The Desert…and the Spring

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?   I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  – Isaiah 43:18-19

Like most everybody, I grew up having dreams. Big ones. As a five year old, creating a stage from the stone hearth in front of our fireplace, I dreamed of being a famous actress. Later as a Catholic school student, I wanted to be a nun. After watching Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker I aspired to be another Annie Sullivan to a classroom of Helen Kellers. As a teenager enamored with all things Egypt, I was determined to become the archaeologist who made the next great find in the Valley of the Kings. The acting bug never quite left me, so I majored in theatre in college. By then, tasting freedom for the first time, my dreams became much simpler: finding good parties, cute guys and not letting either keep me from graduating. Underneath all of those dreams, though, there were two that would continue to surface, making me wonder if any career, regardless of how exciting or selfless, could ever match the desire to be a wife and mother. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized the latter ones were the dreams that really mattered and the ones I prayed would become reality.

If my experience with infertility has taught me anything it’s that God fulfills our dreams in surprising ways. Even when it goes unrealized, there is some blessing, some beauty, some message to be gained in the dream – and even in those rude awakenings. As I type these words I know how hollow and simplistic they seem, more fitting of a motivational poster featuring a cute kitty than a serious discussion of the desperation and grief associated with the inability to conceive, or to bring a pregnancy to term. Yet infertility has revealed to me the tension between the desert, and the spring.

The desert is infertility, the dry and desolate place that covers an expanse beyond which we can see…nothing. Those of us who are “in it” experience infertility as a wilderness where nothing grows. Once in a while a mirage appears, that medication, treatment, diet, or relic of “that one saint,” which is sure to bring the result we want. For many the mirage is shattered and they conceive and give birth to their long awaited miracle. This is good news to be celebrated, even though we acknowledge it’s hard to celebrate when our own hoped-for miracle seems always just out of reach. The heat of isolation and disappointment is sometimes unrelenting.

And yet I’ve seen God’s hand and His presence in the desert of my infertility, and in that of the women with whom I share this cross. And this brings me to the spring.

Since co-founding Springs in the Desert, more than one friend has remarked that it’s my “baby.” In every case, the person saying it looked at me with some trepidation, as if ready to duck in case I threw something at them for suggesting such a thing. After all, our work, hobbies, and relationships are not the same as having a baby. I know they don’t mean to suggest the work of this apostolate can replace having a child, but their intuition is on point. Doing this work allows me to exercise spiritual motherhood in ways I’d never dreamed of, and it has become a life-giving spring within me. This is all the grace of God, and the experience of friendship and community we seek to foster here.

Springs in the Desert wasn’t formed to be one among many resources to help infertile women trying to conceive. Springs was formed because some women who had a rigorous theological education, specifically grounded in the teachings of St. John Paul II and able to express their beauty to others in classrooms and retreat centers, suddenly couldn’t make sense of them in their own hearts, or in their marriages. Knowing Christ and following Him, and recognizing the beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family, does not mean we are able to easily (or willingly) mount the crosses we’re given in our marriages. The heart often needs time to catch up with what we know in our heads. If infertility is a desert, then the spring must be found in community, solidarity, trust in God and willingness to share each other’s burdens.  That is the mission and purpose of Springs in the Desert.  We simply want to walk together with each other – with you – in support and in hope.

When I look back at my dreams now I don’t regret not being on Broadway, digging for artifacts on an ancient site, or becoming the next Annie Sullivan. I’m grateful for the gifts and opportunities God has given me, for the unique ways in which He has fulfilled my dreams in the places I’ve traveled, the people I’ve met, and in the characters created by St. John Paul II in his plays that I was so blessed to bring to life on stage (who knew that studying theology would be God’s way of making me an actress). God made me a wife by gifting me with the kindest, gentlest and most loving soul in my husband Keith. Now He is fulfilling my dream of motherhood in a different way; admittedly a hard, hard way, one that has made me cry and lash out more than once. Strangely enough, God has brought out the motherly traits of courage, protectiveness, and most of all self-sacrifice precisely through my inability to conceive a child!

To be perfectly candid, if I had become pregnant and given birth to a baby, or to a few babies, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to women experiencing infertility. Frankly, I probably wouldn’t have cared. But that is the great gift my infertility has given me. As painful as this road has been, it’s kept me from walking in circles around my own thoughts and needs, and opened up a wide path so that I can walk together with others. Every woman who has emailed, liked a post on social media, or left a comment has touched me deeply, and has been a healing balm to my heart. Every woman and man who contributes to this blog is a fellow traveler who heals me just a little bit more with their words and friendship. I am closer to God, closer to my husband, and closer to my identity as mother because of the community we have here.

The desert is a lonely place where nothing grows, sapping our energy when we traverse its seemingly endless expanse alone. But God promises over and over that He is the One to make the waters flow, refreshing even the driest places – and the driest souls. I am grateful beyond measure for the community found here, both in you who reach out and connect with us, and all who watch from afar and walk with us in your heart. Your voice and your silence, your presence even at a distance, are truly a spring in this desert of infertility. Wherever you are, whatever your experiences, your pain and your grief, we know this road. Walk with us. Rest awhile with us. Let us be refreshed by the water of friendship, solidarity, and His merciful love.

Ann writes from Central PA where she lives with her husband Keith.

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