marriage letters: the fear of becoming bored

Dear Eric,

I went to bed early last night with a regular headache, and I woke up a little before 1 a.m. with the worst sharp headache that I have ever had. I stumbled into the kitchen to take a couple of Tylenol, and by the time I came back to bed, my head was throbbing.

You woke up and asked if everything was okay, and for the next 30-45 minutes you sat straight up in bed, stroked my hairline, and prayed over me as I tried to fall back asleep. Thankfully, the pain began to come and go, then eventually subsided to a normal headache as I fell back asleep. I don’t remember you laying back down, so I know you were awake longer than I was, praying over me and, I’m sure, trying to not worry.

It was one of the most tender moments in our almost six years of marriage, the way you cared for me and prayed for me. Did you know that, in the midst of miserable middle of the night pain, I fell in love with you a little more?

I used to worry that, if infertility lasted too long, we might get bored. Stagnant.

Not that I wouldn’t still love you, or that we wouldn’t be best friends, but that our marriage would not move forward to the next stage. That we would feel stale together. Every other marriage I observed and many of the couples we talked to described how their relationship changed when they had kids. It pushed them to learn so much more about God and themselves, and I guess I began to see that as the only way to learn those things.

In the past 6-8 months, though, I have started to experience the Lord pushing us to grow and changing us, even without the added factor of kids. Not just because we have had a lot going on in our lives, still adjusting to our move last summer and changes in seasons of work, but because I see that God is changing both of us.

If sanctification is a life-long process, I am realizing that means that we will always be changing, if we are individually walking with the Lord and allowing his Spirit to work in our lives. As we both wrestle with sin in our lives, as we continually allow our minds to be renewed and our lives to be transformed, as we take steps of faith and find ourselves in new circumstances–we will each grow. And we are growing even now as we trust God with where he has us today as well as where he will take us tomorrow.

Keeping our marriage healthy takes so much intentionality. It always has–even in the beginning, it required work on our part. But I think the reason it can almost feel harder now is it’s easier to co-exist without thinking about it, since we know each other so well. We aren’t still learning some of those everyday things that we learned our first few years married: what will unconsciously hurt the other person’s feelings, how to handle conflict, the best way to discuss finances, the need to communicate expectations. Not that we perfectly follow those now, but I typically know why what I said upset you or when to wait on bringing up a to-do list.

Yet I know that I don’t know everything about you–or, at least, I know I should never think that I do. I want to be a student of Eric Barnes. I want to see you as someone who is ever-changing and maturing, and it’s my privilege to walk alongside you and affirm you and call out the growth you may not see in yourself.

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The other night, we sat together in front of our fire pit in the backyard watching flames flicker and dance. In the quiet of the night, I prayed that God would help me to know you more deeply, to take the time to ask those intentional questions and to make space for us to engage each others’ hearts.

I’m excited for this season of our marriage as we continue to grow individually and together, no matter what changes (or lack of changes) are prompting that growth.

You’re my favorite.

Love, me.

 

I started writing marriage letters a couple of years ago to participate with a monthly blog series Amber Haines prompted others to join in with her. Writing these letters spoke affirmation into my marriage, and my prayer is that by still writing them and sharing them every so often, I will also encourage others to pursue intentionality and affirmation in their own marriages.

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.

How to Really Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice

I was in a bad mood. I knew it, and I knew why. But instead of dealing with it the way I knew I should (probably going on a walk and listening to a podcast, or journaling and praying to process my feelings), I grouchily laid on the couch, sighed, and pulled out my phone.

I knew better.

We’ve probably almost all been there–scrolling through social media feeds, feeling more discouraged and left out with each swipe, knowing that this addiction to see the next entry is harmful to our hearts yet being unable to put the device down.

And of course, the source of my pain, the thing I was trying to forget, was everywhere my fingers were tapping. I felt almost like a hypocrite, “liking” all of the photos of my friends with a sleeping baby on their chest, or the playgroups in the park, or the latest baby bump update.

Social media’s thorn is the feeling of being left out, and on this day, it wasn’t simply that I was left out of a birthday party or a movie night; I felt left out of life.

I certainly knew it wasn’t my friends’ fault that my husband and I were walking through infertility and had been unable to conceive, but I found myself twisting my personal sadness into a bitterness against those for whom “it had all worked out.” Those with the seemingly perfect stories, the sweet moments of surprise, never knowing the need to calculate and plan and test. And I didn’t want to be happy for them.

You would think it would be easy to live out “rejoice with those who rejoice”; who doesn’t want to experience joy? But when pain is deep and prolonged in your own life, it becomes increasingly more difficult to celebrate with others when you still have unanswered hopes.

When you’re standing up as a bridesmaid for the umpteenth time, no ring on your own finger.

When you’re looking for a new job–again–and eyeing the stability someone else seems to have attained.

Or when your arms and spare bedrooms remain empty while your friends look for bigger houses for their growing family.

I sometimes think it would be easier to slowly distance myself from those happy people, hurting because their joy is a reminder of my own lack. In fact, I sense that expectation from them when they share joyful news with me. It’s coated in an apology of sorts, a hesitation in which they are afraid to cause me pain.

I appreciate their awareness of my own struggle; one of the sweet parts of friendship is feeling known by someone else, into the deeper parts of you. But the question of how to move forward, how to keep investing in this friendship that all of a sudden presents this chasm, is always the follow up to someone’s happy news and approaching life change. Our lives will look different from here, and the question is whether or not I can handle that.

After being confronted with this unspoken question several times, I realized I would need to shift my thinking. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure how to maintain friendships when I–and they–can’t plan for much of what happens next in our lives.

Our seasons of life play out in unpredictable patterns with no scientific bearing of producing specific results if you follow steps one, two, and three. If you are looking at things that way, your thoughts will look something like this: It’s not fair! We went to the same school and took all of the same classes, yet she got into grad school and I didn’t. Or How come he’s up for a promotion while I’ve been working my tail off with no recognition? Or There must be something wrong with me, since I have lost count of how many weddings I have attended but none of my own relationships ever work out.

Friendship can’t be about trying to keep up with each other. At its core, I think friendship should be about being on the same team.

When I see my friend as a teammate of sorts, her joy doesn’t seem like an imposition against me. When someone shares with me that they are rejoicing, my first response doesn’t have to be a comparison to how my life is matching up to theirs. When I hold close to a friend unselfishly, not just thinking about my hopes for my life but their hopes for their life, it becomes less about what I can gain and more about how I can encourage and celebrate because I love them. Just as I want to be known deeply, so do they, and being able to share in their happiness is as important to them as their willingness to share in my grief is to me.

Friendship works best when we are for each other, and that mindset is the key to being able to rejoice with those who rejoice–even if you yourself are not rejoicing in your own life.

 

This article was originally published on Upwrite Magazine’s website, which is no longer available.  

what the dark develops

Spring weather has been in Arkansas for a while now, as our winter was extremely mild and I’ve been wearing short sleeves since February. However, it’s been in the past few weeks that the world has turned lush and green. Trees branches blow slow motion in the wind, heavy with their leaves, and grass is demanding that it be mowed once a week or it threatens to take over the house.

We’ve also seen a lot of rain. And not just rain, but downpours. Flash flood warnings and constantly muddy dog paws and mulch-washing-away type of rain. And while this means that many days are dark skies and puddle-soaked feet, it has also resulted in that abundance of growth and new life.

The contrast of the water-heavy clouds and the verdant fields has been a poignant spiritual picture as I have considered what it means to live in this broken and beautiful world. God uses those clouds hiding the sun to bring up new life, and he has been reminding my heart that he uses the darker seasons to develop new life in my soul.

There’s always a contrasting shade present in our sunny world, a dark shadow to remind us that sin taints it all. And I believe that, when we recognize the disappointments and unmet desires instead of hiding or trying to “get over” them, we become more aware of our spiritual reality. In this way, infertility has been a sanctifying grace in my life.

Infertility has helped me more fully understand the Christian life, here on this earth and the hope we have for the future.

Romans 8:18-25 dives into a comparison of present sufferings and future glory–or, rather, it says they aren’t even worth being compared. Paul acknowledges the frustration that creation experiences, and even more so ourselves, in the waiting for the coming redemption. The relief from bondage is not something that can be achieved by us; it’s based on the coming of Christ.

As Paul personifies creation as being subjected to futility, commentators Sanday and Headlam note that this description “is appropriately used of the disappointing character of present existence, which nowhere reaches the perfection of which it is capable.” Commentator Everett F. Harrison says that the creation is “being pictured as not willingly enduring the subjection yet having hope for something better, i.e., liberation from its ‘bondage to decay.’”

The fact that we experience grief and loss is an affirmation of this idea that life is not “reaching the perfection of which it is capable.” There’s something in us that seems to say, This just doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t there be something better? With infertility specifically, I see that my body isn’t working the way it was designed to. For friends in the wait for adoption, it doesn’t make sense that something so needed, something good, something that paints such a unique picture of our relationship with God, can be a heart-breaking, difficult, unending process. Any who have experienced miscarriage or infant loss understand that something is terribly, terribly wrong with the way things unfolded.

Suffering affects us all in different ways, none worth comparing with another to see which is worse. Pain is pain, no matter your circumstances, and for each person, it’s an evidence that we live in a fallen world.

In this passage, Paul personifies this suffering, this futility in our world, as a woman in labor, which evokes a depth to the suffering. The beauty of this metaphor is that the pain and the groaning are producing something that will be worth it. The pain is inescapable, but the expectation of what’s coming is the motivation for the woman in labor to not give up–and this then produces hope in the midst of despair.

“For in this hope we were saved. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25)

“As [Paul] sees the dark tunnel of death ahead of him, he is confident that beyond it the road leads on to his destination, though it remains unseen.” –Everett F. Harrison

This passage in Romans connects to Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, which also echoes that the present sufferings are not able to be compared to an “eternal weight of glory.”

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

In regard to this passage, commentator Murray J. Harris states, “Matching the progressive weakening of [Paul’s] physical powers was the daily renewal of his spiritual powers. It was as though the more he expended himself for the gospel’s sake, the greater his spiritual resilience.”

Infertility has brought a new dimension to my relationship with God. The longer I walk through it, the deeper my dependence on God. Intimacy has formed when things are hard, and my need for hope is even more evident when things feel like they are falling apart.

This ongoing struggle has become a “normal” in my life. Some days this means that it’s hard to think about hope, and it seems like it will never end. But other days, it means that I have settled into a rest despite uncertainty, a confidence that this broken world is not all there is. My eyes are more quick to fix on a coming redemption, a hope for a Savior who will make all things right.

Because we have struggled to start a family, I have a deeper understanding of the tension we all live in, of expectation, of the already and the not yet, of God’s presence with us but not in its fullest form. I am continually reminded of my need for God in a situation I can’t control and must trust to his hand. And I am forced to set my hope in him as I wait with patience for the fulfillment not just of my desires, but of the whole world’s groaning.

As Mother’s Day approaches, for those with a similar story, or as you consider any holiday or mark in time that reminds you of your own loss, I pray that you will find rest in his sovereignty and comfort in his presence, even in the midst of suffering–trusting that your suffering is producing a hope toward eternity. May you more deeply understand the spiritual reality we live in as you walk through a beautifully broken world.

Last year, I wrote a piece entitled “When Mother’s Day Is Painful,” and I would love for you to share it with anyone you know who might be anticipating next Sunday with a little bit of hesitation or hurt. 

grace in the wilderness

The sun rose purple this morning, though I was certainly awake before it made its appearance. One of the most difficult parts of winter for me is the sleepiness of the sun – its delay in rising and its early departure in the evenings. Even during the day, it seems to burrow itself under blankets of clouds, as if it, too, is waiting for winter to end.

I’ve been asking the Lord what he wants from me, how he wants to use me in this season of life. Two years ago, I thought my season was about to change, so I tried to soak up everything I could to make the most of where I was, even if was only for a few more months.

I can’t believe it’s been two years. I can’t believe every single other thing in my life has changed – yet the one thing I thought would change, hasn’t. In the past two years – well, really, the past six months – my job, my husband’s job, our city, our friends, our church, our house all became new. But the wilderness of infertility in our life has remained the same. Despite recent tests, even our findings have not changed; everything is normal.

I know that I am always grateful for trials in hindsight. It’s encouraging to see the growth the Lord worked in me and how he uses those struggles for his purposes. I have experienced the truth of Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4, and I am not doubting that suffering produces perseverance and maturity and character.

But in the middle of the desert, we all despair; none of us would choose to camp there for too long.

We tend to think that the wilderness would be easier to walk through if we had a timeline on it. If I just knew how much longer it would be before we got pregnant, or if you knew that you would not have to endure your miserable job in another six months, or if singleness had a cap – maybe then, you could be content with your present, knowing that it won’t last for forever.

However, God told the Israelites exactly how long they would be wandering in the desert, and that didn’t cheer them up or prevent them from doubting God. They still complained. They were still afraid.

So if knowing the length of time of our wandering is not the answer, what does it look like to endure the wilderness? How can we find purpose in each season of life, whether or not it’s been made clear to us? How do we trust God’s goodness when it seems removed from our line of vision?

In the middle of pain and confusion, the only thing I know to do is to continue going back to the Word, looking for answers, for encouragement, for anything that provides clarity of God’s character while I walk in the wilderness.

And I can’t get this verse out of my mind:

Thus says the Lord, “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:2-3

“Grace in the wilderness” is one of the most beautiful phrases to me.

It often seems like the wilderness is a time when God is distant, when for one reason or another I am confused by how I ended up here and why God isn’t more present to bring change.

Jeremiah was prophesying about the coming defeat and exile that Judah would face. Because they worshipped pagan gods and failed to keep God’s covenant, the Babylonians would soon conquer Jerusalem and take captives away. However, because of God’s love for his people, Jeremiah also promised that Jerusalem, along with His people, would be restored in time. And, in the middle of it, Jeremiah promises that God will be with them.

God will remain faithful to his people. The wilderness may seem like a backwards move away from God’s goodness and God’s care, but that’s because they don’t understand God’s ways and God’s glory. His plan reaches far past the seventy years of captivity. God’s faithfulness continues in the wilderness. I believe that, and I am grateful he does not leave us to wander on our own. I believe that he is present, even when I don’t “feel” him.

But what it’s not just about seeing his grace while I am in the wilderness – what if the wilderness is actually part of his faithfulness? What if he is showing me grace by allowing me to remain in the wilderness?

What needs to change in my perspective to see infertility not just as a struggle to get through, but as a provision from God? How would this affect my joy, my hopes, my day-to-day life?

How does it shake your desperation to consider this desert as a place of experiencing God’s favor?

We will unfortunately not fully understand God’s ways on this side of heaven. It won’t make sense to us why life turns out the ways it does and why some desires go unfulfilled. But God is ultimately the One who wants to be the fulfillment of those desires, and as we wrestle in the wilderness, may we see that God’s grace goes before us and with us. He is faithful.

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25

accepting an unwanted storyline

These days, I am trying to form a new habit of looking for redemption despite a lack of resolution.

We live in a less-than-perfect world, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It’s not hard to find disappointment or discouragement, both in the world as a whole and in our own worlds, the day-to-day realities we individually face.

In my story, the brokenness I am facing is infertility. For you, it might be unhappiness in a job, or a rocky marriage, or recent loss of a loved one, or a difficult move to a new city, or the weighty uncertainty of what the future holds.

And, perhaps even more difficult, these struggles reveal our lack of control in our lives. The inability to work hard and, as a result, make things okay is frustrating, especially in a society which communicates that hard work typically equals success – anything from a promotion in your job to a cleaner house to a skinnier version of yourself. There are so many tangible things that are successful as a direct result of our effort and our skills. But when it comes to the big life issues, it doesn’t work the same way.

So what do we do, then?

How do we deal with the dissatisfaction we face in life? How do we live in the middle of brokenness and find contentment in what we cannot change? How do we trust a God Who is able to cause change, but Who often doesn’t meet our expectations, since His ways are not ours and His thoughts are not ours?

If we really believe He is working all things together for good, but if we accept that we won’t understand His methods of bringing about that good, how can we find peace while still in the middle of the story?

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. –John 12:24

This paradox has grasped my attention. Death is not the end – death produces life. And not only does it produce life, but it has the potential to multiply life.

In this season of infertility, how can I see it as fruitful, yielding life despite the lack of such within my womb?

How can you reshape your perspective to see not just the trial in front of you, but what it is producing in you? How could this be part of God’s story, even if it’s not the storyline you hoped for?

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4

Suffering and affliction is the beginning of the route to hope. Crapdangit.

Our God uses pain to produce hope, and as much as I kind of hate this process, I am learning that it is necessary. Without pain, why would we need a hope to cling to? If the world worked the way we wanted, would we long for the Lord? But as it is, we falter and faint until we lean on the Lord’s strength, finding our needs met in Him even when (especially when) they aren’t met by our tangible reality.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Joel 2:25-27

The locust has eaten the years – but the locusts were first sent by God. He gives locusts, then He gives relief and He gives life. How do we handle that He is the One Who both sends the locust and Who rescues us?

As of now, I am perhaps left with more questions than answers. But I have been pondering this concept for the past several months, and I want to find the life in the midst of death, the fruit in the midst of barrenness, and the hope that pain is producing in me.

It’s a beautiful absurdity, that God takes such an unlikely path, and while I confess being over the pain and the confusion, I am grateful that the brokenness doesn’t mean hopelessness. In fact, the more I find myself despairing over life circumstances, the more I am grasping for hope that deliverance is soon.

And in that grasping, I am gripping onto God instead of a change in my circumstances, as I more fully recognize His control and my lack thereof.

enough

Matthew 19 tells the story of the rich young man who wants to experience eternal life from God, so he boldly asks Jesus how to obtain it. He confirms that he has shaped his life in accordance with God’s rules. Jesus then tells him the last thing he needs to do is sell everything he owns and give the profits to the poor to follow Him. And the man goes away sorrowful, because he has to make a choice between Jesus and his possessions, and he can’t imagine giving up his wealth.

I don’t think this story is meant to make a literal statement about wealth, though it certainly can apply to materialism – I think it’s about what you treasure most. The commandments not mentioned in the list He gives are the first three about having no other gods before Him, no idols, no irreverance toward His name. Jesus wants us to treasure Him most. He wants us to choose Him when given the option, to be willing to let go of even the things He has blessed us with, to choose the Giver of gifts rather than the gifts themselves. He wants us to see Him as enough.

I don’t feel like God often makes me actually give up the gifts He has provided. I have noticed that He brings up the possibility of me having to let go of things, to see if I am willing to do so (kind of like Abraham being willing to give up Isaac but in the end God providing a ram). And not that He hasn’t asked me to let go of some things, and not that He won’t in the future. But it’s when those potential surrenders come up that I see the true holds on my heart.

And infertility has brought one up.

I have a hard time giving up being able to relate to others — I don’t want to feel left out or left behind.

I don’t want to be a cause for pity. I don’t particularly want to be singled out in a room full of women as the only one who doesn’t have kids. Those have been some of the most painful moments in this journey – the moments where I have felt isolated and alone. Like I am “falling behind” everyone else. And it’s not a reflection of insensitivity of people – on the contrary, my people have been constant and compassionate. It’s my own heart fears that isolate me.

But if Jesus is enough, like He wants the rich young man to understand, then I don’t need to fear being “incomplete” without a baby. If He is enough, then I do not have to live in hopelessness during infertility, no matter how long it lasts. I have to choose to see Him as enough and to rest in His sufficiency, even if it’s not an easy, tangible alternative.

And when that choice is hard to make, I bring myself back to the truth in Scripture to calm my weary and worried heart.

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will meet all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Matthew 7:11 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 – “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

I don’t know what it is for you, what object or relationship or status catches your breath as you think about God asking you to let go. It can be anything. But I believe we all have something. The woman who discipled me in college set such a beautiful example for me. She knew hers was materialism, and she would share with me how she was learning to identify the line between enjoying the things in her home and her closet versus when they would become an obsession, overshadowing her love for God. She confessed to me when she was struggling, and she modeled a constant awareness of the state of her heart.

I want to be continually re-evaluating the state of my heart. Am I clinging more to God, or to comparisons and desires to be “in it” with everyone else? Am I more focused on desiring pregnancy, or desiring God no matter what story He has for our future family?

What is it that keeps you from whole-heartedly, without abandon, following Jesus? What are you holding back? What are you afraid to lack?

No matter what it is, do you believe that, with or without it, He is enough?

my heart behind my vulnerability

Hushed tones accompany the topic. The one with the secret feels broken, and insecure, and hesitant to share in case the one listening will feel awkward.

We’re trying to get pregnant.

It’s a topic rarely spoken about publicly, similar to miscarriages. Understandably. And it’s easy to feel alone because of this reality.

I experience the tension between wanting to be vulnerable, but not wanting to share something so personal with someone who might not know me as well yet.
Or someone who might not want to go that deeply into my life.
Or someone who might then feel awkward around me or sorry for me.
Or even someone who might try to give me advice that is more hurtful than helpful.

Why do those of us with this story feel this way?

Well, it implies we are having sex regularly at intentional times each month. (EESH that’s personal.)

It implies we want something really badly, and at least I personally fear people will judge me, assuming I have made an idol out of this desire.

It means the possibility that something below the surface could be wrong – which no one wants to think could be then be true for them.

And it’s a reminder that it’s not easy – and maybe scary for those who aren’t at that place yet. It’s not something you can necessarily know ahead of time, but the more people you know with that issue, the more of a fear it can become.

But I have found such freedom in talking about it. Talking and writing helps me process and opens me up to the Lord speaking to me without me even realizing it until I read back over the words on the page or until I speak them out loud. It helps minimize the shame I feel at times in my grief. It reminds me that people love me and care about me and want to come around me in my sadness.

And one of the sweetest things in talking about a sensitive subject is that it opens my story up for others to see and relate to.

Before we started “trying” to get pregnant, I was praying that the Lord would bring women into my life whom I could walk through pregnancy with. All of the women in my community group were new moms, with babies born within the previous nine months, so I assumed that my pregnancy would come before they started trying for their second.

Then we didn’t get pregnant. I had all sorts of friends getting pregnant, so I kept thinking those friends were the answers to my prayers, and I would just be a couple of months behind them.

Then those friends had their babies. And I looked down at my flat stomach and empty arms and wondered what God was doing, how He was planning to answer my prayer for women to relate to and walk with.

For all of the reasons mentioned above, I hesitated to share openly on my blog or with people I maybe didn’t know super well. But once I started sharing how I was seeing God work through this situation, I was encouraged to find people who were walking through a totally different type of waiting, yet still related to how God was at work in me.

Some of the most encouraging words in the human language, in my opinion, are “Me, too!” and I have gotten to hear that so often – whether the person responding is also walking through infertility or whether they are simply experiencing the same questions as they figure out where God is in their own personal struggle. It’s affirming that you’re normal and that, if God is at work in that person and their uphill struggle, then He can be at work as you walk uphill, too.

Then I had friends and acquaintances start reaching out to me as a result of what I shared. Women I hadn’t really talked to in several years told me that they, too, were walking through infertility, whether only a few months of trying or multiple years of heartache. I made a list of women to pray for who were specifically in the waiting for a baby, and I was overwhelmed with how many names were on the list.

God answered my prayer for women to walk through this season with, even if they aren’t people I see every day. I have friends I can message or call who will understand the overwhelming grief that rolls in one morning, only to be gone by the afternoon. I have friends who understand the heartbreak of starting a new monthly cycle, the disappointment and dreams and plans that come crashing to a halt.

All because of God’s hand at work in the midst of a painful season – and the strength He has given me to be vulnerable.

When it comes to vulnerability, though, the struggle is not just limited to infertility. Anxiety, depression, singleness, unhappiness at work, marital tension, fear of the future, the daily struggles of a young mom… the list goes on and on. We try to hide the areas in our lives where we feel we don’t “measure up” or have it all together. We each think for some reason that we should be able to handle life on our own, whatever it throws our way, so unhappiness or pain means there is weakness in us. Instead of letting others know that we need help or encouragement, we hide our struggle behind a smile and a vague comment referencing “life is hard but I am making it.”

There’s discretion in who we share our pain with, and I am by no means suggesting that the more public level of vulnerability God has challenged me to is the best way for everyone, but I have seen power in choosing to allow others in. It reminds me that I am not alone. That we are all fighting to see God in this broken but beautiful world. And it allows others to respond as tangible expressions of God’s love for me.

Last week, the South was hit with buckets of rain. Each day I left the house, I brought along a rain jacket and an umbrella and water-friendly shoes to prepare for the day’s dampness. But in the midst of the fast-moving clouds one morning before the downpour started, I caught glimpse of a faint rainbow. God’s promise to never flood the earth again – a promise that He has kept. Which reminds me that He will continue to keep all of His promises. He is a trustworthy God, and vulnerability for me has started with first being real with Him, opening myself to hear His voice even when I may not see His hand.

Just to note: I am starting a section in my blog to share more of the specifics in my story so far relating to infertility. I probably won’t be posting these on Facebook the way I do my regular posts, and I don’t want my blog to become only about infertility, but I would love for you to follow along or share my blog as a resource for any friends who are also walking through this type of wait. You can access it through the menu and by clicking “infertility” or through the link samanthacbarnes.com/infertility.

the risk of a fickle march

image1Hope is a risky thing.

The buds on the trees have been slowly developing over the past few weeks – so slowly that you might not have noticed them until now, when their colors start to fade into focus.

Last summer, we planted a “Jane Magnolia” tree – a tulip tree – and I have been eagerly anticipating spring when pink and white blooms would present themselves for the first time.

Last fall, we planted daffodils, and my insides have become giddy as the bulbs have recently bloomed to welcome spring. This is our first March in our new house; next month will make one year since we moved in, and I feel that our own daffodils blooming is the last piece of the puzzle to make this house our home. Daffodils have always been my favorite.

With a milder winter, I certainly haven’t complained about the lack of snow, but I have suspiciously resisted from calling it an early spring. March snows are always a possibility, and I fear for the state of the blossoms peeking out from under their covers. I don’t want to get my hopes up that winter really is over, because I fear being pounded with inches of snow and having to dig out my puffy coat again.

That has to be one of the worst feelings in the world – getting your hopes up for something, and really believing it will happen, only to be thoroughly disappointed and discouraged. It jades us, makes us cynics in a world that is increasingly more welcoming to the cynical and doubtful.

Hope can seem too risky, too naive.

We want to outsmart the things we can’t control, so we hold back from believing in what is possible, suspect that things won’t ever really change, or refrain from making plans because we hate the idea that they won’t work out. We want to be able to say, “I told you so” to cover our disappointment and to pretend that we aren’t hurt.

But if I’m not careful, I will carry this attitude with me all through the month of March, claiming that spring is “too good to be true.” Then April will hit and I will realize that I missed the joy of the whole month – the early bloomers, the budding trees, the grass slowly turning green. The joy of the world preparing itself to reveal life after a bare, windy winter.

I will have missed delighting in the daffodils for fear that they will be killed by a late snow.

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla, with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.”

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, `Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.” –Anne of Green Gables

I don’t want to miss out on the fun of looking forward to what’s next.

Often, the anticipation of something is just as fun as actually getting it. Think about a child trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, or the planning and packing for a big trip, or the moments leading up to a bride walking down the aisle to her groom. Time seems to move so slowly when you want something to happen, but it’s a feeling that you can’t create unless you are in the situation. The better the thing you are waiting for, the harder the wait. The more you start to doubt that it won’t come. But the rush of emotion when it does come is better than the numbness of never believing it would come in the first place.

I want to live a life that is hopeful, not suspicious. I want to enjoy March for all it has to offer, even if it teeters on the possibility of early spring regressing to late winter. I want to take out my sandals and short sleeves without shame, without worry of what tomorrow might bring.

And I want to be present in my own life seasons of March.

In the waiting for a baby, it’s easy to let the months pile up as reasons to doubt that the future will change. Don’t they call insanity doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Yet that can pretty much feel like the journey to get pregnant. It’s discouraging, it’s uncontrollable, and it doesn’t seem to change.

Maybe you can relate in your own season of March, in the wait for a desire to be fulfilled. You start to feel ashamed each time that it doesn’t happen, you begin to quiet your sadness when talking to others, you want to outsmart your hope each month that something will be different. You harden yourself to hope, instead thinking it’s easier to just forget your desire and avoid the pain that comes each time you realize it’s not going to happen.

But I don’t want to live in ignorance of the buds which are starting to unfurl in this season. There’s beauty in those early stages. I don’t want to avoid disappointment at the cost of avoiding the experiences of life – both joy and pain. I want to be present each day in the month of March, not worrying about whether or not the temperature will drop in a week.

Because there is joy in anticipation and fun in the wait. There is something to be valued in the suspense of this beautiful yet unpredictable life, especially as we remember that we have a God Who is sovereign over those details. He tells the bulbs when to bloom and He reminds us that His hand is in every detail of March. We can hope not because it will guarantee a change in circumstances, but because our hope draws us closer to God. He alone holds the power to move us into spring or stay us in the winter, and His purpose in either season is greater than what we can understand.

I know the risk, but I am choosing to hope in the fickleness of March, bringing my hope to His presence no matter what happens next.

admitting when things are messy

I thought I had already picked a “word” for 2016. Something to anchor me to a purpose, a characteristic I wanted to develop, a place I planned to focus in growth.

And, while I still love the word rooted and all that it implies in my walk with God, I think He might be changing the word He wants me to focus on.

There’s this tool called Soularium that we use for ministry within Cru. It is a stack of photographs which you spread out on the table and use to start conversation, typically evangelistic in nature. It’s incredible how students will relate cards to where they wished they were in life, what they think God is like, and how they would describe their spiritual journey.

As someone who loves to think in metaphors, though, I enjoy using these cards to start conversations with others simply regarding where they are in life right now and even for personal reflection in my own story.

As I was using Solarium with a group of students a couple of weeks ago, I came across this card:

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My initial reaction noticed that it was blurry and messy. Maybe from a group of people who have finished dinner but have yet to clean up.

The word messy has come up for me a lot lately, and I first found myself hoping God wasn’t doing that on purpose.

When journaling and praying, I have repeated ideas that communicate feeling “all over the place” and wanting to be able to “get myself together.” I have felt a lack of consistency in so many internal areas and daily disciplines, when I typically feel like I am someone who is a little more leveled out. When sitting down with a counselor several weeks ago, it’s the word that kept coming out of my mouth to describe how I have felt and why I wanted to talk to her. Eric has told me he thinks I am the “even keel” one in our relationship, but I have begun to doubt that role over the past few months.

I don’t like for life to be messy. I like order, control, efficiency. Heck, I have a planner that breaks up my day by the hour so I can quickly see what gaps are in my schedule and how I can make the most of them. While my home is not spotless, it is generally well-organized and requires very little tidying up before guests arrive. (The clean aspect is what requires more effort, thanks to an incredibly sweet but ridiculously furry dog.)

But the Holy Spirit has been at work to show me how quickly I attach to those for security instead of to Christ.

Confessions about this season in my life: I find myself needing to cry once a week instead of my previous patterns of once every six to eight weeks or so. I can’t predict or control my days where I am fine and my days where I am overwhelmed with sadness. Today, for instance, I am totally fine with not being pregnant yet. In two days (or even two hours), that might change. Words are my thing, but I haven’t known how to put into words what I am walking through on the hard days. Then on days where I am feeling great about life, I feel separated from that struggle and can’t necessarily process the pain.

I kind of just feel all over the place, and that hasn’t been normal for me.

As I have recognized this messiness in my life, though, and as I have had courage to admit it, I have experienced a new sort of freedom. A weight off my shoulders. I have noticed that others don’t expect me to be perfect – they have grace for me and want me to share, not hide, my confusion. It was I who didn’t have grace for myself, and now admitting that I don’t have it all together releases a deep breath and relief.

But no one wants to be messy or needy, right?
Who would embrace that word to define their focus for the year?

As I continued in conversation with the group of college girls gathered over the table of pictures, another image caught my eye.

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It, too, is messy. But it’s beautiful – one of those that deserves to have some sort of inspirational quote dancing across in scrawls and swirls.

I began to ask myself what the differences were between the two pictures of messy situations.

The dinner table signifies a mess that needs to be cleaned immediately. Eric and I have a hard time being able to relax in the evening if the kitchen is still a wreck from dinner, so he graciously does the dishes right after we finish eating while I put away leftovers. That picture also signifies that the fun has already happened; no one looks forward to cleaning up after a wonderful meal. That means the evening has ended and the fun is over.

However, the tangle of teacups and paintbrushes and dirty water notes that something special is being created. The artist might still be in the midst of the process, but there’s beauty in the middle of that mess. There’s promise that something special is being created, so that even when it is time to clean up, there is tangible evidence to add purpose to the mess.

I want to embrace life being messy with the view that it is producing something. I might still be in the middle of the mess, and the painting may be far from done, but there is something lovely about the process. Being messy, for me, reminds me that I don’t have the ability to put it all back together, and it therefore brings me to my knees more quickly in my need for God.

I am seeing that I cannot always wrap my arms around life and wrangle it in to my understanding or my control. Sometimes it’s wild and unorganized and uncertain. But in those moments, I can lean on a constant God for stability, embracing exactly where He has put me, trusting that He is creating something purposeful and beautiful.

His grace keeps me close when all else threatens to unhinge me. His grace teaches me to stay sane in the midst of messy. So I will embrace a messy life that carries the hope of how my God is at work and the promise that “He Who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

I might still work to keep my home and my calendar pretty organized, though. Pretty sure that will help with sanity in the midst of life’s unpredictability.