Monthly Archives: December 2010

When You’re Drowning in Despair

Dear Abby recently published a letter from a woman whose daughter died:

“I am writing this not only for myself, but for all parents who have lost a child….  I know people mean well when they encourage me to get on with my life, but this is my life.”  Abby responded, “…the death of a child is the most devastating loss parents can suffer and the experience is life-changing.”

Abby’s right.  And that’s true whether the child you lose is twenty years old, as the letter writer’s daughter was, or just a few weeks in utero.  Sadly, Abby stopped there.  She offered compassion — but no words of hope — for the parent who is convinced her life can never know the kind of joy it did before her daughter died.

Can you ever find hope when the one who embodied your hope for the future dies?  Is there anything but grief to be felt when the highly-prized idea of life with a much-beloved child comes to a tragic end?

It depends on what you choose to believe.

Here’s what I mean….

After four years of infertility, Anna and Nick had finally conceived through IVF.  Then, Anna began bleeding a few weeks ago.  They lost the baby.  In a painfully honest blog post, Nick wrote, “What if I want to sink? What if I want just for a minute to revel in my grief, to wonder if I deserve it, to claim I saw it coming because nothing good should happen to me?”

Like the mother who wrote to Abby, Nick was tempted to believe that darkness had a claim on his spirit that was justifiable.  He felt the pull of that darkness and wondered if he deserved it.  Was this the future he should plan on, despite all they had hoped for?  Was this his destiny:  loss, grief, hopelessness?

He wrote, “Like Peter, I know that sooner or later I must stop looking at the waves and call out to Jesus – and Matthew 14:31 tells me His response:  ‘Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.’  I may not know why [we lost our baby], but I do know my Savior.”

That’s what Abby missed completely.

Sinking is never the end of your story if God is the author of that story.  Loss may be the beginning of the story, and grief may be the middle.  Despair may be the end of a particular chapter, but it is never the end of the story.  There is always hope because God always redeems.  That is who He is: our Redeemer.

He is also our Source of strength and our Comforter: “He will lead them to springs of living water; And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  He is full of compassion for the losses that take our breath away and leave us staggering.  Losses He knew were coming.  Losses that plunge us into a darkness that seems impenetrable, and in which we see no cause for hope.

Thankfully, God can see what and when we can’t. “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  He will bring me out in the light; and I will see his righteousness.”

Nick knows there is cause for hope even if he doesn’t feel hopeful.  His hope is not embodied in the baby they just miscarried, but in the God who creates and sustains life according to His purpose.

That same God tells us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

When we are sinking – overwhelmed by grief and unable to save ourselves – He will reach out to save us.  Jesus did it for Peter.  And I promise, God will do it for you.  When He does, don’t let go.

 

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Searching for Help & Hope

Has anyone ever told you that the Bible is full of good advice?  That it has all the answers?  How did that make you feel?

In my experience, infertile couples tend to feel patronized when someone sends them to the Bible for answers.  Why?  I think because it feels like a spiritual brush-off – like a feigned attempt to help, wrapped in an artificial piety.  And why is that?  Because virtually no one seems to know where to find practical advice for infertile couples in scripture.

And why is that?

Because no one – in the church, or outside it – seems to think that the spiritual questions that accompany infertility are much of a priority… unless they find themselves making the journey.  Then, it takes on a whole new urgency.

I don’t think that irony is lost on God.

Here’s why….

A man and his wife joined our support group several years ago.  They were five years into their quest to conceive.  Still, they hadn’t shared their secret with anyone:  the husband was a minister, and the minister was struggling with infertility.

Week after week, as they processed grief and tried to muster hope, he felt compelled to stand before his congregation preaching on God’s faithfulness.  The obligation he felt to preach something he wasn’t experiencing – and increasingly struggled to believe – transformed the pulpit into a crucible.

At his wife’s urging, he finally stepped aside, and they began driving an hour each way to participate in our Bible study.  Free to express the doubts and fears they’d bottled up for years, they asked:  “Why is this happening?  What are we supposed to do?  How do we change this?  What does God want from us?!”

Now, timeout.  Look at this situation.  A minister came to a group of struggling souls searching for answers.  He didn’t have them.  He couldn’t find them in the Bible.  He felt as lost as they were.  But, he had the good sense (finally!) to ask for help.

Here’s the good news:  he and his wife both found answers, help and hope.  They rediscovered the power of God’s promise, “I am with you always.” And their spiritual lives began to show signs of new life.

One day, soon after the class ended, the wife called me.  She said that the weeks spent in our group had helped them find the peace that had been so elusive for so long.  They’d discovered that they were comfortable considering adoption – for the first time.  They’d completed a profile and, almost immediately, gotten a call.  Twins!  Due to be born in a week!

She started to cry.  “All along we were praying for twins, but we never told anyone.  No one knew… but God knew.  When we got that call, and they said ‘twins,’ we knew He was telling us He’d heard our prayers.”

Why did I share this story?  To say that ministers don’t have all the answers?  That the Bible can seem dense and confusing?  That it’s hard to know where to find actionable advice in scripture, especially in the midst of high-stress  infertility?

Yes.

And to say, it’s okay not to know all the answers.  Even if you’re a minister.  It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, hurt, confused and resentful.  It’s okay to express those feelings honestly and to get help dealing with them.  And yes, it’s okay to admit that infertility is crippling your spiritual life.  God won’t be angry.  Instead, He’ll step into your story.

Not sure where to find good advice in the Bible?  Your minister might not know either.  But you can make this journey together.  If you do, I think you’ll both learn a lot about the goodness of God.

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Equip your minister to help you and other infertile couples.  Pass on a copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples or a link to this blog.

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The Need to Know Why

Knowing why I have to do something, or why something is happening, has always mattered to me.  I guess it’s because I didn’t like taking orders as a kid.  “Because I said so” was my father’s justification for most of the demands he placed on me, and I (silently) resented that.  It struck me as an abuse of power, and it left me feeling powerless.

It seemed to me that if something was important, it was reasonable for me to want to know why, and for whoever was in authority to explain that to me.

Many times, as an adult, that same “need to know” trait has made me hesitate to obey God’s commands, or to trust Him in a particular situation.  Especially when there’s no obvious reason why He’d want things to go a certain way, I find myself dragging my feet, waiting for an explanation.

Here’s why that’s a problem:  when I refuse to budge until I get a satisfying answer, my circumstances don’t change.  Like a longsuffering parent with a willful child, God lets me stew in my situation until I humbly acknowledge that maybe trying things His way – even if I don’t understand why – is reasonable.

Is that an abuse of power?  In the midst of infertility, I sure thought so.  I struggled mightily with anger and resentment at God’s apparent lack of interest in my suffering.

Why wasn’t I ovulating?  Why couldn’t I stop miscarrying?  Why was having a baby so hard for us and so easy for everyone else?  Why didn’t our doctor have all the answers?  And if God had them, why wasn’t He giving them to us?  Like a petulant child, I wanted to know, “Why?!  Why?!  Why?!”  I kept silent only out of fear I’d make Him angry.

In hindsight, all that drama looks like a lot of self-inflicted suffering.  Why?  Because if we truly trust God to keep the promise that “all things work together for good,” then there is always an answer to “why?”:  it is part of His plan for our lives.  Sometimes, in the moment, that needs to be enough.

Either we trust Him, or we don’t.

That, of course, is the great struggle of infertility.  Will I trust Him, or will I fight to retain control?

With that as context, I had a big epiphany recently about the injunction “Pray without ceasing.”  I’d read and heard those words plenty of times before, but always wanted to know “why?”  Really, I think I wanted to know, “What’s in it for me?  I get why it makes you feel appreciated, God, but why should I put in all that effort — especially if you don’t seem to respond?”

A few days ago, in a moment of incredible grace, God showed me why.  Now, I know it’s vitally important for infertile couples to obey.  Here are the reasons:

1)      Constant prayer is an acknowledgment of His role in our story.

2)      It means we recognize and respect His authority, and we welcome His powerful presence — even though we cannot control it.

3)      It keeps us talking and listening to the only one with the ability to change anything & everything about our circumstances.

4)      Constant prayer creates healthy boundaries between us and a constant barrage of negative thoughts, worries and doubts.

5)      It enables us to experience moments of gratitude, even when we aren’t grateful for infertility.

6)      It helps us maintain perspective – God’s perspective.

7)      It helps us tune out the world’s messages about instant gratification, and helps us remember that God’s timing is always perfect.

8)      It grounds us in who we are to God, and who He is to us.

Bottom line, “pray without ceasing” is an imperative command because it’s good for us.  It helps us.  It comforts us, renews us, and strengthens us for the journey.

This command is not an abuse of power.  It is a gift.  An invitation.  A chance to draw near to the one who knows our struggles and loves us deeply.  It is a blessing that is available whenever we choose to make ourselves available.

Is that enough reason for you to pray?  It is for me.

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples and visit PregnantWithHope.com

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The Church’s Silence on Infertility

Very often, couples who discover that one or both of them is infertile enter a self-imposed exile.  Painfully aware of their “differentness,” they struggle to find solutions to their problem while protecting their privacy and newfound sense of vulnerability.

When questions arise – “What’s wrong with us?  What did we do to deserve this?  Is this a punishment for something?  Is God refusing our prayers and withholding this blessing?” – it can be difficult to know where to go for answers.

As it turns out, infertile couples aren’t the only ones struggling with these questions.  Clergy find them difficult to answer, too.  That results in both stigma and heartache.

When Dr. Stephen Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, first encountered Pregnant With Hope, he responded to its content with gratitude:  “This is a book for those who are struggling – and for those of us who love them and often don’t know what to say or do.” 

There’s the truth, and it’s a problem:  clergy often don’t know what to say or do.  They want to help.  They recognize that infertility is a painful, heartbreaking, faith-threatening problem.  But they have no idea how to deliver hope in a practical, meaningful way.

As a result, they tend to choose one of two strategies.  Either they address the problem vaguely and conceptually, saying things like “all suffering is the result of original sin.”  Or, they ignore the problem completely and hope it will go away.

Neither strategy helps.

Instead, both strategies make it harder for couples to draw near to the God who can seem to be more a part of the problem than the source of the solution.  So, what happens?  Couples leave the church, no longer able to find a voice that speaks to their needs, or a community that understands their problems.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Faith leaders just need to be educated:  How do you help infertile couples?  How do you support them?  How do you reinforce their sense of belonging when their circumstances make them feel isolated and apart from everything normal?  How do you inspire them to draw nearer to the God who cares deeply about them?

Dr. Hayner recognized this need in his seminary students.  That’s why he responded so enthusiastically to Pregnant With Hope.  The same Bible verses, insights and personal narratives that empower infertile couples can prepare clergy to help them along the journey.

Once they are equipped, faith leaders can confront the stigma of infertility, addressing it openly from the pulpit (not just in private meetings with individual congregants).  They can also sensitize their communities to those who are suffering, and equip people to be sources of comfort and strength for one another.

How can you help bring about this change?  First, recognize that it is difficult to be a change agent when you are in the midst of an infertility journey.  You have a right to feel resentful that you should have to tackle this, along with everything else that’s challenging you.  But remember:  if you do, you’ll be helping yourself – and the infertile couples who come after you.

Second, understand that those who take on the role of change agent tend to do so out of desperation – “We need support!”  That’s a good reason, and a very motivating one.  If you’ve reached that point, what can you do to bring about meaningful change?  Try any one (or more) of these ideas:

1)      Write to your faith leaders.  Share your story – confidentially, if you prefer.  Ask for both private and public support.  Make clear that you are not the only infertile person in the congregation (statistically, 1-in-every-6 couples is struggling or has struggled with infertility).

2)      Send your clergy a link to this website, a copy of Pregnant With Hope, or both.  If you want to protect your identity, drop it in the offering plate anonymously.  They will discover that these messages have been enthusiastically endorsed by a seminary president and numerous religious leaders, as well as physicians, therapists and counselors (church-affiliated & secular).  Attach a note urging them to read with an open mind and a heart full of compassion – and then act as they feel led.

3)      Offer to meet with your faith leader – to share your questions, your struggles, and your needs.  Ask them to start a support group, invite a guest speaker, or provide some other tangible evidence of the church’s concern and desire to help.

Whatever you do, remember that it doesn’t take a huge effort to make a significant change!  Realize that this may be one of the ways God is bringing good out of your journey.  Consider your action – whatever it may be – one of the ways you demonstrate your trust in God’s purposefulness.  And then, do something.

The church can change, but we will have to voice the need and point the way.

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Use the tools below to forward this post to someone who wants your church to change, or can help make it happen.  For more resources & inspiration, visit PregnantWithHope.com.

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Infertility & Cause for Joy

Is it possible to experience true joy in the midst of an unsuccessful quest to conceive?  The visceral response is, “Of course not” – especially this time of year, when that instinctive answer is likely to be tinged with more than a little resentment or despair.

The world has taught us to associate this holiday season with family celebrations and wish fulfillment.  But what if we don’t feel like celebrating because our biggest wish is still unfulfilled?  What if our lives look nothing like what we’d pictured for ourselves — especially for this season?  Does it mean we’ve been chosen to suffer while others experience joy?

I don’t think so.

Then what does it mean to be infertile this season?  To have an unfulfilled longing for a child that God just seems to ignore?  That’s a great question, and it’s one that breaks the hearts of many infertile couples.

Here’s what I believe God wants us to understand about the answer….

We can see only what we want and don’t have when we put ourselves at the center of the story.  Why am I suffering when this should be a season of joy for me?  Why can’t I have the baby I want when I want it?  Why is God withholding the best gift I could imagine in what’s supposed to be a season of giving?

Consumed with thoughts of “I want!  I want!” we struggle to see any blessing, much less cause for joy, in this season.  But, if we put God at the center of the story, we can see this season very differently.

It can become a reminder that God has already given each of us the baby that was promised — baby Jesus.  He has already shown us that an “impossible “conception is possible by giving us proof of His ability to create life, despite the inability of science to explain how it happened — baby Jesus.  On top of all that, He has given a gift that is evidence of His great love for us, His deep desire to draw near to us, and His divine purpose:  to bless and save us.

Baby Jesus.

There’s our hope.  There’s our reason to believe that what we see and understand and feel able to explain is never the whole story.  There’s the proof that God never fails to fulfill His plan or accomplish His purpose in His perfect timing.

Why does that matter to couples struggling through the infertility journey?  We are seeing only a moment; God sees forever and always.

Too often, our focus is what’s just behind us and right in front of us.  If the past is full of failures and the future full of uncertainty, it is hard to feel confident – much less joyful, especially if our faith in God’s goodness is faltering.

This season gives us a very real reminder that God works in and through —  but also outside and beyond — our circumstances.  His perspective on our story is very different from our own.  It extends from the first promises made in scripture into a future we can only imagine, but which He can see clearly.

In the midst of this season, God is weaving our stories – and those of our children, and our children’s children, and their children —  into the one Great Story of love and salvation.

Is our longing for a baby lost in all that?  No.  Somehow, God knows every worry, every thought, every action… every detail of every aspect of our lives.  And in this moment – in the midst of this season – He has not lost sight of us.  He is actively working to bring about His perfect plan, and it will be cause for great joy.

This season, we can welcome Baby Jesus with the joy of anticipation.  He is the reminder that all things are possible, that God is full of extravagant grace, that He loves us deeply, and that He wants us to receive the gift of life.

May confident joy be your response — this season and always.

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Need more inspiration and cause for hope this holiday season?  Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples, and find additional resources at PregnantWithHope.com.

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Infertility Anxiety & Time to Be Still

Unexplained infertility can seem like psychological torture.  No one can tell you what’s wrong, what will work, or if anything ever will.

Faced with little-to-no information, how can you make decisions?  When the voice in your head is shouting, “The clock is ticking! You’re running out of time!” how do you think clearly?  When the most-likely-to-succeed protocol fails – repeatedly – what should you do next?  Where can you turn for input?  Who can you trust?  And how much more can you handle?

Bottom line:  What does it mean when there’s still no baby?

Welcome to a season of discernment.

When Don and his wife reached this point in their infertility journey, Don made a very wise choice.  He decided to slow down, wait, and listen.  “I’m one who believes God’s touch is very subtle,” he said.  “You’ve got to exert immense patience to understand – and wait for – what He’s doing in your life.  If you jump to a conclusion, you may miss the message.”

After several miscarriages, Don thought, “We haven’t been able to get pregnant.  Is God sending us a message?  I was listening and thinking, is God saying, ‘You shouldn’t be parents?’ or, ‘You should take another approach?’”  He and Robin decided to join the infertility Bible study to spend time with other couples struggling with the same questions.

“When I first went to the class, I was struck by how many people were emotionally distraught about infertility.  But I kept reminding myself:  God has a way of moving things around so that it’s a win-win for everybody.  It sounds formulaic, but you have to trust Him.  Be ready – do your part – but let it come on His time.”

The more they listened to other couples’ stories – especially those of “alumni” who came back to talk to the group – the more they realized, “you have to be patient.”  Speed and a desperate sense of urgency had not made  these other couples parents.  In fact, just the opposite!  Quite a few affirmed Don’s sense that  “you can’t just take over.  God’s got opportunities, messages and subtleties there for you… but you’ve got to be listening.”

Over time, Don and his wife felt a growing, deepening peace about the choice to adopt.  “God understood what I needed to make a decision,” Don recalled.  “We researched our options thoroughly, moving slowly enough to seek God’s guidance at every step.”

To a casual observer, it might have looked as if they were making no progress on their journey toward parenthood.  But in fact, the most important progress occurred when they slowed down and were perfectly still.  How so?  A birth mother tried to put her twin boys up for adoption five times  – but she always changed her mind.  Finally, she decided she was ready.

“If we’d been ready 6 months earlier, this mom wouldn’t have been ready,” Don said.  “And if we’d been ready 6 months later, we might have missed adopting our boys.  I want to recognize God’s timing in this miracle.  It was perfect.”

God’s timing always is.

The words “Be still and know that I am God” are not just a suggestion from scripture.  They are an imperative command for our benefit.  They are also the only way to answer the many unanswered questions on this journey.

When we are still, we make space for God’s voice to be heard.  Sometimes, He may be silent.  If so, we should stay still, but not be afraid.   He has not forgotten or neglected us.  And it is not His desire to compound our fear and anxiety.

We must trust that He is well able to speak clearly when we are ready to listen, and when the time is right. Those are the two key ingredients to forward progress.

This season, give yourself the two gifts that will bless your journey:  intentional stillness, and active listening.  Expect God’s guidance – wait patiently for it – and He will honor your faith with His faithfulness.

He always does.

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For more inspiration and words of hope, visit PregnantWithHope.com or read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Sow in Tears, Reap with Joy

It can be very disheartening to hear other couples’ success stories.  We listen thinking they may spark our own hope or offer some inspiration.  But more often than not, someone else’s success just reinforces our own sense of having been singled-out for suffering – compounding a growing sense of isolation and despair.

I had no intention of including infertile couples’ success stories when I wrote Pregnant With Hopein  part, because I’d already worked for nearly a year to transcribe the messages from the infertility Bible study.  But also, I anticipated a negative response from the still-struggling couples who’d be reading the book.

God knew better.

During a long walk, He made very clear that I was not done writing.  I needed to find ten couples to share their stories – in their own words, using their real names.  “That’ll never happen!” I argued.  “No one will agree to that.”

God pushed me to try.

Amazingly, ten of the twelve couples I asked said, “Yes.”

Why was it so important to include their stories?  Because they fulfill a promise of scripture  — one  which God intends to fulfill in your life, too:  “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”

That promise is at the heart of Pregnant With Hope.  It is the common element in all ten of the stories told by the couples featured in the book.

All of them came to our group barely clinging to anything resembling hope.  Most had experienced multiple miscarriages, numerous failed IVFs, and countless trips to doctors’ offices.  Some had also undergone major surgeries, lost family members, battled cancer….  They were completely exhausted by the journey.

Experience had taught them to expect only failure and heartache.  Increasingly, the “experts” agreed:  the odds were not good, and getting worse.  So, they sowed in tears – grieving their losses while continuing to cast seeds of hope.  Some sought new doctors, new tests or new protocols.  Others felt led to plow effort into creating profiles, finding adoption lawyers and scheduling home studies.  All of them chose to trust the God of miracles.

And all ten couples reaped incredible blessings.

They’re all parents now, as are many, many couples who’ve come after them.  Whether by conception or adoption, egg donation or surrogacy, they will tell you with absolute conviction:  this is the baby who was always meant for us.

Why are their stories so inspiring?  Because all ten couples, each in their own way and in the context of their unique story, dramatically demonstrate the power of the prayer:  Thy will be done.  All of them discovered the power of letting go, of trusting God’s timing, and of believing that their infertility was not the end of the story.

On the surface, each journey may have seemed doomed and hopeless.  In the natural, there was no reason to believe joy was coming.  But in the spiritual realm, God was blessing the seeds of hope they’d sown in tears.  He was honoring their faith with His faithfulness.  And they all “reap(ed) with songs of joy.”

Live into God’s promise and you will, too.

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Are you sowing in tears with no sense of hope?  Please let me  pray for you.  Email me:  susan@pregnantwithhope.com.

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