Tag Archives: God’s purpose

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 is 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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The Hardest Question II: “Is Infertility His Punishment?”

As much as most men don’t like to talk about infertility, they really aren’t eager to talk about how it makes them feel.  That doesn’t mean, though, that they aren’t wrestling with the question, “Is infertility punishment for something I did?  Something in my past that God doesn’t plan to forgive?”

Two days ago, I wrote a post about the topic of infertility as punishment – sharing the story of Rahab’s journey from deviant-society prostitute to respected wife and mother, and ancestor of Jesus.  It would seem logical that the same amazing grace would be available to men… but is it really?  Or is Rahab’s the Old Testament story that proves the exception to the rule of God’s harsh judgment?

I came across the answer this morning.

I’ve been re-reading Joseph’s story.  As a young man, he had dreams of his brothers and parents bowing down to him.  When he shared the dreams, his eleven brothers’ growing resentment of their father’s favorite son boiled over.  They plotted to kill him, then changed their minds and sold him into slavery in Egypt instead.

Many years later, Joseph had become Pharaoh’s trusted right hand – and the brothers went to Egypt seeking grain during a famine.  They didn’t recognize Joseph, but he recognized them.  That set the stage for an unforgettable encounter….

Joseph spoke harshly to them, wanting to be sure they had changed their ways before he blessed them.  They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of [what we did to] our brother…. that’s why this distress had come upon us.” Guilty consciences, combined with fear of someone else’s power over them and their future, convinced the brothers they were being punished.

The Bible says, “Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’” The brothers were convinced God was using their circumstances to punish them for their unforgivable crime.  No one knew their secret past but God – so this situation must be His intended vengeance.

Just like these brothers, men sometimes assume something in their past is thwarting their dreams for the future.  More than one aspiring father has confessed that fear to me….

Sean thought it was his decision to turn his back on God as a teenager.  Carlos thought it was marrying a black Protestant against his Catholic parents’ wishes.  Brent worried it was his resentment that God’s plans hadn’t matched his own.  Trey thought it was because he’d taken a charmed life for granted.  Mike thought it was because he’d been  insensitive to friends who’d needed his support when they’d struggled through infertility.  Joe worried it was because he’d been a phone-it-in Christian for years.

All these men worried that God might be holding a grudge.  That He might be keeping score and seeing this as a chance to get even.  That anything less than lifelong, heartfelt devotion and choices worthy of Jesus might be cause for punishment from a wrathful, take-no-prisoners judge.  That this might be their fault.

Joseph’s story shows how wrong they were to be afraid.

Joseph put his brothers through a series of tests designed to reveal the truth in their hearts.  When he found honesty and selflessness, he revealed his desire to bless them.  Not only did he offer food for them and their descendants, he and Pharaoh announced “the best of all Egypt will be yours.”

Their crime was never punished; in fact, Joseph explained that God had used their past actions to fulfill His plan for the future.  What had been done with bad intentions was used by God for good.

The same can be true for us.  God can take what we have done and use it – to teach us, to mature us, to bless us.  And to bless others.  What matters is not what we have done, but who we are ready to become.  Are we willing to be accountable for past actions?  Are we ready to put self aside and  trust in God’s unmerited favor?  If so, just like Joseph, God stands ready to forgive those whom He has always loved… and to bless us.

Accept His amazing grace – and join Sean, Carlos, Brent, Trey, Mike and Joe as humbly grateful fathers.

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When You’re Drowning in Despair

Dear Abby recently published a letter from a woman whose daughter died:

“I am writing this not only for myself, but for all parents who have lost a child….  I know people mean well when they encourage me to get on with my life, but this is my life.”  Abby responded, “…the death of a child is the most devastating loss parents can suffer and the experience is life-changing.”

Abby’s right.  And that’s true whether the child you lose is twenty years old, as the letter writer’s daughter was, or just a few weeks in utero.  Sadly, Abby stopped there.  She offered compassion — but no words of hope — for the parent who is convinced her life can never know the kind of joy it did before her daughter died.

Can you ever find hope when the one who embodied your hope for the future dies?  Is there anything but grief to be felt when the highly-prized idea of life with a much-beloved child comes to a tragic end?

It depends on what you choose to believe.

Here’s what I mean….

After four years of infertility, Anna and Nick had finally conceived through IVF.  Then, Anna began bleeding a few weeks ago.  They lost the baby.  In a painfully honest blog post, Nick wrote, “What if I want to sink? What if I want just for a minute to revel in my grief, to wonder if I deserve it, to claim I saw it coming because nothing good should happen to me?”

Like the mother who wrote to Abby, Nick was tempted to believe that darkness had a claim on his spirit that was justifiable.  He felt the pull of that darkness and wondered if he deserved it.  Was this the future he should plan on, despite all they had hoped for?  Was this his destiny:  loss, grief, hopelessness?

He wrote, “Like Peter, I know that sooner or later I must stop looking at the waves and call out to Jesus – and Matthew 14:31 tells me His response:  ‘Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.’  I may not know why [we lost our baby], but I do know my Savior.”

That’s what Abby missed completely.

Sinking is never the end of your story if God is the author of that story.  Loss may be the beginning of the story, and grief may be the middle.  Despair may be the end of a particular chapter, but it is never the end of the story.  There is always hope because God always redeems.  That is who He is: our Redeemer.

He is also our Source of strength and our Comforter: “He will lead them to springs of living water; And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  He is full of compassion for the losses that take our breath away and leave us staggering.  Losses He knew were coming.  Losses that plunge us into a darkness that seems impenetrable, and in which we see no cause for hope.

Thankfully, God can see what and when we can’t. “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  He will bring me out in the light; and I will see his righteousness.”

Nick knows there is cause for hope even if he doesn’t feel hopeful.  His hope is not embodied in the baby they just miscarried, but in the God who creates and sustains life according to His purpose.

That same God tells us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

When we are sinking – overwhelmed by grief and unable to save ourselves – He will reach out to save us.  Jesus did it for Peter.  And I promise, God will do it for you.  When He does, don’t let go.

 

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The Church’s Silence on Infertility

Very often, couples who discover that one or both of them is infertile enter a self-imposed exile.  Painfully aware of their “differentness,” they struggle to find solutions to their problem while protecting their privacy and newfound sense of vulnerability.

When questions arise – “What’s wrong with us?  What did we do to deserve this?  Is this a punishment for something?  Is God refusing our prayers and withholding this blessing?” – it can be difficult to know where to go for answers.

As it turns out, infertile couples aren’t the only ones struggling with these questions.  Clergy find them difficult to answer, too.  That results in both stigma and heartache.

When Dr. Stephen Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, first encountered Pregnant With Hope, he responded to its content with gratitude:  “This is a book for those who are struggling – and for those of us who love them and often don’t know what to say or do.” 

There’s the truth, and it’s a problem:  clergy often don’t know what to say or do.  They want to help.  They recognize that infertility is a painful, heartbreaking, faith-threatening problem.  But they have no idea how to deliver hope in a practical, meaningful way.

As a result, they tend to choose one of two strategies.  Either they address the problem vaguely and conceptually, saying things like “all suffering is the result of original sin.”  Or, they ignore the problem completely and hope it will go away.

Neither strategy helps.

Instead, both strategies make it harder for couples to draw near to the God who can seem to be more a part of the problem than the source of the solution.  So, what happens?  Couples leave the church, no longer able to find a voice that speaks to their needs, or a community that understands their problems.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Faith leaders just need to be educated:  How do you help infertile couples?  How do you support them?  How do you reinforce their sense of belonging when their circumstances make them feel isolated and apart from everything normal?  How do you inspire them to draw nearer to the God who cares deeply about them?

Dr. Hayner recognized this need in his seminary students.  That’s why he responded so enthusiastically to Pregnant With Hope.  The same Bible verses, insights and personal narratives that empower infertile couples can prepare clergy to help them along the journey.

Once they are equipped, faith leaders can confront the stigma of infertility, addressing it openly from the pulpit (not just in private meetings with individual congregants).  They can also sensitize their communities to those who are suffering, and equip people to be sources of comfort and strength for one another.

How can you help bring about this change?  First, recognize that it is difficult to be a change agent when you are in the midst of an infertility journey.  You have a right to feel resentful that you should have to tackle this, along with everything else that’s challenging you.  But remember:  if you do, you’ll be helping yourself – and the infertile couples who come after you.

Second, understand that those who take on the role of change agent tend to do so out of desperation – “We need support!”  That’s a good reason, and a very motivating one.  If you’ve reached that point, what can you do to bring about meaningful change?  Try any one (or more) of these ideas:

1)      Write to your faith leaders.  Share your story – confidentially, if you prefer.  Ask for both private and public support.  Make clear that you are not the only infertile person in the congregation (statistically, 1-in-every-6 couples is struggling or has struggled with infertility).

2)      Send your clergy a link to this website, a copy of Pregnant With Hope, or both.  If you want to protect your identity, drop it in the offering plate anonymously.  They will discover that these messages have been enthusiastically endorsed by a seminary president and numerous religious leaders, as well as physicians, therapists and counselors (church-affiliated & secular).  Attach a note urging them to read with an open mind and a heart full of compassion – and then act as they feel led.

3)      Offer to meet with your faith leader – to share your questions, your struggles, and your needs.  Ask them to start a support group, invite a guest speaker, or provide some other tangible evidence of the church’s concern and desire to help.

Whatever you do, remember that it doesn’t take a huge effort to make a significant change!  Realize that this may be one of the ways God is bringing good out of your journey.  Consider your action – whatever it may be – one of the ways you demonstrate your trust in God’s purposefulness.  And then, do something.

The church can change, but we will have to voice the need and point the way.

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Use the tools below to forward this post to someone who wants your church to change, or can help make it happen.  For more resources & inspiration, visit PregnantWithHope.com.

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Infertility, Meet Thanksgiving

My nasty cold has morphed into a wicked case of bronchitis.  My froggy voice is sooooo deep – except when I have no voice at all.  I’m alternately freezing and melting.  The trashcans are overflowing with Kleenex, and I don’t think I’ve got the energy to empty them.  What a perfect time to write a Misery Loves Company post… just in time for Thanksgiving!

Don’t worry.

I won’t.

But it’s tempting.

Lots of internet writers seem to think it’s a great idea.  A quick online search found loads of misery waiting to be shared on blogs and in tweets posted in the last 24 hours.  There’s something about the holidays approaching that tips people over emotionally, making difficult struggles suddenly feel impossibly unmanageable.  And sharing some misery with the world is so cathartic:  Come bond with me!  We’ll be miserable together!

It’s a trap.  Don’t fall in.

The temptation to wallow in self-pity is a powerful one for infertile couples.  We tell ourselves it doesn’t hurt anyone – and believe it can actually help.  But really, it doesn’t.

Dwelling on despair makes hope feel much further away than it actually is.  It makes God’s purposefulness seem veiled and impenetrable.  It gives us an ever-expanding laundry list of reasons to grieve, resent, and give up.  None of which makes this journey any easier.

“Our lives are the expression of the thoughts that lie behind them, and of the thoughts that inspire them.”  – Marjorie Jackson

Especially now, as the holiday season approaches, it matters what you “feed” your mind and spirit.  A steady diet of hopeless messages may seem to satisfy your hunger, but it will actually starve you of the strength you need for the journey.

Unless you’ve chosen to give up on the dream of parenthood – deciding it’s too arduous a journey and no longer worth the effort – you need to FOCUS:

On why you are doing this:  God planted a seed of hope in your heart.  And He did it for a reason.

On why you have hope:  “All things work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to His purpose” {Romans 8:28].

On where you find your strength:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” [Ephesians 4:13].

On how you resist self-pity:  “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” [I Corinthians 10:13].

On how your story will end:  “I (God) will pour out My spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants” [Isaiah 44:34].

God has given you the power to alter the course of your journey with your thoughts.  They will express themselves in the life that unfolds before you.  You are certainly justified in thinking thoughts of failure and defeat.  But, you are also justified in thinking thoughts of strength, sufficiency and victory.  Which will it be?

Use your power wisely.

And let’s be thankful for the gift.

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For inspiration, cause for hope, and useful resources, click this link.

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Instead of Self-Pity….

I woke up this morning (Monday) to a torrential downpour.  My throat was sore, and I’d had a terrible night of sleep.  The alarm clock blared and my first thought was, “This is not going to be a good day.”  Before my feet touched the floor, I convinced myself I could see the future, and it didn’t look good.

In less than an hour, I was in a completely different place – psychologically and spiritually.  How did that happen?  What changed?  Instead of acting on my feelings, I acted on my better impulses.

First, I did a good deed I’d planned last night, even though I wasn’t feeling it – at all. I gift wrapped a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread, put on sweats and a raincoat, and drove across town to deliver it to someone who was awful to my family last week.  When I gave it to her, I thanked her for admitting she’d behaved horribly and told her we value her friendship.

I got back in my car and… guess what?  I felt a little better.  I’d done it for her – schlepping around in the downpour while blowing my nose sure wasn’t for me! – but, it turned out to be good for me, too.

On the way home, I stopped for a bagel.  Seated at the table next to me was a woman coughing loudly.  When I turned to give her a “could you quiet down?” look, I noticed her soaking wet sweat pants and windbreaker.  She realized she’d called too much attention to herself, and got up to leave.  Several minutes later, as I headed for the highway, I saw her slogging through the downpour.  Apparently heading nowhere.

I felt a nudge to help and thought “She’s over there and I’m over here, and the light’s about to change.”  I felt another nudge and thought, “I’d have to drive past the exit to catch her.”  Another nudge.  I looked down and saw two meal coupons in my cup holder.  They were for her, I realized.

So, I crossed three lanes of traffic and pulled over to wait for her.  She crossed the street.  Frustrated, I pulled out into traffic and crossed the street to meet her.  She saw my car and made a detour.  Determined now to accomplish my mission, I pulled up next to her and rolled down the window.

“Are you hungry and wanting to go somewhere warm and dry?” I shouted over the rain.

“I sure am,” she answered dejectedly.  I realized she didn’t expect me to offer any help.  Had I pulled over just to harass her?  To tell her to leave the neighborhood?

“Take these coupons,” I said as I extended my arm out the window.  “They’re good for food at that restaurant right there.  They’ll let you use them for whatever you need.”  The woman’s self-pity gave way to gratitude and a smile crept over her face.

“God bless you,” she said as she took the coupons from my hand.

As I watched her enter the restaurant, the words “It is a blessing to be a blessing” came to mind, and I realized:  that’s literally true.  The rain was still falling.  My throat still hurt.  I was just as sniffly and tired.  But, I wasn’t feeling self-pity any more.  Instead, I felt purposeful and thankful.  I’d brought a moment of light into two dark situations, setting aside self-pity long enough to do it.  Now, I felt the quiet joy that comes with being obedient and acting out of a servant’s heart.

What a blessing.

Self-pity is a tricky thing.  We tell ourselves we are responding reasonably to what feels crummy and unfair.  It seems like a small enough indulgence, given the fact that we’re suffering (to some degree).  But underneath the veneer of justifiability, it is a toxic thing.

It’s not grief.  It’s not part of a healthy healing process.  Self-pity is a choice to turn our backs on the God we say we trust, so we can focus our attention on ourselves and the awfulness of this moment.  It is a rejection of God’s promise to be faithful  – because we’re not feeling it.  We’re not sensing victory and blessing.  Instead, we’re feeling cursed and defeated.  And frankly, that stinks.

The next time infertility invites you to a pity party, make the effort to bless someone.  It will change your mood, your outlook, and your trajectory.  And it will remind you that God blesses all of us through one another.

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

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