Tag Archives: fear

When the Plan Changes

As you may have noticed, this blog went dark for a few months. The reason, and the lessons I learned, might interest you. So, here goes….

In early January, our daughter went from school to the Emergency Room to the ICU in less than 24 hours. It was a harrowing ordeal that was followed by nearly three weeks in the hospital. After 3 surgeries, she now has two new scars to join the ones from the open heart surgery she underwent when she was just 4 weeks old.

Talk about traumatic. This is not how 2016 was supposed to begin. At least, not according to my plan. Clearly, the Lord had other plans. So, I got yet another chance to learn the lesson He wants me to remember: His ways are not my ways, but I can still trust Him.

Is He trying to teach you the same lesson? How has your 2016 started? Is everything going according to plan, or has your plan been changed by His?

There was a story in today’s paper that helped me think about this from a safe emotional distance. It was about a family in Clovis, CA that had a plan, “but God had a different plan, and it’s far better.” Reading it reminded me that we may not always understand what God’s up to in real time, but He has promised that “all things work together for good for those who love [Him] and are called according to His purpose” [Rom 8:28].

Here’s the story…. Bryan and Tamera had one biological daughter. At age 6, she asked her parents, “We’re gathering all these clothes and toys for orphans, but isn’t what orphans really need a family?” They prayed over her question, and it led them to adopt a baby girl from China. When they visited the orphanage, they saw countless kids with special needs.

That moment led to the adoption of 8 kids over several years — 7 of them with disabilities (4 are missing limbs, 2 have spina bifida). Bryan and Tamera say their adopted children give them “front-row seats to everyday miracles. That’s a blessing.”

My circumstances are completely different from theirs. But I share their perspective. I’ve witnessed several miracles in my daughter’s short life. She, and the many people who worked those miracles, are all a blessing. They are tangible evidence of God’s favor and grace, and of His amazing plan. I am humbled  and deeply grateful when I consider what could have happened, but did not.

All is well — maybe not forever, but for today. And I have a renewed sense of gratitude for the One from whom all blessings flow. I don’t know His plans, but I am learning — again and again — to let go and trust that He is good.

You can, too.

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Need more encouragement and cause for hope? Or a better understanding of the God who is longing to be central to your story? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

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When It’s Hard To Be Thankful

As we enter into the official season of gratitude, I’m coming off a week that made it hard to feel thankful. It seemed like I was pushing water uphill in virtually every aspect of my life — and I found myself increasingly discouraged and overwhelmed.

Sound familiar?

While the world celebrates other people’s successes, you struggle with the secret — or worse, the very public awareness — of your repeated failure. That failure becomes a heavy burden that can seem even heavier when the calendar announces, it’s time to gather and give thanks.

What if you don’t feel thankful?

Last Thursday, exhausted by continuous efforts that failed to achieve any of my objectives, I melted into tears when my husband asked, “What’s bothering you?”

When simple questions bring tears to your eyes, gratitude is not the first emotion. Resentment, anger, despair… those are the familiar feelings that surge to the surface and belie any words to the contrary.

The truth is, it’s hard to be thankful when life is hard. Where is God? Why isn’t He helping? Why won’t He answer fervent prayers?

I told my husband that I’d been praying about several different situations while working to resolve them all. None of that had done any good. Everything was coming apart. And God’s promises didn’t seem to be translating into positive outcomes.

He told me what he sometimes tells his patients: “Let it go.”

He was right. It’s the best response when you come face-to-face with the realization that you are not in control.

Why? Because God is.

There are times when unanswered prayers are a blessing, when the struggle of the moment is setting the stage for the miracle that’s coming. Even if you can’t see it yet, it’s not defeatist to stop pushing water uphill. Nor is trusting God simply wishful thinking. It is choosing to affirm that He is who He says He is.

But, has He forgotten me? Does He care about this situation?

That’s the voice of doubt speaking. Doubt opens the door to fear and undermines faith with worry-filled fantasies that are contrary to the promises of God.

When your mind fills with doubt, worry and fear, it’s time for faith to flex its muscles. How? By exercising your freedom to choose whether to worry, or whether to trust. By definition, the more you do of one, the less you will of the other. One will weaken your faith; the other will make it stronger.

Receive that knowledge as a gift this Thanksgiving season. Recognize its incredible value, and give thanks for your freedom to choose: fear or faith.

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Need more encouragement during a challenging season? 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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Predicting the Future

Raise your hand if you’d like to be able to predict the future.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know how the story’s going to unfold?  Whether you’re going to conceive – and when?  Or whether you’re not?  Whether you’re going to adopt a healthy, beautiful baby?  Or whether, at some point, you’ll move on to live life without children?

What will happen?

Wouldn’t you give anything to know?

You’re not alone.

A friend confessed to me that she’s begun seeing a psychic.  Her need-to-know overcame her initial unease, and she made an appointment.  Reassured by the predictions she was given, she quickly became addicted.  She’s now a regular, allocating portions of each week’s budget to psychic predictions.

The “need” to know can make us all do crazy things.

This morning, I read about a king turning to his captive for dream interpretation. It seemed crazy to his royal counselors, but threatened by a dream he could not understand, Pharaoh called on Joseph to tell him what it meant for the future.  Generations later, Nebuchadnezzar asked the same of Daniel.

These rulers were used to absolute power.  But, they knew they were at the mercy of an unseen, unknown future.  They needed to know what was coming — and God’s followers knew Someone with the answers.

When Pharaoh called for Joseph to explain his dream’s meaning, Joseph responded, “I cannot do it, but God will….”  Daniel had a similar exchange with Nebuchadnezzar.  He said, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who can….”

The prideful arrogance of both kings made them want to resist God, but their urgent need to know caused them to humble themselves – briefly – and admit, “I need to know what God has to say to me.”

There have been times – especially recently – when sobering statistics have made me want to know the future with certainty.  The doctor has told me the odds of a particular outcome and I’ve felt a surge of fear.  And a need to know.  In the moment, I’m tempted to attribute god-like powers to the doctor so that he can tell me what will happenBut he can’t really.

He can speculate, based on the available test results and those who’ve covered this same ground before us.  He can make an educated guess.  He can even pretend to know (like my friend’s psychic).  But the truth is, he doesn’t know.  Only God knows.

And only God can tell me, if He so chooses.

If He doesn’t?  Then, like my friend, I can create false gods.  I can resort to substitute sources of information — people who believe in their ability to predict my future (especially if I’m paying them).  I can tell myself to trust them, and project onto them a level of knowledge and understanding that they don’t actually have.  I can choose to believe, “now, I know” and put my energy into proving them right.

But experience has taught me, none of that will bring peace.

Or, I can follow the kings’ example.  I can recognize my limitations – and those of the people I typically consult as I try to anticipate what’s coming.  And then, I can give God my undivided attention:  “What do you have to say to me, Lord?  What do you want me to hear?  You’re the only One who knows what’s coming… and I’m listening.”

With those words, I fling open the door, welcoming Him into my story and the future that only He knows.

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The Battle for Peace

“Praise and thanksgiving in all things is a powerful spiritual weapon.”  Those words leaped off my calendar yesterday.  As always, God’s timing was perfect.

Let me explain…

I am currently making my way through the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face.  Like many of the challenges that have come before it, this journey involves living into what I’ve written – both in this blog, and in my book:  trusting God, letting go, patiently enduring suffering, nurturing hope despite discouraging statistics, and more.

It has been a joy to discover that I have grown spiritually since I last covered this ground.  Don’t get me wrong.  Fear and doubt have their moments.  They rush at me like tidal waves and threaten to drag me under a turbulent sea of uncertainty.  But then, I remember what I’ve learned – and what I’ve tried to teach you:  give up the illusion of control, take fearful thoughts captive, claim God’s promises, and speak words of confident hope over your circumstances.

When I do these things, I find myself strengthened and encouraged.  I discover that I’m able to swim to the surface of the anxiety and gain a new perspective – one that sees things very differently and recognizes there is more to reality than what I feel.

Those feelings are deceptive.  I know.  I remember.  They mislead me into sensing God’s absence, or worse, a lack of concern for my struggles.  Of course, that is a lie whispered to me by the one who hopes to deceive me into despair – and ultimately, into a sense of separation from the God who loves me.

That’s why words of praise and thanksgiving are a powerful spiritual weapon.

Jesus’  last words before leaving this earth were, “I am with you always.”  Always.  In fear.  In darkness.  In uncertainty.  In despair.  In confusion.  In grief.  In a sense of separation from the love of the Father that is only an illusion, an attempt by God’s enemy to trick me into grieving something that can NEVER be lost.

God has not abandoned me!  Christ has not forgotten me.  The Holy Spirit has not left me.  “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”  That is the Truth.  That is the life raft I cling to whenever waves of fear wash over me.

Last week, I made my own journey to the cross.  I brought my hope for the outcome I want and laid it at the feet of the God I trust.  I poured my heart out, along with my tears, and confessed my deep desire to control things I cannot control and force an outcome I cannot force.  And then, I let go.

I acknowledged the very real possibility that this will end differently than I would have scripted.  I grieved that possibility – and then I opened my hands and said, “Your will, not mine.”  My whole heart has chosen trust and obedience.  I accept whatever is coming with praise and thanksgiving.

I genuinely believe that, even if I can’t see it, God’s will will be His best for me.  And I choose to claim that now.  Confident that He will not fail me.  He will not leave me or forsake me.  He will not forget me or neglect to bless me.  Despite the fear that uncertainty evokes, I believe.  And therein lies peace.  The ultimate spiritual weapon.

Whatever the outcome of this particular medical battle, I have won in the way that matters most.  Thanks be to God.

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How to Pray During Infertility

Periodically, I get emails from readers of Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.  The most common question is “Will you pray for me?”  But this morning, I got a different question about prayer.  Jovita wrote to say she’s worried that she isn’t praying “right,” and she asked for guidance.  Here’s what I wrote in response….

The only wrong way to pray is without humility and honesty.  Those two components are essential to effective prayer.  Without them, your prayers are offensive to God because they are a charade.

Here’s what I mean.  Scripture says “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  A humble heart is an acknowledgement that you need God; you cannot succeed without Him.  It’s an admission that you cannot force a heartbeat into the womb.  You cannot force a birth mother to choose you to adopt her child.  And, you cannot force God to respond to your agenda and your timetable.

Prayers without humility are often thinly-veiled attempts at arm-twisting, sweet-talking, or otherwise manipulating God.  They are typically demanding, selfish and short-sighted.  They are often prayers for instant gratification, rather than prayers of patient faith.  Does that seem at all familiar?  It was for me at the beginning of our infertility journey.

As for honest prayers, scripture makes clear that part of what God loved about David was his honesty.  David voiced his hopes, his remorse, his grief, his anger, his fear… all of it without censorship to the God He loved and trusted.  In response, God gave him a life beyond what he could have asked or imagined.

The same is true for us.  God wants an intimate relationship with us based on complete honesty.  He already knows our deepest thoughts, fears and hopes.  When we voice them to Him in prayer, we are owning the truth of who we are, how we think, and what we feel — and asking Him to love us in the midst of all that.  In spite of all that.  Doing so risks trusting Him completely.  And that delights and honors Him.

So, if you are praying with a humble heart and speaking the truth of what you feel, you’re praying the “right” way.

Beyond that, the most valuable, hard-earned wisdom I have gained about prayer is that telling God what I want and how I want it limits what He can do in my life.  The most truthful and humble prayer I can pray — and consistently the most effective — is “Lord, Your will be done.  I ask for Your best in this situation, whatever that may be, and I trust You to give it to me when the time is right.”

When I pray this way, I surrender (the illusion of) control.  I defer my will to His wisdom and choose to trust His judgment completely.  As a result, I begin to experience peace even before I know the answer.

Scripture says “the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” and I am “made righteous by faith.”  So, even if I don’t know when or how God will answer, I KNOW that He will.  It may be in a different way than I ever could have imagined.  Or, it may be just what I would’ve chosen.  Either way, it will be God’s best for me.

In hindsight, that will become clearer… and clearer… and clearer.

It always does.

So, pour your heart out to God.  Trust Him with the truth.  Acknowledge your limitations, praise Him because He has none, and rejoice that He can do ANYTHING.  Tell Him what’s weighing on your heart, ask Him to give you His best, let go, and allow Him to flood your heart with peace.

If you do, I can promise that — in His perfect timing — He will answer your prayers, to His glory.

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When the Longed-for Blessing Brings Bad News

Many of this blog’s posts have focused on the longing for a pregnancy that brings a baby safely into the world.  But what happens when that longed-for blessing no longer feels like one?

I got an incredibly honest, heartrending request for prayer today.  It came in an email forwarded by a woman whose friend conceived on her 6th IUI (hurray!), and just discovered the baby has Down’s Syndrome.  You might be tempted to stop reading, since the thought of such a possibility threatens to  undermine your shaky confidence in a joyful future.  I hope you won’t, because the note I wrote in response to that prayer request made me realize the importance of affirming God’s faithfulness in all circumstances

That’s easy to claim when you’ve experienced effortless conception, an uneventful pregnancy, a straightforwarded delivery, and what looks to the world like happily-ever-after.  But what about when it isn’t so easy, and — by the world’s standards — it doesn’t go well?  Where is God in that?  Where is hope?  What good is faith if it suddenly seems flimsy and feeble?  And where can you go for strength?

My husband and I had to face these questions.  And at the time, there was no one to help us find answers.

We’d scheduled a vacation before our baby was conceived.  As it turned out, it was the week we needed to do an amnio if we wanted to be sure the baby was healthy.  We scheduled an appointment with a high-risk pregnancy specialist found through a friend of a friend.  The doctor started the appointment with an ultrasound.  We’d had several already, and we happily anticipated the chance to see our baby again.

But the doctor took an unusually long time with the ultrasound.  I lay on the table watching lines appear in his forehead as he scanned one area over and over and over.  My husband and I sent each other increasingly anxious looks, but no one spoke.  Then, the doctor said, “Your baby has a large hole in her heart.”  The jolt of adrenaline made me nauseous.  “Usually, that means the baby has Down’s Syndrome.  Has anyone talked to you about this before?”

I wanted to scream, and my mind was racing.  Who is this man?  What does he know?  Why wouldn’t anyone have told us?  It can’t be true….  We’d already lost several pregnancies to miscarriage, but this baby was thriving.  She was meant to come into the world!  Why would God say “yes” to a baby, but “no” to all we wanted that baby to be?

When I received Elizabeth’s prayer request today, the memories of that day flooded my mind.  And I knew God had given me an opportunity to speak the truth of His faithfulness out of my own experience.  I wrote to her:

When I was pregnant with my daughter, they found a HUGE hole in her heart during the amniocentesis.  They told us that, if she survived the pregnancy, she would almost surely have Down’s Syndrome.  We waited several agonizing days for results of the amnio.  In the interim, a couple we knew delivered a baby with unexpected Down’s Sydrome.  It was an extraordinarily stressful time.

Ultimately, our daughter’s test results indicated she did not have Down’s, but she did have the largest hole they’d ever seen in a baby’s heart at this stage of development.  It was hard to know how to pray about this.  Still, God was — and is — faithful.  Our daughter underwent open heart surgery when she was only four weeks old, and despite the odds they gave us as they took her into the OR, she survived and she’s thriving.

I realize the details of this story are different from yours.  At the same time, I feel as if I have some understanding of what you’re facing, based on our experience and the experience of our friends whose son has Down’s.  Neither we nor they would trade the children we have for any other.  We consider all that we’ve struggled through with and for them to be a small price to pay for the extraordinary blessing they have been in our lives.  The challenges we’ve faced as their parents have made us that much more passionate about being the best possible stewards of their incredible souls.  And I believe that was part of God’s purpose.

I don’t in any way mean to minimize what you’re going through.  But I can say with tremendous confidence, God is good and He blesses us in all sorts of unexpected ways.  I truly believe this is one of those well-disguised blessings — and some day, you will say so yourself with complete conviction and JOY.”

If “God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special” [1 Thes 1:4], take heart in the knowledge that He will not abandon you to make your journey alone.  He has already begun equipping you.  That was part of the purpose of the infertility journey.  And He will not fail to comfort, strengthen or guide you.  Ever.

He never fails.

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, click this link to order your copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Where to Draw the Line

A reader posted a comment today asking me to address the question of how to know when — and presumably where — to draw the line in the pursuit of a diagnosis that can lead to effective treatment and, ultimately, parenthood.

She wrote…

 “I am not searching for information in an obsessive desire to gain control. We need the right diagnosis before we pursue treatment. Don’t we?  I appreciate where you are coming from, but I also wonder if it is misleading to some to imply that we must leave everything — even practical considerations for which we have human responsibility — up to God.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this, as this issue troubles me.  ‘Leave it all up to God’ can be taken too far….”

It’s a great question and a troubling issue for many infertile couples.  Let me address it by sharing a story about my Dad.

My father was an oncologist who treated patients with rare and deadly forms of cancer.  Because he spent years doing cancer research, and because he was a determined perfectionist, he made it his business to know every possible avenue from their sickness to health.  And, he promised to do everything he could to help them reach the desired outcome.

Occasionally, a patient would respond to the recommended treatment with horror — So painful! So taxing!  So prolonged! — and state confidently:  “God is going to perform a miracle and heal me.”  My father, the faith-full son of a minister, would respond:  “That would be great, and I’d love to witness it, but it’s possible that that isn’t God’s plan.”

Then, he’d tell them the story of a man trapped in his home during a flood.  As the flood waters rose, the man’s next door neighbor floated up to his front door in a two-man rowboat.  “Want to jump in?  We can paddle to dry land.”  The man waved him off saying, “No thanks.  God will save me.”  The floodwaters rose and the man was forced to climb up to his attic.  From this vantage point, he could see the water rising quickly over the town.  A local sheriff steered a motorboat toward the man’s attic window and called, “I’ll come get you!  It’s not too late to get to dry land a few miles away!”  The homeowner signaled no, calling out, “I’ll be fine.  God will save me.”

As the water continued to rise, the man was forced to climb out the attic window onto his roof.  All he could see for miles around was water.  No one else seemed to be standing on their rooftop waiting on God to perform a miracle.  A helicopter flew overhead and a voice boomed out of a loudspeaker, “This is your last chance!  We’re going to throw down a ladder!  Abandon your home!  Save yourself!”  The man responded, “I’m trusting God!  He can do anything!”  He waved off the helicopter, and the pilot flew away shaking his head.  The floodwaters continued to rise and the man finally drowned.

When he arrived in heaven, he asked God angrily, “Didn’t You see me on my roof?  I told everyone You’d perform a miracle.  Why didn’t You save me?!”  God answered with a sigh, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

The point my father was trying to make is that, although God is capable of performing miracles – and sometimes He does, He is also capable of intervening in our circumstances through others.  As Dad often said, “Medical miracles don’t happen every day; that’s why they call them miracles.”

Our unwillingness to avail ourselves of help from any source but God Himself is actually a decision to refuse His help — except on our terms, in ways that fit our sense of how the story should unfold.

So, can “leave it all up to God” be taken too far?

Clearly, yes.

Every once in a while, one of the patients who’d refused further treatment from my father, deciding instead to wait for a miracle, would die — just like the man who drowned on the roof of his house.  It broke his heart.  As he’d share the news with us, usually around a somber dinner table, he would remind us, “It was their choice.”  He would explain that adults sometimes insist that God act on their terms and their timetable, or else.  And they’d wind up with Or Else.

That can happen on the infertility journey, too.  Couples can insist that God help them conceive on their timetable with the treatment they’ve decided to pursue — or else.  Or else what?  Very often, or else they fail to become parents and their anger at God drives a wedge between them and the only One with the power to make anything possible.

Sometimes, patients who elected to pursue my Dad’s recommended treatment would reach a point in their illness when he’d need to say, “There’s not much more I can do for you.”  They would have entrusted themselves to his care believing God could and would act through him.  But, medical science would have reached its limits.  He would have failed to deliver the cure they’d both hoped for, and God would not have performed a miracle.

It was time to make the rest of the journey with an altered perspective.  He would ask them, “How do you want to spend the rest of your life, knowing that your time is limited?  What, and who, is most important to you?  You have the gift of knowing that these will be your last days/weeks/months.  How will you invest them?”  It was never an easy conversation, but it was a deeply spiritual one – and one that many family members tearfully thanked him for having, once the journey was over.

There’s a parallel here, too, to the infertility journey.  Sometimes, having pursued the course of treatment that we believe makes sense, having viewed the science of medicine as a gift from God, we find ourselves at the end of the well-travelled road.  Now what?  Where should we turn?  What should we do?  No one can tell us with certainty how our journey will unfold, if we choose to press on.  No one can guarantee where we’ll wind up, or if we’ll be glad for the choices we made.

No one but God.

He has traveled this far with us, and He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

It is this part of the journey than can be life-changing.  As we cry out to Him, “Why is this happening?!” we pour our effort into seeking answers to questions we’ve tried hard to avoid:  “What if our dream isn’t your plan, God?  What does that mean?  Why do other people conceive successfully while we struggle?  Why are you so often silent in the face of our tears and pleas?  Where are You?!”

Wrestling with these questions can lead us into a new, deeper intimacy with God.  If and when we trust the relationship enough to let go of our plans and, instead, gratefully embrace whatever God gives, He promises “all things [will] work together for good….”  Our story may look nothing like what we’d envisioned.  But it will be His purposeful, intentional, grace-filled best for us.  I have seen this happen countless times — in my own life, in the lives of Dad’s patients, and in the lives of infertile couples.

It can happen in your life, too.

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If you want to dig deeper into scripture, and into the stories of couples who’ve made this journey and agreed to share their first-hand accounts, I encourage you to read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.  You’ll find wisdom, comfort and hope.

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