The Journey Continues

This last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to share with the ladies at my church a bit about my story and what God has done with my story over the last decade.  When I was asked many months ago now if I thought I might be interested in speaking, I made it very clear that I was not qualified. I was still not ‘healed’ and still struggled with a lot of things (like prayer after feeling for so long that it didn’t make any difference). I had not reached my ‘mountain top’ yet.  I wasn’t even entirely sure I had anything good to share since so much of me believed I handled my struggle so poorly. I had fallen so far and I was pretty sure that the best I could do was serve as an example of how NOT to respond to suffering. Plus, I had barely even had time to think about my story in the last few years. They said that was fine and encouraged me to start thinking about what I might share. Clearly they were desperate…or perhaps God was using them to reach out to me, to encourage me to take the time to see what He has been doing ‘behind my back’ over these years. 

Knowing I was in over my head, I began reaching out to some mentors. My question was this:

Does God ordain/cause suffering or is all* suffering a result of a sinful/fallen world? Does He, in fact, CAUSE it (as part of His divine plan) in order to teach us lessons, refine our character, etc….or is all* suffering the result of this sinful world and He, in His great mercy/grace, steps into redeem it, to use it for His glory (to show others His glory, show us His loving kindness, and make this world more bearable for us until we can be with Him)?

* all suffering including both suffering that is the result of sinful choices and suffering that is just simply inevitable as a result of a fallen world 

I had struggled for so long wondering why God brought me down the path He did and now I had the opportunity to really analyze what happened in my life (what caused my downward spiral), and I started with the ‘why’ of my story because I wanted to be sure I was launching off a proper foundation. I wanted to know if God caused it in order to teach me something or if sin was the cause of suffering (not specifically my sin, but being in a sinful fallen world). 

It seemed like a simple enough question to confirm my worldview before building upon it to find out what went wrong. And then my first response was “Big assignment…wow…I’ll give it some thought and prayer and respond soon….you must understand I’m just a pilgrim like you journeying through a lot of grey…[I] will likely give this to you in a few installments….books have been written about your questions.”

It’s amazing how much this response encouraged me – that this wasn’t an easy topic, that it wasn’t solved with Christian cliches…and that my asking it was valid and worth pursing. And pursue I did. I’ve spent the last 4 months or so reading tons of books, listing to podcasts, and seeking wise counsel. I’ve shed many tears and my heart is bursting with all God has revealed to me. So, over the next weeks and probably months I’ll be sharing pieces of what I’ve learned, sharing about books I’ve read, and praying that I can encourage others with the truths I’ve found in scripture. And if nothing else, organizing all the things that God has been teaching me. 

My story is still incomplete, but I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning that it’s not about the ‘mountain top’, but about the journey. And if God is with me in my journey, if He is the ‘who’ in my story, then what He is teaching me along the way is important, worth pursuing, and worth sharing. No ‘mountain top’ required. 

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Who is God…to me?

Yesterday we had a guest speaker who put into words so much of what I have gone through over the last decade. Here is the video:

 

As I sat listening to the ways people perceive God I thought what a great job he was doing outlining the passage, pulling so much out of so few lines of text and having it be so accurate (not embellishing, stretching it to fit), etc.  I wondered what he was going to say about the “Aaron Frick” perception and when he got to it I was in awe.  God is a…Manipulator.  You mean I’m not the only one? Oh how I had struggled with that for so long.  I felt with all of my being that God was truly the ‘great manipulator’ and here He was toying with me for whatever reason (none were good enough to justify my circumstances) and I was just supposed to accept it because after all, He’s God and it’s supposed to be for my ‘good’, right? Even that thought made me sick at one point in my life.  I was so angry with God.  I didn’t care His reasons. I didn’t care if the losses of my two children were for His Glory.  Oh the things I could have said (and certainly thought, even if briefly) surely would have sent me straight to Hell if not for the mercy of God.  I basically thought He could take His glory and shove it, I wanted my children back (pausing while looking around for lighting).  I’m looking back at my attitude and am in awe that God didn’t strike me dead so that He could have a ‘face to face’ conversation with His stubborn wayward child.  Back to the sermon, though.  Next Aaron goes into how the blind man perceived God and how if we genuinely know that God saved us from the pit of Hell; if we genuinely have given our lives to Him and trusted Him as our Lord and Savior, then who are we to question His motives regarding ANYTHING He does in our lives.  God saved me from the Hell but He won’t give me children so I’m angry and no longer trust Him.  God saved me from eternal suffering in Hell, but He gave and took away two children so I’m going to choose to hate Him for right now, turn away and ignore every other positive thing He’s done in my life.  Honestly, it seems so simple looking back. I can see it now, but I did not see it then.

God has, in numerous and varying ways over the last 5 years, restored me to Him, changed my perspective, shown me that He is always and forever GOOD despite my terrible rotten attitude.  Yesterday was another look into how I fell so far away (believing God to be a manipulator instead of the loving Lord of my life) and put into words the things that I have been learning as God has been restoring me to Himself.  It’s hard for me to put all of those things into words (but I try through things like this blog) and it is nice when someone else so clearly spells something out for me, to provide yet another ‘ah ha’ moment as I untangle what happened to cause that little girl so full of faith to have fallen so far the first time she was asked to truly put her faith in what she couldn’t see/control.

And like only God can, He gave Aaron (or our worship Pastor Jared) the perfect song to end with…

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Out of the Box

When I got married at 19 years old I had a lot of people tell me I was too young to make such a serious commitment.  I would change too much, we would grow too far apart over the years, etc.  No, the proper age for marriage was somewhere closer to 22-25.  And so I responded…

“I know 19 is young, but when you find the right one, why wait on starting your life together?  I knew I was ready when I was enjoying the things I was doing and all I could think of was ‘I wish Tim were here with me for this because I want to share this memory with him when we’re old’.  Plus, I think it’s far easier to put two developing people together than it is to put two completely independent people together.  We are learning to do life together, to grow together, to be together rather than trying to adjust set-in-stone habits of being independent of each other.  We’re not ignorant of the odds and are actively taking precautions against the common pitfalls of young marriages.”

After I had been married a few years I had people asking me constantly (and yes, even before this) when we were going to have kids.  Having quickly forgotten the young age at which I married, it is expected that children follow somewhere between 3-5 years after marriage.  And so I responded…

“We’re so young and are just really enjoying our time together.  So many young marriages struggle and we are building a really solid foundation before adding in kids.”

Later I responded…

  • “Whenever God gives them to us.”
  • “That’s a great question.  I would love to know the answer, too.”
  • “We’re working on it…got some extra cash to help us out?” 

When I got pregnant with Alayna, our second, I had a lot of comments about how we’ve certainly ‘been busy’.  Wide eyes at the short gap between my children’s ages were common.  After all, children should be spaced closer to 2.5-3 years apart and Jessica and Alayna are only 21 months apart.  And so I responded…

“Yes!  Between the doctor appointments, drugs, more doctor appointments and more drugs, we’re just exhausted!”

and

“Our first child came just after our 10 year anniversary, after years of infertility treatments and two miscarriages.  We had no idea how long our second would take, so we never prevented and then started fertility treatments as soon as our doctor would let us.  It still took two months of treatments even on the right plan.”

Oh, and then I love the people who ask if we’re having multiples knowing that we’ve had fertility treatments.

“Nope, just one.”

Are you sure?? (eyes wide at my growing belly) You never know!

“No, we’re sure, we’ve already had 3 ultrasounds…they don’t miss those sorts of things anymore.”

Now that I’m pregnant with our third I get even more comments.  First, I should know that the proper number of children is unequivocally 2.  Families are meant to come as packages of 4 total…plus a dog.  I get a lot of “you do know how that happens, right?” questions…somehow implying that I couldn’t possibly have done this intentionally.  I often wonder what they would say if I responded with “No, could you please explain it to me?  I have got to stop this epidemic soon or I’ll be the next TLC reality show.”  Second, not only am I breaking the norm of having 3 instead of 2 children, it is just unfathomable that they are so close together (Baby #3 and Alayna will be 17 months apart and Jessica is another 21 months older than Alayna).  Three within about 3 years is not really what sane people do apparently…no matter the circumstances.  And so I respond…

“Well, our first came just after our 10 year anniversary after many years of trying, countless fertility treatments and thousands of dollars.  The second one took us two months of fertility treatments after almost a year of not preventing.  Our third we didn’t think was possible, he/she is our surprise free baby.  So, yes, we have 3 in almost 3 years, but we’ll have been married for 13, so I figure it evens out.”

The thing about me is that while I know plenty of others who get genuinely angry at such inquiries and statements, it doesn’t really bother me.  I think people are just generally curious and they want some sort of ‘inside scoop’ on the story of such oddities.  That’s why I tend to give them the whole story rather than blow them off.  What bothers me, though, is this notion lie that 1) everyone will and should fit into this little box of expectations, and 2) that so many people are apparently blissfully unaware that sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way even you intend, let alone the way the rest of society intends.   THIS is the problem.  This is the reason why when you mention infertility issues, people share stories of the magic solution that worked for their best friend’s cousin’s sister’s aunt.  People think that life really is as simple as deciding what you want and making it happen.  Did I intend to get married at 19?  Ok, fine, you got me on this one…I always wanted to be married young and God did bring me my spouse at a young age.  Happy days. I love my husband and all the memories we’ve collected over the years.  Did I intend to wait until I was 29 to have my first child?  Oh my gracious, unequivocally NO.  I fully intended to be a young mom…that was the perks of being married young was to get to enjoy my children while I was still really young.  That did not happen.  Did I intend to have my first two children so close together?  Yes, absolutely yes.  Did I think it would happen?  No, I think we both assumed it would take longer.  Did I expect to have a 3rd child so close?  No…not even in my wildest dreams did I think God would bless us with our surprise free baby so soon.  I thought maybe a number of years down the road we’d be shocked to find ourselves pregnant, but never this soon.  That said, I have ALWAYS wanted my kids all very close together…I have never wanted a 3-5 year gap between my children.  I learned a long time ago that we don’t get to always pick and choose these things, but if it were up to me, I would do it the exact same way…I would have just done it sooner.  

And then there’s this…and this is the one I really struggle with.  As soon as I mention fertility treatments for our first two and that this one is our surprise baby, I almost certainly get this response: “I hear that so often, as soon as you stop trying you wind up pregnant.”  Ugh.  If there is any comment in all my years that borders on causing me anger instead of annoyance it is this one.  First, as thrilled as I am with our surprise baby, I feel terrible to appear to perpetuate this lie.  Someone who is medically infertile (a year of no prevention without a pregnancy) and certainly someone who is a long-time infertile who went through thousands of dollars of treatments is NOT just struggling getting pregnant because she hasn’t relaxed and stopped trying.  Doing nothing is not a sure fire way for an infertile to get pregnant and I feel slightly terrible that I am now another person who people can point to where this appears to be the case.  And so I respond…

“Well, we had quite a few years of us relaxing and not trying when we first got married and that didn’t result in pregnancy.  After our first child we had a year of not preventing (and not really trying) and I didn’t get pregnant.  In 12.5 years of marriage we have never seen a positive pregnancy test outside of fertility treatments despite the fact that we’ve taken lots of vacations (including a cruise), gone through our seasons of staying really fit and eating healthy, and have tried and not tried to get pregnant to varying degrees throughout that entire time.  I would call this pregnancy nothing short of a God-given miracle.  Rather than believe it ‘just happened’, I believe that God divinely intervened on our behalf knowing that we had no intention of pursuing the other methods He used to bring us our first two children.  In fact, I think God was very purposeful in leading us to purse fertility treatments with our first two and the reason we stopped after that was because we felt He had different plans going forward…we no longer felt led to pursue fertility treatments.  We weren’t sure if that was because our family was complete or if He would build it further through other methods (adoption, conception, etc).  He chose to build it further through allowing us to naturally conceive.  He doesn’t always do that.  He didn’t do that after our first and we know plenty of people whose families were not built further after they stopped trying in spite of their desire to have more children.  Sometimes it works out that way, but other times it doesn’t.  We’re just thrilled, though, that He did that for us.”

Of course the reason this bothers me, I touched on already.  Instead of being the one outside of the box (outside of society’s expectation), I suddenly find myself smack dab in the middle of the perception that is simply not reality.  Not everyone who gets married young will get divorced, not everyone wants or will be able to have kids when expected, not everyone wants or is able to space their kids out ‘just so’, not everybody who has fertility treatments will have multiples, and not everyone who stops fertility treatments will get pregnant.  I am not divorced, I had kids 10 years into our marriage at 29 years old, I am having (Lord willing) 3 kids in just over 3 years, I do not have multiples…but yes, I did get pregnant after deciding to stop fertility treatments.  One thing, one thing where I happen to fall into the widely spread incorrect perception and suddenly I’m back in the box, thus cementing the false thoughts of many around me or who know my story.  I am not complaining, I would rather be here and in this position than anything else in the world, but let’s get smart, people, and stop spreading these incorrect ideas about the ‘perfect’ life.  Guess what?  Lots of people get married (and remain happily so) at very young ages…and lots of people get married after they are gasp over 30.  Lots of people have kids right away after getting married and lots of people have kids many years into their marriage (by choice or otherwise).  Lots of people bunch their kids together and lots of people have years and years between their kids.  Lots of people have fertility treatments and only ever have single children…and lots of people with multiples never took a fertility drug in their life.  Lots of people stop fertility treatments and lots of those people never have any children after that point.  Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we plan and sometimes we plan life the way others would not.  That is the beauty of life…the beauty of God in how He can craft plans so perfectly beyond expectations and our own plans and the end result is far better than we could have ever imagined. 

So, if you are reading this, please make a conscious effort to stop putting these expectations and perceptions of the ‘normal life plan’ on people.  We have a hard enough time breaking through our own plans and expectations than to have others constantly heap them on us as well.  Just let God do what He’s going to do, let us grieve the loss of our own plans when necessary, and celebrate with us when new milestones happen no matter what way shape or form they come in.

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Confessions of a Binge Devotionalist

I would like to tell you a story, a story of a young lady who was raised in the church. Let’s call her…Annie. Annie loves God. Annie has always loved God. From a young age, Annie could see quite clearly the lifestyle of those who loved and followed God and the lifestyle of those who did not – and yearned to have the joy and peace (and less complicated life) of those who loved God. Annie accepted Christ into her life at a young age and while she was quite the handful for her parents, held fast to the lifestyle suited for Christians such as herself. While she never felt she missed out on anything by avoiding the do not’s, she did, however, struggle constantly keeping up with the do’s…all the things she needed to do in order to keep God happy with her. After all, God smiles at us when we do good things and frowns in disappointment when we do bad things, right? That’s what her childhood Sunday School papers said. And so the yo-yo of manipulating God’s feelings toward us with our actions was born. The problem with this scenario is that the more good Annie did, the worse she felt when she failed in an area. God expected so much more out of this little child raised in such a wonderful Christian family. Everyone saw it – many spoke of her wisdom beyond her years. Surely God was going to use this girl to do great things one day. So, she pressed on.

One of Annie’s favorite things growing up was youth retreats and camps. These were times to get re-energized – to build up enough resolve to keep up with all the do’s throughout the year. Her biggest struggle was always devotions. Try as she may, she just could not seem to find the right groove to set aside that half hour (or, better yet, an hour) of her day devoted just to God. How hard can it be? We have 24 hours given to us, surely devoting just one of those hours to God should be easy considering all He has done for us, right?. Annie tried mornings – that was a disaster. She tried night time before bed, but would fall asleep. Annie tried lunch time, but things always came up. Right after school? How about after dinner…or maybe right before dinner? Before her homework…nope, has to be after homework. Surely there must be a time that works. She just wasn’t committed enough. After time Annie’s resolve weakened and devotions were left to the wayside. Maybe next retreat she would build up enough strength to keep her commitment.

Retreat after retreat, camp after camp, year after year this happened until one day she just gave up. No, Annie did not give up on the Christian life, she gave up on constantly re-committing to ‘do better’ and keep her commitments to spend more time with God. It just wasn’t worth it. She was so good at all the other things and constantly disappointing God with her broken promises was more than she could bear. If she just stopped promising it would be better for the both of them. Problem solved.

Yes, that was me – my Christian walk in a nutshell. How had it come to that? What brought me to that place where I was so comfortable speaking about God and doing the things that He would have me do, but I had ceased to be able to talk with God or spend time with Him? During this time I ran across a book. I had long since given up Christian reading, but the title caught me. Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers. Could I ever relate. Wondering if it was even possible to salvage this shell of a relationship with God, I picked it up. Page after page described my life. Perhaps the most shockingly familiar remarks were these: “I could talk easily with others about Jesus, but I knew nothing of how to sit still long enough for Jesus to talk with me. I was comfortable around others who knew God, but the thought of being along with God was enough to keep me occupied with the demands of ministry. The idea of sitting alone in a room with God made me nervous.” The words struck to the core of my soul – somebody understood. I wasn’t alone. There were more frauds out there, terrified of the God they love so much because they ‘knew’ He was so disappointed in them and their fake exteriors and lack of relationship. There is so much more in this book, but I was not ready to hear much of it. For me, it was the groundwork, the mere start of what God would teach me over the coming years.

The next book I read was Grace Walk – a book that transformed my view of Christianity more than any other in my adult life. In it I learned anew that God’s thoughts and feelings toward me were not contingent on my actions. I had always known that God loved me and that love never faltered, but I was erroneously convinced that ‘love’ was separate from His ‘feelings’. Surely God loved me, but He certainly didn’t ‘like’ me after all my broken promises. I was His child, nothing could change that, but I doubted His confidence in that choice. Had He known how uncommitted I would be to my promises, He likely would have chosen someone else, somebody stronger…but at least I was a pretty good workhorse for His cause. Oh how sweet to learn how wrong I was. God loved me. He REALLY loved me. Not only was His love for me steadfast, His feelings toward me were unchanging. Against all that made sense to me as a Christian at that point, I learned that I was not a constant disappointment to God. My actions were not constantly swaying His thoughts about me. To think otherwise would assume that God was NOT all-knowing. God knows me for who I am now, who I am tomorrow, and who I will become years from now. He is not swayed day in day out by each action because He sees the whole picture – a picture that He is painting of my life. What a revelation and a relief. For the first time I felt secure in God’s unfailing love.

Shortly after realizing these newfound joys in my walk with God, but before fully recovering from this journey, we began our infertility struggles and subsequent miscarriages. As I have shared many times, I fell hard during this time. I was angry and bitter toward God for not intervening on my behalf and on behalf of our innocent children. Had I not learned of God’s unfailing love, I likely would have had a very different reaction. While I would say I would have given up entirely, that is not true. I am too stubborn for that. Had I felt like I did not have permission to fall and be angry without changing God’s feelings for me, I likely would have painted on a plastic face and buried my grief in the depths of my soul – never dealing with my hurt, never processing my pain…allowing myself to die a slow death of unresolved issues. Instead, I allowed myself to walk through my valley. I constantly shared how I didn’t want to go over, under or around my valley, but I had to walk through it – slowly and painfully. My desire to allow God to use this time in my life for something, anything good was so strong that I wanted to fully experience the depths of my misery so that I could come out of the other side confident that I had fought the fight and won and not repressed anything that I would need to deal with later in life. I wanted to go through it and be done with it no matter how long it took…and it took a long time.

I have also shared a number of times how I feel that my valley has reached a new plateau. I have reconciled with God, embracing His plan for my life, but there are still remnants of my struggles. Perhaps the greatest struggle is that age-old quiet time with God. It was my hardest struggle in my youth and college years, the reason I gave up committing anything to God, and the source of so much of my frustration in my Christian walk. It is what almost destroyed me had God not gently pulled me back and shown me how He really feels about me. Now that I am ready to continue to move forward, though, I am terrified to begin pursuing anything that even resembles a commitment to a quiet time. I am terrified of falling back into that pattern of commitment and broken promises. At the same time, I am hungry and long for more. I am in tears over my desire to be closer with God – to have that sweet relationship with Him where I just cannot seem to get enough of His presence, yet I am stuck and do not know how to get unstuck.

As is so often the case with God, He will always (eventually) lead us to the next step. It took me a LONG time to listen to this one. I started a Bible Study at my house and guess what – the discussion has been on spending time in the Word. Ok, God, I get it…but don’t you remember what happened last time I committed to a quiet time? Yeah, we don’t want to go back there. Another solution please. Suddenly I see that there is a ladies Bible Study at church coming up and the topic is…wait for it….devotions! Nope, not going to that…still looking for another solution. I don’t care how much I believe in going to church functions because you’re part of the group, not because you are interested in what’s happening…I’m definitely not doing that. Then someone came up to me and asked if I was going…crap. Yes, I’m going. Okay, so maybe there’s something to this whole getting back into spending time with God thing. Maybe, just maybe, I can’t get unstuck without this on some level. Fine. I get it. Sunday morning Pastor Jared shared about doing and not just hearing. I go to Home Fellowship group and ‘somehow’ it all gets brought up again. Subtle, God, real subtle. Maybe I’ll start with listening to a podcast or something of my favorite pastor on my way to work Monday. That wasn’t so bad, in fact, I’m kind of enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll try the same thing tomorrow.

And there it was. My ah ha moment. Tuesday morning I sat and listened to an analogy that I had heard countless times. When we feed a desire, it grows. When we starve a desire, it loses all strength to have any control over our lives. When I begin to exercise, I desire to exercise more. When I eat healthy foods, I desire to continue to eat healthy foods. When I feed my desire for intimacy with God, that desire for intimacy grows. See, my problem is that all my life I have been a binge devotionalist. I waited for that next big push to renew my resolve to spend time with God, I started strong and fizzled out, eventually giving up entirely. The energy that I received from whatever pushed me was not strong enough to battle with my busyness or to build my hunger in such a way as to sustain me. My hunger was not what was driving me to spend time with God. My hunger was there, but it was my stubborn resolve that I fed as the fuel to keep my commitment. Each time I would obviously fail and think that maybe next time I’d be full enough to last a bit longer. Next time I would be strong enough, committed enough, stubborn enough to make it happen. This is an unhealthy pattern. Now that I have a genuine hunger again, though, I’m so terrified to feed that hunger that I’m starving it to the point that it isn’t growing enough to move me to any action – it is not strong enough to cause me to go to my Bible rather than to TV, Facebook or Pinterest. How do I feed that hunger without binging – which to date is the only way I’ve ever been moved to action? I’m so used to binging that I don’t even know what a healthy appetite is, let alone what happens when I chose another method other than binging. Said another way, I’m so afraid of binging that I don’t want to ‘eat’ anything to satisfy my hunger because I’m so afraid of falling to that old habit which inevitably leads to failure and perpetual starvation. I must learn to feed my hunger in such a way that it causes my hunger to grow instead of artificially resolving to be where I ‘should’ be. I do not need to commit to do better, I need to feed my hunger enough so that it grows in a healthy and genuine manner.

So, that’s where I am…learning to feed my hunger and cause it to grow, not committing to standard of devotions that a Christian ‘should’ be doing. Even in the last few days as I have fed myself even small amounts of God’s word, I have seen that desire grow. Instead of fueling my desire with myself, I am trying to fuel it with God…allowing Him to spur me to action in His time rather than forcing myself to lunge into a feast that by all appearances is what I ‘should be doing’. I am not committing to a quiet time, I am feeding a hunger and watching how it grows from there. This is new and exciting territory.

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Left Behind

I was recently talking with my Aunt Sharon about her thoughts on having never gotten married (an odd thing considering her love of Nascar and baseball, but I digress).  She said that one of the hardest parts was that period of time that all her friends started getting married and how many friends she lost during that time.  Couples naturally gravitate to other ‘couple’ friends and single friends tend to be left to the wayside.  It’s not intentional or malicious, we just naturally want to spend time with others who are in the same position in life as we are at that time.  Likewise, a childless couple is often left behind as their friends begin having children.  The ‘plan’ was that the group of friends who all happen to be about the same age and who all happen to have gotten married about the same time, would naturally start having children about the same time.  Their kids will grow up together and the friendship would flourish as they learn together how to navigate this new phase in their life called parenthood.

It’s not about jealousy…

When something breaks us away from the ‘normal’ plan in life, whether it’s singleness, childlessness, the loss of a spouse though death or divorce, etc, we suddenly find ourselves floundering without a support group.  The support group we had in place is on their set ‘normal’ course and we are the odd ducks out.  It’s not just about jealousy that others have what we want so badly, but each month (year) we fall further and further behind as that group starts new phases in their life that we will never catch up with.  Newborn & toddler years, pre-school & elementary, junior high & high school, college & empty nest, grand children…life never slows down.  For those of us left in limbo, though, it feels as if life has stopped.  Our phases are halted as we are stuck in a phase that was only supposed to be temporary and preparing us for the next.  We feel prepared for the next, well equipped for what lies ahead (even more equipped than others in that phase because we have spent so much time in the preparation phase previous), yet we remain stuck for what can feel like an eternity…completely unable to remedy the situation.  No amount of will or might or power or money is a sure fire way to lunge ourselves forward, to catch up with the group we have fallen so far behind.  We are forced to find new groups, often only to watch the same thing happen all over again.

God’s will and other hurtful phrases…

During our childless years, I was often puzzled at the frustration and anger I felt as people would talk about God’s will or perfect timing.  I grew up in the church and I knew this to be true, but rather than being encouraging, I burned with anger each time someone dared mention God and His role in my life plan.  God became the reason, the cause, for entrapment in this phase.  How could I possibly have screwed up so badly that He has found the need to divinely sterilize me (a phrase shamelessly stolen from the article I shared a few days ago)?  Yes, friends, while there is truth at the core of “God’s will and perfect timing”, it often just fuels the fire and makes God the source of frustration rather than the source of comfort.  Another few phrases in this category are “you can always try again next month” or after a miscarriage “you can always have another one.”  One must understand the heart of the problem with infertility to realize how unhelpful phrases like this are.  It is the perpetual waiting (and being left behind) that has us so frustrated.  Flippantly saying how easy waiting should be is like a knife to a heart that is already wounded.

The heart of the problem and how we dealt with it…

If the heart of the problem is feeling stuck in a phase that was only supposed to be temporary, perhaps it follows that some hope can lie in creating a new phase (or sub-phase).  Everyone handles their infertility struggles differently, but this is one of the few things that helped me.  We had to change things up.  We had done the newly married camping thing and were ready for the camping with kids phase.  We had done the eating out way too frequently thing and were ready for the dinners at home around the table with screaming children.  We had done the skiing thing and were ready to teach little feet the art of not crossing their skis as they slid down the hill.  We were in a rut having fully exploited all our current skills and being ready to pass them on to the next generation.  We were forced to gain new skills, new interests, new goals.  I learned how to golf. We lost weight.  We paid off debt (as in all our debt but the house).  We had to do these things or we would have gone crazy (argument aside that we had already gone crazy in this phase).  At some point we had to say “you know, it would be nice to do/learn/finish ‘this’ before we have kids”.  Those things didn’t delay us from continually pursuing parenthood, but they did give us something fresh to focus on during our long wait in the ‘married without kids’ phase.  My encouragement to those ‘stuck’ in a phase is to pursue something new.  Perhaps it is more education or a career change, a new hobby complete with professional lessons, or a revised financial plan.  Whatever it is, do something.  Doing the same thing every month is enough to drive anyone to madness.  Do something NEW! 

Does the eventual movement into the next phase heal all hurts?

Time does heal many hurts and moving on to the next phase also heals many of those hurts, but it is not without losses along the way.  Specifically, friendships…or friendships that look the way we always planned.  The reality is that when stuck in a phase ‘too long’, life does pass us by.  This is reality, not imagination.  Most of the friends I have had since childhood have children much older than mine.  They are out of baby phase and into upper elementary or even junior high.  Only the best of best friends have remained close.  I cherish those friendships.  Still, just as our old friends gravitated to those who were moving through phases at the same pace as themselves, we naturally gravitate to those who are in our current phase.  Oftentimes these are younger people than ourselves, but they are dealing with the same things.  The wisdom of our experienced friends is priceless, but it is also nice to know people equally clueless about their current life stage.  Eventually a new rhythm is found and life continues on.  It is different than we expected.  We have different peers than we ever imagined.  We meet wonderful friends along the way who maybe even have dealt with what we have endured.  We thoroughly enjoy meeting people our age who happen to have a surprise child or two in their later parenting years – doesn’t make us feel so old having young ones of our own..  Our children may never be close with my long-time best friend’s child, but surprisingly they happen to be the same age as my 5-years younger sister’s son…and even my older sister has a child in between the age of my children.  My parents have 7 grandchildren and mine are #3,5 & 7.  Go figure – not bad for getting such a late start.  Yes, life does all work out.  We grieve the loss of the plans that we had, but we move forward with God’s guidance and He leads us to places beyond our wildest imagination.  Great places we never would have planned for ourselves.  God is good.

So, any parents with toddlers and babies want to get together?  We’d love to meet you!🙂

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Infertility Awareness Week

Happy’ Infertility Awareness Week

First, if you don’t know me in real life and only follow this blog and not my other blog (http://prayingformiracles.wordpress.com), you are likely not aware that we found out in February that we were unexpectedly expecting another child.  We have had two babies born in heaven and two born on earth (August 2010 and May 2012)…all of whom are the result of fertility treatments (IUI).  In our 12.5 years of marriage we had never seen a positive pregnancy test NOT related to fertility treatments.  Then this last February, I got that familiar ‘feeling’.  I was late (like a day) and despite knowing that pregnancy tests always come out negative, I took one to keep from going crazy wondering if it was possible (you’d think that hopeful part of me would have died a long time ago after so many negative tests).  Well, you guessed it, it said ‘Pregnant’.  Surprise.  A good surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.  We never even thought it was possible…12 years of negative tests told us that it wasn’t possible without intervention.  Yet, here we are…13 (almost 14) weeks pregnant. 

While I cannot currently claim the ‘infertile’ status, I don’t believe anyone really ‘gets over’ being infertile.  Once your eyes are opened to this disease, it is nearly impossible to shut them.  Our church does baby dedication on Mother’s Day and I think “well, at least you’re getting all the really bad Sunday’s out of the way at one time.”  I see a childless couple and I cannot help but wonder if they are trying, how long they’ve been trying and if they’ve been introduced to my favorite fertility specialist yet.  Someone tells me “see, you just had to stop trying” and I want to punch them, but instead I smile and say “that or God miraculously intervened on our behalf because we knew we wouldn’t be pursuing fertility treatments anymore.”  Infertility still permeates me to the core of who I am…it has changed me. 

So, I celebrated the kickoff of infertility awareness week by updating my resource pages (long overdue) to share with people some facts and resources for infertility.  I went back to some of my old internet stomping grounds, held back some tears, and diligently copied and pasted enough to make a decent page. 

What can you do?

PLEASE, whether you know you know someone dealing with infertility or not (chances are you do even if you don’t know it), please take some time to educate yourself on infertility.  There is nothing more frustrating than having conversations with people who are not educated about infertility.  Don’t be one of those people.  Here is a great article from Resolve on Infertility Etiquette.  

Here is another article that I got from Resolve before, but cannot seem to find it now:

How Can I Help?

The Dos And The Don’ts Of Support

By Diane Clapp, BSN, RN and Merle Bombardieri, LICSW

Coping with Infertility can be extremely difficult for the family and friends of the couple going through infertility. As with any crisis it is difficult to know what to say. Because infertility is such a sensitive topic it is important to understand what you can and cannot say.

Let’s start with what doesn’t help, because the more you continue to say the wrong thing inadvertently, the deeper the rift will be between you and the couple. There is a universal list of No-No’s that most infertile couples agree on. The following do’s and don’ts should help you support the individual or couple who is struggling with infertility.

Don’t Try to minimize the problem by saying, “Don’t worry. At least you have each other and don’t have cancer.”

Do Listen to what the couple has to say about their experience and express empathy for their difficulties.

Don’t Tell a couple who has had a miscarriage that it wasn’t meant to be or that you know that they will be pregnant again soon and it will work the next time.

Do Realize that the couple has just lost a specific potential child who will never come again, no matter how wonderful the next pregnancy may be. Acknowledge how sad they must feel. Use the words “loss and sorrow”; don’t be afraid to use the words that probably describe how the couple must feel.

Don’t Give medical advice or doctor referrals without being asked or hearing the couple say they are looking for new information or referrals.

Do Tell the couple know that you’ll be happy to listen to any details they want to share with you and that you would like to offer support during any procedures by a phone call or by offering to go with them to a medical appointment.

Don’t Assume that new medical breakthroughs you read about in the paper will solve the couple’s problems. The breakthrough announced by the news media may be irrelevant and if it is relevant, chances are the couple has seen the article and their medical team is knowledgeable about it.

Do Ask the couple if there are any books or articles that you could read to understand what they are going through medically.

Don’t Expect the couple to act happy about attending baby showers, christenings and other family events that feature pregnant women and new babies.

Do Give them plenty of opportunity to decide whether to attend an event or whether to come late or leave early. They will not feel the need to avoid babies forever, but less contact right now may be a necessary part of their healing process.

Don’t Start a discussion about infertility without paying attention to timing and to the couple’s openness.

Do Choose a time when the couple’s privacy is assured and ask the couple if they would like to talk. Couples experiencing infertility often feel out of control. Your letting them choose whether and when to talk about it gives them back some control.

Don’t Assume that it is fine if you talk to your son’s wife or your daughter’s husband about their situation.

Do Respect the privacy needs of each individual and do not assume that they both want to talk about it with you.

Don’t Offer unsolicited stories about others who have been successful at treatment or adoption.

DO Tell them if they are ever interested you could put them in touch with a couple willing to talk about their infertility experience or adoption process. Let them decide whether they want to pursue that information. As a parent, family member, or friend, you want to make it better for the couple, to take away the pain. But probably the greatest gift you can give your loved one or friend is to be a listener, a sounding board. Instead of erasing the pain, you can diminish it by your caring. One of the hardest questions to ask someone is, “How can I help you?” It is such a difficult question because you should be prepared for their answer and not the answer that you think they will say or should say. To ask that question and to trust the response that you hear is a powerful step in your efforts to help the couple struggling with this kind of crisis.

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Character of the Hero

Some time ago I was listening to a radio broadcast and the speaker was talking about trials in our Christian walk.  She called out this quote from Abigail Adams (mom) to John Quincy Adams.  It was in a letter she had written encouraging him to go on a trip overseas with his father – a trip that he apparently wasn’t thrilled to go on.  She told him this…

These are times in which a Genious would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orater, if he had not been roused, kindled and enflamed by the Tyranny of Catiline, Millo, Verres and Mark Anthony. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherways lay dormant, wake into life, and form the character of the hero and the Statesman.

Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 19 January 1780
Adams Family Corresondence, 3:268

Though few of us would choose life’s most difficult heart aches, the truth remains that these are, unfortunately, the things that most develop our character and call out in us a strength that we never imagined possible. Truthefully, they not only shape who we are, but bring up in us characteristics that would otherwise never be able to grow and develop without such heart ache. I’m not saying I like it nor approve of it, but it is what it is…and apparently that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

So, what does this have to do with infertility and faith?

The very last thing you will hear me say is “Stop wallowing and learn to rejoice!  At least this will teach you some wonderful life lessons and cause you to grow in your spiritual walk.”  I know the Bible says it and I’m not saying it’s wrong.  I’m just saying that sometimes the call to rejoice can drive a person crazy.  I was broken, shattered beyond recognition, and a very wise friend of mine once said “you can’t fix an emotional issue with an intellectual answer.”  Infertility is an extremely emotional issue.  I could not will myself to rejoice.  I didn’t even want to will myself to rejoice.  I was so afraid of missing my refining process by glossing over (ignoring, burying, hiding) my true raw feelings that I forced myself to continue to feel them rather than picking myself up and saying “I’m going to trust God that He’s doing great things in me.”  It was NOT forever that I felt this way, but it was close to a full year before healing began to occur in my life.

So why am I sharing this whole thing anyway then?

I guess I’m sharing it because I’ve seen the truth in it…I’m far enough out of my valley that I CAN say it.  One day hope WILL be restored.  The parts of your personality that you feel may be lost forever (those happy-go-lucky, crazy fun, constantly laughing and joyous parts) will return.  Yes, this trial will change you.  You will never be the same again…but as with any refining process, if you let it, it will only be the unhealthy parts of you that will disappear forever and they will be replaced with things so much better than you could have imagined.  Abigail Adams was absolutely right that it is life’s difficulties that awake in us deeper wisdom, virtue, and (dare I say) heroic faith.

 

And last, for the truly cynical (don’t worry, I’m on your team – that was me) –  next time someone tells you to rejoice in your trial, find out where they are coming from.  It’s pretty easy to determine the plastic people from the ones made of thicker stuff.  If they have a genuine deep faith that really gets under your skin because you just can’t muster up that kind of joy, chances are they have already gone through their valley…let them tell you about it.  You might be surprised.

 

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