Hi, I’m Chelsea Sobolik, and I want to tell you a little bit about my story and my faith journey. I hope that by the time we’re done together, you will have a deep, deep encouragement in the Lord, and you will be reminded of His good promises and His presence, no matter what the circumstances of your life are.
The title of my talk today is also the title of my book, Longing for Motherhood: Holding on to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness. But before I get to that part of my story, I want to go back in my story a little bit because it adds context and color to my experience and story with childlessness.
My story begins in the former communist nation of Romania. I was born at the very beginning of 1991. But before the Iron Curtain fell in Romania, Romania was under the cruel dictatorship of a man named Nicolae Ceaușescu, and he held this beautiful country under a proverbial iron curtain, and under his dictatorship, the people of Romania suffered greatly with restricted food, constant surveillance, persecution, and imprisonment.
One of Ceaușescu’s plans was to grow the population of Romania to compete with other Soviet Union countries. Romania is actually quite little. It’s in Eastern Europe. But he declared this decree that said if you didn’t have a child by age 25, you would be brought in by the government for questioning.
Then you would be given a little bit more time to have a child, and if not, you would be fined what was called a celibacy tax. So, we have this dictator who is mandating all these people to forcibly procreate, but it’s a communist nation, and they did not have enough money or food to take care of their families.
A result of this policy was that there were all these children who were born, but they couldn’t stay with their families because of the lack of resources, and they were placed into institutions in Romania. So, all throughout Romania, thousands and thousands and thousands of children became wards of the state because their families could not take care of them.
These orphanages were under lock and key under the Soviet Union, but after the Iron Curtain fell in that part of the world, the watching world was able to go in and see what was happening not only in Romania but in these orphanages. While this was happening, while the country was opening up, on the other side of the world, in North Carolina, God was preparing the hearts of two people for international adoption.
These people had been in a very long domestic adoption process, and one weekend, they watched a 20/20 documentary on the Romanian orphans, and the Lord put it on their hearts that is where their children, their first two children, were going to be from. So, they traveled to Romania, and I was one of the little children that they adopted.
They adopted a little boy on the same trip. We’re not biologically related, but we’re 11 days apart, so we were essentially raised as twins. And then they adopted four more children over the years from Russia. So, I grew up in a large household full of children who joined the family through adoption.
The beginning of my story started off with loss because adoption always involves loss for all parties. There’s loss for everyone. What I didn’t know and my family didn’t know, was that the Lord was preparing me for things to come. Little did anyone know that the little baby girl adopted from Romania would one day learn that she could not have babies of her own.
It was during my freshman year in college, actually, that I learned that I was born with a somewhat rare medical condition that prevents me from having children. I was 19 years old at the time, and it completely upended every part of my life. Most people walk through some sort of infertility or miscarriage in the context of a marriage with a partner, but I was single and completely by myself walking through this life-altering trial.
My womanhood, my potential marriage, and my faith were all called into question. I’d grown up in a very strong Christian home and became Christian at a very young age, but this trial was my first real, personal encounter with suffering. My family had walked through some trials, but they could be a buffer and a shield for me. But this was all on my shoulders.
So, I found out that I could not have children the week of Thanksgiving my first semester in college. I went back to school devastated, but I also went back to school, and friends would say, “How’s Thanksgiving? How’s your break? Tell us all about it.” And I felt like I had this hidden secret about myself that number one, I didn’t want to share with a lot of people, but number two, I felt like I couldn’t because it’s such a private, intimate part of a person. I didn’t voluntarily share that with a lot of people. So, I felt isolated, alone, afraid, angry, and deeply, deeply, deeply sorrowful.
On the college campus I attended, one of the only places where I could find alone time… I’m an introvert. I process a lot alone. But one of the only places I could find any alone time was this little white prayer chapel on my college campus. So, I started going several times a week in the evenings after I’d wrapped up homework for the day, wrapped up anything I needed to do.
I’d walk the 10 minutes to that little prayer chapel, and I would spend hours there. Not because I was a wonderful Christian and was praying the whole time. A, it was the only place I could be alone, and B, it actually felt quite the opposite from this superhuman Christian. I was wrestling with questions. “Could my faith hold up to this loss I was walking through, this thing I had wanted, through this thing I thought would come naturally and easily? Could my faith hold up to that?”
And was God still good and strong and loving in the midst of this sorrow? At first when I started going, I would just sit there and cry, and it was a place to process. I barely had words to say to the Lord, but then I started to talk to God as time went on. I told Him of my anger, my hurt, my frustration, and my disappointment.
And then I started praying and praying and praying. And I’ll be honest, in that period of my life as a young, young woman coming to terms with something that would alter the rest of my life, I never came so close to walking away from my faith. It didn’t seem fair to me that something I had no control over would impact me for the rest of my life.
And I know many of you can relate, whether it’s infertility, miscarriage, or some other type of unfulfilled longing or desire. But it was in that time where I felt like I was crawling towards God that I started to read through the Bible again. I’d read through the Bible growing up in Sunday school in church. I knew the Bible, but I started reading it again with a very shaky faith, a very, what felt to me, a very weak faith.
And as I was wrestling with those questions of, “Where is God? Can my faith hold up to loss and longing?” The answer to that question I discovered was, yes. I read through the Gospels with a new lens, with this hunger to re-examine Christianity.
And I found in the Gospels, but throughout the whole Bible, a Savior who didn’t come to just teach and correct, but He came to suffer alongside His children. He bore the worst thing imaginable for us and for me, and He was right there with me in the midst of what I was walking through.
Over the course of many months, I really came to see God in the midst of my sorrow. And I didn’t have all the answers then. I don’t have all the answers now, but I know the One who does, and I can trust Him.
Statistically, 1 in 10 couples will walk through infertility, and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. And those numbers don’t incorporate single women who long to be married and have children, women who have made adoption plans for their children and don’t have children because of that decision they’ve made, and women who have had abortions and don’t have their children again because of a decision they’ve made.
And I think when you are walking through something like childlessness, at least for me, I wrestled with questions. “Am I a complete woman if I can’t have biological children? Will any man ever want to marry me if I can’t give him progeny? What is, where is my personhood and my womanhood in the midst of walking through this trial post-fall?”
So, I began to study what God’s Word said about womanhood and personhood. We know in the beginning God created men and women with intrinsic value. God created both genders in His own image and likeness. And when God created us, He declared people men and women to be very good. He also created humanity to be gendered.
We are male and female. Both genders possess innate dignity, worth, and value. Zooming in a little further, the Hebrew word that Scripture uses in Genesis to describe Eve is the very same term used in the book of Psalms to describe God’s very own character. This term is used to signify strength or power and occurs 21 times in the Old Testament.
The first two times Ezer is used in Scripture, it’s used to describe a woman. And the rest of the time, it’s used to describe God’s character and the way He interacts with people. Here are a few examples in the book of Psalms.
“May he send you help, Ezer, from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion.”
“Our soul waits for the Lord. He is our help, Ezer, and our strength.”
“O Israel, trust in the Lord. He is their help and their shield.”
“I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
Our womanhood properly understood is a vital part of who we are as image bearers. And obviously living as a woman post-Genesis three, post-fall, that does mean that sin mars everything, but I can look, we can look at God’s original intent and design for women and womanhood. And we can see that throughout Scripture, the word God used to describe Eve is how He describes His very own character throughout the Psalms.
So, again, we know that the fall mars everything, including our bodies. In God’s kindness, He still uses men and women, broken men and women, to accomplish His good purposes. Throughout the Old Testament and the New, we see the importance and value of women. God used the lives of women like Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Elizabeth, Anna, and Mary in the story of redemptive history.
But if we dig even deeper, scripture clearly communicates the worth of women. Beyond these characters I just highlighted, here are a few samplings of some of the ways that women have played an integral role in redemptive history. A woman’s absence is the first thing declared “not good” in creation.
A woman in Genesis 3:15, a woman will give birth to the serpent-crushing seed. She will give birth to the Messiah. Eve is the first person recorded to speak the name Yahweh. The first recorded appearance of the Angel of the Lord is to Hagar in Genesis 16, the first person in the Old Testament to confer a name on God.
The God who sees is a woman, Hagar. A woman, Miriam, is the first person recorded to dance and worship in Exodus. Hannah is the first recorded person to speak the divine title, “Yahweh of Hosts.” And on and on and on it goes. Both throughout the Old Testament and then in the new in the Old Testament, we see God’s care for women, but then when Jesus comes and interacts with women, He changes everything.
He cares for women. He speaks to women. He looks them in the eye, both Jews and Gentiles, old and young, virgins and prostitutes. He interacts with women in a way that was completely counter cultural.
So, as I studied these women throughout Scripture and womanhood and what it meant to be a person, I saw that even though my story didn’t look like I would have originally designed it for myself, I still had a part to play and a role to play in redemptive history because I was being conformed into the image of Christ. So perhaps you have heard or been told that a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother. And while those are good God-designed roles, they were never, ever, ever meant to be a woman’s highest or truest calling. One of the reasons that a woman’s highest calling isn’t wife or mother is because God doesn’t call every woman into those roles. Or for some women, those roles are seasonal. I know good friends who have, who are widowed, or single women who are at the end of their life and have never married or had children.
But our callings are so much larger than the roles that we step into and out of. Because God’s calling to Christians applies to every Christian, everywhere, always. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment are a woman’s highest calling. So, when our seasons of life fluctuate, when we don’t step into marriage or motherhood as quickly as we would like, as easily as we would like, we can still know that we are valuable in the kingdom of God because our worth, dignity, value, purpose is not tied to the role that we wear, but our calling as Christians.
One of the things that happened when I first started sharing with people that I couldn’t have children was very well-meaning people would respond, “We never know. We adopted and then we just got pregnant. Or maybe you just haven’t tried hard enough for all these solutions.” And it was well meaning, but it was false hope. And it really… because all I wanted in that moment was for someone to just sit with me and be with me in the midst of loss.
I didn’t feel like going into every medical detail, why everything they shared was false. I just wanted someone to be with me in the middle of sorrow and suffering. One of the things that I love about the Bible is the Bible does not give us false hope. Scripture does not gloss over trials and struggles.
When I began to process my childlessness in light of what it meant to be a follower of Christ, like I said, I read the Bible again, and I saw that Scripture offers, number 1, real hope and promises that I could cling to in the midst of sorrow. I wish I could say that finding out I couldn’t have children is the only sorrow that I’ve walked through in my life. It’s not because all of our lives are marked with hardship and hard things and sorrow and suffering. I have lost a job very publicly. I have walked through many different things in my personal and professional life. Again, losing a job very publicly through no fault of my own personal struggles.
But I wanted to tell my story. I wrote my book, Longing for Motherhood in the midst of navigating this. It’s been well over a decade since I first found out that news. But I wanted to tell my story without the red bow tied on, and we lived happily ever after, and Chelsea got what she wanted.
My husband and I are in the midst of an international adoption process, and I hope it is successful, but I wanted to show and tell that God is good even when I don’t have what I want and even in the middle of pain and sorrow and loss.
The Bible taught me how to pray. The book of Psalms taught me how to pray because the Psalms gave me deep, gave voice to the deep emotions that I felt, the sadness, the anger, the frustration, the despair that I felt.
I saw that in the book of Psalms that I could mimic that in my prayers or I could pray those. And the Psalms also taught me where to take everything in the messy middle. It taught me where to take that. I could take that into the throne room of God.
So, as I read the Psalms, as I have, I actually make it a habit to read the book of Psalms every month, five psalms a day. You’ll get through it every single month. So again, the Bible offers us real hope because we’re able to enter into the throne room of grace to pray, but we also have the presence of God. We have the promises of God. A quote that has been attributed to Adoniram Judson, who was a missionary to Burma, said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
And again, scripture doesn’t say, “Well, you might get married one day, so just keep waiting.” Or “This might happen.” Or “You might get that dream job.” Scripture does not offer us those false hopes. It offers us real promises. So here are a few of many, many promises that we, of God, that we can cling to:
God promises to always be present with His children. He promises His steadfast love. He promises us grace. He promises to sustain us. He promises us aid, His steadfast presence and provision, and on and on and on it could go. God put His promises on the record, and He has not out-promised Himself.
So, we can take these things that we find in His Word that He gave to us, and we can hold them back to Him and say, “God, You promised never to leave or forsake me. In this moment, I feel forsaken. In this moment, the loss and the grief feel too overwhelming to even take a next breath. But You said this in Your word.” So, we can hold God to His promises because He put them there for us to cling to in the midst of hard things.
As we wrap up, I want to leave you with one final reminder to encourage your soul.
I think many of us might be weary from our journeys, whether it is an encounter with infertility or miscarriage or childlessness, or maybe it’s some other trial in your life that is just weighing heavy on you. I return to this passage of Scripture quite often because as a Christian, I know how my story ends.
I have read the final chapter of the Bible. I know the conclusion to my story. And while I might not know the next chapter of my story, you might not know the next chapter of your story. What is God up to in the next chapters of our stories? We all know as Christians, the conclusion of our story.
So, listen to this passage from Revelation 21. Scripture says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Every tear, every tear that we have cried. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a dream. He will wipe away those tears.
“And death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain for the former things have passed away.”
So, friend, there is a day coming when all will be made right, when all of our longings, desires, hopes, and dreams, when all evil and injustice will be made right in the ultimate presence of God. So may we fix our eyes on that day when we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”