When You Want To Give Up

I know what it feels like to hurt so badly for that dream that seems unobtainable.  To question if you're strong enough to face yet another round of poking and prodding and potentially frightening test results.  To have sleepless nights because you just can't shut off your mind no matter how hard you try to quiet the endless string of "what ifs" that have taken up residence there.  To wonder if you're brave enough to make it through another shattering of an already broken heart.  I know what it feels like to be blindsided with a diagnosis of infertility and subsequently doubt yourself and your worth as a wife and woman because you can't have a baby the way you planned.  To feel embarrassed and ashamed through all of the medical procedures and monitoring.  To struggle with feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty as you look towards the future.  I know what it's like to feel lonely and isolated as you are forced to grieve a loss every time you try to celebrate the good news of a friend or family member.  To feel angry that your life is suddenly on hold, but to simultaneously struggle to not be completely overtaken by this dream that can feel so overwhelming.  I know what it's like to fight to not lose your identity, your marriage and your friendships while you pour all of yourself into trying to be a mom.  I know what it's like.

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Exhale... You Don't Have To Be So Strong

Your dream seems just out of reach and you have to fight and claw every step of the way just to try to reach it.

You thought you had it all and then the heartbreak hit, hard, leaving you crumbling and trying to pick up the pieces.

Some days the dark cloud of depression seems so overwhelming that it's hard to even inhale. The weight is just too heavy.

Then someone close to you says it... "you're so strong to get through this."

A friend wrote the other day telling me how she is wading through the unknown, trying to pick up the pieces of a messy divorce and starting a new life for her and her children. She wrote because people keep telling her how strong she is and she doesn't know how to respond. She doesn't feel strong; she feels overwhelmed, broken and alone.

My sister is dealing with a life altering and degenerative disease while trying her absolute best to be be a wonderful wife and mother to her adorable boys. There are days she can't even get out of bed because her pain is too intense. There are days her hands and body swell so much that making dinner for her family isn't achievable. People tell her just how strong she is. She doesn't feel strong; she feels frustrated and broken.

During our years of fighting through infertility, we were constantly faced with so many conflicting emotions and experiences. For years, we cycled through hope in the latest treatment, only to follow that with disappointment and failures. Throughout the process and especially in the days and weeks that followed our heart shattering miscarriage and the next failed round of IVF, I heard how strong we were to get through the pain. I didn't feel strong; I felt shattered and empty, like a shell of who I used to be.

"You're so strong to get through this."

How many times have you heard that phrase? How many times has it left you feeling bewildered and confused?

The words feel so empty. Trying to respond back often leaves you feeling even emptier and weaker, or like you're trying to be someone you can no longer be. When we find ourselves in those really dark times, we keep putting one foot in front of the other. We keep paying the bills, going to work, taking care of our children or responsibilities because we have to. Maybe we even find some comfort in doing something that feels "normal," but it feels more like a fight for survival than a show of strength.

So why then, if we feel so broken and empty, do others repeatedly tell us "you are so strong?" Perhaps the strength they are seeing in us is a reflection of the Spirit carrying us through. Perhaps what they are seeing is a reflection of God Himself. Perhaps that phrase that leaves us feeling like a shell is the perfect reminder that we are solely dependent on His glory, power and purpose. Our empty shell is the perfect place to house His endless grace and comfort.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
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We don't have to be strong when we're dealing with the really tough stuff that sometimes comes our way. All we have to do is keep looking to God to get us through each step. He will give us the strength to keep fighting, the will power to keep getting out of bed, the healing to reach the lives He has planned for us, the energy to deal with the pain. He will be our source of strength. 

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope i the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
— Isaiah 40:29-31
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
— Psalm 119:28
God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.
— Psalm 46:1
  photo credit:   Floyd W. Tomkins   via  photopin    (license)

photo credit: Floyd W. Tomkins via photopin (license)

Next time someone says to you "you are so strong," look at it as a chance to stop and praise God for giving you the strength you are needing to walk through the dark times. Look at it as an opportunity to remember how much we need Him and to give Him the glory for being there for us. Be encouraged that though we may feel so broken and empty, we are actually being filled to the brim with God's grace and comfort and power.

When we are weak, He is strong. He will carry us through and along the way of our journey, He is healing us, giving us comfort and rebuilding our strength.  We don't have to be so strong, because He is. We only have to remain faithful to Him and be obedient to His Spirit.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.
— Ephesians 3:16

It Takes More Than Luck

We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
— Psalm 139:14

In the wee hours of the morning, when all is quiet, I stare down into the eyes of my newborn child and gently hum a lullaby to get her back to sleep... and I think of that verse. You, my child, are fearfully and wonderfully made... 

Years later as she wakes with a rare bad dream and comes to my bedside, I take her by the hand and guide her back to her bed. I tuck her in and smooth her hair and pull the covers up to her chin and watch as peaceful sleep settles back over her, and I think of that verse. You, my child are fearfully and wonderfully made...

Nothing in the world quite compares to the innocence and amazing creation of a tiny babe. But when it takes months, even years, of heartache and a torturous path on our own souls and bodies to conceive or adopt this perfect little creature, can we look into the mirror and say the same thing? That verse that we long to whisper into the depths of our children's hearts we need to continue to whisper into our own hearts as well. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Can we look past the hurt and grief and our own engineered plans for our lives that have been tossed out with the trash and see that we, too, are wonderfully made? When I look at myself, can I think of that verse and whisper... I am fearfully and wonderfully made? 

We are, you know. We don't "outgrow" that verse. Our mothers looked at us in our infancy, just as we will look at our own children, and they saw the beauty of God's plans for our lives. They saw a lifetime of potential. As we grow, our potential turns into plans - that we, with our limited view of time and world, craft. When those plans don't quite match up with God's plans, we often chalk it up to a run of bad luck. But dear friends... life, children, family... those aspects of our paths aren't left up to luck.

While many are blessed to have children with few fertility complications, some of us aren't quite as "lucky." Whether our stories are seamless transitions into parenthood, bumpy shifts through a variety of fertility treatments, or are formed by the wonderful blessing of adoption, none of us are any more or less "lucky" than another.

We are simply living out a life, specifically designed, by God's sovereign hand. We are living a life that is designed to bring us, and those around us, closer to Him and grow our faith and make us stronger - as couples, parents, friends, disciples.

More Than Luck is a variety of stories from others who at one time might have viewed themselves as the "unlucky." Like Jenny and myself, they didn't have the seamless transition into parenthood they once hoped for. But hindsight has afforded them the opportunity to see that the luck they once thought they were missing, was really the hand of God intervening in their life so that the timing and method in which their family started would be perfect for them. Instead of luck, we found God's presence in our lives, providing for us, comforting us, changing us, preparing the way for something that would redefine our definition of blessings. 

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:26-28

Growing a family takes much more than luck... it takes God's hand, His will and His perfect timing for you. It takes faith and patience and surrender. If you are waiting on your family now, I pray these stories encourage you. As you read them, take a step back and try to glance at your circumstances from an eternal perspective. What if what you see as bad luck, is really God's eternal purpose taking form in your life?

Click here to read More Than Luck.

XO,

 
 

We started this More Than Luck series to share a variety of stories from others who at one time might have viewed themselves as the "unlucky." Like Jenny and myself, they didn't have the seamless transition they once hoped for into parenthood. But hindsight has afforded them the opportunity to see that the luck they once thought they were missing, was really the hand of God intervening in their life so that the timing and method in which their family started would be perfect for them. Instead of luck, we found God's presence in our lives, providing for us, comforting us, changing us, preparing the way for something that would redefine our definition of blessings.

Are you giving up?

My friends, over the last few weeks I have been a bit overwhelmed by the number of posts I've seen on social media from many of you, my infertility sisters, who seem to be completely giving up. Another cycle was cancelled. Your last transfer didn't take. The adoption process is too burdensome and the wait list is too long. The medical bills are too high. The placement fell through. The uphill battle seems to be even more daunting than ever right now, so I want to encourage you. YOU... this post is for you... the one who is about to throw in the towel and say to heck with it. The one who is saying, I've tried everything and nothing is working. To the one who says I've been praying, but where's God in all of this? This message is for you.

I was doing a devotional with my daughter the other night. She's reading well enough now that she's able to start reading her own Bible, mostly on her own and she is full of questions. As I sat her in my lap to listen to her read she started with this verse found in Psalm 20:7.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
— Psalm 20:7

Breaking down this verse into bite sized nuggets for a six year old to understand, a lump began to form in my throat and the full weight of this verse landed heavy in my gut as I realized this is the battle we fight every single day that we're affected by infertility. 

When our biggest desire goes unfulfilled for another month, another cycle, another year, can we still honestly say that we put our trust in the Lord our God? With each disappointment and seemingly unanswered prayer, do we not often start a subtle shift into placing our trust in the hands of a good doctor or a new breakthrough technology? Each injection we give ourselves or prescription that comes via special mail order to our door step is at least a tangible something we can do to overcome this injustice we've been given. Each interview we face and homestudy we've completed seems to bring us one big step closer to bringing home that bundle of joy. At least we're doing something and checking off a list that will result in what we want... right? Not quite...

As I pondered this verse with my little answered prayer on my lap, I couldn't help but remember the years when I don't think I could honestly say my trust was in God. There was a period of time during our infertility, when I had all but given up on Him. I was angry with Him. I was hurt. I was confused and I clung a bit too tightly to the hope I thought I could find in fertility treatments, surgeries, medicines, doctors. Being a full-fledged type A, I often put my trust in the to-do list that is in my control to complete. I forgot that these were merely tools given to us by that same God that loved me so much and just wanted me to put my trust back in His hands.

Scroll up a few verses and look at what the Psalmist says before he talks about where our trust should be anchored.

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
— Psalm 20:4-5

My friends, don't give up. If the Lord our God has placed these desires in your heart and confirmed the path you're on, the trust Him. He is so much greater than any technology. He is so much more capable than the most pedigreed doctor in the country. He alone is the creator of life. He alone knows the purpose and plans for our lives. He alone knows the path our child(ren) will one day walk. And He knows how much we will grow in Him when we learn to put the to-do list away and just wait with Him. So keep your chin up. The treatments and doctors, the lawyers offices and paperwork, the holding your breath every time the phone rings is all part of the process. It's hard... so hard, but the process is not where our trust needs to lie. We trust in the name of the Lord our God and in His infinite wisdom and power.

I've been where you are right now. I wanted to give up so many times. I hurt deeper than I knew was possible when we lost our first pregnancy. But I can tell you, six years into raising the gift that God had planned for us all along, some answers to why we had to wait so long are very clear now. Of this I am convinced... God never forgot me, never let my prayers and cries go unheard, and never wavered on His plan. He knew all along exactly what was best for us, for our story, and for our daughter. 

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If you're questioning what your next step is right now, take a break if you need it. Spend some time with your spouse. Spend a lot of time in prayer with God. He'll make your next step really clear when you are ready for it. But if He continues to put that desire for a child in your heart, then He will answer it in His time. 

Stick with with the process. You have to forge your way through every step of it. But trust in the Lord our God. 

A New Year and New Outlook

All the Christmas chaos is over. The tree and decorations are packed away. The house feels almost empty with the space previously filled with garland and presents returned to its clean state. The fridge is slowly emptying of holiday treats and leftover decadence. It will be refilled soon enough with the stuff salads and healthy entrees are made of. A Christmas Story and Elf have been replaced with football and parades. Today is New Year's Day and though I am an absolute nut over Christmas, today is one of my favorite days of the year. It's calm and quiet and restful.

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After staying up to celebrate the ball drop with the Eastern Time Zone (yes that was an hour early), we slept in this morning. Like a large part of the country, we've been hit hard with an unusually cold bit of weather and us Alabama folk will be taking no part in the 16 degree weather outside our door. So we've enjoyed the morning with cups of coffee, a fire in the fireplace, completing a puzzle and watching an endless carousel of birds, all puffed up to protect themselves from the cold eat at the feeder. We're watching for deer at our backyard feeders and are enjoying the last of the days when no one rushes off to work or school. Our pup is spoiled rotten and snuggled up by the fire or buried under the blankets on our bed. It's a cold, cozy day of just being together. It's a perfect day to be still.

Be still and know that I am God.
— Psalm 46:10

My husband asked me the other day what resolutions I had for this year, and in truth, I really don't have any this year. I have, however, spent quite a bit of time in the last few days thinking back over all that 2017 had to offer. Last year was an adventurous, chaotic, exciting rebuilding year for us. We started fresh in so many ways... new job, new city, starting kindergarten, new ways to volunteer in the community, new church, new friends. It was an emotional year of goodbyes and of working hard to stay connected to friends that are now just out of arms length. It was a hope filled year of new relationships and new opportunities as we settled in to our new home. It was a truly wonderful year of trusting in God through some big changes and being rewarded with seeing His incredible provision. But it was also a year that brought a lot of distractions that often come with big changes. So today, Day 1 of 2018 just seems like the quintessential day to start off a year that I pray will bring calmness, rest and a renewed focus on God and where He is leading our family to serve. 

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2018 will be a year of serving others in our community, in our schools and place of work, in our neighborhood. I pray this year will be one where we focus on remaining unhurried and get comfortable leaving empty spaces on the calendar so that there is plenty of time to love and encourage each other and those God places in our paths. May this be a year that is life giving to all those around us and one that leaves us catching our breath this time next year, not because of the busy rat race we run, but because of all the goodness and mercy and grace we take the time to notice, experience and soak up. May 2018 be a year of blessing for us all and one that puts God first and foremost above every dream, schedule and to do list we have. May this be a year we learn to turn over every anxiety and prayer to Him and trust in His eternal goodness as we wait on His answers, comfort, peace and guidance. 

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My sweet ONSEL friends, that is my prayer over each of you as we begin this new year together. As always, if there is anything I can pray specifically for with you, please jump over to our prayer page and let me know! 

Happy New Year my friends! May God bless each and every one of you!

With Love and Laughter,

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Making the Silent Nights Holy

If you're returning home from Christmas parties and family gatherings to a house that's a bit too silent, you're not alone. Even the happiest, most celebrated time of year can be less than joyful when facing loss or unfulfilled dreams. 

I've told y'all before about how hard it was for us to balance the mix of emotions tugging at our hearts in the years we were trying to have a baby. I've given you a survival guide to get you through some of the awkwardness and Christmas blues that may come your way.  You are not alone in your struggle this year. It's such a joyous time of year, but one that often brings a tidal wave of conflicting emotions. 

As always, I try my best to be an open book for y'all... my ONSEL family, so I'll be honest when I tell you this year has been a sobering holiday season again. While we have our sweet, long awaited, almost 6 year old (queue the why is time flying by so fast tears) and our house is finally full of the huge blessing of giggles and wish lists to Santa and early morning readings of the Advent verses, we've had several harsh blows lately to remind us that Christmas is far from a happy magical season for many around us. In just the past month alone, we have heard the shocking news of a good friend's wife suddenly pass away leaving behind our friend to raise several children alone; we've had another good friend relapse with leukemia and have to deal with spending Christmas facing that frightening disease and harsh treatment from a hospital room hundreds of miles away from home; we've send messages of condolences for family friends who passed away too young and will leave a seat empty at next week's tables. We've spent an afternoon feeding the homeless in our inner city and prayed with our child at night that they would find food and warmth and know that Jesus loves them. We've celebrated with news of adoption placements and positive pregnancy tests in the same week that we've heard of failing adoptions and miscarriages that wrecked the hearts of friends. Just the other day, my mom and I were talking about some of this and how it's a good reminder that this is indeed a special, beautiful, magical time of year, but it's one that is hard on so many. So if you find yourself reading this and relating to some of the struggle of emotions here, please know my friend, you are not alone. 

But this pain we have to deal with on this earth is exactly the reason for Christmas in the first place, isn't it? We are a sinful people. Five minutes of the news or reflecting back on how kind we were in all our conversations during this last week will prove that. This world is hurting and we're going to continue to struggle with the consequences of our sinful ways until Christ Jesus comes back. But that is precisely the reason we celebrate Christmas. It is exactly why Jesus, born of a virgin birth, came to earth as fully God and fully man in the most humble and vulnerable of ways imaginable. It's exactly why He grew up living through the hard times and watching friends and family struggle. It's exactly why He cried when his best friend died too young, knowing He would days later raise him from the dead. He knows exactly what it's like to not feel so overcome with happiness that we burst out in carols at a moments notice, but rather struggle to bury the tears until we can find a moment of solitude to let them out. This pain that is tugging at our souls is exactly why He came. He came to give us hope and life in Him!

Our most silent, isolated and lonely nights, were made holy when a little baby entered our world and shattered everything. No longer are we slaves to our circumstances. No longer do we have to question if we're good enough or trying hard enough. We no longer have to put on a brave face when we're alone with our thoughts and no one to hear them but God, because He already knows them. It's exactly why He came. Our silents nights are now holy nights because of His infinite grace and mercy.

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So this Christmas, if you're grieving the loss of a loved one, a failed adoption, a miscarriage or are painfully waiting on that phone call that will change your world and will make your dream a reality, take a few moments and read these verses below. Spend an honest night thanking God for making your silent nights holy ones. Perhaps this year, our great gift of all is the gift of hope that we always have in Christ Jesus.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
— Titus 3:3-7
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Timothy 1:15-17
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
— Romans 15:13
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’
— Luke 2:10
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
— 1 John 5:11

No matter where you are in your journeys this year, I want you to know that I love each of you dearly, I pray for and think of you in this ONSEL community often and I wish you a truly Merry Christmas.

With much love,
Courtney

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
— 2 Corinthians 9:15

It Only Takes a Second...

Sometimes it only takes a second to change someone's whole day. Think back with me to a time recently that you were a bit down or stressed. Maybe you weren't feeling well. Maybe life had thrown you one too many blows that day. Maybe your toddler was having one of those special days where nothing can be said unless it comes out as a whine or with tears. And you get a text or phone call from a friend that was just thinking about you and wanted to say hello. That little bit of sunshine can go a long way to changing your mood, your perspective, your attitude. It can go a long way towards strengthening your faith. 

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All I Want For Christmas, Is You...

Dear Santa,
For Christmas this year, I think we have a problem. The only thing I really want can’t be wrapped and left under the tree. It can’t be bought in a store or delivered from Amazon with 2 days shipping. All I want for Christmas this year Santa... is a baby.
— With Love

We all know the struggle to have a child, no matter how that child arrives, is tough. But when we find ourselves facing a season of family gatherings, gift giving, Christmas parties and a laughing child sitting on Santa's lap in every mall, the daily reminder of what you're waiting on can be even more difficult. Hanging stockings on the mantel comes with a tug on the heart that there is a stocking missing for the decorations to truly be complete. And to add to the stress, your Christmas season may be full of doctors appointments or gift giving may be difficult as you are scraping together pennies to save up for the next round of fertility treatments.

Likewise for biological families who may be facing tough decisions, have recently placed a child for adoption, or even placed a child for adoption in years past, it can also be a difficult time of the year.  And even though you or they are very happy and unregretful of those decisions, a child never leaves your heart.  They are always a part of you.

We have to be sensitive to all situations and realize not everyone has the cookie cutter family that is often portrayed on television or in movies.  Each of us is in some way connected either as a friend or family member of someone who is struggling with infertility or someone who may be a birth family.  And this season can sometimes be painful for both.

We feel that if you are a waiting parent or a biological parent who is placing or has placed in adoption you will gain a lot of understanding of what the other feels and goes through especially during the holiday season.  Our goals and dreams are the same…to ensure a child has a loving, nurturing home.  For one side it is painful to wait for and for the other side it is painful to let go. Ultimately, God can create a beautiful story where you can each open your hearts and homes to the other and give a child more love than they could ever imagine which is what happened for Jenny.

So how do you enjoy the holidays and have a Christmas that is truly merry when you feel like you’re missing a part of you?

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In general, this is definitely a season to intentionally focus on some of the waiting survival tips we discussed in our post, Embracing Your Longest Wait.  If you’ haven’t read that one yet, you might find it helpful.  But specifically, let’s look at a few of the awkward and difficult scenarios you may encounter this time of year. 

Scenario #1: The loving but inappropriate family members

You know how this one goes... long lost aunt so-and-so or your crazy cousin (we all have them) or even your parents or in-laws, if you’ve managed to keep your struggle close to the chest, want to know why you aren’t buying presents for your little ones yet.  Or if you are pregnant and are a biological parent facing a tough decision, they ask questions about your pregnancy.  And then if you are a biological parent who has placed a child through adoption then some may feel the need to ask questions about them and the situation.  It goes on and on….

These can be some of the toughest questions to face because they’re coming from people who love you, but can still unintentionally be hurtful and sometimes downright inappropriate.  If you are a parent in waiting, they’re excited about the idea of having little grandchildren or nieces and nephews to shop for and sometimes that excitement can override their sensitivity to the fact that there is a good reason why you’re not out Santa shopping this year.  If you are a biological parent, frankly they just can’t comprehend what you are going through or have gone through in the past.  Many are still very uneducated about the subject.  And because they’re family, they can sometimes feel entitled to ask more than personal questions without regard to the sensitive nature of the subject.  When you’re faced with these questions, try hard to remember they are usually coming from a place of love.  And be prepared for the awkward questions so that you can answer with honesty – whatever level you are comfortable with.

We were pretty open with most of our family so when someone would ask something awkward, we tried to find a way to honestly, and lovingly say, “We’re really looking forward to celebrating with our kids one day too and are trying, but God has a different plan for us so we’re just not sure when that day will be here.”  Then change the subject!!!  Or if you feel that family gatherings are going to bring up difficult questions, you may lovingly turn down the invitations with as much explanation as you feel comfortable with to avoid something that may bring you more pain. 

Scenario #2: When Christmas Magic turns to Christmas Blues

My husband and I got married on December 22 because the Christmas season is my favorite magical time of the year. I am a Christmas nerd! I thought it would be so wonderful for us to celebrate our Savior’s birth, fun family gatherings and our anniversary all in one week. I also think I had temporary insanity for thinking that too! But for a while it was just as fun and magical as I envisioned as that young bride. We were able to travel many times on our anniversary to some great places and sometimes would extend our stay through Christmas. There was nothing like it to us – the food, lounging around, and seeing the world! Well all of that was great for the first few years and then we decided it was time to settle down and we wanted to spend our remaining young adult years with children in tow. We were ready for the Santa shopping, shredded wrapping paper all over the living room floor, and continuing the tradition of watching every Christmas cartoon known to man. Not to mention watching them in the cutest of all Christmas programs! We met our first Christmas after trying to conceive with no results, then our second, then our third, and so on. And each year it got more and more painful. We went from being excited, hopeful parents to eventually realizing we may never have that traditional Christmas morning filled with squeals and laughter. Or my husband wouldn’t be able to carry them from their beds to see what Santa left under the tree the way that my own father had for so many years. And as painful as all of that was, it made Christmas all the more special and sentimental when we were finally able do all of those things with our son. One thing we never lost sight of though was our love for one another and the love we would come to share with not only our son, but his biological family as well. We gained far more than we could have ever imagined.
— Jenny
A couple of years into us trying to have children, I specifically remember having a wonderful Christmas planned for me and my husband. It was going to be just the two of us celebrating on Christmas Eve before we left the next morning to travel to see family, including young nieces and nephews that we adore. We were looking forward to having a “sophisticated” kind of celebration – you know the kind with a crackling fire, fancy dinner, glass of wine, perfectly wrapped presents to open in a beautifully decorated and neat house. But as we were halfway into what was supposed to be our magical Christmas night together, my husband just looked at me and said “This is nice I guess... but I’m tired of the “nice Christmas.” I want wrapping paper everywhere, Christmas mornings that come too early because the kids just can’t sleep anymore, a house scattered with new toys to play with and a fireplace that is practically unusable because someone might get too close to it.” And there it was... the magic instantly turned to Christmas blues. We still enjoyed the rest of our night, even though it was a little more somber. But we decided to look at it simply as confirmation that we were on the right road for us. That all the expense, emotions, medications, waiting lists, etc were worth it because we wanted the crazy, chaotic Christmas mornings filled with children’s laughter. That Christmas marked a whole new chapter in our determination to keep fighting – as long as it would take – to make that dream come true for us. Make the most of your romantic, quiet Christmas’ while you have them and enjoy that quiet time with just you and your spouse, and let your Christmas magic be centered on the love you have between you and the hope for a child that you share together.
— Courtney

Scenario #3: While everyone else is waiting in line for Santa

Preparing for Christmas without children does give you the gift of a little more time... You aren’t standing in long lines to get a picture and 90 seconds with the mall Santa and you aren’t having to start pricing and shopping for little Johnny or Susie’s “absolutely have to have or I’ll die” wish list items.  So with all that extra time, be generous!  Don’t spend it wishing for something that you won’t have this Christmas.  Spend it blessing others – adopt some kids from the Angel Tree, visit the elderly in a local nursing home, do some volunteer work at your local soup kitchen or food bank – just focus on giving what you do have!  That in itself is the true heart of the Christmas spirit anyway and will bless you tremendously in ways you can’t begin to imagine.

Most importantly, remember what Christmas is about. It’s not about children, Santa, giving and receiving gifts, or trying to outdo your neighbors on yard decorations. It is about a baby though. It's about a baby that was sent to this earth to be our Savior. It's about a baby that would grow up to die for us so we could have eternal life. It's about a baby names Jesus. So celebrate Him and focus on what He has and can give each of us is we just let Him love us. 

So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!
— Luke 2:6-14

Finding Thankfulness in the Unlikely

Thanksgiving is quite possibly my most favorite time of year. It's set in the heart of the season that ushers in crisp mornings whispering hope that the oppressive summer heat is about to break, apple pie and pumpkin spice everything, football weekends. Set against the bluest skies of the year are beautiful colors exploding in the trees. It's the beginning of the holiday season where we intentionally take the time to celebrate family and friendships around the table, where we open our homes and our lives and invite people in to stay a while. It's the season where when we press pause on life's hectic pace, we find ourselves almost overwhelmed at all beauty around us and all that we have to be thankful for. It's the time of year where we remember that it takes effort and practice to cultivate a thankful heart.

Play along with me as you read. Don't over think it. There is no wrong answer. I'm about to ask you a question and I want you to jot down on a scrap of paper the first three things that come to your mind when I ask you this question.

What are you thankful for?

I'll wait while you write them down. Remember, don't overthink it... just jot down the first three things that come time mind.

Done?

Look at what you wrote. Many of our top threes are the same. We tend to top our list of thankfulness with some combination of God and our salvation, our support system of friends and family, financial security and health. Also making the top of the list include staples that help us survive this busy season and all the daily demands placed on us... coffee, chocolate, friends, moments of quiet. Did I mention coffee? 

Regardless of what our top three include, there is no wrong answer. They are the top three for you and for me. We should be thankful for those things! We should be shouting and dancing in the street with gratitude for those things God has blessed us with! The same applies to all of those things marked with a #thankful hashtag that we see as we scroll through our Facebook and Instagram feeds this time of year. But I want to ask you to consider something. Is that enough? Should we stop there?

When Paul penned these words in 1 Thessalonians 5, do you think the social media challenge thankful lists is what he was talking about? Keep in mind, this is Paul who was sitting in prison, being persecuted daily and facing certain death. He wasn't out walking through sunflower fields and corn mazes. He wasn't walking the beach at sunset with the love of his life. He was in the worst of the worst of circumstances, yet he was proclaiming to rejoice and give thanks! So maybe we start with the list above, but Paul is begging us to go deeper, to find the things of thankfulness that require obedience and sacrifice. Paul is pleading with us to find a heart of gratitude, a striving for thanksgiving in spite of our worst circumstances, that will unlock true hope and purpose that is deeply rooted only in God's greater purpose and love for us. Sometimes the only way to do that is to admit just how badly some aspects of our lives or at-risk dreams hurt.

I have tasted that desperation, that heartbreak. My husband and I struggled for five years to have a baby. We went to extensive lengths through fertility treatments to get pregnant. {You can read more about our journey to parenthood here.} When we finally did, the pregnancy that should have brought so much hope and excitement ended in a heartbeat that we could no longer find after just crying tears of joy over seeing it beat weeks before. It ended in loss and devastation and a whole host of emotions I wasn't prepared to face. We went on to have a beautiful little girl a year or so later, but I remain scarred by that miscarriage. I continue to grieve the child I never got to hold. From time to time I wonder in the far recesses of my mind what he would look like or what kind of personality she would have. Just after that loss, I hurt like I had never hurt before. I was completely shattered, angry and terrified. But God was there. The day I broke under the weight of the grief and stress and stopped fighting for control of my own plans was the day He wrapped me up completely in His arms, letting me feel the full weight of His Holy Spirit, and whispered verses of comfort and purpose into my soul.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

That was the moment my healing began. My pain wasn't minimized or magically erased, but it was no longer the end of the story. My pain became bearable because it was no longer without hope or purpose.

Years later, that is why my infertility tops my list of Unlikely Thankful Things. The darkest moment of loss birthed an invitation to walk hand in hand with the Holy Spirit. Choosing thankfulness in spite of everything gave God the chance to use my story to reveal Himself to others.

I've had close friends go through miscarriages and as I cried on the phone with them, I had to relive part of my own hurt again. In those moments, I had to again choose to be thankful. I hurt so badly for my friends that are going through the pain I've gone through, for those fighting with everything they have to achieve a pregnancy or for those who wait on pins and needles by the phone for a matched placement for adoption. But that is exactly why I am thankful... God met me in my lowest point and wrapped me up in His comfort, so that I can be there to comfort other hurting friends now. It requires obedience and sacrifice to answer those phone calls or emails, to know I will have to again feel the pain and be reminded of the worst days of my life. The blessing of being able to hold hands with a friend as she experiences this fresh pain far outweighs my own. The blessing of seeing God begin to heal a hurting friend makes it worth every bit of the uncomfortable feelings I may experience. In every circumstance, every miscarriage, every failed attempt, I give Him thanks... because He is always good, His plans are greater than my own, because He has given me a story that brings His grace and healing to others.

Some of those darkest moments are the reasons that keep us up at night. Coming in at number two on my list of Unlikely Thankful Things is insomnia. For years I spent countless nights awake in the wee hours of the mornings. As I try to relax and go back to sleep I would lie there and stare at my husband, who I adore, as he slept peacefully just wishing I could sleep like that too! I dealt with a lot of anger and frustration and honestly dreaded bed time because I knew I was likely to be awake again all too soon. 

Then one night it dawned on me, this is how God made me. I'm wired like this. I don't require as much sleep as most around me and being angry about something I have no control over is just useless and more tiring. I realized that though I may be tired and running on fumes, those quiet hours in the middle of the night are a gift. You see I'm what you may call an extroverted extrovert. I thrive on being surrounded by people and activity and being full of life. The downside to this is that I rarely, if ever, have time to just be still. That is my gift through insomnia. There aren't many people to talk to at 2 o'clock in the morning. So rather than dread the night, I almost look forward to the nights that God wakes me up to spend with Him. Rather than being angry and frustrated, I now use that time to pray for those I care about, laying in bed with praise songs running through my mind, and talking to Him. And when the insomnia strikes and I have several sleepless nights in a row and the sleep deprivation is nearing comical levels, I am blessed with some really wonderful friends who love me and laugh at and with me when I can barely form a sentence. They even volunteer to have my daughter over for play dates so I can snag a much needed nap.

But all relationships aren't so wonderful. Do you struggle with a difficult relationship? I have been blessed with a wonderful marriage and some truly great friendships, but I know what it's like to have someone in your life that magnifies your biggest insecurities. Someone who is more critical than supportive. I know how badly it hurts to have those blows to your self esteem that knock your feet out from under you and make you struggle to feel worthy enough. 

But when my feet are knocked out from under me, I end up on my knees and God finds me there. I have seen His provision time and time again. He has shown me that even though it may not come through traditional ways, He has put other beautiful relationships in my life that meet my needs and give me encouragement. I have to make the choice to be thankful for His presence in the middle of my difficult relationships and trust that He will supply all my needs according to His riches. 

Just recently I had another encounter where the criticism was flowing freely. It was the day after I wrote down this relationship as my number three on the list of Unlikely Thankful Things. When I answered the phone, I was in a state of mind of fighting to find thanksgiving. So as the criticism began, I just started thinking over and over "I'm thankful for God in the middle of this" and the Lord answered me. Before I knew it, I was hardly hearing the stinging words on the other end of the phone because in my soul the Holy Spirit was screaming Psalm 34, Psalm 34, Psalm 34 over and over again. So as I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes from the fresh sting of words that had just been spoken to me, I grabbed my Bible and began to weep as I read the sweet words that flowed from the page. 

I will praise the Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.

I sought the Lord and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant with joy;
their faces will never be ashamed.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears
and delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near the brokenhearted;
He saves those crushed in spirit.
Many adversities come to the one who is righteous,
but the Lord delivers him from them all.
— Psalm 34:1, 4-6, 17-19

My friends, that is exactly the point. We are going to face circumstances in this life that hurt deeply. Things that rip our security away from us. Things that cause us to face our biggest fears and insecurities. Like Paul, we are going to be enslaved in our own prisons and have to face our own versions of persecution, pain and death. In those moments, we have a choice to make. When we find ourselves in the lowest circumstances, if we choose to rejoice always, to give thanks, God will meet us there. When we fight for a heart of thanksgiving, He will whisper psalms into our souls. He will be there to comfort us, to give us life, to tell us that yes we are worthy of being loved, we are capable of being used for His glory, our stories do matter and can change the lives of those around us. We are worth everything to Him and He will work every circumstance for the good of those who love Him

When you find yourself trapped in that dark place of hurt and fear, start with the easy list. Start with the list of blue skies and sunsets and coffee and all the good things you can physically see around you. But don't stop there... don't be afraid to fight heard, defiantly even, for a heart of thanksgiving in your dark places and hard circumstances. You will find God covering you. You will hear His voice speaking scripture and songs into your soul. You will find the key that unlocks true faith, hope and trust. God asks us to show Him gratitude in the dark times because He knows that is how we will find Him in the dark.

When we can reach a point of gratitude, even in the midst of our worst pain, the bitterness is replaced with purpose, anger is stifled by comfort, fear is transformed into hope and our hurt begins to heal. Our of that we are given stories of redemption and hope. And for that, I am eternally thankful.

It's a tough fight at times and for many of our circumstances will be ongoing. But every time I fight for that grateful heart, I get to encounter God more. He lavishes me with His provision, comfort and His grace. The more I fight to give Him my hurt, bitterness and fear, He becomes more present in my life. 

What tops your list of Unlikely Thankful Things? I would challenge you to take a minute to write it down. Write down the thing that makes you cringe a little bit. The thing that would make people tilt their head and question your sanity just a bit if you were to tell them what you were thankful for. Let's be thankful that God is big enough to handle whatever our emotions are as we fight to find Him in the difficult places of our lives. Let's be thankful that when we come through the other side, we will be able to see those around us who need us to hold their hands and simply say "You are not alone, I hurt with you."

As we go into this holiday season, emotions can be high. We are looking forward to the reasons why we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, looking forward to the parties and dinners and gift exchanges. But times of excitement and get-togethers also tend to put a spotlight on those areas where we are really hurting. So this holiday season, let's fight together to encourage one another, to be kind to one another, and to fight hard to find a heart of thanksgiving even in our most difficult circumstances.

I would love to hear some of your most Unlikely Thankful Things! Leave a comment below and let me know what tops your list.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and God Bless each one of you.

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