Monthly Archives: February 2011

The One “Fix” That Never Fails

Do you ever have the feeling that you’re getting the same message again and again?  You read something and a particular turn of phrase speaks to you.  It nudges you, and your spirit responds.  Then, you hear a song on the radio.  As you begin to sing along, you realize the lyrics are conveying the same idea.  Then, someone starts talking to you about something completely unrelated, and you hear those same words again.

Is it just a coincidence?

I don’t think so.

That message is everywhere for a reason.

I believe the Bible’s promise that all things work together for good for those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose.  And I believe that promise extends beyond all major life events to include all the small details of any given day.

How can that be?  Here’s how.  Every part of life that we invite God into gives Him an opportunity to speak to us, to comfort and encourage us, to bless us, and to guide us in the direction He intends for us to go.  If we give it all to Him, He can use it all for our good.

Recently, every time I turn around, I’ve been getting reminded of God’s unfailing love.  That word – “unfailing” – has been coming at me from all directions.  And the details of what that means and how it works have been coming at me, too.  So clearly, it’s important for me to be thinking about that in all aspects of my life.

Maybe it’s important for you, too.

Here are a few of the expressions of God’s unfailing love that have crossed my path in the past few days:

Promises of Scripture – “…the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him.”  “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love.”  “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.”  “May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You.”  “…those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”  “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”  “The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.”

Song Lyrics – “Everything you hold in your hand, and still you make time for me… I can’t understand.  How beautiful is your unfailing love.”  “Lead, Lord, with unfailing love… and we will sing as we go on: Our God is faithful.”  “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.”

Other Words of Hope – A recent Joel Osteen sermon urged listeners to “get in agreement with God’s promises to bless you and not to curse you, to prosper you and not to harm you, to fulfill your dream of a child….”  He shared stories of several infertile couples who trusted God’s unfailing love, and are now parents.  On a walk last week, I encountered a 7’ tall heart in front of a tiny local church bearing the words, “Love never fails.”

Tangible Evidence – Two couples from the infertility Bible study who’ve struggled for years to conceive just succeeded!  One couple conceived twins through IVF after multiple IVF miscarriages.  The other couple conceived naturally after a surgery the doctors said was “unlikely to make a statistically significant difference” in the odds of conceiving.  The doctors may have forecasted failure, but God’s unfailing love defied the odds.

For me, these reminders have been a nudge to express the gratitude I feel for my own experiences of God’s unfailing love.  For you, they may be a reminder.  Or they may be a promise.  Or both.  Whatever your take on them, I’m convinced the God whose love never fails is at work in your little corner of the world.

Ask Him to remind you that His love is constant and never-ending.    It wants nothing less than the very best for you.  It wills the best, plans for the best, promises the best, and works for the best.  It is an amazing, unmerited, priceless gift.  And it’s all yours.

Claim it.

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Want more inspiration on your infertility journey?  Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

 

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Surviving a “Tsunami”

Sometimes, it’s hard for self-reliant women to admit their limitations — especially if they think they’re addressing them successfully. It can take a true tsunami event to knock them off their feet and force them to cry out for the help they need.

That’s what happened to Cindy.

Five and a half years ago, she and her husband began trying to conceive. The only sign of hope was a single chemical pregnancy. At 35, Cindy knew they couldn’t wait indefinitely. They needed to find a fertility specialist. So, they got a referral and met with their new doctor right away.

Meanwhile, Cindy realized she was going to need support. Her escalating stress level would not help their relationship or contribute to their success conceiving. She found three sources of support:  one clinical, one peer/social, and one spiritual.

Her clinical support came from a therapist recommended by her RE. In the therapist’s office, Cindy noticed a RESOLVE newsletter; a few months later, she sought out their local support group. And through RESOLVE, she heard about a prayer group for infertile women and began participating. She thought her proactive response to her circumstances would be more than enough to counter the ups and downs of the infertility journey.

But, she was wrong.

At lunch with a friend, hoping to confirm a pregnancy very soon, she suddenly began bleeding. “I wanted to crawl under the covers and cry all afternoon,” she recalls. She rushed home. Instead of finding quiet and privacy, she got more bad news from her husband, “Your cousin Casey just died from an overdose.”

That’s when the tsunami hit. It was a tidal wave of grief beyond anything she’d ever experienced. She lost it completely. Frightened by her reaction and unsure how to help, Scott called the therapist in a panic. What could he say to help her? What should he do?

As the therapist was advising Scott, Cindy had realized she couldn’t take any more. “That’s when I knew I had to give it to God. I told Him, ‘I can’t do this on my own. I need you to take over!”

Cindy looks back on that moment as a critical turning point.

Now the mother of a little girl and pregnant with twins, she says, “IVF worked for us, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. The thing I’ve realized is that, even though it can last for years, infertility is ultimately a temporary situation. It’s not the final word. I know people who are using donor eggs, donor sperm, surrogates…. I know people who are adopting. There are so many ways to become a family.”

How did Cindy’s tsunami moment change her perspective? “My faith in God was renewed. I asked Him to take the wheel and be the pilot, and He did. I promised that, at some point, I’d help other people through the emotional aspects of this. I’ve kept that promise and led a peer group through RESOLVE for two years now. I preach to everybody. I tell them, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a happy ending for you!’ And I believe it.”

What did infertility teach her about relating to other women struggling through infertility? “First of all, we have an instant bond because even though no two stories are alike, the struggle to become a parent is the same. Infertility has also taught me to hold my tongue when I can’t relate to someone else’s struggle. I just say, ‘I’m sorry you’re going through that.’ And, it’s helped me find a voice I didn’t know I had.  I’m not political by any means, but I was asked to speak about IVF rights at the state capitol. That’s an important legacy for my children. One day, I’ll tell them, “I fought for you twins to be born, and (to my oldest) for your right to be a big sister.”

Having survived her own “tsunami,” what advice does Cindy have to offer? “Remember that God is at the wheel and you are in good hands. And remember that you are not alone as long as you seek support from others going through the journey.”

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For more information about RESOLVE and peer-led support groups, please visit www.resolve.org.

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Taking the Long Way

Infertility can seem like the long way to nowhere. The stress of not knowing how long the journey could take, combined with the uncertainty of whether you’ll ever get where you’re trying to go, can be almost unbearable. What’s the point of a journey if you can’t make forward progress? That’s the question that convinces some couples to give up before they ever reach their desired destination.

Consider this… Sometimes, there’s a reason for getting lost. A purpose for the time spent wandering. A blessing that results only if you take the long way.

I’ve been re-reading Exodus and thinking about the 40 years it took for the Israelites to make an 11-day journey to the Promised Land. Talk about taking the long way. What happened? They could’ve made it there and back more than 650 times in 40 years.

Were they totally lost? No, God was leading them – as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Was He intentionally leading them in circles? It seems that way. What was the point of that?

Clearly, there was a purpose for the time spent wandering. A reason for making it impossible for them to see how close they really were to what God had promised. What was it?

1. A transformation had to occur in them resulting in total God-reliance. They had learned how to stay alive in Pharaoh’s world by relying on his capricious favor. God wanted them to realize that life in that world meant little more than survival; He intended to bless them with much more. But first, they had to un-learn their fearfulness, their self-protective instincts, and their tendency to panic when they couldn’t understand what was happening.

Does that sound at all familiar to you? Might God be teaching you the same things? How so?

2. The 40-year journey was a time of mutual testing. The Israelites tested God’s trustworthiness, and He tested their trust. God heard and responded to their frequent calls for help. He proved Himself responsive and generous. He demonstrated His faithfulness and His abundant goodness – time and again. Could they trust Him to provide what was needed, when it was needed? Even when they couldn’t see how He could possibly provide? Would they learn to accept His ‘no’ with as much trust as His ‘yes’? Could they learn to rely on Him with confident hope — despite whatever they could (or could not) see or understand?

If any of this resonates with you, mght it be that you and God are also testing each other? If so, how could that make this time seem more purposeful?

3. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her new bestseller, An Altar in the World, God spent the 40 years empowering His people, while also teaching them gratitude: “God strengthened that wilderness gene in them, the one that made them strong and resourceful even as it reminded them how perishable they were.”  And, “by the time they [finally] arrived in the land of milk and honey, they knew how to say thank you and mean it.”

Might you be discovering a new kind of strength and resourcefulness on this journey, even as you discover how fragile you and your dream really are? Might God have a purpose in teaching you to be strong in and through Him prior to reaching “the land of milk and honey?” And, might it be hugely important for you to be ready to thank God and mean it when you finally get there?

Here’s the good news I see inherent in the 40-year journey – and in your own:

1)      Duration does not always predict success. The Israelites took 1,327% longer than the “average” traveler to get where they were going, but they were meant to get there – and they did. The time it took was, in hindsight, a blessing that built their faith and prepared them for their future.

2)      Speed does not equate to favor.  First and fastest doesn’t prove (or disprove) anything. Writes Taylor, “If someone asked us to pinpoint the times in our lives that changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times.” It is those who follow God’s leading, trust His timing, and stick to His path who will, ultimately, be most blessed.

3)      God always passes tests of trustworthiness. If you draw the obvious parallel to the Israelites’ story, the only unknown is whether you will pass tests of trust. Are you at peace despite the appearance of being lost? Do you believe God knows exactly where you are, and exactly how to get where He wants you to go? Do you believe He wants to lead you to nothing less than His best for you?

Lean into this journey. Trust that it has a purpose. And be confident that you are not lost to God.

 

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To the Ones Who Can Change Things….

Have you ever sat through a church service wondering why nothing you’re hearing speaks to your infertility journey? Or struggled through a baptism wondering if you’ll be able to hold back the tears? Have you ever left a couples’ Sunday school class because you don’t fit in with effortlessly fertile people? Or hustled up the side aisle of the sanctuary because you cannot hear one more word about a ‘family church’ where are all welcome, and everyone finds a place?

Welcome to the club.

The bad news is that you can’t help but be a member of this club if you’re in the midst of the infertility journey. Every church of every denomination seems unable to find a way to acknowledge your struggle, much less meet your needs.

Is that impossible to change? I don’t think so. Will it take a herculean effort on someone else’s part? Nope; just a little-bitty one on yours.

Here’s my idea.

I’ve written an open letter to Faith Leaders, and I’m asking you to deliver it. Email it directly to your ministry team and sign your name, or tuck it anonymously into an offering plate. It doesn’t matter which. Just do it at least once (more than once isn’t a bad idea). Get it in the hands of the right people – and give them what they need to help you make your way to parenthood.

Not sure it’ll change anything? Think of it this way:  the worst that can happen is status quo. But maybe, they’ll listen and learn. And wouldn’t that be a blessing?

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Dear Faith Leader,

In the midst of your congregation are infertile couples longing for help and hope. I am reaching out to you as one of them.

We come here searching for the God who put the dream of parenting in our hearts. As His representative, we look to you for inspiration, wisdom and guidance. Sadly, more often than not, we come away from worship feeling invisible, discouraged, and as if we don’t belong here.  We know that is not God’s desire, and it is not your intention. So, here’s what we ask of you:

1)      See Us – Recognize that 1-in-every-6 couples struggles with infertility issues. Not just women; men, too.  Because of social stigma, we are hesitant to self-identify… but we are here.

2)      Acknowledge Us – It is painful to sit in the pew and hear messages that presume we are not present or not emotionally vulnerable. We are in your midst during baptisms, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, children’s choir performances… all the reminders of what we desperately want but do not have. Please don’t ignore our suffering. Speak a word of hope to those of us who would give anything to be part of these special events.

3)      Inspire Us – Scripture is full of hope-giving words. Speak them over us! Are you not sure how they apply to our circumstances?Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples. According to Columbia Seminary President Dr. Stephen Hayner, “It invites couples on a journey of hope and healing of the kind only God can give. It is a book for struggling couples, and for those of us who love them and often don’t know what to say or do. I’m so thankful for this resource! May God use it mightily.”

4)      Walk With Us – Do more than talk the talk. Make this journey alongside us, offering the comfort of your steady presence. Pray for us, reach out to us, listen to us, connect us with other infertile couples… show us you are not afraid to be fully present with us in this. Face each challenge next to us, ready to show by example how we can live into God’s promises as we make our way toward parenthood.

5)      Support Us – Statistically speaking, we are not the only infertile couple in this congregation. There are others who need the same kind of help and hope we long to receive. Please consider launching a support group for infertile couples. All the resources you need can be found on the PregnantWithHope.com website. And if you choose to lead us, there are hundreds of blog posts on PregnantWithHope.wordpress.com that can help you better understand our struggles – and the kind of messages that can renew our faith and restore our joy.

Please give this serious consideration.

Your grateful congregant

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Irreverence and Infertility

According to philosopher Paul Woodruff, reverence is the virtue that keeps people from trying to act like gods. “To forget that you are only human,” he says, “to think you can act like a god – this is the opposite of reverence.”

What does that have to do with infertility?

Most of the people I’ve met teaching the messages of Pregnant with Hope would not say:  ‘Nothing.’ They don’t believe they’re trying to act like gods. Just the opposite. They’re painfully aware of their inability to compel a heartbeat to materialize in an empty womb. The absence of god-like powers is a constant source of frustration for them – as it probably is for you.

But re-read Woodruff’s definition.  “To forget that you are only human, to think you can act like a god….”

Turns out, it’s not so easy to sidestep conviction. When you assume you can will yourself to conceive, you’re forgetting that you’re only human.  When you feel aggravated that you can’t stop crying or arguing or worrying or stressing, you’re forgetting that you’re only human. When you think you should have known this would happen and planned the next move, you’re forgetting that you’re only human.

Okay, but “to think you can act like a god?”

Consider this…  Have you tried to negotiate with God, as if you’re His peer? Or to compel Him to give you what you want, as if you’re His supervisor?  Have you tried to anticipate His next step, as if you’re His intellectual equal? Or to outmaneuver Him, as if you’re smarter than He is?  Have you yelled at Him in anger, as if He owes you an explanation? Or stopped communicating altogether, as if you deserve an apology?

Yes? Well, maybe Woodruff’s comment isn’t so far off the mark.

Truth be told, infertility brings out the worst in many of us. Rather than showing reverence for the only one with the unlimited power to alter our circumstances, change our story’s trajectory, and determine the story’s outcome, we unconsciously attempt to leapfrog Him so that we can be the ones in control.

That is the height of irreverence – both foolish and impossible.  And, it’s the best way to insure this journey will take a very long time.

Which leaves us where? On a fairly predictable journey that leads from pride to humility, and from resentment to gratitude. I believe ensuring that transformation in us is God’s primary purpose in allowing infertility to slow down our journey to parenthood – not to frustrate our hopes, but to make us more the people He wants us to be when He entrusts our children to us.

Do you have a sense for how to make that journey? It can be difficult to step outside your circumstances and gain much-needed perspective.  Pregnant With Hope can help you, reverence will assist you, and this promise from Isaiah should reassure you:

“Although the LORD gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

 

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When It Rains, It Pours

It started while we were on vacation.  We’d saved all year to rent an ocean front room at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.  No one thought to tell us about the “June Gloom” until after we arrived.  That’s the dense fog that envelops the shoreline, the sky and everything gorgeous until midafternoon each day.  It should’ve been my first clue… but I was blissfully unaware of what was coming.

Several days into the trip, I got a call from my dad.  We chatted briefly and (thankfully) ended with “I love you.”  It was the last time I would ever talk to him; a week later, he died.

I flew to Atlanta for his funeral.  My mother asked me not to cry during the service, or afterwards.  “People need to feel they can express their condolences to us, and if we’re crying, they’ll feel awkward.”   I bottled up my grief – and when the service ended, I couldn’t stand.  The pain in my back was so intense it was nauseating.

Six months later, my mom – who had eloped at 20, and loved my Dad every day of her life – was diagnosed with leukemia.  The oncologist concluded that suppressing her grief was affecting her immune system.  “Get her to cry,” she advised, “or the leukemia will kill her.”

Awful as it was, this was just the beginning.

My husband and I met with an RE to discuss our lack of success conceiving.  He recommended we start with progesterone, Clomid and IUI.  That plan suddenly got more complicated when I had to leave my spouse, my home, and our only source of income to care for my mom as she underwent a bone marrow transplant — halfway across the country.

I flew to Seattle thinking:  one parent’s just died, the other’s fighting for her life, I’m so stressed my body is going haywire, and I’m leaving everything I need to get pregnant.  I’m going to have to guess when I’ll ovulate so I can book a flight to Chicago in time for a rushed IUI and a night with my lonely, tired, med school student husband before I race back to the cancer center for 24/7 bedside.  What is happening?!

Why was I so crazy about conceiving right then?  I don’t think it’s because we’d been trying on our own for a long time.  I guess it’s because it felt like the world was falling apart.  I’d lost control of everything – this wasn’t my script for my life – and somehow it seemed like the best possible time to experience some joy.  To reassure myself that “happily ever after” was more than a mirage.  To reclaim at least part of my dream for the future.

My Job-like journey continued for several more years.  It included multiple miscarriages, numerous surgeries, a cancer (mis)diagnosis, unneeded chemo, five months of bedrest, a premature birth, heart arrhythmias and defibrillation, my mother’s death, so many trips to the emergency room the intake nurse knew me on sight….

It went on, and on, and on.

By the grace of God, I made it.  I survived all of it.  And when I finally experienced my first “normal” day – no crises, no deaths, no trauma – I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  That’s the blessing of “when it rains, it pours” — gratitude so intense it leaves you in tears.

Our infertility journey was intertwined with so many other hard, horrible experiences.  I came face to face with several of my worst fears, and I realized that I was never in control.  I was always at the mercy of God’s grace.  And it never failed. I’m so, so thankful.

Life is hard, and God is good; that’s my “when it rains…” story in a nutshell.  Are you in the middle of a rainy season right now?  Hang in there.  I know life is hard, but God is good.

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Celebrity Infertility: Their Struggle is Our Blessing

Less than six months ago, Bill and Giuliana Rancic made headlines when they publicly acknowledged their attempts to conceive through IVF.  They didn’t wait until they had good news to share.  Instead, they chose to cast a spotlight on the struggle that’s so rarely openly discussed.

When their story appeared in an October 2010 issue of People magazine, I called it a paradigm shift for the publication that’s often considered a social barometer for America, saying:

“Typically, People magazine stories reinforce the myth that celebrities conceive effortlessly – implying that those of us who don’t and can’t are somehow ‘less than.’  That false narrative causes pain and reinforces feelings of failure among many infertile couples.”

Well, now it seems as if the dam has truly broken.  More and more of the stories behind the baby announcements are being shared publicly:

– Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban announced the arrival of their second daughter, born via surrogate, and implied that struggles with secondary infertility had led them to a gestational carrier.

– Celine Dion openly discussed her five failed IVF’s, and her decision to keep trying to conceive despite her Catholic upbringing and the Pope’s condemnation of assisted reproduction.

– Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo fathered a boy via surrogate, revealing his international sex symbol status did not equate with fertility.

– Openly gay stars Ricky Martin, Elton John and Neil Patrick Harris used egg donors and surrogates to conceive their much-desired genetic offspring.

Maybe it’s just my enthusiasm for transparency and full disclosure, but it seems like there’s a pattern emerging here:  lots of people struggle with infertility, and more and more of them are willing to say so – or at least, to let us put two and two together.

Why is that so exciting?

Because, in hindsight, I’m convinced Bill & Giuliana’s story in People magazine did more than unveil the truth that conceiving isn’t always easy.  Their revelation signaled the beginning of the end.  The end of secrecy and stigma and shame.  The end of fearing judgment and rejection, of doing everything possible to avoid exposure, and of lying about the real story behind the façade of effortless conception.

Have celebrities’ normalized the very common experience of infertility?  Not fully.  But with every story, there’s a little less gasping and pointing, and a little more compassion.

How do I know?

Well, look at letters to the editor of magazines like People.  If theyre any indication of the public consensus, the vast majority of Americans understand the desire to create families, and they feel genuine sympathy for those who struggle to do so.  Celebrities’ open acknowledgements of the reproductive hurdles they’ve faced – and the joy they’ve experienced in surmounting them – is making this taboo topic less and less taboo.

I think that’s a blessing that’s long overdue.

There’s a wonderful verse in Isaiah that promises:  “I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Who knew we’d be claiming this promise, in part, through the likes of Celine, Elton and Nicole?  Truly, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

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