When the Plan Changes

As you may have noticed, this blog went dark for a few months. The reason, and the lessons I learned, might interest you. So, here goes….

In early January, our daughter went from school to the Emergency Room to the ICU in less than 24 hours. It was a harrowing ordeal that was followed by nearly three weeks in the hospital. After 3 surgeries, she now has two new scars to join the ones from the open heart surgery she underwent when she was just 4 weeks old.

Talk about traumatic. This is not how 2016 was supposed to begin. At least, not according to my plan. Clearly, the Lord had other plans. So, I got yet another chance to learn the lesson He wants me to remember: His ways are not my ways, but I can still trust Him.

Is He trying to teach you the same lesson? How is your 2016 started? Is everything going according to plan, or has your plan been changed by His?

There was a story in today’s paper that helped me think about this from a safe emotional distance. It was about a family in Clovis, CA that had a plan, “but God had a different plan, and it’s far better.” Reading it reminded me that we may not always understand what God’s up to in real time, but He has promised that “all things work together for good for those who love [Him] and are called according to His purpose” [Rom 8:28].

Here’s the story…. Bryan and Tamera had one biological daughter. At age 6, she asked her parents, “We’re gathering all these clothes and toys for orphans, but isn’t what orphans really need a family?” They prayed over her question, and it led them to adopt a baby girl from China. When they visited the orphanage, they saw countless kids with special needs.

That moment led to the adoption of 8 kids over several years — 7 of them with disabilities (4 are missing limbs, 2 have spina bifida). Bryan and Tamera say their adopted children give them “front-row seats to everyday miracles. That’s a blessing.”

My circumstances are completely different from theirs. But I share their perspective. I’ve witnessed several miracles in my daughter’s short life. She, and the many people who worked those miracles, are all a blessing. They are tangible evidence of God’s favor and grace, and of His amazing plan. I am humbled  and deeply grateful when I consider what could have happened, but did not.

All is well — maybe not forever, but for today. And I have a renewed sense of gratitude for the One from whom all blessings flow. I don’t know His plans, but I am learning — again and again — to let go and trust that He is good.

You can, too.

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Need more encouragement and cause for hope? Or a better understanding of the God who is longing to be central to your story? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

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Just in Time for Christmas

For those of you considering or undergoing in vitro — and for those who may have given up, believing failure was the definitive outcome — there’s good news, just in time for Christmas.

According to an article posted online just hours ago by the New York Times, a large study (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) has found that:

“Nearly 2/3 of women undergoing IVF will have a child by the 6th attempt — suggesting that persistence can pay off, especially for women under 40.” Even better, “the cumulative rate for live births continues to increase, albeit modestly, up to the 9th cycle of IVF.”

That’s so encouraging!

Dr. Owen Davis, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, concludes, “The take home message is your prognosis doesn’t fall off a cliff it it didn’t work after 3 or 4 cycles.”

I know, I know… That doesn’t make it less expensive. Or less devastating when it doesn’t work. But we already knew the bad news.

Isn’t it nice to get some good news for a change?

This study — which was sizable and rigorous — found that after the 9th cycle, the live birthrate was still 15.7%. That’s significant, and significantly higher than virtually anyone expected.

It is scientific proof that there is cause for hope.

As Dr. Evan Myers, professor at Duke University Medical Center, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study, “Instead of saying, ‘If you haven’t been successful after 3 or 4 cycles, think about donor eggs or adoption,’ the study says, ‘If you keep going, there’s still a substantial chance.'”

Want more encouraging news?

According to Dr. Debbie Lawlor, the study’s senior author, the study found no evidence that women who do not produce any eggs — or produce just 1 or 2 — are less likely to become pregnant via future cycles of IVF. “We found that just isn’t the case. Don’t give a load of importance to any one cycle,” she concluded.

OK, so that’s not a guarantee that your next IVF will work…. but it’s certainly cause for hope, don’t you think?

Me, too. Merry Christmas.

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Would it help to have some spiritual context for your infertility journey? Some more cause for hope? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

 

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“Mary, Did You Know?”

I’ve been listening to “Mary, did you know?” on the radio for weeks. I love being reminded of all that Jesus would do and become to the world, and imagining how much of that Mary didn’t know when she conceived.

This morning, I listened to Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth at church, and it struck me anew: Mary didn’t know, but she still believed. She trusted God enough to live into what seemed impossible.

I believe there’s a message in that for you.

First, Mary’s very old, infertile cousin, Elizabeth, conceived. She and her husband were well beyond the point of TTC, but her husband would not give up hope. His prayer was answered, his wife conceived, and they went into silence and seclusion.

Mary didn’t know, but then an angel told her the news (Luke 1:7, 36). She believed.

That same angel told Mary she would also conceive — by the power of the Holy Spirit, and without help from her soon-to-be-husband, Joseph. It was an unprecedented means of conception, but the angel promised that, as with Elizabeth’s late-in-life pregnancy, it would happen, “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

Mary didn’t know when it would happen — or exactly how. She didn’t know how she would explain it — or who would believe her if she tried. She didn’t know exactly why she’d been chosen — or what the implications might be for the rest of her life. There was so much she didn’t know!

But, she still believed.

Then, she conceived. And Caeser Augustus announced a census, which sent a very pregnant Mary, accompanied by Joseph, 75-100 miles away from family and friends. She didn’t know when she’d go into labor. She didn’t know where they’d stay.  She didn’t know if or when they’d come home again.

Still, she trusted that God was faithful.

Then Jesus was born, and shepherds arrived. They saw the baby the angels had told them about, and then, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed….” (Luke 2:17-18).  

Scripture says nothing about any conversation between the shepherds and Mary. Most likely, she didn’t know where they went or whom they told. She didn’t know how people responded, or whether anyone believed that “a Saviour… the Messiah… the Lord” had been born. She didn’t know who else might visit Jesus, when another angel might appear, or what would happen next.

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Before she saw it all come to pass — while she still didn’t know what might or might not happen in the life of her miracle child — Mary believed.

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”  – Luke 1:45

These words, which Elizabeth spoke to Mary, are for you, too.

Why?

Because Elizabeth conceived when everyone knew she was too old. And Mary conceived despite the fact that everyone knew she was a virgin. God made the impossible possible — as He promised He would — and blessed were the women who believed that it could be so, even though it conflicted with what other people knew.

If you long to be blessed by the One who fulfills His promises, the One who can do the impossible, you must be prepared to believe it is possible even though you don’t know how, or when. 

That can only happen if you choose to trust God, which can only happen by faith. 

In this season of hope, as you are longing for joy, well before you know how your infertility journey will end…. I encourage you to accept by faith that the One who made the impossible possible for Mary and Elizabeth is still at work in the lives of those who trust Him.

May it be so for you.

And to God be the glory.

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Need more cause for hope this Christmas? Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

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“I Am With You Always”

This morning’s newspaper included two very different stories that intersected in my mind and spirit. They gave me an insight which may be a comfort to you.

First, I read that, at the start of a Sunday school class he was teaching yesterday, former President Jimmy Carter announced that the brain cancer that was expected to kill him within months has completely disappeared.

Then, I read about the death of 4-month-old Eion Montgomery Borders. He was born with a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 18, and he spent his entire life in the hospital before dying a few weeks shy of Christmas.

An infant died when there was no miracle. A 91-year-old man miraculously recovered. What kind of spiritual calculus does that reveal? What would lead God to make such decisions? Is His determination of who lives and dies arbitrary? Or worse, is it somehow unfair?

You may never have voiced questions like those, but every couple I’ve ever led through the infertility Bible study has grappled with those questions in some form:

“Why don’t we deserve a miracle? Why doesn’t God want to help us? Why does He turn His back on us, but bless other people? Why did our baby die when others live?”

Without clear answers, the apparent injustice can be crazy-making and spiritually devastating. Over time, it can feel virtually impossible not to resent other people’s miracles — and turn our backs on God.

Which brings us back to the two newspaper stories….

Maybe we need a different perspective on what God is — or isn’t — doing. Look carefully, and you’ll see that very different circumstances led to similar outcomes.

When Carter learned he had brain cancer, he very publicly declared his trust in God’s plan. He was at peace with any outcome, he said, and by all accounts, that was true. The miraculous disappearance of four brain lesions gave him another opportunity to publicly affirm his faith, which enabled many around him to see God at work.

Meanwhile, Eoin — whose name means “God’s gift” — came into the world as the first child of parents who felt blessed by his arrival. Despite his genetic condition, “he challenged everyone’s expectations for his life,” said the Borders. “He challenged what people believe is possible….”

Then, he died.

But his legacy did not.

“Eoin’s major accomplishment in this world is that he stirred the hearts of people (his parents included) towards God and helped them focus on what truly is important in this life.” In writing his obituary, Eoin’s parents proclaimed that they are now closer to God and have deepened their understanding of life’s true priorities. Their public witness will touch many lives as the photo of baby Eoin captures the attention of readers this morning.

What if the stories of Carter and baby Eoin are two paths to the same destination? Asked another way, what if — from God’s perspective — it’s less about the outcome of their stories than what the outcomes accomplish in the lives of those touched by the stories?

Examined side-by-side, the two stories clearly demonstrate the power of both joy and grief — both healing and lack of healing — to immerse people in the loving presence of God.

The lesson, then? Both incredible good news and devastating loss are invitations to draw nearer, to sense God’s presence more fully, to hunger and thirst for His faithfulness, and to see that  — no matter what the circumstances — “I am with you always.”

I’m convinced that, particularly in this Christmas season, it’s all part of His great plan to show Himself Emmanuel, God with us.

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Want to draw nearer to God and find peace in the midst of your circumstances? Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

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Suffering: The Shield

Yesterday, the Holy Spirit called my attention to a particular passage in Tim Keller’s book, Prayer. It referred to the story of a woman who was widowed in her early 30’s, and then forced to flee her home country.

St. Augustine told the woman she should embrace her “bereaved and desolate condition” because…

“Her sufferings were her ‘shield’ — they defended her from the illusions of self-sufficiency and blindness that harden the heart, and they opened the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance.”

So many times, readers of this blog have contacted me directly to ask: How…?

How do I let go of (the illusion of) control? How do I find strength when my dream is dying? How do I communicate with a God I don’t know or understand? How do I trust Him without knowing His plan? How do I find peace in all this uncertainty?

In that one sentence, Augustine captures the blessed paradox of infertility.

He explains that the same suffering that upends us also rescues us. It knocks us loose from our moorings, shakes us out of our sleepwalking, and frightens us into fearful attention. It compels us to cry out, “Where are you, God?!”

In the process, it protects us — from the illusion of self-sufficiency that urges us to turn our backs on God, and the semi-slumber of a comfortable life that leads us to presume we don’t need Him or His help.

Essentially, Augustine tells us…

Lucky you! Your suffering has the potential to catapult you to a new level of spiritual power and peace. How? By protecting you from the arrogant delusion that you are the god of your life. And, by inviting you to acknowledge the real God on the throne.

You’re already suffering. The question now is whether you will continue to fight for control, or acknowledge the fact that you cannot achieve it — and begin to yield.

The choice is completely yours — so, to that extent, you are in control.

Resist facing your limitations and the truth of your ongoing suffering, and it is likely to continue. Again and again, you will find yourself facing the same choice. Embrace the truth, and Augustine says your suffering “will open the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance.”

I will tell you from experience, a rich, passionate prayer life can change everything — not only your perspective on your present circumstances, but also who you will become and what will occur in the life of your family. It can completely alter the trajectory of your story by making it part of God’s story, played out in your life.

See your current circumstances not as punishment, but as the Lord’s  invitation to come closer. To go deeper. To seek not just His presence, but His perfect will in all areas of your life. As Keller concludes, “There is every reason… to accept his invitation.”

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Want more help and hope? Visit www.PregnantWithHope.info and read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

 

 

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When It’s Time to Pray…

Four years ago, I wrote a post titled, “The Infertility Prayer God Always Answers.” According to stats, thousands of people continue to seek out and read that post every year. Why is that?

I’m guessing it’s because they’re hoping to learn how to twist God’s arm or bend His will to align with their own. Truth be told, wouldn’t you like to know how to do that, too?

Infertility makes us want to compel God to solve the problem we cannot seem to solve for ourselves: “I want to be pregnant, God. For some reason, I can’t seem to make it happen… so You need to. Get busy!! Amen.”

That is not the prayer God always answers. Far from it.

That You-work-for-Me mindset (even when tactfully expressed) treats God as a means to our desired end. It attempts to trade roles — putting us in the position of control by putting God in the role of dutiful servant, fulfilling the will of the one in charge.

So, if imperative commands don’t get a response, what should you be praying?

According to Tim Keller’s book, Prayer, more than 1500 years ago, St. Augustine made clear, “You should not begin to pray for all you want until you realize that in God you have all you need.”

Take that in before you read on….

Until you realize how blessed you are to know the grace of God the Father, the love of his son, Jesus, and the constant fellowship of the Holy Spirit, you should not pray for what you want.

Why? Because everything you pray will be distorted. Your prayers, Augustine writes, will simply give voice to your worries and the lust for what you’re sure you must have… now! Those prayers will bring no relief from “your melancholy burden” because God will not answer [James 4:2-31].

Why? Because when we ask for what is not good for us, or what is right but at the wrong time or for the wrong reason(s), God loves us enough to say, “No. That is not My best for you.”

When I miscarried my first pregnancy, I prayed fervently for another one. My husband and I invested all the time, effort and money we could into doing everything possible to bring another baby into being. I told myself God would be pleased that I was praying about our future while doing all I could to make it happen.

In hindsight, I can see the truth of Augustine’s words. My prayers at the time were rooted in fear and urgent longing — “What if….?” “I want….!” “What if….?!” “Please God…..!” — but never once did I pray, “You are all I need.”

Not once.

The need I felt to be a mom was too strong to be patient or still. It felt tangible and desperate. I wanted a baby! We needed to be a family! No amount of focusing on God seemed likely to reduce the intensity of that need.

Until…. we failed to fulfill our dream ourselves. And no doctor could guarantee a positive outcome — no matter what service was offered or how much we paid for it. All roads led to the same clear conclusion:  Only God could make the impossible possible.

So, infertility sent me on a search for the God of the impossible. That was no accident. In the course of that long journey, I learned to trust Him in a way I had never imagined. I learned to live my life with open hands and prayerful acceptance of His will, not mine.

And, I became a mom.

Twice.

That was all part of His plan. He had always intended to bless us with children. But first, I needed to learn to trust Him, and release my claim on the future.

There is a plan for your life, too. And you don’t need to convince God of anything in order for that plan to unfold in His perfect timing. You just need to seek Him with all your heart, put Him first in your life, and let go.

It’s that hard… and that easy.

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For more inspiration, read my book Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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When It’s Hard To Be Thankful

As we enter into the official season of gratitude, I’m coming off a week that made it hard to feel thankful. It seemed like I was pushing water uphill in virtually every aspect of my life — and I found myself increasingly discouraged and overwhelmed.

Sound familiar?

While the world celebrates other people’s successes, you struggle with the secret — or worse, the very public awareness — of your repeated failure. That failure becomes a heavy burden that can seem even heavier when the calendar announces, it’s time to gather and give thanks.

What if you don’t feel thankful?

Last Thursday, exhausted by continuous efforts that failed to achieve any of my objectives, I melted into tears when my husband asked, “What’s bothering you?”

When simple questions bring tears to your eyes, gratitude is not the first emotion. Resentment, anger, despair… those are the familiar feelings that surge to the surface and belie any words to the contrary.

The truth is, it’s hard to be thankful when life is hard. Where is God? Why isn’t He helping? Why won’t He answer fervent prayers?

I told my husband that I’d been praying about several different situations while working to resolve them all. None of that had done any good. Everything was coming apart. And God’s promises didn’t seem to be translating into positive outcomes.

He told me what he sometimes tells his patients: “Let it go.”

He was right. It’s the best response when you come face-to-face with the realization that you are not in control.

Why? Because God is.

There are times when unanswered prayers are a blessing, when the struggle of the moment is setting the stage for the miracle that’s coming. Even if you can’t see it yet, it’s not defeatist to stop pushing water uphill. Nor is trusting God simply wishful thinking. It is choosing to affirm that He is who He says He is.

But, has He forgotten me? Does He care about this situation?

That’s the voice of doubt speaking. Doubt opens the door to fear and undermines faith with worry-filled fantasies that are contrary to the promises of God.

When your mind fills with doubt, worry and fear, it’s time for faith to flex its muscles. How? By exercising your freedom to choose whether to worry, or whether to trust. By definition, the more you do of one, the less you will of the other. One will weaken your faith; the other will make it stronger.

Receive that knowledge as a gift this Thanksgiving season. Recognize its incredible value, and give thanks for your freedom to choose: fear or faith.

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Need more encouragement during a challenging season? Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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