Tag Archives: infertility

What devotion looks like.

Having grown up in church, I’m sometimes guilty of parroting words and expressions I haven’t thought through. “Surrender to Jesus,” and “Put God first,” are excellent examples. I know they’re true, I just don’t know what they look like in practice. But true to God’s nature, when you ask for understanding, you get it (see Luke 8:10).

My most recent “Aha!” came with the word “devotion,” which has largely come to mean “time spent reading the Bible and praying,” an unfortunate reduction of a strong term originally derived from “to consecrate,” or “to make sacred.” What does “making oneself sacred” mean exactly? We’re instructed in Titus 2:12 to do just that in order to live in an evil world, so how do we do it? I found a simple, beautiful picture of devotion in Mark 16, a picture that’s worth hanging onto.

On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome (the disciple, not the scary one) famously went to Jesus’s tomb to anoint and care for his body. On the way, they discuss a problem: an enormous stone bars them from Jesus. They even ask each other as they walk, “Who will roll away the stone for us at the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:3, NLT).

Get this: three women – Jesus’s mother, at least, would be in her forties by now; I’m not sure about the others – encumbered with spices and oils, are headed out to anoint a corpse blocked by a huge stone.

empty-tomb

They know there’s an obstacle. They know they’re physically incapable of the task they set out to accomplish. In case we’re missing it, verse 4 epithetically points out, the stone “was very large.” But nothing was going to keep them from their Lord. They physically can’t do what they’ve set out to do and they know it, but they packed up their oils and spices and hit the road anyway. And their devotion to Jesus affords them the greatest blessing in all of history: they’re the first to witness the fact that he rose from the dead. When they make it to the tomb, the stone is already off to the side. An angel is waiting for them and says, “He’s alive! Here’s proof!”

Devotion results when nothing keeps you from loving Jesus. It doesn’t matter to you if showing your love for him sometimes seems useless or even laughable. It doesn’t matter to you when obstacles are in your way. It doesn’t matter to you if it’s just you and a couple other people who seem as weak or broken as you are, you’ll do whatever it takes to get to him. Devotion doesn’t care about drawbacks and impediments. Devotion says, “I’m on my way, and I’m trusting you to move the stone when I get there.” Devotion remembers that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

The faith these three women showed is what gets us through our evil-occupied world (Titus 2:12). When matched with enormous stones that can keep us from Christ – stones like addiction and other sinful patterns, dubious track records, pain you’ve caused, pain you’ve experienced, or any other thing that worries you or brings you shame – devotion says, “I’m coming anyway, Lord.” That’s the kind of devotion I want.

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Hot Water

I’m not so much on the science, never have been. It explains away so much of the poetry in life. I remember being actually sad in the third grade when we learned that rainbows were merely light passing through water. I’d rather them simply be a sign from God, like in Noah’s story, rather than banal scientific fact. Same with flowers that spring up where you didn’t plant them. Why do we have to attribute that to bird poo? In my book, they’re just a beautiful surprise from a romantic God. My distaste for demystification goes all the way back to my very young days in which I was amazed at how the insides of an egg went from soupy to solid after some time in hot water. How could something so simple bridge the difference between splat and boing? How could the possibility of bouncing exist in the same egg that minutes before had been such a mess on the inside?

I want to think this is what trials, the “hot water” in our lives, are for: to get us from being so easily splattered to people who bounce. If we’re supposed to equate problems with “great joy” (James 1:2), it had better be for something worthwhile like that. Personally, I am not holy enough yet to respond naturally to trials with joy. I will not be joyfully cheering if my car explodes tomorrow. But…to see the grace of God while I rebuild my life, that would produce joy. Albeit slowly, I’m guessing.

In Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, he claims God gives away grace in a way that is “almost wasteful.” It’s sloshing out of the too-full bucket with every step. In fact, this is how God gives everything. The disciples needed some fish. When they did as Jesus suggested and threw the nets over the other side, “they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it” (John 21:6, NLT). A crowd needed dinner. Jesus created so much that everyone ate and twelve baskets of leftovers were collected (John 6:13). You need a Savior who loves you. The love of Jesus is so wide and so long and so high and so deep that it’s literally impossible for the human brain to understand (Ephesians 3:18). You have a life, but Jesus offers you one that is “richer and more satisfying” than anything you’d have by following your own desires (John 10:10b). Jesus is all about infinitely more, fuller, bigger, greater, wilder than you can ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It’s not just that Jesus is all you need; he’s all you need and a billion percent more.

If the hot water fortifies your heart and mind and the fortification of your heart and mind allows you to bounce, then I suppose I can stand the heat. As Dallas Willard wrote, God’s “overriding concern” is for my joy, and it’s clearly more fun to bounce than splat.

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Eight Things You Have to Stop Saying to Women Who Struggle with Infertility.

Last month I wrote a paper about counseling women who struggle with infertility. Having received that diagnosis myself and living through multiple miscarriages and failed attempts at pregnancy, it’s a pain I know much more intimately than I would like. It’s also a pain God is redeeming by allowing me to study counseling. I hope one day to sit with women who experience this sorrow, comfort them, and let them know so much joy and magic are out there for them when they’re ready. Here are eight things I believe no woman in this situation should ever have to hear (and also four things I bet she would love to hear).

  1. “God has a plan for you,” “God gives us the desires of our heart,” or any variant of any Scripture. Like you, I believe these things too. If the woman in your life who is struggling with infertility is a Christian, then she believes them too. But when the plan she has always dreamed of is stolen, she doesn’t want to hear Scriptures, even if she believes them. She’s confused and heartbroken; platitudes, even Scriptural ones, aren’t helpful. When Jesus comforted people, he did not spurt Scripture and leave it at that. He cried with them (John 11:35), affirmed them (Luke 7:9), and spoke gently to them.
  1. “I couldn’t have a baby for years, but now we’re on Miracle #2!” That’s great for you. But it feels like you’re rubbing it in her face, not giving her hope.
  1. “Everything happens for a reason.” Where is this in the Bible? We do know that God works out everything for the benefit of those who trust and love him, but she doesn’t want to be told that right now. She’s hurting, and it feels like you don’t care when you say things like this instead of putting your head on her shoulder and crying with her.
  1. “You can always adopt.” She knows. She might decide to later. She’s heard the same stories you have about how beautiful adoption can be. But if adoption isn’t in her heart, it won’t suddenly change her countenance for you to bring it up. She won’t say, “Oh, you’re right! I never thought of that!” She’s dealing with jealousy, confusion, fear, anger, grief, shame, stress, and probably other painful emotions. Right now – and maybe always – adoption sounds to her like raising someone else’s child, not being a mother.
  1. “Just relax, and it will happen.” Sure, there’s science to back up the fact that plenty of women have conceived after it seemed all hope was lost. But telling her it’s her own fault that she hasn’t yet conceived because she’s too stressed isn’t a welcome theory. A little wine and a bath won’t cure grief. She needs support while her heart finds its way.
  1. “My kids fight all the time / cost us so much money / still don’t let us sleep through the night.” She would love to hear kids fighting in her house! She would love to have a baby who wakes her in the middle of the night! Even though you’re trying to tell her “kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” you know you would never trade yours, and so does she. It’s like complaining that you have to take your Lamborghini to the mechanic.
  1. “Never give up hope!” Here’s the truth: she might never have a baby. Neither of you know what will happen in the future. Let her deal with the uncertainty on her terms. She might choose to keep trying to get pregnant or she might not, but that’s her business, not yours. 
  1. “I know how you feel. My cousin/sister/etc. couldn’t have children either.” Unless you have been diagnosed with infertility – actually had the sentence leveraged on you by a medical professional – you don’t know how she feels. Fearing you might not be able to have children doesn’t count. Having a relative who couldn’t have children doesn’t count. Taking longer than you wanted to get pregnant doesn’t count. No one knows how she feels except Jesus and the people she chooses to open up to. Let her tell you how she feels if she wants to.

Four Things a Woman Struggling with Infertility Might Love to Hear.

  1. “This isn’t fair.” Let her know she can vent her anger at the situation, even at God, if she needs to. It really isn’t fair that some teenagers get pregnant without trying or wanting to and some wives/stepmoms/aunts/Sunday school teachers/etc. are ready and deeply want to, but never conceive the first time. It’s not fair that she, this woman who so desperately wants to experience motherhood, isn’t “getting her heart’s desires.” Let her work through it.
  1. “If you don’t feel one speck better tomorrow, it’s okay.” When the third specialist confirmed my diagnosis, it seemed my some of my church acquaintances wanted me to starting getting over it immediately. Witnessing grief can make people uncomfortable. I went through times of hope, times of anger, times of feeling stolen from, times of jealousy, and I would’ve loved for someone to say, “If a bad day turns into a string of bad days, I’ll still be here. I won’t lose patience with you. This is hard, and it’s okay that it’s hard.”
  1. “I am here for you.” Don’t say it unless you mean it. But if you’re willing to truly walk through the darkness with her, she would be grateful. It’s a hard thing: if you say this, you’ll have to be ready to let her feel her feelings in all their intensity, call you at 11:00 p.m. because she read someone’s Facebook post and got insanely jealous, question her faith in front of you, and cry with her on Mother’s Day. But if you mean it, she could certainly use a friend who is willing to understand her.
  1. Nothing. Just hug her.

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Easter’s coming.

One of my professors just suffered the loss of a dear friend, right here before Easter. The next time our class met she told us about it, and even in the middle of that pain, she repeated, “Easter’s coming. There’s sadness now, but Easter’s coming.”

I think that’s one of the reasons the gospel of John calls Jesus “the Light.” John 1:5 says, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” We who have Jesus aren’t limited to the dark scope of our pain; we have the Light to see past it into the future. Easter’s coming. Regardless of how deep the darkness of our pain can be – and most of us have known profoundly dark pain – it can’t extinguish the Light, who is our hope. We can see more than the hearts not lit up yet. It may be in the distance, but we can see it: Easter’s coming.

As we know from John 1, Jesus is more than the Light; he’s also the Word. Because John 1 is so familiar to me, I decided to read it tonight from my French Bible. It’s absolutely beautiful: La Bible en français courant calls Jesus the Parole. As is the case with most French words, this is a great one. Parole does mean “word,” as we’re used to in John 1:1, but it also means “promise,” as in, “I give you my word [parole].” So in John 1, Jesus is our promise that Easter’s coming. He’s our promise that we never have to live without the Light. He’s our promise that “God’s got it,” as my hero Anne Lamott says, no matter how big “it” is. He’s our promise that it will all be okay in the end – the paroles of Revelation confirm it.

But parole has another meaning in French. It’s tucked away in English too. If I ask whether you know “the words” of a song, you know I’m referring to the lyrics. Same in French. If Jesus is the Parole, he is our promise, but he’s also our lyrics. And his song doesn’t end with heartbreak, so ours won’t either. His lyrics are the substance of that crazy hope lodged so far in our hearts that the worst pain we’ve ever known hasn’t extinguished it. He’s the reason we believe that the song isn’t over, even though some of the verses feel interminable. He’s our lyrics, our music, our joy.

I’ve known pain in the last eight years. But Jesus is my Light, so I can see past the mess to the hope that lies beyond it. Jesus is my Promise that it isn’t over until he comes back for me. Jesus is my Song that keeps my heart vibrant. And in fact, I wouldn’t trade the pain because it’s shown me where my idols were. As I dealt with years of infertility, I realized I had made an idol of the motherhood dream. I wanted a son or daughter more than I wanted to learn how to serve the Lord without children. As I dealt with a failing marriage, I realized I had made an idol of wifehood, wanting to be in a romance with a man more than with my Savior. No epiphany minimizes the pain of infertility or divorce or anything else, of course, but it can remind me to keep in check where my worship is going and whether I’m trusting my Promise and my Light to guide me. Jesus is the Promise that even the pain has meaning, and it won’t last forever.

However heavy your pain might be, you have a Light. You have a Promise. You have a Song. And I can promise: Easter’s coming.

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Love Wins.

The church my man and I attend has real people in it – people who have excelled and fallen short in their efforts at relationships, being Christians, and life in general. In an environment like that, I shared my story out loud for the first time last Wednesday night. An unexpected thing happened: as difficult as it was to admit some of my more embarrassing mistakes, I became so proud of Jesus. So proud that my God is the kind of God who pursues diamonds in the rough. So proud that my God accepts me as I am – and you as you are – because he revels in the journey we’re on. So proud that my God is in control of the whole thing.

It’s like this. Addiction was a fourteen-year way of life for me – from 1996 to 2010 – and it sometimes nips at my heels even now. I didn’t reason my way out of it or will it to stop; you can’t treat addiction that way. Instead, I went to the office of a counselor hand-picked for me by God. For some, that sounds extreme I’m sure: couldn’t it just be a happy coincidence? But here’s the truth. I ended up finally making my decision to get help on a Wednesday that Dr. Morgan happened to be sharing the walk-in intakes, something he doesn’t always do. I arrived at the Health Clinic during his office hours, which are fewer than everyone else’s due to his research activities. He happened to be the one to take me back, even though several other counselors were available. His approach to counseling proved almost exclusively cognitive, in the sense that we looked around my brain and applied logic where I wasn’t. Given that I live my whole life in my brain, the method felt tailored for me. It’s all these reasons, and a few others, that assure me God oversaw my healing process, even when I wasn’t consulting him. He put me in the right setting to recognize what I was doing, why, and how to stop it. Then, he gave me the strength to change. If you’d ever seen me binge, you’d know: only Jesus can do that.

When I got married in June 2007, sexual dysfunction ignited my addiction, causing whatever shards of self-esteem I had left to dissolve in the heart-wrenching pain of loneliness and anger. My body was too wrong, too large, and sentenced me to a sexless marriage. Every failed “treatment” plunged me into further despair, and I looked to food with renewed zeal each time. I reached a low after my third miscarriage; not only was my body oversized, not only did it reject my then-husband, but it also made a farce of my dreams of motherhood. My destructive behavior had no limits: I binged, entered an inappropriate relationship, wallowed in self-pity and hatred, and ignored God’s invitations to surrender. I couldn’t see a way out of the dark and depression; for a while, I didn’t even want one. And even still, when I’d had enough, when I shrugged and said, “Fine, You win,” there was Jesus. Even when I’d turned Him down. Even after my divorce. Even when the old patterns lured me back. And now I can’t even see a shadow of the wife I was for so long. I have eyes only for my man, and I thoroughly enjoy him – loving him, living alongside him, sharing an intimacy with him that is exclusively ours. I have been made entirely new. Only Jesus can do that.

I shouldn’t be here, in this place of lightness and joy, after the places I’ve been. I spent years destroying my body, being unable and unwilling to stop abusing food. I’ve been through the loss associated with infidelity. I’ve felt the pain of my babies fading. I’ve walked through the disappointment and rage of (supposed) infertility. I’ve tried to soothe myself, to protect myself when I felt assaulted by the storm, only to wake up drowning in further waves of pain. But I’m here – joyful, peaceful, and free. Only Jesus can do that. I am married to the sexiest, strongest, kindest man God ever created. I am mother-by-marriage of two beautiful children that look just like my favorite man. I am mother-by-blood of a 34-week-old pregnancy miracle who is about to forever change my world for the better. I am blessed to live in a lovely home with a wonderful family that makes my life a joy beyond words, beyond anything I could’ve made for myself. But even if I lost everything tomorrow, I have been shown that my God is greater than the gifts he gives and the pain I endure. Whatever I live through tomorrow, He has the answers. He meets my needs. He loves me and speaks tenderly to me and remains faithfully beside me no matter where we go. No matter what happens, there’s Jesus.

That’s all I ever needed to know, really. I’m loved, I’m of priceless worth, and there’s always Jesus.

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Vocabulary Lesson

Tim Hawkins is a comedian who has a great routine about the religious-y terminology “hedge of protection.” He makes fun of how we ask God to surround people with landscaping in a knee-jerk way because we’ve heard it so many times. His response is, “A hedge? Is that really the best we’ve got?” I think too many words in Christianity are overused to the point of being annoying, “hedge of protection” serving as a great Exhibit A. So I asked God to show me what some of these words meant.

As a result of that prayer, I can tell you that “God’s perfect timing” means something like this. My family and I purchased some fruit trees on sale at the home improvement store last Saturday morning. We hadn’t been home five minutes – literally – when a station wagon full of college students pulled up and said they’d like to perform a random act of service for our family. They had a list of possibilities within their ability, one of which was “planting trees.” Of course, my husband could have easily planted the trees. But just to prove his interest in every detail of our lives, God sent us a crew to make the work lighter. If we’d stayed any longer at the home improvement store, we would have missed them. If they’d chosen another neighborhood, they would have missed us. Various things could have come in the way. But nothing did because that’s how God works. He knew when we’d be home, knew when to dispatch them, knew whom to send. That’s perfect timing.

Similarly, I can tell you that “provision” is like this. Teachers get paid monthly, except for a five-week pay period that starts after our September check. Budgeting for a family (and on a smaller income than most with master’s degrees) is frustrating enough, but budgeting for a five-week period is intense. So when we realized we hadn’t paid tithe for September, I was sweating. If we paid it, our bank account would suffer. Yet it was a commitment we’d made to God and to each other: we wouldn’t miss a paycheck, no matter what. So that Sunday, three weeks ago, I wrote the check and gave it up. Because finances are so emotional for me, I was nervous as I watched the money leave my sight. Then, on Monday afternoon, my husband brought the mail to me in the kitchen. It included three checks that together totaled the amount we wrote the check for the day before. That’s provision and, quite frankly, perfect timing too.

And “miracle” is how the doctors with scientific, provable fact end up looking ridiculous when God bends the laws of nature. Three factors assured me and everyone else that if I ever had children, they’d result from marriage or adoption. First of all, my body wouldn’t produce progesterone. Even when we tried to artificially stimulate production with oral and topical forms, nothing worked. I couldn’t support a pregnancy if I couldn’t get my body to either produce or accept progesterone. Second, PCOS itself makes conception and full-term pregnancy difficult for many women, due to hormonal irregularities and cysts. Third, the volume and placement of scar tissue were insurmountable. If that wasn’t enough, I have three previous miscarriages to back up the veracity of the doctors’ claims. No one told me pregnancy was “unlikely”; they told me it was impossible, even if we could solve one or two of the obstacles. And yet here I am, as big as a house these days in my seventh month of pregnancy, with a brand-new life getting herself all ready for her birthday. Something outside the natural course of events has happened here. God taught me “miracle.”

If I believe in a God who sends me tree planters, checks in the mail, and miracle babies, then I can certainly believe in his love for me. He loves me in a way I don’t understand and don’t deserve. He loves me in a way that only he can. As he teaches me new words, I keep reminding myself that if I keep talking to him and refusing to worry, I will live peacefully and joyfully. Sometimes awful things happen to me and to the people I love, but we have this real, live person who is in control of the whole show and who loves us passionately, completely, eternally. And that is what I think “grace” is.

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Positive Pregnancy Tests

I write my baby letters. Sometimes I speak them to her* when we’re in the car by ourselves. Sometimes I type and save them. Sometimes I pray them aloud so she can hear. There’s no telling what people will say to her when she gets here, so I want to make sure she’s got nine months of truth packed into her tiny brain. I tell her how much her dad and I love her, how wonderful her family is, how she can always trust Jesus. In fact, I never run out of things to tell her. The problem is I can’t seem to write about her. I wish I could tell you how miraculous she is and how much joy and wonder she’s brought us already. But every time I try, it comes out in a syrupy, overwrought voice that doesn’t sound much like mine.

I can tell you this. For a full decade, four medical professionals (three of whom are doctors) in two states assured me I couldn’t support a pregnancy past five weeks, and my body proved them right three times. It wouldn’t produce progesterone, and artificially spiking production didn’t work. PCOS seemed to be the culprit, but no one was certain. I also had scar tissue and cysts causing insurmountable problems, such as a lack of entry to the womb and wildly irregular ovulation, respectively. After several fruitless months of trying and three losses during my five-year first marriage, I didn’t have a reason to believe the doctors were wrong.

Then on March 8 of this year, I married the strongest, kindest man I’ve ever met. And almost immediately started vomiting.

We went on the honeymoon I’ve always dreamed of – mountains, cabin, fireplace, Jacuzzi, wine. And it was good. And never did “ovulation days” cross my mind because I was so obviously, certifiably, doctor-approvedly infertile. But then sneaky things started happening. A few mornings I felt so nauseated I couldn’t get my clammy self out of bed. And with a passion unrecognizable to me, I craved red meat. As in, I literally salivated over the raw hamburgers at the grocery store one day. I might have torn the package open with my fangs and feasted if the butcher hadn’t been right in front of me, asking from a healthy distance whether I needed assistance.

Then on the 17th of April, I put on my favorite dress, kissed my husband, and headed to work. I realized I hadn’t menstruated, an odd thing since my medicine keeps me from being even an hour late. So on a whim I picked up a pregnancy test and a decaf coffee on my way. Maybe a few prayers escaped into the air as I did these things, but mostly my mind raced with menstruation math. When I arrived at my desk, I set down my bag calmly. I sauntered to the restroom. My steady hands placed the test on the sink. Less than a minute later, I peered over and saw the two pink lines that had already formed. Two. “Oh, God,” I breathed.

People have asked if we were trying to get pregnant. Of course, the answer is no; not only were we not trying, but we didn’t think we could. That doesn’t mean, however, that my baby is a “mistake.” Even though she wasn’t part of our plan, she has always been part of the Great Design God has for the planet. Our plan is short-sighted and imperfect in a thousand ways. But this baby – the one whose mother has a reproductive disorder – is the one God has chosen. He wants a person created out of our DNA, to be parented by us, to make his compassion and power visible to others. So whether the timing seems right or wrong, whether my body seems capable or incapable, whether other people agree or disagree, my man and I will love and raise our baby to bring glory to God.

I asked God one night in an overwhelmed state, “How did this happen? And why is it happening now?” I got an answer, flashing in my heart like a marquee: For my glory. So I already know how the story turns out: God’s glory will be undeniable. What a perfect reason for a baby to be born.

* I say “her” for two reasons: 1) simplicity, and 2) I believe I’m carrying a girl. The night my first pregnancy ended, which I have already written enough about, I knew I would one day have a baby girl and her name would be Anna. I believe I am pregnant with that promise.

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