Monthly Archives: August 2011

Peace Despite Negative Outcomes

I got a bittersweet email from a reader. She had written to me last month asking for prayer as she and her husband tried IVF after five failed IUI’s and a miscarriage. She told me she’d already read Pregnant with Hope once, and she would be re-reading it as they made their way toward Transfer Day because it filled her with confident hope.

Her note this morning said, “None of our embryos made it to Day 3, but I’ve had peace throughout the process.”

How did she do that? How did she sustain a sense of peace despite all the uncertainty? How did she step into the moment of disappointment when she heard none of the embryos made it… and through it?

She chose to trust that God’s best sometimes begins with “No.”

Years ago, Garth Brooks released a country song about unanswered prayer. I heard it so many times that, despite my limited affection for country music, I knew the words by heart – among them: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” It took me years to realize that song was popular, in part, because it’s so true.

For much of my life, I prayed for specific requests to be fulfilled and equated that with answered prayer.  When I didn’t get what I wanted, I took it as an indication that God either didn’t care much about me, or that He wasn’t listening very carefully.

I was wrong.

In hindsight, I can see that the prayers I thought were not being answered were actually answered very clearly:  “No, because I have something better planned.”  “No, because there are things you don’t understand.” “No, because I can see what you cannot see, and I know what you cannot know about the future.” “No, because I love you too much to say ‘yes.’”

The early part of my life was a cake walk. It was easy to love God and trust Him – because I was perpetually blessed. Only when everything possible began to go wrong did I realize that trusting God meant thanking Him for what I didn’t think I wanted. It meant finding peace in the midst of complete chaos and total uncer- tainty, by faith.

When I found that peace and learned how to live into it – despite the stressful circumstances that threatened to hijack every aspect of my life – I stepped into a new relationship with God.  And I started becoming the person He wanted me to be as a parent.

Now, I know better than to tell God what to do. I recognize and respect the fact that His wisdom far surpasses my own. And, equally important, I trust His love for me. I trust that He wants the very best for me – and all those whom I love. So, I pray for His best — whatever, and whenever that may be.

The woman who wrote to me this morning has chosen that same perspective. She trusts this “no” is one step on the journey to the child who’s waiting in her future. The one who is nothing less than God’s best. Imagine God’s delight when it will finally be time to tell her, “Yes.”

 

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Struggling with, ‘Is Infertility My Fault?’

Six months ago, the LORD laid on my heart the need to write this.  You’ll know when you read it if God nudged me to re-run it for you….

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In the midst of infertility, uncertainty frequently begs the question, ”Why is this happening?  Why to us?  Why now?”  There is a deeper, much more painful question that many people struggle to avoid:  “Is this my fault?  Is this happening because of what I did?”  It is a worry laced with fear – and often, long-buried guilt.  It is virtually never voiced because the one who is desperate to know the answer is also desperately afraid to hear it.

When Angela and Sean tried to start a family, they encountered a series of unexpected hurdles.  “We thought — like everyone else — you get off birth control, wait six months and ‘boom’ you get pregnant,” remembers Angela.  “But I wound up in the ER with an ectopic pregnancy, then a cyst, then surgery for a closed tube, and then a miscarriage….”

Frustrated and worried about their lack of success, they tried to make sense of things.  Sean admits, “My first thought was, ‘Crap, we were on birth control for ten years.”

Angela’s fears went deeper:  “Maybe we weren’t letting God work in His way and that was why we had infertility.”  They tried IVF and failed.  “Maybe we didn’t let it happen naturally and so this was my punishment,” she reasoned.  She began seeking answers in terms of deserved consequences.  “I was asking myself, ‘What did I do wrong before marriage, or during marriage…?  Why is this happening?’”

She didn’t know it, but Sean was also finding fault in his past.  “I grew up Catholic, but when I was 16, I stopped going to church.  Now, I wasn’t praying.  I wasn’t reading the Bible.  We were going to church, but just going through the motions.”  Was God angry at Sean and Angela?  Was this His punishment?  Does He withhold children from those whose crimes are unforgiveable?  They wanted to know, but they couldn’t bring themselves to ask – even each other.

So, where can the answers be found?  And can they provide any peace?  Any reassurance that there is hope for those who’ve made choices or done things that might have angered God?

I have good news, and it starts with Rahab’s story….

When the Israelites headed toward the Promised Land, it was already inhabited by the Canaanites.  Scripture and archaeology reveal their culture was steeped in some of the most shocking, abominable practices imaginable – including incest, bestiality, institutionalized sexual abuse of women and child sacrifice [Leviticus 18:24-28].  In the midst of this depraved society lived a prostitute named Rahab.

Long story short, she knew the Israelites planned to invade Canaan, destroying everyone and everything, under strict instructions from God.  She agreed to help them take the city – in exchange for her life, and the lives of her parents and siblings.

Timeout. Look at Rahab.  She existed on the lowest rung of a sick society.  She had a family that could have provided for her; but apparently, she chose to pursue her profession with all its inherent risks.  Did her constant sexual activity produce children?  She never mentioned any when she negotiated for her life and that of her family.  So, either she disposed of whatever she conceived (abandonment? abortion? child sacrifice?), or she didn’t care enough to protect the lives she’d brought into the world; the invaders could slaughter them.

Does anything in that profile strike you as potentially offensive to God?  Inexcusable?  Unforgiveable?  Then you might want to hear the rest of her story….

She lied to protect the spies sent by the approaching invaders.  It was a traitorous act, committed to help people whose law called for a prostitute to be stoned.  But she chose to entrust herself to the God who had given that law, and to His people.  What became of her?

The whole city was invaded and burned, but she and her family were saved.  She accepted God’s offer of forgiveness for everything in her past.  Then, she married an Israelite who saw beyond that past – and together, they had a son.  Many years later, their great-great grandson, King David, was born.  And many generations after that, her descendant Jesus came into the world.

Does that sound like the story of a woman who got what she deserved?  Who suffered mightily because God was angry at the choices she’d made?  Not to me.  I see Rahab’s story as evidence of God’s incredible mercy.  He knows what’s in all hearts, He understands all motivations, and He stands ready to forgive all pasts – if we are willing to trust Him, act out of that trust, and receive the future He longs to give us.

Does that sound too good to be true?  Not to Sean and Angela, the proud parents of a boy and a girl.  It’s not too good for you, either. Receive God’s grace, and may the blessings begin to flow. 

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Don’t Be Fooled…

Today, it may look like infertility is a permanent road block preventing you from ever reaching your desired destination.  It may seem as if every prayer you pray goes unanswered, God is silent, and all the news is bad.  It may feel like no one cares, there is no cause for hope, and all is lost.

But that is an illusion.  A false perception.   A lie.

In Hebrew the name Satan translates “the deceiver.”   In scripture, he is also called “the father of lies,” and it’s for a reason.  He specializes in whispering disheartening words.  Convincing you that every closed door is a sign of failure.  Every difficulty a prelude to defeat.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Life in Christ does not mean immunity from difficulties, but it offers peace in difficulties.  It doesn’t mean that victory is always visible, but it is always God’s plan.  One day, you will look back and see the wisdom of God’s ‘no’ at each fork in the road that would have led you away from His best.  You will see that His goodness led you to where you are now.  And you will thank Him for every time He said, ‘I love you way too much to answer that prayer.’

But how do you get from Now to Then?  To that moment when it’s clear that God is good and all is well?

First, realize that infertility is not happening to you, it’s happening for you.  Whatever the Enemy may tempt you to believe, the truth is that God has a purpose for your infertility journey.  There is a reason you are walking this path toward your future.  God intends to strengthen your faith, to demonstrate His faithfulness, and to mature you into the steward He intends you to be for the child who is coming.

The Bible says that:

“’No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.  This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the LORD.”

Another translation concludes, “’…I’ll see to it that everything works out for the best,’ says the LORD.”  That means, if you trust God, you don’t need to worry.  In fact, you should thank Him for everything — even apparent trials and hardships.  Why?  Because what looks like opposition leads to opportunity.  What seems like difficulty strengthens determination.  What feels like a battle is actually a blessing.

Appearances are deceiving.

So where should you focus?  On what you see?  Think?  Feel?  Or, on what you know to be the truth from the God who keeps His promises?

Let God direct your steps.  He knows what He is doing.  Get in agreement with Him and nothing can stop your destiny – so long as you continue to step out in faith, rather than fear.  So long as appearances don’t deceive you into thinking you’re already defeated, and get you to give up before you get to where God’s leading.

The key to seeing past the illusion of predestined failure to the blessing that awaits is to stay in faith.  Tell God, “I may not understand this plan, and I may not like what I see or think or feel, but I will trust you.  I will believe that the promise ‘all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose’ is for me – and the child you have chosen to come into the life of this family.”

Pray those words as often as you need them.  Put them on your bathroom mirror.  Tape them to your dashboard.  Tack them on your cubicle wall.  Keep God’s promises in front of you, put the lies of the deceiver behind you, and walk confidently into the future God has planned for you.

It’s waiting.

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Secondary Infertility: One Man’s Story

I know a man who experienced secondary infertility years ago.  He and his wife decided that one child was not a whole family, and that – for them – natural conception was the only acceptable road to parenthood.  They tried and prayed, and tried and prayed.  But it never happened.  They remained a family of three.

Years later, they still mourn the fact that their prayers for a second child went unanswered.

This man feels compelled to share his story of unfulfilled longing with couple after couple.  My sense is that he means to offer comfort and commiseration from the vantage point of one who has shared in similar suffering and uncertainty.

When I’ve heard him speak, he’s included sobering statistics about infertility and stories about the stress it brings into relationships.  He’s clearly knowledgeable and very experienced.

So, why am I not a big supporter?

Because I think he has the potential to do as much harm as good.  Not just because I’ve seen people reduced to puddles of tears by the undercurrent of resignation in his words, but because his messages never seem to reflect the light and life of the Holy Spirit.  They don’t reveal deep trust in God’s plan, His goodness and His purposefulness.  And they are not infused with Christ-centered hope.

But that’s what infertile couples need – someone to remind them that the truths of scripture are not for someone else, or for some other time or situation.  They are for us.  Now.

This man’s experience has taught him to focus on managing the downside – tackling the negative emotions and stressful issues inherent in the journey, and getting people prepared to deal with a life that may well be defined by their failure.

Is that practical?  In some ways.  Is it helpful?  I’m not so sure.

Here’s the problem I see… consciously or not, he sends the signal, ‘Your worst fears could be realized; your dream might never come to pass.; God might fail to deliver.’  That’s what he took away from his infertility journey.  But, God never fails us!  He longs to see His perfect will for us fulfilled in our lives.

Then why didn’t God give this man a second child?

I’m convinced that when he and his wife set strict limits on how God could expand their family, they closed doors He may have intended to open:  egg or sperm donation, IUI,  IVF, surrogacy, adoption, foster parenting….  who knows?  It could have been some combination of those, or all of them.

Was it wrong to set those limits?  No, it was their choice to make.  But,  the absence of a second child doesn’t mean God said ‘no’ to them.  They may have been the ones who said ‘no’ to God — by closing every door but one.

God’s permissive will gives us the freedom to close any doors, set any limits, and refuse any alternatives to our own will for ourselves.  But, with that privilege comes the risk that our choices will move us away from His best, instead of toward it.

Is that what happened with this man and his wife?  Only God knows for sure.  But here’s what I know… when we act out of obedience and trust, it honors God.  And scripture says He responds to our faith by drawing near to us and delighting Himself in blessing us.  That kind of interaction with God transforms people in ways that strengthen their faith, fill them with confident hope, and reinvigorate their belief in His faithfulness.

That’s not what I see in this man.  Instead, I see someone who’s made it his business to show infertile couples the long, dark path that he and his wife walked many years ago.  Don’t get me wrong; I think there is a real kindness in his desire to give guidance and comfort.  But God calls us to so much more than a long walk down a dark path.

He calls us into the light.  He calls us to believe that He can do anything.  And He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are willing to put down our lists of terms and conditions, hold out our open hands, and say:

“Lord, I welcome whatever you choose to give, in whatever form you choose to give it.  I know that your will for me is always your very best.  Please help me wait for it patiently, confident in your goodness, and in complete peace.”

 

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Here’s What Infertile Couples Want & Need

This is a rerun of my all-time most read and recirculated post.  Share it with someone who has no idea how to help you….

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What can you say to the people around you who want to love you through the struggle with infertility, but have no idea what to do or how to help?  Kathleen Parker, an Opinion columnist for the Washington Post, offered guidance in an editorial about gifts….

“Here is giving:  Listening.  Sparing time.  Not interrupting.  Holding that thought.  Leaving the last drop.  Staying home.  Turning it off, whatever it is.  Making eye contact.  Picking it up.  Take the room’s temperature.  Paying attention.  Waiting.”

That’s how you help an infertile couple.  That’s how you love us through this incredibly challenging, frustrating, stressful, heartbreaking journey.  That’s how you stop trying to fix it, and instead, bless us by being fully present in the moment with us.

By listening, not interrupting, holding that thought, and paying attention –  Sometimes, we need to voice confusion or wrestle aloud with our uncertainty.  Don’t give us “the answer.”  That’s patronizing.  If it were simple, we would have figured it out already.  Instead, keep quiet and give us a chance to blow off steam, rant without fearing a reaction, or cry without worrying you can’t take the drama.  Don’t.  Say.  A word.  You’ll be amazed how your attentive silence speaks volumes.

By sparing time, turning it off (whatever it is), taking the room’s temperature, and making eye contact – So much about the struggle with infertility is humbling and demeaning.  Don’t make us beg for your time or attention.  Don’t make us feel something else is more important.  Be attuned to our moods, and when the room’s temperature is too “hot” or “cold,” be sensitive to what that tells you about what we need:  time alone, or a hug?  Eye contact that invites a confidence, or a glance that says, ‘I know you’re hurting’?  Be.  Fully.  Present.  You’ll be amazed how your attentive heart radiates loving support.

By leaving the last drop, staying home, picking it up, and… waiting –  Infertility makes us feel incredibly vulnerable, wounded and fragile.  Your thoughtfulness can be an amazing antidote.  It lifts our spirits without making us feel guilty or indebted.  Don’t make us ask for kindness; we won’t.  Just know that the littlest kindness is magnified a thousand times by our need to feel that someone cares.  It doesn’t take much, and no words are required.  In fact, it’s better if you let your actions speak.  Not sure what to do?  Wait.  Pay attention.  You’ll see an opportunity.  And you’ll be amazed how your attentive action tells us you understand.

Parker concludes, “Do unto others…. The alternative is surely hell.”

That sums it up pretty succinctly.  There are moments along the infertility journey that are hellish.  When there’s no heartbeat on the ultrasound.  When the doctor’s office isn’t calling and the bleeding won’t stop.  When the baby comes too soon and can’t possibly survive.  When it’s time to tell everyone who thought there was a baby, “We lost it.”  When the dream seems to be dying, and hope is barely alive.

In that moment, do unto us as you would want us to do for you.  Would you want privacy?  Give us some.  Would you want kindness?  Extend it.  Would you need a shoulder to cry on?  Offer one.  Would you be angry at the world?  Understand our intense emotions.  Would you need wisdom?  Know that we will seek it when we are ready to internalize it.  Don’t try to force it on us if we don’t ask for it.  You won’t get the response you want.

“Here is giving….”  Parker began.  So, we’ve made it clear.  This is how you help us.  Now that we’ve told you what we need, please give us the gift of love in ways we will gratefully receive.

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Prayers That Work

What do you do make of the verse “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” when you’re seeing nothing but failure?  Does it mean you’re not in good standing with God?  That you’re unrighteous, and so your prayers are destined to be powerless?

I wrestled with this mightily when we were trying to conceive.  At the time, no one had the courage to confront the question with me, and the result was a lot of suffering and guilt.

I got an email this week from a woman requesting prayer.  She and her husband are about to start IVF – following six failed IUI’s and a miscarriage at 16 weeks.  She has prayed for a baby throughout her journey, but she sees no evidence that God is listening.  What does that mean — especially in the context of the promise, “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective”?

The answer is in the first infertility story in scripture, found in Genesis 15.  God promised a very elderly Abram “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  Despite any guarantee that this promise would be kept, the Bible says, “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”

Even though he knew the fertility statistic — not many wives conceive in their 80’s, Abram chose to believe God.  And God knew it.  The decision to trust God, despite what Abram knew about the present and expected in the future, delighted God – and God declared him righteous, by faith.

Not by action.

Soon afterwards, Abram decided to father a child with his wife’s maidservant.  As best we can tell, it was Sarai’s suggestion – but Abram went along with the plan because he, too, wanted a child.  Impatient to get the show on the road, they took matters into their own hands rather than waiting for God… and they gave birth to a mess of ruined relationships, resentment and hostility.

Not very righteous action.  Pretty profoundly lacking in trust.

But, that’s not the end of the story.  In the end, God’s grace led Him to forgive their impulsive decision to play God.  Once they made peace with the consequences of their actions and humbly accepted their failure to be God, He blessed them with a son – conceived by Sarah, against all odds.

What am I saying?  We’re all tempted to play God when we’re faced with infertility and the urgent need to conceive.  We may not take things into our own hands quite the way Abram and his wife did, but we understand the temptation to hurry things along when we don’t see evidence that God is at work.

Thankfully, God’s ready to forgive us, too.

If we choose to trust Him, then even if our actions sometimes betray our desire to believe, He is full of grace.  He declares us righteous by faith, not by perfect choices.  And, as the Bible promises, “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.”

You’ll see.

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The Power of Letting Go

Kristi and Carlos met in graduate school and married soon afterward.  When they began actively trying to have a family, they had no success.  “I had a gut feeling something was wrong,” Kristi remembers.

She went to her Ob/Gyn and shared her concerns.  The doctor waved them off.  “She didn’t want to be aggressive about it.  We were young.”  So, Kristi saw another Ob who referred her to a nationally-renowned RE.  “She ran millions of tests, which she requires before she’ll do any treatment, and she discovered Carlos had a god-awful sperm count.”

They decided to try a round of Clomid with IUI.  Meanwhile, Kristi began researching male factor infertility.  “I read all these sobering statistics and thought, ‘It’ll never happen for us.’  I was convinced  ‘It only takes one sperm’ was a crock.  We wanted 30 million!”

So, anticipating failure and constrained by a very limited budget, they began researching affordable next steps.  They found CREA, an infertility clinic in Carlos’ hometown of Valencia, Spain.  They talked with CREA’s International Coordinator and discovered IVF there would cost 4,000 Euros, about 20% of the cost in the U.S.

They could combine their trip to the clinic with a visit to Carlos’ family, keeping costs at a minimum. Excited about the possibility, Carlos felt optimistic.  But Kristi hit a wall.

“I was so tired of the constant tug-of-war with God.  I was thinking about infertility all day long, feeling immense stress because I couldn’t see how this was going to work. That’s when a good friend gave me her copy of Pregnant With Hope,  The stories about people letting go and trusting God really hit home for me.  Especially the story about Michelle.”

A few days after finishing the book, Kristi went for a drive.  “I remember this moment so well.  All of a sudden, I realized how incredibly tired I was.  I wanted to give up the fight.  I said, ‘God, I’m finally giving you all the control.  If it’s in your will, I want to be a mom.  But I’m not gonna fight you any more.  I get it.  I’ve been so stubborn.  I’m sorry.  I’m done.’”

The next day, she and Carlos met with their RE and shared what they’d learned about CREA.  To their surprise, the doctor recommended it as one of the few international IVF clinics with state-of-the-art procedures and success rates comparable to her own.  Then, she mentioned her plan to travel there  for joint research into a new procedure.

“I started feeling better,” Kristi said.

A few days later, as they were heading out to celebrate Carlos’ birthday, Kristi decided to take a pregnancy test.  “I almost dropped to the floor.  I know what negative looks like, and this was not negative. Carlos  kept asking me, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’  I kept saying, ‘I know negative.  This is not negative.  This is not negative!’”

Baby Isabella arrived safely — but only after a nerve-wracking pregnancy, a very eventful delivery (Kristi had a negative reaction to the epidural that caused uncontrollable seizures), and an extended stay at the hospital.

So, what did Kristi learn from this journey — which turned out to be briefer than what she’d braced for?  “I realized infertility makes you so grateful — and overprotective!” she said, laughing.  “I didn’t want to leave her at the hospital when they sent me home.  All I could think was that I needed to be with her.  I said, ‘God, I’m more nervous than ever!  How will I make it through a lifetime of worrying about her?  Please, let me bring her home soon!’”

Anything else?

“Have faith even when the odds are totally against you.  And don’t think you can control this.  I thought I knew IUI wouldn’t work; I was wrong.  I thought we’d have to go CREA for IVF; I was wrong.  I was sure I was going to have a boy; I was wrong.  I thought I could control how it all unfolded; I was wrong.

“I was wrong about everything.  God has the ultimate say on all of it.  And part of what He said to me was, ‘This is not about you.  You’re not in control.  Let go, and let me do it.  I’m glad I listened.”

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