Day 5: five months later

A few months ago, my friend and I started a series. We hope to finish with a few additional posts. Starting today…

What if you were a recovering alcoholic called to work as a bartender? An unsatisfied single man called to do pre-marital counseling? An infertile pastor asked to do a memorial service for aborted children?

Yeah. It’s gonna be that kind of raw. The kind of raw that surprises you, mid-slicing limes and cilantro, that ends up spilling these words out over the sound of gut wrenching tears, “Doesn’t it say somewhere, ‘he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up’?”

I handled the torn down okay, I thought. Gut wrenching sobs? Check! I made it through that first stage. In the initial months of becoming pastors, we decided that it would not be wise to tackle the what-to-do-next of the infertility diagnosis until at least 1 year in. And that was a good idea! Until the nursery workers start asking, “When will we have yours in the nursery?” And the unsuspecting grandmother says, “You wouldn’t be able to understand what my daughter’s going through. You’ve chosen not to have kids.”So leaving that frightening word, infertile, on the shelf for a year wasn’t possible. Friends got pregnant. I was torn down.

But after tears, I honestly felt healed. “Thank you, Father, that you gave me the diagnosis infertile. I know without a shadow of a doubt that you are in control. I know I did not make a wrong decision about whether to have or to prevent kids for the last 6 years. Because you have been in control, and you said no. Thank you. I can trust you.” That was 2 weeks ago.

Today, during a reflection on Psalm 103, I said to a fellow staff member, “I have experienced that God heals our afflictions. But I wish I knew that he forgives our iniquity deeper.” Full sincerity. Totally calm.

Cue the strike down.

That was pre-meeting with courageous women who walk with fellow sisters in Christ who have undergone abortions. They walk through their anger, forgiveness, grief, saying “hello” to their unborn child, and then saying good-bye. And now they would like to have a memorial service. They want me to lead a memorial service. I say what we always say, “We don’t have funerals here. We have services of the resurrection. For we are a people of the empty tomb, and we live in the hope of eternity.” I remain calm. Pastoral. Tears well up when one of the women acknowledges the coming pain for one of the women in the group who isn’t yet ready to say good-bye to the child she only just learned to say hello to. That must be so painful. “Should we sing ‘Amazing Grace’? How about ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’?” We pray. Hug. See the administrator to schedule the service. Continue on with the day.

Then I come home and lose it. “I’m supposed to be speaking the forgiveness of the Father over these women! How could they do it? I can’t even make one. How could they kill theirs?!”

Sob.

“He has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”

Never have I been so convinced that I am not strong enough on my own to do the work that I’ve been called to do. Never have I needed God so much. Never have I needed God’s forgiveness so much. I need his forgiveness to be able to say in 2 weeks words of assurance, “Your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus.” I really need to forgive them. They are, I am, the lost sheep that Jesus has picked up, bound up, and returned with.

Hosea continues,

After 2 days he will revive us;

on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;

his going out is sure as the dawn;

he will come to us as the showers,

as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Here’s the summary of what I hope to share:

This series is intended to bring the anonymous struggle of infertility into the light.

To those unaware of infertility, I hope to make it personal and known, rather than generalized and unnoticed.

To those struggling with infertility, I hope to bring comfort and empathy.

To those within the Church, I hope to bring a theological framework for engaging the questions and ministry that arise with infertility.

I am a married Christian whose medical chart reads infertile. This is my angle, and I hope it serves you.

Day 3: Getting Real About Control… Birth Control

One commenter on Challies blog wrote, “the results of sex [conception] are viewed to be as undesireable as a venereal disease… they don’t realize the natural has been replaced by the unnatural.” I am one of those people who have been indoctrinated to the idea of pregnancy as undesirable in a way. I didn’t see pregnancy as permanently undesirable, but only desirable 5 years into marriage and then at intervals of only 18-24 months and only to be repeated 2-4 times, depending on finances and geographic stability. I thought pregnancy was something you could control. I always have. I controlled it by remaining abstinent until marriage. I controlled it after I got married by using birth control. Pregnancy was undesirable as a 22 year old with a travel bug and a new marriage. In the back of my mind, of course, I knew that my brother was conceived while utilizing 2 forms of birth control. So I knew that God was ultimately in control, but I was certainly going to be responsible to do my part to insure that we didn’t have kids before I was ready! God could intervene if necessary.

I was interpreting God’s control in the area of conception as an offensive measure that could overwrite the natural order but certainly not as a defensive measure preventing what I didn’t yet want.* We have plenty of defensive measures that do not require God’s defensive intervention. So if God REALLY wanted me to have kids, he could break through the forms of birth control as he did with my brother. But I was going to assume that he could not/would not prevent me from having kids if it wasn’t time yet.

I needed to follow the natural order of the day and prevent pregnancy until a day when it would be desirable or at least not repulsive for me. Like maybe 5 years down the road when Larry has a good job, we’ve had a couple years to get to know each other, and maybe we had a down payment saved up for a house. That would be the responsible thing to do. You can control pregnancy, and you should.

I have begun to wonder if that statement is a 2-part lie.

You can control pregnancy. You should control pregnancy.

This is crazy controversial, and it’s crazy personal. There’s so much out on the web, why in the world would I want to discuss this in my own personal terms?

Because the issue of having children is so controversial, and it’s so personal. I would say that the discussion is general and universal as with so many other issues, but I think the real issue is that it hasn’t really been discussed. And when I see more than 20 women in a 15 minute time slot at 6:30am on a Saturday on Memorial Day weekend in a fertility clinic there to get blood work and an ultrasound for their controversial and personal battle with infertility as anonymous, isolated individuals, it makes me want to make the issue discussed and known. So here I am anonymously dealing with the personal issue of infertility. Doesn’t make sense, does it? I, too, am not courageous enough to attach my name to infertility at this point in my struggle with it.

Your assumptions about birth control might just be wrong. So before you ask another couple who have been married 5 years, when will you start having kids? I hope you’ll consider what you’re really asking. On the positive side, if you have children I hope the next time you have a 2 year old birthday party you might think, who in my life doesn’t have kids but might really want to share this? Or that you might be prompted to ask your long-time single friend, what name would you have wanted to give a baby girl?

 

(*We can sidebar a theological discussion about God’s establishment of the natural order and his omnipotence in acting through and in circumvention to it if you’d like. But that’s not what I am saying was at play at this point in my life. God plays offense, not defense. Are we together? This was my mindset. I am not saying this is actually true.)

Day 2: without evidence

“It is difficult to be faithful without being blessed.”

I remember hearing Breakaway Ministries Founder Greg Matte say these words in a sermon entitled, “Still Dating Jesus.” I was 26 years old, in love and dating Mr. Darcy, and living every girl’s dream of pursuit by a man. I am sure I nodded and probably even produced an audible, prayer-like groan to profess agreement with him.

That was then.

Fifteen years later, I am 41 years old, dating no one, and often feel forgotten.

Am I not pretty enough, pure enough, sweet enough… even to God?

My confusion is not unlike my friend’s. We both need understanding. We want insight. We ache for the outcomes we’ve pleaded for: the end of singleness and the end of infertility.

But will He grant it to us? Do the verses we memorize provide any hope of receipt? Can we call Him faithful if He refuses?

The LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18)

What am I to do with verses like these? Am I to believe that God loves me just as much as the 22-year-old who gets married one week after college graduation? If your answer is quick yes, then in C.S. Lewis fashion, I’ll suggest you don’t understand. This is the pain that is so much more than pain.

Good things. Good plans. Good suitor.

Promise?

Day 1: a violent word

God is good. All the time?

Did you grow up singing the Sunday School song, “Cast your burdens on Jesus”? I woke up singing it the other morning which set me looking into Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden on the LORD.” I love this Hebrew word for cast. It’s a violent word for throwing down. We sing so nicely about laying down our burdens at the foot of the cross, coming to Jesus, etc. But sometimes there’s a burden that you just need to thrown down, to cast down to the LORD and let him sustain you.

You’ve been there, I’m sure. Maybe not you yourself, but you’ve been around people that have been there. And we want to offer a word of encouragement, a word of sustenance. So we say things like “it won’t always be like this,” or “I can’t wait to see how God uses this.” And those words are said with sincerity, I think.

But what I really want to explore and what I am really learning is that God is good in the midst of suffering. And God is good regardless of the outcome of that suffering in this life because God is eternally good. What he is doing is eternal. And so I have grown dissatisfied with temporal reassurances.

I need to throw down my struggle and doubt and pain upon Jesus and let him sustain me.

So I want to get real with you for a couple of blog posts about our struggle with infertility. I have and continue to cast down the burden of infertility directly to Jesus. The invitation is not for you to carry our burden. I want to invite you into how I have processed control, freedom, questions people ask, theological issues, and all that.

Is God good if he doesn’t bring us a child?

That’s the question. The question isn’t, “Is iVF ethical.” It’s not, “So are you going to consider adoption?” The question is, Is God good even if he doesn’t bring us a child of our own?

I’ve heard the same question in quite a variety of ways. Is God good if this cancer is terminal? If this church closes? If I never marry? If my dad never changes?

So I want to talk about infertility because it’s what I am talking about in my life. I’m sharing about this in the midst of our struggle with it because I don’t want to wait until it’s all resolved. I don’t want it to only be okay to talk about infertility when we see what God has in store for us in the struggle. I believe God is active in the struggle itself. And I want to testify to God’s goodness in the midst of suffering.

Here’s the summary of what I hope to share:

This series is intended to bring the anonymous struggle of infertility into the light.

To those unaware of infertility, I hope to make it personal and known rather than generalized and unnoticed.

To those struggling, I hope to bring comfort and empathy.

To those within the Church, I hope to bring a theological framework for engaging the questions and ministry that arise with infertility.

I am a married Christian whose medical chart reads, infertile. This is my angle, and I hope it serves you.

 

Intro: no guarantee

I have this friend. She and I, we’re the kind of friends who help sort things out. Whether it’s who she thinks is the best dancer on SYTYCD or which view of God’s providence I am trying to align with theologically, we think out loud together. She is someone I can say anything to. She knows my ugliness, and she never picks up a gavel.

In this season of life, our hearts are heavy. There is a lot of sorting, and there is a lot to say. And so, we are choosing the dare – to be honest, in hope of discovering the truth.  Single or married, man or woman, forty or twenty, healthy or ill, we wish to understand our suffering. We invite you in with one question: what do we do when we want what we do not have, and there is no guarantee that we will ever get it?

This question is so raw for us. Life has thrown some curve balls; ready or not, our stance matters. As we parse our questions and face our confusion, pray that we would listen well. We want to know God’s goodness in the midst of suffering, even before it resolves.

presence

The Lord has given me a deep bench of friends. Friends who are wise. Who don’t tell me easy answers. Who consistently speak Truth regardless of its sharp edges. Who love me, mess and all. Today, this dear one wrecks my too-often only-in-hindsight belief system and challenges me deeply with her recent email….

it has been an incredible struggle.  

the news of one of my worst fears hitting my ears: not one, but three kidney stones – in both kidneys – and all this coming after we have sold our car, moved out of our house, sold our furniture, stored our boxes to be shipped to Asia and traveled back home with our two babies (a 2 yr old and a 4-month old) and are living out of six duffle bags – displaced and in limbo, scheduled to move across. the. world. in just a week.  this has now all be put on hold as we will probably be here another 2 to 3 months for me to undergo at least two surgeries and then have to pass these stones.  but while everything rages around me, i have moments where my heart feels strangely quiet.  i think it must be that the overwhelming magnitude of it has left me with no other place to go than to cling to Jesus.  I’ve been thinking a lot about when some disciples abandoned Jesus and Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave too. Peter’s response has been sitting on my lips recently as he responded to Jesus, “To whom else would we go?  You have the words of life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

those words ring in my heart.  as the powers of darkness press in on me from every side right now – the pressure continuing to build, i feel the questions looming: “Have you had enough? do you give up? is it too much for you to go? will you choose to stay here for comfort? will you run?”  and peter’s answer is on the edge of my lips – i want to scream – “to whom else would i go, Lord? you have the words of life…  i can’t run; i can’t give up ; i’ve literally sold all to follow You – i have no other Rock to which i can turn.  i’ve put all my eggs in Your basket, so You’ve got to come through for me.”  and as john sat in prison facing the dark night of his soul, he sent a messenger to Jesus to ask, “are you the Christ or should we look for another?” and Jesus went on healing others and sent word back to john essentially saying, “look around at what you see – i am healing and the Gospel is being preached … blessed is he who does not fall away because of me … i’m healing and freeing all these, john, but i’m not going to free you … it’s not what i have chosen for you.”  the absence of suffering, and even death, was not what it meant for Jesus to come through for john.

so what will it mean for jesus to come through for me? absence of kidney stones?  freedom from pain? ease of life?  uncanceled plane tickets and unfoiled plans? if that’s the case, then there is no hope for me in these circumstances.

a five-day hospital stay with kidney stone pain when i was pregnant with jude awakened in me a lifelong battle with fear.  i have lived most of my life battling fear of some sort: fear of the dark, of being kidnapped, of my parents dying … fear of sickness, pain and suffering … fear of losing my husband, children, loved ones.  long have i lived with fear’s gripping hand rising up to choke me, strangling the life out of me, paralyzing me – leaving me unable to live freely.

in the fall of 2010, feeling stagnant in my walk with God, i began to ask Him to increase my faith and grow me in grace.  since that time, several of my greatest fears began to surface.  i’d pray for relief and instead of relief, God would bring another … and another – the pressure began to build – as if God himself had His thumb on me – pressing down, harder and harder.  for the past year and a half, everything around me that could possibly give me a sense of security began to go – one after another – culminating a few weeks ago as we were carless, homeless, furniture-less, largely possession-less, my infant son spitting up blood, fever, ER visits and tests, my own health faltering, and traveling with everything we owned to texas – same day the news comes that i have kidney stones again – too large to pass.  i break down in sobs.  it’s more than i can bear.

i asked the Lord to grow me in faith and grace …  i long to be free from the grip of fear and my grasping for earthly things … is this how God is answering my prayer?  is this how He is coming through for me?

there’s a hymn that john newton wrote in 1779.   the words feel as if my heart could have written them last week. this hymn has been the song of my heart since this past september:

i asked the Lord that i might grow in faith, and love, and every grace;

might more of His salvation know, and seek, more earnestly, his face.

’twas He who taught me thus to pray and He, i trust, has answered prayer!

but it has been in such a way as almost drove me to despair.

i hoped that in some favored hour, at once He’d answer my request,

and by His love’s constraining power, subdue my sins, and give me rest.

instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart.

and let the angry powers of hell assault my soul in every part.

yea, more with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe,

crossed all the fair designs i schemed, blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried. “wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”

“tis in this way,” the Lord replied, “I answer prayer for grace and faith,”

“these inward trials i employ, from self and pride to set thee free.

and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou mayest find thy all in Me.”

i know what He is doing … He is setting me free.

He has taken away my comforts, my securities, my things to hope in – and He has given me Himself.  He has calmed my heart in the midst of anxiety and fear and taught me to trust Him in a new way – a way that feels at peace without fear even if He does not come through for me in the way i expect or desire.  i trust Him because He is with me – He will not leave or forsake me and He will provide all i need in the moments i need it.  His presence is the provision.

i am writing this, not from a problem-free place looking back on my suffering with forgetful nostalgia as i most often do … but in the midst of pain, another looming surgery, a baby still spitting up blood, still displaced, delayed from moving to our new home and a toddler daily telling me “back home, mama.”

i want to go back home too; i want these kidney stones to disappear; i want my baby to stop spitting up blood; i want to unpack and have a home and stability.  but this is not how God is coming through for me at this moment.  He is giving me something greater than all these things – Himself.  and for the first time, i think i am truly starting to believe that He is enough for me.  i would be so grateful if you would join me in praying for that – i go back and forth between belief and unbelief, peace and fear, gratitude and frustration.

but i am utterly thankful that He is growing all these things into my heart.