“Oh Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup. In You my lot is secure.” -Psalm 16:5
Elisabeth Elliot taught me this verse. She has several key verses, I guess you could call them life verses of hers, that are frequently repeated throughout her writing, and this is one of them.
One of her strongest points of teaching, which has dramatically impacted my heart and life, is about cultivating a “quiet heart” that rests in the Lord regarding all things. I’ve been fascinated and challenged by the various areas of life she applies this to.
For our purposes, this verse is again perfect. The answer to those questions that inevitably flood the mind of anyone struggling to have a family. Why is this happening to us? Why does this have to be our problem? Why us and not them? Why can’t we just be normal? How are we going to get through this? What will we do next?
Our peace is deeply routed in this: The Lord has chosen your “lot” in life. Whatever it is. How terrible it may feel at times.How never-ending it may become. This situation is from the Lord. He is trustworthy. He is good. He is wise. He is loving. We have unmoving peace from this. When the doctor tells you gut-wrenching news. When the pregnancy tests are negative the rest of your life. When another adoption falls through. This is our truth, and we can rest in it:
Oh Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup. In You my lot is secure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
4. 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:
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.
…But I guess that doesn’t look as cute in a nursery.
This is Part 2 of a series on Decision Making in God’s Will. I invite you to visit Part 1 first!
We left off on praying for God to open and close doors within a certain time. I prefer to use this wording rather than looking for special “signs” from Him… this isn’t a game of chance or a dealing of tarot cards. It’s a walk on path led by the Spirit. A journey.
So, how does God open and close these doors? Sometimes it’s just through our “gut” — which I’d say is really the Holy Spirit. Some great advice I’ve always held on to is when a friend once told me to “just follow the peace” — if you just don’t have peace about a decision, you may want to consider if that is the Spirit holding you back. It likely is. In the months leading up to when we finally got pregnant, we had been praying earnestly in this way — Should we do a different treatment? Should we pursue adoption? More invasive testing? Just keep waiting? While some doors were obviously closed, the biggest factor for both of us was the peace. We both still remember fondly just a week before that BFP, sitting in our living room one night at the end of our period of prayer, and sharing that neither of us felt peace with anything but continuing to wait on the Lord. Closed doors for other options, scripture given in that time, and just leading of the Spirit had led us to that painful but peaceful point.
You can also expect Him to lead you through actual events — when we started seriously praying about adoption, agency after agency turned down our initial inquiries because we live overseas. It was clear to us at that time that God was closing the doors and leading another way. On the other hand, when we first went for infertility treatments and were feeling unsure of the decision, a dozen “random” things happened that we saw as God’s confirmation that we were making the right choice — the nurse giving us all of our meds for free, the clinic offering us a huge discount because of our financial situation, and a friend handing us an envelope with a huge chunk of cash to use in any way we needed (these are all financial, but that’s not always the case). Even after the treatment failed, we had confidence and not regret, because we had sought the Lord and He had guided.
We also always pray to be united in our leading. The Lord has always been faithful to answer this request as well — even if we started off being staunchly opposed to each other’s leaning. And if it comes time to make a decision and we still aren’t in agreement, we will either decide to keep waiting (if time allows), or I will defer to my husband’s leadership as the head of our home. So yes, I always have one extra thing to pray about — that when the time comes God will guide my husband well, and I will have a submissive heart if I have to. And my husband always has the burden of the responsibility of the final decision (which honestly sounds harder to me than my burden of just submitting to his decision).
Finally — we make a decision. This sounds like an obvious “step,” but for indecisive people, it can be terrifying. However, if you did what you could to seek the Lord’s leading, have an open heart, and make godly choices (perhaps by following my advice above), you can have the peace to make a decision without worry or regret. We make a decision and move forward confidently, trusting the Lord together and never blaming ourselves or each other if it doesn’t go how we expected. If we made the choice believing it was what God wanted, then we can trust that it is what God wanted when it doesn’t go well by our estimation.
So that’s how we face decisions in our home. I’d love to know if you have anything to add (or subtract!).
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.
Likewise, 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.
It’s no secret now that I am expecting; I’m currently 7 months pregnant. I can genuinely say that, as I expected, each and every day feels like we’re in a dream. It’s truly unbelievable that this is happening to us, and still unfathomable that we may really hold this boy in September and he will forever be a part of our family. However unimaginable that is to you, dear reader, it still feels to me, as I sit here with a bump and am piecing together a little nursery.
I still don’t know for sure how long this blog will continue. God keeps providing things to write and share, so I keep posting them. But I won’t pretend that I will forever have relevant words to speak into the despair in the hearts of barren women. I will always care deeply, and always have the wisdom and insight I gained from my experience, but my lessons in life will keep developing and changing and so will the fresh thoughts I have to offer.
There is one thing that clings to my heart that I’ve been wanting to write about.
While I know that as the months and years go on, I will forget many parts of infertility and think of it less, there is one aspect that will always stick with me. I still feel it anew when I hear about or meet a woman struggling with infertility. It’s that terrible, deep aching that no one else can understand unless they’ve been through it, too.
Though I did not struggle with jealousy, by God’s grace, I remember that great ache when someone would post a pregnancy announcement or new baby photo on Facebook. It was a pain that instantly pierced my heart. Sometimes I moved on from there, and sometimes my soul would whisper to the Lord, “Will it ever be us??”
I recall last summer as we were still waiting for Him and praying through treatment options (which we later did, without success), some days we spent visiting family when I, for some reason, could not shake the ache all day. Little did they all know that just an inch beneath my surface I was absolutely dying. If the right (or wrong) words had been said, I would’ve burst into tears in an instant. The ache was haunting me.
Many, many mornings I would wake up with the ache. Will it be today, Lord? I would wonder. And more often, going to bed, my husband and I would ache together, praying in sobs that mercy would finally come soon. Just say something, Lord. We are dying down here.
When I hear about a woman’s infertility, that’s the first thing I think of — that ache. How, even fighting obsession and keeping her eyes fixed on Christ, it can be sohard not to think about it some days. Even taking all of your joy from the Lord, the sadness can hang over like a cloud.
The truly hardest part for me was not knowing if it would ever end. So few trials in life could be endless, but this one had real potential. Would the ache be there forever? Will I have to just get over it? Is that even possible? I would look at older, childless couples and wonder if the ache was still there. Or did their mercy just come in the removal of the ache?
But what sweetness in knowing that others know our burdens, and even more so – that God feels our ache. Now that we’re in a different season, I feel closer with the Lord, knowing He always knew that silent ache that most others never saw at all. I know it’s hard to feel right now, but He really knows your heart. He is walking beside you and aching with you and holding the better plan in His hands. And I’m so sorry for your aching — mercy is on its way, my friend. I’m no one to know how or when, but hold on to hope!