I asked Jeff if he thought we should try to keep our babies spaced close together or give ourselves some time before considering a third.
I was curious, but not really decided myself.
He replied to my question, “What do you think?”
The conversation then meandered to other things and left the question unanswered. We were definitively undecided.
After a week, we returned to the baby conversation and ambled around to “Maybe.”
A dramatic change in our plans within a matter of a few days reversed that (albeit lazy) momentum and sent us back to “Wait.”
And that was solid.
We were still resettling after our regular furlough when financial need, family need and ministry need all converged with force enough to land us back in a British Airways office discussing another round of America tickets. We prepared a travel schedule that would take us from Uganda to Oregon to Indiana to Michigan to Georgia to Texas (with short jaunts to California and Colorado tentatively planned.) We expected to be Stateside for 6 weeks.
The schedule would be rigorous (we had a 3 year old and an eighteen month old) but we decided to tackle the travel as a family rather than face 6 weeks of separation sending Jeff off to fundraise alone.
This was October of 2001. The entire world was reeling from the devastation of September 11th. We were sorrowing along with our Homeland and praying with such burdened weight for the events and world relations that were transpiring.
Despite the international furor, we pressed on with our travel plans and boarded our flights just one month following the events of 9/11.
We felt the consequence of the September attacks at every point in our intercontinental trip. Security was tedious and difficult. Especially with strollers and diaper bags. We unpacked and repacked our diapers and snacks and toys so many times. We were patted and scanned and questioned. Every passenger on every flight was vigilant. People watched each other. We were all paying attention.
Flight crews and air marshals and airport security personnel were serving from High Alert and the entire trip felt tense. It is a long trip anyway, but never, before or since, have I prayed SO fervently for a trip to be over. We were all relieved to set down in Portland, Oregon and meet our family at baggage claim.
Jeff’s parents were traveling at the time but graciously left us the keys to their house. Jeff’s brother, Mike and sister, Kristi, helped us settle in.
It was Oregon in October, which translates to cold, rainy and dark. Mike had recorded the news footage of 9/11 and the reactions in the weeks that followed. Jeff and I watched the news reports for hours on end in an effort to catch-up and join in with our sorrowing nation.
Those days were so very heavy. With fatigue. And grief. And cold rains.
We kept the fire lit in the fireplace, sleeping in the living room with our tightly bundled babies asleep between us. In the wake of such agony in our country it felt safer to be cuddled up together.
After a few days of hibernating, we began to make plans and venture out. We ate meals with Mike and the boys, bought some new clothes and I made plans to get my hair cut and colored. Ostensible frivolity amidst the world climate at that time.
What followed seemed to be a weird aside. But in fact, it was crucial.
When I spoke with the stylist about coloring my hair she asked me questions about allergies and if I might be pregnant. I paused for a moment and asked her why that was important. She explained that pregnancy hormones can effect hair coloring so she would just need to know so she could watch the color process.
Jeff looked at me with questioning eyes when he saw the pregnancy test later that day.
“I thought we were waiting,” he remarked.
“We are,” I smiled. “Just a precaution because it might effect my hair color.”
“Really?” he questioned, “that seems weird.”
“Yep. Pregnancy IS weird,” I tossed over my shoulder and quickly changed the subject.
As if to prove my nonchalance, I stuck the pregnancy test in my toiletries bag and forgot about it for a few days.
Sunday morning rolled around and we decided to stay in and worship as a family. We were still very weary and I especially was very, very weepy. Tears flowed at all manner of topics and at surprising moments. I grew frustrated with the emotion not understanding where in the world all the tears were coming from. Jeff had some suspicions. But he kept them to himself and encouraged me to rest some more.
I was preparing to take a shower when I saw the pregnancy test again. I decided to complete that simple task fully expecting a quick confirmation of what we had finally decided.
We were waiting to try for Cashling #3. I was not going to be pregnant.
In a matter of seconds there were two solid lines staring loudly at me from that stick.
I was immediately delighted. So surprised! But completely delighted.
I crumpled, crying, to the floor and had a good long visit with my Creator. He is so very good. But His timing would never cease to amaze me!
I showered quickly and went to find Jeff.
He was thrilled! And less surprised than me.
“You’ve been crying constantly, Cheryl. I knew something was up.”
He spent the rest of the day smiling and repeating, “So you’re pregnant!”
We reveled in the wonder of it-- another Cashling!
We kept the news to ourselves for awhile but the debilitating pregnancy sickness that I experienced with all four of our Cashlings would reveal our secret within a few days. (I now know this sickness to be called Hyperemesis Gravidarum—my deepest love and prayers to all women who suffer through it. It feels devastating and I am so thankful for the research and study that are aimed at understanding and treatment.)
I became very ill and spent a large part of the next months in bed. With two young children to care for and a husband trying to complete flight training, each day was a test of endurance. I am generally sick for the first 4 ½ to 5 months of my pregnancies, so I knew there would be an end to the sickness, but those hours and days of dehydration and vomiting felt like a sweet forever.
Our six weeks of stringent travel became a bit of a problem. We changed our return tickets and pushed our travel plans back by several weeks. It would be the first of many changes in our travels. Each change would require hours of discussion with airline executives because we had purchased the original tickets in Uganda. This doesn’t make one bit of difference anymore but then, in the immediate wake of 9/11, our tickets were flagged and every interaction from security to check in to itinerary changes would require an Act of Congress to work through. Or so it felt.
I’m glad I didn’t know then how many times I would face those horrible phone calls.
There was a long road ahead of us.
Grief pressed into our lives in fresh waves. Jeff’s dear Granddad Cash had passed away on the 9th of September and due to the terror attacks two days later, Jeff’s desire to return for the funeral was completely thwarted. We arrived in America one month following Granddad’s burial and quickly received news that my best friend in Uganda had passed away suddenly. She was only 25 years old and we left her very healthy. I was devastated. Like the passing of Jeff’s Granddad, we could not experience the healthy process of the funeral and burial with our family and community. This absence of proper closure, especially involving such precious people in our lives, expanded and lengthened the grief for us. We learned about this as we experienced it. But we would feel the toll for years.
We had made a job change early in 2001 which left us without a regular salary. The Lord so faithfully provided for us, but each day held many question marks. We spent one year without salary, traveling internationally and across the United States with two young children and an ill expectant Mommy. It was a very difficult time to be broke.
We weathered some uniquely painful ministry circumstances that were slow to resolve and which magnified our grief. We faced rejection and redirection and an oppressively constant change of plans.
Our fundraising efforts had disappointing results. We were well received in every church we visited but no church that was already involved in our ministry could commit to complete oversight.
We ended our fund raising sweep across America just before Christmas and landed weary in Texas to spend the holidays with my family.
My pregnancy sickness was just beginning to ebb. But in the days following Christmas my extended family realized we had shared more than presents in our celebrations. Many of us became ill with a horrible strain of the flu.
My sweet grandmother (Mam-ma) was the one hit the hardest. She had been in failing health for some years and this bout of illness and the ensuing health complications led to many weeks of struggle. In late February, Mam-ma passed from this life. Our grieving hearts shattered again as we said goodbye to another precious person in our lives.
In the weeks following Mam-ma’s funeral, Jeff’s body succumbed to sickness and he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
It was a difficult time.
We were navigating grief, seemingly endless sickness and the difficulties of fundraising from borrowed space and depleted energy.
We have always felt called to assist in relieving burden for others, but now were feeling like burdens ourselves.
Living outside of the status quo, a strain we were somewhat used to, still bore down heavily on us.
I longed to feel normal. Whatever normal was.
There were some very dark months in this season that left me reeling. Our grief, in its many forms, felt crushing. The next obedient steps seemed wrapped in fog and dim haze.
The circumstances around us were not speaking (obvious) blessing. Instead I was tormented with doubts.
Meanwhile, my abdomen swelled with new life.
In April of 2002, a light began to dawn.
We had been in contact with several new (to us) congregations in Texas and Colorado. We thought we were starting from scratch with these sweet believers in sharing about the ministry in Uganda. But God had been at work long before we even stepped into the picture. (He always is.)
Through a series of visits, meetings, meals together and so many prayers, God brought us to Tyler, TX and the Glenwood church of Christ.
This was not an ordinary missionary/supporting church situation. Yes, we met with committees and chairmen and elders and staff. We did all of those usual things.
But something was different in our interactions with this particular body of believers.
There was something (Someone) joining us beyond what our efforts could produce.
Over the next healing months, those dearest folks would listen and love their way into our hearts. Even my heavily barricaded one.
We became a part of the Glenwood family and felt God gather around us an incredible community of stalwart friends.
I couldn’t believe it. But I felt my broken heart slowly receive the balm and nourishment it so desperately needed.
Like streams in the desert.
In the midst of that outpouring, our third Cashling would finally arrive.
And he arrived with a message.
We heard it first when we were choosing his name.
You see, we were amazed to look back at those months of angst and see an astonishing juxtaposition.
We were shocked to recount this miracle.
But it was undeniable.
There had been precious little about those months that was funny.
And yet, in the midst of the struggle, God united us as a family with soul healing hilarity. Over and over again.
Laughter, amidst the pain, had been the theme.
We hadn’t chosen it.
It was given to us.
He was a large part of that process. He showed up illuminating the persistent care of our redeeming God.
Eleven years later, I look back and recognize with thankful wonder the design of Isaac’s personality. The amazing orchestration of his gifts into our life calling.
He ponders deep. He remembers well. He has an amazing sense of direction.
He can recall with astounding clarity what has been spoken around him.
He reminds us. Loudly. Of what has been said.
He has always had a booming voice.
A volume that carries.
Our Creator designs redemption and offers it into our most difficult struggles.
He may not end the pain or remove the trial.
But He always, always stays involved.
He sometimes even sends an audible voice to remind us.
God’s loves for us never quits.
Especially in seasons of loss and pain.
Our Father shows up.
We are so very thankful for you!