Surrendering ‘Supposed to’

adoption loss orphan grief grace surrender

Guest post by Christy Britton

Through this past year of writing more and contributing to different websites, God has given me an unforeseen blessing of forming friendships with other writers. (Yes, as surprising as it seems, it’s possible to develop genuine relationships through social media channels pervaded by fake or misleading content.) One of my dearest friends is Christy Britton, whom I consider a faith and writing mentor. She is also a boy mom to four biological sons and shares my love for adoption, a passion which led her to pursue adopting a young girl in Uganda.

Her story breaks my heart. Things didn’t go as she’d hoped. The plan that was supposed to bring another child into the family never came to fruition. Yet even in deep pain and loss, she kept loving her daughter and her heavenly father who had brought them together as a family. She continues to grieve with open arms, submitting her shattered expectations to our good and holy God.

It’s a tremendous honor to share her story through her own words, and to honor the life of her daughter, Gracious. I pray this will accomplish what I know is her desire: to uplift others who are hurting, and encourage us all to turn our sorrows over to our Savior.

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“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Have you ever said these words? Thought them? I suspect I’m not the only one. We all experience circumstances not of our choosing, situations that don’t go the way we want or expect.

Our supposed to’s may seem harmless, but they can easily become idols. If we’re clinging to our supposed to’s, we’re not clinging to Christ. When we prefer our own plans, we reject his. When we think we know better, we deny his wisdom and authority. We’re back to the garden. Like Eve, we think God is withholding something good from us, and we doubt his goodness.

There is tension between our wills and what our good father wills for us. There are gaps between our desires and his. In this tension is a sweet invitation to trust God. In each gap is an opportunity to release our grip on what we want and reach for what he offers.

I’m learning to let go of my own supposed to. Honestly, it’s a work in progress with much work to be done. I had a plan for my life. A good one that would have brought glory to God. I thought it was what God wanted for me, too. I was mistaken.

A trade-off
As an orphan advocate with 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit that partners with local leaders around the world caring for orphans and widows, I get to travel to Africa. Three years ago, I met Gracious, a little girl living in Uganda,  and immediately fell in love with her. My husband and I began to care for her as best we could from afar. We visited her, prayed for her, and made sure all her physical needs were met. After much prayer and wise counsel, we felt God stirring us to pursue her adoption.

While the adoption process was difficult and costly, we made our best effort to bring our girl home. After 18 months of paperwork, we were preparing to relocate to Uganda for the required one-year residency to complete her adoption. However, right before our scheduled flight, we received the news that our daughter had passed away.

She wasn’t supposed to die. She was supposed to be a Britton.

I’m supposed to be in Uganda right now. I’m supposed to be caring for my daughter.

These are my supposed to’s.

I wake up each morning with the temptation to give into the bitterness that comes from not getting my way. I wake up each morning to the reality that the plans I had will never come to fruition. Each morning begins with a dull pain that reminds me of what was supposed to be.

But do you know what else each morning begins with? New mercies (Lamentations 3:23). God is with me in each of these starts to my day offering fresh mercy. He holds his hand out to me.

Taking his hand forces me to release my grip on my supposed to’s. Holding onto him means letting go of the comfort and familiarity of my plans. God gives me himself, on his terms. He invites me to trade my supposed to’s for him.  

As beloved as I’ve built up my supposed to’s in my mind, he is better still. As good and holy as my plans are, his plans are better still.

Better vision
What about you? Do you live with the tension between what you think should be and what is? What “supposed to” do you need to release?

Maybe you, too, are missing the child you were supposed to raise. Perhaps you’re not in the job you’re supposed to have. Maybe you don’t look the way you’re supposed to look. You weren’t supposed to be sick; your best friend wasn’t supposed to move away; your marriage wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

These supposed to’s we hold onto must be let go in favor of something better – God’s will for our lives. He wholly offers himself to us, but wholly on his terms. He gives us a vision of himself, so we will turn our eyes away from lesser things.

Our father is not careless in what he withholds; he is purposeful. We may not understand the why, but we can trust the who.

Our God is for us (Romans 8:31). He is with us (Matthew 28:20). His plans are for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). He promises that we will share in his glory when we share in his sufferings. He offers life through his Son when we die to ourselves. Death is painful, and we should not expect to die to our wills without hurting.

What we can expect is that our temporary affliction is preparing for us eternal glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). My affliction exists in the form of grief, in an unfulfilled longing. My day can easily get derailed at the sight of the empty chair at the dinner table. But I cling to the promise that afflictions don’t last forever. In heaven, all my longings will be satisfied in my Savior.

Take his hand
I want to want God more than I want anything else, including my supposed to’s. I look to Christ for motivation. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion demonstrates the tension between what he wanted and what his father wanted.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Love caused him to release his own desires and submit to his father’s. Love for us. We were supposed to suffer God’s wrath. We were supposed to pay the penalty for our sins. But Christ died on the cross in our place. He paid the debt for our supposed to’s.

Jesus surrendered his will to the father so that we could be adopted into his family. As his children, will we not surrender our own wills to him? Will we refuse to let go of our precious plans? Our father who gave up his own beloved Son to secure our redemption can surely be trusted with the way our lives are supposed to go.

I don’t know what your supposed to’s are. But I do know that you can release and entrust them to a good father.

When you wake up and feel crushed under the weight of unfulfilled longings, reach for Christ. Take his hand and accept the new mercies he holds out to you. Live in this mercy. Ask him to transform your desires into longings for him. Allow your earthly disappointments to lead you to your father who always satisfies.

This is how your life is supposed to be lived.

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Christy Britton is a wife and homeschool mom of four biological sons. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. She and her husband are covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She loves reading, discipleship, Cajun food, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for several blogs, including her own, www.beneedywell.com.

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.

woman church alone infertility support

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]

writing heart vulnerability God sees love

On writing, sharing your heart, and feeling it bleed out

There’s a story I’ve etched in my mind’s eye for its vivid illustration of regeneration.

In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the third book in the classic children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, a whiny and entitled British boy named Eustace lands himself in a dreadful plight when he steals treasure from a dragon’s lair and then turns into a dragon himself.

After several days of feeling miserable trapped inside a monster’s body, Eustace is saved by the lion Aslan, who takes him to a well to be bathed. Aslan instructs the dragon-boy to “undress” first, and though Eustace attempts to scratch off layer after layer of scales, he cannot break through to the smooth surface of bare skin. Then Aslan tells Eustace he must let him do the undressing, and the child, desperate to return to his own body, agrees. The lion does so, claws ripping away the entire beastly mantle, throws Eustace in the water, and dresses him in new human clothes.

The restored Eustace later describes the process to his cousin:

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”

CS Lewis Narnia Dawn Treader Eustace dragon

Many interpret this story as a metaphor for salvation. We are dragons imprisoned in bodies of death due to our hardened sins, which we cannot remove on our own. Only God can strip away the husk of our wicked nature, wash us clean through the blood of Jesus, and clothe us in His righteousness. This process necessarily inflicts pain on the creature being transformed, as tearing off an essential part of self would naturally do, and comes at a steep cost to the One who does the tearing: the death of His Son, who in Scripture is referred to as both a Lion and a Lamb.

It’s a striking portrait, isn’t it? Eustace’s “come to Aslan” story bears such fantastical imagery that since reading this book as a child, I’ve held it dear as an emblem of what it means to become a new creation in Christ, demonstrating both the agony and the joy of rebirth.

Labor pains

Recently, I’ve discovered another life process to which this parable can be applied.

This is what writing is like for me. When I write how I feel about someone or something, it’s like peeling off skin. Whether it’s really me doing the peeling, or more accurately God rubbing a pumice stone to slough off my flesh, I cannot necessarily say. I just know that it hurts.

I also know that it’s good. Writing helps me process my emotions, to harness the swirling waves of doubt, sadness, grief, and longing, and funnel them into something sensible. Then, I can sort through the rubbish of sin and shame and lies, and pinpoint the Truth that anchors my soul.

It also helps others, or so I seriously hope. Although as a kid I got hooked on reading and composing great works of historical romantic fiction, what really got the ink flowing through my veins was when I began blogging about my infertility issues to encourage others who were aching like me. And nearly all my posts then and now have carried that same intent: reveal the struggle, comfort the heartbroken, exalt the Lord.

Other writers feel this way, I suspect, as well as anyone who lets down their defenses and puts their true selves out there for some greater cause. Those who take up the dare of vulnerability know it’s worth the burn of ripping away your public veneer if it ultimately facilitates healing, for yourself or others. It leaves you tender, sore, unguarded against attack, but it also saves you, changes your thinking, creates new life – like how the Creator breathed the world into life through the words, “Let there be …”

As Brene Brown says in her book, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

vulnerability purpose quote brene brown

Disappointment and true worth

I explain all this so others can understand that when someone uncovers a bare facet of her heart – like when a writer reluctantly pushes “publish” on a gut-spilling post – it feels like both heaving a weight off her chest and deliberately stepping into a nightmare, where she’s standing in front of a classroom, buck naked.

And, when she receives little to no response to her disclosure, left there hanging in the harsh limelight of full exposure, she feels embarrassed. Ashamed. Loathing her decision. Doubting her purpose.

It doesn’t make sense. Why would people not react to something that’s so visceral to you? Do they not care? Should they not care?

As I’ve spent the past several months “putting myself out there” to build a platform for my writing, I’ve experienced a little of this raw and lonely discomfort when I haven’t received the level of reaction I was anticipating. Being vulnerable on social media and not receiving much social support isn’t all that likable.

While valid points can be made about how I shouldn’t care so much about what people think, and should probably spend less time on social media, anyway, that doesn’t negate the genuine pain of feeling let down – a feeling that everyone experiences at some point. And those who unveil deeper layers of their public masks have harder to fall in their disappointment.

Just as I’ve done in the past, writing on subjects like infertility and the challenges of motherhood, I’m writing about this type of discouragement to get it out in the open so that others know they are not alone in suffering the biting chill of unrequited vulnerability.

When you share a private struggle in an attempt to uplift someone else, and that person fails to reciprocate at the same depth of disclosure, you are still heard.

When you passionately step out and take action to advance justice or expand empathy, and few others seem at all interested in that mission, you are still seen.

When you labor over growing a ministry to serve God and love your neighbors, and it reaps a meager harvest, or no visible fruit whatsoever, you are still valued.

We are still heard and seen and valued because we are cherished by a God who measures our worth according to His love for us, not by how others regard us.

Limited and loved

As I’ve been tending to wounds of unmet expectations, it seems no strange coincidence that the next book on my reading list would be one emphasizing how we should embrace our limits as a means of glorifying our limitless God.

In “None Like Him,” author Jen Wilkin highlights traits that are true only of God, and describes how we can better bear His image by acknowledging our human inadequacies.

“Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God. When I reach the limit of my strength, I worship the One whose strength never flags. When I reach the limit of my reason, I worship the One whose reason is beyond searching out.”

limits fear Lord quote jen wilkin

Through my writing, I cannot always successfully reach a sizable audience or elicit a preconceived level of emotional reaction, but God doesn’t have this problem. His Word goes forth and does not return empty (Isaiah 55:11). He Himself will fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Habakkuk 2:14). If no one would speak about Him in worship, the stones would cry out in praise (Luke 19:40).

We are limited in how much good we can accomplish through our disclosure. We cannot control how people will respond to our vulnerability. We do not have the power to save souls, no matter how greatly our hearts are invested in that purpose.

And that’s OK. We don’t have to be God. We don’t need others to constantly validate our feelings because Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses. Rather than being ashamed of our naked state, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, knowing we’re never hidden from His sight. His Word is living and active, and will pierce the hearts He intends to indwell (Hebrews 4:12-17).

He sees me. And He sees you. He loves us all enough to continually strip away our callused scales of sin to ultimately dress us in robes of His holiness.

God’s words will never fail even if mine go completely unnoticed. Knowing this truth, I will continue to write and peel off my skin, risking the sting of feeling ignored. This process hurts. And it also feels a bit like glory.

[Cover photo courtesy freestocks.org on Unsplash]

Dreams beyond expectation

As much as it lives up to its celebrated reputation as The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland also successfully fulfills its potential as Destination Meltdown.

This makes sense. Combine parents, who are eager to wring every last drop of magic out of an overhyped theme park for which they paid a fortunate so their family could make memories, dammit – with young children, who are volatile by nature and notorious for their oppositional behavior – with surly teens who kinda enjoy the rides but must appear unimpressed to stay true to their kind – with grown adults who are Peter Pan-ing it through life and don’t even really like kids but will put up with being around them for a day to satisfy their own childhood fixations – along with long lines, godforsaken heat, and irritability brought on by hanger pains – and whaddya expect? A Shutterfly book full of perfectly composed pics showing you and your family members riding unicorns blowing sunshine out of their Mickey ears?

Setting realistic expectations about major life events can be a good thing. Knowing this, I factored in a healthy dose of skepticism when planning our family’s trip to Disneyland this past June. It was our boys’ first visit there, and while we figured they’d enjoy it, we also recognized how overstimulating and thus tantrum-inspiring the Disney experience can be for little bodies.

This assumption played out along the streets of Tomorrowland and beyond. During our journey through the parks, at any given time of day, children could be spotted crying, whining, whimpering, shrieking, stomping, flailing, pouting, protesting, staging a stroller sit-in, pulling a last-minute bailout on a ride, wailing in despair over melted Frozen popsicles, freaking out because they didn’t get to meet Goofy or freaking out because they DID get to meet Goofy and he scared the crumbling goldfish out of them.

What astonished me and my husband about all this was that, for the most part, these were not OUR kids exhibiting the highly annoying yet very normal behavior one would expect from children who are pushed to the brink of exhaustion. Sure, we heard our fair share of grumbling, and we all got on one another’s nerves, as is custom on family vacations. But by and large, our boys handled the stress, excitement, and physical demands of touring the Disney parks – not to mention a couple of mishaps (flat tire, pink eye, ride-induced head injury, vomiting attack on the car ride home) – with greater patience and poise than we anticipated. This pleasant surprise made for an enjoyable, far-from-relaxing-but-nonetheless-entertaining family trip that was well worth it, despite the hellish triple-digit temps.

My point in sharing about our exceeded vacation expectations isn’t to brag about my kids being perfect (hardly) or to incite vacay envy (that’s what Queen Bey’s Instagram feed is for). For some reason, this is the recent life event God brought to mind as I was studying a passage in Philippians, which seems unrelated to the specific subject of preparing for a trip to Disneyland, but speaks to the general topic of how we can hope fiercely and pray boldly in the face of uncertainty.

Paul, the author of Philippians, begins winding down his message in chapter 4 by explaining how he has learned to be content in the most incongruous of circumstances – BOTH when living the high life AND when living in times of desperate need. He thanks the Philippians for their generosity, which helped lift him from impoverishment on more than one occasion, and then in verse 19 throws out this provocative declaration:

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

Whoa. Can you feel the weight of that statement? Gotta love ballsy Paul.

I could spend plenty of time analyzing the Greek etymology for “will meet” (plēroō, meaning to fill to the full, cause to abound, furnish or supply liberally), and dive headlong into the foggy semantics of distinguishing between a want vs. a need in this specific usage. But while studying this verse using the IF:Gathering app, my attention was drawn to the latter part: “the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really thought of God as rich. It’s just not where my head goes. Maybe that’s because viewing the Lord Almighty as Rich Uncle Pennybags seems a little – I don’t know – irreverent.

Yet there it is, capping off a massively audacious claim. The Greek word for these “riches” is ploutos, meaning (literally) wealth and abundance of external possessions, or (figuratively) a good with which one is enriched. Interestingly, about half of its 22 occurrences in the NASB Greek concordance are used to define characteristics of God and/or Christ – riches of: His kindness, forbearance, and patience (Romans 2:4), His wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33), His glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), His grace (Ephesians 2:7).

Having a wealthy Father pledge to overfill us from the overflow of His bountiful goodness is incredible, unfathomable. And it gets better. In his book, “God Promises You,” Charles Spurgeon describes how God quite effortlessly surpasses our expectations, doing “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think” (Ephesians 3:20).

“None ever promised as God has done. Kings have promised even to the half of their kingdoms. But what of that? God promised to give His own Son, and even His own Self, to His people, and He did it. Princes draw a line somewhere, but the Lord sets no bounds to the gifts which He ordains for his chosen.”

You’d think this plentitude of promises would bolster our confidence in approaching our Creator. And yet, all too often, we lowball it with the Lord. Like I did prepping for our Disney vacation, we intentionally lower our expectations to curtail our disappointment. We deem personal concerns insignificant, recurring sins insurmountable, societal injustices unsolvable. We feel unworthy and keep ourselves wary. As a result, our prayers wind up weak, meager, distrustful.

Why do we so severely underestimate our Savior? Well, for one thing, we’re human. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around His limitlessness. Beyond that, I think we set the bar low when bringing our requests before Him because we’re afraid He’ll say no. No, you will not get that job. No, you will not get pregnant. No, your loved one will not be healed. No, you will not discover the reason(s) for your present sufferings.

Our Lord reserves the right to say “no,” and even when we believe that He works all things for our good, the potential refusal terrifies us. As C.S. Lewis points out:

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

But here’s your good news for the day: God is not like a coupla young boys embarking on their first trip to Disneyland. He is good. He is trustworthy. He is rich – rich in mercy, rich in love, rich in faithfulness – even when we come stumbling before His throne muttering pathetic prayers presented with a glass-near-empty attitude.

To help build our faith and expand our expectations, we can do some practical things as Paul suggests earlier in Philippians 4: be thankful, meditate on what is true and wholesome, rejoice…in the Lord…always. Present your requests boldly to God with the assurance that He is so loaded with kindness, mercy, and power that He will grant you the peace and strength needed to handle whatever answer He gives – “yes,” “not now,” even the “no.”

I’m preaching to myself hardcore on this one. As a cynical person married to even cynical-er husband, I hesitate to pray big prayers – in theory, because I’m being realistic, but in reality, because I’m scared to risk getting hurt. I don’t doubt that He cares; I doubt that He cares as much as I do – as if my heart is larger than His.

Knowing the truth of God’s abundant grace, I urge my fellow doubters to ditch the pessimism and get your hopes up because of Whom your hope is in. He might not give you exactly what you want, when you want it, how you want it delivered, but He will give you all you need, and much more besides. He will give you His love – already poured out to you through His Son on the cross – today, tomorrow, and continually, with power through His Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

Prepare for the best, expect to be amazed, and enjoy the ride.

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No more miracles

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Warning: This post will rock you. Not in a way that will astound you with my wit or eloquence. If anything, you’ll think less of me and question my sense of rationality and perhaps even my faith. So be it.

What I mean is that the following post is about as raw as you can get. For some reason, I feel compelled to write my feelings – unprocessed, unfiltered, full of shame, glowing with transparency. It is not intended to be a woe-is-me post, or a self-glorifying look-at-how-real-I’m-being post. It is simply a description of my emotions at present, and if you’re a woman who is or desires to be a mother, you may very well feel these emotions as you read my honest, admittedly melodramatic words. Expect tears and proceed with caution.

You see, I want another baby. I have two wonderful, dynamic children, and I want a third. I have more love to give, a not-quite-depleted supply of energy, and a resolute desire to mother another child. I don’t feel done yet.

My exceedingly patient and loving husband agreed to pursue an addition to the family despite his feelings of being done already. We decided to attempt the “easiest” route and try for one year to conceive again. We tried, and we failed. Again.

I went into it eyes wide open. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew the potential for letdown, but figured it was worth it in case God wanted to grant us another miracle. Probable, no; possible, yes. Damn that glimmer of possibility and the inevitable disappointment it brings.

I took my own advice I tell others who are undergoing fertility treatments or otherwise struggling to get pregnant and took it one day at a time, one two-week wait at a time, one cycle at a time. That strategy backfired. Last December – the 12th and final month of trying – the moment I went to the bathroom and discovered I wasn’t pregnant, the weight of the emotions I’d been shoring up slammed into me like a semi-truck and knocked me out of my I’ve-got-this-and-can-totally-keep-it-together façade. And, since it was during the holidays and we were staying with family, I couldn’t allow myself to fully process the depth of my pent-up grief.

So that’s what I’m doing now. And man, does it suck.

I cry at odd moments of the day. I try to avoid going by the guestroom, with its empty crib and closet full of baby clothes and toys that will all need to be disposed of in one way or another. I stare off into space as my kids repeat random questions, which they would do anyways regardless of my melancholy state, but I should nonetheless pay attention to them since one out of every 25 inquiries might actually merit an answer.

I’m also avoiding people, skipping church events and meet-ups with friends. I haven’t felt up to putting on a happy face, acting like I’m OK, like my life hasn’t just hit a major redirection. How could I explain to anyone what I’m feeling?

How could I explain that I’m so grateful for my two boys – both miracles in their own right – and yet feel so hurt that I won’t receive another? I am not despairing, like I was before I became a mother, but I am grieving. Whereas before, although my plans for having child #1 and child #2 didn’t pan out the way I’d expected, in time, I could see that God had something better planned. This time, I don’t see that better thing that God has planned since there will be no child #3. Before, although I felt so beaten down that I should give up the dream of having a child, I didn’t. This time, I have to.

I feel defeated. Bereft. Overwhelmed with that oh-so-familiar, didn’t-realize-I-still-had-it kind of ache. What do I do with this persistent urge to mother a child from infancy? I love my kids. I love other people’s kids. It’s part of who I am – a creative nurturer.

If you tell me to get another pet, I’ll punch you in the face. A pet is great, but it is not a replacement for a child. Neither is a career, hobby, or even a ministry. A loss of one kind in your life cannot be replaced by a gain in another area of your life.

Also, please don’t ask, “Why don’t you just adopt again?” The answer is: “It’s complicated,” and that’s all I can say about that in a blog post. (As an important side note, this is not a question I recommend posing to someone going through primary infertility for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it implies that adoption is easy, which IT IS NOT. Find more explanation on this note here.)

And this is going to sound bad, but don’t talk to me about how my contentment should be in Christ alone. I already know that and believe it. I realized after an awful period of introspection that having kids wasn’t going to complete me, that motherhood wasn’t the be-all, end-all. Sure, it’s a huge blessing, and rewarding, as well as, at times, the most frustrating thing in the world, but it’s not the best thing in the world – that’s reserved for knowing and walking with Jesus. So I know this to be true, but it doesn’t invalidate the loss of not being able to fulfill this God-given desire.

I feel angry. Pissed, to put it mildly. Mad that my pristine vision of a beautiful family of five is ruined, irreparable. I know God loves me; He has a purpose for this plan; He is good and sovereign and just. But I’ve never understood and doubtfully never will why He sometimes does not enable someone to fulfill a strong, noble desire He gave them in the first place. It seems cruel.

Then there’s the guilt. Why am I questioning God’s intentions, when He has already given me two incredible, unexpected gifts, and allowed me to experience the joys of both adoption and pregnancy? Shouldn’t I simply be grateful for my two kids instead of blessing-grubbing? I tell other women facing secondary infertility they shouldn’t feel guilty, but it’s hard not to succumb to this temptation, especially when you are also working through some major conviction (hello, right here, bigtime). It seems shameful to admit my distress over this intangible loss when others have endured so much more significant heartache in this life. I accuse myself: “You shouldn’t feel that sad about this. Why don’t you just count your blessings, let go and let God, insert another Christianese comment, and get over it.”

I feel confused. What do I do now? How do I reconcile this unyielding desire and view of my family as unfinished with the apparent “no” God has decreed in reply to my prayers? And why the heck am I facilitating a support group for women dealing with infertility and infant loss when I’m acting thoroughly whiny, ungracious, ill-tempered, and lacking in faith and self-control – basically how NOT to respond to this type of trial? Take that as evidence that God appreciates irony.

These questions are all rhetorical. I’m not writing this post to solicit answers to my plight, or invoke clichéd expressions of sympathy, or inspire fabricated reasons for why God allows pain in our lives. Believe it or not, I decided to write this post to impart hope. I’m refuting the lie that I’m the only woman on Earth saddened at the prospect of not having any more kids and affirming a vital lesson I have learned am learning through this process:

You can be disappointed about something that went wrong in your life and still love Jesus. You can trust in His goodness and believe in His promises and still be hurt by His plans. It’s called a paradox. Look it up. The Bible is loaded with ’em.

It’s not that this place of disappointment is somewhere you should linger. I know I’d rather not stick around here. It’s better to fully embrace God’s sovereignty and acknowledge the kindness of His will than to wallow in pity and all things self.

But one of the most unfathomable parts about this relationship we have with our Creator is that even when we’re failing at handling our hardships, He still cares and carries us through them. His faithfulness is not predicated upon my faith or lack thereof.

Defining a “right” way to grieve is impossible, and grieving this kind of a loss – wherein no one has died, thank goodness – but you nonetheless feel empty, drained, like someone stole something from you, something you never had – is difficult to articulate in a way that others can understand. Even more complex is the process of feeling forsaken by God, but believing He loves you beyond comprehension. Jesus knows; He experienced it.

So, without seeing a resolution to my present disappointment, I will cry out to my good, good Father, and be thankful for His grace, and be sad for my loss. For when I am weak, then He is strong.

You are not alone

 

I sat, staring at the backyard.

My eyes perceived the scenery before me – the pale sky, the slender birch trees, the too tall grass – as my mind envisioned children laughing, rolling down the hill, blowing puffs of dandelions, and running to me for a kiss after falling down and scraping a knee.

I cried my heart out.

My yard was empty. I didn’t have any kids; didn’t have any co-workers, since I was working from home; didn’t have any friends, since my husband, Colin, and I had recently moved to the area. He was at work, and I was by myself. I sat alone in our empty house, gazing out the back window like a mental hospital patient, thinking about how I was never going to be a mom.

Later, I learned that the neighbors whose property bordered the back of ours – the ones who owned the fence into which my eyes bored holes during my patio reverie – were also experiencing difficulties trying to conceive. The wife had been diagnosed with endometriosis, just as I had. The two of them had undergone a few unsuccessful rounds of IVF and were prepping for another attempt at the procedure, just as we were.

Around that same time, we joined a church small group, where we met another couple who had fertility challenges and were beginning the adoption process, just like we were.

Then I met another woman who had struggled with infertility for years until finally conceiving through IVF, and now wanted to help other women facing similar issues by starting a support group, just like I did.

When we launched that support group, I met woman after woman after woman who knew The Ache – who desperately wanted a child but couldn’t get pregnant, and was wrestling with frustration, disappointment, worry, and anguish, just like I was.

Through these experiences, I learned that I was not the only one grieving the loss of the ability to bear children; I was not the only one living life with this unfulfilled desire to be a mother.

And once this desire eventually was fulfilled, I discovered that having children wasn’t the only redeeming result of this difficult season. Through infertility, I gained numerous new friendships and deeper, more honest relationships that I never would have experienced if I’d gotten pregnant that first month of trying.

I treasure those friendships now, and certainly appreciated them back then. Because when you’re going through infertility, you need a friend who understands the vicious cycle of hope lifting off at Day 1 and crashing down around Day 28, accompanied by an unseemly obsession with charting various bodily functions.

You need a friend with whom you can swap crazy Clomid stories, or laugh about the embarrassing thing you and/or your husband had to do at the doctor’s office, or joke about how you had to hide all your weapons before the adoption social worker paid a visit.

You need a friend who will stay with you for several hours after a medical procedure, when you are too weak and dizzy to do anything but lie down and talk about your favorite cooking shows.

You need a friend who will encourage you to give purpose to your pain by blogging about your experiences so others know they’re not the only ones struggling with this issue.

You need a friend who will buy your old Barbie collection to help fund your IVF cycle, save the dolls, and then re-gift them to you to pass down to your daughter, as one of my high school youth group pals did to support that friend who inspired me to blog.

Jessica bought a Barbie collection from Heather to help fund her IVF cycle, then saved the dolls to return to her Barbie sister in hopes of her one day having a little girl. Heather’s daughter, Emily, now enjoys playing with her mom’s collection.

Despite your friends doing all these wonderful, amazing things to uphold you, there will still be times when they are unavailable. Your calls will be dismissed; your texts will go unanswered.

You need a Friend who will truly always be there, who is better than all the friends Facebook has to offer, who is better than all the babies you could ever wish to mother.

You need Jesus. He will never leave you, or forsake you. He will carry your burdens, even when you think you don’t care anymore, and revive your hope, even when you feel like giving up.

And, knowing that you have the ultimate friend in Jesus, you can be a friend for Jesus. By that, I mean you can share the love and comfort of Christ with those who are hurting, even when you are hurting. He’ll give you the grace and strength to do it.

You might just be the friend someone needs to tell her she is not alone, either.

In the world we live in today, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who is going through a difficult time and could use some encouragement. Look no farther than across the fence in your own backyard.