As newlyweds, my wife, Merrilie, and I were ready to build on the covenants we’d made in the temple as well as heeding our patriarchal blessings that encouraged us to begin a family. But over the following eight years our expectations of having a family became blurred. During the first seven years of our marriage, we averaged one or more miscarriages a year. Merrilie spent much time in hospitals and doctors’ offices discussing and undergoing treatment plans. Each passing month, each hospital stay, and each medical disappointment became that much more difficult to accept.
One day we went to the temple with some friends who were going to be married. As we listened to the ceremony, we were reminded that seven years earlier we too had been instructed to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Moses 2:28). Returning home, Merrilie pulled out her patriarchal blessing. Her blessing, like mine, talked of her eternal family, adding that her greatest joy would be in watching the lives of her children unfold and seeing them follow in her footsteps. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she came over to me and took my hand, asking for a priesthood blessing. As I spoke the words of the blessing, I promised her that she would soon become a mother.
Not long after, we were happy to discover she was once again pregnant, and this time she carried the child full term. It was a happy time for us. We purchased a room full of white baby furniture and frequently went to the baby’s room just to look at it with anticipation.
Near the end of the ninth month, I drove Merrilie to the doctor for a routine exam. After her checkup, our doctor, a nonmember friend, put his arm around me and walked me down the hall and told me that while Merrilie and the baby checked out medically, he had sensed something unusual about the child. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like it,” he said. “I have a feeling of impending problems.”
It was a puzzling discussion, and as I drove Merrilie home I silently pleaded, “Oh, please, let this baby come normally.” At the house I called our elders quorum president and asked him to come by with one of his counselors. The two of them anointed Merrilie and pronounced a blessing on her and the baby. In the midst of the blessing he stopped, then began speaking again with new intensity. He told her to be at peace, that she was carrying a perfect child of God and that her Heavenly Father was watching over her.
Ten hours later Merrilie started into labor. A gallant attempt to save our baby’s life ensued, but available medical resources were not enough. Our daughter did not survive the birth process, and Merrilie came close to dying too. At my request, the doctor let me pick up our tiny baby girl and hold her. I held her small earthly tabernacle close, but the life-giving spirit had left mortality. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life. Love for my daughter flooded my heart, and it seemed as though that which we most wanted in this world was denied us. The years of wanting to have a baby compounded my feelings into inexpressible grief.
As I drove home alone, I cried out in frustration. I felt like smashing the new baby furniture, but by the time I arrived home, a perceptive neighbor had already removed it. The next day the bishop, Relief Society president, and an employee of the mortuary accompanied me to the cemetery with baby Lisa. Merrilie was still in the hospital and could not come with us. The four of us stood around the small grave while the bishop dedicated the site. The only tangible result of eight years of trying to have a family now lay in the earth.
The following days were some of the most difficult I have ever spent. My beloved companion was in the hospital suffering, our daughter was in a grave, and I felt totally alone. I could not comprehend how a loving Father would allow a trusting son and daughter to experience such anguish and disappointment. In a secluded spot under a clear, star-filled Arizona sky, I dropped to my knees between two Joshua trees. I prayed for long hours that night, then returned to the cemetery, and my falling tears were absorbed by the loose soil on top of the freshly filled grave.
When I returned home, the first rays of dawn were starting to pierce the eastern sky, and I was at the breaking point. Doubt and discouragement temporarily overcame my faith and trust, and I began to complain bitterly to God. For the next several weeks I did not attend a Church meeting, offer a prayer, or fulfill my calling.
The final blow came when the doctors informed us that due to serious medical complications, it would be necessary to terminate forever Merrilie’s ability to have children. At the age of 29 it was suddenly no longer a matter of trying again. What was the meaning of our patriarchal blessings? What was the meaning of the many promises given in subsequent blessings?
I felt empty and alone. One day while talking to the bishop, I implied that I wanted to terminate my relationship with the Church, but he chose to ignore that comment. He didn’t even release me from my calling. Yet it seemed I was spinning toward self-destruction. The adversary seemed to constantly remind me how unfairly I had been treated, and I often felt anger. The bishop counseled me to pray. He told me that if I would ask God, I would receive comfort and understanding. I replied that I had severed the circuit and that it was unlikely I could receive any help. With tears in his eyes, the bishop bore his testimony to me that Father in Heaven longed to help if I would just splice the severed circuit.
In response to the bishop’s gentle but persistent supplications, I reluctantly agreed to begin praying again. My first attempts were awkward and uncomfortable. I nevertheless returned to church and continued to pray. One Sunday, after an especially spiritual fast and testimony meeting, I found a quiet place where I could pour out all that was in my heart.
When my mental bank was exhausted and I had no more to expend, a quiet peace washed over me. Comforting thoughts came to me, and I meditated on them. Some of the things that came to mind were that God’s ways are not man’s ways and that my lack of faith had added to my distress. The day we buried our daughter we had not been alone. The angels had been there weeping with us, but they could not comfort me because I had blocked them out. Going through this alone had been due to my use of agency, not Father in Heaven’s will. The sweetness and purity and perfection of my daughter was made known to me, and with that the knowledge that she would be part of our eternal family. What I thought of as disappointment was in reality a blessing. Losing that which I most wanted was a necessary part of earth life—a mortal trial required for my growth.
Then my meditations turned to the many blessings and assurances we’d had that we would become parents. I felt that they were correct, that every promised blessing would still be ours. I rose from my knees with the firm conviction that Heavenly Father did love us and was watching over us and that the experiences we were having were for our growth.
Although we lived in northern Arizona, we were directed by Church leaders to the LDS Family Services office in Las Vegas, Nevada. There we met Sister Regenia Chadwick, a loving and supportive woman. After extensive interviews and forms that needed filling out, she told us we were qualified for their program. When they had the right child for us, they would let us know.
Four months later we received a joyous call. Sister Chadwick asked if we would like to drive over to pick up a new baby daughter. In a stirring meeting at the agency, she placed a three-day-old infant in Merrilie’s arms, explaining that she had felt early on that this was the child meant for us. Twenty-seven months later we repeated the process and picked up a three-day-old son.
It took many years for me to understand that for those who remain worthy and who strive in righteousness, promised blessings do come—but in accordance with the Lord’s timetable, not ours.