Category Archives: Loss

How is it possible for a devastating loss to be anything but heartbreaking? These insights may help you understand.

“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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Suffering: The Shield

Yesterday, the Holy Spirit called my attention to a particular passage in Tim Keller’s book, Prayer. It referred to the story of a woman who was widowed in her early 30’s, and then forced to flee her home country.

St. Augustine told the woman she should embrace her “bereaved and desolate condition” because…

“Her sufferings were her ‘shield’ — they defended her from the illusions of self-sufficiency and blindness that harden the heart, and they opened the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance.”

So many times, readers of this blog have contacted me directly to ask: How…?

How do I let go of (the illusion of) control? How do I find strength when my dream is dying? How do I communicate with a God I don’t know or understand? How do I trust Him without knowing His plan? How do I find peace in all this uncertainty?

In that one sentence, Augustine captures the blessed paradox of infertility.

He explains that the same suffering that upends us also rescues us. It knocks us loose from our moorings, shakes us out of our sleepwalking, and frightens us into fearful attention. It compels us to cry out, “Where are you, God?!”

In the process, it protects us — from the illusion of self-sufficiency that urges us to turn our backs on God, and the semi-slumber of a comfortable life that leads us to presume we don’t need Him or His help.

Essentially, Augustine tells us…

Lucky you! Your suffering has the potential to catapult you to a new level of spiritual power and peace. How? By protecting you from the arrogant delusion that you are the god of your life. And, by inviting you to acknowledge the real God on the throne.

You’re already suffering. The question now is whether you will continue to fight for control, or acknowledge the fact that you cannot achieve it — and begin to yield.

The choice is completely yours — so, to that extent, you are in control.

Resist facing your limitations and the truth of your ongoing suffering, and it is likely to continue. Again and again, you will find yourself facing the same choice. Embrace the truth, and Augustine says your suffering “will open the way for the rich, passionate prayer life that could bring peace in any circumstance.”

I will tell you from experience, a rich, passionate prayer life can change everything — not only your perspective on your present circumstances, but also who you will become and what will occur in the life of your family. It can completely alter the trajectory of your story by making it part of God’s story, played out in your life.

See your current circumstances not as punishment, but as the Lord’s  invitation to come closer. To go deeper. To seek not just His presence, but His perfect will in all areas of your life. As Keller concludes, “There is every reason… to accept his invitation.”

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Want more help and hope? Visit www.PregnantWithHope.info and read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

 

 

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Face-to-Face with the Hardest Question

This morning, I caught a glimpse of a newborn in the obituaries. In his photo, tiny George’s eyes were closed and he held his head in his hands. He was naked and peaceful.

I could not look away.

Years ago, I miscarried twins, one at a time. Their lifeless bodies remained inside mine for a short but surreal period of time as we waited to see if they would “leave” on their own or require surgical removal. To say that I sleepwalked through those days does not begin to capture the feeling of that time.

Our hope for a family of our own, for a future that extended beyond my husband and me, was concentrated in those babies. We loved the idea of them. And once they were conceived, we loved the knowledge of their presence. Our joy was beyond words. Our exuberance, boundless! We were having twins!!

And then… we were having just one baby. A surviving twin. Welcome and loved, but forever a reminder of loss.

And then… none. As it turned out, we were having only loss. And deep despair.

That was a dark and hopeless time. We told very few people, and none of them knew what to say. There were no words to answer our question: “Why?!” Why breathe life into them only to let them die? Why give us hope and then snatch it away? Why force us to circle back and share bad news so soon after we’ve shared joy?

“Why, God?!”

He was silent. And we were left to struggle through dark days of heartbreak, anger, resentment, and grief. God knew what had happened. He had allowed it. Or maybe, He’d willed it. He’d foreseen our celebration of good news… knowing death would follow. He’d given life to our dream… and then, watched as it died.

How were we supposed to make sense of that? of Him? And how could we ever trust such a capricious God?

That was the beginning of our journey. It was the crossroads moment that forced my husband and me to face the hardest question, “What kind of God are you?!” It would be many years before each of us found the peace that transcends circumstances and came to trust God in all things. There would be many, many more tears. More days of confusion, fear and loss.

Now, I can see in hindsight that the Lord truly has been “Emmanuel,” God with us. He has kept His promise never to leave or forsake us. He has given us joy in place of grief, and hope in lieu of fear. He has taught us the truth of who He is and of His great faithfulness.

Yes, that first loss took our breath away. It revealed our powerlessness to us. It also focused our attention and shook us out of a spiritual complacency. It compelled us to seek the God who wants to be known, and who promises…

I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me.”  [Proverbs 8:17]

Would we have wished for that experience at the time? Not a chance. But now, are we grateful for what it brought about in our lives? Absolutely.

Are you face-to-face with the question, “Why God?! What kind of God are you?!” My heart goes out to you — but I also have great hope for what’s in store. Seek Him diligently and you will find all that you need.

Welcome to the journey.

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Need wisdom and insight as you make your journey? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Filed under Hope, Loss, Perspective

“Even Though…” Faith

In a world that celebrates success and immediate gratification, it’s not easy to feel gratitude for their absence. So, I aligned myself with Job after several years of failed attempts to bring a healthy baby into the world.

He experienced incredible suffering, which was compounded by his friends’ speculation on why God allowed it to happen. I had lost my father (age 55) and was struggling to conceive while caring for my newly-widowed mother as she battled leukemia. I, too, had friends who shivered at the tragedy of it all — and speculated on what God might be up to.

As with Job, my situation got worse before it got better. I’ve written several posts about the awfulness of that time, and about how much people’s insensitive remarks compounded my suffering.

But now, I want to write about the blessing-in-disguise — the seeds of “Even though…” faith that were planted during those painful, heartbreaking years.

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  – Job 13:15

When I first bonded with Job, it was as a fellow sufferer — and as someone who understood how painful it is to be on the receiving end of people’s thoughtless judgments and baseless speculation. I shared his confusion at God’s apparent disinterest in my agony. Like him, I cried out for God to bless me rather than ignore me or curse me. And I cried, and cried, and cried over the unfairness of it all.

Now, many years later, I would experience all that suffering again — over and over, if necessary — in order to have the children I do and the “even though…” faith that’s resulted.

Here’s what I mean…

Even though God doesn’t always bless me on my timetable, I now believe He is always for me (Jeremiah 29:11). Even though I don’t know His plans, I now trust that they will work together with my mistakes — and even my bad choices — for good (Romans 8:28). Even though I sometimes feel alone or forgotten, I now know He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). And, even though I would not have chosen the path our infertility journey took, I now know God led us — and accompanied us — every step of the way (Isaiah 41:10).

I’ve come to a place in my spiritual life where I can paraphrase Job: “Even though He does what I don’t want more often that I would ever choose, I trust Him.”

That’s “even though…” faith.

It’s easy to trust God when all is well; it doesn’t take much spiritual strength. Infertility exposes our spiritual weakness and threatens to undermine our trust in the God who seems to be failing us. What’s really failing is our feeble faith. Will we trust a God we cannot always understand?

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.”  – Isaiah 55:8-9

It’s hard to trust a plan we don’t know in advance. It’s hard to trust a God we don’t hear in the midst of the clamoring voices of friends, doctors and other “experts.” Most of all, it’s hard to let go of our illusion of control.

The seeds of “even though…” faith are planted in our hearts during these seasons of suffering and uncertainty. They grow in response to God’s grace and the tender mercies that enable us to struggle on as we cling to the hope that He will be faithful — and discover that He actually is.

“Even though…” faith learns through experience to rise above the struggles and challenges of the moment to seek the God who is above it all, in control of it all, and using it all — to bless us, to teach us, to strengthen and equip us.

It’s true, “even though…” faith becomes stronger only by being tested; and of course, we don’t welcome the tests. We do everything possible to bring them to an end! But our loving Father has a better plan. Our willingness to trust that plan — even though it takes us down a path we would never choose — prepares us to be amazing parents with incredible “even though…” faith.

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Need more encouragement on your infertility journey? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Let Nothing Be Wasted II

I love when I’m focused on a particular piece of Scripture and everywhere I turn, I encounter it. That tells me I’m onto something — something the Lord wants me to understand.

It happened today when I got an email devotional from a friend that said,

“When Jesus fed the 5,000, he broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to distribute. When we, like the disciples, embrace the broken pieces that are handed to us, those pieces can be used to nourish other people. In our times of brokenness, the most comforting thing to remember is that the bread was in Jesus’ hands when it was broken. His hands are more than capable of holding us in our brokenness and charting a path for us through which his glory can be revealed.”

Wow! I never looked at the feeding of the 5,000 that way before. I’d always read it as a story of abundant generosity, of provision that meets worry and says, “Don’t worry. There’s more than enough for you.” More than enough hope… time… strength… options…. And more than enough grace. The Lord, our provider, is well able to meet every need. That perspective has been a great comfort to me — and to other couples as they’ve struggled with infertility.

But this new perspective makes each of us more than passive witnesses to a long ago, historical event. From this vantage point, we are part of the story. In our insufficiency, we are the fish and bread — taken into Jesus’ hands, blessed, and broken so that He can use us to bless others. In our confusion, uncertainty and disbelief, we are the disciples — handing Jesus a problem, then gratefully receiving abundance miraculously created out of brokenness.

We and our infertility stories become an essential part of the greater story. Our insufficiency sets the stage for the miracle that is to come. It leads us to put ourselves in Jesus’ hands, to offer ourselves up to be blessed. In that process, we relinquish (the illusion of) control to the One who has the perfect plan — not just to bless us, but also to bless those who witness the transformative power of His blessing on us. And then, the miraculous blessing ripples out to touch those gathered around us who see firsthand “His glory revealed.”

Here’s what that looked like in my own life….

We struggled silently in our battle with infertility. The stress, the heartache, the losses went unnoticed by those around us because we grieved in secret. We felt utterly isolated and alone. Then finally, a pregnancy neared the end of the first trimester. No sooner did we share the news… than I miscarried — first one twin, and then the other. We were devastated. When we told my brother-in-law, he whooped, “Now we’ll have the first grandchild!” His words poured salt in open wounds.

Fast forward…. we had a little girl, born with a huge hole in her heart. She survived open heart surgery. Then, we had a little boy, born after 5+ months of bedrest. We were told he’d need brain surgery (which later proved to be wrong). I started chemo when he was a newborn. Everything in life seemed simultaneously blessed and fragile. Then, both of my parents died. I had back surgery when the kids were toddlers. My husband was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. And that’s only some of what happened.

Brokenness? No doubt. Broken bodies, broken hearts, broken spirits. But in hindsight, I can say that nothing was wasted. If we learned nothing else, we learned through experience to put our brokenness in God’s hands, to trust that He is faithful, and to believe that He is glorified when we do not understand His ways… and yet, we walk by faith.

Without those experiences, I could not write the things I do with such conviction. I could not offer my brokenness — and the miracles that came in the midst of it — to you for sustenance. Apparently, that was always part of the plan! So, I offer my story to you in the hope that it will inspire you to trust God’s faithfulness.

Are you struggling? Suffering? Doubting whether the Lord even cares? Give your brokenness to Him and let Him work miracles. He will bless you, and that blessing will offer spiritual nourishment to those around you. And to Him be the glory.

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Need more encouragement? More insight? More reason to hope? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples, and visit PregnantWithHope.info.

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Nothing is Wasted

My friend, Gayle, told me a few days ago that she’s ended a relationship with a man she’d hoped to marry. She is grieving the loss of John’s presence. But more than that, she’s grieving the loss of a highly-prized idea. She had believed he was “the one.” But it turned out, he wasn’t.

She’s frustrated that she “wasted so much time” on what proved to be a dead-end. And she’s stressed, knowing that the time can never be recovered and the clock is ticking.

Does any of that sound familiar? I wanted… and I thought… but it wasn’t… and I’m devastated… and now, I’m stressed… and what if it never….?!

I listened and offered comfort and support. And then, I told her nothing is wasted with God. Everything can be carried forward and used for good. My belief is rooted in Romans 8:28 which promises:

“All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

It’s also rooted in my own life experience — and the experiences of countless couples I’ve watched make their own infertility journeys. Nothing is wasted. Nothing! In the incredible goodness and efficiency of God, it all equips us for what He knows is coming.

“Let nothing be wasted” [John 6:12]

That was Jesus’ instruction to his followers after the feeding of the 5,000. He had transformed 5 loaves and 2 fish into more than enough food for everyone present. Clearly, he could provide more in the future. But instead, “Jesus distributed… as much as they wanted,” and then told his followers to gather every leftover. They were to take nothing for granted. Every bit had value — and it would likely be needed and used in the not-too-distant future.

How does that connect to Gayle’s story? Or to yours?

I’m convinced that everything God allows into our lives has a purpose. In the moment, it is often impossible to imagine how. When suffering and self-pity overwhelm us, it’s easy to think God has turned away, rejected our pleas, and hardened His heart.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When we give God our suffering and ask Him to use it for our good, He promises to transform it and give us “beauty for ashes, and joy for mourning.”

By faith, we can claim today’s heartache as the foundation for tomorrow’s joy. Gayle can choose to walk by faith, believing that God is well able to bring the right man into her life at the right moment. You can choose to walk by faith, too, trusting that all the bad news that comes with infertility is never the final word. That belongs to God.

“Let nothing be wasted.” Lift up your suffering in open hands. Let Him replace it with joy.

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Want more encouragement? Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

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Talking With God

Years ago, I read about a woman missionary who was frustrated by her inability to connect with people. A fellow missionary came to visit and encourage her, and within a week, he had won over many of the locals. Embarrassed that her own efforts suffered by contrast, she humbled herself enough to ask him, “How did you do it?!”

He answered, “By teaching them how to hear the Lord speak.”

“Teach me!” she begged, because she had never heard God speak to her directly. So, he did. It changed her life… and her ministry.

What he taught her is what I call prayer journaling. It has been life changing for me, and I believe it can be for you, too.

In essence, it is three simple steps: 1) Find a quiet place to be alone, 2) Write down what you want to ask God or talk to Him about, and 3) Wait patiently and quietly until you sense a response in your spirit that is not your own; when you do, write it down.

This morning, I wanted to talk with God about a crushing disappointment. We had invested time, effort, money and hope in a deeply-desired outcome… and then received the news that what we had hoped for was not to be. The implications were many — and all discouraging.

Why? I wanted to know. Why, if we believed for the best, did everything we could do to bring about a good outcome, and saw all the ways in which it could be a blessing? Why, if we were convinced that this was God’s best for us? Why, if the outcome we experienced seemed full of harm and not good? Why did this happen? Why this bad news?

I took my questions straight to God, pouring my heart out on the pages of my journal as tears coursed down my cheeks.

When I finally paused to listen to Him, I sensed this answer in my spirit, “Trust me. All will be well. Do not be afraid. I AM in control.”

Can I tell you exactly what that means about our situation? Unfortunately, no. So, now I have a choice: 1) Dwell on where things are and give in to despair, or 2) Believe that all things are possible, and that this is not the end of the story. I choose believing.

“In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”  – Psalm 5:3

God sees. He knows. He cares. And, He loves me.

That will tide me over until He acts — or speaks again.

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

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