Infertility Awareness Week

I’ve been silent here on my blog for awhile. I’m going to blame most of it on our transition to Fayetteville and to new jobs. It hasn’t been crazy or stressful, but life has felt fairly full, and I don’t think I have done a good job of creating space to reflect and process.

It’s Infertility Awareness Week, and in the past I would have been jumping at the chance to write some piece related to our (ongoing) journey through infertility. In the past three years, it’s been a theme throughout my writing, whether in specifics or as the lens through which I am learning other things like joy in waiting and the love displayed in disappointment.

And yet, this week, I have felt unsure and unworthy to say anything.

To be honest, we are in a very healthy, happy place. We are really enjoying this season of life: living in a one bedroom apartment (while most of our belongings are in a storage unit) – downtown (which means we can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, and the farmer’s market, not to mention being able to walk to campus for my job each day) – making new friends and reuniting with old ones.

I have found myself thankful for infertility over the past few months, not necessarily for any super spiritual reason, but simply because of my ability to invest in my job and the chance for us to downsize and live downtown for a bit. We are having fun right now!

So since I am not currently experiencing grief over our inability to conceive thus far, I feel a little disqualified from bringing attention to our journey. I don’t want it to define us, and I don’t want it to be the only need through which I experience a dependency on God.

But, I will say, while it lies dormant in the back of my mind, it’s still there. There are still moments of envy when I see other moms with newborns in their slings or wraps. There are twinges of sadness with pregnancy announcements. There are questions of what our future will be like and if there is anything we should be doing right now.

But they are not all-consuming, as they have been during other times throughout the past three years.

I want to bring attention to Infertility Awareness Week. I want to join arms with my sisters in recognizing the validity of grief and pain, whether or not it’s the loss of something tangible. I want to be a resource, an encouragement, a friend to others who are in similar places or are facing similar medical concerns. I still keep a list of women I am praying for, and that list is close to me this week and as we approach Mother’s Day. I want to encourage other women that, even if it gets easier to accept, that doesn’t invalidate moments of pain, and it doesn’t mean that the desire no longer exists. I am thankful that it has gotten easier for us, and I see that as a direct result of the prayers people have prayed for us.

And I want to express gratitude for these prayers that I know we have been covered in, praising the God who has grown contentment deep inside me, even without growing a baby in my womb.

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though a desert should surround me

It’s been three years since we made the decision to “just see what happened” in terms of starting a family. Many other things have also happened in our life during those three years–job promotions, house purchases, career changes, and a move, to name a few–but these three years have been most heavily saturated by our journey through infertility, a journey perhaps more obsessive in the beginning and now a more silent (yet constant) presence as time in the wilderness lengthens.

One of the hardest parts has been that there is always something else–always another test, always another procedure, always another option to consider. Then after you do some sort of test, there’s the wait for results, then the potential second test to confirm the first test, then the attempt of trying some sort of medicine, then scheduling a third test, and on and on. And once there are a few potential answers, there are then a plethora of opinions when it comes to natural remedies or supplements or prescriptions or procedures for more next steps.

Y’all, this could go on for years, and for many people it does. I think this is one of the reasons that couples are more reluctant to talk about it. Either because there’s always the hope of more information in a couple of months or the potential for it to change with this one procedure, so they don’t want to talk about it just yet; or they have talked about it and endured this continuous testing cycle and still don’t have a conclusion so they begin to feel like a broken record among their friends. There might be something new to report, but really there’s nothing new to report, because they still aren’t pregnant, so why bring it up?

I really don’t want “infertility” to define my life, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from.

There are many other areas of waiting or grief I am sure are similar–unwanted realities that feel so monumental you don’t know how to stop defining your life by them: The single adult who wants to be married but whose last relationship was so long ago that it doesn’t seem to “count” and who doesn’t even know how to hope. The continual burden of job-searching (combined either with unemployment or unhappiness in a present job) and the feeling of being stuck but unable to control your own motion. The grief in the loss of a loved one and uncertainty of how to manage life without that person, or how to process the loss of a child you never got to hold in your arms.

Even in seemingly-less monumental pain, we can find ourselves creating an identity pattern in our lives that has larger effects on how we view the world: the loneliness in a lack of friendships, or the regret of a wrong decision that you can’t let go of, or the comparison of your skills to everyone around you.

We allow our pain and disappointments to color the lenses through which we view the world. We label ourselves as “inferior” or “to be pitied.” We see these things as an injury that holds us back or a deformity we must learn to live with, and we allow them to taint our perspective (especially related to God).

But if I were to pinpoint one of the major things that I have learned as I have walked through these past few years, it would be the ways I have learned to find joy because of my pain, a perspective of gratitude for this season even though it’s not what I would have chosen. While there have been months where I certainly was not grateful, there have also been months I have considered it a privilege to be entrusted with such circumstances as I reflect on the intimacy I have gained with the Lord and the story I have been given to relate with and encourage others as they walk through their own pain (whether infertility or otherwise).

We are molded by our circumstances but also by our experience of God in those circumstances–for better or for worse. And much of that is our choice, how we will respond to our pain. Especially whether we will cling to the Lord or bitterly reject him for allowing this in our life.

As I encounter God in the wilderness, my perspective changes, impacting the way I will walk in the future.

I recently stumbled across the delightful book Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster (1912), and I couldn’t put it down! It’s a story about an orphan girl whose college education is funded by a mysterious benefactor, to whom she writes letters to report on her college experience. Judy has only seen his back and his distorted shadow, which gave the appearance of long skinny legs and arms, hence her nickname for this guardian. Throughout the book, Judy is wrestling with her upbringing at the orphan asylum as compared to all of the other girls in their traditional homes with loving families. It isn’t until the end of the book–the end of her four years at college­–that she comes to appreciate her own story, even with the sadness of her circumstances:

It gives me a sort of vantage point from which to stand aside and look at life. Emerging full grown, I get a perspective on the world, that other people who have been brought up in the thick of things entirely lack. I know lots of girls (Julia, for instance) who never know that they are happy. They are so accustomed to the feeling that their senses are deadened to it; but as for me—I am perfectly sure every moment of my life that I am happy. And I’m going to keep on being, no matter what unpleasant things turn up. I’m going to regard them (even toothaches) as interesting experiences, and be glad to know what they feel like. ‘Whatever sky’s above me, I’ve a heart for any fate.’

I feel a lot like Judy Abbott. It’s taken me time to appreciate the vantage point I have been given. I may not be “perfectly sure” that I can always be happy, but I do feel confident I have the understanding that contentment–and the happiness we experience as a result–is not based on my circumstances or my possessions. Rather, like Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). My broken, selfish nature may at times keep me from finding strength in Christ, instead attempting to control or perform or succeed to gain what I want. But when I again (and again) lay my own plans down in surrender, I accept his will and find contentment in his purposes.

Not that any of this negates the reality of pain. Even my new friend Judy says that unpleasant things may turn up. But in the understanding of God’s love for us and thus his goodness being played out in our lives, we can face the unexpected and unwanted with a confidence that there’s something sweet to be gained. No longer must our pain define us negatively, but rather we can find the “vantage point” that it will give us going forward, confident that there is goodness below the surface.

At the end of the excerpt, Judy is quoting from Lord Byron’s poem “To Thomas Moore” when she writes, “Whatever sky’s above me, I’ve a heart for any fate.” The stanza following these two lines reads:

Though the ocean roar around me,
Yet it still shall bear me on;
Though a desert should surround me,
It hath springs that may be won.

Byron’s words remind me of what Charles Spurgeon so eloquently wrote: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

The springs God has shown me in the desert of the last three years have held more refreshing water than any I might experience from a dependable faucet. So while the story of infertility will certainly continue to hold weight in my life, my hope is that my attitude toward my reality is shaped by the vantage point I am climbing toward as I more clearly see God’s presence in the story.

understanding the peace that passes understanding

What does the word “peace” bring to mind when you hear it?

I picture a perfect fall day, leaves at the height of their brilliance and strewn across the walking path as I sit on a bench next to a creek, away from my phone and my to-do lists and the dog hair that always seems to pile up in the corners of my kitchen.

Maybe for you it’s a different place, a beach or a spa or a snow day.

Or maybe it’s less of a place and more of a season of life, having everything “figured out” and no problems to solve. One common association of this word (especially among mothers of young children) is a desire for “peace and quiet.”

But often, peace is not accompanied by the quiet. In fact, peace is most clearly found when everything around it is chaos and confusion and clutter.

I once read (I wish I could remember where) a description of a painting that displayed a great storm rolling in above a waterfall. You could imagine the crashing of the water and the shudder of the thunder, lightning flashing to illuminate the woods surrounding the river banks. In one corner of the painting, a small nest was tucked away among some limbs, and a bird was featured, fast asleep. The illustrator had titled the work, “Peace.”

So often, I find myself praying for peace, and what I am actually praying for is an ease in my circumstances. I am asking for God to make clear everything around that is confusing. I am asking for things to slow down, to be happier – to be, honestly, what I want them to be. I want resolution, and I typically think that peace is found within that resolution.

However, right now, I am learning to see my life as “at peace”–even though many of my struggles and prayers are yet unresolved. Over the past four or five months, I have discovered that the things that once felt painful or difficult, while they have not gone away, are no longer dominating my life. I don’t want to deny that life has more of an element of uncertainty than ever right now, because I think that’s the most beautiful part about this peace from God.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The verses above provide two commands and a resulting promise. Don’t be anxious; instead, bring everything to God in prayer. If you do these things, you will experience this protective peace that passes understanding, which can only happen as you surrender those concerns to God.

The Message version provides a beautiful commentary on these verses:

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

God’s peace is not related to a calm in our circumstances. Peace does not occur when life slows down or eases up, but rather when things are hard and nothing about our circumstances are easy. That’s why it surpasses understanding.

Jesus spoke of this. He told his disciples that he was giving them peace but in the same breath warned them of difficulties ahead.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. –John 16:33

There’s something different about the peace that Jesus offers, something that is unlike what the world might expect.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:27

Spurgeon wrote that in this peace, our “faith goes further than understanding, and the peace which the Christian enjoys is one which the worldling can not comprehend, and can not himself attain.” He illustrates the effects of this peace by writing:

When you have once felt it, when you can stand calm amid the bewildering cry, confident of victory, when you can sing in the midst of the storm, when you can smile when surrounded by adversity, and can trust your God, be your way never so rough, never so stormy; when you can always repose confidence in the wisdom and goodness of Jehovah, then it is you will have “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”

In my life, this peace has transformed the way I am walking through those days, as I approach them with surrender and gratitude. I am finding security as I let go of my concerns, looking not for resolution but instead for the presence of Christ. God’s goodness plays out not in prosperity but in his presence and his plans, which I trust are greater than my own.

I truly believe that the peace that God gives is most beautifully portrayed in our dark or difficult days, and in that sense, I am grateful to live in the tension of unresolved yet secure and guarded by Christ.

why I stopped asking why

I’ve stopped asking why.

I used to cling to purpose, to reasons, to analysis and determination that I would do all I was supposed to during an unexpected season that I saw as a detour I simply needed to get around. I was strategic and open to hearing from the Lord but also determined to figure out the why on my own.

But life rarely goes the way we expect it to. After a job loss we weren’t prepared for then numerous job changes for both me and Eric, after a planned move to Louisville for seminary that never happened, after support raising and the decision to end support raising and the 3.5 year job that he never wanted to last more than a year and a move to my hometown and house buying attempts that fell through and both of us struggling to find boundaries with work and another deferred seminary enrollment, not to mention 2.5 years of infertility (and continuing)–I’ve learned that there’s not always a clear why, at least not one that I should be building my life upon.

I still want the why. I would love for God to give me a tangible answer: “This is what you are supposed to do since you don’t have kids yet.” I wanted the why throughout all of the unexpected twists and turns in our journey. If I could just know what I need to learn or how I should spend my time, I could perhaps be more content with my detour, right? I could refocus my eyes from where I wanted to be to what I need to do so that I can eventually get where I want to be.

But I can also see how I am looking to a tangible purpose to be an identity or a task to conquer so that I can move forward in my life. I find myself looking for that reason instead of looking for God in the middle of the dark.

I’ve been reading W. Philip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, and through the course of the book my view of God and his care for us has been expanded by recognizing the helplessness and the stupidity of sheep. The humbling descriptions of how sheep act and the attention they require has made me realize the depth of my need for God.

As Keller comments on each part of Psalm 23 and how it relates to his past experience with sheep-herding, I was struck by his description of “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He discusses the need for a shepherd to keep his sheep on the move, preventing their wearing out the same paths, both for the sake of the land and the sake of the sheep’s health. Keller then discusses how followers of Christ, instead of trying to make their own paths and go their own way, can move forward onto new ground with God.

Instead of finding fault with life and always asking “Why?” I am willing to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude.

Human beings, being what they are, somehow feel entitled to question the reasons for everything that happens to them. In many instances life itself becomes a continuous criticism and dissection of one’s circumstances and acquaintances.

I’ve been pondering how that attitude of gratitude would change my daily life, how I might be able to rest in that perspective instead of the exhausting pursuit of a knowable reason for everything. While I do believe that God has a purpose for each part of our lives, a tapestry woven together to make us more like him and to bring glory to his name, I no longer think it’s my objective to discover the why for every single thing.

In fact, His Word tells us that his ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We won’t always understand what He is doing, at least not in the moment or perhaps even in our lifetime. When Job asked God what fault he found with him (Job 31), God’s response was not to give an explanation, but to give Job a bigger view of Himself (Job 38-41). Job’s then admits, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3).

We are but sheep. Our job is not to be the shepherd, or even the Shepherd’s assistant, but to follow the Shepherd where He leads us, trusting His knowledge and His plotted out paths for our nourishment.

But if one really believes his affairs are in God’s hands, every event, no matter whether joyous or tragic, will be taken as part of God’s plan. To know beyond doubt that He does all for our welfare is to be led into a wide area of peace and quietness and strength for every situation. –Keller

He might choose to give us a clear purpose, calling us to something specific or creating circumstances that allow for focused growth. But even if He doesn’t, He is a good shepherd (John 10). As I find rest in who He is, I am less dependent on knowing a reason why and instead seeking to know Him. I am building my life upon Him, as He is the greatest purpose in any season I encounter.

what the sea teaches

An unusually cool breeze drifts across the patio, and I find myself pausing to observe the world around me, Nickel Creek strumming their way through my headphones to provide soundtrack songs for this July morning.

Just a couple of hours ago, an intense feeling of loneliness and discouragement came out of nowhere and seized my heart. I started scrolling through my Instagram feed, just to see what has happened in the past 10 hours (during most of which the world was asleep), and as I put down my phone I felt left out. I suppose people I love are scattered over lots of places right now, and when I am not with them or even just not doing my own exciting thing, I somehow feel like my life is less. Even though just six weeks ago I was the one posting images and statuses from my own adventures.

Cyclists and joggers pass me on the bike trail. Murmurings of business meetings and friends catching up over coffee surround me, and my eyes move from people-watching to the dance of the tree branches above me. Words from Anne Morrow Lindbergh marinade internally, slowly finding their way into my own life.

     And then, some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again. Not in a city sense–no–but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. One never knows what chance treasures these easy unconscious rollers may toss up, on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind; what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor. Perhaps a channelled whelk, a moon shell, or even an argonaut.

But it must not be sought for or–heaven forbid!–dug for. No, no dredging of the sea-bottom here. That would defeat one’s purpose. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach– waiting for a gift from the sea.

I confess – I like the digging. I like the feeling of tired hands and dirty nails, the things that prove that I worked hard to earn a reward. I am high performance and crave A+ papers and gold stars and pats on the back.

So quickly, though, I find myself exhausted. I am digging for significance, for meaning, for a sense of community in my daily life, and while I like the control of being able to earn my way, it’s not life-giving. I feel like I am digging and proving I am good at digging, but at the end of the day the things I have to show for my efforts are burnout, unmet expectations, never enough.

Being able to receive the gift from the sea requires one to just be present at the shore, to set up a chair or a towel and lather on sunscreen and just watch for what washes up at your feet. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches.

Isn’t that the beauty of a gift, that it is freely given, that you don’t work to earn what someone wants to place in your hands? Isn’t the concept of a gift where we get our understanding of grace? Isn’t there a certain joy in discovering a gift, a joy that cannot be found in the working for it? 

As I processed my digging efforts, I realized I needed to get rid of the spades and buckets I have been using to dig. I temporarily removed Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter apps from my phone. Not because I am super spiritual, as I often feel others are when they make that choice, but because I am not disciplined enough to leave those digging tools just sitting in the sand next to me, and playing on my phone is where it normally starts. I will need them soon when school starts up and college students are back in town, but for the next three weeks, I am going to be present. I am going to sit at the shore and enjoy the salty sting of waves against bare feet, the warmth of rays, the grit of sand. I want to have face to face conversations to hear about friends’ travels, and I want to have phone conversations with those long-distance. I want to spend my evenings reading books, not comparing the activities of my day to others’ own. I want to see my life not through a filtered image with a picture that has been perfectly staged, but through the daily grind of boring and basic but beautiful.

The ever-wise Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “We accept and thank God for what is given, not allowing the not-given to spoil it.” Today, my place to offer thanks is a quiet, uneventful one. But if the trees can dance despite their roots keeping them stuck in one spot, I can too.

So while I write this from the landlocked Ozarks, I am learning what the sea teaches. No dredging of the sea-bottom here. Patience, patience, patience. Patience and faith.

a goodbye and a blessing for this house

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To the tenants who will occupy our sweet home once we move:

Welcome to a blessed space. 

We prayed for God’s provision when we were looking for somewhere to live once we got married, and this home was the result of those prayers. We then prayed we could use this house to be a blessing to those in our life, that it would be a place of peace and rest and warmth. It has been a refuge for us during harder days, and an oasis for us when the honeysuckle is blooming and it’s hard to not be happy.

I will miss the creaky wood floors in the hallway – and trying to remember which spots to avoid as I tiptoed to the kitchen in the mornings while Eric was still sleeping.

I will miss cooking on that fantastic gas stove – the house may be old, but the stove is new, and I don’t know how I am going to go back to cooking on an electric stove after being spoiled here.

That screened in porch with double french doors is the crowning glory of the house. Please tell me you will refrain from using AC in the spring and fall, keeping the doors wide open to fill the home with fresh air. The twinkle lights are coming with us, but an easy thing to replace. It’s one of the cutest things about this Sycamore house.

The natural light in that living room is everything. Swoon.

This home is where we learned how to do marriage, how to do life together. We moved in exhausted from wedding planning and a late night drive back from the Memphis airport after our honeymoon. To be honest, I woke up the next morning and cried in the kitchen, not feeling like I was “home” yet. Blank walls and rooms full of boxes didn’t help, and it took a couple of months to settle in. Figuring out how to decorate this space actually took a couple of years as I discovered both my style and the house’s style. You may not have realized yet that homes have their own style that you have to compromise with. There is a unique way to combine your preferences with the things you can’t change, dealing with the sense that something isn’t quite right in that spot.

We battled through multiple instances of one income in this home. God always provides.

We hosted lots of parties and dinners here – the small space creates a sense of coziness that larger homes just won’t. Don’t be afraid to fill the home past the capacity you assume it has; rub shoulders with friends and pull out camping chairs and invade personal space. And don’t be too polite to allow guests to help with dishes after all is eaten and enjoyed. Without a dishwasher, you are going to want the help, and it creates a deeper sense of friendship between people when you let them in to the gunk and the grime of your life (both literally and metaphorically).

Speaking of doing dishes, find ways to enjoy that time with your spouse. See it as a chance for quality time and conversation about the day. So often, Eric and I found ourselves complaining when we didn’t maintain the sink and found ourselves with 45 minutes of soapy work to do. Yet there were some sweet moments at the sink, too. Moments when I saw a husband who wanted to serve me despite that service involving a dreadful chore. Unexpected conversations about life and about us. Eric loved me well through dish washing.

{I do suggest investing in a good pair of rubber gloves, though, or your hands will be dry and raw before winter even starts.}

This house was our refuge during seasons of unemployment and seasons of loneliness and seasons of confusion about how to be a 20-something. It was here we curled up on the couch and cried, prayed, fought – together.

We pray this home will bless you the way it blessed us. And don’t mind me if I drive past every so often, just to whisper thanks for the things started here that will continue their story across town.

seeing growth in grayscale days

Unexpected spring in January definitely makes it on my list of favorite things – it’s right up there with camping at White Rock, new wool socks, baking bread, and the smell of dirt.

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Today it’s 65 degrees and sunny and perfect. Ridley Dog and I went to Gulley Park and I prayer-walked while he made friends with each dog we encountered. I prayed for friends and for ministry and for the people who financially make my ministry possible. Then we sat on a bench to rest in the warm sun and soak in gratitude.

I needed this day.

Not just a day to focus on my relationship with the Lord, but a day of warmth and light and promise. A day to turn off the heat and throw open the french doors leading to the porch. Despite the brown grass and bare trees around me, today is a reminder that spring is coming. The gray skies and cold winds will not last forever, and in just a couple of months, life will be revealing itself all around us. Life that is right now being kept in the ground to form roots and hide from winter. That life is beginning to grow right now, though to look around the yard you might not see it.

I forget about that aspect of growth, sometimes – that it’s not always visible. Eric and I planted tulips in our yard last October, and I had practically forgotten about them until today, when I started daydreaming about spring’s arrival. Right now, there’s nothing to be said for those bulbs except that there are patches of dirt where grass has not quite grown back over the holes we dug. I wouldn’t want those flowers to sprout today; knowing Arkansas weather, we will have a chance of snow in the forecast within the next week. The flowers would last for a day or two, then be killed by the winter we still have left before they fully bloomed. I want those bulbs to continue rooting themselves into the dirt, shoots holding fast to soil and bulbs beginning to unfurl in preparation for March. I trust that they are growing, but I won’t know for sure until green shoots emerge from the dirt.

Growth isn’t always something we can know. We can’t capture the moment it moves from nothing to something or stagnant to active.  It usually starts out in ways invisible to us, yet growth is happening nonetheless. In the midst of a dark winter, I need that reminder. I need to know that something is sprouting. This taste of spring, however short it may be, will keep me looking ahead to the time when we can peel off coats and dust off bicycles and see the fruit of what was happening in the dirt all this time. It gives me hope even while looking through  the grayscale that often filters the world during this time of the year.

Life abounds, even in the midst of winter. Even when all looks brown and dead, life can be found.

Not only do I need to know that for the world around me, but I need to know that for the heart in me.