Faith Amidst Uncertainty: Janine Urbaniak Reid and Megan Smalley
Janine Urbaniak Reid: I thought faith was a AAA card I kept in my wallet, and I’ve come to learn it’s a muscle in my body. That muscle is built every time I show up and do the next right thing. And even when I don’t feel like it, especially when I don’t feel like it, especially when I don’t feel strong enough, especially when I don’t feel capable, when I look back and I see what I’ve been able to walk through with Mason and with my family, I have no doubt that there is power greater than me in this universe.
Faith Amidst Uncertainty: Janine Urbaniak Reid and Megan Smalley – Episode #309
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. When we face scary situations, it’s easy to wonder if our faith—especially the amount of faith we have—makes a difference. But is it healthy to quantify faith, to wonder, If I just had more faith, would my problems go away? Though tempting, that line of thought doesn’t square with the faith-filled greats throughout history who followed God despite the fear and uncertainty of their circumstances. They practice what the poet John O’Donohue argues we must learn: to “hold nothing back [and] learn to find ease in risk.” God’s grace can empower and sustain our faith, too, just like Abraham’s, Rahab’s, and David’s.
Our guests this week are Janine Urbaniak Reid and Megan Smalley. Both tell stories of faith in the crucible, of being pushed to their breaking points only to find God’s grace remaining alongside the fear, suffering, joys, and triumphs. God’s grace powered Janine through her son Mason’s cancer battle and Megan through an arduous journey to reach her dream of having children.
Let’s start with Janine’s story.
Janine: My name is Janine Urbaniak Reid. I’m an author, a mother, a wife, and a friend and a person of deep faith. I am a person who thought she was going to do absolutely everything right in life. I was going to “good girl” my way through life. If I could just do what I needed to do, then I was sure that God would bless me, and the plans would go according to what I thought was acceptable. Now the only thing that we know for sure is that, as some people say, God laughs when you tell Him your plans.
A lot of my story is this tension between God has entrusted me with these children, God has entrusted me with this life and these skills to be of service in this world. That’s kind of how I believe it works. And yet I can’t control the outcomes, these outcomes that are like tidal waves.
Leaning on God Through Uncertain Circumstances
My son Mason had always had little quirky problems. When he was in kindergarten, his hands started to shake, and he started to get headaches. And that was the beginning of my journey to various doctors. I tried to do everything right. I tried to feed him right, I ate well while I was pregnant. I did everything right.
And then finally, when Mason was ten years old, we went to a doctor who finally said, “Why don’t we take a picture of his brain? Why don’t we do an MRI?”
There was this tumor—it was actually quite a large tumor. And it’s the kind of tumor that has its own spiritual lessons attached to it because it’s a slow-growing tumor, which is a blessing right? That he could live with it all this time. But it’s also an inoperable tumor because it had grown around critical structures of Mason’s brain.
My husband and I orbited that tumor. So how do you do that? It’s a cruel orbit. And how do you do that and how do you maintain your faith? How do you grow your faith in those circumstances when everything you thought you knew for sure turns out to be conditional? So I had to find faith for all seasons. I had to find a “no matter what” faith that would fill those spaces and comfort me in those times of fear.
“I had to find a ‘no matter what’ faith that would fill those spaces and comfort me in those times of fear.” – Janine Urbaniak Reid
We found a wonderful medical team, which is an important part of the story, too. Again, as a mother, my husband and I as parents, have responsibilities, and there are things we could do to get him good care. That was on us. The outcome and all the rest, it’s this dance with God, this dance with the spiritual. I do what I can, and the outcome is in God’s hands.
Mason had chemotherapy treatment. We monitored the tumor for a long time, and it didn’t do much of anything. And then when Mason was thirteen, he almost died. He was in a coma for a period of time, and then had to start all over in his life—the second time in his life—learning to walk, talk, and eat all over again. And that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever lived through.
Emptiness Can Be a Place for Miracles
There was one night my husband and I were switching off at the hospital. And anybody with more than one child knows what it’s like when you have to make choices of filling one child’s needs, you feel like it’s at the expense of the others.
But that night, I remember so clearly our minister came to visit me and, you know, I “good girl” my way through the world. Right? As I’ve mentioned, I’m going to do everything right. You know, you tell me to pray, I will pray. But I was feeling so afraid. And by now, Mason is not responding in his bed. I’m one of the only ones—my husband a little bit too—who really believes he’s still there in his body. Even my best friends thought I was slightly, you could say, delusional or optimistic, but I think they thought I just wasn’t understanding what was happening.
And Pastor Veronica came in. We walked through the hospital that night, and I told her the truth. I told her that I pray all the time, but I don’t feel better. And that was a transformative moment to tell the truth, because in Bible study, I was one of those people with their hand up all the time, “I know! I know!” But I was just emptied out.
Every time I’ve been emptied out in my life, I don’t love it. But it’s a place of miracles, too. And what Pastor Veronica brought up was the story of the man who brought his son to Jesus for healing. And he said, “I believe, but help my unbelief” [Mark 9:24]. And then that gave me language that was like, “Okay, my unbelief, my unbelief. I believe in the grace of God, and help my unbelief.”
“Every time I’ve been emptied out in my life, I don’t love it. But it’s a place of miracles, too.” – Janine Urbaniak Reid
And you know, what I have come to realize, too, is that the miracles—at that time, Mason did survive that crisis, which was amazing and a miracle in itself. And the miracle was in so many of the moments. The miracle wasn’t that he got up that day. The miracle was that Pastor Veronica came and saw me, that she touched my heart in such a profound way, that I was cared for so profoundly by this cast of characters that God put together for me.
We were in Houston where we’d gone for rehabilitation for Mason, and they had a great rehab center that focused on the brain. Mason had a series of setbacks that landed us in Texas Children’s Hospital, which was a huge, huge blessing, but I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know how blessed we were in that moment and how everything would flow after that.
I called a friend at home and I told her about the setback—and it was just one more huge setback, another brain surgery was going to be needed. My husband was with our other kids. He was trying to get a flight in. I was alone. And my friend Joan said, “You don’t think you can do it, right?”
I said, “That’s it. I can’t do it.” I was so relieved somebody saw that in me.
And she said, “But you know what? You’re doing it.”
And that was a twist of vision as well. That was a clarifying vision. It’s like putting on new prescription lenses. And I was like, “I am doing it.”
Compassion Begins with Taking Care of You
Sometimes we have to push past our self-imposed limits. But there’s a time when crisis goes too deep and long that we just have to take care of ourselves. And that’s what I tell anybody going through this, and especially in our world now, it seems like we don’t get to exhale. It’s just like one crisis on top of another for so many people.
“Sometimes we have to push past our self-imposed limits. But there’s a time when crisis goes too deep and long that we just have to take care of ourselves.” – Janine Urbaniak Reid
So for me, it’s really simple stuff, like taking a walk. I would take a walk through the neighborhood near the hospital, which brought me so much peace because it reminded me of a world where people planted marigolds and they had cats on their porches. You know, it just was such a balm for my heart. So taking a walk, eating something that was healthy.
And then there’s this compassion—it comes naturally with my children, compassion and empathy. I will do anything. I will put their needs first. If they were hungry and tired, I would never push them, right? But I’ll do that to myself, and it’s not useful. There was an old idea I had to let go of, that it was selfish to take care of myself in a crisis. It turns out it’s selfish not to, because then I’m not bringing my best self to my family and to the world around me that I’d like to be helpful to.
“There was an old idea I had to let go of that it was selfish to take care of myself in a crisis. It turns out it’s selfish not to, because then I’m not bringing my best self to my family and to the world around me that I’d like to be helpful to.” – Janine Urbaniak Reid
I realized that I couldn’t keep giving what I don’t have. I had to start taking care of myself. I had this delusion that once the crisis passed, I would exercise, I would get my life back. And what I realized is this is the life I had, and it was up to me to start living it in that moment. I think that’s an inspired thought from a power greater than myself. I started living the life I have, and I started taking care of myself because we can’t give on empty or on fumes.
Navigating an Uncertain Life
If I could speak to the young mom that was me, I’d probably just hold her, and I’d tell her you are doing hero’s work. You are doing hero’s work. Go easy on yourself. That’s what I would say, and that’s what I would say if any young mom came to me now, whether their child was sick or not. You know, you are doing hero’s work, showing up to love these little people, to guide them in this world where it’s so uncertain sometimes. It’s so scary sometimes. And to show up bravely morning after morning, it’s hero’s work. Also, have compassion for yourself. You’re doing it. You are doing it right now. You’re doing the work.
I’d probably also say you don’t need to judge yourself so harshly, and that there is no perfect. There is no perfect here, but an open-hearted, loving you, showing up with all your humanness and all your flaws and all of your love and all your joy. That’s the point. The point was never to be a perfect mom. The point was always to just be a human mom and love these people through it all.
“The point was never to be a perfect mom. The point was always to just be a human mom and love these people through it all.” – Janine Urbaniak Reid
You know, I always say I was never a good candidate for this job of having such an uncertain life, because I don’t sleep well and I worry too much if I’m not really, really working my spiritual path. But it seems to be my destiny, one uncertain thing after another. But I’ve come to find that just getting out of the future helps so much in coming back to what’s happening right now. And usually, right now in this moment, I’m okay. Right now, in this moment. Sometimes my definition of okay has to change.
Narrator: Since the time of this recording, Janine’s son Mason passed away at the age of twenty-three.
As Janine said in her closing comments, her definition of “okay” is still changing, and she wanted to update our listeners on where she is since the passing of her son. She says: “Nothing was easy or the way I wanted it to go. Still, I had access to strength I didn’t know I had. There was so much love and peace that passes all human understanding that we read about in Philippians 4, and it was delivered moment by moment.
The reality was and still is that we were cared for in the most remarkable ways. My faith is stronger than ever. Also, I’m afraid of less. Right before he left us, I asked Mason to tell me something, anything, he wanted me to know. He hummed a familiar song, ‘Love, love, love, love’ as in ‘all you need is love.’ God is good.”
To learn more about Janine’s journey with her son Mason, you can find her book, The Opposite of Certainty: Fear, Faith and Life in Between, everywhere books are sold.
Stay tuned to Megan Smalley’s story after a brief message.
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Narrator: Our next guest is Megan Smalley—a now-mom of three who struggled with infertility for years. In her quest to be a mother, she underwent multiple IVF treatments while depleting the family’s savings, and was down to one last shot for the treatments to work. Finally she and her husband were able to welcome twin boys to their family. Now, Megan runs an infertility ministry to be a support and a comfort for other women experiencing infertility, hoping to provide reassurance that they can rely on God’s grace through any outcome.
Megan Smalley: I’m Megan Smalley. I’m a big city girl that has found herself living in a small town called Auburn, Alabama. I am a pastor’s kid, a coach’s wife, an author, and a small business owner, and I also run an infertility ministry. I’m also a mom of three kids now, so I juggle a lot. Every day I wake up and just remind myself that today is a new day, it’s a fresh start, and just listen to where the Lord is leading me for the day.
A Journey of Infertility
I never thought that infertility would be part of my story. I never had any health concerns. And somehow a year and a half into marriage, we found ourselves on this road. And I think that’s how it happens for everybody—or for most people, at least. Some people have a heads up that this might be a road you walk down, but a lot of people are totally blindsided by it. And it is one of the most challenging roads that I think a woman could ever walk down.
After about six months of trying, we went to get some testing done and found out that IVF (in vitro fertilization) would be our only option. And if you’re not familiar with IVF, it is expensive. And like I said in the beginning, I’m a coach’s wife. Funds are not unlimited in the Smalley household, and I’m a small business owner.
The first round, we decided to go forward with it head first, and the first round we paid $15,000 out of pocket ourselves, drained our savings account, and it didn’t work. I’ll never forget getting the call from my doctor. And in the same call he told me I wasn’t pregnant, he told me that I needed donor eggs and that my eggs were bad. I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. My heart and brain are not in a space to process this.”
And when I say it was earth-shattering, that is an understatement. I did not know where to go from there. Picking myself up off the floor daily was something that was now a part of my life. It was hard for me to be around people. I was experiencing sadness and grief in the deepest sense.
There are some things we walk through that are earth-shattering, that we did not choose and we would never choose, and it is so hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s infertility or a job loss or the loss of a dream or the loss of a loved one.
We forget that we are promised trouble. “In this world, you will have trouble.” God doesn’t promise us an easy life. He promises us hard things, and we have to figure out how to walk through those hard things. And then, when we get to the other side, we can look back and recognize what God did and how He brought you through it so that you can use those in your tool kit for the next hard thing that you’re going to face.
“God doesn’t promise us an easy life. He promises us hard things, and we have to figure out how to walk through those hard things. And then, when we get to the other side, we can look back and recognize what God did and how He brought you through it.” – Megan Smalley
Boundaries for Protecting Our Hearts
Some days were hard, some days were fine, and I needed to be able to recognize where I was emotionally so then I could communicate that. I think a lot of it is anticipating the triggers. Looking ahead at my week, was there a doctor’s appointment that was going to send me over the edge? Was there an upcoming baby shower for a friend that I was going to have to attend? Is there a boundary I need to put in place to protect my heart?
And then I would fill my heart and mind with truth. What does the Bible say? What are God’s promises? And then prayer, obviously, is such an incredible tool that we have in dark seasons. A lot of times in the season of grief, it’s hard to find the words. I can’t even tell you how many times I prayed for a baby. And it’s like, Okay, God, I don’t have any more words. I don’t even know another way to pray about this. So give me the words. I prayed scripture a lot because I had no words of my own left.
“A lot of times in the season of grief, it’s hard to find the words. I can’t even tell you how many times I prayed for a baby. And it’s like, Okay, God, I don’t have any more words.” – Megan Smalley
And then gratitude. I think that was a huge thing for me, making a gratitude list like, “What blessings do I have in my life that I can be thankful for?” Any time where I started to feel really down about the things I didn’t have, I would make that list or I would circle back to a previous list that I had made. And it’s like, Okay, God, I am so blessed. And even when I feel so down, I want to choose to be grateful for the things that I do have. And you will feel an immediate shift in your attitude.
On the days where I feel like my heart can’t handle a lot, that’s what I turn to, Jesus Calling. I have the Jesus Calling mobile app on my phone. And I think it’s an incredible resource for those moments where you feel overwhelmed and you need truth and you need it fast. And so relatable too—that is a really incredible resource for me in those moments where I need to feel seen and be poured into with truth.
Another thing that was really powerful for me was serving other people in my season of suffering. When I would step out of myself to serve somebody else, it really, really changed my heart.
There’s a family down the street from me, and my friend and I, we started just going on walks together and it grew into such a meaningful friendship during my season of infertility because I would go over there to her house and she didn’t do anything special. She just let me in and she let me love on her girls and take care of them and give them bottles and help get them ready for bed and rock them to sleep. And I got to play Mom for them. She never made me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing. She never made me feel unworthy or like I didn’t fit into this motherhood club. She just let me in and let me love on her kids.
That time that I spent at her house was so incredibly healing for my heart during one of the hardest seasons of my life. So I think when you can step outside of yourself and serve somebody else, it gives you a very healthy perspective.
“I think when you can step outside of yourself and serve somebody else, it gives you a very healthy perspective.” – Megan Smalley
Learning to Accept God’s Grace
Grace is such a hard concept to accept for ourselves. I personally hear those things in my head over and over, like, Yes, God gives us grace. But Megan, remember when you did this? But you fall short every day. And while those things are true, that’s the whole concept of grace. And so I think it’s a learned skill to focus on what grace is and then learn how to accept it and apply it in your life.
“I think it’s a learned skill to focus on what grace is and then learn how to accept it and apply it in your life.” – Megan Smalley
This was something that I didn’t know how to do growing up. I focused so much on right and wrong and following the rules or breaking the rules a lot of times. I just grew up in a world where there were a lot of rules and not a whole lot of grace. And I think in my adult life, I had to learn and lean into this concept of grace, like, what is it? And when the Bible says we’ve been given this free gift just over and over, reminding myself again, It’s free. You did nothing to deserve this.
When we really dig into that and understand what grace is, I think it helps us open our heart to receiving it more, because it really isn’t about what we have or haven’t done. I think we’re selfish sometimes and get so focused on us and why we do or don’t deserve this gift that we forget it’s a gift altogether.
For that woman that is still on her road of uncertainty, on her journey to a baby or maybe to that woman that got the answer of no, I would just say I am so sorry. You are not broken. This is not about anything that you have or haven’t done. You are so loved. You are seen, you are valued, and your story matters. God, for whatever reason, is writing your story differently than your friends. So just know that you are seen and you are loved and your emotions are real and they are valid. You will survive. A lot of days, it feels like you will not make it, but you will, by the grace of God, make it through.
We are not called to come to the foot of the cross perfect. We are called to just show up, to bend our knee before the King of kings and to ask for help and to say, “I need you,” and let His transforming grace, His love, His strength, be enough.
Narrator: To learn more about Megan and her Infertility Sisterhood, please visit www.megansmalley.com, and be sure to find her book, Give Grace, wherever books are sold.
If you’d like to hear more stories about God’s grace, check out our interview with Michael Jr.
Next Week: Amy Kennedy
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from Amy Kennedy and David Degler from A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, and how they’ve experienced God’s presence in the most unexpected ways while enjoying the beauty of his creation.
Amy Kennedy: Find the hikes that you want to do, and the experiences you want to have and see, but also be really open-minded to what God has for you on that trip. Because national parks are beautiful landscapes that are wild and rugged and unpredictable. And some of the best moments with God are those that just happen off the cuff.