He Makes Bitter Waters Sweet
- Jane Johnson -
It was late on a Sunday night in early February of 2006, and my sweet husband of barely two years and I were whispering in the dark. I had broached the topic of children with him a short time earlier, and he needed time to wrap his head around it. I’ve learned over the years that his brain tends to work that way. Chewing and thinking on things for a period of time before jumping to any immediate solution.
“I’ve been thinking about us having a baby for the last few days,” he whispered as he held me close. “And about you being pregnant. And I really like the idea of it.”
It felt like he told me that he loved me for the first time all over again. And the next morning, I gushed my feelings out onto the pages of my prayer journal. I prayed for financial provision. For wisdom and direction. And I ended my morning with six simple words. Words laden with so much weight that I couldn’t even begin to fathom what they would come to mean:
Now comes the hard part: waiting.
Four days later, I was tired. And my mind immediately went to pregnancy. Twenty days later, my journal was filling up with the beginning of a ten-year craving. I don’t know what it’s like to be trying and trying to have a baby to no avail. So I don’t want to compare myself with Hannah, I wrote. But I want to be a mother. I want to love and nurture a baby of my very own. I want to stay home and maintain the house and teach my child the deep things of You.
* * *
One month turned into three. And then four. Winter made way to summer, and we made our way 120 miles west. My best friend’s husband had made the sudden and shocking decision to leave his wife and his family and his church. He had been a pastor for ten years. And, in turn, Shawna was a pastor’s wife and stay-at-home mom with no work history to speak of. She suddenly found herself the sole breadwinner of her family. A single mom. And completely devastated. We spent that summer with her and her two children, helping them transition and get back on their feet.
* * *
The one year anniversary came and went. And still no pregnancy. By the time the second fall came rolling around, I was chasing another dream and finally putting my college degree to work. Without a family, I had the freedom to maintain a full time job while also starting a photography business. I started photographing anything and everything before settling my lens on the one subject that was completely natural for me: children. I kept pace for two more years, putting in 15 hour days, before finally reaching the milestone I had worked so hard for: I quit my job and became a full time photographer. It was 2008.
It wasn’t until 2010 that we started doing the testing. And the poking. And the prodding. And the blood tests. And the acupuncture. I took every suggestion to heart. Listened to every old wive’s tale. Tried every eastern medicine trick. I took my temperature and tracked my ovulation and had dye injected into me. I had ultrasounds and scans and exams to boot. Ever since I was a little girl, I would cry at the sight of a needle. And that year, I experienced more needles than I cared to. I was 30 years old before I had my first blood test without shedding any tears. I called my mom and shared that news proudly.
I was sitting on the floor of a girlfriend’s living room when I got the phone call from the doctor. She relayed her information quickly. Matter-of-factly. And went on with her day.
That afternoon, I was reading a book on the window seat of the stairs when Josh came home from work. He sat on the step below me. And I told him about the phone call.
“She said that there’s a low percentage that we will get pregnant on our own,” I told him. “At this point, we only have two options: artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization.” Neither of us felt comfortable about either decision. So we decided to do nothing. And wait for God’s miracle.
* * *
On April 29, 2011, Shawna and I hopped a flight to Scottsdale for a girl’s weekend. It was a fluke that the trip even happened, really. She had just gotten remarried six months earlier to a man that made her believe in love again. They hadn’t had the opportunity to take a honeymoon yet. And I managed to convince her husband that she needed a weekend with me to celebrate our birthdays together. As we drove to the airport, she told me about the ulcer medication her doctor had just put her on. She had been having nagging stomach aches that just wouldn’t quit. And she hoped that the new meds would finally take care of the issue.
We checked into our resort and left right away in search of dinner, making a quick u-turn at the first sight of the Tacos & Tequila sign. It was the same weekend that Prince William got married. I woke up early the next morning to Shawna quietly sneaking back into the room. She hadn’t slept well the night before because of the cramps in her stomach. So she got up early and went on a coffee run. And my best friend handed me my perfectly-ordered, high-maintenance coffee in bed, alongside my favorite pastry. And I smiled, because my husband couldn’t even remember my complicated order.
We played a lot of cards by the pool that weekend. And drank margaritas. And went to a Kenny Chesney concert. And danced in the hot tub. And took too many selfies. And we vowed to do it all over again on the flight home.
* * *
Two weeks later, Shawna was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. She was only 35.
The days that followed ran together. A mess of furiously scribbled notes from oncologist appointments, CAT scans, PET scans, and pharmacy trips. The sun was barely sinking down behind the coastal mountains on one of those blurred-together-evenings when I stood in Shawna’s driveway and talked to my mother-in-law on the phone.
“How do I pray for a miracle for her,” I choked out through tears, “when I have this one five-year-long unanswered prayer for a miracle of my own?”
A week later, we gathered with some girlfriends at a local restaurant for a last hurrah of sorts. One last big night out before Shawna started her aggressive chemotherapy treatments. The lobby was busy and loud with the kind of jovial conversation that comes with happy hour when one of our girlfriends leaned in.
“I had a dream about you last night,” she said. “And I’d like to tell you about it. But I want to pray about it first to make sure it was God speaking.” I was intrigued. And two days later, I walked into a nearly-empty coffee shop to hear about her mystery dream.
She told me in vivid detail about being at a conference. “Your conference,” she said. I was on stage teaching, and she was standing backstage holding a baby when a woman walked by.
“Who’s baby is that?” the woman asked.
“This is Josh and Jane’s babe,” my friend replied. And then she woke up.
I drove home from that coffee date somewhat cynical. Somewhere in the months leading up to all of this, I had stopped hoping. After five years of waiting for our baby, I had grown weary of believing. And (although I didn’t show it while my girlfriend told her story) deep down inside, there was a loud sigh and a dramatic eye roll.
But two words kept coming to mind: Mary pondered. And I grabbed my Bible as soon as I got home to look up the verse when something else caught my eye. A verse on the opposite page that was boxed out in pink: Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the LORD. (Luke 1:45)
* * *
One year later, I was reading my favorite devotional. The one that Shawna and I would always quote to each other. It was my birthday. And the verse that was assigned on that particular day was another kiss from the LORD. It was about Sarah in Genesis, when she bore Abraham a son in his old age - at the set time that God had spoken. (Genesis 21:2)
A week after that, it was Shawna’s birthday. And the verse for her devotional? It was out of Job. You will come to the grave in a full age, it said, as stacks of grain are harvested in their season. (Job 5:26)
Shawna lost her battle with cancer on November 23, 2012.
That first winter without her felt extra cold. And extra long. I sat at my same old kitchen table for my same old morning routine. The same one I had sat at for seven years. Pounding fists on heaven. Begging for miracles that He sovereignly denied. Desperately trying to understand why He would take the one friend I loved most in this world. And withhold the one thing I wanted most in this world.
I needed a change of scenery. Somewhere warm to heal. And to breathe. Where the winter air wouldn’t catch like an icicle in my throat. And my sweet husband laid in the dark with me on another night so many years later, and said something new that made me feel those first I-love-you-butterflies all over again.
“Anywhere in the world you want to go, we’ll go,” he said as he kissed my temple.
And before I knew it, our entire house was packed up. Ten years of life and marriage and memories were boxed away in a twenty-foot storage unit, and we were boarding a plane with five suitcases and two one-way flights to Maui in June of 2014. And the second we landed, His Spirit was waiting. My one-hour quiet times quickly turned to two. And He lavished me with love. Healing the wounds. And speaking promises through the palms. And the flourishing they symbolize. And the years that they take to produce fruit. But eventually, the fruit comes.
There is healing found in the ocean. The Spirit of God is present there. It goes all the way back to Genesis, when He hovered over the face of the water. Before there was light or day or night or heaven or earth or creatures or humans. There was water. And His Spirit hovered over it and spoke light.
* * *
It was Sunday, March 13th when my miracle finally came. And those two elusive pink lines finally glowed bright. And this sweet miracle babe was conceived on the ten year anniversary of when we first started trying for him.
I had no idea when I wrote those words on February 6th, 2006 just how long our wait for a family would be. Or how rich and heartbreaking and dripping with glory our story would be written. It turns out that Joel knew what he was talking about when he talked about God redeeming those locust-eaten years. The ones that seemed worthless. Fruitless. Pointless.
Shawna and I always used to tell each other that someday she would be cancer free. And someday I would have a family. And it’s finally happening - it just looks a little bit different than we dreamed it would. And this tiny miracle? He’s due two days before Shawna’s death anniversary. Because He makes all things new. And bitter waters sweet. Because He redeems heartbreak.
Oh, the greatness of His glory.
For more of our story, read these blog posts:
Lauren here! If this story encouraged you in your waiting, please pin the image above or share on social media!
I'm so grateful to Jane for her vulnerability. She emailed me and let me know we could edit it down if needed. I opened the file, scrolled down, and thought, "yeah, it's longer than we usually use... it'll need to be edited." Then I read her story and emailed her immediately letting her know we couldn't edit a single detail. It was all too important.
She could have simply shared the details of trying to conceive... but she shared the good, the bad, and the ugly... and then how the Lord redeems. It's a beautiful picture of God's love for us, and I'm so inspired by Jane giving so much glory to God through it all. We will absolutely stay in touch with Jane and keep you posted on her journey!!
Jane has some amazing resources available for you that will help take your quiet times to the next level!! Click the guides for more info!
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