The life of a Christian is spent in constant redemption.
Just like we redeem a coupon at the grocery store, trading in a tattered little piece of paper we ripped out of a newspaper or magazine for 55¢ off a can of green beans, we trade in worthless, tattered bits of our life for something valuable. That cut-out little piece of paper is worth nothing in our hands–it clutters the bottom of our purse, it gets stuck in a coupon file until it’s too late and out of date–or it may remain unclipped in a stack of papers. I usually stick it with a magnet to the fridge where it mocks me and makes me feel guilty for not being more organized. It often remains there until I can’t handle its scornful face any longer, convince myself it isn’t worth the trouble, and throw it away. I’m just not any good at the coupon game.
As Christians, we are daily faced with something similar: opportunities of redemption, moments that are worthless if left as they are, but can be priceless if redeemed. Each of us could come up with countless examples when God was faithful to His promise in Isaiah 61:3, taking something that was in ashes and making it beautiful. How about the moment we first surrendered our lives to Him? He took sin, death, despair, and a life of hopelessness and breathed in a new life, His life, one full of joy, hope, love, and abounded mercy. Amazing doesn’t go far enough. Spectacular, marvelous, fantastic, magnificent, miraculous, extraordinary, mind-blowing: we haven’t even scratched the surface of that moment, that most important act of redemption. Oh, He is so worthy of our praise.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Phil 1:6
Notice that Paul doesn’t tell us that the work of Christ was complete right when He began. He will continue to perform that good work, that redemption, until the day we see Him face to face. Redemption in my life started in the fall of 1998, and I’m excited for the day of completion in my life. In between those two points, He’s already been so faithful in turning my ashes into beauty–none topping that first redemptive act when He stood in the gap between God and I, bringing me into His family. However, there are a few redemptive moments that also stand out, and one of those I’m still needing to turn in to Him and redeem daily: infertility.
My husband and I began trying to conceive nearly five years ago. At that same time, we also began pursuing our foster care license. Even in our engagement, we had talked about adoption and decided we wanted it to be a part of our lives, either first-hand or supporting others in their adoptions. When we had the “Let’s start a family” conversation, we talked about adopting first, but, when I realized we didn’t meet all the parameters of the country I had grown to love through college, Joe suggested foster care instead. I was a little taken back, as I had never thought about it before, but we agreed to pursue foster care and trying to conceive at the same time, walking through whichever doors God decided to open. All questionable doors in my mind were related to foster care. At the time, we had no idea we were walking into years of infertility as well.
After a year of trying (and reading books, researching online, countless pregnancy tests, and a seemingly endless stream of tears), we found ourselves sitting in a doctor’s office being diagnosed with unexplained infertility. It was a hard time. It was about a month after we had verbally committed to two foster children, 5 and almost 3. The next 9 months of life is a blur in my memory. Our kids’ case was back and forth for the first couple months after we committed to them, but, shortly after they moved in with us, they became legally free for adoption. We were elated and terrified as we jumped head-first into parenting. Let’s just say there’s a reason babies come helpless and history-less. It was a hard time–for me personally, spiritually, and in our marriage. It was ashes. Adoption is through and through a story of redemption. Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us that we have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
So through that entire time, we were still on the infertility roller coaster. You know–hope sets in, and then the painful lows when that hope–and your womb–is found empty. Again. And again. Another good friend is pregnant, you have another baby shower this weekend, and you feel like God has forgotten you. We were two years into infertility, and I was waist-deep in ashes. I was breathing ashes they were so thick around me. I could taste the soot in my mouth. But, I was having a hard time redeeming all that ash.
God’s power hadn’t failed. I just couldn’t bring myself to take it to Him any more.
I had been trusting Him and hoping He would answer my prayers, but He hadn’t. I felt so forgotten. Betrayed. Why wasn’t He listening? So, I had stopped telling Him. My trust wavered. I quit taking Him my ashes, leaving Him unable to redeem. Just like that coupon, I had “stuck it with a magnet” in my heart and forgot about it. Ignored it, rather.
No matter how hard I tried to pretend I was “just fine,” despair grew in my heart and the pain didn’t leave. I finally hit a breaking point. I had to deal with infertility, and I had to confront some of the ugly things that had sprouted roots in my heart–discontentment, anger with God, resentment, and lots of denial. I began to be honest with myself and with God. I told Him I was mad–that I felt like He was purposefully withholding from me, like He had completely forgotten or perhaps didn’t bother to care how I felt about the sovereign will He was dishing on my plate. Worst of all, maybe He couldn’t help me. What if He wasn’t sovereign? Once I finally got it all out in the open between us, He began to speak to me. He brought me back to His promises–that He is good, He is sovereign, He does indeed love me- He loves me so much! At first I would recite these promises and truths to myself, knowing I didn’t quite believe, but praying for that mustard seed of faith. Faith after all, is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8, 1 Cor. 12:9).
God was so faithful in my prayer. He began shifting my view from a “me” perspective to an eternal perspective (2 Cor 4:17-18).
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Cor 4:17-18
As I began to view things through the lens of the eternal life I started when I came to know Jesus personally (Jn 17:1-3), trusting got a whole lot easier. I remembered all the times the Lord had orchestrated in my life–everything from leading me to choose a college to guiding me (through amazingly sovereign events) to summer projects. He made it clear who He wanted me to marry long before the proposal came, and I still remember laying in bed praying specifically for two children who are now my own—months before they needed a new foster placement, even longer before they were adoptable—and hearing Him say, “Stop worrying. One day they will be your children.” He sculpted our hearts to be distinctively open to special needs long before we got the call for our darling number three and even longer before He revealed some of the unique twists in our special needs road.
If I have learned nothing else through each of these times, I have come to know that God is trustworthy because He is doing things for His purpose on purpose.
This life is about so much more than my existence, my aches, my infertility, and me because we serve a God that is so much bigger than any of that. Once I realized that, it became easy to pull infertility out from underneath the magnet in my heart and finally redeem it with God. I gave Him despair; He gave me hope. I gave Him shattered dreams; He opened my eyes to something better (and much, much bigger) than I imagined. I gave Him my fears; He gave me faith in Him. It is still hard. It still hurts. There are still times I am holding my breath thinking “maybe, hopefully,” only for that second little pink line to elude me once again. I still have to choose daily, even hourly, to give it to Him and allow Him to redeem it. All this redemption hasn’t made the journey easy; it has made it good, in the truest sense of the word, and allowed God to display His faithfulness.
I have a coupon stuck to my fridge right now. It’s out-of-date. Only this time it isn’t mocking. It’s reminding. It’s reminding me of the tattered bits of my life that have been redeemed in Christ. It’s reminding me of the priceless gift I received in exchange for brokenness, shattered dreams, and pain. It gives me joy and hope. Christ can even use the darkest moments as a bright light in our life, pointing to Him and bringing us redemption. First though, we’ve got to pull the coupon out of the drawer, clip it from the paper, or find it in the mess at the bottom of our purse and redeem it. I pray He will give us the grace and faith to redeem each moment of our lives daily—that He will give us beauty for our ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that we would be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that HE might be glorified (Is 61:3).
Rebecca Marquart lives in rural, central Illinois where God has been messing up her plans since 1998. Specifically, He led Rebecca and her husband Joe into the crazy unknown when He brought them two kids through foster care and put them on the fast track to parenting. He blessed them with sweet number three, also through foster care, about two years into their parenting journey. Now Rebecca is holding her breath, waiting to see what’s next in God’s perfect plan for their imperfect lives. She informally blogs and babbles at BeccaMarquart.blogspot.com.