Dreams beyond expectation

As much as it lives up to its celebrated reputation as The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland also successfully fulfills its potential as Destination Meltdown.

This makes sense. Combine parents, who are eager to wring every last drop of magic out of an overhyped theme park for which they paid a fortunate so their family could make memories, dammit – with young children, who are volatile by nature and notorious for their oppositional behavior – with surly teens who kinda enjoy the rides but must appear unimpressed to stay true to their kind – with grown adults who are Peter Pan-ing it through life and don’t even really like kids but will put up with being around them for a day to satisfy their own childhood fixations – along with long lines, godforsaken heat, and irritability brought on by hanger pains – and whaddya expect? A Shutterfly book full of perfectly composed pics showing you and your family members riding unicorns blowing sunshine out of their Mickey ears?

Setting realistic expectations about major life events can be a good thing. Knowing this, I factored in a healthy dose of skepticism when planning our family’s trip to Disneyland this past June. It was our boys’ first visit there, and while we figured they’d enjoy it, we also recognized how overstimulating and thus tantrum-inspiring the Disney experience can be for little bodies.

This assumption played out along the streets of Tomorrowland and beyond. During our journey through the parks, at any given time of day, children could be spotted crying, whining, whimpering, shrieking, stomping, flailing, pouting, protesting, staging a stroller sit-in, pulling a last-minute bailout on a ride, wailing in despair over melted Frozen popsicles, freaking out because they didn’t get to meet Goofy or freaking out because they DID get to meet Goofy and he scared the crumbling goldfish out of them.

What astonished me and my husband about all this was that, for the most part, these were not OUR kids exhibiting the highly annoying yet very normal behavior one would expect from children who are pushed to the brink of exhaustion. Sure, we heard our fair share of grumbling, and we all got on one another’s nerves, as is custom on family vacations. But by and large, our boys handled the stress, excitement, and physical demands of touring the Disney parks – not to mention a couple of mishaps (flat tire, pink eye, ride-induced head injury, vomiting attack on the car ride home) – with greater patience and poise than we anticipated. This pleasant surprise made for an enjoyable, far-from-relaxing-but-nonetheless-entertaining family trip that was well worth it, despite the hellish triple-digit temps.

My point in sharing about our exceeded vacation expectations isn’t to brag about my kids being perfect (hardly) or to incite vacay envy (that’s what Queen Bey’s Instagram feed is for). For some reason, this is the recent life event God brought to mind as I was studying a passage in Philippians, which seems unrelated to the specific subject of preparing for a trip to Disneyland, but speaks to the general topic of how we can hope fiercely and pray boldly in the face of uncertainty.

Paul, the author of Philippians, begins winding down his message in chapter 4 by explaining how he has learned to be content in the most incongruous of circumstances – BOTH when living the high life AND when living in times of desperate need. He thanks the Philippians for their generosity, which helped lift him from impoverishment on more than one occasion, and then in verse 19 throws out this provocative declaration:

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

Whoa. Can you feel the weight of that statement? Gotta love ballsy Paul.

I could spend plenty of time analyzing the Greek etymology for “will meet” (plēroō, meaning to fill to the full, cause to abound, furnish or supply liberally), and dive headlong into the foggy semantics of distinguishing between a want vs. a need in this specific usage. But while studying this verse using the IF:Gathering app, my attention was drawn to the latter part: “the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really thought of God as rich. It’s just not where my head goes. Maybe that’s because viewing the Lord Almighty as Rich Uncle Pennybags seems a little – I don’t know – irreverent.

Yet there it is, capping off a massively audacious claim. The Greek word for these “riches” is ploutos, meaning (literally) wealth and abundance of external possessions, or (figuratively) a good with which one is enriched. Interestingly, about half of its 22 occurrences in the NASB Greek concordance are used to define characteristics of God and/or Christ – riches of: His kindness, forbearance, and patience (Romans 2:4), His wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33), His glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), His grace (Ephesians 2:7).

Having a wealthy Father pledge to overfill us from the overflow of His bountiful goodness is incredible, unfathomable. And it gets better. In his book, “God Promises You,” Charles Spurgeon describes how God quite effortlessly surpasses our expectations, doing “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think” (Ephesians 3:20).

“None ever promised as God has done. Kings have promised even to the half of their kingdoms. But what of that? God promised to give His own Son, and even His own Self, to His people, and He did it. Princes draw a line somewhere, but the Lord sets no bounds to the gifts which He ordains for his chosen.”

You’d think this plentitude of promises would bolster our confidence in approaching our Creator. And yet, all too often, we lowball it with the Lord. Like I did prepping for our Disney vacation, we intentionally lower our expectations to curtail our disappointment. We deem personal concerns insignificant, recurring sins insurmountable, societal injustices unsolvable. We feel unworthy and keep ourselves wary. As a result, our prayers wind up weak, meager, distrustful.

Why do we so severely underestimate our Savior? Well, for one thing, we’re human. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around His limitlessness. Beyond that, I think we set the bar low when bringing our requests before Him because we’re afraid He’ll say no. No, you will not get that job. No, you will not get pregnant. No, your loved one will not be healed. No, you will not discover the reason(s) for your present sufferings.

Our Lord reserves the right to say “no,” and even when we believe that He works all things for our good, the potential refusal terrifies us. As C.S. Lewis points out:

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

But here’s your good news for the day: God is not like a coupla young boys embarking on their first trip to Disneyland. He is good. He is trustworthy. He is rich – rich in mercy, rich in love, rich in faithfulness – even when we come stumbling before His throne muttering pathetic prayers presented with a glass-near-empty attitude.

To help build our faith and expand our expectations, we can do some practical things as Paul suggests earlier in Philippians 4: be thankful, meditate on what is true and wholesome, rejoice…in the Lord…always. Present your requests boldly to God with the assurance that He is so loaded with kindness, mercy, and power that He will grant you the peace and strength needed to handle whatever answer He gives – “yes,” “not now,” even the “no.”

I’m preaching to myself hardcore on this one. As a cynical person married to even cynical-er husband, I hesitate to pray big prayers – in theory, because I’m being realistic, but in reality, because I’m scared to risk getting hurt. I don’t doubt that He cares; I doubt that He cares as much as I do – as if my heart is larger than His.

Knowing the truth of God’s abundant grace, I urge my fellow doubters to ditch the pessimism and get your hopes up because of Whom your hope is in. He might not give you exactly what you want, when you want it, how you want it delivered, but He will give you all you need, and much more besides. He will give you His love – already poured out to you through His Son on the cross – today, tomorrow, and continually, with power through His Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

Prepare for the best, expect to be amazed, and enjoy the ride.

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No more miracles

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Warning: This post will rock you. Not in a way that will astound you with my wit or eloquence. If anything, you’ll think less of me and question my sense of rationality and perhaps even my faith. So be it.

What I mean is that the following post is about as raw as you can get. For some reason, I feel compelled to write my feelings – unprocessed, unfiltered, full of shame, glowing with transparency. It is not intended to be a woe-is-me post, or a self-glorifying look-at-how-real-I’m-being post. It is simply a description of my emotions at present, and if you’re a woman who is or desires to be a mother, you may very well feel these emotions as you read my honest, admittedly melodramatic words. Expect tears and proceed with caution.

You see, I want another baby. I have two wonderful, dynamic children, and I want a third. I have more love to give, a not-quite-depleted supply of energy, and a resolute desire to mother another child. I don’t feel done yet.

My exceedingly patient and loving husband agreed to pursue an addition to the family despite his feelings of being done already. We decided to attempt the “easiest” route and try for one year to conceive again. We tried, and we failed. Again.

I went into it eyes wide open. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew the potential for letdown, but figured it was worth it in case God wanted to grant us another miracle. Probable, no; possible, yes. Damn that glimmer of possibility and the inevitable disappointment it brings.

I took my own advice I tell others who are undergoing fertility treatments or otherwise struggling to get pregnant and took it one day at a time, one two-week wait at a time, one cycle at a time. That strategy backfired. Last December – the 12th and final month of trying – the moment I went to the bathroom and discovered I wasn’t pregnant, the weight of the emotions I’d been shoring up slammed into me like a semi-truck and knocked me out of my I’ve-got-this-and-can-totally-keep-it-together façade. And, since it was during the holidays and we were staying with family, I couldn’t allow myself to fully process the depth of my pent-up grief.

So that’s what I’m doing now. And man, does it suck.

I cry at odd moments of the day. I try to avoid going by the guestroom, with its empty crib and closet full of baby clothes and toys that will all need to be disposed of in one way or another. I stare off into space as my kids repeat random questions, which they would do anyways regardless of my melancholy state, but I should nonetheless pay attention to them since one out of every 25 inquiries might actually merit an answer.

I’m also avoiding people, skipping church events and meet-ups with friends. I haven’t felt up to putting on a happy face, acting like I’m OK, like my life hasn’t just hit a major redirection. How could I explain to anyone what I’m feeling?

How could I explain that I’m so grateful for my two boys – both miracles in their own right – and yet feel so hurt that I won’t receive another? I am not despairing, like I was before I became a mother, but I am grieving. Whereas before, although my plans for having child #1 and child #2 didn’t pan out the way I’d expected, in time, I could see that God had something better planned. This time, I don’t see that better thing that God has planned since there will be no child #3. Before, although I felt so beaten down that I should give up the dream of having a child, I didn’t. This time, I have to.

I feel defeated. Bereft. Overwhelmed with that oh-so-familiar, didn’t-realize-I-still-had-it kind of ache. What do I do with this persistent urge to mother a child from infancy? I love my kids. I love other people’s kids. It’s part of who I am – a creative nurturer.

If you tell me to get another pet, I’ll punch you in the face. A pet is great, but it is not a replacement for a child. Neither is a career, hobby, or even a ministry. A loss of one kind in your life cannot be replaced by a gain in another area of your life.

Also, please don’t ask, “Why don’t you just adopt again?” The answer is: “It’s complicated,” and that’s all I can say about that in a blog post. (As an important side note, this is not a question I recommend posing to someone going through primary infertility for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it implies that adoption is easy, which IT IS NOT. Find more explanation on this note here.)

And this is going to sound bad, but don’t talk to me about how my contentment should be in Christ alone. I already know that and believe it. I realized after an awful period of introspection that having kids wasn’t going to complete me, that motherhood wasn’t the be-all, end-all. Sure, it’s a huge blessing, and rewarding, as well as, at times, the most frustrating thing in the world, but it’s not the best thing in the world – that’s reserved for knowing and walking with Jesus. So I know this to be true, but it doesn’t invalidate the loss of not being able to fulfill this God-given desire.

I feel angry. Pissed, to put it mildly. Mad that my pristine vision of a beautiful family of five is ruined, irreparable. I know God loves me; He has a purpose for this plan; He is good and sovereign and just. But I’ve never understood and doubtfully never will why He sometimes does not enable someone to fulfill a strong, noble desire He gave them in the first place. It seems cruel.

Then there’s the guilt. Why am I questioning God’s intentions, when He has already given me two incredible, unexpected gifts, and allowed me to experience the joys of both adoption and pregnancy? Shouldn’t I simply be grateful for my two kids instead of blessing-grubbing? I tell other women facing secondary infertility they shouldn’t feel guilty, but it’s hard not to succumb to this temptation, especially when you are also working through some major conviction (hello, right here, bigtime). It seems shameful to admit my distress over this intangible loss when others have endured so much more significant heartache in this life. I accuse myself: “You shouldn’t feel that sad about this. Why don’t you just count your blessings, let go and let God, insert another Christianese comment, and get over it.”

I feel confused. What do I do now? How do I reconcile this unyielding desire and view of my family as unfinished with the apparent “no” God has decreed in reply to my prayers? And why the heck am I facilitating a support group for women dealing with infertility and infant loss when I’m acting thoroughly whiny, ungracious, ill-tempered, and lacking in faith and self-control – basically how NOT to respond to this type of trial? Take that as evidence that God appreciates irony.

These questions are all rhetorical. I’m not writing this post to solicit answers to my plight, or invoke clichéd expressions of sympathy, or inspire fabricated reasons for why God allows pain in our lives. Believe it or not, I decided to write this post to impart hope. I’m refuting the lie that I’m the only woman on Earth saddened at the prospect of not having any more kids and affirming a vital lesson I have learned am learning through this process:

You can be disappointed about something that went wrong in your life and still love Jesus. You can trust in His goodness and believe in His promises and still be hurt by His plans. It’s called a paradox. Look it up. The Bible is loaded with ’em.

It’s not that this place of disappointment is somewhere you should linger. I know I’d rather not stick around here. It’s better to fully embrace God’s sovereignty and acknowledge the kindness of His will than to wallow in pity and all things self.

But one of the most unfathomable parts about this relationship we have with our Creator is that even when we’re failing at handling our hardships, He still cares and carries us through them. His faithfulness is not predicated upon my faith or lack thereof.

Defining a “right” way to grieve is impossible, and grieving this kind of a loss – wherein no one has died, thank goodness – but you nonetheless feel empty, drained, like someone stole something from you, something you never had – is difficult to articulate in a way that others can understand. Even more complex is the process of feeling forsaken by God, but believing He loves you beyond comprehension. Jesus knows; He experienced it.

So, without seeing a resolution to my present disappointment, I will cry out to my good, good Father, and be thankful for His grace, and be sad for my loss. For when I am weak, then He is strong.

You are not alone

 

I sat, staring at the backyard.

My eyes perceived the scenery before me – the pale sky, the slender birch trees, the too tall grass – as my mind envisioned children laughing, rolling down the hill, blowing puffs of dandelions, and running to me for a kiss after falling down and scraping a knee.

I cried my heart out.

My yard was empty. I didn’t have any kids; didn’t have any co-workers, since I was working from home; didn’t have any friends, since my husband, Colin, and I had recently moved to the area. He was at work, and I was by myself. I sat alone in our empty house, gazing out the back window like a mental hospital patient, thinking about how I was never going to be a mom.

Later, I learned that the neighbors whose property bordered the back of ours – the ones who owned the fence into which my eyes bored holes during my patio reverie – were also experiencing difficulties trying to conceive. The wife had been diagnosed with endometriosis, just as I had. The two of them had undergone a few unsuccessful rounds of IVF and were prepping for another attempt at the procedure, just as we were.

Around that same time, we joined a church small group, where we met another couple who had fertility challenges and were beginning the adoption process, just like we were.

Then I met another woman who had struggled with infertility for years until finally conceiving through IVF, and now wanted to help other women facing similar issues by starting a support group, just like I did.

When we launched that support group, I met woman after woman after woman who knew The Ache – who desperately wanted a child but couldn’t get pregnant, and was wrestling with frustration, disappointment, worry, and anguish, just like I was.

Through these experiences, I learned that I was not the only one grieving the loss of the ability to bear children; I was not the only one living life with this unfulfilled desire to be a mother.

And once this desire eventually was fulfilled, I discovered that having children wasn’t the only redeeming result of this difficult season. Through infertility, I gained numerous new friendships and deeper, more honest relationships that I never would have experienced if I’d gotten pregnant that first month of trying.

I treasure those friendships now, and certainly appreciated them back then. Because when you’re going through infertility, you need a friend who understands the vicious cycle of hope lifting off at Day 1 and crashing down around Day 28, accompanied by an unseemly obsession with charting various bodily functions.

You need a friend with whom you can swap crazy Clomid stories, or laugh about the embarrassing thing you and/or your husband had to do at the doctor’s office, or joke about how you had to hide all your weapons before the adoption social worker paid a visit.

You need a friend who will stay with you for several hours after a medical procedure, when you are too weak and dizzy to do anything but lie down and talk about your favorite cooking shows.

You need a friend who will encourage you to give purpose to your pain by blogging about your experiences so others know they’re not the only ones struggling with this issue.

You need a friend who will buy your old Barbie collection to help fund your IVF cycle, save the dolls, and then re-gift them to you to pass down to your daughter, as one of my high school youth group pals did to support that friend who inspired me to blog.

Jessica bought a Barbie collection from Heather to help fund her IVF cycle, then saved the dolls to return to her Barbie sister in hopes of her one day having a little girl. Heather’s daughter, Emily, now enjoys playing with her mom’s collection.

Despite your friends doing all these wonderful, amazing things to uphold you, there will still be times when they are unavailable. Your calls will be dismissed; your texts will go unanswered.

You need a Friend who will truly always be there, who is better than all the friends Facebook has to offer, who is better than all the babies you could ever wish to mother.

You need Jesus. He will never leave you, or forsake you. He will carry your burdens, even when you think you don’t care anymore, and revive your hope, even when you feel like giving up.

And, knowing that you have the ultimate friend in Jesus, you can be a friend for Jesus. By that, I mean you can share the love and comfort of Christ with those who are hurting, even when you are hurting. He’ll give you the grace and strength to do it.

You might just be the friend someone needs to tell her she is not alone, either.

In the world we live in today, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who is going through a difficult time and could use some encouragement. Look no farther than across the fence in your own backyard.

Six ways to help a friend face the baby-making blues

Super Bowl 2014. The Seattle Seahawks destroyed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the franchise’s first-ever victory at the NFL’s pinnacle event. As QB Russell Wilson – aka my husband, Colin’s, man crush – raised the Vince Lombardi trophy in triumph, those few handful of Seahawks fans who had cheered for the team throughout its long history of total suckage experienced long-awaited redemption. Colin declared he could die a happy man.

Later that month, we celebrated our 10-year anniversary. Talk about anticlimactic.

Super Bowl 2015. The Seahawks had overcome many obstacles to make it back, and were battling it out with the Boston Patriots in an evenly matched, fairly called game. Down four points, with under a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Hawks were at the Patriots’ 1-yard line and within arm’s reach of a repeat. Then the unthinkable happened. Instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch to punch it in the end zone, like anyone who knows a lick about football would choose to do, the Seattle coaches called a risky pass that was intercepted, securing the win for the Patriots.

Once the initial shock wore off, Colin wept bitterly, on the inside. I didn’t know what to say or do to comfort him, so I simply whispered, “Sorry hon,” patted him on the back, and left him alone to work through his grief.

Track with me here in this terrible transition from talking about how to console loved ones dealing with sports-induced depression to talking about how to encourage loved ones coping with infertility.

Watching a friend or family member undergo the physical, emotional, and financial hardships caused by infertility can make you feel helpless. If you’re already a mother, you long for your loved one to share the exasperating yet joy-filled experience of having children. But how can you support her, knowing there’s a heckuva lot you shouldn’t say, and besides taking it to the Lord in prayer, there’s nothing you can do to help fulfill her desire to become a mom?

While you can’t erase your friend’s pain, you can seek to understand specific ways to express your care and concern. Realize, though, that even if you say the “right things” and treat her with utmost sensitivity, she might still be sad and discouraged and downright ornery. She’ll also be grateful for your love and companionship as she traverses her difficult path to parenthood. 

Colin urged me to use a photo of hugging cats for this post, so here’s what I found. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across any great pics of hugging cats wearing Seahawks jerseys.

1) Weep with those who weep
Words often fall short when someone is grieving, but a shoulder to cry on is almost always welcome. When your friend receives news of yet another negative pregnancy test, or an adoption opportunity falls through, tell her you’re sorry, you love her, and that you’ll be there for her if/when she wants to talk about it.

2) Show interest (to her comfort level)
If your friend says she’s open to sharing her infertility issues with you, go ahead and ask her a broad, open-ended question such as “What options are you considering?” Whether she’s pursuing fertility treatments or adoption or taking a break from it all, demonstrate your concern about what she’s experiencing and feeling. When you know she has a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with a social worker coming up, send her a text or email ahead of time and let her know you’re thinking about her. Allow her to decide when/if to tell you how it went.

3) Exercise extra grace on holidays
Mother’s Day is pure hell for a woman having trouble having kids. As well, the vast number of holidays that revolve around giving gifts to children or acknowledging children as gifts can add to the ache. Even birthdays can be painful reminders of that damn ticking clock. Recognize that your friend may be hurting during these celebrations and do something to make her feel special – write her a note, bring her lunch, or take her out for a mani/pedi date.

4) Encourage her to join a support group
Remember the days when you were so pissed at your parents that you ran to your room, slammed the door shut, and shouted with all the self-righteousness of a 15-year-old, “You just don’t understand me!”? A woman who is struggling with infertility feels like no one gets what she’s going through – lonely, isolated, an outcast from our baby bump-obsessed culture. Your friend can combat these lies and experience healing through community by attending a support group for those facing childbearing challenges.

This is, of course, a shameless plug for the ministry I’m facilitating, Graceful Wait, but there are plenty of other great resources out there for finding support groups, either online or otherwise (see list at the end of this post).

5) Tell her you’re praying for her … and actually do it
Ain’t no baby ever came into this world who didn’t have the Lord Almighty breathe life into his or her tiny little body. Commit yourself to pray for your friend, even if she’s given up on it. Pray that she will receive the child she so longs for, that she will have wisdom to know how to walk toward that end result, and that she will grow in faith and dependence on Christ throughout the whole process.

6) Rejoice with those who rejoice
The day we left town to pick up my oldest son, Calvin, from the hospital – less than 24 hours after we got the call from our social worker that we were going to be his parents – we had nothing at our house to prepare for an infant but an empty room and a couple of cute frog paintings I’d bought at a yard sale for my “someday” baby’s room. We returned a day and a half later to find that empty room converted to a fully fledged, well-stocked nursery, complete with crib, changing table, bouncy seat, diapers and dozens of other essentials, toys, wall décor, and a neat little row of onesies hanging in the closet.

Our church small group had come over while we were gone and pulled a surprise home makeover. The friends who had walked with us through months of terrible disappointment, including an epic fail of an IVF cycle, had jumped at the opportunity to minister to us in our time of celebration.

To this day, it is one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever done for me (another being Calvin’s birthmother choosing us to be his parents), and I will never forget the amazement I felt when I walked into that room. Even Colin shed a few tears, on the outside.

Our friends put up signs around the nursery for Calvin’s homecoming. Best use of clip art ever.

“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) Stay up with your friend now, during this long night of waiting, and you’ll get to rejoice with her that day she finally gets to hold her child in her arms. In the meantime, you’ll watch together how the Creator redeems broken expectation and transforms it into delayed – yet very much worthwhile – gratification.

Support group resources
RESOLVE support group list
Bethany Christian Services infertility and pregnancy loss forum
Dancing Upon Barren Land online support group
The Carry Camp weekend retreat
Hannah’s Prayer community forums

10 things I hate about what people say when you’re going through infertility

I once called my brother the root of all evil. He must’ve done something to deserve it – like steal one of My Little Ponies or disregard my stage directions during one of the family skits I wrote, directed, and starred in. Regardless of his actions, it was a cruel thing to say, and I immediately regretted it as I saw how I’d wounded his sweet (albeit mischievous) little 6-year-old heart.

We all know words can hurt. We also know that we can be stupid at times, saying things we don’t mean out of anger or putting our foots in our mouths. It happens. We’re human.

Words can especially bring pain to someone who is grieving a loss, as when someone faces the possibility of not being able to get pregnant and/or carry a child. Any and every little thing can set them off, like that go-to conversation starter: “Do you have any kids?”; or the more invasive: “When are you going to start a family?” Innocent, everyday questions can shoot like stinging arrows, reminding you that your arms are empty and your heart is aching.

During my time in that miserable season I eventually learned I needed to be more thick-skinned and recognize that the vast majority of people weren’t meaning to shiv me in the ribs with their well-meaning yet insensitive comments. I also discovered it helped to tell others what NOT to say so I wouldn’t want to punch them in the face or de-friend them on Facebook.

So I thought it might be fun to put much of my social network on a guilt trip and share some statements and questions that are just not helpful to those who are dealing with infertility. Seriously, don’t feel too bad if you’ve said one or more of these things – remember, we all say stupid stuff, and there’s grace to go around, yada yada. Just take a glance through these 10 items and look forward to my next post on things you can say and do to encourage your loved ones who are trying to grow their families.

1) “You just need to relax.”
… or go on a vacation, get a massage, reduce stress, etc. This type of advice has the opposite effect and creates more stress, making your friend feel like she’s doing something wrong when there’s likely a physical problem – not emotional or psychological – preventing pregnancy. Relaxing never cured anyone of diabetes; neither can it cure a diagnosable medical problem like infertility.

2) “God has a purpose for your pain.”
This statement is true, but to your friend, who is dying to know when or if she will be a mother, it often comes across as a trite attempt to dismiss her sorrow. The pain of infertility is real and must be acknowledged and dealt with in healthy ways. Also, if your friend is a believer, she probably already knows God has a divine purpose for her struggles, and His timing is perfect, and His ways are higher than hers, but that might not be the message she needs to hear from you when she’s smack dab in the middle of that struggle.

3) Complain about pregnancy OR glorify pregnancy – “OMG I can’t stop eating, how am I gonna lose all this baby weight?” or “Feeling these little baby butterflies is uh-mazing #blessedtobeknockedup”

4) “Have you tried _______?”
… acupuncture, massage, meditation, Feng Shui, more exercise, less exercise, gluten-free diet, etc. Chances are, your friend knows how to use the Internet and thus has done a thorough job of researching the many methods people experiment with to get pregnant and doesn’t want or need your suggestions.

5) “Have you tried _______?”
[insert unsolicited, wildly inappropriate recommendations for sexual positions, techniques, or activities proposed by total strangers, or worse, your mom or MIL.]

6) Complain about your kids – “Are you sure you want kids? You can have mine.”
Yes, I’m sure I want kids. No, I don’t want yours; they’re brats, and you’re just as bad for saying that to brush off my disappointments.

7) Emphasize the perks of childlessness – “Enjoy getting to sleep in while you can.”

8) Act like you know what they’re going through when really you’ve got no clue – “I can totally relate to you because of my journey through _______.”
Grief is universal, but experienced in different ways by people in different situations. It’s better to admit that you can’t completely understand your friend’s anguish and that you’re saddened to see her hurting than to compare losses and thus downplay her unique struggles.

9) Quote Scripture out of context – “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note this verse doesn’t say all Scripture is profitable for comforting hurting people through improper citations that are ill-timed and insensitive under the given circumstances. By all means, go to the Word for encouraging promises and stories of God’s faithfulness; just be careful determining which verses to highlight and when to share them.

10) “Why don’t you just adopt?” or “Just adopt; then you’ll get pregnant.”
As wonderful as adoption is (and I’m a huge advocate), your friend might not yet be ready to process all the emotions and practical issues involved with making the decision to pursue that option. This question also implies a load of negative and/or incorrect presumptions, including the likelihood that your friend has given up trying for a biological child, that adopting a child is inferior to conceiving a child, and that adoption is an easy alternative to biological baby-making. Furthermore, studies show adopting a child does not affect the rate for achieving pregnancy. Adoption isn’t a means to an end of getting pregnant; it’s another way to add a child to your family and a route a couple should pursue only when they’re ready.

See more ideas at RESOLVE’s Infertility Etiquette page and The Carry Camp.

Welcome to Loserville

The story of Mary is pretty incredible. An angel shows up and tells this innocent preteen that she’s going to have a baby, though she’s never done the deed necessary to produce such an end result, and that this baby will be the Son of God. Her response to this shocking announcement? “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

This account of the mother of Jesus should evoke sentiments of admiration, humility, and flat-out awe. Yet after sobbing my way through multiple Christmases without a child to call my own, what were my thoughts on this blessed woman? Stupid Mary. She got pregnant without even trying.

When you’re having difficulty trying to conceive, and your hope falls and rises each month with the comings and goings of Aunt Flow, you can feel like a loser. And when your head is stuck in loser mode, everyone else and everything else sucks, too. Even reading the Bible can add to the gloom, as God seems to neglect or reject your desire for a child, and you get to a verse like Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

The good news is that the Bible directly addresses the topic of infertility, recording stories of couples who struggled to conceive. The word “barren” occurs 24 times in 24 verses in the New King James, according to a quick Blue Letter Bible search. While I’d love to delve into all the implications this raises, I’ll just shoot Beth Moore an email asking her to do an in-depth study on infertility in the Bible and focus right now on the women Scripture highlights as those who wrestled with the inability to get pregnant.

“Wrestled” doesn’t do justice to describe the way some of these women acted. First off, you’ve got Sarah, the wife of Abraham, the forefather of God’s chosen people. She persuaded her husband to sleep with her maid to produce an heir, then basically exiled the maid out of jealousy (Genesis 16). Later, when God Himself came and told Abraham that Sarah would have a son, she laughed and cracked a self-accusatory old people joke (Genesis 18).

In a tale worthy of Real Housewives, Sarah casts out a 
pregnant Hagar after convincing Abraham to sleep 
with her to produce an heir. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens; 
image courtesy Bible Top Ten.

Then there’s Rachel, who hoarded an arkload of mandrakes, the naturopathic fertility cure of the day, and took nagging to a whole ’nother level as she complained to her husband, Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” (Genesis 30) And of course there’s Hannah, who was such a wreck when she came to the temple begging the Lord for a baby that the priest thought she was drunk (1 Samuel 1).

How encouraging are these stories? These ladies were as crazy as I was am.

Others handled their trials with more aplomb. We don’t know much about how Rebekah personally responded to her barrenness; just that Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife and the Lord answered him (Genesis 25). The woman who became Samson’s mother accepted the news from an angel of the Lord that she would bear a son who would help deliver Israel, and believed that God would follow up on that promise (Judges 13). Zacharias and Elizabeth, who waited years for their son John to come along, “walked blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1). God wasn’t punishing them with infertility; He was planning their pregnancy to come at just the right moment before the conception of His own Son.

Aside from these heartening stories, there’s another verse I want to highlight that’s as mystifying as it is comforting. Hebrews 11:11: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” [emphasis added]

Um, what? Are we talking about the same Sarah who laughed at God, to His face? This chick belongs in the class of Mean Girls of the Bible, not among the great cloud of witnesses listed in Hebrews 11. Yet there it is.

Sarah must’ve had some tiny measure of faith for the author of Hebrews to mention her. Remember, she did accompany her husband without any apparent complaint as they traveled through foreign countries to reach a promised land they never set foot in. She just had a hard time trusting the Lord about the whole baby thing.

Friends who are facing the disappointment of infertility and feeling like you’re not hacking it as a believer in Christ, take courage from these passages of Scripture and recognize that you are not a failure. Let me say it again: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE.

Your body may not be working right; your hormones might be a mess; you could be giving in to the sinful tendencies we all struggle with and giving up on the faith that God is working all things for your good, but you are not a failure. You are human. You need a Savior – more than you need a baby – more than any of us needs anything in this life.

So cut yourself some slack, sister. Accept the fact that His grace has got you covered for however long your waiting season is and beyond. Put your hope in the One whose love will never fail.

Public service announcement: Some people have trouble getting pregnant

Awareness is such a useless word. Of course, that’s the cynical part of me talking, a part that has grown increasingly larger as I’ve gotten older and the longer I’ve known my husband.

[air quotes] Awareness [air quotes] seems silly to me because of how it’s used/overused in society. Just do a quick Google news search, and you’ll find an exhausting array of topics that the media seems to think we’re ignorant about: autism, sexual violence, infectious diseases, alcoholism, poverty, wildfires, stress, deadly feline toxins, and something called biodiversity.

Gotta admit, those last two I know nothing about, nor do I really care (I’m more of a dog person, and biodiversity sounds like a meaningless concept made up by a pretentious academic). But the rest I’m at least familiar with, and some are such no-brainers that you must be living under a rock to not know of their existence.

The sarcastic part of me also wants to chime in here: Shut up. You mean there are poor people in this world?!?

At one point in time, people didn’t have a clue about breast cancer or racial discrimination or the dangers of distracted driving, but in today’s Digital Age, everyone knows about these issues because they’re continually blasted with information via their connected media devices. That’s why awareness campaigns tend to rub me the wrong way; they come off as buzzwordy gimmicks contrived to make money and/or portray an organization or individual as noble and generous, when in fact they might not have a personal interest in the issue or even know how to spell it.

Ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss, but awareness sure can be asinine.

The preceding rant might not be the best way to introduce the purpose of this blog post: to highlight National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), observed this year April 19-25.

Launched by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association in 1989, NIAW aims to “raise awareness about the disease of infertility and encourage the public to understand their reproductive health.” The 2015 theme is “You are not alone,” a message of comfort and camaraderie to the 1 in 8 U.S. couples of reproductive age diagnosed with infertility, according to RESOLVE.org.

Yeah, yeah. I know it doesn’t make sense to start promoting a type of crusade that I spent the first three paragraphs ripping on. While the awareness in National Infertility Awareness Week does make me cringe, I can nevertheless appreciate one simple goal this and other similar movements strive to accomplish: education.

I’m not talking about education as in, “Hey, this disease is out there. You should know more about it.” I mean, “Hey, this disease is out there. You should know how to help those suffering from it.”

During my time of struggling with infertility and waiting to become a mom, I found myself fulfilling the roles of both student and teacher. I put my overachieving tendencies to good use and threw myself into the task of researching reproductive pathologies and diagnoses, fertility treatments, alternative therapies, and the legal, social, and spiritual issues related to the process of adoption.

Overall, I learned waaaayyyy more about female and male anatomy than I ever thought I’d care to know. By God’s grace, after enduring what seemed like an onslaught of hurtful comments and questions, I also learned how to reframe my victimhood status into something more worthwhile and began informing others how to be more sensitive and supportive to loved ones facing infertility.

Through it all, my Lord and Savior taught me about my pitiful weakness, His supreme power, and the incredible ways He can transform awful, gut-wrenching disappointment into beautiful, life-renewing hope.

So, what will be my little contribution to this large-scale national initiative? I’m endeavoring to do something I’ve never attempted before: write a new blog post for every day of the (work) week, covering topics intended to encourage women longing for children and educate those who desire to walk with them throughout their season of waiting.

This will not be easy. I’m a slow reader and even slower writer, due to my stress-over-every-word-and-punctuation-mark perfectionism. But, as stated by Teddy Roosevelt and misquoted by numerous social media inspirational memes, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”

This challenge is worth it to me. And who knows, this could even be fun, especially if I win my bet with Colin to write all five blog posts without using a single pun.

A big thank you to whomever decides to share this endeavor with me. No judgment to those who drop out over the course of the week or who write me off from this point on. Then again, maybe I will manage to pull it off just out of sheer spite for all the doubters, myself included.

More on infertility
More on NIAW