Word of the Week

Our National Infertility Week series continues today. (Did you miss the post from Chris Thomas earlier? If so, stop now and read it here). I'm so glad to introduce you to Maren McLean Persaud, my new favorite Canadian who tells a story of hope, longing and loss. Here are her beautiful words-


This past fall, we took all our hope, all our prayer, all our being, and all our money and invested it into the expensive and rigorous fertility treatment known as IVF (in vitro fertilization).

We had been trying to have a baby on our own for almost three years only to find out we had around a 1 to 4 percent chance of that ever happening. IVF was our only option if we wanted to have our own child. 

If you have had personal experience with IVF, I don’t need to tell you anything and I salute you.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, IVF is a medical procedure that drains you emotionally, physically, and financially to “retrieve” your eggs and fertilize them with sperm from your partner, or a donor, to create viable embryos that can be put back into you to hopefully achieve a successful pregnancy and live birth.

The process involves a whole lot of needles, drugs, procedures, anxiously waiting for phone calls and embryo updates (spoiler: not all of them make it) and in the end, you might just end up with nothing to show for it.

So we did all that with the confident attitude that it would work, because, why wouldn’t it? We’re young!

And it did work! We got pregnant and even had one little embryo to tuck away in the freezer for a later date. What a great return on our investment.

Three days before Christmas, on our wedding anniversary, we floated into our fertility clinic for the 8-week ultrasound ready to hear the heart beat and successfully “graduate’ from the clinic.

Not even thirty seconds into the ultrasound our doctor said “I don’t have good news”.

After that it’s all a blur, but essentially our embryo was there and had grown, but there was no heartbeat. I would miscarry soon. That night I slept as though I was playing dead. No dreams, no restlessness, just darkness. The next morning, I woke up to myself sobbing, wishing I hadn’t woken up.

‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’

My husband turned into our PR guy, messaging family and friends, letting them know what happened and canceling Advent/Christmas events we had planned to host in our home.

My family rushed in to spend Christmas at our house and they let us be the couch potato, tear-filled slobs we had turned into.

They cooked for us, cleaned for us, looked after us and although we had trouble recognizing it in the moment, brought a lot of light to our darkness.

My husband is a minister and in the days after our ultrasound he had to soldier through services that celebrated a special baby being brought into the world.

Being the bad minister’s wife that I am, I didn’t go to those celebrations with him.

The baby has always been my favorite part of the Christmas story. The fact that God chose to enter our world in that new and hopeful form so full of potential has always filled me with wonder and joy, but not this year.

‘Screw you and screw your baby, God!’

I wasn’t having any of it. How could I hear the ‘good news’ when only days before my Doctor told me there was no good news?

I was literally losing my baby as I rang in the new year.

In the days and weeks that followed I threw myself back into work, almost manically making plans and getting things done.

All the while I was haunted by the exact moment when we heard “I don’t have good news”. I would cry almost every night.

By February every night turned into once a week and by March there was even more space between these “episodes”.

With the Christmas story long behind me I felt like Lent was a good place for me at this point in my life. Focus on the depravity of the human condition while contemplating death on a cross? Yes! Let’s get sad, people!

Lent is coming to an end though and I can feel the tension building in my body as we inch closer to Easter. The Lenten focus on depravity of our sinful nature will turn into celebrating the Love God has for us and death on a cross will turn into resurrection. Ugh.

I’m not pregnant and am still grieving our loss, you expect me to sing Hallelujah soon? I feel like the Grinch, “I must stop Easter from coming, but how?”

Currently, there is hope in the little embryo we have tucked away at the clinic, waiting for us.

There is hope in how even though this experience tried to shred our marriage into tatters, my husband and I have become closer and more tightly knit than before.

There is hope in the stories of infertility and loss that others have personally shared with us; there is hope in that every time I see my psychologist I can honestly tell her I’m doing a “bit better” than last time we spoke.

But ultimately, there is hope because 2000 and some years ago God proved that there is no darkness where God isn’t with us. God will bring all things to a good end, and that is where our hope is.

I will reclaim the doctor's words: “I don’t have good news” and hope that the absence of Good News is not real.

I want to live a beautiful story of hope.

Maren McLean Persaud grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and pursued her studies in music and theology at Mount Allison University and then Knox College, Toronto School of Theology. Most recently, she worked as Director of Camping Ministry for the Anglican Church in New Brunswick, where she currently lives with her husband, Christian. Prior to that, Maren worked as a ministry student intern in Alberta where she studied the ways that summer camp can teach the wider church to be more creative in community building and spiritual formation. Maren is most passionate about ministry with children and youth and incorporates her experiences in camping and her musical training into that work. She loves spending time outdoors, drinking her coffee black and laughing until she cries.

**If you are looking for another story of loss, hope and healing check out Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility wherever books are sold.***

[If you missed Beth's post on a "Love That Groans" check it out here.]

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

And the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

And all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55: 12

But the angel of the LORD said to them, ‘Do not be afraid;

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Luke 2:10

Though coming from different points in the Biblical story, both of these passages have a common theme -- joy will come.  For the people of Israel in captivity, joy would come at some point.  For the shepherds on that hillside that night stunned by a “Heavenly Host,” great joy would come to all people. For the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus had ascended, praying and very likely living in fear and obeying Jesus’ command to not leave Jerusalem but to “wait for the gift my Father promised,” joy was to come later.   The operative word for me in all of these passages is “will”.  Joy will come!

But what about joy in the midst of the pain of waiting? Waiting doesn’t seem to solicit an inner attitude of joy, at least not naturally, especially during those difficult seasons of our lives, including the season of waiting for children.

It is so easy to become obsessed by what we want and for it to dominate most of our brain power.  Easily, we “tune out” the rest of the world and “tune in” only to ourselves.  Our obsession with what we want can turn into a road toward despair, and joy becomes illusive.

Joy was illusive for my daughter when she and her husband were trying to have children and nothing was working.  She wanted a clear-cut answer from God on what direction to take, and even found herself saying to the Lord, “If I’m not meant to have kids at all, please take this desire away from me.”  She didn’t know how to let go of her desire because of its strength within her.  She found moments of joy in the classroom where she taught elementary children but was very troubled with God’s apparent silence in what they should do.

I have a beautiful calligraphic design on a plague that hangs in my living room.  At first site, it looks like a pretty design, but with a lingering look the design reveals the word-“JOY”.  Sometimes we have to look for joy in our most vulnerable moments.  It is an intentional choice, a choice that says nothing has the right to steal my joy, and that my want for something better can actually rob me of what is right there in front of my face that will bring me that illusive joy for which I am looking.  Psalm 34:7 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  We forget the first part of that verse -- to delight in the Lord and concentrate on what God will give to us, and in doing so, we forget what is most important -- to find joy in the LORD.

Finally, my daughter and son-in-law reached a point where they said, “Let’s just try this idea of IVF,” not knowing whether it was right or wrong. The decision brought relief.  A form of joy came in making the decision and trusting that, right or wrong, God would be reveled in the process.  In essence, joy came when trust came, and trust involves a letting go and trusting that God will reveal Jesus to us.  There is great joy in pursuing God with no other agenda other than to know Jesus.

Jesus had so much confidence in the Father’s love for Him that Hebrews 12: 2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”   It’s the ONLY way I know to have joy in the midst of waiting -- to fix our eyes where they belong, to trust and delight in Jesus, to remain in Jesus’ love, and to not miss what He has for us in that day.  Joy is Jesus’ gift to us, and it is His command to learn contentment in any and every situation.

Let us pray:

I have to admit, LORD, I have to learn contentment in any and every situation, especially when I do not know which way to turn and there is only confusion.  I want my desire for You to be stronger than my desire for what I want.  So here and now, help me to surrender to You, and to desire You before all other things.  Your Son surrendered Himself to Your will and Your way; help me to do the same.

BethDotsonBeth Dotson resides with her husband Danny of 42 years in Signal Mountain, TN.  She is Presbyterian and is presently working in a ministry that serves HIV clients. She loves her family dearly, has five grandchildren, and plays in the outdoors in all kinds of capacities with her husband and their black lab, Zeke. Her desire for her advent is that we would wake up to its wonder and how that wonder translates into the miracle of the mundane in our lives. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

I have personally experienced Advent waiting and Advent rejoicing in a direct and obvious way. My first pregnancy occurred my last year of seminary, as I awaited a call, graduation and the birth of a healthy, wanted baby in February. My second pregnancy also extended through the Advent season, though it ended earlier, December 27, also with a healthy baby. My third time around, the baby came in late November, right on time. Advent that year involved less literal and spiritual waiting in favor of more mundane concerns---waiting for the baby to learn to breastfeed, waiting for him to sleep longer than three hours at a time.

It would be easy to write about the joy of those three events, and I do not minimize their beauty in the slightest. But I've seen too much, witnessed too much, in ten years of ministry, to leave it there.

I have been knocked over by the pain of caring for people whose IVF has failed.


I have seen the shell-shocked look of parents, still reeling from a miscarriage, trying to keep their heads down and survive The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

And I have walked with a family in the church I serve who lost not one, but two sons to the same devastating illness. Both boys had received bone marrow transplants at a hospital in Minnesota to try to halt the disease's progression. Neither boy lived to see his 9th birthday.

It seems strange to talk about their stories in a devotional about joy. But joy is a strange visitor.

Yes, sometimes she bursts into the house unbidden. She charms everyone at the party, kicking up her heels, leaving a trail of flushed faces and smiles in her wake. You couldn't evict her if you tried, assuming you'd want to, and who would want to? She is the largest force in the universe.

Other times, joy passes through as quick as a flash---a scent of home, a snort of laughter, a shimmer of the transcendent. By the time you notice her, almost lock eyes with her, she's gone again, and the worry and waiting are back.

The family's story is theirs to tell, but as one who walked alongside them, the joy I saw was the second kind. It was a flash of dove wing, inexplicable and brief, amid the wringing of hands and wordless prayers. There was the day post-transplant when the marrow count started to grow, the visit from members of the Minnesota Vikings NFL team, a conversation about "normal things" during an afternoon off from the hospital.

I've always been struck, and mystified, by the double meaning in Paul's words. Apparently the Greek word for "rejoice" is the same as "farewell." I've never quite known what to do with that… except that maybe there's a bit of letting go at work in our pursuit of joy. This family has a quote on their wall that's attributed to Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” We cannot kidnap joy and hold her against her will. But we can look for her, and live in a posture of expectant trust that she will show up.

As I write this, the family has completed the paperwork and home study to adopt a boy from the Ukraine. And so our congregation waits with them again. But it is a feisty kind of waiting, a vigilant and hopeful waiting. Joy will burst in and stay a spell. Or she will shine momentarily and be gone, only to return at another moment. But she will come. We are certain of this.

Let us pray:

God of Joy, give me an expectant and ready heart to receive you, however and whenever you arrive. Amen.

MaryAnnDanaThe Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a mother of three, the pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, VA, and the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family's Experiment with Holy Time through Chalice Press. She is a frequent speaker and conference leader and is co-chair of NEXT Church, a movement that seeks to call forth and nurture vibrant and creative ministry in the PC(USA). This Advent is an active one, as she is hoping for her second book to come to birth, as well as her first marathon in January.