Category Archives: Bystanders

The people who constellate around infertile couples can make the journey easier — or harder.

“I Am With You Always”

This morning’s newspaper included two very different stories that intersected in my mind and spirit. They gave me an insight which may be a comfort to you.

First, I read that, at the start of a Sunday school class he was teaching yesterday, former President Jimmy Carter announced that the brain cancer that was expected to kill him within months has completely disappeared.

Then, I read about the death of 4-month-old Eion Montgomery Borders. He was born with a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 18, and he spent his entire life in the hospital before dying a few weeks shy of Christmas.

An infant died when there was no miracle. A 91-year-old man miraculously recovered. What kind of spiritual calculus does that reveal? What would lead God to make such decisions? Is His determination of who lives and dies arbitrary? Or worse, is it somehow unfair?

You may never have voiced questions like those, but every couple I’ve ever led through the infertility Bible study has grappled with those questions in some form:

“Why don’t we deserve a miracle? Why doesn’t God want to help us? Why does He turn His back on us, but bless other people? Why did our baby die when others live?”

Without clear answers, the apparent injustice can be crazy-making and spiritually devastating. Over time, it can feel virtually impossible not to resent other people’s miracles — and turn our backs on God.

Which brings us back to the two newspaper stories….

Maybe we need a different perspective on what God is — or isn’t — doing. Look carefully, and you’ll see that very different circumstances led to similar outcomes.

When Carter learned he had brain cancer, he very publicly declared his trust in God’s plan. He was at peace with any outcome, he said, and by all accounts, that was true. The miraculous disappearance of four brain lesions gave him another opportunity to publicly affirm his faith, which enabled many around him to see God at work.

Meanwhile, Eoin — whose name means “God’s gift” — came into the world as the first child of parents who felt blessed by his arrival. Despite his genetic condition, “he challenged everyone’s expectations for his life,” said the Borders. “He challenged what people believe is possible….”

Then, he died.

But his legacy did not.

“Eoin’s major accomplishment in this world is that he stirred the hearts of people (his parents included) towards God and helped them focus on what truly is important in this life.” In writing his obituary, Eoin’s parents proclaimed that they are now closer to God and have deepened their understanding of life’s true priorities. Their public witness will touch many lives as the photo of baby Eoin captures the attention of readers this morning.

What if the stories of Carter and baby Eoin are two paths to the same destination? Asked another way, what if — from God’s perspective — it’s less about the outcome of their stories than what the outcomes accomplish in the lives of those touched by the stories?

Examined side-by-side, the two stories clearly demonstrate the power of both joy and grief — both healing and lack of healing — to immerse people in the loving presence of God.

The lesson, then? Both incredible good news and devastating loss are invitations to draw nearer, to sense God’s presence more fully, to hunger and thirst for His faithfulness, and to see that  — no matter what the circumstances — “I am with you always.”

I’m convinced that, particularly in this Christmas season, it’s all part of His great plan to show Himself Emmanuel, God with us.

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Want to draw nearer to God and find peace in the midst of your circumstances? Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

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Watch Your Words

This morning, I was reading Jesus Calling, and I came across this imperative:  “Watch your words diligently. Words have such great power to bless or to wound.” I think it’s fair to say that I am painfully aware of words’ power to wound.

When I miscarried twins — shortly after a maternity clothes shopping spree with my mom — I felt compelled to return everything we’d bought. Somehow, it seemed like it would bring closure.

But then, I reached the counter at Macy’s and held out my pile of unused clothing. The saleswoman asked, with a mixture of surprise and resentment, “You want to return ALL of this? Why?!”

I froze. The women behind me in line stared. Really? I was going to make them wait while returning ALL of this? The looks on their faces spoke their thoughts: We resent you wasting our time. I looked back at the saleswoman and said tearfully, “Because I just miscarried twins — and if I’m not pregnant any more, I don’t need these any more.” There was dead silence as the weight of my words sank in. I started to cry, she began scanning the tags, and the women behind me stared at the floor.

Was it the words she said? Yes, but also the ones she didn’t say. She indulged herself in resentment at my expense — without knowing the whole story. The arrogance was staggering, and belittling. And I was hurting so much already. Was she an awful person? No. She was a busy, insensitive one who lost sight of the fact that her job was to serve me… graciously. Instead, she left a wound that took a very long time to heal.

The same sort of thing happened when we called my brother-in-law to tell him about the miscarriage. My husband and I sadly shared the news, and he responded with a whoop and, “Now WE’LL have the first grandchild!” We were shocked by the realization that his competitive streak extended to bringing a baby into the world. Oblivious to our feelings, he let the words fly out of his mouth unfiltered. Like the saleswoman, he indulged his baser instincts at our expense. And it hurt our hearts.

I know it’s happened to you, too. Someone has spoken thoughtlessly and broken your heart.  Brought you to tears with a careless remark that cost them nothing but feels like it costs you everything: your composure, your dignity, your hope. Isn’t infertility hard enough already?

It killed me to be on the receiving end of the words slung at me by the saleswoman and my brother-in-law. And yes, there were many others: the boss who responded to office grapevine news of my miscarriage with the question, “Were you TRYING to get pregnant?,” the gynecologist who blithely reassured me, “You can always try again,” the high-risk Ob who saw the ultrasound and muttered, “hmmm… probably Down’s Syndrome,” the people at church who asked again and again, “When are  you two going to start a family?”

And on, and on, and on….

Their words left wounds, and some left permanent scars.

But, there’s good news: 1) their words did not determine our future; that power is God’s alone. And, 2) those experiences taught me the truth of these words from scripture:

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” [Prov 12:18].

Research has shown that we always imprint an experience more deeply if there is an emotion attached to it. Infertility — and the careless remarks people make — prove quickly that it’s true. But, so do your responses to this blog.

These are words that the Holy Spirit has willed into being by whispering into my spirit, nudging me to come to the computer to share what I see and understand. I am a stranger to you! And my only tools to help you are the promises of scripture and the healing power of words. But, I use those — one-on-one, with small groups, in my book and in this blog — to do all I can to deliver help and hope as you make your way through this painful journey to the amazing future the Lord has planned for you.

There’s nothing special about me or what I say 0ther than that the Holy Spirit works through me to guide you, encourage you, reassure and inspire you, and help you keep the faith.

So, the next time someone says something callous, heartless or just plain clueless…. come back here for words that will soothe your spirit and renew your hope. I’ll do what I can to bring healing.

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For more encouragement, help and hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

 

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Your Body, God’s Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Therefore, We Do Not Lose Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I was flooded with peace.

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

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

Fast forward….

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

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

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

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

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“What if They Never Conceive?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But always.

Every.  Single.  Time.

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

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

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What Moves the Heart of God?

What moves the heart of God and makes Him want to open a womb so that an infertile woman becomes a mother?  Is it a mystery that cannot – and should not — be explored?  Or does scripture suggest that we can know?

Until yesterday, I would have said there is no way to know what moves God to make an infertile woman suddenly able to conceive.  But, one sentence in Exodus opened my mind to the possibility that God does intend for us to know – and to apply what we understand to our lives.

Let me explain…

In Exodus 1, a new king came to power feeling threatened by the potential for mutiny by his Hebrew slaves.  His solution?  Order the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn boys.  “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” [Exodus 1:17].

In an age when few dared defy Pharaoh — and those who did were killed — the least powerful members of Egypt’s lowest social class refused to obey.  He demanded an explanation.  The midwives brazenly lied to him, saying, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before midwives arrive.”  Pharaoh’s response was to order all baby boys thrown into the Nile.  But notice God’s response:

“…because the midwives feared God, He gave them families of their own” [Exodus 1:21].

Wait a minute….  Did you catch that?

 “Because the midwives feared God, He gave them families of their own.”  What does that mean?  What is it about fear that pleased God – and pleased Him so much that He elected to give these women children of their own?

Despite their fear… – The midwives must have known that defying Pharaoh’s order meant certain death.  Surely, they must have feared for their lives.  And, they must have lived in constant fear of being discovered – which was inevitable, since the number of live baby boys was increasing.  And yet….

… they feared God… – The midwives knew that their God would not condone the senseless slaughter of His people.  Did they fear His wrath if they participated in Pharaoh’s plan?  Possibly.  But in scripture, to “fear” God more often means to reverence and respect Him.  The midwives loved and honored the God who had breathed life into the wombs of Hebrew women.  Their hearts were right with Him, and their lives were lived in service.  It was their desire to do His will, even if it meant defying Pharaoh’s.

 …and they acted fearlessly – Their respect for God’s will spurred them to act without regard for Self.  Whatever doubts and nagging fears may have plagued them, they still acted in accordance with what they knew:  God would not want this injustice to be perpetrated against His people.  And they stood firm:  We will not do it.  They chose defiant action, and they trusted God with the consequences.

God’s response?  “Because the midwives feared God, He gave them families of their own.”

Were the midwives infertile prior to their silent insurrection?  Certainly, the text implies that they were childless in an era when family was everything. They spent their days – and nights – delivering other women’s dreams safely into their arms, knowing that the same dreams were apparently out of reach for them.  Until they put their faith into action.

Then, God gave them what their courageous action had made possible for others.  He rewarded their selflessness with the greatest gift a woman of that era could receive:  descendants who would carry on the name and traditions of their ancestors.  Children of destiny whose lives would matter to the God who’d created them.

What is the learning for us?  A right heart, selfless conduct, and a willingness to put our lives completely in the hands of God wins His heart – and it delights Him to bless us in response.  When we act out of faith, rather than fear, we invite Him to work in and through our circumstances to make the impossible possible.

He can, and He will.

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

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With Friends Like That….

I’ve been re-reading Job recently, and I’ve been struck by the many ways Job’s friends acted morally and spiritually superior – even though they were wrong.  They were wrong about what was happening.  They were wrong about why.  They were wrong about God’s silence, and they were wrong about Job’s response to it.  They were wrong about almost everything.  But, that didn’t stop them.  And because they knew enough to sound credible, they caused Job tremendous grief.

Does that sound familiar?

Does anyone you know ask questions or offer insights that make you feel your struggle is somehow your fault?  That God is withholding your heart’s desire, or punishing you for some reason?  That His silence means He is ignoring your pleas?  That you deserve the life you have – but not the one you want?  That you should just give up and accept your fate?

Take another look at Job.  You’ll get a new perspective on friends like that….

Job’s three friends came to comfort Job not long after his ten children and 11,000 livestock died (all in one day).  Just before they arrived, Job broke out in painful sores from head to toe.  When the friends saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him.  “They began to weep… and sat with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

Many counselors call that the ministry of presence.  The friends didn’t offer answers or explanations, only compassionate concern expressed through silence.

But then, Job voiced his feelings about his sudden suffering and they couldn’t resist the temptation to respond.  They could not hold their tongues.  Instead, they indulged themselves in judgment of the friend they’d come to comfort.  They chose to “help” him by closing their ears and opening their mouths.

After withstanding as much as he could bear, Job responded: “How long will you torment me and crush me with words?  I also could speak like you, if you were in my place.  But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.”  Does he sound comforted?  Enlightened?  Not at all.  He’s angry, hurt, and resentful.  These are not true friends — their words only compound his grief and make him doubt God’s faithfulness — and he lets them know it.

And then, Job says, “My intercessor is my friend, as my eyes pour out tears to God….”  In other words, compassionate action speaks louder than words.  Anyone who lifts me up in prayer when I am grieving or struggling is my true friend.  If you want to do more than sit with me in silence, then actively intercede for me with the only One who can truly help me.  That would bring me comfort.

Job’s words equip us to discern who will be the true friends along this journey.  They are the listeners.  The compassionate comforters who do not pretend to know the mind of God.  The untiring intercessors who are driven by our tears to petition the only One with the power to change everything.

Do you have a friend like that?  One who will stand by you throughout this journey?  One who will pray for you when you are too exhausted to pray for yourself?  If you are fortunate enough to have a true friend — or more than one — tell them what a blessing they are to you.

If you don’t have a single friend like that, don’t despair.  You are not in this alone.  Read the lyrics of this hymn (written in 1855) and know that you do have a friend who stands with you:

What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Can we find a friend so faithful,who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer. Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear. May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.”

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Find more cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com, and read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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