Learning the same things all over again

Well my infertile friends, here I am again.

I keep writing and re-writing these first few lines. How personal should I get? Who even cares? But when I read blogs and things like this, knowing a little of where those words are coming from means a lot to me. This is a more personal post than usual, but I’ll keep it brief and as vague as possible. After a while of trying for baby #3, I had an ectopic pregnancy a couple months ago. It came out of no where. It ended in surgery and I lost my tube. It was a bit overwhelming. God was unimaginably faithful. And now, we wait again.

We have been reliving so many of the same lessons we walked through years back as we waited for our first child. Will we ever get pregnant? Is this it? What is God doing? What story is He writing for our family? A God-given yearning for a baby that often overwhelms and surprises me. Where did this feeling come from? Why did He give it, if He might not meet it? So many possible fears and unknowns. Two weeks to the day after my surgery some of our closest friends told us they’re expecting. We’re thrilled for them, for sure, but it was those same conflicting feelings all over again. Will that ever be us? Do they know this is painful? 

Back then hearing about “secondary infertility” often made me roll my eyes. You already have kids, I would thinkThis is not the same. And it’s true, it’s not the same. I have full arms and a full home with two sweet little boys. I have seen the Lord faithfully meet my deep longing to be a mother, in some really incredible ways. Stories we get to retell over and over of miracles and mercy. I will not tell you it’s the same at all.

But He is meeting me here, and that is the same. Continue reading “Learning the same things all over again”

The thing about pain

The thing about pain is, it hangs over you. You carry it with you wherever you go. Sometimes it’s right out front. You can’t get out of bed. You can’t talk about anything else. You can’t think about anything else. Nothing can make you smile. You cry without extra cause. It’s just swelling over you and out of you and consuming you, no matter how hard you try (if you can try at all).

And sometimes it’s standing in the background. The awkward guest at a party — everyone sees him standing off to the side, not really doing much, but definitely there. At any silence in the conversation, at some little moment without warning, he shouts something. “Oh, right,” you think, “You’re still here.”

ps147Grief is like that. That permanent loss leaves a permanent pain that just always sort of hangs there. In the beginning everyone sees it, everyone mentions it, everyone tries to help carry it. But later it’s just yours. Sometimes you sort of overlook it — this picture on the wall that’s been there for years that you sometimes don’t even notice is part of the decor anymore. Sometimes it jumps out at you and you realize there was a lion just standing in the corner the whole time, and you kept walking past it. Sometimes it’s so heavy,  but you pretend you’re ignoring it because you don’t want to keep bothering everyone. But it’s heavy and it’s big and it’s weighing you down, and it won’t go away.
And you don’t know the solution. That’s the true worst part. Nothing will really fix it. “Is there anything I can do for you?” People ask. You have no idea. I just want you to know. I just want you to remember a few years from now that I have this weight. I just want you to carry this with me when it’s just there and there’s nothing to be “done”.

And the thing about pain is, until you’ve had your own, you don’t know what this feels like. Why is she still stuck on that? You think. That was years ago. It’s over now. She should be moving on by now. And, maybe worst of all, This isn’t that big of a deal. And then you get your own pain, and you grieve for how unsympathetic you were. You know of others with pain and you just want to walk up and say, “I know you’re dying inside right now! I know this is killing you. I know about the pain. I know.” 

The thing about Christ is, He always knew. He knew about the guy in the corner. He knew about the lion. He knew about the weight. He knew when no one else knew. He cared before anyone else could, and cared when no one did anymore. When you were wondering How can I bear this alone? How will I bear this at all? What will carry me through this? The answer was Christ. The solution when there are no solutions, is to take comfort and peace in Christ, and take it up again every day after.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” -Psalm 34:18

Seizing your childless days

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” -Psalm 90:12

Whether it’s easy to admit of not, if you’re struggling with infertility, it means you are facing days in your life plans that are freer than you were expecting. We often don’t know how long these days will last — it may be a few extra months, it may be a couple more years, or it could very well be a totally different life from now on than we’d planned. By now we were hoping to be morning sick or chasing a toddler around the house. Some of us were already saving for school tuition and extra mouths to feed. We thought we’d be on our way to quitting our so-so (or very beloved) job and cutting back on other commitments. But here we are. Waiting. Free, but not so “footloose and fancy.”

Psalm 90 beckons us to be wise when we look at our days. Likewise, Ephesians 5:15-16 warn:

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”

While this blog has often talked of the need to seize these days in a spiritual sense, we would be remiss if we didn’t also consider how to use these unexpectedly free hours in a practical sense. I’d like to make some suggestions to pray about as you (and your spouse!) ask yourselves: How can we best use this time?

  • Invest in the children and families already in your life. It takes a lot of maturity to look past the desire for your own children and look more widely at those God has already put in your life. Perhaps you might consider investing more fully in nieces and nephews, younger siblings, kids of church friends or neighbors, etc. Besides the personal benefits of gaining more experience with kids, you’ll be using time you have now (that you likely won’t have as much of later) to bless others. You may even find a way to relieve some of the burden of loving your own children. How can you do this?
    • Babysit – I know, it’s not usually a fun thing! It will be sanctifying to you and a blessing to others. Consider it an investment in the marriage of another — you and your husband likely have regular date nights, don’t you think your neighbors would love one, too?
    • Be involved – Go to sports games and recitals, hand-pick personal birthday gifts, and spend time getting to know these kids a little more. Parents really appreciate someone who shows genuine care for their kids (and kids do, too!).
    • Love a mom – Moms need a ton of support. Moms of very young kids are especially in need of an extra hand. Look around at the moms in your life or consider asking your Pastor or his wife if they know a young mom who might need a little help. This might be tagging along on a shopping trip to reign in runaway kids, helping fold laundry while she’s cleaning the bathroom, or just coming over for a  visit to give her some adult conversation every now and then.
  • Grow in knowledge. Take the time and money you have and learn a new skill or develop ones you already have. Maybe you’ll want to take a course or higher a tutor, or maybe you’ll want to buy some extra materials or just spend more time practicing. It could be years before you’re free to invest in yourself again.
  • Grow spiritually. This is the main focus of this blog, but it’s worth reminding you, oh reader, that the Lord is shouting to you in your pain (to paraphrase CS Lewis). Use your freedom (however unwelcome it may be) to memorize scripture, grow your prayer list, read more theology, and take some classes at church. One day you may be thirsting for the chance! The Bible speaks so much of investing in things that cannot be destroyed — no matter what your future holds, you’ll never regret investing in your soul.
  • Invest in your marriage. Someday it may seem impossible to work in a date night for months or years. It may be all you can do to say “hey” to your spouse in between a morning feeding and eventually crawling into bed at night. Consider using your days now to build an even stronger foundation for your relationship. Look into a marriage retreat or conference (I recommend this one), read some books together or by yourself (here’s a good list), take up a hobby together or start taking date night more seriously. Your future kids will definitely thank you for having a strong marriage!
  • Focus more on your work. When I say “focus on work,” I don’t mean become obsessed with work, distract yourself with overtime, or make your career your idol. But if you’re in a job, why not do it with excellence? Do your duties to the fullest. Improve your credentials or position. Consider making changes if you’re in something you were hoping to leave by now (I know this can be hard to face — like admitting defeat — but I’d encourage you to to see it as good stewardship of your hours and energy).
  • ps9012Serve your church. Look into more ways you can be blessing your church with your time and energy. It may be teaching a class or serving behind the scenes, or signing up for one-time events. Talk to your pastor or other leaders to explore options you may not even know about.
  • Consider missions work. Your church or a para-church organization (like this one or this one) may have some short-term (from weeks, to months, to even a year or two) opportunities that are a good fit for you. Investing your time in the global cause for the gospel is priceless.
  • Consider being a foster parent. Even if you aren’t sure adoption is in your future, if your heart is to love and parent children, there’s no reason you can’t start now. There are thousands of children in the foster system today who would benefit from even a temporary stay with a loving family. Every state has a different process for this, usually requiring some informational classes and parenting classes, and an application and interview process. You can google your state or go here for more info.
  • Prepare for parenthood. I hesitate to mention this because I personally don’t feel the best way to use infertile months is to obsess over having kids. It’s for you to choose healthy boundaries. You can certainly gauge which investments of time and money might be regrettable in the future. If there’s a chance you’ll be a parent one day, it might be wise to think ahead. Does your church offer a parenting class? Have you heard any book recommendations from friends?

Continue reading “Seizing your childless days”

In which it turns out I’m Rachel

“Give me children, or I shall die!”

This was Rachel’s (albeit irrational) plea to her husband Jacob after waiting nearly a decade to marry her love, and watching her sister bear him four sons while she stood by barren. Obviously, Jacob was helpless to fulfill his desperate wife’s demands. In frustration he replied, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of your womb?”

Like Sarah, who you may recall I have long-considered my kindred-spirit among the barren women of the Bible, Rachel takes matters into her own hands and has Jacob bear her children through her servant.

It doesn’t say the amount of time, but judging from what looks like a fairly smooth succession of Rachel’s sister Leah’s birthing several children (herself and through her own servant), I would estimate it was at least ten years of fruitlessness for Rachel before this magical verse just pops up out of no where:

“Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.”

Rachel became pregnant and birthed Joseph. Not long after, she had Benjamin as well. What a beautiful story of waiting and hope.

But also, what’s up with that? In one verse, with no special explanation or plan like we can see more clearly for women Sarah or Elizabeth, God just decides to open Rachel’s womb. And now, apparently, she can have kids no problem. So long, infertility.

rachelThis is a verse I read right before I learned that I was pregnant with my son after years of infertility that couldn’t be explained. The lesson is unmistakeable, and one we often mention to people when we share our story — God is the One who opens and closes the womb. We trust Him with this decision. We’ve learned to stop asking “Why?” We gained so much peace and closure through this truth. I don’t know why we went through that. Everyone always tries to figure out it — to diagnose the undiagnosed and explain what is veiled. I assume this is because they want to find a way to be sure it won’t happen to them — I’m a special case, and they are probably in the clear. But I’m not a special case. Rachel wasn’t a special case. God is the God of all things — even the womb. He chooses the time when he opens it, when he closes it, and the reasons. Some of us may know these reasons now, some of us may know someday, and some never will.

It was with this peace and trust, learned after months of agony, that my husband and I read, with great astonishment, a second positive pregnancy test, just five months after our son was born. —Wait, what?!— we asked again, like we did with Rachel’s story. How can that happen? Years of toil for the first, and zero toil with the second. Could it be that I’m not just Sarah, I’m Rachel? God opened my womb in His time and for His reasons?

Yes, believe it or not (I cannot!), I am writing this post five months pregnant with our second child. This time we barely had time to pray for a child. Never in a million years did we think we would feel “surprised” by a pregnancy. We worked so hard to be content with no children, and were so overwhelmed with gratitude to just have one — we had hardly prepared our hearts for the possibility that we would have more, and with ease.

And I hope this encourages you today. I know there’s a chance it can break your heart. But I hope you can take peace in the reality that God is ultimately sovereign over your womb, and He can open it when He wants. He may not open it… but He really may. And you may never know why, but you can trust His decision, before and after.

On Surrendering: Letting go of the lines

Something we greatly struggled with in our walk through infertility was the feeling that the trial kept pushing on past these sort of “lines” that we prayed diligently not to cross. You may have similar lines in the potential timeline ahead of you that, when you think of them, send your heart into a panic and send you to your knees begging not to get there.

To be candid, some of the big “lines” for us were:

-getting to a year of trying to conceive and having to do tests

-having to do treatments

-a big one for me was having to give myself shots; it was just an unbearable thought

-treatments that failed

-having to return overseas still childless after a hiatus and go back to life and work without a baby

Spoiler alert: we walked right through every one of these lines, and every one of them felt more painful than the one before. There were several other small “cringe” milestones, but these were the big ones we prayed about over and over. It was hard for us to understand why God would make us go through these things when we so desperately asked Him not to.trust

Midway through the above bullet points we happened to go to some counseling as a way to debrief and pre-brief (is that a thing?) our coming stint back overseas. There actually wasn’t much on our agenda to discuss; it was just something we decided to do to strengthen ourselves for our coming return to a rather stressful lifestyle.

Anyway, it was during one of these counseling sessions that we had an “a-ha moment” (to go all Oprah on you) that altered the rest of the course of our trial.

We were sharing about the struggle of having to cross each of these “lines” – one of us was openly sharing our hearts, and said something like this: “We totally trust the Lord in this situation and have a lot of peace. We feel we’ve totally given it to Him. I guess the hardest thing for us is that we feel there are these lines that we have in our hearts that we just beg Him to spare us from, and so far He hasn’t.”

After elaborating more on this pain, our counselor said the most obvious thing:

            “It sounds to me like you haven’t fully surrendered.”

We were taken aback at first. Are you kidding, lady? Of course we’ve surrendered! We’d already been going through this for a very long time. We were long past handing it over to the Lord.

But the more we discussed it, the more we realized she was right. In holding onto to these “anything-but-that” points of prayer, we were holding back some trust in God. And the worst thing was, it was kind of killing us. We were denying ourselves the full peace we desired in this valley of pain, because we kept holding on to these things we just “couldn’t” do.

Perhaps this can be a challenge to you now to take those “Please, Lord, just don’t make us ______________” lines and finally erase them. I can personally testify to the freedom and peace you are likely forfeiting by gripping on to your lines.

Throwback Thursday: On complaining, being inconsolable, and being sensitive

Take a moment and read with me from Philippians 2:14-16

Do all things without grumbling or complaining, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

I used to teach in public schools, and this verse was close to my heart each day. It tells one clear way you can stand out as a follower of Christ while living among the world: do everything without grumbling and complaining. Back then, for me, that meant not whining about standardized testing and after school meetings. Today, it comes to mind when thinking about my “lot” in life of infertility. As I read through blogs, forums, and magazines and listen to other women talk, I am overcome by a tidal wave of complaints. And what’s worse is, because we’re suffering something sad and beyond our control, we feel we deserve to be complaining. So no one stops us, and we don’t question ourselves.

So it goes with what I see are two other sin issues of infertility and trial in general: being inconsolable, and being too sensitive. We allow and excuse these behaviors in ourselves and others because we feel we deserve to act this way, given the struggles we are facing. We think it’s natural, normal, and merited. But God commands us to be holy as He is holy without condition. We aren’t exempt from being sinful simply because we are in a hard situation. Why are these choices sinful, you may ask? You already see above that we are commanded not to grumble or complain, so that’s obvious. Here are some reasons I’ve thought of (you may have some to add, and please do!):

  1. Not having a submissive attitude to God’s will – If you are sitting in a pit, whining about your life and refusing to try and improve your attitude, you have a heart issue, dear friend. It may not be easy every day, but you are commanded to submit to the Lord in all things, even in infertility. Attitudes like this show a refusal to submit — just as a disobedient child will slam down with his arms crossed and head shaking, so am I when I complain about my situation and refuse to feel better or take consolation or advice.holy
  2. Not choosing joy – We are commanded to be joyful people, even (especially?) in trial. If you refuse to be joyful, you are in direct disobedience to this command, and that’s sin. There’s not much more I can say about that!
  3. Being touchy is not loving – We are commanded to be loving (God is love, after all). 1 Corinthians 13, everyone’s favorite passage since A Walk to Remember, tells us that “love is not easily angered;” in a looser, modern interpretation, it says “love is not touchy.” When I get easily offended by everything others say, I’m choosing not to be loving. (Yes, I know you’re thinking about how others need to be more sensitive to be loving, but that is not a condition for my love.)
  4. Being selfish at heart – When I feel sensitive or see others acting that way, the first thing that comes to mind is selfishness. While other Christians ought to have the wisdom to be sensitive in their words around others who are suffering, we need to fight the selfish thoughts that feel entitled to this and angry when it’s neglected. We cannot reasonably think everyone around us is constantly censoring their speech in light of what is going on in our hearts. It would be nice, sure, but don’t you hear the “the world revolves around me” mindset in that? We can, in love, choose to let the sting roll off, forgive within without always rebuking, and assume the best of the speaker. We can also choose to accept that everyone is at a different place in their journey, and we cannot demand full wisdom and sanctification of everyone just because it may otherwise hurt us a little more. That’s not reasonable, and it’s selfish.pet
  5. Being ungrateful and discontent at heart – We know this. If we’re complaining, we’re being ungrateful. We’re longing for a change in our life God is not giving, and we’re expressing unhappiness with where He has us. We are not finding our peace and joy in Christ, we are seeking it in other things. I’m not saying this isn’t hard to work at (this is called a trial, after all), but it is necessary to our obedience, our witness, and our sanctification.

You probably already know some or all of those points. Some may turn on a lightbulb and change your attitude immediately. Some may take a lot of prayer and intentionality. But God does not require impossible things of us, so by His grace we can expect to achieve these heart and attitude changes. You have a choice — you may be inclined to these sinful behaviors, but you are not obligated to or entitled to them. You are obligated to holiness, and you can choose it every time, if you want.

Reposted from November 20, 2013

Decision making in God’s will – Part 1

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time, but I always hesitate because I’m not sure how it’ll come across. I don’t want it to sound like we have it all figured out, because we definitely don’t. However, I recall feeling like the “trying to conceive” game was a lot of one decision after another. (I guess life is, really.) Actually, it seems in our first several years of marriage and adult life, my husband and I have already had a lot of major (and minor) decisions to overcome. That being said, with a lot of prayer and discernment, we’ve sort of arrived at a system for making decisions.

I think this is important because there are a lot of considerations the Christian faces when making decisions, particularly in this arena. For one, I have to say it would be a dire error for a Christian couple to tackle infertility merely by following the medical protocol point-blank. If all of your decisions so far and to come are made solely based on the fact that your doctor says that’s what’s next, you may want to reconsider how open you’re being to the will of God. That sounds judgey, I know… but let’s just agree for the rest of this post that I’m not trying to be judgey, because there’s basically no way to write it without sounding that way.

ancientpathLikewise, the longer we’ve walked this journey the more convinced I am that there is not one set best route for everyone — except for the route that continually and sincerely seeks the Lord’s will and chooses against sin. A major part of God’s leading in our life involved foregoing or delaying medical intervention and waiting on Him. This was a big deal for us and a big work He did in our hearts. However, I wouldn’t say this is the ultimate right path for all Christians facing infertility. And I wouldn’t say following the set medical protocol is the definite wrong path for everyone. I would say you need to be sincerely seeking the Lord’s will for you — being willing to stop or go as you feel He is leading, even if it differs from what you want.

How do you do this? How do you make a decision you feel confident is God’s will when, say, you have a few days in between a failed IUI and the next cycle, and need to decide if you’re going to do another one or not? Or when you reach the one-year point of trying to conceive and are totally distressed but don’t want to (and shouldn’t!) make a decision based solely on that? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I can tell you what we do (and you call tell me what you think!).

First, we always pray. We pray sincerely, constantly, and openly. We talk to the Lord about our situation, feelings, hopes, and our options. We confess our unconfessed sins in order to have hearts ready to be spoken to by the Spirit.

Second, we talk to wise people. The Bible speaks so highly of consulting with others and seeking wisdom. We would be fools to think we can face a new situation and succeed without any help from people God has given as resources. Depending on the situation, this could include church leaders, parents, trusted Christian friends, and/or people who have been in a similar situation. This doesn’t mean we do whatever they say. We simply allow the Lord to speak to us through their experience and advice, and factor it into our decision.

Additionally, we ask others to pray for and with us. We would ask many of the people listed above to be praying with us for wisdom in making a decision. Trusting them to be wise and godly, we’d be open to any leading they may feel from God as well.

We give it time. Obviously, every situation allows for its own amount of time. When deciding whether to move overseas, you may have months or years. When deciding whether to implant an extra embryo, you have a day or two, tops. I must add, we would never make a decision based solely on short time — we did delay our first fertility treatment, for example, because we didn’t feel sure by the time we had to decide. Being rushed doesn’t seem like it should be considered direction from God; it falls more into the category of emotions and fears. That being said, we’ll agree on what feels like a reasonable amount of time to keep praying and thinking about it. During this time we keep open hearts and minds, being sensitive to how God may be leading us.

We choose a time to decide. So this is the “step” that is most specific to our little “system.” We think it’s wise, and it’s best for indecisive people like us who struggle to be confident with our decisions. But it’s not exactly taken from any Bible passage or command. It’s just a way we feel comfortable seeking guidance from the Lord. After, for instance, a few days of initial prayer and thought, we will agree together on a time that seems right to make a decision. Oftentimes, we have also agreed on the decision we will make by that time, unless the Lord leads otherwise. Then during the period in between, we will be praying and seeking any direction God is giving — we will be sensitive to the Spirit and honest with what we think He’s telling us.

What this sounds like is: we may approach the Lord and say something like, Lord, unless you lead us otherwise, we will be signing the lease for this house on the first of next month. In between now and then, we ask that you will be giving us confidence in this decision or closing the door. For us, this is the best way not to be frozen in decision making (which is often a decision in itself), while sincerely staying open to God’s will and leading. And can I tell you something? The reason I’m writing about this is that God has always been faithful to answer this prayer. I could write for you story after story of times in our life — and even just in our infertility — when we approached God in this way, and He closed or opened doors to give us confidence in our decision.

…To be continued! In Part 2 of this post, I’ll attempt to answer the question of how God opens and closes doors. I’ll also share one of the most significant things we pray for, and the most important step in decision making. 

More on peace

I thought it would be nice to share a song to compliment my last post on peace. Unfortunately, this was the best version I could find, so I apologize for the very corny pictures. But it has the song (“Perfect Peace” by Laura Story) with lyrics, so hopefully you can overlook the corniness to let it bless your heart today.

Also, I appreciated this list of verses, if you were wanting more: 25 Encouraging Bible Verses to Give you Peace

Rejoicing with Those Who Rejoice

I’ve been wanting to a write on this topic, but she says it so well I’ll just share her post!

Dwell in Me

Joseph, favorite son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his own brothers. The motive? That boy was daddy’s favorite, and they were jealous. Murderously jealous. In fact, if a tribe of Ishmaelites hadn’t shown up at just the right time, the original plan was to kill the boy, their brother, the favorite son of their father.

It’s really a sad story. I can’t imagine being so totally rejected by my own brothers and sister. It would be heartbreaking.

But this story has a truly remarkable ending. Joseph is raised up among the Egyptians. He becomes the number two guy in all of Egypt and prevents the people from starving during a severe, seven-year famine.

He also finds himself in a position to make an important choice.

When Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery appear before him wanting to purchase food for their families, he could have repaid their evil…

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