Tag Archives: God’s plan

How Far Is Too Far?

How far is too far?  That’s the question Lisa asked me this morning.  Doctors say her husband’s morphology has bottomed out at 1%, but she isn’t ready to give up on the dream of parenting.  Neither is he.  So, the RE is recommending IVF+ICSI.

Here’s the dilemma, as Lisa put it:

“I don’t know what God would want me to do.  ICSI involves the doctors “choosing” which little one they want to inject.  To me, I’m not sure this seems natural, and it’s a bit scary!  But part of me thinks God gave us this science for a reason…. Is there any insight you can offer me with this moral/ethical dilemma?”

What does God think of IVF+ICSI?  Does He want couples to pursue it?  To avoid it?  To condemn it?  If science has outpaced the literal words of scripture, how can we know if God approves, or if He’s angry?  If He will bless those who pursue this form of conception, or curse them?

Those are hard questions.

When I look at the people who struggle hardest with them, here’s what I see.  They often fall into one of three categories:  active or lapsed Catholics, scripture literalists, and those who know little about what the Bible does and doesn’t say.  These may seem like very different groups to you, but they have one critically-important thing in common:  They’re used to having someone tell them what God expects of them.

For most or all of their spiritual lives, someone has told them The Answers.  The Rules.  The Expectations.  Now, they find themselves facing a question that could open or close the door to the future they deeply desire.  What does God want them to do?  Who can tell them the right answer?  And what if they get it wrong?!

I’m convinced this moment of anxious uncertainty is actually a gift.

Underneath the fear of seeking answers from the wrong source — or worse, guessing incorrectly — there is the newly-planted seed of a desire to know God’s will more fully.  There is an impulse to seek Him out.  To go deeper — beyond rule-following obedience, into a more intimate relationship with the God who longs to be known, to bless those who seek Him, and to reveal His will in and through their lives.

This is not the journey most infertile couples thought they’d be making when they began trying to conceive.  And it is not one every couple embraces.  But, I believe it is the journey infertility  nudges us toward – one which can ultimately enrich and expand the spiritual lives of future parents prior to becoming a family.  And that is a blessing.

But, in a moment of paralyzing uncertainty, it doesn’t feel like one.

So, if you’ve reached the same point that Lisa has and you’re wondering what to do next, don’t panic.  Trust me:  This is all part of God’s plan.  Commit to seeking His will and He will reveal it to you.  And as you do, remember….

1) Those who want to conceive but also want to honor God cannot look to the Bible for hard and fast rules when faced with infertility.  What we can do, though, is look to the Bible for guidance — and to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment.

2) God is omniscient and omnipotent.  He knows our motivations, our deep desire to parent, and our intention (or lack of intention) to honor Him in all that we do.  That matters greatly to the One who is able to open or close a womb at any time.

3) God sends us help in many forms, including science, doctors, and medicine.  Those who refuse to accept that help sometimes do so in an attempt to honor Him or demonstrate their faith in Him.  In fact, they’re requiring God to work miracles — or see His offered blessings rejected.  I believe their motivation has great spiritual value , but their rejection of God’s blessings may not.

4) I believe that when our hearts, minds and spirits are completely focused on doing God’s will, and we proceed with the deep desire that His will be done, God will open and close doors along our path to see that it is so.  In other words, He will guide our steps, illuminate our path, and fill us with the peace that assures us we are in the flow of His will.

5) The best way to assure His will is done is to trust Him, let go, and pray the servant’s prayer: “Thy will be done.”  God is well able to work within our circumstances to achieve His purpose.

Of course, each couple must make their own decision about which path to take.  The only Right Answer is to seek the God who longs to draw nearer to those who draw hear to Him.

Trust Him completely; He never fails.

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If you’d like to read another post on this topic, here’s a link.  And, if you want more inspiration and cause for hope, order a copy of 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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Searching for Answers: Male Factor Infertility

A woman wrote to me recently asking for scripture-based wisdom on dealing with male factor infertility.

Expressing both frustration and anxiety about the lack of answers, information and guidance for Christian couples facing this problem, she said, “There is no [Bible-based] paradigm to study.  As far as I can remember, every case of infertility other than Elisabeth’s and Zechariah’s shows evidence of originating with the woman.  Male factor infertility spawns a set of questions quite different from ‘ordinary’ female infertility.

“For example:  Does God not acknowledge my infertility because it is my husband’s ‘problem’?  What solace can I take from Scripture since my circumstance is not mentioned?  How can I get the help I need when doctors keep putting us through IVF cycles without proper diagnosis beforehand?  How do verses such as ‘He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children’ pertain when I am not, in fact, ‘barren’?  And how should a fertile woman married to an infertile man curb herself so that she does not unintentionally undermine his masculinity?”

That’s a lot of questions, but Christ has promised, “Seek and ye shall find.”  So, let’s try to tackle them one at a time….

1) Where can I look for a Bible-based paradigm?  It depends on what constitutes a paradigm for you.  Are you looking for the story of a man accurately diagnosed as having male factor infertility who goes on to father a child after God intervenes?  That story is not in scripture.  There are, however, several stories of childless men becoming fathers extremely late in life (when, we can safely assume, infertility was statistically likely).

Recent research shows that volume, motility and structure of sperm all decline with age; meanwhile the odds of fathering a baby with Down syndrome or schizophrenia increase dramatically.  So, overlay that state-of-the-art medical knowledge onto Bible stories of late life fatherhood, and a paradigm does begin to emerge…

Statistics don’t matter when God is fulfilling a promise.  His purpose and timing supersede all universal “laws” as we understand them.  No doctor ever has the final word.  Only God does.

2) Does God not acknowledge my infertility because it is my husband’s problem?  Of course He does!  We are told, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Therefore, infertility is not “his” problem; it is your burden to share.  It is a challenge God has allowed you to face – together — which, like all things, will lead to His best for you if you trust and obey Him.  That is what scripture teaches.

So, pray for your husband, and ask him to pray for you – very specifically naming your respective needs:  patience, endurance, longsuffering, joy, insight, perseverance, trust, peace, hope, etc.  Work together to prevent “his” problem — and the many challenges of the infertility journey — from driving a wedge into your relationship, and threatening to separate the “two become one.”  This proactive response to your struggle will strengthen your partnership in anticipation of the child God has in mind for you.

3) What solace can I take from scripture since my circumstance is not mentioned?  Plenty.  For example, this morning, I happened to be reading Isaiah 37-38.  In it, Isaiah describes two key events during Hezekiah’s reign.  In both of them, this God-honoring king found himself humbled by (feelings of) impotence in the face of circumstances beyond his control.

In both cases, he turned humbly to God, praying for Him to “hear… see… listen… remember…” and honor Hezekiah’s faith and trust with divine intervention.

In both cases, God did the impossible; He wiped out the enemy and blessed Hezekiah in the process.  The same can happen for us when we honor God, acknowledge our limitations, and turn to Him for help and hope.

4) How can I get the help I need when doctors keep putting us through IVF cycles without proper diagnosis beforehand?  As a doctor’s kid and a doctor’s wife, I’d say, “Start by saying, ‘No.'”  No, I will not undergo a procedure that is not preceded by a clear understanding of the problem.  No, I will not spend money on doctors who do not respond energetically to my need for help/answers/information.  And no, I will not blame others for my feelings of powerlessness if/when I fail to take responsibility for my choices.

Beyond that, I’d look to God for discernment.  Ask Him to keep His promises – to comfort you, to guide your steps, and to show you the way.  He has promised to draw near to you when you draw near to Him… so draw near, and ask Him to help you in ways that will further His will for you (which is His best).

5) How do verses such as ‘He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children’ pertain when I am not, in fact, ‘barren’?  In the most literal sense, this verse is not speaking to you if you’re not barren (meaning unable to conceive due to female infertility).  However, this verse does pertain to your circumstances in the following ways:  (1) It demonstrates God’s concern for the infertile, and (2) It demonstrates God’s willingness and ability to make possible what seems impossible to those who face infertility.

If you’d like to spend more time digging into this verse and its meaning for infertile couples, read this post.

6) How should a fertile woman married to an infertile man avoid unintentionally undermining his masculinity?  Great question, and one that is virtually never discussed publicly.  Why?  According to Peter Schlegel MD, Urologist-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell Medical Center and president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, “The role of the male in infertility has been grossly overlooked by lay[people] and professionals alike.”  Ditto for the pulpit.

No one EVER talks openly about male infertility… except when they feel safe.  That’s the purpose of PregnantWithHope groups.  They provide a haven for couples to share their struggles, fears and concerns openly – without fear of ridicule, criticism or emasculating pity.

Is it difficult for you or your husband to find a PregnantWithHope group near you?  You could start one (find information on How To at PregnantWithHope.com).  Or, you could have your support group of two, using Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples as your resource and discussion guide.  The book walks infertile couples through ten stages of the journey, and also gives readers a chance to “meet” ten couples who made the same journey and are now parents.  Their stories could give you great insight into how spouses can help one another, as well as how important it is to give grace when we fail to meet each other’s needs.

Does that help?  I know it doesn’t answer every question she had completely.  Nor, I’ll bet, does this post answer every question of yours.  Is there something specific you’d like me to address or explore further?  Email me at susan@pregnantwithhope.com and I’ll do my best to offer you cause for hope rooted in God’s word.

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An Egg Donor’s Perspective

What makes someone want to be an egg donor?  It’s a complicated, painful, time-consuming process that is not without risk.  Is it for the money?  For ego reasons?  Tia Swanger agreed to share her story.  If you are an infertile couple considering egg donation, it may give you some peace.

Thirteen years ago, Tia was a preschool teacher on maternity leave.  She hadn’t expected becoming a parent to be much of a change from her role as a teacher.  But, “I was wrong!  Having the baby changed us.  We saw how the miracle of life brings God close to you.”

One day, she noticed a newspaper ad soliciting egg donors.  “I read what it said about infertility, and I  started thinking about how sad it was that someone could want a child and not be able to have one.  I realized I could help someone have what I have – and feel what I feel  – and I wanted to do that.  I felt like God was calling me to do that.”  She talked to her husband about it.  “Jeff said, ‘If you feel led to do this, you need to do this.’”  So, she called the clinic.

“It was a huge process,” she said.  There were tests and screenings, a psychiatric evaluation, two shots a day, side effects (that, for her, would include leukopenia),  “plus, I had to find someone to watch the baby, we didn’t live anywhere near the clinic, and…  it was definitely a challenge.”

One day, an unidentified couple requested photos of Tia and her baby.  Then, they requested additional genetic testing.  “I did whatever they wanted, and everything came back perfect,” Tia said.  “There were never names or faces.  No information about them.  But then, I got a letter.  It said, ‘Dear Donor, Thank you!  After 14 years of infertility…!'”  It said the father had received a heart transplant, so this was not the family’s first experience receiving a gift of life.

“I read that letter,” recalled Tia, “and I prayed, ‘Please God, let this happen for them.’  I never heard another word.  I prayed and I hoped… but I’ll never know.  In my heart, I feel it was successful.  ”

Did Tia ever regret giving away a part of herself?  “I had no issues with that.  Ever.  I’m not the mother of that child.  I’m not holding that child’s hand and walking them to the bus; that’s the mother.  I’m not comforting them, helping them when they’re hurt, loving them every day; that’s the mother.  I’m just a way for someone to become a mother.”

Can she understand why someone might worry about using an egg donor?  “Sure, but there’s a bigger picture to consider.  It may not be your flesh, but that baby will call you ‘Mama.’  When you hold that bundle of joy, it will supersede all your preconceived notions.  A baby bonds, and it knows no one but you as the mother.  It doesn’t matter to that baby what the genetics are.  It just knows love.”

What advice would Tia offer infertile couples considering egg donation?  “Look inside yourself.  Ask, ‘Why do I want a baby?  Is it to have a part of me walking around in the world, or to share a life?’  It shouldn’t matter to you whose genes these are.  Once you love this child as your own, that won’t matter.  This child will be yours.”

Tia will never meet the child(ren) her egg(s) helped conceive, and she has complete peace about it.  “I think about it every now and then, but not a lot.  What I did was God’s will, not mine.  I was obedient to the calling, and what a privilege.  I never felt afraid, just like – a job’s got to be done, so you do it.  End of story.  Some people might question my decision, but if I know it’s God’s will, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do.  Nothing.”

The Bible says, “… serve the Lord with gladness.”  Tia did, and through her, God gave the gift of an egg to a couple longing to steward a little soul.

Might He intend to bring a child into the life of your family the same way?  If so, may the story of Tia’s selfless gift — given in response to God’s tug on her heart — bring you peace.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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God Always Goes First

When I tell couples what I mean by saying they are “pregnant with hope,” they want to believe God’s made them a promise. But often, they aren’t sure whether to trust Him – even if He has. Do you feel the same way? Eager to receive a promise from God, but unsure whether to believe it even if you do?

Then look again at the story of God’s people just before they crossed into the Promised Land.

God spoke directly to Moses and told him to tell the people:  “I have given you this land.” It sure didn’t look that way. The land God referred to was already inhabited. The warriors who lived there had built walled cities, and they themselves were giants. In the natural, nothing about that looked encouraging. Still, Moses assured the people, God had made a promise and He would not fail to fulfill it. They could see their future, but only by faith.

As they approached the land God had promised, Moses gave battle instructions direct from God:  “I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. I have begun to deliver him and his country over to you. Now, [you] begin to conquer….”

Notice something. God went first. Before the people entered the promise, He had already prepared the way. From His perspective, the battle was already underway and nearly won. God didn’t say, ‘I will fulfill My promise’ – He said, ‘I have begun to.’ In other words, ‘I have preceded you in thought and action.’ God went before His people – into the future He had planned for them – and set in motion all He had promised before they ever began their battle.

That’s what God still does today.

He makes promises to those whom He loves, and He sets the fulfillment of those promises in motion. Then, He expects us to step out boldly, into a future we can see only by faith, and do our part in making it so. He doesn’t do it all for us. If we choose to sit back, hedge our bets, indulge our fears, and wait and see, the promise may not be fulfilled. He has given us a role to play.

As in scripture, our faith determines our future.

Does that worry you? It doesn’t need to. I believe it’s cause for hope. Why? Because notice this: only after ‘God has’ are we expected to ‘begin to.’ Only after He has promised us a future filled with hope and blessings [Jeremiah 29:11], only after He has demonstrated His love for us through Christ who died for us, only after He has proven His faithfulness in a thousand ways – many of which we take for granted or ignore, only then are we expected to begin to trust His purposefulness, to believe that His plan is His very best for us, and to step out in faith.

God always goes first.

Do you believe He’s made you a promise since you are “pregnant with hope”? Do you want to see His promise fulfilled? Then act on the belief that He is a promise-keeper. Lean into trusting that He is part of your infertility story.  Count on Him to use every aspect of this journey to bless you, strengthen you, and prepare you for the future He has planned for you.

Claim His promise and step out in faith. The Promised Land is not nearly as far off as you may think.

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Stepping Out In Faith

Recently, a reporter asked if she could interview me about the story behind Pregnant with Hope. She wanted to hear about our infertility journey, and  about how that led to a growing outreach ministry that delivers help and hope to infertile couples around the world.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the video — and then, forward it to someone you know who might need a word of encouragement or a change of perspective on infertility.

Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll have a chance to share your own story of God’s goodness and faithfulness. If so, jump at the opportunity! I’m convinced that’s part of how we say, ‘thank you, Lord.’

 

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Anything is Possible

Recently, I came across a verse from the Talmud that I’d read once before, many years ago:  “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’”  Crossing paths with these words again made me think, is there truth to this child’s eye view?  Is there someone urging me on as I struggle to become what I’m meant to be?

In the self-imposed isolation that is often our instinctive response to infertility, it can be easy to feel very alone – forgotten by all the people who conceive effortlessly and breeze by us, oblivious to our silent suffering.  The world doesn’t seem interested in slowing down to acknowledge our losses, or to comfort us in our grief.  And no one seems to know the words to bend over and whisper to encourage us, “Yes, yes.  You can, You can.”

Author Susan Jeffers writes, “We have been taught to believe that negative equals realistic and positive equals unrealistic.”  She’s right.  And as a result, we tend to brace for the worst even when we hope for the best.

We lean toward anticipating failure (especially if we’ve already experienced it), rather than expecting success.  We instinctively question our optimism when faced with the many disappointments of infertility.  And we doubt that anyone is whispering anything over us… except maybe, “Why are you still hoping?”

So, why are we?

Here’s why I think we should be.  Despite the many hurdles we’ve failed to clear and the many defeats we’ve been forced to face, some part of us believes that the “impossible” is still possible.  And it is. Scripture tells us that “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  What we, in our realistic assessment of things, believe cannot happen… actually can.  Only two things are required to make it so:  God’s will and our faith.

Nothing will grow apart from God’s will.  No blade of grass.  No seed of hope.  But when God plants a seed of hope in us, I’m convinced it is for a purpose.  There is a plan that involves maturing that seed of hope into a life-changing reality.  When?  How?  I know only that the Holy Spirit has been sent to whisper, “Anything is possible.  With God all things are possible.  Grow, grow, seed of hope.”

Our faith is tested in this time of waiting and wondering.  Will it ever happen?  Will the future be anything like what I envision?  Rather than worrying whether the seed will grow, we should focus on faithfully preparing the soil for it to flourish.  A fertile faith life is the best environment in which to nurture and grow our seeds of hope.

So, is your faith life fertile ground for a miracle?  And, are you trusting that God’s will for you is His very best for you – even if it’s not your plan for you?  If so, the time is coming when your seed of hope will spring to life and become the future God has planned.

How do I know?  Anything is possible.

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Want to read more about God doing the impossible?  Click this link, and then read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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