When Going Requires Letting Go

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Sometimes news is good. Sometimes it’s bad. Other times it’s good, but you’re scared to say it out loud.

After a year’s worth of prayer and conversations with trusted friends, I decided to stop holding monthly meetings for Graceful Wait. My ministry partner, Ashley, and I are still offering one-on-one support, and will maintain the Facebook page as a way for women to contact us.

I struggled making this decision all of 2019. It started last February, when I sensed a new nudge from the Lord, a kindling similar to the one he sparked more than a decade ago. That nudge pushed me in the direction to cofound the first Graceful Wait support group in Missouri.

The current nudge is less defined. I don’t know what the assignment is, per se. It’s pointing in a few directions, hovering between two of my passions: biblical literacy and adoption/foster care advocacy. While I’m not sure what I’ll do, when it’ll start, or how I’ll accomplish what needs to be done, I can’t deny the call to go.

To do that – whatever it is – as well as invest more time in writing projects, I knew I’d need to offload some responsibilities. Through different circumstances and a gradual heart shift, the Lord showed me that had to include the monthly support group.

If you know me and my story, you understand why it would be hard to walk away from this ministry – this baby that wasn’t a replacement for a baby, yet was something I’d still birthed and nurtured and watched grow. Giving up a group that I believe is crucial and needed, and that let me witness God perform amazing acts of connection and transformation, felt like intentionally dropping my wedding ring down the drain.

I didn’t want to quit, but I also didn’t want to continue. Filled with doubt, I unburdened my uneasiness before the Lord.

God, I know You asked me to trust You when I started this group. I was scared, but I believed. And look what happened. You took our collective tears over empty wombs and crushed dreams and babies who died before they could live, and You poured them into the most priceless jar of clay. You healed. You restored. You brought glory to Your name as the only Life Giver and Redeemer of Your daughters’ broken hearts.

Graceful Wait is Your beautiful creation. But now, unless I misheard You, You want me to stop hosting it. Why? Why let this space for grieving women wither and die? Why tell me to start something good, something needed, then ask me to let it go?

And so I wrestled. And, ironically, I had to wait. God didn’t answer my questions right away. By his wisdom, he let me stay uncomfortable in order to grow my faith. He stretched my belief in his sufficiency so I could lean harder on his strength.

But I needed help releasing my grip. He brought a friend into my life who has experience transitioning from one long-time ministry to another. When I asked her the same question I’d demanded of the Lord, she looked at me with empathetic eyes and spoke straight wisdom.

“God doesn’t always call us to serve in the same place forever.”

Ah, yes. Forever. What it felt like waiting for motherhood. What a strange place to be – feet dug in the ground, resisting the call to move forward, when for so long, all I’d wanted was to move on to the next stage.

Through my friend’s simple statement, God woke me up to reality. Going anywhere requires leaving something behind. As much as I’m passionate about helping women face infertility and loss, and as dearly as I hold it near my heart, I can’t serve in this way forever. Thank God, I don’t need to. It’s his ministry. It always has been. He hasn’t just ordered my steps; he has ordered the steps of every woman who showed up to our group desperate for hope and healing.

It’s funny, when I was talking with Ashley about whether we should continue Graceful Wait, she made a comment that echoed what my friend had said earlier.

“Maybe this group has served its purpose for now.” For now. Now vs. forever.

Graceful Wait isn’t forever. One day, there won’t be a need for it. No more barrenness, no more aching, no more losing beloved babies. I’m not forever, either, not on Earth. I’ll live out my days according to God’s plan for me. Then I’ll join my Savior in heaven – my Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He holds all things together, including a small-town support group that held space for grief.

Though I came to accept the need to surrender, I delayed making the decision for a year. Then I delayed writing about the decision for several months. As I said at the beginning, I’ve been scared to write this post because I knew that once I did, it would finally feel real. I’m really done leading Graceful Wait.

While I shouldn’t need confirmation that it was a good decision to follow God’s lead, he blessed me with it, anyway. When I went to a coffee shop to write this post, I ran into a woman who had come to our group in the past. She lost her sweet baby girl a few years ago. As we chatted, she shared that she’s pregnant again. She’s excited and happy, worried and sad all at the same time.

Layers of emotion wrapped in gratitude. That’s the best way I can describe how it feels now, letting go of a treasured ministry so I can embrace the nudge toward a new ministry.

Walking alongside women facing infertility and infant loss is a sacred privilege, something I never would’ve asked for, but am deeply grateful God entrusted to me. I know I can hand over this beautiful gift and burden to Jesus because he’s worthy to carry it. It’s what he has done all along.

Handle Wisdom with Care

God’s Word nourishes our hearts like nothing else can. Its pages declare the good news that Christ redeemed us from sin, gave us new life through the Spirit, and renamed us as God’s beloved children. When we’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, we reach out and grasp our Bibles, feasting on the promises that He has kept and will fulfill.

Though we know where to find hope, we don’t always know how to use Scripture, especially when trying to comfort someone who’s suffering. Craving easy and immediate answers, we cherry-pick verses that appear to resolve the problem. As much as this approach seems helpful, it actually reaps trouble. When we pluck verses from their context and plaster them like Band-Aids over difficult situations, we risk mishandling Scripture and further injuring a wounded soul.

Read full article at Revive Our Hearts.

3 Myths That Fuel Burnout

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A strong work ethic has always been my calling card. During college and my early career, I packed my schedule from the wee hours of the morning until my head hit the pillow late at night. Though my responsibilities have shifted since then, I still take on too many to-dos, then feel stressed when I struggle to cross them off. In these moments, I hear echoes of my mom’s warning back in my college days: “Honey, don’t burn the candle at both ends.”

Many adults with driven personalities feel compelled to work nonstop. Whether we work at the office or at home, we resist clocking out from tasks or allocating time for breaks. Email inboxes demand our constant attention; school and sports activities consume our weekly schedules. This compulsion even extends to ministry. We realize the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, so we say yes to commitment after commitment without considering if we can do the work well on top of our current obligations. Wanting to glorify God in all we do leads us to strain our arms with impossibly heavy burdens.

Like the apostle Paul—who suffered fatigue, hunger, and pain as he poured out his life to advance God’s kingdom—we can expect to grow weary at times in our vocations and ministry work. But routinely overextending ourselves carries greater risk than merely making us tired. It can jeopardize our health and ability to serve, hinder others from stepping into roles where they can use their gifts, and captivate our hearts with working for Christ rather than with Christ himself.

Read full article at The Gospel Coalition.

[Photo courtesy Ross Sneddon on Unsplash]

Weeping with Those Waiting for a Child

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

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

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

Read full article at Revive Our Hearts.

[Photo courtesy Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]

See the Life, Share the Loss

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Some texts stop you in your tracks: “Doctor said we’re losing the baby.”

Time halts; shock assails. This shouldn’t be happening. Life should be growing. I don’t want her to go through this.

As much as you hurt for her, you know what she’s feeling is worse.

I’ve walked with many women through the devastation of miscarriage and infant loss. Though similar to infertility, and sometimes occurring after long seasons of delayed fertility, it’s a unique grief. Life is cut short. A mother won’t know her child outside the womb, this side of heaven.

Sometimes, she has to go through the entire labor and delivery process, only to come home empty-handed. No matter how early the loss starts, she’ll bear the physical signs of death. Blood sheds; hormones revolt. Joy of new life shatters.

It’s terrible.

Every woman copes with this loss differently. Some wish to grieve privately, while others choose to talk about their emotions so others can understand what they’re going through.

Every woman, when asked how others can help, answers with a similar plea: “Just acknowledge I lost my baby.”

Read full article at Women Encouraged.

[Photo courtesy Silvestri Matteo on Unsplash]

Infertility Index: Blogs, books, podcasts, and more

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WARNING: The following blogs may contain some crass language/content.

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Listen up: Let’s make the world less crappy for those struggling to have a baby

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The world is a lonely place for couples having trouble getting pregnant. It’s hard to feel like you fit into a society where everyone and their giraffe is knocked up, posting pics of their bumps like they’re the universal outfit of the day.

Instead of further isolating those who are struggling to grow their families, you can support them by following this advice: shut yo mouth and open yo ears.

That’s my snappy adaption of the theme for this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, an initiative to inform the public about the 1 in 8 couples of childbearing age affected by the disease of infertility. RESOLVE, the organization sponsoring this movement, is throwing back to the old school catchphrase – “Listen Up!” – to help people understand the infertility community’s needs and promote access to a wide variety of family-building options.

During the long and grueling process it took to expand my family, I appreciated those who asked me thoughtful questions and stuck around as I spilled my guts about my screwy lady parts. On the flip side, those who didn’t give me the time of day to listen to my frustrations made my misery and feelings of being an outcast that much worse.

To educate others how they can “listen up,” I wanted to call out specific groups of people who – armed with knowledge and a better grasp on tactfulness – can support someone facing the devastation of infertility in important and distinct ways. And, because this topic is near and dear to me, I’ma preach. So all who have ears, let ’em hear:

Listen up, preggo ladies: The child you’re carrying is a blessing, and a miracle. All babies are, really. While you should celebrate this little life, remember there are many people out there (15 percent of U.S. couples, according to the CDC) who are still waiting on their miracle. If you know a loved one is struggling in this way, don’t dump salt on her wound by talking excessively about your pregnancy. Focus your conversations around non-baby-related subjects you both enjoy, and extend her the courtesy of an invitation to your shower, as well as the grace to bow out of it. And, for the love of Mark Zuckerberg, don’t post your announcement on social media until you’ve shared it with your loved one privately ahead of time.

Listen up, OB/GYNs: As hard as your job is, reaching up uteruses all day long, consider how degrading and defeating it is for a woman who can’t get pregnant to visit your office. She first must wait interminably long in a room surrounded by ballooning bellies, submit to the stirrups for various uncomfortable exams, and talk about her sex life plus other embarrassing topics with a physician who might not even know how to help. Please treat your patients with respect. Don’t downplay the problem – acting as though her irregular periods or ovarian cysts are run-of-the-mill female troubles rather than sources of extreme anguish. And, for Hippocrates’s sake, switch out the clocks in your rooms to ones that don’t tick so damn loud.

Listen up, fertility specialists: Don’t take this personally, but no one wants to see you. Couples who are facing the crushing disappointment of not being able to conceive naturally must reach a level of desperation to seek your help. Don’t make this humiliation worse by either speaking in a condescending tone or behaving in a dismissive manner. One in eight couples are humans – not just a number that could boost or tank your success rates. Show some compassion as you communicate, and treat your patients’ minds and spirits as well as their bodies by supplying resources and contact info for local support groups, psychiatrists, and counselors.

Listen up, alternative therapy providers: You guys are weird. You should probably own up to that. While couples who pursue your line of treatment would do almost anything to have a baby, they don’t need you pushing various get-fertile-fast items that would further bust their budgets or making unfounded promises that could further dash their dreams. Be honest about the strengths and limitations of your services, and don’t look shocked if a client asks you to turn off your hippie background music.

Listen up, adoption caseworkers: While you get the joy of helping bring parents and children together through the beautiful and redemptive process of adoption, you also have the task of drawing out the pain that might have motivated both the adoptive and birthparent(s) to seek this option. Please do NOT tell your prospective parents they must “get over” the disappointment of infertility before they can adopt – as if that grief is different than any other loss that takes time to process and perhaps continues to hurt even after resolution has been reached. You must know that all the adoption paperwork is exhausting, and the undertaking of preparing for a home study feels like a Fixer Upper reno, minus the assistance from Chip and Joanna. So handle your clients with care, and give them continuous status reports as they wait on pins and needles for the call that will change their lives.

Listen up, pastors: If you’ve already preached on the topic of barrenness in the Bible, well done! (There are at least six women in Scripture who struggled getting pregnant – including three of the founding mothers of Israel – so the odds are in your favor here.) You play a critical role in comforting those who have to muster the courage every Sunday to gather in a place dominated by families with children. Lift up the “least of these” in your congregation by researching good books and blogs that you could recommend, and support the efforts of those who facilitate infertility support groups in your community. On Mother’s Day, consider marking the occasion in less ostentatious ways than doing standing ovations or flower presentations, and/or mention the need to appreciate ALL the important women in our lives. And lastly, I beseech you, quit cracking procreation jokes from the pulpit. Not everyone in your church is “good at making babies,” and saying so will ostracize those who might already feel like church is a place where they don’t belong.

In whatever context you encounter those who are facing infertility, the way you handle your interactions can either uplift them or drag them down. We can make the world more compassionate through the simple gesture of listening to those who are hurting.

And all God’s people who are tired of hearing “just relax and you’ll get pregnant” said: “Amen.”