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Patience through the Wilderness

Patience through the Wilderness

by The Rev. Danae Ashley

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. –Deuteronomy 8:7-9

I remember Mother’s Day 2017 vividly. I had just suffered my fifth miscarriage the previous week and, the bleeding finally ceasing, I was back at church leading services that Sunday. I have never been one who celebrated secular holidays in the church (if given a choice) and especially did not want to think about motherhood or acknowledge it in any way that year. What was an easy, thoughtless thing for others to take for granted – getting pregnant and having a healthy child—did not happen for me and my spouse. Instead, every pregnancy after my first miscarriage was fraught with anxiety, wondering if *this one* would make it. Every miscarriage brought with it more tests, some answers, and deep pain.

I was reminded about that Mother’s Day when I read today’s Old Testament lesson. The Israelites, after forty years of wandering, finally come to the land of milk and honey. How I longed to stop wandering in the wilderness of fertility struggle. I wanted to believe that God was bringing me to a good land that included a baby and the joyful experience of the dream of parenthood coming true with my spouse. Instead, each day’s manna included taking my temperature and using ovulation and pregnancy test strips so that I could start medications at the right time. The desert sun burned the already tender skin of my soul each time I saw a visibly pregnant person or an infant. The church, a place where parishioners often place outsize importance on the presence of young families, was like looking from a bleak landscape to a lush green land, but with an impassable chasm in between. I prayed, I wandered, and I wondered why God would put this desire in my heart if it would never come to fruition.

I still do not know why that desire was in my heart. After that Mother’s Day, we had one more difficult miscarriage before deciding to be creative in our life together in ways which did not involve having or adopting children. I deeply mourned the loss of that dream and spent an entire year healing, focused on doing all the things I put on hold while I was in the wilderness. Despite the hardship, I did feel God’s presence. God was the pillar of cloud bringing me from oasis to oasis, meeting others who were traveling the same road. God was the pillar of fire inviting me to become an advocate for fertility struggle through writing, speaking, and counseling others. 

The good land – a land of flowing streams, a land where I lack nothing – is a real place. The landscape is not what I expected, though. I have had to learn the fruits and trees, the way that the water flows, acquainting myself with the land as I journey. It is beautiful, just different than my original dream. God is here too, inviting me over the next hill and into the future.

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The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFT is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is serving part-time as the Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Seattle and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC. She has written for a number of publications, produced a play, and has been featured on several podcasts regarding fertility struggle and faith. Danae’s favorite past times include reading, traveling with her husband, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.

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