Tuesday, December 14, 2010

::give yourself to the art of praise::

Every time the holidays roll around, I start to feel a little desperate. 

It's the one time of the year that we are together with all of our family members.  It's a perfect time to make an "announcement," if you get what I mean.  It's the time of year for families.  For children.  I track my cycles with even more vengeance than normal, if possible.  I hope for an announcement to make at Thanksgiving, and then hold out for a miraculous Christmas gift, and then a New Year's surprise, and then...hope dwindling, perhaps a tiny Valentine.  Or not.

The pressures of trying to conceive seem compounded by the holidays and family gatherings.  I don't know why I put that pressure on myself--as if any of this in my control--because I know my family doesn't have that expectation of us anymore.  They are just all happy to be together.  It really is me that puts the pressure on myself.

Last Thursday night, with shaking hands I held a pregnancy test up to the light for what is quite possibly the 200th time.  I searched for the miraculous.  It wasn't there.  I put the test down and tried to convince myself that hope wasn't lost quite yet.  I was still within the ten minute time frame.  I went to the kitchen and laid the test on the counter.  I washed some dishes.  I looked at the test.  There was the faintest of lines that only the very trained eye of an infertile woman could see. ;)  I knew straight away it was an evaporation line.  My husband came home and looked at the test.  He held it up in that familiar way--directly into the light, eyes squinting.  He saw the line, but trusted my evaluation.
I tested again the next morning.
There never was a more negative test.
I hate, hate, hate that blank space on the stick looking back at me. 

So I waited a couple of days with no sign of the inevitable.  My hopes began to build.  Maybe I just tested too early.  Maybe this was the year, maybe this was the Christmas. 

As it turned out, I was most definitely not pregnant.

I felt myself sinking into that black hole if despair.  Not pregnant.  How many cycles have I felt like this?  Seventy-eight?  Eighty?   Eighty.  I could feel the dark cloud of sadness settling over me.  Not this time.  Not this Christmas.  Not this year.

That was Saturday night.  We had planned to do some Christmas shopping, but I vetoed the idea after I began to feel a little sorry for myself.  I felt that desperation turn to sadness.  I knew I had a choice: wallow or fight.  So I swallowed the ache in my throat and suggested we all climb in the car in our jammies and go look at Christmas lights.  I made homemade hot chocolate that tasted a lot like drinking a Hershey bar. We drove around for about 40 minutes until our son was ready to get out of the car.  We watched a Christmas movie, had our Advent devotions, and put our son to bed.  I kept trying to ignore the temptation to slide into the mire of depression.  It was there, though.  Always there.

During our Advent devotions that night, the author of the book we're reading addressed the issue of sadness during the holidays.  He mentioned Mary's most desperate situation--being betrothed to Joseph and yet with Child.  How should she respond to a situation that likely ruined her reputation and made her a social outcast?  "How could she do all of the will of God and not be destroyed by it?"*  The author turned the situation to modern day types of suffering and depression, to submitting to God's sovereign authority over your life, even when it is difficult.
He writes (and please do not skim this--it's important!): "When the burdens of life are too much for you, when your tears know no encouragement, do not see this as a suffering that has come only to you.  Read the Scriptures and you will see that nearly all of God's servants have suffered from depression.  Men and women throughout history have felt the ugly talons of despair sink deeply into their souls, enduring a spiritual depression that can rarely be shaken off by intention alone.  But there is a way to beat this despair...Give yourself to the art of praise....There is really only one way to deal with spiritual or psychological depression, one sure way to forget your grief: exalt the Lord.  It is a wonder that in praising Him, we drive back the demons of self-pity.  We cannot focus on His greatness and our depression at the same time.  If we remain focused on how bad we feel, we will be unable to concentrate on the Savior.  But focus on His greatness and you will find it impossible to dwell on your own painful circumstances...Let [praise] sweep the gloom from your heart and replace it with the joy that comes from adoration."*

I let those words sink into my soul, and I found that I could praise the Lord for my husband, my son, my salvation, grace, and so much more.  And the pain is slowly minimized when your heart is filled with thankfulness.  I'm not sure how to explain it, but focusing on Christ really does alleviate the depression that seeks to take up residence in your hurting heart.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling more like myself.  I sat with my Bible and a cup of coffee in the early morning, praying while watching the snow fall quietly outside. The peace of Christ settled over me like a warm blanket.  In the hours that followed during the day, I dealt repeatedly with the inviting temptation to give myself over to sadness, but what kept coming to mind was that our Savior was no stranger to sorrow.  He was with me. His incarnation, His putting on of human flesh was to take on suffering of the deepest kind because it would send Him to His death and to the greatest kind of wedge between Him and His Father who could not gaze upon our sin.   When I think of the great suffering of our Savior, when I think of His sacrifice for me, when I think of the very purpose of Him coming in the flesh as a helpless baby, my own sadness seems so small and inconsequential.  And impossible to really dwell in because my joy, although marred by my sin and pain, MUST be founded upon God's character!  It must be anchored in praise for who He is and what He has done. 

In addition to the grace that God has poured out on my life regarding my salvation and continuing sanctification, there are other blessings He has lavished upon me.  Yesterday I was reassured by my husband that God has given me above and beyond what I could ever ask for or expect.  I do not deserve such gifts.  How can I dare to muddle through this profoundly blessed life, constantly mired in my unfulfilled longings, all the while ignoring what God has so amazingly and graciously given me???   I must choose PRAISE!  I must choose THANKFULNESS!

Sometimes I have these tiny moments of clarity which usually are coming on the coattails of a difficult revelation about myself.  The more I walk through infertility, the more ugliness I see in my heart.  And, thanks to my Lord and to my faithful husband William, the more grace I see flowing from the cross.

My encouragement to you this Christmas, if you are struggling with another holiday of just the two of you, give yourself to the art of praise.  I can say this early, cold December morning that the Lord is faithful to fill your heart with joy that is only found in Him. 

I am exceedingly blessed.

*The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent, by Calvin Miller.  Quote taken from December 10th reading.

Friday, December 3, 2010

::letting go::

I recently interviewed a fellow blogger, Tea, about her experiences with infertility.  Tea has recently come to the point of moving past the burden of trying to conceive, and is now looking at her life as it is--blessed with a beautiful son through adoption.  I found her words to be helpful and encouraging, and if you are in a place where you're wondering whether or not to move on, her sincere honesty and transparency may be just what you need to read. I found her answer to the question regarding what led to her decision to let go to be especially encouraging and inspiring....and in a way, convicting.  I'm not sure I would have handled that experience with such grace.  
Read her answers to my questions and be encouraged!

*Tea, tell us a little about yourself.  How long have you been dealing with infertility? 

I'm a follower of Jesus, my husband and I have been married for almost 8 years, and we have one son, who we adopted a little over two years ago.

Infertility is something we've dealt with for the entire length of our marriage. We were very excited about starting a family when we first married, and so, we have never prevented pregnancy in any way. 

During the second year of our marriage, we sought out some answers and began seeing a doctor who worked with couples experiencing infertility. We both did all the standard tests, but nothing was found to be wrong with either of us, but still, no pregnancy.

*How are your feelings about IF different now than they were when you first started trying to get pregnant?
When we were in the early stages of dealing with infertility, I had a very difficult time. Experiencing pregnancy and becoming a mother had been my dream the whole time I was growing up, and as it became more and more clear that things were not happening as they should, the struggle within me became very painful and trying.
In those early years, my heart was like an open wound. I dealt a lot with bitterness and anger, and very hurt feelings. During that time I kept seeking God, but I was so hurt and confused. I didn't have anyone to talk to who understood what I was feeling, and it was hard to know how to deal with it. The amazing thing is, when I look back on that period of time in my life, I can see how very near God was to me. He knew this was a very hard road for me to go down, and even though he didn't take the infertility away, he was right there next to me, so very close.

It took a few years for the raw pain and anger to begin to subside. ..And although it subsided some as I began to become used to dealing with it, it never went away. I still dealt with it and it didn't take much... an insensitive comment, the start of another period, or the sight of a pregnant belly, and that wound ripped wide open again.

Now, after 7 1/2 years, the wound is starting to heal..really heal. At this time in my life, only by the grace of God, I am able to see infertility a little differently. Not that I still don't wish it would go away, but I know God has used it to deepen my faith. My faith has been tested, and he has seen me through it.  ..And for that I am very thankful.

For the longest time in my journey through infertility, I hated hearing the phrase, "His grace is sufficient." It made me angry. But I have finally come to understand the truth of it.  Now I can really see the good that God has brought out of my infertility. ..A deeper faith, a more sensitive heart towards those who are hurting, and the opportunity to learn to surrender (which is not easy or fun, but good)... There are also other more personal blessings that I can see God has brought out of this trial.

*What is it that led up to your decision and freedom to let go and move on from trying to conceive? (Was there any one event or experience or did you gradually come to this realization?)
For me it was a series of events over the last year and a half that really led me to this point. Prior to that time, I had already felt that there was a time coming when I would have to let go, if God did not allow me to become pregnant before then, but in this last year and a half I think God has really been pushing me to this point of letting go.
The big push started when my sister announced her first pregnancy. I wanted to be happy for her, but it caused such grief in my heart. She became pregnant very quickly after she was married, and it very much highlighted my struggle. Not too long after that, both of my SIL's announced their pregnancies. They were all married for under a year when they became pregnant for the first time and one was on her second year of marriage and second baby. Having the three of them pregnant at the same time had been one of my worst nightmares, and it had come true. There was no escaping the topic of pregnancy. No escaping the sight of a pregnant belly. Family gatherings became such a burden that I had to pray for God's strength to make it through. I shed many tears during this time.

However, God began putting a very real pressure on me... I could feel it, and I knew he was telling me it was time to bear up under this burden and walk through it. It was time to learn to trust in him to give me the strength and grace to put my feelings aside, to endure the conversations and bellies, but most of all, it was time to learn to trust him with what he had for me. ...Even if that meant he would never open my womb.

I was constantly praying for strength to make it through that time. The hardest moment was when one of my SIL's (who had been married only a matter of months) looked at me, and with only good intentions, said, "I can't wait until you get to experience this." ...I was barely able to keep from falling apart at those words. I had been married for years, and my reality was, that I would very likely never experience that wonderful blessing.

When I had made it through those pregnancies, I felt such a burden lifted. God had taken me through something I had dreaded, but he caused me to learn to trust in him in a deeper way than I had known before. He gave me strength when I knew I had absolutely none, and he helped me carry the weight of that trial. That's when I learned that his grace is sufficient.

It's so odd that God brought such great healing to me through something I had dreaded so much. He is amazing!

At that point we were still hoping we would achieve a pregnancy by a miracle from God, but in the coming months I just began to feel tired... Tired of trying, tired of holding onto this dream... Tired of watching my diet, and taking vitamins... Tired of feeling like we were always waiting on something to happen before we could just carry on... This feeling kept growing and I knew the time for me to surrender this desire was coming close.

Within the next few months, I started feeling like it was really time to let go. I prayed about it, and I had to get to the place where I said, "If I let go and I never become pregnant, if I never have another child, I know I'll be okay. God will give me the strength I need." I had to really know it deep down.

My sister's daughter holds a very special place in my heart. ...And not just because she is a beautiful little girl... When I look at her I see the beginning of the healing God brought has to my heart.

*How did adoption affect your thoughts/feelings on infertility, if at all?
I don't think adoption changed my feelings toward infertility.

Adopting our son was a an amazing blessing from the Lord. I had dreamed of adopting since I was a teenager, and so it was wonderful to see that dream come true.

Although I don't believe my feelings toward infertility changed, we did find that once our son came into our family, the sting of childlessness was taken away. The pain of infertility was the same. Until that time I had never separated the two. I now recognize that there are several deep wounds that come with infertility, childlessness is one of them. I never forget that those who are struggling with infertility, and remain childless, carry that wound that I once felt so strongly.

Even after adopting I struggled with the same feelings that I always had toward infertility. I still felt inferior as a woman. I still had a longing to experience pregnancy. I was still very hurt. ..But I no longer had that ache to be a mother, I had become a mother.

*Now that you have come to a point of letting go, do you ever find yourself struggling with the reality that you truly might never conceive?  If so, how do you reconcile those feelings? 

Sometimes I struggle knowing I may never conceive, but I think that's what all the struggling and hurting has been about through this entire journey. It is still a desire in my heart to become pregnant, and I acknowledge that to God. I would love for my son to have a sibling. I would love to have another child. ..But I know in my heart we will be okay if it doesn't happen, and I'm not pursuing it or dreaming about it. I have to pray for help to keep letting go, to not fall back into old habits and mindsets, but I have much joy in the family God has given me, and peace about the decision to let go.

Something that has been helpful for me, is to think about the time I will get to spend with my son -one on one, and the things we'll be able to do that might not have been possible if we had more children. I think about the bond the three of us have and that it is special. It's been a process of learning to choose to dream new dreams, and content myself with a (very good) plan that was not my own. ..And we have been actively dreaming, dreaming of being a family of three, and looking at so many possibilities. We're trying to learn to grasp dreams loosely, but to keep dreaming. It's also neat to realize that God actually does have a plan in all of this. I always kind of knew that in my head, but didn't really feel it in my heart. Now I'm beginning to learn the truth of it.

I've also found it helpful to read the blogs of other moms who have only one child.

(I know the things mentioned in that last sentence and the paragraph above it can sound trite, and they are if they're forced, or what someone tells you to do to "get over it," but those are things that I feel deeply right now, and they are actually helpful to me. At earlier points in my journey through infertility I would not have found those things helpful, they would felt defeating.)

*I'm sure there are many women out there who are wondering if it is time to lay to rest the efforts of actively trying to conceive.  What advice or encouragement would you give to them? 
I would say, don't try to force yourself into anything. Listen to where God is leading you and be patient with yourself. I know it can be really confusing, trying to figure out where your path lies when it comes to these decisions, but when the time is right I think God makes it clear to us. (...At least from my limited experience.)

I always felt like I wasn't handling my infertility the right way. I tried so hard to force myself to be and do what I thought I "should," but the truth was, I was where I was for a reason and I couldn't go beyond that point until I had worked through it. God taught me through every stage of this trial, even when I handled it badly. He had to take me through a million steps, a million little learning moments, to get to where I am now. And I know I still have so much more to learn.

Letting go is not something I could have decided to do. I never would have let go. This is only something that has happened because God has caused it to happen, and I am grateful for that.

For some women, he may call them to keep waiting. For me he said, "Let go."

*Do you have any future plans to add to your family again through adoption?
I would love to add another little one to our family. I would love to adopt again, but for now God has led us to let go of that too. This has not just been about letting go of conceiving, it's been about letting go of trying to have another child. ..Let go of my dream and my plan... But along with this, I have felt very clearly that I need to keep an open heart.

When I was asked to let go, my first reaction was to close up my heart completely and say, "Okay, fine we're never having anymore children."  ..But God asked me to keep it open. He showed me that closing my heart is not good, it comes out of hurt and fear, not out of trust. So, my heart is open. I'm letting go, but open to the fact that sometime down the road, God could open a door for our family to grow. or he could keep it just the three of us. I don't know what his plan is for our family, but I have had to release mine and learn to trust Him. If I closed my heart, I would only be exchanging one of my own plans for another one of my own plans. We're going forward with the expectation that we will be a family of three, but trying to remain open at the same time. My prayer is that I hold onto what he has been teaching me and that I don't take steps backward.

*As a Christian, what effect has infertility had on your relationship with God?  What has He taught you through this and/or how has He comforted you?
I think I've touched on this in several of the questions above, but I will say a little more here...

At first I struggled with bitterness and anger, even toward God. I never thought I would be angry with him, but I was. I even questioned his goodness, which I am so sorry for, but he has been faithful to forgive me.

Knowing that he has seen me through even these very low points in our relationship... knowing he will never leave, and that he always remains faithful, has been an amazing blessing. I know I'm so undeserving of that blessing.

God has comforted me many times through his word. In the early years, it was the book of Job -near the end when God speaks to Job. He used that to remind me that he is in control, and that I had no real right to carry around that anger. It was the very beginning of my healing process.

I've also found comfort in the story of Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother. When she becomes pregnant, she says, "The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people." Although I have not become pregnant, I can so identify with that feeling of disgrace, and it's good to hear it from an admirable woman in the bible. I keep little notes about all of the women in the bible that I find, who experienced infertility.

This year, Psalm 73:21-28 has meant a lot to me...

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;

I was a brute beast before you.
.Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

...It speaks of the very emotions I have dealt with in my experience with infertility, and shows that God is faithful and patient with me when I am struggling.

*Any final thoughts about where you are emotionally right now with all of this?
This step of letting go is still very fresh, and there are days I struggle a little... But I'm learning to turn my thoughts to the truths Jesus has taught me, and to truly trust in him. My desires are no secret to God, but they are not something that I can carry around anymore. I'm learning to lay them down, and truly accept what he has for our family, but I am not perfect at it.. still learning, and still growing.
Thank you, Glenna, for sharing your own story, which has been a real encouragement to me, and also for giving me the opportunity to share some of my own story.

Special thanks, Tea, for your honesty about such a sensitive and personal topic.  I've no doubt your words will be an encouragement!