So there was this kid named Riley — and she kinda wasn’t like the other kids. She sacrificed birthdays and Christmas gifts in order to pay for cross-continent trips to Kenya, where she cleaned up infants who were diaper-less and covered in filth. Fed babies with medicine cups because no bottles were available. And fell head-over-heels in love with the country and its people. And then at age sixteen — something completely upended her world. Devastating news. It’s a grace to welcome Riley to the farm’s front porch today…
Branson, Missouri, late September, on my lunch hour.
Like I’d done every other school day recently during the break between classes my junior year, I pulled out my phone to text my mom one question: Did you find out?
Today, finally, her answer was different.
>> Yep. I found out.
>> Tell me!!
>> It’s not something we can text about.
>> Let’s talk right after school.
>> Don’t worry. Love you.
Waiting for the MRI results had felt excruciating every day.
That’s why, now that I knew they were in, an afternoon of class and practice seemed endless.
That’s why, the minute volleyball let out, I bolted through the locker room with my gym bag at lightning speed.
The whole way home, I prayed. Please, God. Please, God. I was already calling for my mom before I made it halfway through the back door.
She was sitting at the kitchen table, waiting. There were MRI images and some documents spread out in front of her.
“Hi,” I said breathlessly, rushing to join her at the table. I took off my backpack and sat down in a single motion.
“Hey.” She smiled, sort of—I couldn’t quite read the expression. She sighed and squinted at me a little. “Are you ready for this?”
“Ok.” She took a deep breath and exhaled.
She delivered the easy parts of the news first: that my condition was something I was born with, that it affects the center of a woman’s body, and that the diagnosis explained a lot, from my dizzy spells and my bulging discs to my heart flap and every other medical puzzle I’d faced in the past few years.
But my mom understood that the biggest question I had right then was the one sparked by my ultrasound: Is it really not there?
Without any drama or delay, Mom reached for one of the documents and one of the big images on the table. She put them both directly in front of me, pointing to five words printed at the top of the document: Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome. Then she laid out the situation just as starkly as it was.
“You have this disease,” she said. “It’s known as MRKH, and basically what it means is that you can’t have children.”
I blinked. I swallowed. “Never?”
She shook her head and sighed again. “You’ll never be able to.”
Things in my head started to swirl. “How did the MRI tell us that?”
My mom pointed to two cloudy shapes near the left and right edges of the image.
“What this shows is that you have two ovaries, here and here, but your uterus is supposed to be right here, and it just isn’t.”
There was a long pause as she looked into my confused face. Then she continued.
“Your uterus is what the ultrasound tech couldn’t find, and now this MRI is confirming that it’s missing. This is the big marker for MRKH, unfortunately: women who have the disease are born without a uterus. So this is how we know that you have it.”
One more time, she let the news sink in. “I’m sorry, Ri.”
For a long time I didn’t say anything. Even with all the strange symptoms I’d been having, MRKH still caught me completely by surprise. I would’ve expected it about as much as I would’ve expected a fireball to fall from the sky and crash-land next to me.
When something like this comes onto the scene, it arrives with too much force, too much speed, and too much heat to just touch down smoothly.
Instead there’s a collision. An explosion. A smoldering mass of debris.
I’ve never been the sort of person who’s easily halted by much of anything, but my diagnosis stopped me cold. Even a while later, after the initial shock began to taper off, the reality of my disease still felt impossible to comprehend.
I couldn’t figure out how I would deal with it. I didn’t have a clue how to even start trying.
A few weeks after my MRKH diagnosis, I got up the nerve to tell my friend Kassadee what was going on. I’d been isolating and withdrawing long enough, and I decided it was time to open up. After all, if anybody could help me figure out how to move forward with this thing, my best friend ranked at the top of the list.
Over the years, Kassadee and I have gotten to know pretty much everything there is for two young women to know about each other. Her mom has a rare disease of unknown cause that includes chronic pain. I’ve seen the strength of their faith put on display as they trust God in the midst of questions and suffering. That was already inspiring to me, long before my MRKH made it something I could relate to personally.
On the day of our meeting, I got to the coffee shop a little early, with time enough to claim a quiet booth in the corner. Kassadee arrived a few minutes after me. After ordering our drinks, we sat down, took one sip each, and looked at each other. For a few seconds, we both waited. Then I took a deep breath, and the telling began.
I took a page out of my mom’s playbook and said the hardest thing first. “My doctors found out that I have this disease called MRKH, and it means I can’t ever have kids.”
Kassadee’s initial nonverbal response was so kind and concerned that it opened the floodgates. For the next two hours, we talked about everything.
Well, at first mostly I talked and Kassadee listened. I explained how one doctor’s appointment kept leading to another and another until my diagnosis was in. Then she listened some more while I started processing things out loud, going into detail about how confused, lost, and frustrated I was.
“I just don’t understand why God would let this happen to me,” I told her. “You know how much I love kids, and I know I’d be a good mom, so why this? What did I do wrong? I mean, after all the ways I’ve tried to follow God and serve him, do I really deserve this?”
Kassadee listened patiently. I sighed a big sigh and continued, telling her I’d been digging into God’s Word almost insatiably, looking for an answer or some solace or a little help or just something.
“I know hard things happen to everybody,” I said. “And I get that being a Christian doesn’t mean life will be easy. The thing is—I guess I just really, really don’t understand.”
With that, I stopped talking.
Kassadee took a couple of sips of her hot chocolate, letting everything sink in. Then she put down her mug and leaned toward me over the table.
For the next few minutes, Kassadee recounted some of the ways that she and her family had interrogated God over the years, wanting answers different from the ones they were getting. She acknowledged how hard it is to handle disappointment, especially when there’s no reason to expect it’ll go away.
“You know, Riley, I just keep thinking about Jeremiah 29:11. For I know I the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.
I keep thinking that when you were 13, you went all the way to the other side of the world and fell in love. God brought you to a place where there are so many orphans—so many kids without moms—and now here you are, not able to have children of your own.”
She bit her bottom lip for a moment, then shrugged slightly. “Maybe all this is happening because God is telling you something about your future. Maybe He called you to Kenya because it’s an opportunity to care for more kids than you could ever have yourself?”
There in the coffee shop, in the moment when she brought up the orphans and Kenya, it was just a whiff of an idea to me.
Everything else from our conversation still felt too raw, and I was nowhere near ready to digest a new perspective.
But in the days and weeks that followed, I kept hearing Kassadee’s words over and over in my head, and I started to experience them like a long, low rumble—like a quake going right down the center of me.
And for the first time in a while, I started to understand God’s purpose in my diagnosis.
I serve an amazing God who is always surprising me.
He is always a step ahead.
If I couldn’t have children — What if… Kenya was to give me a thousand children?
God reveals His plan at the perfect time — just as He always does.
And all there is to do — is to simply — bravely — follow His plan with child-like faith.
Riley Banks-Snyder is the founder and executive director of Generation Next, a non-profit she established at the age of 14. Generation Next has built and oversees a school in Kibwezi, Kenya, and runs a thrift shop and food pantry in Branson, Missouri, to fund operations. Riley’s heart is for Africa – and for reminding every young person that they can do more to change the world than they could ever imagine.
Riley Unlikely is the inspiring story of Riley Banks-Snyder, who first traveled to Kenya at age 13, and has been back every year since. Now, as a young adult, Riley is raising money to build a complete learning complex in Kibwezi, Kenya for those who have nothing. Riley Banks-Snyder wasn’t like the other kids. She wasn’t the bravest, she wasn’t the strongest, and she definitely wasn’t the most outgoing. But when God called, she listened, and said yes. God writes surprising stories in the lives of those who follow Him—including yours. Riley Unlikely will stir you to make a difference in your own world and around the globe — pick up this one for every young girl you know — and for the yes in you that’s just waiting for your courage.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan and their partnership in today’s devotion ]