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]

How I’m coming to peace with Insta-sham

Scanning the socials several months ago, I stumbled onto some posts that nearly caused me to gag up my morning oatmeal.

A group of intrepid mommy bloggers had published a book on all things motherhood, and the authors were fulfilling their due diligence promoting their work by re-posting readers’ photos.

Every single image they shared portrayed the same essential look: warm lighting touched with pleasant sepia hues, superbly manicured stationary objects tidily arranged around the book – a steaming coffee mug here, an artisan afghan strewn there – all positioned on a seamless backdrop of a vacuumed rug, sparkling marble countertop, or the blank canvas of a clean and empty table.

You see why this sight triggered my spew impulse, right?

In my honest/cynical opinion, this is as Fake Not-News as it gets. For one thing, for those with young children, unless your kids are having screen time or napping, there’s no chance in Hogwarts you’re reading a book in peace. Furthermore, I know few moms with children still living at home who can maintain Pottery Barn-perfection and have enough time to stage a stunning portrait without getting interrupted by a sibling feud or having someone smear applesauce across the photo shoot background.

Such is life in the captivatingly fraudulent world of Instagram. Filtered snippets of other people’s daily activities lure us in like moths to the flame of glimmering gratification.

Images like the immaculate motherhood book pics bother me because they don’t depict reality. Sure, those who post their best and brightest photos aren’t necessarily trying to mislead others; we all realize these are just the highlight reels. Still, I have a hard time wholeheartedly liking photos that project everyday scenarios as tranquil and glamorous when I know from personal experience that these situations can be chaotic and even hideous.

Despite my reaction, I’m coming to understand a deeper motivation for why people tend to post their most picturesque clips and gaining a new perspective on aesthetic appreciation.

We crave beauty because God made us that way. He crafted us in His image, to be like Him and to long for Him as the true source of goodness and life. Our desire for and delight in spectacles of wonder throughout God’s creation reveal the blessing and purpose of our redemption.

As John Piper says of the ultimate reason we exist: “Our final inheritance is this: that we will see the glory of God and praise him for it. We will see his glory, savor his glory, and show his glory.”

Piper inheritance quote

Worshipping God by appreciating the marvels of His creation – a concept highlighted in a previous IF:Equip study on the theology of beauty – can remind us of who He is and who we were created to be:

“By learning to recognize the beauty around us, we can better see God’s reflection in everyday life. We remember that this world, while broken, will be made new and perfect once again. This gives us great hope. Beauty lodges like eternity in our hearts, bringing memories of a good God and a future world.” (Lesson 1 Day 1)

You don’t have to be a raging pessimist to recognize the ravages of sin upon God’s perfect creation. The world is fallen and we groan along with it, waiting for the Creator to finally and fully restore its original luster. Until that glorious day, we continue to live in the reality of sinful destruction and acknowledge that it bites.

Feeling both a compulsion to expose the ugly truth of real life as well as an urge to experience genuine beauty demonstrates our dual earth/heaven citizenship. This could explain my disdain for the façade aspect of social media, knowing that the images displayed don’t align with the difficulties experienced in our broken lives.

But in focusing on the earthly perspective – that my life is a wreck and the world is a mess and everyone who lives here is a dirtbag – I tend to overlook the glimpses of majesty the Lord graciously reveals around me and forget to appreciate His goodness in wanting me to experience joy.

So, although it’s enjoyable to rag on faux-flawless social statuses, I think I could stand to cultivate more admiration for images that people intentionally craft to please the eye. After all, any illustrations of beauty we encounter are just that: imitations of splendor deriving from a greater Source of wholeness, peace, and brilliance.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12a)
1 Corinthians 13 12

Praise God that we will one day behold the glory of His radiance and not have to settle for viewing life through the dull looking glass of Instagram. Our longing for true beauty will finally be sated as we look full on our Savior’s wonderful face – no filter needed besides His precious blood.

[Cover photo: Dmitri Tyan on Unsplash]

Whose platform is it anyway?

platform belongs to God.jpg
[Photo: Oscar Keys via Unsplash]
I was born during the Jennifer Era of U.S. history. Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, JLo, and I joined more than half a million of our moniker sisters in dominating the baby name charts from 1970 to 1984, until those scheming Jessicas hijacked our reign.

Whether this trend can be attributed to the name of the doomed heroine in the acclaimed 1970 film “Love Story,” or to random cycling mass phenomena in accordance with mathematical processes, we all know it was a massively popular name back in the day and are wondering which hippie/hipster fad will produce another generation of Jens, Emmas, and Bellas.

My name is thoroughly unoriginal, and I’ve come to accept that. What’s more difficult to swallow is the apparent requirement in this digital age for writers to leverage their names as their brand.

Sure, it makes sense. If you want to reach an audience with your message, you have to get your name out there so people can find you and read your work. To build a successful author platform, you must create a social persona to which fans will flock and publishers will beckon for book deals.

It’s DIY marketing with an egotistical spin, and it seems if you ever want to go anywhere in the publishing world, you’ve got push yourself to promote yourself.

An inner conflict

In case you didn’t pick up on it, I was cringing between the preceding lines. I strongly dislike the concept of self-made publicity for many different reasons, including the aforementioned ordinariness of my name. The world has plenty of Jennifers; it doesn’t need another one running around tooting her own horn.

Also repelling me from the “be your own brand” strategy: my tendency toward shyness, lack of knowledge and desire to market like a boss, and fear – fear that others won’t like me, or that they will like me and expect a standard of excellence I can’t always (or ever) deliver, and fear that I’ll care way too much about others’ perception and evaluation of the person I project myself to be.

Aside from these unpleasant factors, the most stomach-turning aspect of self-marketing is its very nature. Count how many times I dropped an “I, me my” in the preceding paragraph. I sound as conceited as a 2-year-old.

I know there are millions of people out there pounding the social pavement to develop online personalities as a means to spread an important message or advance a worthwhile movement or simply make money as a business venture, and that’s fine. However, I think there’s a tension that can and should arise for Christian authors writing Christian books, a vocation and niche I aspire to pursue.

If you’re ostensibly writing to proclaim the gospel and convey the truth of God’s saving grace, how do you justify throwing your time, energy, and resources into promoting yourself? How can you reconcile God’s command for His people to be like Christ – humble, submissive to His will, seeking His exaltation above all else – with your endless striving for people to like you and follow your words?

He must increase

Prominent Christian authors addressed these and other concerns regarding platform building during an online discussion earlier this year. Beth Moore, Margaret Feinberg, and Karen Swallow Prior shared honest thoughts from their experiences in the Christian publishing industry, warning of the perils of social media ladder climbing and admonishing believers to fight the fleshly temptation to make ourselves known under the guise of making Jesus known.

I followed these conversations with rapt attention, as I respect these women and want to heed their guidance in venturing out into this field. Yet for all the wisdom I gleaned, the klaxon of prideful posturing alarmed and discouraged me, especially after researching the platform strategy and confirming it as the new norm for author best practices.

This brought me to a crisis of writing about faith: Accept the necessary evil of self-promotion to move forward with my publishing aspirations, or refuse to undertake this sinful endeavor and scrap the whole dang author idea.

Dismayed as I was, I kept thinking and researching and praying, and then came upon this article by a not-yet widely known writer contemplating “The Social Media Strategy of John the Baptist.” Reflecting on John’s gospel, she describes how the outspoken forerunner of Christ grew a following as he proclaimed the coming Messiah, and then once Jesus appeared on the scene, directed his followers to the incarnate Savior:

“God had given John a platform – he had become famous and influential in his own right. But John used his platform to draw attention to the only One who could satisfy and save their souls.”

John used the platform God had given him to draw attention to Jesus, not himself, and made this outrageously meek statement that should be the motto of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John 3 30

I read this article, and pondered this verse, and thanked the author and John the Baptist for this critical reminder.

Serving purely

Any platform I have is God’s, not mine. He gives and takes away gifts, skills, relationships, email subscribers, Twitter followers, and “tribe” members for whatever purposes He intends – most specifically, to exalt His name and shower goodness on His people.

Knowing this, I can publish a blog under my name, post content designed to encourage others, even seek out new readers to engage and connect with, and do so with a clean conscience IF my heart’s desire is to increase Jesus’ fanbase, not my own.

With whatever my hands find to write, I pray that the efforts involved – from production to publicity – will point others to the King of Kings, the Word of Life, my Blessed Redeemer.

Hands write point to Redeemer

As the pastor at my church stated during a recent sermon on Daniel’s rise to prominence in the Babylonian Empire, all due to God’s divine appointment and his humble obedience: “The greatness that the Scripture teaches is best described by you moving through the world and leaving a wake of the Kingdom of God behind you.”

I will not do this perfectly. The Spirit will inevitably need to convict me, on a repeated basis, and I petition Him to have at it. He knows how much I struggle with craving approval.

I also don’t plan to write exclusively about issues of deep spiritual significance, and occasionally cover more lighthearted subject matter – particularly that of the deprecating, keepin’ it real variety. This is fun for me, and I hope my enjoyment of pouring out some creative juices edifies others and honors God, as much as any mocking commentary about a TV show can accomplish that.

In stepping out on this precarious limb, setting up a platform for my writing work, I ask God to help me make wise choices in His strength, to value His truth above any other opinion or striving for “likes,” and to help me follow Beth Moore’s advice on navigating social media branding:

The answer will be found in serving God as faithfully and as purely as human hearts and souls know how and let Him build His own following and determine who listens to what voice and when.

Serving God with a pure heart isn’t ever easy, and the way forward isn’t entirely clear. Marketing as an author in the Christian publishing industry is risky business, with a danger involving soul-devastating consequences. The uncertainty weighs on me, and I expect to feel apprehension about this platform racket for however long the Lord allows me to write about Him.

But by His grace, I will forge ahead, trusting Him to send forth His Word either through or in spite of me, as I write under my humdrum, exceptionally unremarkable name, aiming to lift high the greatest Name in all the world.

The one reminder we should set for life

remember to thank God phone reminder

It is a universally accepted fact that one of the primary jobs of a parent is to nag your kids ad nauseam about saying “please” and “thank you.” They demand a cookie; you reply sing-songingly “What’s the magic word?” They beg to open birthday gifts; you interject a rhythmic “Well, what do you say?” after each is torn into and tossed aside.

Given my constant chorus of sometimes gentle, more times exasperated reminders, it irks me that my boys still forget to utter these common courtesies on a daily basis. Why is it they can’t recall these simple phrases they learned and even signed with their cute, pudgy hands as infants?

The lack of thanks especially bothers me. How have they grown into such gimme gremlins who expect milk to be served on tap and my phone to be accessed anytime for whatever random, nonsensical questions they want to ask Siri? It’s not like we’ve raised them in a day spa equipped with silver spoons and bunk bedside service.

Amidst this aggravation, it hit me that my incredulity at my sons’ ingratitude should be tempered by the knowledge that a) they’re 6- and 4-years-old; b) all kids can act ill-mannered at times and are by nature whiners; c) I do my best to provide a wealth of love and meet their basic needs, so of course they’ve become accustomed to abundant care and can occasionally take it for granted; and, most strikingly, d) I’m much worse at giving thanks than they are.

This conviction recently latched onto me and pierced my heart down to its most prideful parts. A single, frank comment posed in response to a sarcastic statement I made on social media cut my tongue right through to the cheek: “You should count your blessings.”

Oof. That stings, and spins so many self-incriminating wheels turning: Am I truly ungrateful? Have I fallen into complacent indifference to this bountiful life God has given me? Do I frequently fail to praise Him for the grace upon grace He provides every day? Has my preoccupation with perceived shortfalls eclipsed my appreciation for tangible windfalls – my husband, my children, my friends, my home?

In deed and in word, I can be ungrateful at times, and far too often, my numerous blessings go uncounted. Even though my heart recognizes the need for and importance of giving thanks, my mind habitually forgets to express it, to my own detriment.

In her latest book, “The Broken Way,” Ann Voskamp conveys the risk we take maintaining this gaping mental lapse: “Whenever I forget, fear walks in … Forget to give thanks – and you forget who God is. Forget to break and give – and it’s your soul that gets broken.”

When we forget to thank God, we lose our grip on the reality of our relationship – the essence of our lives’ dependence on Him – a kind of fatal spiritual amnesia.

How could we be so dense as to blank out on these truths? Perhaps we can blame our biology.

Thankfulness should theoretically be stored in long-term memory, which is permanent but requires conscious thought and is subject to weakening over time. Forgetting from long-term memory can be explained through retrieval failure – as one professor of psychiatry and aging described in an article on tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon (i.e., brain farts): “… if you don’t retrieve a memory often, it may be harder to remember. You know you have it somewhere, but you just haven’t used the information for a while. It gets a little a bit dusty.”

Lord knows how dusty-headed and absentminded His people can be, which could be why He repeats the concept of thanks more than 200 times throughout Scripture (according to KJV Hebrew and Greek concordances). In the Old Testament, “thank” appears most frequently as yahdah, which literally means to use the hand; to throw – think: hands extended in praise and confession. In the New Testament, it often shows up as eucharisteo, from the roots eu = good/well + charis = grace, as in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In whatever we do, we must do whatever it takes to remember to thank God, to thank others, to live with hands outspread in thanksgiving for our redemption. Our Father has faithfully provided reminders throughout His Word to cue gratitude: through the aromas and rituals of thank offerings and Passover, through songs and hymns of praise, through the breaking of bread and pouring of wine in remembrance of the Cross.

As Voskamp intones, like a doxology, “the eucharisteo, then koinonia”: “Everything He embodied in the Last Supper – it is what would heal the body’s brokenness. Brokenness can be healed in re-membering. Remembering our union, our communion, our koinonia, with Christ.”

This is Truth worth committing to memory. It is a commitment, and because we’re human, requires reminders – whether that’s a note on the mirror, a notification on a phone, a song, a smell, a memento or alert of some kind – whatever signal or process that can help jog our memories of our undeserved grace and trigger the flow of our praise.

I’m still figuring out the best way to do this. Maybe I’ll recruit my boys to aid me in this effort and repay me for all the nagging I do to them. I can hear them now, chanting wholeheartedly: “Mom-my, you forgot to say thank-you.”

Nice reminder, kids. Irritating, but necessary, and vital for living life to the fullest.

Biblical smack talk with @JillianMichaels

It’s the type of thing you’d expect to snag at a church ladies’ swap – I mean, besides those near-threadbare yoga pants that you can totally still get some use out of and a coupla vintage glass jars that are just begging to be repurposed in some darling yet probably doomed Pinterest project.

The awesome find I scored at a recent moms’ group exchange was a Jillian Michaels kickboxing DVD. In it, the celebrity trainer blasts through three 20-minute cardio workouts while barking belligerent threats intended to scare the fat off of you.

More than helping me sculpt a mombod physique, this DVD has provided ongoing entertainment value watching my kids mimic the moves of Jillian’s fiercely fit crew, whom they identify by the color of each woman’s sports bra – “I’m following the orange girl!” – and hearing them repeat her violent phrases in situations outside of an exercise context – “Let’s break some ribs! Push this guy through the wall! Take his jaw off! Smack him down! Take him out!”

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Amidst all her hollerin’ to work harder, dig deeper, and thrust your hip out farther, Jillian issues a blunt proclamation that stirred spiritual implications in my mind: “You’re gonna get out of this what you put into it.”

What my girl Jillian is talking about here isn’t the length of time you spend working out; it’s the amount of effort you exert working out. Over and over again throughout the DVD, she reminds you that you’re only training for 20 minutes, so you better make it count and jab, chop, and whack as vigorously as you can.

Pep talks like this from the fitness/athletic field can be applied several different ways in a Christian living conversation: press on in the faith, run the race set before you, and so forth. What struck me about this particular motivational invective was the principle of return on investment and how that relates to our approach to the Bible.

Just as in cardio kickboxing, the level of examination and meditation I pour into God’s Word directly affects the amount of wisdom and edification I reap from God’s Word. Stated another way, per Jillian Michaels: You wanna play? You gotta pay.

This is logical from both a physically fit and fiscally sound perspective. Exerting little effort to study Scripture is likely to yield minimal results (learning/growth), while investing greater effort is more apt to yield better results (more comprehensive understanding of who God is and how we can be like Him).

Certainly, there are circumstances and seasons of life that can make it difficult if not impossible to engage in intense study (hello, newborn parenthood). But I think we sell ourselves short when we automatically assume we haven’t got the time or mental capacity to go deeper, and instead, settle for completely acceptable yet not terribly substantial contact with the Bible – like, say, spending a few minutes a day scrolling through elegantly scripted verse memes on Instagram.

Consider this admonition from Jen Wilkin in “Women of the Word”:

Learning what the Bible says and subsequently working to interpret and apply it requires quite a different practice than many of those we commonly associate with ‘spending time in the Word.’ We cannot afford to assume that our good intentions are enough.

I can just hear my grace-extolling crusader comrades now: “Alert! Alert! Legalism detected! Someone call for Philip Yancey while we lock her up in a room plastered with pages from the epistles!”

Friends, I’m not trying to be legalistic here. Of course we must be wary of implying some religious formula, as if x number of hours spent studying Scripture = x number of stars on our holiness charts. This has nothing to do with the basis of our salvation, or our position in Christ, or the ability of the Spirit to move in our lives through means besides direct engagement with the Bible.

Please hear me out in a spirit of love and mutual conviction when I say that pursuing knowledge of our Lord and Saviour should be our utmost of #lifegoals. To love God is to know God, and to know God is to study God.

#lifegoals quote

Thankfully, there are many good resources available to help us accomplish that: the previously mentioned “Women of the Word,” Kay Arthur’s “How To Study Your Bible,” and some great apps including IF: Equip, She Reads Truth, and First 5.

Psalms 119:2 says “Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek Him with all their heart” (NIV), or rephrased “Joyful are those who obey His laws and search for Him with all their hearts” (NLT).

I pose this question to myself, and to you: Are we dripping sweat to seek Jesus? Like, at all? Isn’t He worth the effort – any amount we can make?

I urge you, in my best Jillian butt-whupping voice, to sweat with me and dig deeper in God’s Word for the sake of knowing Him more.

joyful obey God's laws search with hearts Psalm 119 2

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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10 things I hate about what people say when you’re going through infertility

I once called my brother the root of all evil. He must’ve done something to deserve it – like steal one of My Little Ponies or disregard my stage directions during one of the family skits I wrote, directed, and starred in. Regardless of his actions, it was a cruel thing to say, and I immediately regretted it as I saw how I’d wounded his sweet (albeit mischievous) little 6-year-old heart.

We all know words can hurt. We also know that we can be stupid at times, saying things we don’t mean out of anger or putting our foots in our mouths. It happens. We’re human.

Words can especially bring pain to someone who is grieving a loss, as when someone faces the possibility of not being able to get pregnant and/or carry a child. Any and every little thing can set them off, like that go-to conversation starter: “Do you have any kids?”; or the more invasive: “When are you going to start a family?” Innocent, everyday questions can shoot like stinging arrows, reminding you that your arms are empty and your heart is aching.

During my time in that miserable season I eventually learned I needed to be more thick-skinned and recognize that the vast majority of people weren’t meaning to shiv me in the ribs with their well-meaning yet insensitive comments. I also discovered it helped to tell others what NOT to say so I wouldn’t want to punch them in the face or de-friend them on Facebook.

So I thought it might be fun to put much of my social network on a guilt trip and share some statements and questions that are just not helpful to those who are dealing with infertility. Seriously, don’t feel too bad if you’ve said one or more of these things – remember, we all say stupid stuff, and there’s grace to go around, yada yada. Just take a glance through these 10 items and look forward to my next post on things you can say and do to encourage your loved ones who are trying to grow their families.

1) “You just need to relax.”
… or go on a vacation, get a massage, reduce stress, etc. This type of advice has the opposite effect and creates more stress, making your friend feel like she’s doing something wrong when there’s likely a physical problem – not emotional or psychological – preventing pregnancy. Relaxing never cured anyone of diabetes; neither can it cure a diagnosable medical problem like infertility.

2) “God has a purpose for your pain.”
This statement is true, but to your friend, who is dying to know when or if she will be a mother, it often comes across as a trite attempt to dismiss her sorrow. The pain of infertility is real and must be acknowledged and dealt with in healthy ways. Also, if your friend is a believer, she probably already knows God has a divine purpose for her struggles, and His timing is perfect, and His ways are higher than hers, but that might not be the message she needs to hear from you when she’s smack dab in the middle of that struggle.

3) Complain about pregnancy OR glorify pregnancy – “OMG I can’t stop eating, how am I gonna lose all this baby weight?” or “Feeling these little baby butterflies is uh-mazing #blessedtobeknockedup”

4) “Have you tried _______?”
… acupuncture, massage, meditation, Feng Shui, more exercise, less exercise, gluten-free diet, etc. Chances are, your friend knows how to use the Internet and thus has done a thorough job of researching the many methods people experiment with to get pregnant and doesn’t want or need your suggestions.

5) “Have you tried _______?”
[insert unsolicited, wildly inappropriate recommendations for sexual positions, techniques, or activities proposed by total strangers, or worse, your mom or MIL.]

6) Complain about your kids – “Are you sure you want kids? You can have mine.”
Yes, I’m sure I want kids. No, I don’t want yours; they’re brats, and you’re just as bad for saying that to brush off my disappointments.

7) Emphasize the perks of childlessness – “Enjoy getting to sleep in while you can.”

8) Act like you know what they’re going through when really you’ve got no clue – “I can totally relate to you because of my journey through _______.”
Grief is universal, but experienced in different ways by people in different situations. It’s better to admit that you can’t completely understand your friend’s anguish and that you’re saddened to see her hurting than to compare losses and thus downplay her unique struggles.

9) Quote Scripture out of context – “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note this verse doesn’t say all Scripture is profitable for comforting hurting people through improper citations that are ill-timed and insensitive under the given circumstances. By all means, go to the Word for encouraging promises and stories of God’s faithfulness; just be careful determining which verses to highlight and when to share them.

10) “Why don’t you just adopt?” or “Just adopt; then you’ll get pregnant.”
As wonderful as adoption is (and I’m a huge advocate), your friend might not yet be ready to process all the emotions and practical issues involved with making the decision to pursue that option. This question also implies a load of negative and/or incorrect presumptions, including the likelihood that your friend has given up trying for a biological child, that adopting a child is inferior to conceiving a child, and that adoption is an easy alternative to biological baby-making. Furthermore, studies show adopting a child does not affect the rate for achieving pregnancy. Adoption isn’t a means to an end of getting pregnant; it’s another way to add a child to your family and a route a couple should pursue only when they’re ready.

See more ideas at RESOLVE’s Infertility Etiquette page and The Carry Camp.