Ideal Meets Real: When Your Arms are Empty


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June 22, 2022
Karin Walter

We know. 

We know our families don’t always look like we’d hoped, prayed, or planned.

We know our “Ideal” is rarely our “Real."

When you’re struggling to overcome challenges or surrender to God’s plan for your family, the last thing we want is for you to feel alone. Instead, we want to show your evidence of God’s faithfulness to women in varied circumstances so that you are encouraged. Your situation may feel unique, but often it is more common than you may know. You may feel alone, but others understand. You can be sure God sees you and cares for you.

This series, Ideal Meets Real, has been on our hearts for a long time, and whether the topics are ones you’ve personally wrestled with or not, we hope you read them and are blessed and stretched by them. Perhaps you know someone in a similar position and you can share the hope of the Lord with them. 

The women we’ve interviewed have endured difficult trials and allowed themselves to be transformed in the process. They may have seen the redemptive hand of the Lord, or they may be waiting for it—but they are clinging to Him and His Word as they do so. Be inspired and encouraged to to fix your eyes on Christ, whatever your situation may be. 

Because what we really know is that God is good.

An Interview with Karin 

The first topic in our series is infertility. Most of us have watched someone we love ache for a child.  

Whether this has been your struggle or not, I think we can all relate to the questions Karin asked of the Lord in her trial. Are you good? Can I trust you? Please take the time to read about her committed pursuit of truth. Be blessed by the raw richness of her story. Follow her example as you allow the Lord to produce the intended fruit in your trial. 

What circumstance has left you thinking, “This isn’t how I pictured my life?” What Real situation threatened your Ideal?

When Carl and I got married, we thought we’d have two biological children and then adopt a few.  I had an equation in my mind and it went like this, “If I obey the Lord and live by His rules, then He will keep life reasonably comfortable for me.”  And so I obeyed in the big things.  I so carefully chose Carl, a man who loves and serves God, as my husband.  And we protected our innocence before marriage.  But when we didn’t get pregnant after trying for a year and a half, and our friends and family were getting pregnant all around us, and then we miscarried the one and only biological pregnancy we had… life was no longer comfortable.  And I was confused and angry at God.

Specifically, how did this impact you and your family?

After our miscarriage, I went into a season of bitterness at the Lord.  I kept going to church and being involved in ministry but was wrestling with what I could trust God for. When I’m uncertain about something, I research it.  And while I felt distant from God, in my confusion and uncertainty, I kept searching for answers.  I read books on suffering, infertility, prayer, and surrender to God.  And our pastor preached on trials and our worship team wrote songs about trials.  And the Lord was counseling me through it all, although I didn’t see it at the time.

How did you adapt when you were in the season?

I remember, after 6 months of bitterness and distance from the Lord, I realized how broken I was and that I couldn’t fix it.  I was in my car after work one day and cried and begged God to take away my bitterness at Him.  I really was asking Him to help me in my unbelief.  And He did.  Slowly, over the next 3-4 months, He gave me the gift of surrender.  

I surrendered to His way of building our family.  Relatively early in our medical infertility journey, we chose to discontinue pursuing biological pregnancy for financial, marital, and ethical reasons.  

I surrendered to His timing.  It would be 9 years, start to finish, until we held our first child in our arms.  

I surrendered to His choices in life and death.  He would take 7 of our unborn children to heaven.  

I surrendered to His plan for making me more like Jesus and loosening my grip on the things of this world.  

I was disappointed, saddened, and anxious when my husband got cancer and lost his job and as the years ticked by without children, but I was convinced of the answer to the two most important questions I had had.  “Is God good?”  Yes, He is.  And, “Will I trust Him?” Yes, I will.  

The verse that resonated with me during that season was, 

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:1-3a

After 3-4 months, in another moment in my car, I suddenly realized I wasn’t bitter at God anymore.  And I had the peace that surpasses understanding – the circumstances hadn’t changed at all, but my heart had.  He had given me a firm place to stand after years of wondering and wandering.  And, I was actually grateful for all that He had done in my life instead of focused on what He was withholding.  

How have you seen God’s faithfulness to you and your family in this trial?

Many people look at our life now with our 6 and 3 year-old adopted boys and point to their presence in our life as God’s answer and miracle.  And, they are.  But I count it a greater miracle that, before they ever came along, God held onto me and corrected my inaccurate beliefs about Him and rescued me from my bitterness at Him.  

Which words of Scripture have ministered to you?

One Scripture that the Lord had to correct my understanding of is Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

I think an incomplete understanding of this Scripture contributed to the equation I referenced above, “If I obey the Lord and live by His rules, then He will keep life reasonably comfortable for me.”  I assumed the “good” God would work in my life was comfort – in the form of fulfilling the good godly desires I had, like having children.  But then I read the verse in context and the very next verse defines the “good”, and it isn’t what I thought it was or wanted it to be.  

Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  

The “good” is becoming more like Jesus – more loving, more joyful, more at peace, more patient, more kind and good, more faithful and gentle and having more self-control.  And most of those come by hard circumstances that make life uncomfortable and grow us past our sinful responses.  As I read Scripture, I realized my equation was all wrong – God never promised comfort and ease, He actually was very clear that life would be hard because we live in a fallen world.  But He promised to be with us and work in us when life is uncomfortable and not easy.  

How would you recommend women come alongside someone in a similar struggle to yours?

The difficulty with the trial of infertility is that the majority of women do not deal with it.  And, it’s difficult for women longing for children to receive counsel and even sympathy from those whose journey to motherhood was more smooth.  If you yourself have not endured an extended season of infertility, please be careful with your words and your theology.  I had friends tell me God told them we would have biological children – which I really wanted to believe, but I knew they were just saying it to try make me feel better.  I had friends use Scripture to promise me things that it didn’t (that God would give me the desire of my heart (aka, biological children)) or use Scripture to rush me through my lament and offer cliché answers to my pain.  And that made it all the more isolating and hard.  

Connecting your friend to those who have been through this, can be a great source of comfort to her.  One easy way to do that would be to purchase a copy of this book for her, “When Empty Arms Carry a Heavy Burden” by Sandra Glahn.  It is cowritten by a Christian woman who went through infertility and her Christian infertility doctor who is also trained as a pastor.  The book addresses the spiritual/theological, emotional, and marital struggles of infertility as well as explaining the medical options and ethical choices available to believers.  There is even a chapter in the book on the unintentionally hurtful things people say – that one might be a good read for you as her friend too.  The book made me not feel so alone in our infertility and it equipped me for the medical decisions we would face as the doctors presented the gamut of infertility treatments to us.  

I’m hesitant to recommend infertility support groups because many of them do not have a God-centered focus.  But if she is willing and if you know other believing women who have gone through this, connecting them to each other might be helpful.  

And pray for her – prayers of lament and prayers for faith and trust in the Lord and surrender to His plans.  Or recommend biblical counseling or meeting with a pastor or mentor if she seems stuck in her faith or if her marriage is suffering as a result of the struggles of infertility.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself at the beginning of this trial?

I would tell myself, “I know it seems impossible, but at the end of all of this, even though you wouldn’t choose this awful journey for yourself, you’ll be grateful for it.  For the depth of your relationship with the Lord and the confidence in His sovereignty, wisdom and love that you will have.  It will loosen your grip on this world in a good way and focus your eyes on His Kingdom that has come and is coming.  And when you feel brokenhearted, empty and passed over, He will show you that He is more than enough.”

Did anything else minister to you in this season?

Music was also a large part of my journey.  The Lord used a few songs in a mighty way to minister to me during our trial.  Many of these songs were a true sacrifice of praise – it hurt to sing them because I didn’t feel them or totally believe the lyrics yet.  But they became a prayer asking the Lord to bring me to the place where I could sing them in faith.

While I’m Waiting – John Waller

Gratitude – Nicole Nordeman

Praise You In This Storm – Casting Crowns

Whatever You’re Doing – Sanctus Real

Held – Natalie Grant

You’re Not Alone – Meredith Andrews

Blessed Be Your Name – Tree 63

Never Let Go – David Crowder

Not For a Moment – Meredith Andrews

If I Have You – Vertical Church Band

I Will Follow – Vertical Church Band

Ever Chasing God – John Guerra

We want to thank Karin for her transparent and enriching story. 

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