“When the time is right”

“My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked, or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when time is right, the way before you suddenly clears—through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.”

That is from yesterday’s Jesus Calling devotional.  Of course I read most things through an infertility lens these days, and so my thoughts went immediately there when I read “the road you are traveling seems blocked…it opens up so painfully slowly…”

But how amazing to be reminded that, when God’s timing is right, our way suddenly clears.  What we long for is suddenly ours through no effort of our own — a gift meant to renew our faith and understanding that He is powerful and good.

It’s easy to apply this devotion to where Charlie and I are right now.  But it’s also easy to apply it to Christmas.

Surely those living in the days leading up to Christ’s birth thought the road to a Savior must be blocked.  It certainly must have seemed to be opening at a painfully slow pace.  They were oppressed by godless people.  They were hungry for relief and peace.  They were waiting.  And I’m sure they were tired of it.

How easy to begin to wonder, “Where are you God?  Is there something more I should be doing to persuade You to act for us now?  Do you see us struggling here?”

Then, when the time was right, the way suddenly cleared.  The veil was suddenly torn.  Through no effort of man’s own, what we longed for was presented to us purely as a gift.  And we glimpsed His power and His glory.

Nothing had changed.  No one had prayed a magic prayer or done a magical good deed.  The time had simply come.

How grateful I am that He promises to strengthen us while we wait for His time to come!

Unexpected help for the silent stress

Charlie and I have been working through an Advent reading plan on our Bible app.  I love this time of year as we anticipate celebrating Christ’s arrival in human form and remember again that He is Emmanuel “God with us.”

This time of year is all about celebrating as we decorate our home, make more time for friends and family and find ways to enjoy the festive spirit.  Our devotions each night have helped us stay focused on preparing our hearts as well.

I’ve been surprised to realize, though, that I can’t read Scripture these days without the lens of our infertility.  Everything I read somehow speaks to that part of my heart.  Maybe it’s because it’s hard to contain those emotions in a nice small corner at this point.  We don’t think about it ALL the time, but we do think about it in some form several times a day.

God used two ideas in our devotions this week to encourage me to keep His perspective on our journey.:

“The question is not what God can do, but what He wills to do.”

When something doesn’t happen (a treatment doesn’t work, etc.), it’s not reason to question God’s ability.  It’s a cause to remember to submit to His good will.  I’ve realized that I have been wanting God to desire the same things I do.  I want His will to match our own desires so we can get what we want.  This reminds me to pray each day that my desires will bend to match His will, so that I’m not disappointed in anything He does.  His will is best, and if I can let go of my desired outcome, I can better see the beauty of whatever He gives us.

“Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that He seeks with all His heart. And to that end, He rules the world.”

We want to obtain something — a child in our family.  We want to prosper in that way.  We long for something to be added to us.   Yet I also have to remember that I shouldn’t focus more on gaining what I hope for than I do on gaining holiness, becoming more Christ-like.  God’s ultimate desire for me is to resemble His righteousness.  The things He blesses us with here on earth, even children, are an added bonus to that.  He rules the world, controls our circumstances, withholds and gives, in a divine plan to bring us into the fullness of righteousness.  Whatever He does or does not give us, it is part of a design to make us holy.  That’s almost impossible for me to grasp as I think of how badly we want a child.  But I know I must work to be most focused on what He is most focused on — transforming us into His likeness.  Whatever I gain or lose in that process is well lost or gained for His desired outcome.  (Ouch — that one hurt to write!)

I’ve been surprised that, even in this Advent season, most of what I read is filtering through my infertility lens.  Yet I’m also extremely grateful.  I think the Lord knows that even when we’re not thinking of it, even when we’re taking a break, we carry the stress with us in some form every day.  I think He gives us these little encouragements in random places because He knows the pain and worry can silently grow until it suddenly overwhelms us.  He is giving us tools to fight it back before it overcomes us.

Once again, He knows just what we need before we ask.  And why shouldn’t He?  He is literally “God with us.”

Love is where we’ll live

We are disappointed.  We are frustrated.  We are wondering what it’s going to take.

But we do not live there.  We are not rooted there.

This morning, I read a passage we’ve read several times lately.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:14-19

The Holy Spirit gives our souls strength to allow Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith.  Faith takes strength.  It takes strength to resist the creeping doubt and choose to believe.

In order to understand how high and deep the Lord’s love for us is, we must be rooted in love.  In order to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge and be filled to the fullness of God, we must be grounded in love.

We keep encountering “No’s” that tempt us to be scared and to believe that God is failing us.  We want to get through this in a way that brings God glory and allows us to fully experience whatever purpose He has for this.  And that will take us being completely rooted in love for Him.  This means our feet can’t also be grounded in fear, despair or doubt.

If we are to truly know God’s deep love for us in the midst of the greatest pain in our lives, our souls have to be rooted in love for God.  When we experience the odds against us, we long to somehow know the love of Christ that surpasses those odds.  To do that, we must be rooted in our love for Him.

Whatever happens — however disappointing — we are choosing not to be moved.  Our feet are firmly planted and will not be tempted to wander over to fear and doubt.  If we do, we will miss the only Love that will keep us from falling apart.

We are standing where we are, hoping everyday to experience the fullness of God’s love.  We know it is He who names every family in heaven and on Earth, even ours.

Until We Can Get to Tomorrow

“They’re not going to let you take the medicine this month.  I’m sorry.”

Tears stung my eyes.  As we get ready to try something new to start our family, a preliminary ultrasound showed a complication.  It wasn’t serious, but it was enough of an issue to derail the plan we’ve been waiting months for.  More frustratingly, it indicated a pattern that we’d have to somehow break before we could do anything else.  Another issue to chase when all we want to do is walk straight forward to our baby.

I drove home in tears, telling God I don’t understand.  He could have made this so different.  If He’s with us, why won’t He act for us?  I felt myself getting angry at Him again, but instead of shutting Him out, I let Him have it — the anger, the sadness and the frustration.  I love Him and I don’t understand Him.

The office in Thomasville sent my information to our doctor in Florida to decide how to proceed.  He said he wanted to examine me himself and could I be there tomorrow?   We thought, at best, he’d be able to do something quickly to resolve the issue.  But we still knew our chance this month was done.

Sitting in the waiting room the next day, I felt nervous.  I like to know what to expect and I didn’t know what lay ahead of us now.

Our doctor sounded so casual as he told us, “OK, so you’ll start the medicine tonight and then we’ll proceed as we’ve discussed before.”

What?? No.  Remember — I’m here because of what that ultrasound showed yesterday.  I can’t take the medicine because we have to fix that first.

He turned the screen toward me and explained that it was completely gone.  Everything was clear.  He couldn’t explain it, but it resolved itself in less than a day.

This may seem like a long story for a small issue, but it has been profound to us.  On Thursday, we had no idea what the Lord was doing.  Why did He allow this frustrating issue?  Why would He bring us to this point and then come to a full stop?

I know now it’s because He wanted us to experience His sovereign power on Friday.  He orchestrated a dramatic turnaround to show us He hears our cry, loves us, and is able to do all we ask.

He allowed a bad ultrasound so that it would lead to a second ultrasound where He could show us how powerful He is.  How for us He is.  If everything had been clear on Thursday, we would have thought it was normal.  Instead, when everything was clear on Friday, we knew it was divine.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  John 11:32

But, Mary, if Jesus had been there you would not have witnessed Him raising your brother from the dead.  If He had done what you hoped, you would have missed something even greater.  And He did not leave you alone in the disappointment and pain.  He wept with you before showing you greater things.

I truly believe the Lord was hurting while we hurt on Thursday.  But now I know He was also saying, “Just stay with me.  Let me walk you through this night until we can get to tomorrow.  It’s going to be good.”

In His Care

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:6-7

This morning, I read in Jesus Calling that we often have an intellectual acceptance of God’s sovereignty.  We know He’s in control and we know that’s a good thing.  Yet, when His sovereignty impacts our little perceived area of control, we get defensive and resentful.  I’m not exactly resentful that He’s in control of building our family.  I am just nervous about how He’s choosing to do it.  It’s like I’m looking over His shoulder as He’s leading us saying, “You might not want to do that!” and “Be careful there!” and finally, ” Why don’t you just let me take over from here?”  I’m tempted to be a back-seat driver on our journey.  And I feel that way out of anxiety that it’s not going to happen in a way that seems good to me.

Every few days I am reminded to humble myself to His control and trust His goodness.  His hand is mighty.  This scripture promises (not just suggests or teaches — promises) that if I submit to His control, He will lift me up at the proper time.

Peter is even so wise to know that the thing that keeps us from releasing control is our anxiety.  Right after he says to submit to the Lord, he says we do that by casting our anxieties on Him.  He knows that our need for control is born out of our anxiety that things won’t happen in a way that we think is best.

I’m always tempted to be frustrated at my worries, thinking I should get over it or be able to better conceal them and pretend they don’t exist.  But Peter doesn’t seem surprised or ashamed that we have worries.  He doesn’t apologize for being anxious.  He just says to take hold our anxiety and throw it off on the Lord.  We release our grip and give it to Someone more capable of actually overcoming it.

“Because He cares for you.”

I used to read over this quickly, knowing that God cares for me and loves me.  Duh.  But this morning, He showed me a fresh view of  His care.  It’s not just that I can cast my anxiety on Him because He loves me.  He cares for me too.  He cares for me the way a parent cares for a sick child — watching over her, staying with her so she’ll rest, getting her what she needs when she’s too weak to help herself.  He cares for me in the very active sense of the word.

As we begin a new chapter of our infertility walk, I am so grateful that God reminded me this morning that He is caring for us.  I can list out the things I’m anxious about and literally toss them to Him, knowing He will attend to our every need.  He will relieve the worry, He will soothe any pain, and He will sit with us so we can rest.

Our humility under His control is not just about relieving worry — it’s about renewing our hope that He will exalt us at the proper time.

 

The undeserved abundance

Grace.

It’s both of my bosses telling me it’s ok that I may miss some work without much notice next month.  One said she received such grace when she was going through this as a young working woman, and she is passing it on to me.

Grace.

What my friend gave me when I texted her, asking her to pray as I sat waiting and willing myself not to cry.  She has a baby in the NICU and has had plenty of days worthy of tears.   Though my struggle isn’t life/death as hers has been, she didn’t compare our pain.  She gave me the encouragement and wisdom she had.

Grace.

It’s one of my best friends always asking about us, listening to treatment options and prayer requests even though big transitions are happening for her right now too.  It’s her not mentioning when I forget to ask about the kids, knowing I love them but that some days my mind is one-tracked.

Grace.

It’s my mentor from Auburn telling me that just because we’re hurting doesn’t mean we stop ministering to others.  As she sat there with her family walking through fire, she asked me how things were going as a young wife.  How could she help me?  “No, it’s ok that we’re here,” she said.  “If I waited for the right time to give myself to others, I’d never give at all.”

Grace.

It’s the things we don’t deserve.  It’s the above-and-beyond we didn’t expect.  For me right now, it’s the surprise each time I learn someone we’ve loved or someone we just met has walked in these shoes and we never knew.  God crossed our paths in other ways and now we have even more people to stand by our side.

If grace is the abudance we don’t deserve and can’t imagine, I can only dream of what that means for the rest of our story.  Even as we move forward with new plans, we can let go of our expectations and, instead, hold our hands out to accept His grace.

 

One purpose of our trial

Even though we’ve been on this road for awhile, today is the first day I feel like a  card-carrying member of the infertility club.  Once you move up to the level of specialists and traveling three hours for tests, I think it’s safe to say it’s official.

I’ve recently started following some infertility organizations online.  It’s helpful to have access to others’ experiences and be able to ask them questions.  I’ve also realized that God can use me in these virtual communities to be a witness to the hope and joy He offers couples traveling this road.

When I’m on one of these Facebook pages or in a forum, I have felt compelled to answer questions in a way that brings the focus to God.  When an organization asked its followers for some good news anyone had received recently, I found myself responding how God has given us fresh peace about His goodness and His plan for our family — that no matter what the outcome of this road, He is good and we are loved by our Creator.  Hundreds of women see these comment threads.  What an opportunity to testify to God’s goodness to those who may be angry at Him or confused about how He fits into their lives right now.

It’s something I can do.  If we’re going to be members of this “club,” then I am grateful He’s shown us we can be His light in dark places.  We can hopefully be an encouragement to others to turn to Jesus on their own paths.

I don’t know all the reasons He’s given us this challenge.  But I’m choosing to believe that one purpose may be to strategically place two of His children in a community that is often sad and isolating.  This is a closed community that, frankly, you just can’t truly know how to minister in unless you’ve experienced the unique grief and uncertainty.

What if He put us on this path to give us access to and empathy for others who need to be reminded of His eternal goodness?  What if He gave us membership in this “club” so that we could let Him in the door too?

I know on our hardest days, we needed to be reminded of His goodness and mercy regarding His plans for our family.  I’m so grateful for the people who reach out to us with their own encouragement born from the same experience.

You can do this too.  We all face things in life that are difficult, and we all have communities we can impact.  It begins with being willing to share your story and shine His light.  It may be hard to talk about.  Trust me, it is hard sometimes for us to open up.  But when everything else feels out of our control, we know sharing what God is doing through our journey is something we can do.

After all, what if God gives us trials in order to give us access to others in similar situations that need His love?  What if our trials breed empathy and love for others we wouldn’t know how to reach otherwise?

We believe sometimes our trials are God’s opportunities to create testimonies we’d gain no other way.  It’s up to us to complete that purpose by sharing our stories.

Quick to Receive

When I was leaving home after lunch yesterday, I felt this heavy cloud start to fall over me.  All of a sudden, it was a terriblehorriblenogoodverybad day.  I was suddenly frustrated, angry, weepy, irritable and exhausted.

Nothing had happened, unless you count a year’s worth of hormone therapy.

Charlie was encouraging, compassionate, and kind.  He listened to how I felt, pointing me to the Lord’s peace and love.  He’s been wonderful at staying steady and strong over this past year when I’m often on a yo-yo.

However, I always resist him for the first 10 or 15 minutes.  I don’t want to be encouraged.  I don’t want to see that this will pass and everything is really fine.

I want to hold on to this negativity and wallow for a few minutes before I can let his encouragement seep in.  It’s silly, but it’s always how it goes.

This morning, I realized this need to wallow before accepting help is a human tendency that bleeds over into our relationship with God.

The scripture I read this morning talked of God turning our mourning into dancing and exchanging our sorrow for joy.  I thanked Him for taking our afflictions from us and giving us their opposite instead — His peace, His love, His strength, etc.

Then He said, “I want you to be quick to accept the good things I give you!  Don’t be defensive of your wounds — let me near to them so I can help.”

When a child scrapes her knee, her parent sits her down to clean and bandage it.  But doesn’t the child often pull away, knowing what is meant to help will overwhelm the wound at first and maybe hurt as the dirt is removed?  She pulls back, defensive of her hurting place, not yet ready to expose it.

I think we do the same with God.  There are areas of our hearts that hurt, but sometimes we hold on to them for a little while before letting Him help.  We’re not quite ready for Him to overwhelm us, cleaning out our affliction and bringing His relief.  We’re afraid of exposing the wound, even if it means healing.

There are many ways God is blessing us right now.  Yet, my emotions often feel like they’re on a runaway train.  My prayer is to be more immediately willing to expose the chaos to God’s peace.  I don’t want to wallow as I try to grin and bear it.  I want to immediately say, “I don’t know what’s happening today, but it hurts and I can’t manage it!  Please come wash it away!”

“The Storm” Nine Years Later

Tonight Charlie and I will sleep in my family’s home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  It hit me this morning what a blessing that is, considering nine years ago today, Hurricane Katrina tore through our state, our town, our neighborhood.

It was the first weekend of my senior year at Lee University.  We were so busy with hall chaplain training that I didn’t even know a hurricane was in the gulf.  My dad called Saturday to say he was going surfing in Gulf Shores because a storm named Katrina was churning up the biggest waves we’d had in years.  He told us later that he left the water when he saw a guy wipe out and get washed over the road.

My 82-year-old grandmother had just had knee replacement surgery in Biloxi.  She was still in the hospital a few blocks from the beach when evacuation orders were issued.

We didn’t have cable in our dorm, so I went to a friend’s house to watch the live coverage as the storm came ashore.  I drifted in and out of sleep all night on her couch, making it all seem like a bad dream.  When I really woke up the next morning, I screamed when I saw a live shot of places I knew like the back of my hand.  Only now I didn’t see them — I just knew that empty space was were they used to be.

The cell towers were jammed and I couldn’t call anyone with a 228 area code.  I knew my parents were in north Mississippi, but I couldn’t reach them.  My brother was just as helpless in Costa Rica.  I finally got a hold of my dad’s mom on Wednesday after the storm.  Then I wrote this scary entry in my journal:

Will and I just found out that we can’t be sure where my parents are. They last talked to my grandmother after their car got stuck trying to get around a downed tree. They abandoned it and were walking the highway trying to hitch a ride to shelter. We thought we knew for sure where they were…we don’t.

The storm had caught up to them by then and they were walking in it.  We heard from them the next day.

Neighbors who rode out the storm broke into our house (not difficult with the windows gone) and tore out all our carpet before more mold could set in.  One of them sent me a message online to let me know the extent of the damage.

I somehow learned my uncle Timmy was picking up my dad with a gun, $5,000 and barrells of clean water to make the drive back to the Coast.  They figured they could get through any road block with the cash and water, and the gun was there because they knew they were walking into a desperate situation.

My mom joined my dad sometime that week.  I learned that they went to our local hospital to ask to buy their leftover dinner rolls.  I cried like a baby hearing that.

I flew into Mobile two weeks after the storm and my Mom drove me home.   When we reached Pascagoula, I remember the air started to reek.  All the salt and mud was decaying everything it touched.

The first thing I saw was a pile of our belongings on the corner of the street before we pulled into the driveway.  My dad had spent all morning clearing everything out and sweeping the foundation so the house would look as clean and orderly as possible for me.  That sums up my father — doing anything he can to make any experience easier for his family.

We lived the next few months in an alternate world.  I was in a fog all semester at school and took the spring semester off to be at home.  Although not really home, since we lived in a one bedroom apartment in a retirement community until February and I slept on an air mattress on the floor in the living room next to our dog.

My parents and I navigated the devastated streets of Gulfport on Christmas morning, looking for people in FEMA trailers who might like a hot Christmas dinner.  One woman gave us her jade plant.  She explained it was a symbol of friendship, and that all of us who were living in Katrina’s aftermath were surely friends.   We kept that jade plant, a symbol of friendship, for almost 6 years.

When my dad started traveling for work again, it was nice to be home with my mom and slowly switch from “recovery” mode to “redecorating” mode as we picked out new paint colors and redesigned our home.  My parents were rocks, caring for my grandmother in her surgery recovery as well as caring for us.

I don’t know when conversations finally stopped including at least some discussion of the storm, but it took a long time.  For the next year, everything revolved around some aspect of Katrina.

When I walk through our front door now, it always smells like a new home.  I feel so grateful that we still gather in a place where we have so many memories.  I feel blessed that I walked through that same door as a fourth grader on my way to school and now I walk through it with my husband.

Our family didn’t suffer Katrina like some.  We were blessed that our home flooded but still stood.  The word I remember hearing over and over in my heart during that time is “faithful.”

God is so faithful.  He walked our family down a very hard road.  A road that we are blessed continues to arrive at a front door on Portree Place again and again, nine years later.


Sidenote:  As I finished writing these memories, I thought of one more that made me laugh.  My parent’s good friend, John Pittman from the Delta, called my dad a few days after the storm.  His first words, in his classic Delta drawl, were “Mark, it’s John.  Kathryn and I thought we’d come down for a visit ,” as if they were planning a relaxing vacation to the Coast to stay with their friends.  It cracked my dad up at a time when there wasn’t much to laugh about.  John was at our house that same week, sweating in the heat and sorting through what to save and what to toss.

Therefore, I have hope

Last night, as Charlie and I watched a movie, worry and frustration floated through my mind. After a rough two weeks, we’re not closer to figuring out why I have constant headaches and nausea. That afternoon, we learned that something we felt sure was causing it isn’t even a factor.  We are back to the drawing board.

So I was tired. Tired and frustrated that we seemed to be making progress and now everything was completely changing.  Frustrated that we’re not even sure this is related to the infertility or is a completely new issue.

That very second, my mom texted me several verses out of Lamentations 3.

“I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”

Every time my head pounds or the nausea swells, I remember this issue and my heart gets downcast. Though I certainly don’t feel totally deprived of peace or all I’d hoped for from the Lord (huge progress from a month ago!), I completely sympathize with what Jeremiah is saying — remembering my difficulties pulls down my heart.

Luckily, Jeremiah wrote the next verses:

“Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”

My heart gets weighed down until I call to mind that I am not consumed.   I am not defeated because God loves me and is compassionate to me.  His faithfulness toward me is great, even in the prescence of sickness and frustration.  I have to remind my heart that God is my portion — the answer to my symptoms, the relief of our worry — and I will wait for Him in quietness and trust.

“I called on your name, Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
 You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”