Tag Archives: suffering

“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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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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Here’s What Infertile Couples Want & Need

This is a rerun of my all-time most read and recirculated post.  Share it with someone who has no idea how to help you….

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What can you say to the people around you who want to love you through the struggle with infertility, but have no idea what to do or how to help?  Kathleen Parker, an Opinion columnist for the Washington Post, offered guidance in an editorial about gifts….

“Here is giving:  Listening.  Sparing time.  Not interrupting.  Holding that thought.  Leaving the last drop.  Staying home.  Turning it off, whatever it is.  Making eye contact.  Picking it up.  Take the room’s temperature.  Paying attention.  Waiting.”

That’s how you help an infertile couple.  That’s how you love us through this incredibly challenging, frustrating, stressful, heartbreaking journey.  That’s how you stop trying to fix it, and instead, bless us by being fully present in the moment with us.

By listening, not interrupting, holding that thought, and paying attention –  Sometimes, we need to voice confusion or wrestle aloud with our uncertainty.  Don’t give us “the answer.”  That’s patronizing.  If it were simple, we would have figured it out already.  Instead, keep quiet and give us a chance to blow off steam, rant without fearing a reaction, or cry without worrying you can’t take the drama.  Don’t.  Say.  A word.  You’ll be amazed how your attentive silence speaks volumes.

By sparing time, turning it off (whatever it is), taking the room’s temperature, and making eye contact – So much about the struggle with infertility is humbling and demeaning.  Don’t make us beg for your time or attention.  Don’t make us feel something else is more important.  Be attuned to our moods, and when the room’s temperature is too “hot” or “cold,” be sensitive to what that tells you about what we need:  time alone, or a hug?  Eye contact that invites a confidence, or a glance that says, ‘I know you’re hurting’?  Be.  Fully.  Present.  You’ll be amazed how your attentive heart radiates loving support.

By leaving the last drop, staying home, picking it up, and… waiting –  Infertility makes us feel incredibly vulnerable, wounded and fragile.  Your thoughtfulness can be an amazing antidote.  It lifts our spirits without making us feel guilty or indebted.  Don’t make us ask for kindness; we won’t.  Just know that the littlest kindness is magnified a thousand times by our need to feel that someone cares.  It doesn’t take much, and no words are required.  In fact, it’s better if you let your actions speak.  Not sure what to do?  Wait.  Pay attention.  You’ll see an opportunity.  And you’ll be amazed how your attentive action tells us you understand.

Parker concludes, “Do unto others…. The alternative is surely hell.”

That sums it up pretty succinctly.  There are moments along the infertility journey that are hellish.  When there’s no heartbeat on the ultrasound.  When the doctor’s office isn’t calling and the bleeding won’t stop.  When the baby comes too soon and can’t possibly survive.  When it’s time to tell everyone who thought there was a baby, “We lost it.”  When the dream seems to be dying, and hope is barely alive.

In that moment, do unto us as you would want us to do for you.  Would you want privacy?  Give us some.  Would you want kindness?  Extend it.  Would you need a shoulder to cry on?  Offer one.  Would you be angry at the world?  Understand our intense emotions.  Would you need wisdom?  Know that we will seek it when we are ready to internalize it.  Don’t try to force it on us if we don’t ask for it.  You won’t get the response you want.

“Here is giving….”  Parker began.  So, we’ve made it clear.  This is how you help us.  Now that we’ve told you what we need, please give us the gift of love in ways we will gratefully receive.

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Renewing Hope After a Loss

Nick, a man who bravely shared his feelings about loss, kindly allowed me to quote him months ago when this post first ran.  He and his wife Anna have come a long way since then….

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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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Needing to Know, ‘Why?’

Knowing why I have to do something, or why something is happening, has always mattered to me.  I guess it’s because I didn’t like taking orders as a kid.  “Because I said so” was my father’s justification for most of the demands he placed on me, and I (silently) resented that.  It struck me as an abuse of power, and it left me feeling powerless.

It seemed to me that if something was important, it was reasonable for me to want to know why, and for whoever was in authority to explain that to me.

Many times, as an adult, that same “need to know” trait has made me hesitate to obey God’s commands, or to trust Him in a particular situation.  Especially when there’s no obvious reason why He’d want things to go a certain way, I find myself dragging my feet, waiting for an explanation.

Here’s why that’s a problem:  when I refuse to budge until I get a satisfying answer, my circumstances don’t change.  Like a longsuffering parent with a willful child, God lets me stew in my situation until I humbly acknowledge that maybe trying things His way – even if I don’t understand why – is reasonable.

Is that an abuse of power?  In the midst of infertility, I sure thought so.  I struggled mightily with anger and resentment at God’s apparent lack of interest in my suffering.

Why wasn’t I ovulating?  Why couldn’t I stop miscarrying?  Why was having a baby so hard for us and so easy for everyone else?  Why didn’t our doctor have all the answers?  And if God had them, why wasn’t He giving them to us?  Like a petulant child, I wanted to know, “Why?!  Why?!  Why?!”  I kept silent only out of fear I’d make Him angry.

In hindsight, all that drama looks like a lot of self-inflicted suffering.  Why?  Because if we truly trust God to keep the promise that “all things work together for good,” then there is always an answer to “why?”:  it is part of His plan for our lives.  Sometimes, in the moment, that needs to be enough.

Either we trust Him, or we don’t.

That, of course, is the great struggle of infertility.  Will I trust Him, or will I fight to retain control?

With that as context, I had a big epiphany recently about the injunction “Pray without ceasing.”  I’d read and heard those words plenty of times before, but always wanted to know “why?”  Really, I think I wanted to know, “What’s in it for me?  I get why it makes you feel appreciated, God, but why should I put in all that effort — especially if you don’t seem to respond?”

A few days ago, in a moment of incredible grace, God showed me why.  Now, I know it’s vitally important for infertile couples to obey.  Here are the reasons:

1)      Constant prayer is an acknowledgment of His role in our story.

2)      It means we recognize and respect His authority, and we welcome His powerful presence — even though we cannot control it.

3)      It keeps us talking and listening to the only one with the ability to change anything & everything about our circumstances.

4)      Constant prayer creates healthy boundaries between us and a constant barrage of negative thoughts, worries and doubts.

5)      It enables us to experience moments of gratitude, even when we aren’t grateful for infertility.

6)      It helps us maintain perspective – God’s perspective.

7)      It helps us tune out the world’s messages about instant gratification, and helps us remember that God’s timing is always perfect.

8)      It grounds us in who we are to God, and who He is to us.

Bottom line, “pray without ceasing” is an imperative command because it’s good for us.  It helps us.  It comforts us, renews us, and strengthens us for the journey.

This command is not an abuse of power.  It is a gift.  An invitation.  A chance to draw near to the one who knows our struggles and loves us deeply.  It is a blessing that is available whenever we choose to make ourselves available.

Is that enough reason for you to pray?  It is for me.

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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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Teaching the Church to Help Us

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:

Write to your faith leader(s) — Share your story.  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.  Ask for private and/or public support.

Send your clergy a link to this website, a copy of Pregnant With Hope, or both — If you want to protect your identity, drop a note in the offering plate or mail the book anonymously.  The recipient(s) will discover that these messages have been unanimously endorsed by a seminary president and numerous religious leaders, as well as physicians, therapists & counselors (both church-affiliated and secular), and hundreds of infertile couples.  Urge them to read with an open mind and a heart full of compassion, and then act as they feel led.

Offer to meet with your faith leader – 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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The Infertility Prayer God Always Answers

A few days ago, I wrote about narcissistic fertility – the tendency of some “fertiles” to take pregnancy for granted, and to think of a baby primarily as an extension of themselves.  It’s easy to criticize that kind of self-absorption.  And, it’s tempting to think “I would never….”

The problem is:  we would, and we do.

Don’t misunderstand.  After the struggle and heartache of the infertility journey, I don’t believe any of us would take a baby for granted.  But, I do believe that many – maybe all of us – set off on this journey believing we deserve to be parents.  We want it, and we unconsciously believe we have a right to expect it.

We see the people around us conceiving effortlessly and assume, that’ll be me – pregnant and living  happily-ever-after.  We might never say so, but at some level, we feel entitled to that story.

Here’s the problem:  that entitlement attitude puts Self at the center.  It presumes that what we want is what’s best for us — because we want it.  In hindsight, that seems both arrogant and a little ridiculous.  The truth is, it’s simply human nature.

We tend to think of ourselves as able to make perfect plans and control our destinies… until we discover we can’t and we don’t.  That’s when we start to feel confused, frustrated, and even angry.

Now, we see a clear need for God in our story – but He seems to be withholding our heart’s desire.  Or worse, punishing us for something.  Why can’t we conceive?  And why does He insist on thwarting our plans?

Because our plan is not His plan.  It’s not His best for us.

So, now what?  How do we get past our emotional response to God’s “no,” and onto a path that leads to parenthood?  That’s the question I was thinking about recently as I read Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To.

I wondered: Is there a prayer God always says “yes” to when infertile couples pray?  If so, what is it?  What makes it work?  And does it always?

The good news is that there is one prayer God always answers for infertile couples.  And I’m convinced the purpose of the infertility journey is to prepare us to pray it with complete sincerity of heart, mind and spirit.

No one told me about it when we were struggling to conceive.  At that time, the God I’d grown up believing in no longer seemed generous, loving and faithful.  Instead, He seemed distant, silent, and even secretive.  I had some strong feelings about that, but I was afraid to express them for fear of making a bad situation worse.

So, we struggled on in silence (as if He didn’t know my thoughts).

I felt increasingly invisible and lost to God.  Either rejected by Him or simply ignored, all I could see was that He didn’t seem to be working with us.  In fact, He seemed to be working against us.  Rather than breathing life into our dream, He was thwarting our desire to become parents.  He could have made it happen at any time, but He kept saying, “no.”

Does it seem as if God is thwarting your will, too?  Are you doing everything you can to get to “yes” only to sense He’s repeatedly telling you “no”?  Then pray the prayer He always answers:

Thy will be done.

This 4-word prayer has the power to set life-changing events in motion.  It can overpower whatever emotional distress buffets us, whatever circumstances devastate us, whatever fears paralyze us, whatever thoughts terrorize us.  It is the “open sesame” that makes all things possible because it is the prayer that puts all things in our lives under God’s authority – including us.

It is a prayer of incredible power… because it a prayer of total submission.  It acknowledges that God sees what we cannot see, and knows what we cannot know.  It invites Him to accomplish His perfect plan in and through us, with our complete cooperation.

Can we trust Him enough to give Him complete control?  Can we stop obsessing over our own plans and trust that “no” means His plan is better?  Can we set aside our impatience long enough to give Him whatever time He needs to accomplish His purpose?  And will we?

That’s the hugely important choice we must make.

We can continue to insist on our plans and our timetable, giving God room only to optimize what we will for ourselves.  That path will never lead us to His best.  Or, we can let go of “when?” and “how?” and choose to trust Him completely and unconditionally.  That path leads to nothing less than His very best.

How do I know?  From personal experience, and from my front row seat watching the stories of countless infertile couples unfold.  Every single couple who comes to a place of being able to pray unreservedly, “Thy will be done,” finds joy.  Every.  Single.  One.

May it be so for you, too.

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

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