I Lift My Eyes to the Microwave

1:30. I punch the numbers and slump against the kitchen counter, waiting. One and a half minutes seems too long. My abdomen is howling, crying out for relief from the cramps. They shoot across my belly, fiery darts skittering through blood vessels and tissue and organs, a jumble of body parts fused together by metastatic disease.

It had been two years since I was diagnosed with endometriosis, four years since doctors initially missed the diagnosis. In between the two surgeries, the cancer-like disease spread to my ovaries and bladder, depositing trigger points in various nooks and crannies of my reproductive system. All it takes is a slight shift in hormones to spark the pain. It starts low, near the beltline, at the epicenter of physical and emotional turmoil, then radiates to my chest, arms, legs, back, and neck.

I lift my eyes to the microwave. From where does my help come? It comes from a loaf-sized pouch filled with beans, magic beans sent from heaven.

Read full essay at Fathom Magazine.

Weeping with Those Waiting for a Child

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I’ve often imagined the scene at the tomb the day after Christ’s crucifixion. The world must have seemed bleak. His family and disciples spent that Saturday grieving the loss of the One they thought would free them. They didn’t know He’d rise in victory over sin and death the next day. In the shadow of the cross freshly stained with Jesus’ blood, they couldn’t see the glory of an event yet to come.

Women who suffer infertility experience a similar grief over the death of our dreams about motherhood. Like those who mourned Jesus that dark Sabbath day, we’re unsure when or if joy will come tomorrow or the day after. Our bodies set us on a perpetual roller coaster of emotions, rising with anticipation at the start of a cycle then crashing with disappointment when the test turns out negative. A friend described it well when she called the arrival of her period as a “mini-funeral” she endured month after month.

This comparison to death might not make sense if you haven’t lived through the heartache of infertility. I didn’t understand it until my husband and I struggled to conceive. After years of tests, surgeries, and failed treatments, I learned the truth of Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Read full article at Revive Our Hearts.

[Photo courtesy Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]

Why Adoption Isn’t Plan A or B

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Love, marriage, baby carriage—that’s the predictable course many couples follow to fulfill the cultural mandate in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply.” Because procreation is a natural biological process that God designed, we expect our bodies to work as intended and assume the sequence will progress in the usual way.

But reproductive ability isn’t guaranteed. Our world is fallen, and sin affected the entire process of childbearing. Some couples can’t get pregnant; some miscarry or lose their babies in the womb. Their roads to parenthood meander and extend, with some diverging from the typical biological route.

When my husband and I began pursuing domestic infant adoption after several years of infertility, we mourned the loss of bearing children, but also rejoiced at the prospect of adding a child to our family through adoption. God sparked the desire to adopt early in our marriage, before we had problems trying to conceive. We didn’t view adoption as a second-rate method to grow our family, but rather appreciated it as a beautiful, redemptive way to bring us a child.

Though we received support from family and friends, we heard occasional comments insinuating that adoption was Plan B. The remarks implied that biological pregnancy was the preferred method for growing a family, and construed adoption as a subpar option left to those who otherwise couldn’t have children. A few couples we knew who were also facing infertility refused to consider adoption because they couldn’t imagine raising children that weren’t their biological offspring.

Deeper insight into the adoption process can help clarify the misperception that adoption is inferior to “having your own kids.” As parents who welcomed our first child through adoption, we jump at the opportunity to explain how God unfolded his plan for giving us this undeserved gift.

Read full article at ERLC.

[Photo courtesy Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash]

The Shunammite Woman: Faith in God’s Life-giving Power

A short story in the Old Testament tells how a simple woman with a generous heart grew in faith after witnessing God work a miracle in her life. God’s faithfulness to his word led her to boldly request another miracle later on, as she faced the uncertainty of death and loss. Her intensified conviction provides hope that God can mature the smallest mustard seed of faith in those who seek after him, even for chronic doubters like me.

We learn about this woman in 2 Kings 4, which chronicles events that happened early in the prophet Elisha’s ministry. During his frequent travels, Elisha often passed through the small village of Shunem, where the woman lived with her husband in a large, empty house. She invited the prophet over to eat every time he came by, and eventually asked her husband if they could set up a small room where the holy man of God could rest.

Elisha stayed and, in gratitude for her hospitality, asked his servant how he could repay her. The servant mentioned she didn’t have a son, and her husband was too old for them to bear children. Learning this, Elisha delivered shocking news: The following year, she would hold a son in her arms. Her response is reminiscent of Sarah’s incredulity when God promised her and Abraham a son: “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant” (2 Kgs 4:16). She couldn’t believe it, because it was impossible.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

God Never Wastes the Space Between

“I’m sorry to tell you it didn’t work,” the doctor said gently, then exhaled: “We didn’t get any embryos.”

And with her sigh, my dream of motherhood disintegrated.

It had been a long haul to reach this point. Tests, medications, surgeries. Unsure diagnoses, ineffective treatments, bills upon bills. And all for what? One tiny, pink, glaring negative line, month after month, year after year.

So much invested in fulfilling this deeply rooted longing, only to produce nothing but tears and prolonged ache.

What a waste.

God led me through this place of defeat so that I had nowhere else to turn but to Him.

Read full post at incourage.

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God Remembers the Barren, and So Should the Church

I walked in the door to a foyer teeming with children. My husband and I entered the sanctuary and sat down in the back, where I began counting the number of pregnant women in the pews around us.

We had just moved to a new town and were trying out a church. My husband had to drag me there, because I didn’t want to go. I thought it would be painful to be surrounded by what I wanted desperately, but God had not yet given.

My assumptions proved correct. As I flipped through the bulletin, I saw listed several ministries the church offered various adults: singles, newly marrieds, families with kids, empty nesters. Nothing for childless, not-wedded-yesterday couples.

I was already feeling rejected by God. Now, I felt left out of His church.

The truth of His promise

Though I was impatient with His timing, God was patient with me during my years of infertility. Even before He brought us our two sons, He granted abundant grace and revealed more of His character to me in a personal way.

During and after this season, God grew my compassion for others facing these trials and my desire to search His Word for true comfort, discovering how God interacted with women in the Bible who struggled to bear children.

One of the most prominent examples is Hannah, who is so distraught over her childlessness that she pours out her soul to the Lord in the temple and is mistaken by the priest as a drunk. She leaves with “her face no longer downcast,” and once she returns home, God answers her cry.

“And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her.” (1 Samuel 1:19)

The word “remembered,” when used with God as the subject doing the “remembering,” appears elsewhere in Scripture when He delivers His people: Noah from the flood (Genesis 8:1), Abraham and Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29), the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 2:24), and the Israelites from the desert (Psalm 105:42).

In all these examples, God doesn’t forget His people as if they slipped His mind. That would be impossible – it would go against His omniscient character.

Instead, God “remembers” His children by bringing His promises to pass.

He saved Noah, like He said He would. He saved Abraham and the people of Israel, like He said He would.

He enabled women like Hannah to miraculously conceive because He made a covenant (promise) to provide a lineage that would eventually produce a miraculously conceived Savior.

The Bible doesn’t guarantee that every couple will bear children. But it does confirm a powerful promise that God is committed to redeem the sorrows in our lives through the death and resurrection of His Son.

Left out of the club

Even with this biblical comfort, couples that struggle with infertility can feel forgotten and isolated – especially in environments like church that emphasize families and childrearing.

As the leader of an infertility support ministry, I’ve heard from women describing upsetting circumstances when someone at church made a comment implying that their infertility was caused by sin. This assumption adds to the shame those dealing with infertility already face, making them feel excluded from fellowship in the body of Christ.

One woman in an online support group describes her loneliness:

“I find church the hardest place to be at the moment. The lack of understanding has floored me. I can’t bear more hurt by other believers.”

In my experience, it seems most insensitive comments about infertility stem from ignorance about the subject. It’s hard to understand what you haven’t personally suffered.

As with other rarely discussed health issues, many people aren’t aware of the ramifications of infertility.

They don’t know that it’s a disease affecting one in eight couples. They haven’t felt the embarrassment of being the only couple in church without kids to send to Sunday school. They aren’t experiencing the month-to-month roller coaster of emotional and sometimes physical pain, only to be told by someone in Bible study the well-meaning but hurtful advice: “You just need to trust God and relax.”

Instead of perpetuating unwitting insensitivity, the church can seek better understanding about infertility to build one another up in unity of faith.

Bearing one another’s burdens

Armed with greater knowledge and empathy, those of us who lead or even just attend church can, by God’s grace, help carry the burdens of those who are suffering this type of disappointment. Working together, we can create an environment of compassion, rather than exclusion from the baby club.

Teaching

We know from Scripture that children are a blessing (Psalm 127:3-5), and are familiar with the command to “be fruitful and multiply,” though some miss the Old Covenant context within which God delivered this mandate and construe it as an assurance of reproductive ability. But how many churches have spent time expounding upon the many accounts of delayed fertility recorded in the Bible?

In miraculous displays backing up His declaration in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”, God enables seven women whom the Bible describes as “barren” to conceive for His divine purposes: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings, and Elizabeth.

If you’re a pastor or other ministry leader, you can preach sermons and offer Bible studies examining these stories, not as a prescription for fertility success, but rather to demonstrate God’s attentiveness to His children who are longing for a blessing, corresponding to the gospel truth of our longing for a Savior.

Recognition

Mother’s Day is difficult to endure for women experiencing infertility and miscarriage. Having to stay seated while most every other woman in the congregation stands for applause or receives a rose shoots like a dagger to the heart of a woman who desires but hasn’t yet been given children.

While it’s appropriate for pastors and churches to honor moms on that Sunday, you can also acknowledge the sorrow this day stirs for those who’ve lost a baby or haven’t been able to conceive. Rather than making an ostentatious display showing the haves and have-nots, make it a point from the pulpit to commend all women who do important work “mothering” others in practical and spiritual ways and affirm the value of every believing woman as a daughter of Christ.

Apart from Mother’s Day, consider planning an annual service honoring the losses associated with miscarriage and infertility, such as the Service of Memorial and Lament priest and author Tish Warren offered at her church this January. Similarly, just as churches hold infant dedications or baptism services, provide prayer times for couples waiting for children, petitioning the Lord for healing, peace, and wisdom on behalf of those undergoing medical tests and treatments or who are pursuing adoption.

Focus adjustment

Churches have traditionally emphasized marriage and motherhood as worthy aspirations, and for good reasons. Yet somewhere along the way, the role of mother got propped up as the ultimate calling for all women, to the point that some women’s ministries are structured solely around mom life activities and events.

Though well-intended, this emphasis can become so overblown that it devalues women who don’t have the label of “mother,” and dismisses the vital role all women play in the church.

To better serve and utilize the giftings of women, those who are in church leadership can broaden its focus on the Kingdom callings of women to include motherhood AND other areas of service, such as administration, outreach, teaching, organization, communication, and many other facets that are all needed to keep a church alive and thriving as one body growing up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Support

Infertility is a life crisis that entails a grieving process. To help people in the congregation as well as reach out to your community, you can host and/or help individuals start support groups, providing safe places for people to share their struggles and comfort one another with the comfort God supplies (2 Corinthians 1:4). If you offer a resource library, keep on hand books specifically written for those facing infertility, infant loss, and childlessness. Thanks to increasing awareness, we have more faith-based resources addressing these issues at our disposal today than we did 10 years ago, and we need more still.

God “remembers” couples experiencing infertility by keeping His promise to work for the good of all His children. Everyone in the church, from pastor to parishioner, can love those who are suffering in our midst by encouraging those who are aching for a child and pointing to Christ as our ultimate hope for a fulfilling life.

[Featured image: Ben White on Unsplash]

Infertility Wrecked Me and Made Me Stronger

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For a woman who is struggling with infertility, a pregnancy announcement has the equivalent effect of a kick in a man’s groin. It knocks the wind out of you, pierces your heart, and accentuates the weight of your empty arms.

You’d think this reaction would disappear once you became a mother. When you’re almost 10 years out from those dismal days of waiting and enduring pointless treatments, and now have two remarkable boys who fill your life with joy and bedlam, you’d think it wouldn’t get to you anymore. You’d think you had moved past this pain.

I thought wrong. It still stings, even if just for a quick moment of recalled anguish.

Read full post at Her View From Home.

[Photo courtesy Patrick Schneider on Unsplash]