Comfort One Another

Andy Stanley, my all-time favorite pastor and a terrific counselor (despite his claims to the contrary), frequently reminds us to “one another one another.” By that he means we should love one another, help one another, teach one another, serve one another, encourage one another, support one another… seek ways to “one another one another” as an expression of our love for each other and the embodiment of Christ’s love for us.

But how do you find the strength to do all that “one another-ing” when you’re struggling yourself?

That’s Melissa’s challenge.

She wrote to me a few days ago asking for prayer. She’s incredibly grateful to have given birth two weeks ago: “We had only one embryo, only one chance. But God! …miraculously we conceived.”  Her joy is tempered by her father’s sudden death 7 months into the pregnancy. Overwhelmed by grief, her mother cannot fully enjoy the new life in the family. And, before the baby was two weeks old,  Melissa’s husband learned he may have cancer. How does she triage the needs of all the people she loves most in the world, and keep her own emotions in balance?

Instinctively, she reached out to someone who has also experienced infertility, the joy of new life, the early death of a father, the grief of a widowed mother, the fearful waiting for news of cancer and all that that may foreshadow. In doing so, she offered me a chance to live into a powerful promise from scripture:

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:4

“He comforts us….” There is no question whether God will comfort us; He will and He does. When? “… in all our troubles.” Not some of the time. Not only when He decides our troubles are someone else’s fault and we are innocent victims. He comforts us all of the time in all of our troubles.

How does He do that? Through scripture. Through the indwelling comfort of the Holy Spirit. Through those who love us. And sometimes, through those who hardly know us — those who are completely unaware of the ways in which their words or actions help us or give us hope.

Why does God do that? Not because He owes us something. Not because we’ve been guaranteed an easy life or a quick rescue from heartache. He does it “…so that we can comfort others.” He comforts us in a whole host of ways that are designed to meet our needs so that we can pay it forward. So that we can embody His love for us and extend it to someone else. So that we can “one another one another.”

The verse goes on, “When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” I’m claiming that promise! Melissa is troubled, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I will be able to give her the same comfort God has given me as I have struggled through each of the difficult challenges she’s now facing. By the grace of God and according to His promise, I will be able to give her the comfort that gave me peace in the midst of loss and uncertainty.

I will be able. Not because I’m me, but because God is faithful. And because He equips us to “one another one another.”

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Find more cause for hope in Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

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Your Body, God’s Temple

“Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.” – Psalm 48:9

When my husband and I were struggling with infertility, I was also grieving my father’s death and my mother’s new role as a widow. My job was stressful and demanding, as was my boss, and I had very little time — or emotional energy — to spend meditating… particularly on God’s unfailing love. The truth was, it felt like God was failing me pretty spectacularly. My stress expressed itself through my body as frequent headaches, sleeplessness, exhaustion, and bouts of tears that were provoked by things as random as sad commercials or turning my ankle on an uneven sidewalk. I was barely keeping it together.

I’d go to church on Sundays and wonder why God seemed so far away. Wasn’t this where I was supposed to encounter Him? But, I didn’t hear His voice or sense His presence. None of His followers ever asked how I was doing, what burdens I was bearing, or whether I could use their help. They all seemed to be absorbed in their own lives, their own prayers, and their own conversations with the God who appeared to have forgotten all about me.

Little did I know, He was with me, even so.

That church that seemed so devoid of God’s presence was not where I should have been looking for Him. True, in the Old Testament, there was a physical place in which worshipers could encounter the living God — “within your temple, we meditate….” God didn’t move; they came to Him. And plenty of modern-day churches still seem to follow that “temple model.” But God doesn’t.

Jesus/Immanuel, “God with us,” changed that forever. We no longer need to go to a physical place to encounter God. Jesus promised, “I am with you always,” and that promise is delivered — in part — by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, your body is now the temple in which to encounter God.

What would I have thought if someone had shared that with me back when we were struggling with infertility? When my body seemed to ignore every instruction I willed it to obey:  Ovulate! Conceive! Nourish! Grow! Sustain!

What if I had thought of infertility as an invitation to seek the help of the Holy Spirit within His dwelling place/my body? What if I had sought to engage the Holy Spirit there — to pour my heart out to Him, to share my thoughts and fears, to praise and thank God for His promises, and to restore peace to my spirit? What might that have changed?

In hindsight, I believe it would have changed almost everything about my experience. It would have freed me from a sense of profound loneliness and isolation. It would have given me a safe place to grieve, be confused, ask questions, and even express my anger. It would have let me stop worrying about how the world might judge my infertility, and start focusing on how God intended to use it to bless me.

“Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.” Even when I was sure that God was failing me, the Holy Spirit was with me — in me — patiently waiting for me to acknowledge His presence and engage in meaningful dialogue.

I wish I’d known then what I know now:  the Lord is always with me, and His love never fails.

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Need more encouragement? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

 

 

 

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Bitter or Better

Two women wrote recently to tell me about their infertility experience. One is furious: “I think God is very unfair in regards to who is afflicted with infertility and who isn’t! Nothing good can ever come out of the misery we have experienced! I’m fed up with Christians giving God credit for the good but absolving him of all responsibility for the bad!”

Have you ever felt like that? Ever wanted to curse God for putting you through infertility? The stress, the grief, the loneliness, the frustration, the endless heartache…. because “nothing good can ever come out of the misery”?

Actually, scripture promises otherwise. It promise “beauty for ashes” and “that all things work together for good,” but it can be hard to believe that when you don’t see any evidence. All you see is God resisting your pleas, turning a deaf ear to your cries, and ignoring your suffering. So, you’re tempted to slam the door on Him and take charge of the situation. At least you’ll be in control! And that’s what this is really about.

When God doesn’t deliver what we want when we want it, we’re tempted to act like entitled children. We want to indulge the negative emotions we’re so sick of feeling, and take it out on the One who has the power to change things: “Why won’t you?! I hate you!!”

It may feel satisfying in the moment, but it doesn’t change things for the better. Instead, it makes us bitter.

The alternative, as another woman commented, is to see trials as a chance to choose between bitter and better. “Admittedly, losing my only sibling when he was 36 made me a little of both (bitter and better). I deal with it well now, I think, and the good Lord fills in my empty spaces, but the immense loss certainly does color my outlook. That is partly why I spent my successful pregnancy in disbelief. Why would we be parents after 12 years of infertility? But we are! We were honored to welcome our son into the world last year thanks to the generosity of another couple at our clinic who donated one of their embryos to us. God is good… even when our faith has just about run dry!”

It’s the truth. His timing is rarely ours. But it is perfect.

“For we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  -Romans 8:28

What makes that verse “work” for some people, but not others? I’ve been asked that question many times by couples struggling through infertility — some of them lifelong Christians. How can it be that their suffering is an essential step in becoming parents? Will they ever have a baby? Why can’t it be now?

Their faith is facing a test: Their heart’s desire is not being satisfied by the God who doesn’t appear to care. How do they get Him to “work all things together for good?”

The answer is in the verse itself. All things work together for good when we love God, trust His purpose, and act according to our calling.

Is your calling to be a parent? To steward a soul — or more than one  — through life? To honor God by raising that child to know and trust Him as you do? If so, believe that God placed that desire in your heart, and recognize that, with Him, all things are possible.

The woman whose baby was born from a donated embryo lost her only sibling while battling infertility for a dozen years. She had every reason to be bitter as she struggled and struggled, but as she wrote later in her note, she clung to the promise that “all things work together for good…” — not because she was seeing it unfold in her life, but because she saw that possibility with eyes of faith. Even when her faith “had just about run dry,” she resisted the temptation to give up on God.

And He proved faithful.

When God’s timing isn’t your timing, and His ways aren’t your ways, it can be easy to get impatient, angry and bitter. You can choose to lean into those feelings and find yourself in a very dark place — emotionally, and spiritually. Or, you can lean into believing what you can’t yet see — that God is a promise-keeper who is glorified by our willingness to trust Him when life is hard.

He is at work in your life. Trust and believe. Wait and see.

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Need more encouragement as you make your infertility journey? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples. The stories of ten couples who chose faith over bitterness will inspire you and renew your hope.

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Therefore, We Do Not Lose Hope

Several years ago, I suddenly stopped writing this blog. What I didn’t tell you was that life had taken an unexpected turn… as it often does… and everything I’d ever written was being put to the test.

It started when a doctor told my husband he had Stage 3 colon cancer and offered sobering odds of survival. Surgery was scheduled immediately, and chemo began soon afterward. My husband continued to see his patients while fighting for his life. His pallor and weight loss went unnoticed only because the patients were so consumed with their own struggles.

As he fought for the health of his body, I wrestled with God for his life.

I had released any claim to our children’s lives long before — when our daughter had had open heart surgery at 4 weeks old, and when I’d miscarried our son’s twin and spent 5 months on bedrest in the hope that he’d survive. Those challenges had seemed all-consuming at the time. I had found peace only by entrusting their lives to the God who’d first entrusted them to us.

But my husband had been my rock. Naive as it may sound, it had never occurred to me that his life could suddenly end. When that possibility became a very present reality, we got scared. And I got angry.

I fought with God around-the-clock. I railed at the injustice. I begged for mercy. I pleaded and negotiated and tried everything I could think of to sway the outcome.

And then finally, exhausted and powerless, I surrendered. I opened my hands and admitted that I could not control things; I could only trust the God who claims to love me.

Over many, many tears, I acknowledged the Lord’s right to take away what He had given and to test my willingness to live what I believe. Despite my fear and anticipatory grief, like Abraham, I put my beloved on the sacrificial altar and prepared to fulfill my promise to trust God even when His ways are not my ways.

And I was flooded with peace.

I knew in my spirit that He would care for me. He would be my beloved, my provider, my comforter, and my source of hope. He would never fail me. His promises would be fulfilled in every way I needed them to be.

Tears of grief gave way to tears of gratitude as I embraced the truth of His faithfulness and His promise, “I am with you always.”

Fast forward….

My husband survived. He’s now cancer-free — back to running, practicing medicine, and helping raise our children.

Why tell you this story? Because words of encouragement don’t matter if I’m not facing trials, too. And, because pollyanna posts can wear thin, but the Truth has a power of its own….

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  – Deuteronomy 31:6

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Want to hear more about the God who makes all things possible? Order your copy of Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples today.

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National Infertility Awareness Week

It’s National Infertility Awareness week.  Could you be any more aware of how hard it is to conceive?  Well then, rather than seeing this week as salt rubbing into an already gaping wound, consider these words from Jesus Calling:

“Peace is my continual gift to you.  Just as the Israelites could not store up manna for the future but had to gather it daily, so it is with My peace.  The day-by-day collecting of manna kept My people aware of their dependence on Me.  Similarly, I give you sufficient peace for the present, when you come to me by prayer and petition with thanksgiving.  If I gave you permanent peace, independent of My Presence, you might fall into the trap of self-sufficiency.”

Whoa….

I wish I’d understood that when we were we struggling through infertility.  The sense of barely having enough peace to make it through the day – or the next few minutes – is not a sign of God’s absence, but of Christ’s Presence.  He does not intend to strengthen us to the point of self-sufficiency.  That is our goal; not His.

His goal is to teach us minute-to-minute reliance on Him.  Our reliance is a constant reminder that He keeps the promise, “I am with you always.”  Our neediness is a constant reminder that He is sufficient for every need.    Our inability to find peace apart from Him is a blessing because it returns us – again and again — to the only Source of strength that can overcome all things.

So, welcome National Infertility Week as a worldly reminder that millions of infertile couples need peace, hope, and compassionate love as they make their way toward the future of parenthood.  You are not alone, and neither are they.  He has promised, “I am with you always.”

Seek Him, and find peace.

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Need more encouragement and cause for hope?  Click this link to order your copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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“What if They Never Conceive?”

Yesterday, an aspiring grandfather contacted me to ask about groups in Oregon.  He has already given a copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples to his son and daughter-in-law, and also been reading the book himself.  What more can I do, he wanted to know, and… what if they never conceive?

That is every infertile couple’s deepest fear:  What if we never become parents?  What if this is ultimately a pointless quest – a wild goose chase that consumes time and money, and leaves us empty-handed?

I’ll tell you what I told him – and I urge you to consider it carefully.

The only couples I’ve ever seen wind up empty-handed are those who insist on dictating the terms by which they’ll become parents.  They say things like, “We’ll try IUI, but we’d never consider IVF.”  Or “We’ll do 10 cycles of IVF if we have to, but we’d never consider adoption.”

They acknowledge, “We would happily adopt a baby whose family history we know and approve of,” but they’re adamant that “We’d never consider a foreign adoption…, or an egg donor…, or a sperm donor…, or foster parenting…, or [insert line in the sand here].”  Some couples even insist, “Natural conception is the only godly way to become a parent.”

I’ve already written several posts about this mindset.  I believe it’s dangerous not because of the boundaries themselves, but because of the presumption to know the mind and will of God.  Intentionally or not, these couples are playing God, rather than inviting God to be God in the midst of their circumstances.

When couples insist on barring the door to possibilities God might lead them to, they risk closing the door on His best for them.

I realize it might sound as if I have an agenda – as if I’m trying to steer couples toward a particular path, or around the prohibitions of particular denominations or religions.  I’m not.  I have no agenda other than compassionate, attentive listening to the concerns of infertile couples, and obedient, attentive listening to the word of God.

My deep desire is to deliver hope to those who have begun to question God – both His plan and His purpose.  I would never presume to tell a couple what direction to take through the wilderness of infertility.  It is their responsibility to listen for the Lord’s voice, to discern His direction, and to follow it toward the future He has always had planned for them.

I am only here to encourage, to deliver hope, and to point toward Him as the source of all wisdom and truth.

So, what can this aspiring grandfather say to encourage his son and daughter-in-law as they struggle?

He can tell them that, in all my years of experience, I have yet to see the Lord abandon any couple that feels called to parent and remains open to the Lord’s leading on how that will happen.  If they trust and obey, sooner or later, it always happens.  Maybe not the way they imagined.  Maybe not when they expected.  Maybe not as they would have scripted at the beginning of this journey.

But always.

Every.  Single.  Time.

Scripture says that God honors those who honor Him, and He delights in blessing those whom He loves.  So, praise God from whom all blessings flow.

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Need more encouragement?  Click this link to purchase your copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Risk Listening to God

One of the hardest questions infertile couples face is deciding whether to give God control.  I got an email yesterday from a woman expressing a deep desire to conceive – and to have God’s help conceiving.  And yet, she admitted, a part of her resists praying for a baby, “Because what if God says, ‘No’?”

The fear of hearing God speak words we don’t want to hear keeps many of us separated from the very One who can alter our path’s course.  The only One who always knows what (or who) to bring into our lives to transform our journey from endless wandering to forward progress.  The only One who always knows how to transform our heart’s desire from unsatisfied longing to joy.

Sooner or later, each of us must decide whether to maintain the (illusion of) control that enables us to believe we can will a heartbeat into the womb, or the alternative:  humbly acknowledging that we already would have if we could.

The truth is, we need help.

Who can we trust?

Too often, we conclude:  That depends….

What is God’s plan?  How can we know?  If we knew, it would be SO much easier to trust Him.  Will He tell us anything encouraging if we risk entrusting Him with our hopes and fears?  And what if He does say, “No”?  Does that mean we will never realize our dream?  If so, will refusing to hear Him speak prevent the dream from dying?  This is the crazy-making loop we get caught in – and it prevents us from being still and listening to the voice of the only One who has the answers.

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of God Guides.  This small book reveals the extraordinary peace and power that are available to those who learn to be still and listen to the God who longs to be known, revealed, and trusted.

Mary Geegh, the author, was a missionary to India.  She discovered that, despite enormous effort on her part, she had very little impact on those she meant to be helping.  Then, another missionary came to the same village.  Within a week, the lives of the villagers were transformed.  She humbled herself enough to ask, “How do you do it?”

Her fellow missionary responded, “The first step is to ‘wait’… ‘be still’… and ‘listen.’  Then… write down the things the Holy Spirit speaks to your mind, [and] determine to obey.”

Motivated to succeed, she took the advice.  Her ministry became one of patiently waiting on God’s word alongside those who were struggling.  “He has the answer for every problem,” she promised.  Her fellow listeners discovered it was the truth.  Her book is filled with stories of incredible outcomes for those who listened and obeyed.

At one point, Mary writes, “We were given two ears and one mouth because we should listen in prayer  twice as much as we speak.”  As we listen, we must be ready to hear the truth — because the Lord cannot be other than completely truthful.  If we are unwilling to hear the truth, and yet we pretend to “listen” for Him, we will hear a resounding silence.  Why?  Because we have hardened our hearts to His message.  We have turned away from Him – choosing autonomy and (the illusion of) control over trust.  Although we will always be permitted to choose this path, it will never lead to His best for us.

So, must we risk listening with open minds and hearts?

It is not as fear-inducing as it sounds.  Scripture is full of promises of God’s love for His people, His faithfulness, and His deep desire to bless.  Wouldn’t you like to be on the receiving end of unlimited grace and power?  Wouldn’t you like to experience the incredibly abundant goodness of God?

If so… be still.  Rest in the knowledge that He is for you.  Trust that He intends to make you a victor, not a victim.  Listen for His reassurances.  Wait patiently for His guidance.  Write down and follow His instructions.  This is the path to abundant joy.

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Want more inspiration and cause for hope?  Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.  Here’s a link to order your copy now.

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