The fruit that grew when I was barren

 

flower

This is probably going to read like a summary of this whole blog, but it is what it is. My baby boy turns 12 weeks on Monday, and every.single.day. I still look at him and can’t believe he is here and he is my baby. I can’t believe that happened to us — which is ironic, because in our years of infertility I would so often think, I can’t believe this is happening to us. But he’s here. A living and breathing testament of the hardest season in our life so far, and of the faithfulness of God in mercifully bringing us through it.

I once thought after all of this was over, I would just put it behind me and finally move forward with our life. I’ll get over it and move on. Surprisingly (or not), I can’t really get over it. I mean, I’m not obsessed with it. I’m not always talking about it. I’m not about to become the Infertility Awareness spokeswoman. But there’s no denying that it’s a part of me. How can it not be? I’ve written over and over about how this is a sanctifying work. If it changed me so much (and boy, did it!), how could I ever just forget about it? It’s so clear to me now how much this trial reshaped me.

If for nothing else than my own reflection, I’d like to share with you some of the biggest lessons I learned in my infertility. 

1. This isn’t my baby. When I was about 9 weeks pregnant, my husband and I were casually preparing to go out to dinner with some friends. Out of nowhere, I discovered I was bleeding pretty heavily. Panic washed over me like never in my life. I screamed for my husband and broke down sobbing. We prayed hard, pleading with God not to take this baby yet. I remembered calling out, Father, you may ask a miscarriage of me some day with some baby, but please don’t make it today or this baby. I ended up on bed rest for a month, and, obviously, God was merciful and our baby was fine.Quote1

Now that he’s here, like all mothers, I spend a silly amount of time sneaking in to check on him while he sleeps. Our first few nights home, he slept like a rock, but we lost tons of sleep jumping up every 10 minutes to make sure he was ok. I still pop up a few times a night just to peek over and see his chest moving. The scary thought has crossed my mind a few times: What if I come in one day and he’s not breathing? 

The lesson from both of these stories, and every other worry my new-mom mind conjures up about his life, is the same lesson I learned when I was waiting for him. This is not my baby. We are daily Abraham standing with his long-awaited Isaac, ready to give him back to the Lord whenever He may require it. Of course we could stand here close-fisted, in constant terror that we could lose this dear treasure at any moment. But instead we’ve learned (and continue to learn) to hold him up, hands open and arms lifted, an offering to the Lord. There is so much more peace in this. This is the Lord’s baby, and we trust Him to do with him as he wishes.

2. Compassion. I’m a little embarrassed to say I used to be a pretty compassionless person. I think I had compassion on the really poor and needy, but with the everyday person like me, I just didn’t care that much about their problems. I probably cared about my friends’ troubles, but if I was honest, I didn’t care that deeply. But now that I’ve had true troubles of my own, He has transformed the way I think about what others may be going through. I’m less quick to judge. I cry more easily at their pain. I’m more patient with their struggles. I’ve stopped gauging how serious I think someone’s trial is — if it’s really that bad. If it’s that bad to them, then it’s that bad. It was that bad to me. I regret that this wasn’t my heart sooner, but I’m grateful the Lord has brought me here.

3. God is trustworthy. This is one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when we saw that surprise positive pregnancy test. Wow, He actually did it! All that time I was hoping He would — I was trusting He would — but there was no way to be sure He would. Having that confirmation has totally changed the way I pray and how I see Him. I thought I had faith in prayer before, but now it is no longer blind faith — I know that He can do it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I remember thinking that morning that, even if He took the baby the very next day, this would change everything. It was no longer praying and getting back silence. He had heard and acted for us. And now I know He could do that again, about anything else we ask of Him. This has changed our relationship with Him so much.

Quote24. Nothing is hopeless & impossible things can happen. Like many of you, l bet, last summer we sat in a fertility clinic across from a doctor who calculated the percent likelihood we had of conceiving a child on our own. I kind of forget now (it’s not the kind of thing you store up in your heart), but I think it was something like 9%. Now, my husband is in economics, so he’s a little more knowledgable about statistics — in fact, him not liking the way the doctor “tweaked” his math to come up with that number was a big reason we changed clinics. Nevertheless, we knew our odds were looking grim. It only looked worse when our treatments later failed. But then one day, we were pregnant. It happened. By all calculations, it wasn’t likely. But it did. Since then whenever we’re asked to pray for seemingly impossible things, I am so much more optimistic (read: faith-filled) — I was there when it wasn’t supposed to happen, and I was there when it did. So why couldn’t it happen again?

6. Really terrible things can happen to me. I guess this is kind of a strange thing to call “fruit,” but I see it as part of a sober mindset. Knowing how to “number my days” and have an accurate estimation of my life as a vapor. We always think it won’t be us. God wouldn’t do that to us. I wouldn’t be the one whose baby dies from SIDS. My husband wouldn’t be the one who becomes a paraplegic. My mom wouldn’t be the one who gets horrible cancer. “God forbid,” we say. But God may not forbid, if it’s for our better. For the sake of making me more like Christ, nothing is off limits. The first step in handling it well is not living in denial of its likelihood.

7. My treasure is in Christ. Oh, the blog posts I could write about this! I wrestled so much with the desire to have children as my inheritance from the Lord. There were many days when there was nothing else I desired. How much I needed to learn that Christ is my inheritance. Christ is my treasure. In Christ we have everything we could ever want or need. I used to claim I believed that, but it wasn’t until I wasn’t going to have children — an idol I didn’t know I had; the thing deep down I really wanted and needed — that I learned it was really true. It wasn’t until Christ was all I had, that I truly knew He is all I need. I’ve been wanting a post about this image I always see on Pinterest, which I have come to, well, kind of despise:

first
I hate this.

NO! We have long had everything, because we had Christ.

First we had nothing.

Then we had everything in Christ.

Then everything else was undeserved mercy.

Including you.  

…But I guess that doesn’t look as cute in a nursery.

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He will tear it away

I’m currently caught up in a fascinating book called Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons, which chronicles the lives and ministries of Adoniram Judson‘s three wives (who were his wives in succession, not the same time, of course… they each passed away in turn).  Tonight I’m reading more of the story of his first wife Ann, who had the hard role of being the wife in the very start of his rough ministry to Burma. This book, which largely consists of many of her letters and journal entries, profoundly speaks to my heart as I have lived through and am living through so much that is like what they have experienced. It’s a very specific sort of life, and so touching when we find the rare occasion of having someone else understand it.

Well in tonight’s reading, Mrs. Judson had her first baby, a boy, who then died when he was eight months old. At that time they were totally alone on the field, and they struggled a lot to find daily joy. They had found much delight in their baby Roger.

In relating to their struggles, and rejoicing when they had a baby, it broke my heart to read of his passing (though I’ve heard their general story before, and know Mr. Judson eventually lost several children in his life). But more than anything, it touched my heart to read the words she wrote at the height of her grief, in a letter to her parents informing them of the loss. What a perfect perspective.

“But God has taught us by affliction what we would not learn by mercies — that our hearts are His exclusive property, and whatever rival intrudes, He will tear it away.”

What depth in such a time of raw emotion! What spiritual maturity!

Here are a couple other meaningful quotes from her in that time of trial and mourning:

“Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error and strip us of our little all. Oh may it not be in vain that He has done it. May we so improve it that He will stay His hand and say, ‘It is enough.'”

When speaking of all the nights of joy their son brought them, she concludes,

“Yet this is denied us, this must be removed, to show us that we need no other source of enjoyment but God Himself.”

Her spiritual depth really leaves me speechless, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Suggested books on prayer

In followup to yesterday’s post on growing our prayer lives, I wanted to give some suggested reading. But really, guys, please don’t over-think it. As I told you yesterday and in posts past, Jesus gave us really clear instruction for prayer, so we don’t need to read a bunch of books before diving in.

I have read some of these, and some I’ve had suggested to me by trusted friends. Please comment if you have any to add, or to give your review of any of these books!

Prayer by Philip Yancey

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels

These haven’t been recommended to me yet, but in my searching I came across them and they looked good. I have read other writings by their authors, so I expect them to be biblical and trustworthy, and hope to read them in the future.

Prayer: The Ultimate Conversation by Charles Stanley

Does Prayer Change Things? by R.C. Sproul (the Kindle edition is currently free!)

The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul (the Kindle edition is currently free!)

Lord, Teach me to Pray in 28 Days by Kay Arthur

A  Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer by John Piper

When I took the prayer class, these were the required books:

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala

The Prayer Factor by Sammy Tippit

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Growing your prayer life

I’ve shared before that prayer is really a big deal in my life. I don’t think I’m special because of that, I don’t think I’m spiritually gifted or anything, I say this with honestly but total humility — in my Christian life, prayer has always been significant. I’ve also shared that a huge contributor to this was a prayer class I took at Bible college. I know — what a weird class, right? It completely changed my life though. In the course we discussed why we pray, how to pray, how to motivate others to pray, and other similar topics. We read several prayer-related books, and, most importantly to me, we learned to develop our personal prayer lives.

iwillprayFor the course, our “homework” included a minimum of 30 minutes of prayer a day. Confession: the first week or so, 30 minutes was basically torture. For one thing, I speak quickly, so I ran out of things to say pretty fast. And it was hard to get used to talking to Someone who wasn’t talking back. The professor helped us fill this time by giving us specific things to start off a prayer list. He assigned everyone an obscure country to pray for (see this site/book for guidance), as well as random people from our government (example) and other world leaders. Each week, we had to bring a personal prayer update to class with enough copies to give everyone. So we ended up with 20 or so prayer updates to help us pray personally for our classmates. I think we may have also been assigned professors and college employees. We were also taught the biblical value of praying using scripture. We were encouraged to keep a list, which I used a journal for, of specific things and people we were praying for. Within a few weeks, I can honestly say my prayer time could not be contained to just 30 minutes, and I cherished my prayer request journal, which, by the end of the semester, served as a memorial to dozens of prayer requests the Lord had answered in just 12 weeks of daily prayer.

We were also taught not to just use prayer as a time of asking for things. God is not Santa Claus, after all. When Jesus taught His disciples (and us) to pray (in Luke 11), He covered a lot in just a few verses:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.'”

First of all, He says “When you pray” — this assumes your prayer time is happening. It’s not optional or occasional. If you read the gospels, which tell the story of Christ’s life, you see time and time again that He spends a lot of time in prayer. He expects the same of us. In fact, in the prayer class, we were encouraged to pray in solitude early in the morning, just like Jesus often did.

In the example prayer He gives, Jesus covers important aspects of prayer. He starts with praising God and asking for His will, He petitions the Lord for provision and tells us to confess our sins and ask for protection against future sins. You may have heard the prayer model of “A.C.T.S.” — that is, Adoration (praising God for who He is), Contrition (confessing sins with a repentant heart), Thanksgiving (thanking God for what He’s done and given), and Supplication (asking God to answer requests). I learned this little method, which follows Luke 11, in that class, and I often follow it to this day. I see it as a “protection” against only using prayer to ask for things, and a guide to balance my prayers and stick to Christ’s instructions for how to pray.

By the time I finished the prayer class, my prayer life was completely transformed. I loved spending an unlimited block of time each morning seeking the Lord, I loved adding people’s prayer requests to my list and seeing God answer them, and I felt closer to the Lord than I ever had.

Over the years since, my prayer life hasn’t always stayed so extraordinary, but I can testify that the effects of the class still linger greatly. Unlike before the class, I now cherish the fundamental belief that a personal prayer life is not optional or only for times of need. I can honestly say I really enjoy meeting with God in prayer, and I really need it. If I go too long without a solid time of prayer with Him, I can feel it, and I have to have it. This isn’t because I’m a super-saint — I was not like this before that class. I mean, sure, I liked praying, but anything more than a couple minutes was agony. I don’t naturally have a great attention span, and I had never given myself the chance (or had the guidance) to intentionally practice the discipline of prayer.

And that’s what I really want to get at with this post. A couple semesters after taking that class, I remember a friend asking to have dinner with me to discuss something. At dinner, she started asking my advice on how to build her prayer life, at one point asking if I thought prayer was a spiritual gift. I absolutely do not think that. A prayer life, as we heard and saw from Jesus Himself, if a nonnegotiable necessity to any healthy Christian life. If you, like I once did, think you’re bad at it or don’t really need it, what you really need is an intentional period of growth.

It would be the natural temptation of many of us to read about the requirements for the prayer class and cry legalism. And you’re right in knowing that Christ freed us from the law — so we don’t have to pray special prayers at special times in special ways. 30 minutes is not a magic, holy number. However, there is much said in scripture about discipline and intentional growth — and I would hate for anyone to miss out on that beautiful, life-changing growth because she’s confusing intentionality with legalismpray

If you’re thinking about your prayer life and feel it’s lacking something, or you even kind of cringe at the thought, I challenge you to consider how you can intentionally change this area of your life. There isn’t a special formula, but I can personally recommend the methods I shared about above. I am going to share some book recommendations, but it’s really as easy as (perhaps) setting a time limit, scheduling a daily prayer session (P.S. If you don’t schedule it, you probably won’t do it!), and making a prayer list. Consider raising the time limit every week, and soliciting prayer requests from friends, finding them in the news, or using your church’s prayer list. Get creative. If you don’t have a lot of requests, spend more time thanking and praising God. Or just talk about your life and thoughts, like you would with a friend. I personally prefer to pray out loud (it helps my attention span); one of my best friends has long loved to write out her prayers. Embrace the freedom God has given, and find what works for you!

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback — how have you grown your prayer life in the past? If you take up this challenge, please come back and share how it’s going!

On Fasting (Piper)

I have a post scheduled to come soon on prayer, and I keep thinking people are going to read it and think, “Wow, this chick really thinks she’s good at prayer.” I don’t think I’m specially prayer gifted or anything. It’s just something important to my life.

But, to keep a healthy balance, I’m posting today about a Christian discipline I’ve always been terrible at. Fasting. When I’ve spent even a day fasting (even those cheating, sundown-to-sundown kinds), I’ve always hated it. It’s just torture and horribly distracting. I’m not proud of this, but there it is. I really need to grow at it, and I’ve tried to grow in it a lot in the past. In more recent years I’ve tried to make it more doable, but useful, by fasting in ways other than totally eliminating all food and drink (the coffee fast of ’12 is forever burned into my brain as a “special” spiritual season). But I know I need to discipline myself to be able to sacrifice anything for the sake of spiritual growth and growing closer to the Lord.

Anyway, enough about me and my Christian shortcomings. I could go on forever. Here are some good thoughts from John Piper on fasting. In addition to it being a vital spiritual discipline, I know most readers on this site are spending a lot of time in prayer these days, and fasting goes hand-in-hand with seasons of prayer.