A decade has passed since the accident, otherwise known as "the beginning." Sue and I have been married for seven years, I've settled into the investment business and started to work my way up the ladder, and Sue has reached a point where she needs a break from her career as a medical social worker. This is about the time we discover that we are one of those many couples for whom pregnancy is not going to be easy. After our first foray into the fertility drug scene, a brief hope, and our first miscarriage, I accept a promotion to manage the Fidelity Investments office in Vancouver.
On January 3, 2000 (two days after the world did not end, and airplanes did not fall from the sky) Sue and I find ourselves on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver
We're excited about this next chapter of our lives. It's been a difficult decision to leave our large and tight-knit families behind and "go west", but we've been praying for some time for, well... more. It's time to break out of our shells.
You can imagine our disappointment and confusion then as we find ourselves on a Vancouver to Toronto flight on December 21, less than one year later. We're going back.
When we first stepped off the plane in Vancouver we did not know a soul for a thousand miles. I had a great job to go to every day, but for Sue life was different. She split her time between sitting in our big empty house, and frequent trips back and forth to the fertility clinic. Yes, we were trying again.
This time it was in-vitro fertilization. After months of the stress and punishing physical side effects for Sue, the results were the same: A brief pregnancy, and a miscarriage. Our time in Vancouver had taken its toll on Sue, and she had had enough. It was with profound sadness that I smiled and bluffed my way through a couple of interviews in Toronto, accepted another promotion for a new position back at the head office, and boarded the flight to Toronto.
When we arrive back in Ontario , we immediately connect with another fertility specialist. An Irishman with a "colourful" vocabulary, Ed is too much of a maverick to survive in a clinic. He works alone, and we like him instantly. The three of us are hopeful. Our history provides Ed with a lot of information, and he tells us he'll get us pregnant even if, in his words, "its the last fucking thing I do."
Ed makes good on his promise - We're pregnant! Briefly.
You can fill in the rest.
Three strikes and you're out. It's official... Sue and I are both sinking into a deep depression, and the next chapter begins.
The Dark Night of The Soul
A funny thing happened on the way to the pits of depression - we stopped hearing God's voice.
I felt like I was walking around with an open wound that everyone could see. My boss called me into his office one day, closed the door, and sat staring at me.
"Mike, I can't imagine what you and Sue are going through. It must be terrible. Are you going to be OK?"
I looked at him, a little confused by this uncharacteristic show of sympathy. Before I could answer, he continued.
"Because you need to suck it up and leave your personal problems at home. You're bringing everybody down."
Our conversation was over, and with a slap on the back he directed me out.
That night I drove home to our big empty house in the suburbs in silence.
A dark night of the soul is a strange thing to go through. To be honest I haven't looked too closely at St. John of the Cross's experience, but I can tell you what mine was like. I was alone. Sue was also hurting, more so than me, and our pain intersected at several points. But I couldn't help her, and she couldn't help me. Even when we were together, we were alone. God had left the building, and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got.
I guess people experience trials in different ways. I suppose some start to doubt, and even lose their faith entirely. Not me, although it might have been easier in some ways to just chuck it all and walk away. I couldn't. I knew God existed, and I knew he had utterly and completely abandoned us.
I was pissed off with God, to say the least, and I periodically told him so. In fact, that was the only communication passing between us in those days. I would kick, yell and swear at him, and in return I would hear nothing but the roaring silence.
On the drive home from the office that night I decided I had reached the end of my rope. The following week I was scheduled to speak at a client conference in Kananaskis. I had three days to spend in that beautiful place, and other than an hour-long presentation I had nothing to do, so I planned to spend my time hiking.
Sitting in traffic that night I told God that Kananaskis was going to be our breaking point.
"You've completely bailed on me, God. I'm in hell, and you are nowhere!" I pounded the dashboard for emphasis. "Well, I've got news for you. Next week you had better show up. On the trail, in the mountains--I don't care. But I promise you this: If you don't show up, you and I are through!" Of course, there was no reply.
Having made my threat, I felt no better. I promptly forgot the outburst. After all, it was just one of many.
A couple of days later I suddenly realized I was going to be leaving Sue all alone in the midst of a very dark time. Truth be told I probably didn't want to be alone either, so I suggested she come with me.
If you've ever been to Kananaskis you know how beautiful a place it is. Sue and I spent a lot of time walking and talking, and sitting in silence. We cried a little, and significantly, we laughed a little too. It was a very important time.
But there a few hours in particular which are burned in our memories forever.
We were hiking the trails around the village when we heard a rustling in the bushes close to us. We stopped in our tracks as we had already seen one bear, and didn't really want any surprises. Instead of a bear, a beautiful deer--a buck--came out of the trees about fifteen metres away.
And he kept coming.
As we stood silently that deer walked right up to Sue, only stopping when he was within about two metres of her. I swear he looked at her, he looked at me, then casually nibbled at some grass at his feet. At Sue's feet, really. We stood there in disbelief, and slowly a smile spread across Sue's face. I hadn't seen her smile like that in a long time. (I had the presence of mind to snap a quick photo, which is buried in our stuff somewhere.)
The deer was in no hurry, and as we admired him he very slowly wandered off. We walked on, excited about the encounter. Sue looked at me and said, "It's as if he knew we needed a friend."
Eventually we ended up back at the hotel. As we strolled through the lobby Sue suddenly let go of my hand. "I'm just going to look in the gift shop for a minute." She went left and I kept walking straight, down the hall and on into our room.
I was staring out the window as I heard the door open, and I turned as Sue walked in. She was carrying a small bag, and she was crying.
"What's wrong?" As if I didn't know the answer to that question. Everything was wrong.
She sobbed as she explained. "I don't even know why I walked into the store. It was if something was pulling me."
I started to get a strange feeling. Something in my memory was starting to stir...
She reached into the bag and said, "I walked right over to a big bin of stuffed animals, reached in and pulled this one out." And in her hand she held a small stuffed deer.
"Read the label," She whispered.
Around the deer's neck was a little tag printed with the words:
"Faith is believing in what you cannot see."
Suddenly I remembered. I felt like a lightening bolt was passing through my body. I must have looked like I'd seen a ghost, because Sue grabbed me and fairly yelled, "What's the matter?!"
"The deer..." I whispered. And I told her about my last conversation with God.
He showed up.
God showed up and told us he was still there, and still in control.
I wish I could tell you that the dark clouds parted instantly, but I can't. From that moment on though, there was a difference. We now knew they would part. In that moment we began the long, slow climb out of the pit, led on by a God who was there, who had always been there, and who has a soft spot for hurting people, and for deer.
I hope some of this makes sense. This has been the hardest thing I have ever written in my life... every word was an effort. God was quiet again today. Not in an abandoning sense, though. He was sitting next to me in Starbucks all day as I wrote, grieving with me as I relived this pain.
A note to those who hurt. I think I can speak for Sue when I tell you this period of our lives was very formative, even as it was very painful. We are convinced that there is no growth without pain. Some may object to that, but I refuse to debate it. There is no growth without pain. Your pain will be a catalyst for growth, if you hang in there.