Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Will Carry You

There were photographs I wanted to take
Things I wanted to show you
Sing sweet lullabies 
Wipe your teary eyes
Who could love you like this?

People say that I'm brave but I'm not
Truth is I'm barely hanging on
But there's a greater story
Written long before me
Because He loves you like this

So I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All my life
And I will praise the One who's chosen me
To carry you

Such a short time
Such a long road
All this madness
But I know
That the silence
Has brought me to His voice
And He says

I've shown her photographs of time beginning
Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies 
No more teary eyes
Who could love her like this?

I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All your life
And I will praise the One who`s chosen me
To carry you 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A resource for you...

I just found out about a resource that I wanted to pass along to you. Hannah's Prayer Ministries has a website that offers a variety of support for women with fertility challenges. Check out their website by clicking here

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord

    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not Why, But How

The following is part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up: 

Post 1: A Journey
Post 2: Love Awakened
Post 3: Hope Deferred
Post 6: Faith Tested
The past couple weeks I've felt like I've been living in a fog. While I normally get up to work out and shower before the kids wake up, I have barely been able to pull myself out of bed even after I know they're awake. I've found myself doing mindless things, like accidentally leaving my van unlocked and my purse sitting right there on the passenger seat, or putting shampoo on my hair before I wet it. I just lost my rhythm. 

One morning I was sitting on the couch with stringy hair and no make up and I said to Andy, "I just want you to know, I will get my rhythm back. This is not the new version of me."  He looked at me with knowing eyes and said, "I understand. You need to give yourself some grace." 

When life hands you a hurt, the tendency we all have is to want to know "why"? There is something inside of us that is desperate for an maybe if there was a good enough reason for the pain then it would be worth it. The thought of pointless suffering is more than our hearts can bear.

Sometimes we are blessed with an understanding of why the pain happened or we get to see the good that came out of our suffering. But we are not promised a full understanding of it this side of eternity. Often, we don’t get to know the “why”. Job didn’t realize that Satan had asked permission to test him and God approved the request. The man who was blind from birth didn’t know he was born that way so that God could reveal His glory through him once he was a full grown adult. Mary and Martha couldn’t understand why Jesus would allow his dear friend, Lazarus, to die when he had healed so many other sick people. The aching in their hearts was real and there was an all-powerful God who loved them and saw their pain but did nothing to take it away...because He had something greater in mind.

Right now when I listen to or sing songs of worship to God, it is often with a tear streaked face. The wound is still so tender and the words of the songs reach way down in my heart and take on a deeper meaning than ever before. This is my sacrifice of praise. I have something that I can lay at the feet of Jesus. It is my opportunity to trust Him with the most intimate longing of my heart. And if I can’t trust Him with that, what does it really say about this faith that I have claimed to believe all these years; this faith that I've assured people will carry them through their darkest of moments? This is my moment. It is my chance to put into practice every ounce of belief I can muster up from somewhere deep inside and say to Jesus, “I don’t understand. This is not what I want. But I trust you. And I will worship You regardless of what happens in my life because You are God. My worship is not dependent upon my circumstances.” 

I made the choice long before this season that my theology will not be dictated by my experience. When I walk through the darkness, I will hold on to what I knew to be true in the light. God was good then. He is still good now. 

I may never fully understand why God has allowed this to be my journey. I may store that fragile question in a beautiful little package to take with me to heaven. But perhaps that is the wrong question. Not a bad question. I certainly don’t think Jesus minds hearing it. Maybe it’s just the wrong question upon which to focus my thoughts. I have had to intentionally turn my focus from the "Why?" to the “How?” questions. How do You want me to embrace this? How do You want me to live each day in a way that honors You? How can You use this trial to minister to others? How do You want us to pour out all this love that You’ve put in our hearts for another child?

One thing that has been very healing to me is starting to tell my story to others. The first time I shared about our struggle with infertility was in a rather public way. Andy asked me if I would be willing to make a video to be shown on Sunday at our church about our journey. I readily agreed to do it, but as Sunday approached I had an ever-increasing desire to hide in the shadows. Instead of my normal seat up front, I sat in the middle surrounded by a sea of people. I didn’t want to greet people after the service, as is my custom. But I did. And you know what I found? A bunch of tear-streaked faces of women who either had or were currently struggling with infertility themselves. Some ministered to me, and God gave me the wonderful privilege of ministering to some of them. 

I have been amazed by the responses I've received from this series of blog posts. Women have messaged me and emailed me their stories. So many of them have said, "Thank you for sharing your helps to know that I'm not alone." And it helps me to know that they're out there, too. We all have a story to tell. And if we are willing, God will use it to minister to others and to bring healing to our own soul. He will never waste a hurt. The full redemption of the pain in our lives only comes when we can use that very pain to minister to others. 

Another thing that helps me is to purposefully get out of my house and find someone to serve. Who can I take a meal to? Is there a friend that could use some company? Maybe there's someone at church that God wants me to encourage. Doing this forces me to look outward instead of inward. My pain is real, no doubt. But I am not the only hurting person in the world. Serving others reminds me that I live for a higher purpose and that there is pain and suffering in the world much greater than my own. I do not need, nor do I want, to live a self-absorbed life.  

Forcing myself to put all of these thoughts and feelings into writing has been very healing for me. Sometimes I'll read back over what I just wrote and think to myself, "Yes, that is what I believe," like I just learned it all over again. But there is still some pain there. A dull aching that can begin to throb at unexpected moments. I have begun to embrace that pain as God’s blessing to me. That ache reminds me of my opportunity to trust God, to worship Him as He truly is instead of as I would make Him. That ache is my reminder that this is not my home. There will be a place where I will cry no more tears and every longing will be fulfilled in the One who is the fulfiller and fulfillment of every promise in God. So in the midst of crushing disappointments and unmet expectations, I choose to embrace the One who has been embracing me all along. Whenever I find myself crying tears into His chest, I inevitably end up with my eyes locked on His in worship. He is the lifter of my head. 

Thank you for taking this journey with me.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rays of Kindness

The following is part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up: 

Post 1: A Journey
Post 2: Love Awakened
Post 3: Hope Deferred 
Post 6: Faith Tested

In the weeks leading up to our vacation to San Diego, God started providing for it in crazy ways. Like, really bizarre ways. It was the kind of thing that, at first, we were excited to share with others how God was providing for us, but then it got to the point that it was a little embarrassing just how much we were being blessed. Someone at South Bay gave us an anonymous envelope with a bunch of money in it. Another family heard we were going to San Diego and bought tickets for our whole family to go to the zoo, SeaWorld, AND a safari adventure. Altogether, there were over 10 different gifts that we received leading up to this vacation. 

It was baffling to me. I couldn't figure out why God was blessing us so much, but was thrilled to be on the receiving end of it! Then the events of our miscarriage began to unfold and it seemed that our whole vacation may unravel. We weren't even sure if we should still go to San Diego.  

As my heart and body ached while driving down to Southern Cal, the same question kept running through my mind over and over again, "How is this kind? You say that You are kind. How is this kind?" 

When we got to our hotel, they gave us a free upgrade to a suite overlooking the ocean. Ok, that was a little weird. But, thank you. 

And slowly it began sinking in...God saw this heartache coming down the pike for us and He wanted to do something to remind us that, right here in the midst of it, He is still kind and benevolent toward us. He's not cruel or mean-spirited. He didn't ruin our long-awaited vacation. He's been planning ahead this whole time to provide space for us to be together as a family, away from everything else, to grieve and heal. He provided for our every need while we were there. 

It was by-far the most luxurious family vacation we've every experienced and we only ended up paying about $100 out of pocket for it. We stayed at a beautiful resort overlooking the ocean, went to a different theme park every day we were there, and Andy & I both got a massage. When we were walking up to LegoLand (the only park we did not have pre-purchased tickets for) someone walked over and gave us a buy one/get one free coupon. As he walked away, Andy and I kinda laughed and said, "This is unbelievable." Two minutes later another person walked over and gave us one free admission ticket. Hello!

The other way God provided for us during this time was through a close community of friends and family. Andy and I were completely overwhelmed by the love and support that was immediately poured out on us. We had only told a handful of people, mainly South Bay staff, that we were pregnant. But this small group of friends banded together and ministered to us in ways they may never fully understand. 

I received daily texts from friends and family checking in on me, encouraging me, and sharing Scripture with me. Every text ended with the assurance of, "I'm praying for you," and I knew it was true. They were holding up our arms when we ran out of strength. 

When we got home from our vacation we were shocked to find our refrigerator already stocked with food. The really eerie part was that it was pretty much exactly what I would have bought if I had been to the grocery store that day. Yes, I have a few friends that know me so well they can even buy my groceries for me. They put together a meal train, set up childcare to provide windows of alone time for me (which is how I've been able to write all these blogs), sent flowers and chocolate covered strawberries and gift cards. 

I know that their hearts hurt with mine, and somehow that brought so much comfort. They've been eager for every update, have listened to me share my heart when I wanted to, and just let me be "normal" when I didn't want to think about it anymore. 

I've been reminded through all of this that life is better together. God designed us to live in the context of community. When life gets busy and my task list seems out of control, may I never let "pursuing meaningful relationships"be the ball that I drop. There are a lot of other things that can be put on hold or said "no" to altogether. But, relationships are the richness of life.

Those dear friends and family members were the tangible arms of Jesus that held me tight and reminded me of His love. And sometimes we all need Jesus with skin on.

One last post coming tomorrow...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Choosing to Trust

The following is part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up: 

Post 1: A Journey
Post 2: Love Awakened
Post 3: Hope Deferred
Post 6: Faith Tested

I'm going to try to wrap this up in about 3 more posts. Can you hang with me? 

Our time in San Diego felt strange. Not exactly the mixture of emotions we thought we'd be experiencing on this family vacation. We didn't expect to need to research the nearest hospitals every day when we went on an outing just in case we needed to get there quickly. I had envisioned putting the boys to sleep early and then watching movies with Andy while cuddling on the couch and enjoying desserts. We did some of that, but our evenings were also filled with tears pent up from the day, long conversations trying to make sense of everything, and writing down my thoughts as I tried to process through my grief. 

I didn't want to miss this moment with my boys, but I felt like a shell of myself. I'd be fine one minute and then hiding my face from my kids the next to disguise the tears that had suddenly sprung to my eyes. 

There were three different components of what we were walking through: the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual. 

Physically we knew that the actual miscarriage could take place at anytime. Most of the time, a woman's body can do this naturally but my midwife had warned us that there are occasions where you have to go the hospital because of complications. This especially worried Andy so he was constantly checking on me to see how I was feeling physically. It kinda felt like the last week of pregnancy when you know labor could start at any time...we always had a contingency plan of what we'd do if that happened.

Emotionally we were both grieving. It felt like we had lost a child, or at least the hope of a child. This baby was deeply loved and long awaited. The pain ran deep.

I also grieved the loss of a joy-filled pregnancy. There was exuberant joy from every person that we had told that we were pregnant. Our hearts were so full and expectant that it felt impossible to keep the good news to ourselves. As I considered the thought of trying to get pregnant again, I understood that our next pregnancy will likely be received (by us and by others) with much more caution and even fear. Every expectant mom has the reality of miscarriage in the back of her mind. But when you have walked that road, the battle with fear is inevitable. I loved the unreserved excitement I had in sharing my joy with others. I felt like I lost that when I lost this baby.

And, though this may seem unimportant, I also grieved the loss of what I felt like was perfect timing for our family. A late June due date was great for the rhythm of Andy's schedule with his church responsibilities. Fall is always a busy time for the church, and next fall in particular we have already started planning some big things for South Bay. The timing was also great as a homeschooling mom because it provided about 6 weeks to get our feet back under us before needing to think about school. I could totally wrap my mind around a late June birthday...but now it felt like we were completely up in the air again.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to process, however, was the spiritual component of what happened. 

The day I found out I was pregnant, I had imagined God like a parent who just watched their child open the best Christmas gift ever. I imagined him laughing with joy and clapping His hands with delight. Now, as I looked back on that day, I had no idea what God was thinking while He looked on from Heaven. He knew that in 3 weeks time my joy would turn to grief like I'd never experienced. I wondered what He was thinking and feeling as He watched me rejoice. I didn't know what to make of it. One night I said to Andy, "I just can't imagine my earthly father ever doing something to wound me so deeply. How do I received this from my Heavenly Father who loves me perfectly?" 

I knew that it was important to keep filling my mind with truth instead of allowing Satan to fill it with lies. So, before we left on vacation, I grabbed Chip Ingram's book entitled, "God As He Longs For You To See Him". My perspective of God was suddenly very fuzzy and I needed a trusted source to hold my hand and remind me of all the things that the Bible teaches as truth about the character of God. 

I also wanted to be real and honest about all of my questions while still being respectful of God. I don't think that God is at all threatened by our honest questions and He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. He's big enough to handle any emotion that we bring to the table and trying to disguise them is futile since He knows everything about us anyway. 

At the same time, we have to choose if we will come to God humbly or arrogantly. Seeking to understand or demanding answers. For example, one thing I've really struggled with is feeling like this chain of events in my life is cruel and mean spirited. After five and a half years of infertility, why even let us get pregnant only to take it away 7.5 weeks in? It would have been easier emotionally to not even get pregnant. So, I take that to God and lay it at His feet... "Father, to me, what just happened feels cruel. But I know that Your Word says that You are a kind and compassionate Father who loves to give good gifts to His children. How does what happened to me fit into the truth of who You are?"

The concept of prayer also left me with huge questions. Isn't praying for a child in accordance with God's will? He instructs us to "go forth and multiply" and tells us that "children are a blessing from the Lord." Doesn't the Bible promise that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective"? Didn't Jesus teach that if we ask for anything in His name He would do it? Hadn't we prayed for years for a baby, received the pregnancy with gratitude and thanksgiving, and continued to pray DAILY for the health of this child? What went wrong?

I think anyone who says they have a clear understanding of how prayer works is probably a little crazy. Can we ever truly understand the Almighty? The truth is God does not owe me an explanation. He is God and He may do whatever He chooses. His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. They are far higher. Far better, and wiser, and more loving than what I can wrap my mind around. He reserves the right to not explain all the why’s of His choices and I have to remind myself that if I could understand everything about God, He would be no God at all. 

Andy, who was also struggling through this concept of prayer, described it like this... sometimes when he presents an idea to our kids, he has already made up his mind that that's the way it's going to be. It is his "will" and nothing that the kids say is going to change his mind. But there are other occasions that the plan is more flexible. He wants to hear their opinions and feedback and will take them into consideration as he makes the final decision. Andy said, "Perhaps, in God's Sovereignty, prayer is kinda like that. We don't know which decisions our prayers can effect and which decisions God has already divinely determined, so we should just pray about everything, always knowing that God has every right to make the final call."

When we live this way, ending every prayer with "not my will but Your's be done", we can rest in the confidence that we serve a Sovereign God who knows the end from the beginning and His plan is always best. This is how we can acknowledge the deep longings of our hearts while reminding ourselves that our deepest longing is for the Lord’s will to be done in our lives. 

One other idea that has helped show me the value of prayer is a quote by Charles Spurgeon: 
“We do not show our trouble to the Lord that He may see it, but that we may see Him. It is for our relief, and not for His information, that we make plain statements concerning our troubles. It does us much good to list our sorrows.” 
So that's kinda where I've landed with it right now. I'll keep pouring out my heart to God...telling Him all that I long for, asking Him all of my unanswered questions, and sifting through my every emotion at the foot of His throne. I'll keep doing that because I believe, in my heart of hearts, that He cares. That He loves me deeply. That He is a kind and compassionate and good Father. That He would not hurt me without cause or withhold from me without preparing something better. And I will remind myself that He is God and I am not. Even when I don't understand, I know that He can be trusted.

Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him. Job 13:15

Friday, November 23, 2012

Faith Tested

The following is part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up: 

Post 1: A Journey
Post 2: Love Awakened
Post 3: Hope Deferred

After 3 weeks of feeling great physically and elated emotionally, everything changed.

Mid-morning on Tuesday, November 6 I started having back pain. At first I thought I must have pulled something in my back during my workout that morning, but it felt different than that. Most of the day I couldn't stand up straight or walk without limping. I also noticed some light spotting. That night I told Andy, "I think something is wrong." And then I laid down and sobbed while he took me in his arms and prayed over me.

The next morning the bleeding was more visible and I felt confident that I was having a miscarriage. I cried all morning as I got ready. We had our Mornings for Moms life group that I help lead that morning and I was so thankful that I was doing childcare that day instead of out with the moms. I didn't want to have to have a real conversation with anyone.

While driving to the Mom's Group it was very foggy outside. Sammy said, "Mommy, where's the sun?" I replied, "It's behind the clouds." Sammy said, "But I can't see it." With tears streaming down my face I said, "I know, Baby. I can't see it either. But even when we can't see the sun, it's still shining."

After our Mom's Group, I told a few of my friends who were there that morning what was going on. Two of them said, "We're taking your kids." One said, "Don't lose hope. Go see your midwife this afternoon." Another took me to her house to feed me lunch while I filled out all the medical form for my appointment.

I had an ultrasound that afternoon and much to my delight, I saw the baby's heartbeat. The heartbeat seemed a little slow, but my midwife assured me that sometimes they see that and the baby is totally fine. After scheduling a follow-up appointment in two days, I left feeling a mix of emotions. Hopeful yet uncertain.

The appointment on Friday left me much more hopeful. Once again we saw the baby's heartbeat and the ultrasound technician assured me that it was within normal range. The spotting had continued throughout the week, but my midwife told me that a lot of women have spotting during their first trimester and perhaps my progesterone levels were low. So they ordered some lab work and I began taking progesterone immediately.

In my mind I felt relieved, but I had been through hell emotionally that week so I still didn't have my feet under me. I assured myself that I'd feel better once all the spotting had stopped.

That night we had an overnight South Bay staff retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was just what I needed. We played games and laughed our heads off with some of our dearest friends. After 4 days of grieving the thought of having a miscarriage, it was exactly what I needed to snap me out of my slump.

On Saturday and Sunday I turned my thoughts toward preparing for our big vacation. Our family had been planning a weeklong getaway to San Diego and were set to leave at the crack of dawn on Monday morning. Because of my current situation, I had to do one more round of labs on Monday before we left town, but we planned on being there as soon as they opened with the van already packed.

However, by late afternoon on Sunday I started feeling crampy. At first I thought it was just in my a nervous paranoia. But by bedtime that night, there was no denying it. I knew what was happening.

If you've ever lost a loved one, you understand the strong desire to be with them during the last moments of their life. As I laid in bed that night, that is how I felt. I knew in my heart that these were my last moments with our baby, so I put my hands on my tummy, pictured that little heartbeat on the ultrasound machine and I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning the cramping continued and the bleeding had picked up. Andy and I wandered around the house like zombies trying to figure out what to do. The van was already packed for vacation and there were two little boys who would be waking up at any moment bouncing off the walls with excitement. We decided we would wait to talk with my midwife before leaving town.

All four of us sat in the lobby awaiting the dreaded ultrasound. Our boys had no idea what was going on...we hadn't even told them that we were pregnant yet. I went alone into the exam room and saw on the screen what I had feared. There was our tiny baby snuggled into my womb, but there was no heartbeat.

After talking everything through with my midwife, I trudged back through the lobby and outside where Andy & the boys waited. Our eyes met, and Andy knew. We wrapped our arms around each other and I wept as he whispered in my ear, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

Then we piled into the van for what was supposed to be one of the best weeks of our year.

We didn't talk a lot on the 8 hour drive down to San Diego. I was pretty uncomfortable physically and completely distraught emotionally. This took "hope deferred" to a whole new level.

So many questions for God began swirling around in my head.

  • Why allow us to suffer the pain of infertility for five and a half years, then fulfill the deep longing of our hearts, then cause us deeper pain than perhaps we've ever experienced? That just seems cruel and mean spirited.
  • Why even allow us to get pregnant only to take it away in 3 weeks (7.5 weeks pregnant)?
  • How does what just happened fit into the grid of what I've always believed to be true about God? How is this kind? And loving? And good?
Everything seemed suddenly very fuzzy. Why was it that I believed what I believed? What exactly is it that I believe? What do I do with all this pain that is wrecking my heart? 

Those are some of the questions I've been processing through the past week and a half. It has not been pretty or neatly packaged. It has been raw and painful on so many levels. 

I'm sharing all of this with you because I know that every person processes through grief and painful circumstances at some point in our lives. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Pain and suffering is an inescapable part of living in this fallen world, and it's really hard to know how to make sense of it. I don't feel like I've come up with a lot of profound answers, or any answers at all really. But I thought, somehow, if I shared my own grief journey with you, it may provide comfort for someone else. So in the coming posts I will give you a peek at the storm that's been raging in my heart. 

I never wanted this to be my story. I never imagined that my journey would include miscarriage and years of infertility. I never would have written the script this way. But for some reason there is an all-powerful God in heaven whose thoughts are higher than my own, and this is what He saw fit for my life. I've always believed that He is kind and loving and full of even on my darkest of days I will cling to what I knew to be true in the light. I will tether my heart the promise that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. 

[I feel like I need to apologize to many of you who wished me "Congratulations" after reading my post yesterday. Please don't feel bad that you said that and please don't be angry with me for misleading you. I wanted you to experience all of the different emotions that I have been experiencing. Each post has represented a significant season of our journey. As we have lived this journey out, we've had no idea what was right around the bend for us. So we keep putting one foot in front of the other, experiencing each emotion as they come, and trying to filter it all through the grid of what we know to be true about God. Thank you for journeying with me. More to come tomorrow...]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Longing Fulfilled

The following is a part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up: 

Post 1: A Journey
Post 2: Love Awakened
Post 3: Hope Deferred

Thursday, October 18, 2012 started off like a typical morning. My alarm went off at the crack of dawn and I stumbled into the bathroom to put on my work out clothes. But on that particular morning, something broke up my normal routine. I took a pregnancy test and it came back positive! 

No one who has been trying to get pregnant as long as we have ever expects to see the word “pregnant” on that test. Hope for it? Absolutely, every month. But expect it? No, we lost that expectation long ago. I have no idea how many times I’ve taken a pregnancy test only to let out a sigh at the disappointing results.

I was at a complete loss of what to do. I wanted to tell Andy is some brilliant way but instead I just walked back out of the bathroom and stared at him while he was still laying in bed. He looked at my speechless expression and was suddenly wide awake. He said, “What?! Are you pregnant?” I couldn’t even speak. I just excitedly nodded my head and jumped back into bed. 

The first words out of Andy’s mouth were an expression of relief as he said, “Oh, wow. Thank God!” We laid there hugging and crying and praying. After 56 long months of hoping for another baby, we could have received no greater news that day!

Later that morning as I was about to read my Bible and spend some time alone with God, I decided I wanted to start off by journaling about the events of the morning and the joy that was bursting out of my heart. All morning a certain verse kept coming in my head: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12) You see, every month for those 56 months, that was the verse that popped in my mind after discovering that I was not pregnant, again. But not the whole verse. Just the part that says, “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I understood that. I knew all too well exactly what those words meant. 

However, on that glorious morning of October 18, I could claim the second part of the verse as my own: A longing fulfilled is a tree of life. 

As I sat down to write in my journal, I paused to look up the reference for that verse. Wouldn’t you know, in the Providence of God, that verse was in the section of Scripture that I would have read that day for the daily reading plan that I was following. When I discovered that, tears flowed down my cheeks again. Only God could have timed it so perfectly.

I imagined God looking down on my joy-filled, overwhelmingly thankful heart the way a parent feels watching a child open the best Christmas present in the world. The excitement of the child is rivaled only by the excitement of the parent. I thought of God up in heaven watching this plan unfold and felt sure that He must be laughing with joy! Squirming with excitement in His throne as He watched me discover that I was pregnant. Clapping His hands with delight as Andy and I rejoiced together. Grinning from ear to ear as He thought, “I’ve got one more little surprise for ya...Go get your journal and Bible and see what little nugget I stored away for you today!”

We didn’t make a public announcement right away (only our families and the South Bay staff), but I was shocked that everyone in the whole world couldn’t immediately tell that I was pregnant. I felt like a different person. Wasn’t I floating instead of walking? Wasn’t I glowing at all times? Did the radiant smile and permanent good mood not give it away? 

I discovered that our due date would be some time at the end of June, which could not have been better timing for our family. June is probably our most relaxed month in the rhythms of church life. That also gave me a month and a half before homeschool started back up to just enjoy the baby and try to get on some type of routine. And the cherry on top was that the birthday was nicely spaced away from other family birthdays and Christmas. Ahhh, so perfect!

The people we did tell were all well aware of our long-term struggle with infertility and had all been praying on our behalf. Their reactions to our good news were priceless. Several of my friends burst into tears. One almost fell while holding her own child! One friend couldn’t stop jumping up and down. Another told me later that she felt like a huge burden was lifted off her shoulders when she heard the news. She said, “I didn’t even realize that it was there, but I guess I’ve been carrying this with you ever since I first learned of your struggle.” She learned of it four years ago. 

I told my mom, “If ever someone knows how to be thankful for a pregnancy, it’s me. You will never hear me complain about anything regarding being pregnant, even if I’m puking in a toilet or can’t get out of bed.”

Every night as we go to sleep, Andy prays for us. For as long as I can remember, those prayers have included, “...and please bless our family with another healthy baby.” (Often he threw in there “baby girl” just for clarity’s sake. :-) ) Now the prayers changed from supplication to thanksgiving, and then back to supplication again. Every night, “Thank you so much for blessing our family with this precious gift. Please protect Stacie and the baby as he/she grows in Stacie’s womb. We pray that this baby would be healthy and strong and a world-changer in Your kingdom.” 

And then we would fall asleep with our hearts full. Thankful? Oh, there was so, so much that we were thankful for...

Happy Thanksgiving, Folks! The journey continues tomorrow... 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Worth the Wait

The following is a part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up: 

Post 1: A Journey
Post 2: Love Awakened
Post 3: Hope Deferred

While God has still not chosen to bless us with another biological child, He has blessed our family with a breathtakingly beautiful little Ethiopian boy that we named Sammy. There are times that Sammy’s belly laugh can stop me in my tracks as I remember God’s promise: those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He may be the most joyful child I’ve ever met.

When Andy and I had been married about one month, we went to Thailand for a couple of weeks and worked with an orphanage. It took about two minutes for both of us to be head over heels in love with these children and we started scheming how we could bring a couple home with us. From that point on there was no question in our minds: We knew one day we would adopt. But “one day” is rather elusive. We had no idea when that would be and if we had not gone through this struggle with infertility when we did, we may have waited years. We may have missed Sammy. And the thought of missing him is more than I can bear. 

Not long after Caedmon turned 3, an adoption agency that I had done a little research on hosted a introductory seminar in our area. I mentioned it to Andy and he thought we should go. I was a little surprised because, while Andy was 100% bought in to the idea of adoption, he wasn’t convinced that this was the right timing. We had only been in California for about a year and had just “given birth” to a new church. We kinda had a lot of other things going on in our lives, but I was (cautiously) excited that he was willing to at least learn more about this agency.

After attending the seminar I casually said to Andy on the drive home, “So, what’d ya think?” His response could not have shocked me more. He said, “I think we should do it.” 

“Really?! Now?! You’re ready?!” Yes.

When we got home, I went back to our office to pull something off our was the already completed application to the adoption agency that I had filled out weeks prior. It was just awaiting Andy’s signature. He laughed so hard when I handed it to him.  

To say that I was excited would be a huge understatement. I felt like I had just found out that I was pregnant. In many ways, I did! As soon as we said, “Yes!” to adoption we began our “paperwork pregnancy”. We were expecting. 

Nine months later (ironic timing), on July 6, 2010, Andy and I were anxiously standing at the bottom of some steps outside of an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Right around the corner was our son who we were waiting to meet for the first time. As 21 month old “Wondimu” toddled out tightly squeezing the finger of his caregiver, my heart leapt into my throat and that same joy that I felt when Caedmon was first placed in my arms was mine again. 

It would be impossible for me to sum up in one post all that God has taught me through our adoption experience. In fact, much of my blog is devoted to sharing that journey with you. But today, I will share a few highlights.

Many people wonder (and a few have been brave enough to ask), “Is it different?” Is adopting a child different than having one biologically? Do you feel differently about the adopted child than you do your biological child? 

(Sidebar- It’s important to note that adoptive families never refer to kids born biologically as “kids of our own”. i.e. “We had a child of our own and then we adopted one.” No. Both Caedmon and Sammy are very much “kids of our own”.)

Back to the question... The answer is yes, it is different. And yet at the same time no, not at all. 

When we brought Sammy into our family, I fully anticipated having all of the same emotions for him that I felt for Caedmon when he joined our family. I was absolutely smitten with Sammy from photos that I had received and was enthralled with him during our week in Ethiopia. I had been longing for him for three and a half years. My dream was finally coming true!

Needless to say, I was completely blindsided by the reality that the bonding process was not immediate in either direction. I anticipated that Sammy may have some trauma to work through and it would take time for him to understand that we are his forever family. But I was confident that I would feel nothing but love and compassion for him. Ha. I discovered I’m not that noble. 

At first, it felt like I was taking care of a friend’s child or, at best, my nephew. I cared about him, but he was a bit of a stranger to me. Not only was there a lack of familiarity, but there were all kinds of negative behaviors that made loving him much more of a choice than an emotion in those first months. Waking up 4 or more times a night, refusing affection, biting, a strange combination of wanting to be constantly held but only on his terms, and sibling issues. Ah, the sibling issues. It was a hard time.

There were so many nights that I cried myself to sleep feeling like a horrible mother. I wondered if I would ever be able to love Sammy the way that he deserved to be loved. Would he ever feel like my son? I knew we were 100% committed to providing for Sammy for the rest of his life, but I wasn’t satisfied with a relationship based on bathing and clothing and feeding. I wanted to love him from the depths of my soul with an unstoppable love. 

It took time. Some weeks felt like we made a ton of progress. But then we’d have a major regression or I would notice some behavior that reminded me of just how far we still had to go.  

It took memory making. It took countless nights of snuggling on the couch while we read the Bible together. It took family vacations and Christmases together. It took singing songs and kissing boo boos and making playdough creations together. It took prayer. 

If you’ve ever met Sammy, you probably have no idea why in the world I would ever struggle to love him the way a mother should love a child. He is truly the most lovable and endearing child you’ll ever meet. I don’t really understand it either. I just know that I have a different expectation of my level of love for my own kids than I expect to feel about any other kids. So as much as I “loved” those children in the orphanage in Thailand and wanted to take them all home with me, the reality is my love for them was not that of a mother’s love. It was a fairy tale love. A happily ever after love. 

Adoption is not about that kind of love. It is not for the joy of beautiful, multi-ethnic Christmas cards. It’s not because I love international missions. It’s not to feel like a superhero by rescuing a child from the throes of poverty. It is not even because adoption is a picture of what God has done for us through Christ. 

As magical and lovely as all of that sounds, adoption requires a fierce love. A “I’m-never-going-to-stop-loving-you-no-matter-what-you-do” kind of love. A love that is willing to potty train and discipline and do bedtime routine every. single. night. A love that can take stinky breath and stinky booties and stinky attitudes. A love that desires what is best for that child no matter what inconvenience or sacrifice is required of myself. That is the love of parenting. You can’t say you love adoption without also loving parenting. 

Do you know why, ultimately, we adopted and why we would like to adopt again in the future? Sure, I’m proud of our beautiful Christmas cards and international mission trips have changed my life. It does feel good to know that we have given a one-time orphan a family and a chance to become all that God has created him to be. And I have, honestly, learned a lot about my relationship with God when I consider the parallels of our adoption process with Sammy.

But the real reason that we are committed to adoption is because the Bible is pretty clear that we (the Church) are to look after widows and orphans in their distress. And because the Bible teaches that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and it just so happens that a lot of our neighbors in this world are without families. I am NOT one of those people that thinks every single family should adopt. Adoption is a calling. It is one of the (many) ways that we can look after orphans in their distress. But, I AM definitely one of those people that believes every family should consider adoption...because if you haven’t honestly considered it as a possibility for your family, then you can’t honestly say that you know God is not calling you to it. 

One other thing I’ve learned through adoption: love grows. Given time and commitment and a few rounds of glow stick parties, love grows. It may grow slowly at first, but once those roots start to get firmly planted into the rich soil of a devoted family, growth takes place at exponential rates. It’s uncontainable. 

I no longer wonder whether I’ll ever be able to love Sammy the way a mother loves a child. I already do. I marvel at him and laugh at him and get mad at him and play with him and train him the exact same way that I do Caedmon. There is no difference. The only variations come as a result of the fact that, I guess in some ways, we have a unique love relationship with every precious individual in our lives. 

When I look in Sammy’s sparkling coffee colored eyes, I think to myself, “You were worth the wait.” Even if it required me to cry myself to sleep and for my heart to be wrecked with unanswered questions for month after month that grew into year after year. I would do it all over again. I would go through the pain and disappointment of infertility and the struggles with attachment and bonding of adoption. I wouldn’t hesitate just so that I could see him tiptoe out of his bedroom in the morning with his monkey pajamas and soggy pull-up and come bounding into my arms and hear him say, “Mommy.” So worth it. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hope deferred makes the heart sick...

The following is a part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up. Click here and here to read the first two posts. 

I had always dreamed of having a big family with my kids close together in age. I envisioned siblings that doubled as playmates and best friends. And from the calendar of events kept neatly in my mind, I could foretell the ideal arrival times of our various children. For some reason, I just assumed God and I were on the same page with this. 

By the time Caedmon was 6 months old, I was ready to add to our family again. Andy was on-board with the idea of having our kids really close in age, so we threw caution to the wind and began hoping for Baby #2.

Month after month began to go by. At first I didn’t think much of it. I told myself, “I’m still breastfeeding. That might be affecting things.” Or, “Andy traveled some this month so that could explain it.” But there came a point when I knew something was wrong. There was every opportunity for us to get pregnant, and we just weren’t. 

My unwavering confidence in God’s sovereignty floated back and forth between comforting and distressing. I never doubted that God is over all things and that He is the One who gives life. So it seemed to me that if He had decided not to give us another child, He must have a reason. I took it on as my duty to figure out what that reason was so we could remedy it and get on to my calendar of events…a calendar which was already running dreadfully behind schedule. 

Everywhere I went the world seemed over-populated with pregnant women: the mall, the playground, church. It felt like I got word on a weekly basis that a different friend was expecting. I watched my sister suffer through horrible morning sickness, twice. I helped throw baby showers for several close friends. I knew people who weren’t even married at the time get married and have multiple children all while I was still hoping for our next child. In my heart I celebrated with them. The sadness that I felt over my own situation didn’t rob me of the joy that I felt for them, but it did complicate my questions.

About 2 years in to our struggle with infertility, one of my best friends found out, much to her surprise, she was expecting their 3rd child. She didn’t even know how to tell me. Her husband told Andy, who shared the news with me over a lunch at Noah’s Bagel…I remember it so vividly. I received the news with joy but found myself shaking with sobs later that day. The first half of her pregnancy was spent trying to get her mind around the fact that she was about to be a mother to 3 children ages 4 and under. Of course, by the time her precious son arrived (and even before that) she was elated to welcome him into their family. But it was, for us, a strange juxtaposition of trials. God was teaching both of us about His Sovereignty over life and death. We were both learning to accept His timetable for our families. 

For me, the struggle with infertility was a lonely road. It’s not that I didn’t have people in my life who loved me and would have wanted to help me carry that burden. It’s just that I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to be a drag to be around. I feel like talking about infertility is some kind of social faux pas and that no one can relate unless they’d walked that road. Telling someone else that I was struggling with infertility felt, at best, like admitting a failure and, at worst, like confessing an awful sin. It was somewhere in between telling people that I didn’t get the job I was interviewing for due to my sub-standard performance and confessing to my mentor that I struggle with porn. Nobody really knows what to say when you launch that one at them. So you just don’t. At least not often. 

The struggle seemed too intimate for casual conversation and too painful to bring up with a girlfriend over lunch. I dreaded the thought of being the phone call that no one wanted to make, so I rarely talked about it with my family who lived cross-country. It was easier to keep things light, to focus on the countless things that were going well in our lives, and to try to pretend like the pain wasn’t there. 

But the pain was there, sometimes like a dull headache, sometimes coming in waves so strong that I didn’t have time to catch my footing before another one pushed me under. The reality that I understood far too well was there was really nothing these people who loved me so much could do to take the pain away. 

I remember one phone conversation with my sister where she braved bringing up the topic. I was at the playground with Caedmon and just had to sit down on the side of the sand box to try to maintain some level of composure while in public. I remember there being long stretches of silence as we both just cried, neither one of us knowing what to say but knowing she felt my pain as intimately as only a sister can. 

There were nights that I found myself slipping into Caedmon’s room just to watch him sleep. I would lie down next to him, so close that I could feel his breath on my skin. And as I squeezed that little body against my own I would think of all the love I had in my heart, not only for him, but also for another child. I longed for Caedmon to have a sibling. Our family, somehow, felt like we were missing people. Like we were not yet complete. And after I had no more tears to cry, I would go crawl back into my own bed and fall asleep emotionally exhausted. 

When life hands you a hurt that you don’t know how to make sense of, your mind begins to grasp for meaning, clinging to anything that can alleviate the ever-haunting “Why?” in your heart. Some of my thoughts went like this:

Perhaps God wants me to enjoy intimacy with my husband without just seeing it as an opportunity to get pregnant. If I could learn this lesson, then surely He would bless me with a child. 

Perhaps there is something that He doesn’t like about the way we are raising our son, Caedmon. If I could just be a better mom, then surely He would bless me with another child. 

Perhaps He wants me to learn some lesson regarding longing for Him or being satisfied with Him. Perhaps He is taking me through this so I’ll be able to comfort others in the same situation. Maybe if I could just learn these lessons, just be a little more perfect, then surely He would bless me with another child. 

Whether conscious or unconscious, verbalized or repressed, that’s where my thoughts lingered.

Andy and I traveled to a pastors’ conference in Texas that February. As much as I tried not to get my hopes up each month, I always found myself praying this would be the month. My mind began anticipating when the child’s birthday would be, how old Caedmon would be, and whether the baby would be a boy or a girl. I was so hoping I would find out at the conference that I was pregnant. Instead, I found out the opposite and told Andy through teary eyes, “No baby this month.” 

I ached inwardly as we sat through the various sessions. One night a mom with two children, probably about 10 and 12 years old, sat in front of us. While the worship band played I closed my eyes and let the words of the songs bathe my wounded soul. At one point I opened my eyes to see both of those children with their hands raised worshipping Jesus. The sight was so beautiful that it made me catch my breath. With tears streaming down my face I prayed, “God if you would give me another child I promise I would raise him to worship You.” 

In that moment the tenderness of a loving Father came and wrapped His arms around me. I felt with such clarity in my spirit the Father say to me, “Stacie, I’m not holding out on you because I think you’re a bad mom or a bad wife or because I’m trying to make some kind of point. You don’t have to “earn” a child from Me.” 

I didn’t walk away from that moment with any answers to my “Why” questions. But I did have a new-found peace that this journey I was on was one of grace. My Father saw every tear I cried and knew the pain that wrecked my heart. He was there with me each night that I soaked my pillow with tears and each time I leaned over the bathroom sink weeping. He was loving me, ministering to me, strengthening me, and rubbing soothing balm on my open wounds.

Caedmon turned 6 this past September and God has still not chosen to bless us with another biological child. But He has blessed us in countless other ways... be continued.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Love Awakened

The following is a part of a series of posts that will take you on a (very personal) journey with me through the story of our family. If you are just now tuning in, take a minute to start back at the beginning and catch up. Click here to read the first post. 

The day Caedmon was born may very well have been the happiest day of my life. 

Andy & I had spent months preparing for this birth. We attended a series of childbirth classes and read several books because I had made up my mind that I wanted to do natural childbirth and we needed to be prepared. At my 38 week appointment, however, my midwife informed me that Caedmon had unfortunately flipped transverse (sideways) and unless he rotated again we’d be guaranteed a C-section. Thus ensued 2 weeks of strange exercises, laying in weird positions, lots of chiropractor appointments, and prayer. Oh, how we prayed. 

We were thrilled when we discovered that he had snuggled back into the correct position and anxiously awaited labor to begin. 

On Thursday morning I was lying on the couch when I felt my first contraction. The thought that immediately popped in my head was, “I don’t want to bring my baby home to a dirty bathroom!” So I jumped (not really) off that couch and spent the next 2 hours on my hands and knees scrubbing our bathroom. It still cracks me up to think that I did that (and that I would likely do it again!).

By that afternoon I was horribly uncomfortable as I waddled through the grocery store getting snacks for our Life Group that night. Andy & I had a dinner appointment with a couple of students from our church who we hardly knew. I forced a smile and tried to be cordial, but I was not in a very social mood. We hosted a Life Group at our house that evening and by the time everyone left around 9:30 I was nearly in tears. I still had not made the connection that I was going into labor and just thought I was going to be this uncomfortable for the next week or two until the baby was born. 

After a hot shower and back rub, I laid down in hopes of sleep. That’s when it finally dawned on us that labor was starting. 

Once I realized that this misery was labor and not just pregnancy woes, my whole countenance changed. It was game time. I was ready for this. I sent Andy to the couch to get a few hours of sleep while I tried to relax in our bed with a movie. Around 2 AM I woke him up and handed him my pre-made list of instructions and last minute items that needed to be packed. 

We gave birth at a wonderful birthing center in Grand Prairie, TX. I really could not have scripted a better environment with its dim lighting, quiet worship music playing, and just Andy, my midwife, and one friend in the room. I labored all through the early morning hours with intense back labor. Andy went through an entire container of lotion as he massaged my back for nearly 8 hours straight! His words of encouragement as well as his steady strength and presence so endeared my heart to him. The birth process was the most bonding experience we’d ever been through. We were in this together. 

As I watched the sun rise through the window, I knew that a new life would soon be breaking forth as this new day dawned. It all seemed so perfect to me.

After an hour and a half of pushing (it took a while to get all 9 lbs 8.5 ounces out!) my midwife placed that precious, red, wrinkled, screaming baby on my chest and I have never felt more relieved or overwhelmed with joy. Andy and I laid in the bed with Caedmon in our arms for the next hour or two...marveling at his beauty and the miracle that we had just experienced. We called our parents on the East Coast and vacillated between tears of joy and uncontainable laughter as we celebrated this new life together. 

After Caedmon and I took a bath and a nap, we were ready to head home (just about 4 hours after he was born!). When my mom walked through the front door of our house that evening, she was shocked to see Caedmon and me comfortably perched on the couch in my living room. The first words out of her mouth were, “Did you really just have a baby this morning?!”

There were days that first week of Caedmon’s life that I don’t think we put him down all day long. He went from one pair of arms to another as we were all so mesmerized by him. Is there anything more pure and precious and wonderful than a newborn baby?

In the weeks and months that followed, Caedmon and I spent countless hours in my blue cushy recliner that squeaked when I rocked. I would stare at his face and try to memorize his every expression. The way he lifted his eyebrows when he would stretch. The way he would startle at a loud sound. All of the funny things he would do with his mouth. The way he would whimper and pout while sleeping as if having a bad dream. 

I knew that when the baby phase was a distant memory, I didn’t want to have the regret of knowing I had wished it away while I was in the moment. So I chose to sit and stare at a little face that was changing so fast it was almost visible from day to day. 

When Caedmon was placed in my arms for the very first time on that September morning, I was thrust into the world of Motherhood and a love that I had never experienced came alive in my heart. It was a love that started big and continued to grow through enormous right up to the point that I was pretty confident my heart would burst. While laying together in that bed, a lifelong love affair began.