinking of ways to occupy her nieces and nephews when we were all together at Grandma’s house. Looking back on it, I never wondered why she and Uncle Charlie didn’t have kids of their own; I just enjoyed being spoiled along with my cousins. As an adult, and someone who knows well the disappointment and grief of infertility, I see Aunt Annie and her life differently. I never asked if she got a diagnosis for her infertility, but I know that she wanted children. The “why” of infertility is not important. Circumstances within in our marriages, our families of origin and our health all play a part in each of our infertility stories, and in the ways in which we ultimately express fruitfulness within them. As a child my experience was of receiving .gifts and attention. Now, as an infertile woman, I understand my aunt’s generosity, and what it meant to her that my cousins and I were there to receive it.
I recently wrote about an experience holding my cousin Keith’s firstborn, Gabriel. He is a blessing and a joy for our family, and in holding him I experienced an unexpected forward movement in my infertility grief. Keith’s brother Shawn is a doting uncle, snapping photos and posting them on Facebook almost daily. The pictures are sweet and heartwarming; yet they can still cause a slight twinge of sadness in me. The stabbing pain has been replaced by a tiny pin-prick in my heart, enough for me to both recall the sadness of what might have been, and to remind me that all love comes with a cost. Instead of creating a hole to be filled with pain, these tiny wounds to my heart are making space for God to enter in and heal. These wounds teach me to love even what is not mine. This is not an easy or wanted lesson, but it’s one that is necessary for me to be able to process my grief, to have a good relationship with my husband and family, and perhaps most importantly to cultivate the hope that moves me closer to eternal salvation. She certainly doesn’t know it, but in all of this my Aunt Annie has been the lead teacher in a school of generosity, and I am her struggling but persevering pupil. Every picture of sweet Gabriel that pokes at those still raw parts of my heart becomes for Aunt Annie a surge of the heart, a reminder that God is good and life has purpose. Where I may take a quick glance and scroll by, Aunt Annie pauses at each photo to comment: What a blessing! Beautiful family, and Keep these pictures coming! It’s something so simple, and yet I marvel at her ability to easily and eagerly delight in a gift she desired but never received herself. Where I am tempted to envy, she lives in hope; where I feel sadness, she finds joy; and where I suffer disappointment, she experiences peace.
Those empty arms are themselves a gift, making me all the more able to receive those who desperately need to be embraced by them.
Aunt Annie has had her share of difficulties and sadness, culminating last year in her husband’s death. She presses on without him, and I know the sadness sometimes overcomes her. And yet her generous heart seems to know no bounds. She misses her husband, thinking about what more there was to do together, what hopes and dreams were left unfulfilled. And yet she is filled with hope. She looks fondly back on what was, and boldly ahead toward what is yet to be fulfilled. Aunt Annie is teaching me, by her example and her words, that fretting over “what might have been” prevents us from delighting in what we have and the people we love here and now. Dwelling on my empty arms means missing all of the good things God is giving me. Those empty arms are themselves a gift, making me all the more able to receive those who desperately need to be embraced by them.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Aunt Annie teaches me that while it is fine to desire the good things of this world, we are only pilgrims passing through it. The greatest and the best is yet to come, and it will make every tear, every missed opportunity and every broken dream into a drop that will disappear into the ocean of God’s love. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17
Ann Koshute lives in Central Pennsylvania with Keith, who is most definitely “the one.”