Monthly Archives: May 2011

Are You at Rock Bottom?

My friend emailed me yesterday saying he is shocked by how abandoned he feels as he makes his way through infertility (and a host of other challenges).

He and his wife are struggling through a time that seems so dark and lonely, it is hard for them to remember what joy feels like.  Or rest.  Or peace.  Or comfort.  They are trying to keep their heads above water while drowning in despair.  For him, coping has become a battle between sarcasm and detachment.  For her, it is body surfing a tidal wave of grief.

He left me a voicemail later in the day saying he’s tired of being told to trust God.  The implication was, he no longer does.

What can I offer couples whose infertility – especially when compounded by other hardships – makes them feel helpless and hopeless?  What can I say to someone who is tired of hearing that God cares?

Nothing.

When someone hits the wall like this and falls in a heap on the ground, it’s not time to talk.  It’s time to listen.  It’s time to sit quietly, patiently, compassionately — and offer comfort simply by acknowledging their suffering and choosing to remain with them in it.

It is a very hard place to be:  feeling angry at God and invisible to Him.  Massively resentful and utterly ignored.  A psychological death spiral can begin when these feelings become confused with the Truth.

Despite how it feels, the truth is God has not turned His back on my friends’ struggles or hardened His heart to their pleas.  In fact, as a loving Father, it breaks His heart to watch them suffer.  But, He knows what they don’t see and can’t imagine:  this is for a purpose, and it shall pass.  The journey isn’t over and this is not the end of their story.

Despite what they feel, He will not give them more burden than they can bear.  He’s promised.  And He’s also promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  His character will not let Him be other than who He is: a covenant-maker and a promise-keeper.

So, no matter how dark, how lonely, how angry, how bitter, how devastated, or how hopeless they feel, He has promised He will never leave them.  They can reject Him, but He will not abandon them.  No matter what they say in frustration, or what they do in despair, He promises, “I am with you always.”

My own journey is testimony to His faithfulness — as are the journeys of so many couples I’ve taught, met with, comforted and encouraged.  We are all witnesses to the truth that God is faithful, and He is with them.  One day, they will be witnesses, too.

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For more inspiration, resources and cause for hope, click this link

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The Amazing Power of Praise

Some of the best discussion in the infertility Bible study comes in response to what seems like nonsensical advice:  Praise God for what you can’t see happening.  “Why should we, and how could we?” couples ask.  On the surface, the advice sounds ridiculous.  It seems absurdly Pollyanna to believe that seeing the bright side could somehow make it so.

But, it can.

Here’s what I mean.

Our praise releases the power of God into our lives.  When we dwell on the negative, on our feelings of powerlessness and despair, we invite the power of darkness into our spirits.  But, the opposite is also true.  When we concentrate our attention on the goodness of God and our knowledge of His faithfulness, we invite the power of the Holy Spirit to activate the word of God in us.  That changes everything.

“So, what do you thank God for when everything seems to be falling apart?” couples want to know.  “How can we praise Him when nothing is going according to (our) plan?  When the nurse calls with discouraging results… there are no eggs to harvest… the IVF fails… the birth mother changes her mind… our options are limited and the future looks bleak?”

Praise Him for sustaining you, and thank God for hope.  The Bible makes clear that what we see is not all there is.  In fact, it is in walking by faith and not by sight that we can “see” cause for hope.

Still at a loss?  Then speak these words of the psalmist:

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more… til I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

Do those words feel relevant?  You want hope.  You’d love to declare God’s goodness to the next generation — your children, who came into your life despite all the struggles of infertility.  Even if it is hard for you to imagine saying these words with conviction, offer them with sincerity.  Pray them with a desire to see God demonstrate that your faith is justified.

“What if I can’t?  How do I praise God when I feel angry, resentful and hurt?”  You acknowledge the truth of your feelings, and then acknowledge a greater, timeless truth:  God is faithful.  How do you do that when you’re awash in powerful feelings?  Voice them, too!  Look again to the words of the psalmist:

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,… I will praise you for your faithfulness.

“Why praise God when I’m the one doing all the work and experiencing all this suffering?”  Because you’re not doing it alone.  You are surrounded by countless provisions every day, sent to you by the God who loves you and will sustain you.

Bottom line:  If you can’t praise God for His sake, then do it for for your own:

1) Praise strengthens you – It focuses your mind on God, helping you be attentive to His presence, His voice and His will.  That attentiveness strengthens your courage; you know you are not alone.  It fortifies your hope; you know your steps are guided by the One who is with you.  And, it reinforces your faith; as you exercise trust, you build your ability to believe in God’s promise-keeping faithfulness.

2) Praise also anticipates victory – It encourages optimism, regardless of the moment’s circumstances.  It leans into believing what can only be seen through eyes of faith — which delights the heart of the Father.  It makes everything different, even as it appears to remain the same, because it rests in the assurance of a powerful truth:  “all things are possible.”

Learning to trust and affirm God’s promises, despite today’s circumstances, is the great test of faith.  When we say, “Lord, despite what I see, I still believe all things are possible,” He stands ready to prove once again, “those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, click this link to visit PregnantWithHope.com

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The Unending Race

Last summer, my husband ran his first 50-mile ultramarathon.  He’d trained all summer long, heading out at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings for 6-7 hour runs, hoping to avoid temperatures that frequently hovered near 100 degrees.  His race went so well, he decided to run a 100-mile ultra.  Here’s a post I wrote about that amazing season….

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What makes someone want to do something so punishing?  Something that requires such discipline, determination and sacrifice?  How can it possibly be worth the effort and the cost?

I think the same questions could be asked of infertile couples.  What makes you push so hard to reach a goal that seems real, and yet so far away?  Why do you choose to suffer physical pain?  To endure fatigue, anxiety, doubt, isolation… so many forms of suffering?  Is it really worth it?  Isn’t there some other way to meet whatever need is driving you forward?

Here’s the thing….

When God puts a dream in your heart, He intends for you to fulfill it.  “…He works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” [Philippians 2:13].  He has a plan, and you have an important part in it.  Your sense of being called to something and simultaneously propelled toward it is no accident.  He has a purpose for creating this desire in you, and for urging you to act on it.

Of course, reaching the goal requires your best effort.  In some cases, it pushes you well beyond what you had imagined possible – or considered endurable – and yet, somehow you find the strength to keep going.

Why doesn’t God make it easier?  Why does He call you to what looks and feels almost impossible, instead of dropping success miraculously into your lap?  I’m convinced it’s because He intends to bless you in and through the process of struggling toward that goal before reaching the finish line.

Here’s what I mean….

My husband’s ability to run forever without stopping may not be important to God, but his health is.  His ability to listen to his body and care for it certainly is.  And, the huge stretches of time that he and God now spend together – away from the stresses of work, and the buzz of activity at home – most definitely are.

The official ultramarathon hasn’t even started, but in ways that matter more to God than any runner’s medal, my husband is already victorious.

The same is true for couples struggling through infertility.  Your ability to endure countless trips to the doctor may not be important to God, but your perseverance and trust are.  Your ability to be at peace in the midst of uncertainty is.  And, your increased desire to sense God’s presence and believe in His purposefulness – despite the test results, the miscarriages, and the grief – most definitely are.

Remember, the Bible says, “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”

Claim this verse and run your race.  God is with you every step of the way.

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, go to  PregnantWithHope.com

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The Value of Spiritual Support

Why, if her own infertility journey is over, would a woman choose to work with infertile women?  Lisa Graham does it because she has a servant’s heart, and because it is a joy to watch God work in the lives of women who entrust their stories to her.

Seven years ago, after her own journey made her aware of the profound lack of spiritual support for women battling infertility, Lisa was urged to start a prayer group for infertile women.  A friend told her, “You should get women together, share your stories, and pray for one another.”  At first, Lisa felt intimidated by the idea of being the leader.  But another woman agreed to partner with her, and the two of them launched a unique ministry.

“We meet once a month,” Lisa explained.  “We go around the circle and everyone shares what’s happened to them since we last met:  test results, where they are in their cycle, the next doctor’s appointment….  Sometimes, there are losses to share.  And almost always tears.  Then, we anoint each woman with oil and pray for her.  Every month, we say, ‘Jesus is in the house!’  You can feel his presence in the room.”

Talking about infertility makes many people very uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, that includes those who are expected to embody the love and compassion of Christ during times of struggle and heartache.  According to E.W. Carter of the Regional Council of Churches, “Clergy don’t know how to talk about infertility in the 21st century.  So, when faced with the unfulfilled longing for a child, they are often silent.”

That silence can make infertile couples – especially women – feel judged, marginalized and neglected.  Lisa Graham’s prayer group models one simple solution to this problem.

“It’s amazing to me that there aren’t more churches doing this, but we are the only group like this in Atlanta.  Every month, Christians, Jews and non-believers gather together to honor God, to share their burdens, and to support one another.  It is a simple ministry, but it’s very powerful.  We see so many miracles – women getting pregnant after their doctors have said they can’t, women conceiving naturally after IVF has failed… we know God is at work.”

Luke tells the story of the Pharisees insisting Jesus rebuke his disciples for calling out praises to God for the miracles they’ve seen.  Jesus’ response is “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

That is how “alumni” of Lisa’s prayer group — who are now mothers — feel about acknowledging God’s role in their stories.  Many of them return to the group every month to pray with and for other women.  They feel compelled to share the good news of their own experiences with those in desperate need of hope and inspiration.

“We praise God for what He does, and we claim His promises for one another,” said Lisa.  “The rest is up to Him.”

Might you — or someone you know — benefit from a group like Lisa’s?  If so, consider forwarding a link to this blogpost to your ministry team or your doctor.  Let them know there is a simple way to deliver meaningful support.  If you prefer to protect your privacy, feel free to send their contact information to me (susan@pregnantwithhope.com) and I will  send them information information on how and why to start a prayer group.

Remember:  The God who is so generous and faithful that He must be praised or “the stones will cry out” is ready and waiting to help all those who call on Him.  What are you waiting for?

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Feeling Like Job….

I have some friends who are struggling through a Job-like season right now – a time when everything seems to be coming against them and they can barely keep their heads above water.  Constant change.  Constant uncertainty.  Constant stress.  Exhausted and destabilized, they are struggling mightily to hang on to anything resembling hope.  And in the midst of all the chaos, trying to conceive.

Where is God in all this?

The Bible says He is “our refuge,” “our strength,” and “an ever-present help,” but He doesn’t feel ever-present to them.  Never-present is more like it.  They can’t seem to find any refuge, and they are running very low on strength.  So, now what do they do?

God Calling, the devotional book I discovered on vacation, has the answer:

“To see Me, you must bring Me your cares and show Me your heart of Trust.  Then, as you leave your cares, you become conscious of My Presence.”

If they want to find the refuge, the strength and the help God offers, these are the steps to take:

1)      “…bring Me your cares…” – Vent honestly; Job did.  Take every hurt and heartache to the One who is always ready to listen, who never resents your need or refuses you compassion.  He is waiting for you – hoping you will choose Him over whatever comfort you might seek (and fail to find) in the world.

2)      “…and show Me your heart of trust” – Don’t dump your problems and run; stay long enough to show God your desire to trust Him, despite your circumstances.   Let Him see in your heart a longing to look past this moment’s struggles, and a choice to believe in what you know about His character, His faithfulness and His love.

3)      “Then, as you leave your cares, become conscious of My Presence” – Hand Him your burdens.  Release your grip and let them go.  Give them to Him as a trust-based offering.  As you do, you will find yourself able to turn your focus away from them and toward His presence.  That shift of focus may not last long at first, but keep repeating these 3 steps.  You will become increasingly aware of His ever-presence.  And in that realization, you will find the comfort and hope you cannot find anywhere else.

When I went through a Job-like season, I got so desperate I was willing to try anything.  Virtually everyone and everything I’d assumed would comfort me failed to, sooner or later.   Only God never failed.  That realization — tested and proven in trial by fire — was the great blessing of the season.

My friends are in the process of receiving the same blessing.  Although they can’t see it, I truly believe it.  Suffering is a door none of us would ever choose to open.  But sometimes, it leads us straight to the heart of God.

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Want more inspiration and cause for hope?  Visit PregnantWithHope.com

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A Surrogate’s Story

What kind of woman says “giving up a baby was the most thrilling moment of my life”?  Ask Pam MacPhee.

Nine years ago, doctors diagnosed her cousin Henry’s wife with aggressive cervical cancer.  Treatment was likely to cause infertility, so the couple froze eighteen embryos prior to the start of radiation.  Curious about their options, Pam researched surrogacy.  The more she learned, the more she became convinced that she should offer herself as a gestational carrier to Henry and Lauren.

“It was a leap of faith,” she explained.  “I had such a desire to give them hope as they were battling cancer.  I asked myself whether I had the mental, physical and emotional strength… and decided I did.”

How did she explain her choice to her husband and children?  “I told my children, ‘Lauren is sick and her tummy doesn’t work right, so I’m going to put her baby in my tummy until it’s ready to come out.  Then, I’ll give it to her.’  They were fine with that.  The truth is, it’s not that complicated.  My husband was totally supportive.  He wanted to help, too.”

Once the cancer was defeated, “with a foundation of honesty, trust, and open communication,” Pam said, “we found our way through the anxieties, challenges and awkward moments of the surrogacy process together.  The day after Mother’s Day (2001), I was thrilled to deliver a beautiful, healthy baby girl for them.  They were speechless with awe when they first laid eyes on Hope.”

What were Pam’s feelings, as the woman who had carried this baby for nine months?  Did she find it difficult to think of baby Hope as their child?  “Not at all,” she said.  “Intended parents fear that surrogates will bond with the babies they carry.  But a stable, mentally-healthy surrogate never feels like the mother; we are more like nurturer-protectors.  We connect with the baby, but we don’t form a mother-child bond.  Our bond is with the parents.”

Any regrets?  “No.  It was the most fulfilling time of my life,” said Pam, “watching my cousin become a father, and seeing his wife embrace life and hope again after the devastation of cancer. It was a privilege to share that moment of joy and wonder with them.”

Is that how all surrogates feel?  “The main motivation of surrogates is wanting to give joy.  They are women who want to help, who enjoy being pregnant and realize that they can give the gift of a life to someone else.  Whether or not they get paid, money is not the primary factor.  It’s a desire to give hope.”

Pam approached her role as a surrogate with a servant’s heart, giving selflessly out of love. That perspective enabled her, and the baby’s intended parents, to move through the journey with healthy boundaries.  “We focused on clear communication, mutual trust and sharing the pregnancy.”  Their experience models the ideal approach to surrogacy – one based on a foundation of love as scripture describes it:

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

Pam’s advice to infertile couples considering surrogacy?  “Trust that the surrogate is there for you.  She is not attention-seeking or self-serving.  She is a loving person who wants to help someone who’s hurting become a parent.  Focus on the miracle that is happening through her body, and the joy of anticipating the baby – rather than fear, or the need for control – and it will be a fulfilling journey for both of you.”

 

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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You Are Blessed

This is a rerun of one of the most widely read and forwarded posts I ever wrote.  See if it has something meaningful to say to you….

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Not long ago, I discovered a book by Mother Teresa, You Are Blessed.  I walked past it as I was leaving a bookstore, and God could not have spoken to me more clearly if the book had leaped off the table and into my hands.

I am blessed, but sometimes – especially when I’m not getting what I’m badly wanting and desperately praying for – I forget that.  I lose sight of my glass half-full.  All I can see is that it’s partly empty.  As I look around me, “everyone else” is already enjoying the blessing I want.  That’s when the negative self-talk starts:  it’s so unfair, why them and not me?  A minute later, I’m caught in a psychological death spiral… down, down, down… into a dark hole of worry and gloom, until I feel so far from God that I can’t possibly hear Him.

Does that sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t happen so fast for you.  Or, maybe it’s such a blur, you can’t even describe the stages of descent – just the fact that one minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re losing it.

It’s those death spiral moments that make infertile couples ask, “Where is God in all this?”  He can seem so distant, unresponsive, and unmoved by our trauma and drama.  But, He’s not. We’ve pulled away – out of fear, a need to control, repressed anger, and so much more.  Meanwhile, God is busy blessing us.

How can we see that more clearly?  What would that change?  And why is it hugely important to our infertility experience?

When we focus on what we do not have – and those who already have it, we open the door to resentment and jealousy.  We foolishly invite darkness into our hearts, our minds, and our spirits.  We unconsciously push God aside to make room for His enemy, and then give ourselves over to despair.  We choose a path that cannot possibly take us to joy.

Unbelievably, this is our choice.  It is our decision to marinate in toxic emotions that make it virtually impossible to hear or see  God.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

If we shift the focus from self to God – from “I want but don’t have…” to “He’s already given me…” – we find cause for renewed hope.  Even more, we experience a restored confidence in His faithfulness and compassion.  It is choosing to see the glass half-full (thanks to God), rather than half-empty.  And it makes all the difference in how we experience the infertility journey.

So, when you want a child and can’t conceive one, can’t carry one to term, can’t imagine another cycle but can’t imagine giving up… how exactly is the glass half-full?

If you have a loving, supportive spouse, you are blessed.  If you have found a doctor you trust and respect, you are blessed.  If someone outside your marriage is encouraging you, you are blessed.  If you’ve ever gotten a good test result, you are blessed.  If you’re healthy enough to try again, you are blessed.  If you can afford ART, you are blessed.

If you’ve found a community of infertile couples, you are blessed.  If you’ve read an uplifting message, you are blessed.  If you have a friend who understands your struggle, you are blessed.  If you continue to hope despite losses and grief, you are blessed.  If you still believe that God hears your prayers — even if you don’t sense His answers — you are blessed.

You are blessed.  You are blessed.  You are blessed.

And all of it – every bit of it! – was put in your path by the God who loves you and longs to bless you more.  He intends to give you His very best, in His perfect timing.  It’s hard to be patient – especially when you don’t know the details of His plan – but you can trust the God who’s proven Himself faithful throughout scripture.

Mother Teresa’s book reminded me today that I am blessed.  I took several minutes, right in the middle of the bookstore, to think of the ways God has gone before me to prepare a path strewn with blessings – too many to count.  Recalling those blessings was a blessing in itself.  I felt a surge of gratitude for the God who knows and loves me.

Do you have a thankful heart for all that God has already done for you?  Tell Him so.  Thank Him.  And, trust that He is not ignoring your pleas for the blessing of a child.

Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

What greater blessing could there be than this promise?  Claim it, choose to see that the foundation is already being laid, and give God your “thank offering” of a grateful heart.  The change in your perspective will alter your trajectory.

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For more resources and cause for hope, visit PregnantWithHope.com

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