Category Archives: Humility

What does humility set in motion, and why is it essential to the infertility journey? What do gain when we acknowledge our limitations and admit we need help?

An Adoptive Father’s Story

What if one of the blessings of infertility is that it exposes our infertile faith – and motivates us to draw near and rely on the God we’ve been taking for granted.  Would it be worth the heartache?

Joe thinks so.

When he and his wife joined our infertility bible study, they’d already faced cervical cancer, several failed IUIs, failed IVFs, surgeries (for both of them), and a miscarriage that occurred shortly after they shared news of their pregnancy with a dying parent.

How did they deal with it all?  Prior to these challenges, said Joe, “I was a passive Christian.  I didn’t read the Bible.  We were going to church, but for me, it was at a very superficial level.  I’d go, leave, and put it behind me until the next Sunday.”

Recently, USA Today featured the results of a major survey of young adults.  Among those who consider themselves Christians, 65% said they rarely/never pray with others, read the Bible, or worship.  The article summarized, “They’re mushy, in-name-only Christians.”

Joe embodied the trend of spiritual sleepwalking – mushy, in-name-only faith that’s nothing like a genuine relationship with God.  It’s pointless and largely useless.  But, that didn’t matter to Joe until infertility — and all the challenges that came with it — entered the story.  

“I had this experience that I’d never had before,” he recalled.  “I was in the shower upstairs and I lost it.  I was crying.  I literally could feel God, hear God, and He said, “You have to be strong.”  That’s when I realized I needed God on a more-than-superficial level.”  Soon afterwards, Joe and Nancy joined our infertility Bible study.

When couples seek out our group, they’ve often reached their limit.  Whether that limit is psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, or some combination of these – their circumstances have become unbearable.  They’ve made as much progress as they can under their own power.  Now, humbled by their lack of success and painfully aware of their human limitations, they realize it’s time to try something new.

What can I possibly offer them?

This promise:  God uses our circumstances as a “spiritual refining process” to prepare us.  Rather than ignoring or punishing us, God  is allowing our experiences to mold us in anticipation of the blessing He has planned.  The gift that is coming.  The child we long for.

It’s human nature to feel desperate when we reach our limits.  But when we stop relying on our own ability to bring our dream to fruition, we open the door to a new kind of hope, based on God’s promise and His faithfulness.  The same promise-keeping God of scripture continues to work today in the lives of couples who invite Him into their story.

I’ve watched Him work miracle after miracle in the lives of couples who’ve joined our group and chosen to proceed in God-honoring ways.  They replaced spiritual sleepwalking with conscious, intentional trust and faith-full decisions.  Did it change anything?  Yes.  It changed everything.

Was it worth the effort?

When I interviewed Joe, now the father of a two-year-old son, for Pregnant with Hope, he summarized his experience this way:  “At the end of it, if all that happens is that you become closer to God, it’s worth it.”

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Update: In March, Joe & Nancy adopted their second son. They sent an email describing their oldest son’s response to the new baby:  “His eyes lit up and he smiled from ear to ear as he asked, ‘Is this my brother?'”  They continue to be amazed at the way God has created a uniquely wonderful family to bless the four of them.

Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Insight from Humility Hill

To all who are struggling with infertility,

I thought about you as I hiked up Humility Hill.  That may sound strange, but it’s true.  As I climbed, I realized that sharing this story might prevent you from making the same mistake I did.  So, here goes….

Two years ago, there was something I desperately wanted.  It wasn’t material “stuff,” it was a blessing – and one I was convinced was absolutely essential to the future I envisioned.  I’d done what I could to influence events in my favor, but the outcome was completely out of my hands.  So, I turned my attention to God and began to pray like crazy.

I would set off on long walks and pray about all the ways that saying “yes” to my desire would be wise on God’s part.  Like a persistent salesman, I showed up at every turn, relentlessly doing my best to show God the wisdom of agreeing with my extensive research, my wise judgment, my logic and reason.  I wanted Him to realize He didn’t need to think this through – because I already had!

All the traits and skills that had made me a successful advertising executive were brought to bear:  positioning, strategic thinking, timing the pitch, compelling arguments, downside risk assessment.  You name it, I covered it.  My prayers were 100% transmit, 0% receive because there was only one thing I wanted to hear from God:  YES.  Until I heard it, I’d keep at it.

So, did I convince Him?

No.

That’s why I call it Humility Hill.

I was hiking up the hill one day on one of my long walks, giving God an earful, when I reached my conclusion:  “… and that’s why I want you to do what I will.”  Those were the words my mind prayed – and they froze me on the spot.  I have no idea what really happened, but it seemed as if I turned to stone the minute I heard myself say, “…do what I will.”  It was if I’d said, “Obey me, God.”  I realized, that’s what I was really praying.  I was telling the God of the universe:  do what I say.

My will — not Thine.

That realization left me breathless.  I don’t know how long I stood there, not breathing.  Not thinking.  Not moving.  Just staring my hubris in the face.  I had spent months pestering God to bend to my will.  Begging Him, pleading with Him, browbeating and reasoning with Him.  I was horrified… and very ashamed.  I stood atop the hill for a long time, having no idea what to say or do.  I wanted to look away from the truth, but I couldn’t.  Then, I realized there was only one thing to say… the words of Jesus:  “Not my will, but thine.”

In that moment, I let go.  I released my grip on everything I desperately wanted to control.  God had revealed my arrogant self-absorption, and I chose to face it.  To humble myself and change it.  I chose – in that moment – to give up the fight for control.

A few months later, I got my answer.  It was as close to “yes” as it could be, but still be “no.”  It seemed clear that God was saying, “I want you to know I heard you – but I have a better plan.”  Not long afterwards, that better plan manifested itself.  It was, and continues to be, so much better than what I prayed for.

Because of that experience, I’ve learned to pray for God’s best in every situation.  I don’t try to tell Him what that is; He already knows.  And I’ve realized, I don’t always know.  The Bible says He “withholds no good thing,” and I’ve come to believe it’s true for those who trust and honor Him.  As a result, I find myself at peace – even in the midst of uncertainty.

If you’re ready to take God at His word, stop praying for your will to be done.  Pray for His best – and then, watch Him delight in giving you more than you imagined possible.

He will.

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

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The Crazy Things We Do….

I just heard from a woman who adopted years ago, and is now watching close friends struggle with infertility.  She wrote:

“They are desperately trying to have a child…even eating tons of rabbit meat…someone told them rabbits are prolific so maybe eating them would help…not joking.”

Okay, what the heck?  Except… we tried all sorts of crazy things, too.  Someone told me I should eat lots of pickles, since that’s what pregnant women crave.  So, for weeks, I choked them down.  Never having been a fan before forced consumption, I learned to hate them in a whole new way when my next cycle started right on time.

It’s laughable now.  But it wasn’t then.  We were dead serious about getting what we wanted, and if pickles were the path to parenthood, so be it.

When we can’t have what we desperately want, our common impulse is  to seize control. That’s human nature.  The behavior can seem ridiculous – eating tons of rabbit meat, choking down jars of pickles.  Or, it can appear rational – buying ovulation predictors by the case, scheduling major life events around doctor’s appointments.  But bottom line, it’s all about the fight for control.

Part of the purpose of this infertility journey is to help us realize we are not in control.  We can’t be, no matter how desperately we want to be.  That unwelcome realization brings every couple to a fork in the road where a choice must be made:  resist the truth, or embrace it.

Resist it, and you doom yourself to a lot of heartache.  Control is an illusion.  A mirage.  An unattainable goal.  If you commit yourself to gaining control of this situation no matter what it costs, you will pay a very high price.  And you still may not have a child.

But, embrace the truth and you make room for God in your story.  You stop investing energy in pretending you know the answers, and recognize the wisdom, power and authority of the only One who truly does.  Instead of worshiping the illusion of control, you worship the One who has it – and you humbly acknowledge your need for His help.

It’s the only choice that makes sense.  And, it’s the path that leads where you want to go.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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The High Price of Pride

Not long ago, I heard a woman in a radio commercial say:

“I can’t afford pride.  I’ve got bills to pay and obligations to meet….”

I started thinking, what price do we pay for pride?  And why do we do it?  As we’re going through infertility, what does it cost us – and is it worth it?

Every year, advertisers spend billions trying to convince us that if we don’t buy what they’re selling, we risk becoming social outcasts – judged by the world, and found lacking.  It’s easy enough to see through the strategy, but there are times when it’s difficult to resist the underlying message.  Essentially, that message is:  “you are the star in the only story that matters.  The one everyone is watching.  If you don’t meet or exceed expectations, instead of feeling proud of all the attention, you are going to feel shame.”

That’s a very toxic message, and one we receive hundreds of times a day.  Without realizing it, with enough exposure, we start to believe it’s the truth.  Our egos only serve to confirm it:  yes, I’m important.  It’s all about me.

So, to avoid public humiliation, we focus our attention on protecting the secret that, for some reason, we can’t have a baby.  This choice adds tremendous pressure to the already-stressful infertility experience.  It enables us to avoid the imaginary spotlight – but at the cost of separation, isolation, and the loss of support and encouragement we so desperately need.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

God says the opposite of pride isn’t shame; it’s humility.  It’s acknowledging that we aren’t the center of the universe, and life isn’t all about us.  Although that realization may be a slight bruise to the ego, it’s also a great relief.  It means we don’t have to be perfect; God already knows we’re flawed.  We don’t have to earn our blessings; God already intends to give them to us.  We don’t have to explain our childlessness; God has a plan and a purpose for this journey.  All we need to do is trust Him.

“To you, O Lord, I life up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.  No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame….” [Psalm 25:1-3].

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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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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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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Victory on God’s Terms

I’ve just finished reading the biography of Rees Howells, a Welsh minister from the early 20th century.  It arrived in my mailbox months ago, tattered and disintegrating, held together by a rubber band.  A gift from a reader of this blog.

I don’t remember exactly why the woman said she sent it.  I tucked it on a shelf thinking I might get to it someday.  When a snowstorm iced us into the house indefinitely, the book jumped off the shelf into my hand and I began to read.

What a story.

The book narrates Rees Howells’ decision to say ‘yes’ to every leading from the Holy Spirit – no matter how difficult, unnerving, or humbling – and the amazing life journey that resulted.  One particular story captured my imagination.  It was the only story of (apparent) failure….

Howells had been praying for weeks for a woman in a nearby village who was dying.  It was the first time he’d ever prayed so passionately for God to save a life.  Suddenly, he felt in his spirit that she would be healed completely. He joyfully shared this news with her, and they were both confident of victory.  But then, to his great surprise, she died suddenly.  It was devastating for him.  How could God have promised life, and yet she died?

According to Howells, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that God had responded to his prayers by healing the woman’s body just before she died.   And the woman knew it.  “She was shaking hands vigorously and saying ‘goodbye’ [to friends and family] with such excitement, as if she was going on a wonderful adventure.”  She knew she’d been fully healed; she also knew that she was going to be with God.  It was complete victory, and she was exuberant.

But Howells’ wasn’t.  When he heard she’d died, he felt true spiritual distress.  Why, if she had regained her health, did the woman have to die?  What was God’s purpose in this outcome?

The Holy Spirit revealed that if the woman had lived, Howells would have been tempted to bask in the glory – as if he had saved her himself.  Everyone in the village had known about his prayer campaign.  He would’ve received the glory; not God.  But he hadn’t cured her.  He couldn’t.  Only God could.  And He did.

By curing her just before taking her to be with Him, God received the full measure of glory (in both the woman’s gratitude, and her demonstrated eagerness to be with Him), and Howells received the assurance that his prayers were powerful and effective.

The world just couldn’t see the victory.

When I read that story, I got a text-to-self jolt of adrenaline.  That epiphany feeling that told me God was showing me something important.  Victory sometimes looks like failure …. The world can’t see or understand it….  There is temptation to bask in the glory of a desired outcome….  A promise can come from God and be fulfilled, yet not save the life that was prayed for….

I realized that I had felt like Howells – as if God had made a promise to my spirit, and yet what I saw was not life, but death.  It happened with our twins – the first children we conceived after a long battle with infertility.

Like Howells, we’d shared the good news when we’d received God’s promise (in our case, in the form of two beating hearts).  And, like Howells, we’d assumed we knew exactly how the story would unfold:  good news would be followed by good health, and good health by long life.

At the time, we didn’t think much about giving God glory.  We were too caught up in the excitement, and the anticipation of something amazing.  Were we tempted to bask in the glory of bringing the first grandchildren into the world?  Maybe a little.  But we would’ve said at the time that that was harmless.

When their hearts stopped beating – first Baby A’s, and then several weeks later, Baby B’s – we were consumed with grief and a spiritual distress much like Howells’.  We had succeeded, and yet we had failed.  A vision of the future as a family had come from God and been fulfilled (to a point), and yet the lives that were prayed for had ended suddenly.

Like Howells, we could see the failure… but not the victory.  Until years later, when our two children were born.  Despite being 22 months apart, people often ask us, “Are they twins?”  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  I think that is victory… on God’s timetable, and on God’s terms.

To God be the glory. 

 

 

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