Supporting those with Infertility

Supporting blog

Infertility is an unwelcomed guest in many homes. Most of us know a couple that have walked through this struggle and we often have no idea what to say or do to support them. In my recent blog post Complete.  I shared our journey with infertility over the last 13 years. Today I want to share some advice from my perspective on how to best support those in your life as they battle with infertility. This is going to be very real and direct! I hope that you walk away with a greater level of empathy plus helpful tips in supporting those you love.

Let’s start with what NOT to do!

1. DON’T BE AN EXPERT

Under this category I would also include: don’t send them articles to read, don’t buy them books, and don’t shower them with miracle stories. Many well-meaning family & friends have positioned themselves as a medical experts and cornered us with unsolicited advice and direction over the years. I believe they care, I really do – but I assure you it is not helpful.

Trust me, most people going through a struggle with infertility have already done ALL. THE. THINGS! We’ve read all the books, seen all the doctors, had all the tests, watched all the documentaries, and we have heard all the miracle stories. When you position yourself as an expert it is humiliating and belittling, it’s as if you are saying they probably missed something or are incapable of figuring this out on their own. Just don’t do it!

2. DON’T FLOOD THEM WITH MEDICAL QUESTIONS

Medical questions are extremely personal and not everyone feels comfortable sharing those details. Sometimes people are in the place emotionally to drudge through all the medical details, and sometimes they are not. When you drill them with medical questions it can be extremely overwhelming and trigger painful emotions. Supporting them through this season means giving them the space to share what they want to share, when they are ready to share it.

3. DON’T SAY STUPID STUFF

Words are powerful, use your words wisely and check your heart! Here are some doozies I’ve heard over the years and perfect examples of what NOT to say.

What’s wrong with you?  Why don’t you have children?

I’d wish you happy Mother’s Day but you’re not a mother.

You must not have enough faith. Or Where is your faith?

Are you trusting God enough? Is there sin in your life?

Listen, I know it can be awkward and at times you mean well but just don’t know what to say. When in doubt, listen and love. Allow the couple with infertility to lead and guide the conversation, if they are ready they will open up. If you must speak, speak life giving words of encouragement and hope.

4. DON’T PRESSURE COUPLES TO FOSTER/ADOPT

To be honest I have a ton of baggage with this one y’all! After 13 years in this struggle with infertility I can honestly say my husband and I are at complete peace and in complete unity with the fact that we will not have children. I’m talking about the kind of peace and unity that can only come from God, it is an absolute gift.

Often we feel enormous pressure from family, friends, and even society to foster or adopt. Listen I want to be clear about something, we absolutely celebrate the beautiful ways God builds families through means like fostering & adoption. We are huge supporters and advocates for fostering and adoption. We would encourage anyone who feels God leading them to foster or adopt to follow His direction.

However, at the end of the day our job is to seek God’s face and follow His direction for our own family. We believe the very best place to be is in the center of God’s will. No matter how good a thing is, if it’s not God’s will then it is not best for our lives. Amen?!? My husband and I have prayed about this over and over again and we are crystal clear that God is not directing us to foster or adopt.

So in supporting those in your life going through infertility, I want to caution you to tread lightly on this subject. It is never helpful or supportive to pressure or manipulate anyone into doing what you think is best. Always encourage people to follow God’s plan for their family.

Supporting DON'TS blog (1)

Now let’s look at what to do!

1. MANAGE YOUR OWN EXPECTATIONS & EMOTIONS

One thing my husband and I have noticed over the years is that our close family and friends have had to process their own grief and loss over the fact that it’s not God’s plan for us to have children. It can be so real and painful for everyone in your inner circle. Our parents and siblings will not have the grandchildren, nieces, and nephews they so desperately wanted. The picture of our family in their minds looks differently than they expected or wanted. Each of them have had to process this reality on their own and work through their own emotions.

If you are in a situation where a close loved one is battling infertility I would encourage you to prayerfully journal, processing your own expectations and emotions about this situation. Allow the Lord to speak to your heart to bring healing and understanding. Psalms 34:18 says “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.” I pray that He will be near to you as you work through your own unmet expectations and emotions.

2. PRAY OFTEN

Pray for healing, pray for strength, pray for God’s will to be done, pray for wisdom and direction, pray without ceasing as directed in I Thessalonians 5: 16-18 that reads “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” They say that prayer moves mountains, and I believe God uses prayer to change not only our circumstances but our hearts. Prayer is simply having a conversation with God, and it is always a good idea!

3. BE PRESENT

Last but not least, be present. Without expectations or demands, resist your desire to try to “fix” the situation, and wade into the messy of it all. Be present to listen and support your friends as they have need. You’re not going to do everything perfectly and that’s ok. What matters most to those who are hurting is knowing they have someone who cares about their pain and is willing to be there.

Supporting DO'S blog

Thank you for caring enough to read this post! I hope these do’s and don’ts help empower you as you support those in your life who are walking through infertility. I’d love to know which ones spoke to you the most. Or which ones you thought of that didn’t make my list?

Coming up next week I’ll be sharing “When God Says No”…see you then!

Complete.

Complete. blog

On August 13th of 2005 my husband and I committed our lives to one another before God and witnesses. Our passion for family and desire to have children was so absolute that we actually included these vows in our wedding ceremony:

Our mentors read: “Recognizing the present culture war that seeks to undermine the covenantal structure of the Christian family in our society, Do you both vow to uphold a high value of life and family?” To which we emphatically, full of joy and hope replied: We do!

And then we repeated these vows, in unison, in front of God and witnesses:

“Enabled by God’s grace and guided by the wisdom of Biblical revelation,

…We vow to establish and maintain a Christian home

…To receive our children as gifts of God’s blessings

…To nurture and train them in His word and ways

…To honor Christ and the gospel of the Kingdom by doing so!”

Everything about that sacred moment mirrored our certainty that we would have many children. In the depths of my heart I honestly expected to get pregnant on our honeymoon and continue to have children until God said otherwise. We have such a high value of life that it has been our personal conviction to never use any type of birth control but wholly rely on God’s sovereign timing and plan.

God has been writing our story for the last thirteen years and our family looks different than we expected. During our second year of marriage we celebrated our first pregnancy. I knew within weeks that I was pregnant and saved the news as a romantic Valentine’s Day surprise for my husband. Both of us were overjoyed and called all of our family and friends to share in the celebration. By March 2nd, at just 7 or 8 weeks pregnant, I had a miscarriage.

Devastated doesn’t even begin to describe our shattered hearts.

The next few years cycled between anticipation and disappointment. I’m not sure you can understand the agony of infertility unless you have personally lived it. The utter and complete helplessness and despair month after month. It is a grief like no other.

Complete. 2 blogWe did all the things y’all. We saw all the doctors, endured all the exams & procedures, read all the books, prayed all the prayers….but God didn’t answer in the way we hoped or wanted. To this day we have never had another pregnancy. Doctors found nothing biologically wrong and yet God’s answer to our longing for biological children is no.

For years I felt broken and ashamed. I irrationally carried the weight of infertility on my shoulders as if I was the giver of life.  None of this made sense. I was angry and jealous of couples abounding with children. I was so confused and asked all the whys…why no, why us, why not now? Most of all I felt this profound sense of lack as if our family was incomplete while at the same time we knew with certainty God wasn’t leading us toward more aggressive next steps like IVF or even fostering & adoption.

It has taken many years for my husband and I to be at peace with the reality that we will not have biological children. This peace is without question an absolute gift from God. The agony and cycles of despair have stopped as we rest fully assured that we are walking in God’s perfect will for our lives. Our family doesn’t look like the picture we had in our minds when made those vows years ago, but we are complete.

Something struck me recently while studying the first married couple in Genesis chapter 2. God formed the first man, Adam, out of dust and breathed the breath of life into him (vs. 7). God then gives Adam a purpose – to steward the garden (vs 15). God proceeds to set some clear boundaries for Adam – do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (vs. 16-17). Then God says “it is not good for the man to be alone” and He looks through all His creation but doesn’t find a suitable partner for Adam (vs.18-20). God puts Adam to sleep and unlike the rest of creation He uses a rib from Adam (rather than dirt) to form Eve, God modeled in her forming the oneness and unity He desired for marriage. This section ends with the first honeymoon and my favorite verse, “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.” (vs. 21-24).

God’s precision in creation is astounding. Everything He did, the way He did it, in the order He did it, matters! Let’s face it, He is the almighty star breathing God of the universe – He could have snapped his fingers and created a whole generation of humans in an instant, fully populating earth. He could have modeled the first family as a set of parents with 10 kids and all of history would have followed that design.

Yet He looked upon this first family – a husband and a wife – along with all of creation, and declared them very good (1:31) and complete (2:1).

com·plete /kəmˈplēt/ adjective      1. having all the necessary or appropriate parts.

God declared them very good and complete. Just as they were, a husband and a wife.

God has used this passage to bring so much healing to my heart and to re-frame my perspective on our family. My husband and I have surrendered our lives to the Lord and are walking in His perfect will. We have followed God’s direction are trusting in His perfect plan for our lives. God doesn’t owe us anything. Our family has all the appropriate parts, we are not lacking in anything. We are complete.

Complete. 3 blog

I’m so grateful that in time God has replaced those feelings of brokenness, shame, and lack with a sense of purpose and hope. When waves of sadness and despair visit I sink myself into the truth of God’s word and remind myself that He is trustworthy. I rest in the peace of His will and the completeness that we have in Him.

Have you had an experience where God didn’t give you what you wanted? How have you handled it? What does it mean for you to be complete in that situation?

If you are reading this blog and are going through a struggle with infertility I want to encourage you that you are not alone. You are not broken or lacking or incomplete. You were designed by God for greatness and a purpose, even if you can’t see that right now. Infertility is such a painful and isolating experience and I pray that as I share our journey you will receive a new perspective and source of hope. May God give you the strength and courage to lean into Him, I promise He will not let you down.

If you are reading this blog and you have someone in your life going through a struggle with infertility, please share this blog with them and stick around for my next blog post “Supporting those with Infertility”.

10 Gratitudes, 10 Fears, 10 Truths

Last Fall was one of the most difficult seasons we have ever been through as a family, yet in the middle of it God gave us this incredible tool that I want to share with you today. My prayer is that this tool will be something you can use to draw closer to the Lord, to process deep emotions in a healthy way, and to walk in gratitude and truth with renewed hope.

But first, let me give you a little background. Y’all last Fall was rough! We had some pretty hard things at work, my husband is a Pastor, and potential changes at church were causing division and heartache. At the same time we got the call that I had a tumor in my right breast that needed to be surgically removed to determine if it was cancer (spoiler alert by the grace of God it was not cancer, more details on that here: Holding onto Him). All of this stress was affecting our marriage, our eating habits, our ability to be intimate, and especially my husband’s sleep. Insomnia plagued Adrian night after night, which in turn caused me to awaken often in concern for him, so neither of us were well rested.

One night I had enough of it. I was literally angry at the insomnia and the emotional turmoil we were feeling and knew we needed God to intervene. Before bed that night we prayed together and I felt God leading us to praise God and acknowledge 10 things we were grateful for. The number 10 stood out to me so vividly and I think the quantity was significant because it caused us to put in the work emotionally. We can easily share two or three things we are grateful for, but 10 made us really dig deep. We each praised God and acknowledged 10 gratitudes while lying there in bed before drifting off to sleep.

Around 2am Adrian woke up and was rolling around in frustration, which of course woke me up. Instantly I felt God leading us to surrender 10 fears. I had no idea where that idea came from except the Holy Spirit. The phrase “surrender 10 fears” was imprinted on my heart so vividly in that moment. I was barely awake myself and was most certainly not in the mindset of working through an exercise like that. However, we were both so defeated by this insomnia that we would do anything. ANYTHING! So I shared with Adrian that I felt God leading us to surrender 10 fears and my deeply sleep deprived husband obliged. Adrian shared as many as he could but only got to 5 or 6, then I took a turn. Y’all surrendering 10 fears in the middle of the night when you haven’t slept well in weeks is very VERY hard. I was lying in bed with tears dripping down my cheeks onto my pillow. We surrendered fears to God that night that we had never acknowledged and certainly never shared out loud.

As soon as we finished surrendering our fears I felt God leading us to declare 10 truths. 10 truths we could hold onto. 10 truths that would carry us through that moment. 10 truths that would combat every lie of the enemy, every crippling thought, and every fear. In bed that night we dug deep and pulled from scriptures that we have memorized. We believe God’s word, the Bible, is the ultimate source of truth. We also drew truths from knowledge & life experience. Again the number 10 was so significant because it pushed us. We weren’t just throwing a single Bible verse or rational fact at the problem, we were going to war!

There is so much power in gratitude, in surrender, and in declaration. SO. MUCH. POWER.

We are emotional, spiritual, and physical beings and each of those areas are interconnected & interdependent. If you think for a minute that issues you are having emotionally are not affecting you physically or spiritually you are sorely mistaken. This crippling insomnia was deeply rooted in not only the physical but the emotional & spiritual. After working through this exercise Adrian was able to fall back to sleep for the first time in weeks.

In the weeks that followed I couldn’t get that experience out of my mind. I began to regularly work through what I titled my 10/10/10 Exercise. This exercise made such an impact on me that I began to use it often during my morning devotions or times of journaling. After using this exercise for several months my husband and I decided to use it with a group of couples we were speaking to during a workshop on Spiritual Intimacy at a local conference center. Wow! I fought back tears watching couples sitting knee to knee and digging deep, working through painful fears and walking in gratitude and truth.

I wanted to share this simple tool with you because it has made SUCH a huge impact on our lives. You can walk through this exercise mentally or out loud as you’re going through daily tasks or lying in bed like we did. OR write them down, create 3 columns on a blank piece of paper or print out this pdf form I created to walk through the exercise 10 10 10 printable.

TIP: I highly recommend going through each column completely before moving on. For example acknowledge all 10 gratitudes before moving onto fears, surrender all 10 fears before moving onto truths.

Step 1: Acknowledge 10 Gratitudes
I like to work through my gratitudes like a prayer “Lord I thank you for…” or if you are not a Christian you might say “Today I’m grateful for…” Think of everything you are grateful for big or small. It could be as simple as being grateful for warm socks, or money to pay bills, or for your family, etc.

Step 2: Surrender 10 Fears
I also like to surrender my fears in prayer “Lord I surrender my fear of …” I believe that as we surrender these fears to the Lord it releases the power they have over us. Our fears once surrendered now reside in the capable and mighty hands of God.

Step 3: Declare 10 Truths
As I declare 10 truths on the go, I will draw from scripture I have memorized or rational facts. It’s beautiful how God will bring certain truths to my heart exactly when I need them. But my favorite way to declare truths is when I make the time to dig deep into God’s word and actually write the verses down. Often I will sit with my bible and look for scriptures that combat the fears I’ve surrendered. The truths you declare don’t necessarily have to be associated with the fears you’ve surrendered but I’ve often found myself drawn to ones that do. Don’t be afraid to Google key words or use Bible Gateway to search for verses.

TIP: It is very powerful to not only write down the fears I am surrendering & truths as I’m declaring them but to actually read them out loud. Romans 10:17 says that “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Reading it out loud engages our faith in the process in a powerful way.

GOING DEEPER: Working through this simple 10/10/10 Exercise with your spouse or together as a family (parents & children) provides a powerful outlet for communication, understanding, intimacy, and discipleship. I highly recommend it!

As you work through this exercise please let me know if it was helpful and what you are learning. Your feedback is invaluable! I pray that God will use this simple 10/10/10 Exercise to breakdown the stronghold of fear and release you to walk in truth & renewed hope!

Holding onto Him

Holding Onto Him

It’s easy to say you trust God until they find a tumor in your breast. I mean, I’ve been through a lot of health issues but y’alllllll. Whew. This one really shook me. Not only did it come out of no where, but it was the cherry on top of one of the most stressful seasons of our lives. Probably more like the bomb on top, truth be told.

Early Friday afternoon on August 17th I walked into the cold radiology room for my very first EVER mammogram. Fueled by curiosity and first timer nerves, I was equally interested in all the hype and ready to get it over with. The first call I got the following Monday morning was from the Radiologist that indicated they found an abnormality and that further tests were needed. I had been cautioned by experienced women in my life that it was very common for them to question things they see in your first mammo, so don’t freak out if you get a call like this one. When I received the second call that morning, from my GYN things got more serious.

My GYN is a ‘new to me’ doctor but I could tell by the tone of  her voice that I needed to take this very seriously. She explained they found a mass, significant in size, and next steps. Within the week I went in for an ultrasound to determine if the mass was a cyst (best case scenario) or if a biopsy was needed. I’ll never forget the kind radiology tech that did my ultrasound. She worked so hard trying to find a cyst, but alas it was a tumor of some kind and I was off to get a biopsy a few days later.

At this point I was feeling ALLLLL the feelings and I made a conscious choice. I had to make the choice to day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute…to Hold onto HIM. This verse catapulted off the page to me, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26. Quite literally my flesh and heart were failing me but I knew that God was my strength. I knew that by holding onto Him, He would see me through regardless of the outcome. I knew that He would not fail me, abandon me, turn away from me, or let me fall. I pictured myself clinging to Him like the climber in this picture. Making the choice to hold onto Him rather than fear, discouragement, confusion, and doubt. Holding Onto Him PS 73So what does holding onto Him look like? Let’s get practical for a minute, let me share what worked for me. My emotions & energy levels were running high, I found it hard to focus on reading for any significant length of time. But I wanted to be intentional and even strategic with how I fed my soul, now more than ever. I listened to tons of sermons on YouTube (up to 4 per day), read short devotionals that I could manage, and spent a lot of time daily memorizing scripture. A few verses over and over and over again that I could hold onto during difficult moments. I listened to worship and watched worship videos. At this point I rallied a few close friends that I knew would intercede with us and prayed hard. Anything I could do to hold onto Him.

I was referred to a Breast Surgeon, had my initial appointment, and scheduled the biopsy. Once completed, my biopsy results seemed to take foreverrrrrr to return. Literally 10 days we waited, trying to function like normal and not telling everyone in our lives what was going on yet. What we didn’t know is that the hospital pathologists had to send my biopsy to Cornell for further investigation. Results came back that was a Spindle Cell Lesion or Tumor and would need to be removed immediately. This is a complicated type of tumor because it can be completely benign in one section and the other side cancer, so the whole tumor had to be removed. BTW I don’t recommend googling it, the results are nothing but scary…trust me. My surgery to remove this tumor was scheduled for September 26th and we began to prepare.

At this point we needed all the prayer possible and decided to go public with what was going on. We shared with our church family, close friends, and eventually on social media. Our family and friends have been incredible! People scheduled to bring us meals for the entire week after my surgery, sent us fruit & flowers, more cards than I can even count, but most of all the prayers. We felt those prayers coming in from around the world and they gave us the strength to hold onto Him. Prayers that anchored us to Him in this storm.

Oh the emotions that lead up to a surgery like this. I felt angry that this tumor was growing in my body. I felt worried that they would find more than expected in there. I felt sad that my body would be permanently marked by this experience. I felt grieved that I may not look the same afterward. I felt shocked that something I’ve heard and read with others was happening to me. Sooooo many feelings y’all. Each day I would process how I was feeling with my husband or in my journal, then I would intentionally fill my soul with truth. When you are feeling intense emotions they must have a healthy outlet. Those feelings have to go somewhere. Throughout this time I developed a way of processing that I’m going to share with you in a future blog…so stay tuned.

Surgery day arrive, and all went well. My Mom flew in for a few days to help us immediately after surgery and thank God she did. I could spend a whole blog on just the hilarious moments Adrian and I had while he helped me shower, wash my hair, and get dressed daily. Whew, like Pina funnies home videos over here!! Then we waited & prayed & held onto Him hoping for the best possible outcome. Pathology was again sent off to Cornell with such a complex type of tumor this is very common and I’m told Cornell are some of the best pathologists in the world for this type of breast tumor. After two of  possibly the longest weeks of our lives, the results were in…

My tumor was NOT cancer.  Thank you Jesus!!

It was an extremely rare type of tumor called an infiltrative myofibroblastoma, usually found in men over the age of 65. What, isn’t that so crazy? It’s technically not benign either but has been fully removed and I’ll have regular followups for awhile. You would think a shower of gratitude or joy would’ve flooded my heart. But it honestly didn’t. I was so exhausted, shocked, and numb that it took a few days to sink in.

I don’t want to portray here that I in any way am special or unique. I certainly didn’t handle this experience perfectly, who does? But I definitely learned a lot through this experience and tried my best to make some intentional choices to hold onto Him.

I believe God is sovereign, meaning He is in control and in charge. I am challenged to trust His will and hold onto Him in the good and bad times in my life. Regardless of the outcome. I am challenged to anchor myself in Christ and continue to be intentional & strategic, filling my soul with truth. I have learned to hold onto Him in a way that I have never known before in my life. That is something I hope to never give up.

Friends I pray that no matter what you are going through in life right now that you would hold onto Him. Push into Him, not away. Hold onto His truth that will give you strength and learn to surrender your anger, fears, and worries to Him. Even when your flesh and your heart fail, God desires to be the strength of your life and your portion forever.  Share with me in the comments how I can pray for you this week. Let’s hold onto Him together!