One Word: 2017

joy

For the past month, I’ve been up early nearly every morning, quietly reflecting, praying, thinking, reading about this past year and sitting in anticipation for what’s next. I’ve been looking back to remember God’s faithfulness and His closeness through this year. A few of us have made a practice of choosing one word for the year.

My word for 2016 was: with.

I wanted to focus on being with Jesus. I started this year with so much margin, needing time to rest and catch my breath after 2 years of intense ministry and seminary, and my soul craved slow, quiet, time with Jesus.

Immanuel, God with us.

I ended the year after a season of studying, writing, and teaching through Philippians in the midst of infertility treatments, hormone swings, the ups and downs of grief and failed treatments, and this time my soul needed Immanuel, God with us . . . with me.

I made it my aim to keep the main thing, the main thing: being with Jesus.

As the year ends, I’m thinking about what’s next. What will 2017 be about? I have dreams and goals, ideas and plans, of course. But how will I live on purpose this next year? How do I, as Jess Connolly said, “work from rest, instead of rest from work”? I want to stay living close to Jesus, with Him in work and rest, with Him through joy and suffering, with His yoke that is easy, His burden that is light. I want to know His unforced rhythms of grace.

I kept thinking about that word surrender. I want to live surrendered. Seems like after this last season of life, I have nothing left to do but surrender. I started to lean toward that word, making it my aim in 2017 until I realized, I wanted more. I wanted to live surrendered, but I also wanted to live beyond surrender. I wanted the life and life abundant, and I want it now! I know, I’m a greedy little taker.

Because the God I know promises us freedom is found in surrender, yes, but He also promises us abundance, hope, and JOY. We will not be free from suffering this side of heaven, so I wanted to learn how to live with JOY in the midst of suffering.

I studied Philippians for a good portion of 2016, and I found JOY in the midst of suffering. The apostle Paul and Jesus, two men who experienced more suffering on earth than most, and both had JOY. JOY didn’t come after the trial, it didn’t come when circumstances changed or the suffering lifted. It came right there in the midst of suffering. . . because true JOY is found in the presence of Christ.

JOY is found in surrender, in abiding, in delighting, in being with Christ.

I want that. More than anything I want a closeness and a fellowship with Jesus like never before. I want to sit with the Holy Spirit and be comforted and empowered to walk in His strength. I want to know the love of the Father in the deepest way.

I want JOY! And I know where to find it.

As I’ve moved on from Philippians, a study we titled “Joy in All Things”, and moved right into James, guess what I found?

Joy . . . and . . . suffering.

Right there, from the very beginning, another author telling us how to find joy—to consider it all joy, when we’re in trials.

There’s a mingling of suffering and joy, side by side, they dance together. So if we surrender to knowing we won’t escape suffering, than we can also surrender to knowing we’ll find JOY, right there in the midst. Joy in the presence of Jesus.

That’s what I want 2017 to be about.

 

 

 

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Learning to Kiss the Wave

Wave

I walked into a room full with nearly 300 women, hungry, eager, craving to connect to each other and learn from God’s Word. I couldn’t believe my eyes–it was my greatest fantasy come true! 

We started off by going around the table to introduce ourselves. One by one, each of them shared who they were by sharing about their job, the number of years they’ve been married, and the number of children they have. At a table of 12 women, I realized I was the only one without children. 

While they were proudly identifying with their motherhood, I was becoming more aware of my barrenness…and began identifying with fear and insecurity. Immediately, I thought, “How do I get out of this? Can I run? Can I hide under the table? Can I fake an illness? Maybe I’ll just pretend to pass out, or that I’m receiving a phone call–quick, woman, think!!!” 

When my turn inevitably came around, I skipped over the awkward by identifying myself as “not a ballerina” and confessing my addiction to books.

I’m just so clever when I’m forced to think on my feet. 

We moved on to the next woman, and no one noticed we never got to the question about children for me–I never had to say the words, “I have no children.

WHILE THEY WERE PROUDLY IDENTIFYING WITH THEIR MOTHERHOOD, I WAS BECOMING MORE AWARE OF MY BARRENNESS…AND BEGAN IDENTIFYING WITH FEAR AND INSECURITY.

After months of being at peace with infertility (mostly out of relief from stopping all the crazy doctor stuff and my hormones finally weren’t raging anymore) the grief, the shame, the embarrassment, the insecurity, and the awareness all resurfaced again that day.

I watched a new mom holding her tiny newborn, another woman walk by with her baby bump, and another begin to nurse. I felt so alone.

Alone. Outcast. Different. Insecure.

Seems like most days walking through infertility isn’t so hard. Most days, it’s not even on my mind. It’s just a “not yet” or a “someday, LORD willing,” hope-filled thought. Then there are days where I am surrounded by hundreds of moments that remind me of what I am not, days where grief comes like a tidal wave. In Sara Hagerty’s book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, the author talks about her journey through infertility and reminds us that “grief’s tide can’t be predicted.” She shares how grief is like rain; some days have a light drizzle that you hardly notice, other days a gushing downpour.

Usually, in my suffering, I want to run away and feel sorry for myself. I want to believe the lie that I am an outcast, a leper, that no one, no one, understands. I feel alone and start believing the lies that my story is unique and my pain is too severe for anyone to understand. Rather than going to God in those moments and looking upward, I pull away and start looking inward.

MY IDENTITY DOESN’T RESIDE IN MY JOB, MY MARRIAGE, AND MY BARRENNESS.  MY IDENTITY IS IN CHRIST.

Most of us want to run from our pain–it’s only natural. We touch something hot, we pull back; we get a headache, we pop an Advil. We don’t naturally desire to lean into the pain. But God’s way is supernatural. And that day, my heart was breaking and being comforted at the same time. 

I didn’t expect the grief to come that day. Infertility was something I thought I was at peace with–a light drizzle in the background–but instead, the grief came as a full on hurricane, overcoming me like a tidal wave.

As I fought to keep from believing lies, I was reminded of the gospel. I am not an outcast, I have been grafted in (Rom. 11). I am not forgotten or alone, I am chosen and loved (Eph. 1:4). I am not a product of my past mistakes or being punished for my past sin, I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). My identity doesn’t reside in my job, my marriage, and my barrenness.  My identity is in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon is quoted saying, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages,” and it’s true; I am never more aware of God than when I’m drowning in the midst of pain and overwhelmed by circumstances outside of my control. It’s through the pain and grief that I’m pushed up close to the presence of God.

I HAVE LEARNED TO KISS THE WAVE THAT SLAMS ME INTO THE ROCK OF AGES

Suffering isn’t meant to knock us over; it’s meant to anchor us in. Pain takes us to a deeper place of healing, sending us to our very knees, where we can know the God of all comfort and the Prince of Peace in ways we never thought possible. Though we may often wish suffering away, God uses it to draw us near. 

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. (Hebrews 6:17-19a)

I’m learning to trust His purpose, not my plan.
I’m learning to find refuge in His love, not in trying to control my circumstance.
I’m learning to hunger for more of God, not for more of my own comfort or the comfort from others.
I’m learning to lean in, rather than pull back
I’m learning to hold fast to the hope set before me, in the midst of the storm.
I’m learning to anchor my soul to the Rock of Ages.

I’m learning to kiss the wave.

One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  (Proverbs 27:7).

*This post was originally published at SelfTalktheGospel.com. You can read more of my articles here.

Infertility Awareness Week

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April 24th-30th is “National Infertility Week”. Since I started writing about infertility, women have contacted me and come out from hiding to process their pain. Women who’d rather be at the park pushing their kids in swings with everyone else and are instead sitting in a doctor’s office or in front of a computer trying to figure out “what’s wrong with me”.  Women who are a part of a club they never wanted to be invited to. Women who are sitting in this, silently suffering, through grief, shame, embarrassment, and confusion. Women who are figuring out what it’s like to lean into this, to lean into God, and put one foot in front of the other.

It’s overwhelming when I think about the number of women who have walked this road, and are currently walking it, and still feel like there’s not safe place to bring their pain. It can be isolating, hopeless, and devastating.

And I realize I every time I write about infertility I am making myself vulnerable to the many comments that will come my way. Some that sting, some that soothe, and some that leave me comforting others because they grieve deeply for me!  However, I know that many of you out there are hurting and can never speak up or share. So for you, I’m sharing some things that have helped me along the way.

1. Don’t isolate. It is hard enough going through this, but to go through it alone can spiral you into hopelessness and depression. Find others who have walked this road and meet with them. Have your people you trust to love you and pray for you and share with them when you’re hurting.

2. Choose your community wisely. The whole world doesn’t need to about this either. I sometimes regret blogging about this because it’s opened me up to anyone who’s read my blog to speak into my life about it. It’s healing for me to write, but there are really a handful of people that I share the details with. The ones who know about my doctor’s appointments, treatments, etc. And they’re people who will push me closer to God and pray me through it, not just feel sorry for me or ask how I’m doing to know the gossipy details. They’re people who truly care and truly pray.

3. Go through it together. I made the mistake in the beginning of going to doctor’s appointments alone. The first appointment I had with the fertility specialist, I thought he was just going to ask a few routine questions, instead he had read me the results of my tests, shared my diagnosis and told me as I sat covered in a tissue-paper blanket, I have a 1-2% chance of ever conceiving. The walls started to close in on me. I realized I should never be sitting in those appointments alone after that. So now, even though it’s terribly inconvenient for my husband, we go the appointments together.

4. Give yourself space. I sat down with a friend who has walked this road, and now has 4 children, awhile ago and she was so helpful in reminding me to care for myself through this. She told me the week I’m going through treatment, set aside time for myself. Get a pedicure, take a nap, whatever it may be. It’s physically and emotionally draining and it’s okay to do something for yourself through this.

5. Let Go of Control. Ugh. This is the biggest lesson in all of this. We can’t give way to worry and try to control every little circumstance. It puts too much pressure on our end. I never gave way to charting, taking my temperature, and obsessively taking ovulation kits. We can’t overanalyze and control every little thing through this process. We must be willing to release and surrender, otherwise we make ourselves crazy.

6. Seek Peace. Seek the God of circumstance, not the way out of the circumstance. I had lunch with a friend and she asked me if I have peace knowing eventually this will happen for me and I’ll get pregnant. And I told her no. I don’t have peace from thinking someday this will happen. I don’t know if children are “promised” to me. But I do have peace knowing God holds my future and works in ways far beyond my understanding. I have peace knowing when I cry out to Him, he hears and He comforts.

For friends and family who are walking alongside loved ones going through infertility:

1. Don’t try and fix. This is so hard, and I catch myself doing this for others too. But really, the quickest way to shut someone down who is hurting is trying to give them the answers. I’ve written about this before here and all the suggestions that people have given me, but really we don’t need advice or technique. There is truly nothing to say. We’ve tried everything. We just need a friend who listens and who loves.

2. Pray for them. Don’t just say you will, really, pray for them. And I don’t just mean pray for a baby. Pray for their heart. Pray for their hope. Pray for their marriage! When people ask how they can pray for me, I don’t tell them to pray for my womb. I ask them to pray for our friendship in our marriage. By God’s grace, 3+ years into this, we are still good friends.

3. Give them grace. Usually, if you’re in the season of trying to get pregnant, so are your friends. I have had up to 3 baby showers in one weekend. Another friend insisted that I hold her newborn at a family gathering, and I just couldn’t. I felt so much guilt feeling this way, but there are times we are just going to say “no” and it’s hard, and we feel awful, but please give us grace.

4. If you’re pregnant, tell them privately. During the 3 years we’ve been “trying”, 6 (soon to be 7) different babies have been born out of my small group. I have so appreciated those that have been considerate to tell me privately they’re expecting. This is so hard and so awkward because you are genuinely happy and yet genuinely hurting. Both of you. This is the kind of community I treasure the most, the ones that are willing to face the joy and the pain head on.

5. Ask how they’re doing. I will most likely not offer up my feelings to anyone. But if you ask, I will. Again, this is the kind of community I treasure most, the kind that will just dive right in to the awkward and the painful, and just ask. How are you? Where are you at? Whatever it may be. Don’t ask all the time, but ask.

6. Don’t forget about the husband. This is sometimes the worst. The woman may get more support than the man. He is struggling to lead well, deal with his own hurt, and comfort his wife. I can only imagine how isolating it is for the husband in this process.

There are a million ways you can help or hurt people walking through this. These are just a few I found helpful. There are a few other articles and posts below that may be helpful too.

25 Things Not to Say to Couples Living with Infertility {Huffington Post}

Infertility Etiquette {Dreaming of Dimples}

Is My Infertility a Punishment? {Self-Talk the Gospel}

I so appreciate you reading and entering in with me. If you know someone who is suffering with infertility, please share this post. Bearing one another’s burdens is hard and vulnerable, and messy. But it is truly the best way to live.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Learning to Be Content

I hate the phrase “Let Go, and Let God.”  For lots of reasons. 

#1 It’s cliché

#2 It’s NOT in the bible

#3 It’s not helpful

#4 What does it even mean?!?!

We’ve all heard this in different ways too . . .

Whether you’re the single person who is told, “Just stop looking for Mr. Right, and then he’ll come along”

 Or parent with a wayward child who is told, “Just stop worrying, she’ll find her way back”

 Or the woman trying to get pregnant “Just stop trying, then it’ll happen.”

When there are hard things in my life, the last thing I want to hear is some cliché that means, “stop thinking about it, stop talking about it, stop worrying about it.”  I understand that some of this can be meaningful, especially to the person who is trying to control at every angle, or is truly worrying instead of trusting God. 

But, the reality is sometimes we offer these Christian clichés because we don’t know what to say, we don’t know how to enter into the hard, we don’t how to walk with others in the mess.

Paul, an example to all of us who are suffering, and walking with the LORD, gives us a glimpse as to how we are to trust God in the midst of hard things:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.

Learned to be content.

If something is learned, than it doesn’t come naturally.  My Greek concordance defines this word learned: To learn by use and practice, to acquire the habit of

In other words, contentment is not found in superstition (if I let go, God will give.  If I stop looking, then God will help me see, etc.)

Contentment is found in learning, in practicing, in getting into the habit of being okay with your circumstances.

If you are learning contentment, it’s getting in the habit of walking in what God has for you today (good or bad), knowing it is a divine circumstance the LORD has put in your life so that we would know Him more. 

Learning to be content is letting go of your expectations, and accepting your reality. 

Learning to be content is seeking God, not things, to fulfill you.

Learning to be content is resting in whatever circumstances He has for you, not fighting Him to get out.

Learning to be content is getting in the habit of wanting what God wants for you, not trying to make Him change your circumstances.

Learning to be content is letting God be our greatest desire, not getting God to act like a genie in a bottle and asking him to grant us our desires.

 And don’t miss this either . . . Paul learned to be content, but he didn’t go it alone.  Notice . . .

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me (v.10)

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (v.14)

Learning to be content is also letting people in.  It’s allowing others to walk with you, suffer with you, and share in your troubles.

I will forever read this passage differently, thanks to that one little word “learned”.

I won’t beat myself up when I struggle with discontentment; I will remember it is learned.  It is not natural.  It is a discipline.  It is a habit.  That, hopefully, the more I exercise, the more it will become more natural to me. 

I will also notice that just as for Paul, “it was kind of you to share in my trouble”.  Part of contentment is finding others to walk with you through the hard.  Not because they have answers or clichés or ways out, but because they “share in my trouble”. 

What do you do in the midst of trials?  Are you looking for a way out (like me) or are you learning to be content?

How do you strengthen the habit of finding contentment in your circumstances?

Do you have others that can share in your trouble?

 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33)

 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:2)