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Taking pride in turning misery into 'defiant joy'

She suffered five miscarriages, all between three and five months of pregnancy.

"We all have our battles," stoically comments Carol McLeod of Orchard Park, who leads one of the largest Bible groups in the nation, attended by hundreds of women who come from as far away as Fredonia.

McLeod grew up just north of Corfu. She's married to Pastor Craig McLeod of Life Church in Cheektowaga.

In her "season of infertility and miscarriages," McLeod fought disillusionment and disappointment. Her "misery," she says, has been transformed into the "passion of ministering to women who are bruised in the battle zone of barrenness," by choosing "joy that's defiant, rather than bitterness."

Adoption is one of the options she encourages these women to consider. And at times it can be "a greater miracle than giving birth," she said after Easter Sunday morning services celebrating redemption. She pointed to a local effort to help a young couple with the expenses of adoption.

For those who feel parenthood is just a matter of genetics, she counters, "A baby is easy to love," even if a child has AIDS, or comes from a misogynist foreign country, or may be older, in foster care. Despite the devaluation our consumer culture places on motherhood, it's a path to joy.

Joy, as McLeod defines it, is not synonymous with happiness. True "defiant joy" takes people through hard times.

"Joy is purposeful," she maintains.

"Sometimes life just isn't fair, is it?" she rhetorically asks. "You are living life the right way, doing the right thing, when bam! You feel that you are being attacked from every direction.

"Bitterness is depression that turns into angry resignation that things will never change," she says. "If you embrace bitterness rather than joy, you will lose your direction in life."

There are at least 150 scriptures in the Bible that use the word "joy." And worry, McLeod maintains, "is a slap in the face to God."

McLeod graduated from Oral Roberts University, where she met her husband-to-be. She ultimately had five children.

When she married in 1977, McLeod thought "We were going to have the perfect marriage. In my fairy-tale mind, I just knew that he would always take out the trash and that I would never nag. I believed with my whole heart that he would understand all of my emotions and that I would never give him the silent treatment. It only took about 10 days of marriage for both of us to realize that our battle technique needed improving.

"Love is a choice and you must build your marriage upon conviction, not on roses and diamond rings."

Defiant joy sometimes takes planning.

For instance, McLeod says she eschews the slanderous habit of gossiping.

"I just refuse to do it," she notes in her new "Defiant Joy!" guide.

"There is a woman in my life who just loves to talk about people. Ninety percent of every conversation that she initiates with me is focused on her insight into other people's lives.

"As she rattles away, totally unaware of my lack of participation in her soliloquy, I will gently insert the question, 'So, have you read any good books lately?' There will be silence on the other end of the phone for maybe seven seconds, and then she takes right off again, slicing and dicing people who were made in the image of God, chewing them up, and then spitting them back out.

"When she finally comes up for air, I will nonchalantly interject, 'What are you having for dinner tonight?' After a few months of this repetitive conversation, she finally said to me, 'You really are not interested in what I have to say about people, are you?' To which I gently replied, 'I am very interested in you, but I am just not interested in talking about people.' "

This pastor's wife, who also gave a reading not long ago at Borders in Cheektowaga, holds up the model of "a woman of quiet strength, who shows kindness in the face of gossip." She "will have too many friends to count."


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