At the Intersection of Faith and Despair

Stopby Ellen Foell, Esq.

I was preoccupied and never noticed the stop sign at the intersection when I breezed through it. My newly licensed teenager could not resist the temptation: "Uh, Mom, that was a stop sign and it applied to you."

Jamming on the brakes, I stopped a hundred feet into the intersection (as if that would have done any good). My heart was racing in spite of the fact that there were no other cars coming; it had thankfully not been a near miss. I was perplexed that, in my inattention, I had completely failed to notice the intersection or pay attention to the stop sign that applied to me.

Since then, I am twice as careful to not only stop at intersections, but to linger (to the annoyance of my children). I look up the street, down the street, behind me, before me, and beside me, determined to never again go through one without paying attention to the stop signs. One never knows what might be coming.

I tend to do the same thing -- go through the stop signs without noticing the intersection -- in my spiritual life. Thankfully, that's usually when the Holy Spirit says to me, without as much sarcasm as my children: "Um, that was a stop sign, and it applied to you."

These intersections, are as important, if not more so, than the physical intersection I cruised through. And the most significant intersections are where despair and faith meet. Sometimes, I have the wisdom to see that it is an intersection, and as I approach, I stop, looking in all four directions. At other times, I've already rolled through the intersection, and it's not until one, two or three hundred feet past the stop sign that I realize that, not only was that an intersection, but it applied to me. That is typically a holy moment... when despair and faith intersect.

Learning to Watch in the Intersection

Many years ago, my husband and I struggled with secondary infertility, unable to conceive again for four years following the birth of our daughter. We made frequent visits to the obstetrician's office, and eventually decided it was time to visit an infertility expert. There had been too many cycles of hope and despair, too many cycles of expectation and disappointment, and not one cycle that had ended in pregnancy. We would cycle through more disappointment as we waited for our appointment on Oct. 10, 1997.

The night before my appointment, my husband kindly asked if I wanted him to join me for the appointment. Being a strong, self-sufficient woman, I pooh-poohed the idea and told him he should go ahead and go to work. I could handle whatever the infertility doctor could throw my way.

As soon as I walked into the office, I sensed I was in trouble. It may have been the rapid heartbeat, or the tears forming as I walked down the hallway, eyeing the happy pictures of the success stories all along the walls. Somewhere along the 45-minute drive to this office, I had morphed from a hopeful and confident woman to a woman afraid and sad that our happy family picture would never grace the doctor's office walls.

The visit took all of 30 minutes. It just seemed wrong that, after waiting and trying and hoping and praying for four years, our future could be assessed in half an hour. The gentle, warm, and gracious smile, giving me the solution to our four years of heartache was actually a somewhat cold and matter of fact: "Well, I would recommend that you pursue adoption."

No further tests necessary. No diagnosis. No smile. No gentleness. No reassuring hand on my shoulder. No further wisdom. The expert clearly had nothing to offer to salve my heart, let alone cure the infertility, so I left.

Through tears I found my car and stood there, pounding on the hood of the car, thinking, "Where is Phil when I need him?!" I was angry with my husband, angry with myself for telling him not to come and go to work, angry with God that He was nowhere in sight -- and I had not even told Him to go to work!

I leaned against the hood of the car, knowing I had no other choice but to further lean on God. At the moment, I hated having nothing else to lean into. My trust and faith in Him at that moment was more an act of desperation than a joyful surrender. To whom else could I go?

To Faith from Despair

It was not long thereafter that we started the process of adoption, although we had a mere 53 cents to invest in the long and expensive process. We had already been told at the county that the likelihood of our being successful candidates through the county adoption process were nil. Again, no warm gentle understanding smile or explanation.

And so we began our journey of international adoption. We settled upon an adoption agency and began the home study. Our only country selection parameter was that it could not be Thailand, since I had lived in Thailand for two years and had frequently seen couples staying at the guest house, hearing their stories of waiting years for the adoption process -- rife with obstacles and delays -- to finalize.

Then came the day in January that Phil and I came to an intersection.

We received a call and an email from two different people. Phil was checking the email on our third floor computer while I was in the kitchen checking phone messages. The phone message was from friends who had heard of our desire to adopt and wanted to fund the adoption, start to finish. The email was from a friend in Thailand who knew of twin boys needing an adoptive home.

We were each receiving these pieces of incredible news alone and ran to tell the other, meeting at the landing. Had we not come to the intersection of that offer of funding and children needing a home, I don't know that we would have ever considered Thailand as a country from which to adopt.

This was one of those intersections with a stop sign that we knew applied to us. We had to stop, take notice, look up, look down, look ahead and behind. God was up to something. We could pursue this and ditch our original route with its parameter of avoiding Thailand, or we could take a new direction. We chose the new direction.

Again, we ran into disappointment. Tests run on the boys showed that one was HIV positive and the other twin was HIV negative. We did not want to separate the brothers. We could not fathom the heartache of our family to adopt a son and then lose him to AIDS. We brokenly said "no."

Where was God headed with this? Only a few weeks later, our friend emailed with a request that we prayerfully consider another set of twin boys. Our prayerful consideration was short but an enthusiastic, "Yes!"

Ten thousand miles past the intersection and eight months later, we flew to Thailand to pick up our sons from the orphanage. Few words can describe the intense wall of heat that greets a traveler stepping onto the tarmac in Bangkok. It didn't matter. The plane ride was an excruciating twenty-seven hours. It didn't matter. The airplane food was...well, airplane food. It didn't matter. Our body clocks were twelve hours behind. It didn't matter. The adoption review board interviewed us with our entire life story spread out before them. It didn't matter.

They approved us as an adoptive family. Two days later, we celebrated our sons' first birthday, Oct. 10, 1998. We have celebrated many thankful birthdays since then.

But I like to remember their true birth-day, the day they arrived into this world. The day that I leaned against the hood of the car, sobbing in the doctor's parking lot, feeling the pain of aloneness and hopelessness, wondering where the Lord was. How could I have known, then, at that intersection of despair and faith, that, indeed, He was present and at work? At that moment, 10,000 miles away, on Oct. 10, 1997, Thailand time, and 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, my God had already delivered my sons into the world.

Even now, years after I sailed through the intersection, I still slam on the brakes, my heart races and I marvel that, indeed, God is always at the intersection of despair and faith. And the stop sign applies to me. I never know what's coming.