My mother was fond of using quotes and pithy sayings–“Pretty is as pretty does”, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile”, “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” But one of the sayings that always bothered me was, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone.”
As a child and a young adult, I dreamed of a family— laughing with my husband and children around the dinner table; tucking in sweet-smelling, freshly bathed toddlers– I knew it wouldn’t always be dreamy like that, but I knew those precious moments would be worth the pains and frustrations that came with them.
Except they didn’t. The years passed. I worked hard, I dated occasionally, and I waited. I loved my work as a teacher, and later as a youth services librarian. Many of my friends married; my siblings married and had children. I was surrounded most days with amazing, talented, infuriating, inspiring, adorable, mostly happy, and sometimes moody teens and children. Other people’s children. And I felt guilty, frustrated, and angry. I wanted marriage. I wanted my own children. Well-meaning people kept setting me up on dates or suggesting pen pals, dating services, other churches to visit (“they have such a great program for singles…”), moving to a different town or bigger city. Some even suggested that I wasn’t trying hard enough–I needed a make-over, a new wardrobe, a new strategy. I needed to be more assertive with men, or less independent, or more feminine. I needed to be less picky. Other suggestions were even harsher–I wasn’t mature enough; God needed to “grow me up” before I would be ready for marriage.
In my mid-thirties, just as my “clock” was ticking louder and more insistent, I received an awful blow. “Polycystic ovary syndrome” meant that I had certain symptoms (underactive thyroid, facial hair, a greater risk of ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer, and heart disease) and certain irregularities, mood swings, etc. associated with my monthly cycle. But it also meant that my dream of having children was unlikely ever to be anything but a dream. Even if I had married young; even if I married within a week and started hormone therapy or invitro, my chances of conceiving and carrying to full term were essentially nil. I was stunned. I was numb for several hours, and then I cried.
And I cried alone. I wasn’t always crying; I read a lot, and watched a lot of TV and movies, sang along with my favorite CDs, danced around my living room like no one was watching (after all, no one was watching!), and, sometimes, I prayed. But I cried a lot, too. And I prayed through the tears. My prayers were sometimes prayers of anger, or confusion, questioning God’s love, his timing, his purpose. All those years of praying, asking God for a husband and children– had he been laughing at my pain? He knew I couldn’t have children– why had he allowed me to hope for so many years?
But long before I knew that I was barren; long before I had fully formulated my dream of the family I would never have, God had a plan for my good. For every tear I shed, he was right there with me– even when I couldn’t feel him there; even when I raged at him. I had a dream– it was a good dream, but it was a dream. And God’s plans are better than my dreams. ALWAYS. His plans are for our good–but not always for our pleasure.
Sometimes I still cry at night for the children I never had. But when I finish crying, I thank God. Not because of those missing children, but because out of that pain has come compassion– for other women who cry similar tears. Tears for children lost or never born; tears for children they chose to give up, or children who were taken. I thank God because of the many experiences I ended up gaining as a single woman– opportunities to travel, to pursue interests and develop skills. How many more opportunities might I have taken had I trusted God more than my dreams earlier and more fully?
And I thank God because of what he has given–nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, former students and patrons who are still in touch and who still enrich my life. Most of all, I thank God for the privilege of leaving my tears to join my husband (a man who pursued me even as I was ready to give up on my dream of being a wife–I became a bride at 46!), my step-children, and our grandchildren; as well as a new set of wonderful nieces, nephews, and great-nephews (we’re still waiting for great-nieces on that side of the family).
Even if I never had the “happy ending” of a husband and family, I would still be grateful to my very good Father. And I will continue to pray through the tears when they come.