In a few days, I will be ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church, marked as one called, among other things, to be a keeper of the Word. For me, part of this strange and wondrous calling is to narrate my community into the story of God – to help them find themselves in the story of creation and redemption – of exile and homecoming. It’s the story that God has been writing ever since God spoke it all into being.
This is my favorite. I love reading the Bible in community and watching as ancient words resonate with contemporary imaginations.
Like reading the story of the hemorrhaging woman alongside a grandmother scraping together money to pay for her hysterectomy.
And watching tears roll down the cheeks of a teenage girl as she whispers, “Amen” to the words of Kohelet.
And kneeling next to a dying man as he recites Psalm 121 from memory.
This. This is what I love. This is what I was made to do.
And yet, I have spent the last two years struggling to find myself in the pages of the Bible. I have spent the last two years searching for my place in the story. I have spent hours poring over word after word, verse after verse, chapter after chapter, searching for how I might narrate myself into this story. And my prayer, often through tears, has been, “Where am I?”
Two years ago, after finishing seminary, my husband and I returned to our home state to begin our new careers as pastor and farmer. We were thankful to be close to family again and thankful, also, to have free childcare available. We wanted to start a family as soon as we crossed the Missouri line. Everything was falling into place.
Infertility was not part of the plan.
And now, two years later, I still have not known full-time ministry apart from the pain and grief of the monthly hope and heartache cycle that is infertility.
Like so many before me who have dealt with the inability to conceive children, seeking to lean into that command to go forth and multiply, I have sought wisdom from the Biblical sisterhood.
There is no shortage of Biblical figures who “get it”— a cohort of women who struggled with the exact same emotional hypostatic union I do today: fully delighted for others with children while fully devastated for their own empty arms. They wrestled with their own identities as women, grappling with the definition of motherhood that comes with it. Even without Instagram posts of pregnancy announcements and milestones, they, too, felt the sting of inadequacy as they watched their sisters raise broods.
I imagine lamenting with Hannah or Sarah or Rachel – glass of red wine in hand. We would swap stories of pithy, asinine, insensitive comments from strangers and friends who tie our situation into neat theological bows.
We would laugh at the awkwardness of ovulation kits and scheduling intimacy.
We would cry.
And we would end the night the way it always seems to end – with a sigh.
With the acknowledgment that other people are trying the best they can to comfort us and don’t know how because they don’t know how.
With the resignation: “It just stinks. A lot.”
Because as comforting as it is to know that I stand in a long line of mothers without children, ultimately their stories of temporary infertility are not helpful. I have prayed until I looked drunk. Nothing. My husband has prayed on my behalf. Still nothing.
Granted, I’m not 90 yet. Maybe there’s still hope. Thirty-three sure feels ancient. So if my story is not like theirs, how do I fit in?
Who? I know. Huldah. As I searched and searched to find my place in the story of Scripture, I stumbled upon a prophetess mentioned only briefly in 2 Kings 22 and again in 2 Chronicles 34.
“When Hilkiah, the High Priest, found the Book of the Law in the temple, King Josiah commanded him to inquire of the Lord what it meant. Hilkiah went to the prophetess Huldah, the wife of the wardrobe keeper’s son, and she interpreted the Book of the Law and prophesied the implications for King Josiah and all of Judah.” It wasn’t pretty. She didn’t sugarcoat it. Hilkiah took the harsh message back to the king.
And that’s it. Those six verses are all we know about Huldah.
And yet, what captivates me about Huldah is not what we know about her, but what we don’t. We know she was married, but have no idea if she ever birthed children. Her ability or inability to reproduce is not mentioned. Her womb is not the source of her identity.
This is not how she is defined.
Instead, she is known as an interpreter of scripture. Her legacy was not her offspring. Her legacy was her faithfulness to the word of God.
The story of Huldah has become a lifeline for me.
As I seek to live into the call of ordained ministry, I cling to Huldah’s story. Her life – however little we know about it – reminds me that my usefulness for God’s kingdom and my place in the story is not defined by whether I am able to bear children. Thanks be to God.
Just over two months ago, Maundy Thursday, I joined another cohort of Biblical sisters. Miscarriage added me to the membership roll of grieving mothers, mourning the loss of a beloved child.
As the heartbeat of our baby – the one for whom we had prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed – fell silent, I cried alongside Mary at the foot of the cross.
Wailed with Rachel in the wilderness.
Gasped for air with Bathsheba in the temple.
Sat inconsolably with Naomi in the Moab desert.
And sobbed with all of the daughters of Jerusalem, my tears spanning centuries, while still laying on the cold, hard ultrasound table.
In the midst of our grief, my husband and I continue to pray for the next positive test result. And we hope that the joys of parenthood are still in our future. We hope that someday we will know our child’s giggle and console her with forehead kisses.
But while our story is still being written, Huldah’s remains a source of encouragement. She reminds me that God continues to use men and women in whom Scripture dwells so richly that it flows from their heart and mouth, calling those around them to greater knowledge and love of God.
As I continue to live into my calling, I pray that my name is added to this band of prophets – this band of keepers of the Word.
I pray I’m included in their club, too.