The most important thing I could say

I have been wanting to write this post since I started this blog. I mean, I have felt a deep burden to write this, but I just haven’t known how to start. I actually wrote those first two sentences, and then walked away for like an hour, not sure how to continue.eph

But the truth is, in writing some 145 blog posts over the past 8 months, I have been acutely aware that there is nothing more important that I could write about than this. While this blog is unashamedly written from a Christian perspective, it is openly written for the Christian and non-Christian alike. So I am always aware of the fact that, although I have found many of my readers to be committed, sold-out disciples of Christ, many others are seekers, perhaps more “spiritually-minded” people, not totally sold on Christianity, the Bible, or any one belief system. Some of you have never really prayed until infertility reared its ugly head. Many of you have never really read the Bible. Times of trial have a way of, well, forcing us to care about God and seek Him, especially something like infertility, which is so out of our hands. Many of you have been bargaining with God — If you give me a baby, I’ll go to church more, and that sort of thing. I’m not judging you, I’m just acknowledging that I know where a lot of you are at.

If you are one of those people, I feel I need to tell you… I firmly believe that God has you in this trial and reading this blog for one, grand, most-important purpose: to call you to Himself. And I don’t mean to call you to church. I mean a call to repentance; to faith; to a life-changing personal relationship with Him.

I was not raised in a Bible-believing Christian home. I was raised in a non-Protestant, church-going family that meant well. Over 10 years ago, I don’t know what it was (well, yes I do, it was God), but there was this pulling inside me that made me seek truth. I had a handful of doubts about some of the things we believed, and a lot of curiosity about the Bible and who God really is.

thewaySpecifically, I struggled with the fact that my church did not teach that we could be sure if we were going to heaven or hell. For some reason, this never sat well with me. I asked many respected teachers and my parents, and I never got a consistent answer. I heard things about unforgivable sins (things like, if you lie to your mom, you can still go to heaven, but someone like Hitler, of course, could never go to heaven); I heard several “tricks” to sure salvation (read the whole Bible, say such-and-such a prayer right before you die, etc.), but none of it sounded like absolute truth — just a lot of “best guesses.” And I couldn’t stand it. For a short period, I decided there just must not be a hell. God wouldn’t just leave it up to a last minute, arbitrary decision that we can’t affect… so hell just must not be real.

It didn’t really occur to me to read the Bible — I think I was intimidated by it. I had the impression that it was complicated and unclear. By God’s grace, I generally trusted the Bible and didn’t really doubt its authenticity. I just didn’t feel comfortable picking it up and seeking answers. And it was overwhelming — I didn’t know where to start.

In His sovereignty, God had me “randomly” meet a few people who knew the truth. The first time I really read the Bible intentionally was when I asked a friend about her “John 3:16” bracelet, which I actually thought had something to do with sports because I always saw it at sporting events. That night I read what I now know is one of the most well-known Bible verses of all time, though I had never heard it before then:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

salvationI had kind of heard things like this in church my whole life, so I didn’t get what was so special about it. When I saw her the next day, I asked her why it was so special (why would you wear that on a bracelet, and hold it up at sporting events?). She kindly and confidently (I remember because it was the first time I heard someone speak of heaven and hell and who goes there with confidence — it really struck me) told me that this verse sums up the whole point of the Bible and the Christian faith — Jesus died to take our sins upon Himself, and those who put their faith in that will not go to hell, but to heaven.

In the coming months I started reading the Bible more, and going to Bible study with this girl and her friends. I will always remember the first time I read another verse, John 3:3 –

“Jesus said, ‘You must be born again.'”

For years I had been hearing my parents and others poke fun at my “born again” aunts and neighbors, and the weirdo “born again” church that had recently opened in our neighborhood. When I read this, I was absolutely shocked that the Bible used that terminology — that it is so clearly commanded that we are supposed to be born again.

And that’s what I believe God wants you to hear — You must be born again. What does that mean? It means starting a new life in Christ. It means believing and trusting in the truth that the forgiveness of your sins and your eternal salvation is only possible because Jesus, who was perfect, died in your place to take your sin. There is nothing else you can do to earn forgiveness. He did all the “doing.” In believing this truth and trusting in it, we are saved. We believe through this faith we become children of God and new creations — the Holy Spirit (God Himself) begins to dwell in us and change us to be more like Christ and less like us

When I heard this, my first thoughts were that it was too simple. I must not be getting it. But that’s why the gospel is called “Good News,” and that’s why you always meet Christians who are super (sometimes obnoxiously) joyful and obsessed with praising God for their salvation. It’s too good to be true, but it’s true! romans

I want to invite you to investigate this further. If you have always said you are a Christian, I want to invite you examine what your faith is in — why do you believe you will go to heaven? What do you believe makes you a Christian? Before I knew the truth, I had always called myself a Christian. It wasn’t until I read the truth in the Bible that I realized I had been mistaken. It was humbling, sure, but also tremendously freeing.

…The purpose of this post is to explain to you the foundation of the Christian faith, and to invite you to believe it. I know for most people, it will not be as easy as reading this message on a blog and choosing to be born again, committing your whole life to following Christ. It’s a big decision, and you, like I did, probably have a lot of doubts and skepticism to deal with. In my next blog post (because this is getting lengthy), I will share more scripture and some other resources that might help in these areas. I also want to invite you to discuss some of your thoughts with me — feel free to contact me any time.

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I want to be content, but I don’t (Or, On “Jinxing It”)

…I shared the other day about my realization that this trial isn’t going to end with a baby. It could end later, if I let it, or it could end sooner. It’s all about my heart and what God is doing there.

So if that’s true, what is God doing there? Where do I need to be to feel like we’re past this?

God has surely done a lot in these years of barrenness… many lessons have come and gone, but some deep ones always press. For me, it’s peace with God’s plan for my life, even if I don’t always like it. It’s being content with not having kids and “the dream.” It’s in the What if He always says “No”? It’s resting in the chance to have a spiritual legacy, even if I don’t get an earthly one. It’s the chance to be spiritually fruitful for the Kingdom, even if we can’t be physically fruitful on earth (blog post to come!). I haven’t decided yet, but it may be about accepting God’s will for us to grow our family through adoption instead.

Your things may be different, and my list may keep growing. But right now, I know I can generally answer the question of, “What could I do to end this trial?” with the things I just said. So the real question is: Why don’t I end it?

And the awful answer I keep discovering in my heart is a solid mixture of I just don’t want to (aka… I haven’t in fact learned those things yet), and, much worse, an invented idea that if I do find that peace and accept those plans, I will surely be “giving in” and God will see that I’m content without a baby and I’ll lose all hope of getting one.

If I keep kicking and screaming, He won’t forget me. He’ll see how bad I want it.

But if He thinks I’m content, He’ll leave me this way.

This is the cousin of “jinxing it” … an animistic idea that we’ve invented, that if we do or think or say certain things, it will spoil our chance at something else. As if those words or actions or thoughts have any real power, let alone more power than God.

So we don’t Pin baby things on Pinterest. And we don’t daydream about baby names. And we don’t let ourselves talk in the definite about having kids in the future. And we don’t get our hopes up.

And we don’t let ourselves learn or accept contentment.

Because what if we lose our chance?

But those are complete lies. Why do I know that, but struggle to let it go? Doesn’t God know my heart? (Yes.) Doesn’t He know my deepest longings? (Yes.) Doesn’t He care? (Yes.) Don’t I trust Him? (Yes.) Don’t I want to be more like Him? (Yes.) Don’t I want to learn that contentment?

Not really. But I want to want to. I think I want to, until times like this when the rubber meets the road and it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. “Didn’t you say you want to be more like Christ?” I hear myself say. Yes, but I didn’t consider the cost. Sometimes it hurts, really badly.

And I don’t know how this blog post ends. It’s one of the questions that keeps me up at night. This is where I always land. I should let my heart move forward, still hopeful, yet content. Content to be childless forever, if God wills. Content to adopt, if God wills. Content to whatever, if God wills. I should, and I want to be willing, but I’m still holding out just a little bit for the best of both worlds. And I know it’s the recipe for disaster that you see in a movie and start yelling at the screen. And I’ll kick myself later. But today, I land here again, waiting for God to keep working in my heart and my life. Grateful that at least His mercies are new every morning, and I get to try again tomorrow at this sanctification thing. 

Encouragement from all over (Various Resources)

In the last several days I’ve encountered all sorts of encouragement on the web. I feel like I keep posting the same pastors and writers over and over, but it’s because I really respect them, and they’re biblical, and maybe a little because I live overseas and don’t have easy access to new people. But definitely more the first two.

Lately, I’ve been trying to cultivate the habit of replacing thoughts-of-the-flesh with thoughts-of-the-Spirit (ahem, I’ve also been reading Galatians, if you can’t tell). This means, as a chronic worrier, when the “what ifs” move in and the anxiety starts to mount, instead of letting it build, I try to immediately put something else in my mind (“Whatever is true … think on these things”). For years my first line of combat has been prayer (“God, please stop these thoughts/calm my heart/make me sleep”); then reading or reciting scripture (“At times I am afraid, I trust in You)”. I’ve had to build up my arsenal in these really tough times, though, and one way I’m doing that is to always be reading at least one book of encouragement (though I may be reading a book for fun on the side, because sometimes reading books about suffering, etc. can bring me down, if I’m not in the right place for them). Anyway, it’s really been working, guys. I’ll be lying in bed, starting to worry, and will just get up and read my book until I’ve replaced the thoughts with truth.

Anyway, let me share with you some places I’ve found encouragement lately, and you can take your pick.

1.) Yup, you guessed it, I’m going to say it again… Tim Keller’s Walking with God though Pain and Suffering (specifically parts 2 +3). I actually just finished it tonight, and I practically highlighted the whole book. I’m glad I did, too, because now I can go back and reread some highlights when I need encouragement again (which will probably be in the next 10 minutes… or 30 seconds).

keller

2.) Tonight I found John Piper’s small book (under 100 pages) When the Darkness will not Lift for free (pdf) on the Desiring God website. It sounds like the perfect thing for right now, and I’ll probably finish it in one sitting. It’s about how to have joy while waiting for the Lord. Perfect, right?

darkness

3.) My husband and I watched this encouraging 9-minute video the other night before bed. Sometimes a brief encouragement, as opposed to an hour-long sermon or a 300-page book, is just what you need for that moment. It’s a casual conversation between Pastors John Piper, David Platt, and Matt Chandler on trials and suffering. It made me cry, of course. I was the most touched by Matt Chandler’s words on being “perplexed, but not in despair.” And I learned that David Platt has faced infertility in the past, which led to my next encouragement…

4.) This short interview with Heather Platt was used by God to speak to one of my biggest fears right now — how to rejoice (and not wilt) when my close friend, who is pregnant, gets back to town in a couple months. Sometimes (not all the time, I know), it’s also nice to hear a good post-infertility, God-came-through story, which the Platts have.

5.) I also want to read Charles Spurgeon’s Beside Still Waters, which has great reviews. I heard CJ Mahaney read it daily to his daughter when she was in the hospital with childbirth complications. It sort of looks like you can get the pdf for free here, but so far I haven’t gotten it to work. Let me know if you do, because there isn’t a Kindle version for sale that I can find, unfortunately.

stillwaters

6.) I read that factoid about Mahaney in this little list of resources I randomly came across. It’s meant for pastors to prepare their congregations for suffering, but I breached the system and am bringing it straight to you, no middle man. It has a few more books you may want to look into.

What are some places you’ve found truth-filled encouragement (big or small) recently? Perhaps a video clip, a sermon, a book, an article, a devotional or a song? Please add to my list! 

“God never says ‘no'” (and other lies that disappoint)

About a year ago in my small group we were discussing God’s will and prayer. One very sweet woman, in sharing her thoughts, said this quote:

God never says, “No.” He only says, “Yes” or “Wait.”

When she said it, people made a contented sigh at the lovely idea, myself included. It wasn’t until later, while I was riding home on the subway and reflecting on our discussion, that I reconsidered it and had to confess to myself, “Um, wait a minute. That’s not true.”

truthI think similar refrigerator-magnet devotional thoughts get tossed to and fro at an especially high rate when someone is going through a hard time. It’s like people need to say something, and they figure it’s better to say anything that sounds nice — even if it’s not true in the slightest — than to say nothing at all. And people who are struggling without a solid foundation beneath them will take anything they can get.

Last spring I Skyped in to a conference at my church on infertility, miscarriage and child loss. At one point they had a panel of women who had experienced such tragedies, and they were asked a variety of questions. One question was, “What is the least comforting thing someone said to you in your affliction?” There were a few unkind things to mention, but the responses that stuck out to me were non-truths like the one above. One woman, a friend of mine who lost one baby in a car accident and another in stillbirth, said the thing that bothers her the most is when people try to comfort her by saying her babies are now angels. While she knows they mean well, it irks her to hear things like that that just aren’t true, and therefore aren’t comforting to someone who knows truth.

So let me address the fallacy about prayer mentioned above. Let me say that yes, we always have hope in prayer. God can do anything, and He makes lots of promises about prayer in scripture. I can’t explain it, but at the same time, it is true that God sometimes just says “no” to our requests. There are biblical examples of this. Continue reading ““God never says ‘no’” (and other lies that disappoint)”

What’s a special infertility verse for you? (Interactive)

This is another interactive post, so get your pencils ready.

retreatI want to know (so I can mooch it off you, of course), what is one verse or passage that has been very close to your heart during your infertility?

If you’re like me, there have been many, maybe even a new one every week or month, that God has given you for hope and encouragement. Will you share just one (ok, I may allow two, if you really can’t pick) that has stuck especially close to you?

If I had to pick one, I may still go back to the one that started it all (including this blog – Post #1!) for me:

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

-Matthew 7:9-11

…Ok, now you go!

isa