Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

With Eyes of Faith…Charity and Social Justice May 31, 2012

By Dorothy Williams


 

“But when you give alms,

do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,

so that your almsgiving may be secret.

And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

 

~ Jesus

Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verses 3 & 4

 

The virtue of charity is about more than writing a check to a dachshund rescue group.  As I wished friends at church a “Happy Mother’s Day” this year, I realized that this too was a form of charity and a gift worth giving.  Because I gave from my poverty — my lack of children — the gift felt more sacrificial than inking over alms in the form of cash, so that’s why I almost overlooked it as a practice of virtue.

 

Why are these gifts so hard to give?  Maybe it’s because we look for immediate reward from people rather than God; maybe it’s because we get tied up in knots trying to achieve social justice.  A Chinese proverb says: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Charity is the initial gift of fish, while social justice changes the man’s behavior, to cure the problem requiring charity in the first place.  When I first grappled with the fact that I was childless, all I wanted was social justice.  If I could just change society’s perception of my status, I would not have to be so understanding, so charitable, in the face of such monumental ignorance and insensitivity.  But in a child-centric culture, I was in over my head. Opportunities for social justice seemed to be around every corner and it frustrated me as I tried to correct problems that sometimes didn’t even exist!  I eventually learned that charity is something I could give until I had the opportunity to cure the problem at its root.

 

Nowadays, when I enter a troubling situation where I do not have the capacity or motivation to teach, I give an inward glance to the Lord, secretly communicating my need for grace in dealing with the person who has just crossed a mental boundary. Sometimes my gift of charity is humor, like when I brush off an insensitive comment with a joke.  Sometimes the gift is sacrificial, like when I wish someone a “Happy Mother’s Day”.  Finding balance between charitable and teachable moments is worth the struggle we go through to find it. The reward that comes from God alone is priceless.

 

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  Her favorite pet rescue group is Midwest Dachshund Rescue. You can find them at:   www.mwdr.org.

Editor’s Note: This will be Dorothy’s last “With Eyes of Faith…” column. Please join me in thanking her for sharing her words these past months and wishing her well on her new writing ventures. Thanks Dorothy.

 

 

With Eyes of Faith…Adversarial Growth April 19, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

“Great suffering or trauma

can actually lead to great positive change…”

 

Shawn Achor

Does your mental map include a path that leads up out of adversity to a place where you are stronger than ever before?  Positive psychology researcher, Shawn Achor, believes it is essential to creating happiness and he refers to it as a path that leads to Post-Traumatic Growth.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn explains it this way:

“…when soldiers are heading to combat, psychologists commonly tell them they will return either ‘normal’ or with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  What this does, in effect, is give these soldiers a mental map with only two paths – normalcy and psychic distress.  Yet while PTSD is of course a well-documented and serious consequence of war (and while war can be so horrifying that returning ‘normal’ might be a very attractive promise), another large body of research proves the existence of a third, far better path:  Post Traumatic Growth.”

Also known to psychologists as Adversarial Growth, the experience is achievable if you know the right strategies.  Shawn adds, “People’s ability to find the path up rests largely on how they conceive of the cards they have been dealt, so the strategies that most often lead to Adversarial Growth include positive reinterpretation of the situation or event, optimism, acceptance, and coping mechanisms that include focusing on the problem head-on (rather than trying to avoid or deny it).”

Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, I found the third path. With spring bursting forth here in the Midwest, and Easter’s resurrection power welling up within, I’m compelled to keep exploring it.

How about you? How are you dealing with the adversity that comes with infertility?

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  During a flurry of spring cleaning, she tossed out the cards she was dealt. 

 

With Eyes of Faith: Chero, Elisabeth Leseur March 22, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

“Those whom we encounter on our earthly path

often see in passing the outer wrappings of our being

and go their way, confident of knowing us well enough. 

Let us be careful not to do the same with the companions of our life.”

~Elisabeth Leseur

Among childless women, there are leaders and there are followers.  Many of the Cheroes celebrated on this blog are leaders who made a big splash, had great impact on the world, and made a name for themselves. That’s great if you’re a leader, but not all of us are called to do that. Elisabeth Leseur provides us with an example of what happens when a childless woman simply follows Christ.

In 1889, Pauline Elisabeth Arrighi married Felix Leseur after meeting him through mutual friends.  Felix was a doctor who also directed a large insurance company and it was sometime during medical school that he lost his faith.  After marrying, he permitted Elisabeth to practice her religion, but he and his friends constantly ridiculed her for what they thought were ignorant superstitions.  Despite this tension in their marriage, they loved each other passionately and Felix provided his wife with a wonderful life, which included travel to countries like Italy, Russia, Turkey and Greece. In her own words, Elisabeth provides a glimpse into the relationship: “Some joyful days, because of a present from Felix, and more because of the words that accompanied it – words so full of love that I am moved to great happiness.”

From the time they married until her death from breast cancer in 1914, Elisabeth prayed for her husband’s return to the Christian faith.  She kept a diary to give voice to her experience, but Felix did not learn of it until after she died.  A year later, he not only regained his faith, but also published the diary.  (The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, published by Sopia Institute Press, is still available!)

In his remarks that preface the diary, Felix says: “My beloved wife, Elisabeth, prayed incessantly for my return to the Faith…But she did this secretly, for she never argued with me and never spoke to me of the supernatural side of her life, save by her example.”

A few years later, in 1923, Felix was ordained a Dominican priest, and over the next two decades devoted his ministry to giving talks about Elisabeth’s spirituality.  Father Leseur died in 1950 and the Church opened a cause for his wife’s canonization in 1990.

What I admire about this Chero is that she did not leave a difficult marriage to pursue holiness elsewhere, nor did she worry about leading causes to justify her existence as a childfree woman. So if you’re feeling a lot of societal pressure to go out and do something to fill the void left by infertility, think of Elisabeth…and pray.

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She is praying for her own husband’s return to the faith and found domestic bliss by acting on the advice of good marriage counselors.  

 

With Eyes of Faith…Not Easily Offended February 9, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

 

“Love is patient, love is kind…

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury…”

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Can you tell when someone is bragging about their kids versus just sharing joy and being amazed by life? I thought I could, until I visited with an old friend I had not seen in twenty years.

Our luncheon started innocently enough as we sipped drinks while waiting for a table. We caught up on what happened after leaving school and where we landed in our careers. When we spoke of children, I revealed how keenly I felt the loss of my dream to have a family. My friend seemed to understand and, after sharing her joy over having two children, turned the conversation to her husband and the dog.

Then we reached our table. And then her merlot kicked in.

As my companion launched into a monologue about her son­ – that would last our entire meal – waves of shock and panic washed over me. I was about to learn just how smart Junior is, the great Ivy League school he got into, their wonderful times together when she watched him play sports, the awards he won, the private jokes they shared – well, you can imagine the rest.

What part of my struggle did she not get?  I considered my choices. I could indulge in a range of emotions popping like hot kernels in my consciousness, or I could load them onto tiny boats in a cosmic river, and watch them slip away. I chose that, and relaxed into a Christian form of meditation, called Centering Prayer. With a deep, cleansing breath, I secretly called on the Lord for what I needed and then…just…let…go…to focus on a prayer word.

At some point, the momzilla took a breath and said, “I am so sorry to keep talking about my son like this, but I miss him so terribly since he left for school!”

Ah, there it was.  My long-lost friend was not intentionally trying to offend me, but instead grieving the loss of her best friend. When he left for the east coast, a huge void opened up in her life. Talking about him – remembering the good times – made it seem smaller.  It also explained why we were reconnecting after twenty years. If I had allowed my indignation to rise up, our reunion would not have been the gift God intended.

Is it getting easier for you to tell if a gabby friend is bragging or experiencing something else? What helps you get through tense situations like this?

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She met with her old friend for a second lunch and they had such a good time that they now plan to meet monthly for activities like walking and kayaking.

 

With Eyes of Faith…A Brand New Year January 5, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

~ Jeremiah 29:11

I love that passage from the Bible, where God promises prosperity, hope and a future. Now that I understand the context, it’s one of my favorite verses to reflect on at this time of year, especially now that I have faced my own form of cultural exile as a childless woman.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke for God to people who loved the Lord, but nevertheless had been driven into exile from their homeland. At the same time he delivered a promise of welfare and not woe, Jeremiah also prophesied that the exile would last several more decades! Can you imagine a frail, little old lady, hearing this and shaking her veil?  She had, maybe, a few good years left on earth, so how could these promises be applied to her life? Since scholars say that the prophecy pointed to God’s plan for a messiah, perhaps she placed her hope on an eternal relationship with God, rather than a passing, earthly reality.

Like her, I also face an exile that I will not outlive.  After enduring pregnancy announcements from friends and family in my thirties, I now dread the upcoming “I’m going to be a grandma!” to a chorus of whoops and yells. As the mommy club keeps expanding (gosh, even women in convents use the title of Mother) so does my period of exile.

But unlike that frail lady in Babylon, I believe God’s plan for a messiah has been fulfilled. So when I reflect on the passage from Jeremiah, I think about the past year and see clearly how God provided welfare and not woe, in the here and now of my lifetime. I may not be delivered from exile but, like my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have a Messiah who walks with me through it, blessing me with a double portion of life’s goodness.

How do you approach this time of year?  What are your plans for the future?

Dorothy lives near Chicago.  She and her husband spend January weekends cross-country skiing the snowy, winding paths of forest preserves.

 

With Eyes of Faith…Birthday Jesus December 15, 2011

By Dorothy Williams

You won’t be receiving one of those cute, holiday photo greeting cards from me this Christmas.  You know, the kind you get from relatives and friends, showing the perfect, smiling family with the caption, “Greetings from the Williams bunch!” 

 

There’s nothing wrong with those holiday photos, of course, and now that I am in the acceptance stage of my grieving process, I enjoy seeing nieces, nephews and children of friends grow into the healthy, beautiful adults that God designed.  But when you’re struggling with infertility, or finally coming to terms with the stark reality that God may have a different plan for your life, the influx of December mail can be awful.

 

I once dreaded opening my mailbox during the holidays as if tiny pipe bombs lay in there, waiting to explode with emotional shrapnel.  My hands shook as I opened each holiday photo card because I knew there would be another reminder that I was childless-not-by-choice, and it would take hours to process the raw feelings of rage and sorrow that welled up. I’m glad I didn’t say anything to my family during those years because it might have stopped the cards, preventing the joy I receive now. Instead, I shared my secret pain with a couple of trusted advisers, and of course, my best friend and Savior, Jesus. It was good to have a powerful friend who experienced deep suffering, too, and didn’t mind talking about it.    

 

So instead of sending one of those cards, I am sending a link to Birthday Jesus at the Skit Guys website as my holiday greeting.  Have you heard of the Skit Guys? They are the comedy duo of Tommy Woodard and Eddie James, best friends since high school, who now serve the Lord, making up wonderful stories about life in Christ.

 

I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas

   

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She sends out holiday greeting cards that celebrate the birth of Christ.

 

With Eyes of Faith…Hannah’s Significant Other November 17, 2011

By Dorothy Williams

“…why are you weeping? Why are you not eating? Why are you so miserable? Am I not better for you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8)

 

The questions a husband asked his barren wife many centuries ago could just as easily represent feelings secretly harbored by our family members today. Can you imagine poor Elkanah sitting by the bedside of his wife, Hannah, feeling completely helpless and perfectly invisible as she quietly sobbed and rocked herself? 
And I ask myself, how many times did my own husband sit by me feeling the same thing? Or what about my sweet mother?  Or even my best friend? I was blind to their love, too, as I grieved the loss of my children.

 

In the biblical story, Elkanah had two wives named Hannah and Peninnah, but only Hannah was barren.  Peninnah used her status as a “mother of sons and daughters” to provoke and torment Hannah because she viewed her as a rival. Seeing what was going on, Elkanah gave “a double portion to Hannah because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:5).

 

When we are provoked, it’s easy to devalue the close relationships we enjoy with our spouse and other best friends. I guess it’s because the power of the moment gets our focus fixed on what we lack rather than on all that we have.  For me, it was like a giant microscope was shoved into my face every time I had to deal with a pregnancy announcement.  My grief forced me to peer down a tube at this giant hole in my soul, blinding me to the daily favor I enjoy as a child of God.

 

And speaking of God, the same questions could be posed in a different way:  Isn’t our relationship with the Lord better for us than ten sons?  And where in our lives has God given us a “double portion” because we are so deeply loved?

 

It’s something to think about this Thanksgiving, as we count our blessings.

 

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She enjoys time spent with her family in Christ.