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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10 Practical (and Creative) Ways to Support Someone with Cancer

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, it took us completely off guard.  No shocker there.  No one can ever anticipate cancer.  My immediate reaction was to be an emotional hot mess, and scream “it’s not fair.”  But then I quickly realized that is not what my mom needed – an angry, bitter, and resentful daughter.  She needed a cheerleader.  She needed someone to lift her up when she couldn’t lift herself.  So that’s the mission I set out on along with my dad and our immediate family and friends.  She needed us and she needed God.  And she needed us to support and encourage her in practical ways.

As I searched the holy grail of Pinterest and “the Google”, I was shocked to find little to zero ways to support people battling cancer.  Sure there were a few ideas that I took off with and made my own, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find more.  I mean, there were the “pray, support, encourage” ways that all good Southern Baptists know already.  However, I needed and wanted more, because as great (and necessary) as prayers are, sometimes we need the tangibles too – the reminders around the house when we can’t go anywhere else, things that make us smile when all we want to do is give up, and so on.  That’s when I vowed to change that once my mom was over her battle.  If I needed those ideas then surely others were desperately searching too. 

So I’ve narrowed it down to 10 practical ways that you can support someone you know with cancer.  Maybe you can’t or aren’t able to do all of these.  And that’s ok.  But I pray these will give you some guidance when you want to help and you just don’t know what to do.  And, you can know – by me sharing first hand – that each and every one is greatly appreciated by the person fighting for their life.

  1. Focus on the Positives

As if being diagnosed with cancer isn’t bad enough, the chemotherapy drugs used make cancer patients extremely sick.  Instead of focusing on what chemo would do to my mom’s body and her physical (and emotional) well-being, my dad and I were determined to make it positive. Because without these drugs, my mom would not have a fighting chance.  My advice is to be sympathetic but positive and encourage them that they will get through this and these drugs will save their life. 

I also gave both my mom and my dad a journal for them to try to write down 1,000 gifts throughout this journey.  Not only do cancer patients need to be reminded of all the blessings despite cancer, so do their caregivers. 

2.  Chemo Countdown Posters

One thing that my mom loved was being able to take her poster I made her and cross out each treatment as she finished them.  This kept her focused on the end result, as well as reminded her all that she has fought thus far.  They don’t have to be Pinterest worthy, and they don’t require a ton of money.  They just require a little imagination, some poster board, markers, and bright colors.  Get the kids involved and let them help.  And then at the end, make a “Last Chemo Day” poster to help them celebrate that phase of the battle being over.  Because it is the hardest one.

3.  Numbered Chemo Gifts

I think in some ways my mom was a little sad when chemo was over because she got a small gift at each treatment.  For every chemo treatment, I made her a numbered bag that coincided with what treatment number it was.  Inside would be something encouraging, fun, or something handmade by our son.  Gifts don’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful.  And it keeps a positive outlook on the treatments they are enduring. 

 4.  Radiation Chain

These are so easy to make, and they are just like any other countdown chain you would make to lead up to something great.  For my mom’s, I just bought different patterns of pink (for breast cancer) scrapbook paper and cut them into small strips and stapled together.  The number of chain links will correspond to the number of radiation treatments they have.  Another great addition to this would be to add a Bible verse or word of encouragement on the back of each link for them to read every day. 

5.  Get Children Involved

We did not hide what my mom was going through from our son, which is always a personal decision.  But by getting him involved, he was able to make sweet things for his nana.  We know we can’t hide all the pain in this world forever from him, but we can get him involved in being part of the encouragement and healing.  Kids love to help…so let them!  It’s such a great teaching tool also.

6.  Organize a Card Schedule

Think outside the box on this one and ask people that you may know as well as those your loved ones know to participate.  About halfway through chemo, my mom got really sick and depressed.  This is normal because the reality sets in, they are sick, and they are sick and tired of being sick.  So I simply but a request out there on my social media platforms and was overwhelmed with the response.  Some people I knew, some I didn’t, and some I do now.  They flooded my mom’s mailbox with sweet words of encouragement.  I cannot tell you how many hundreds of cards and comments she got, or how much that did for her soul.  Simple words go a long way.

7.  Be an Advocate

Sharing your loved ones stories (as long as they are in agreement) is a great way to spread hope and encouragement to others.  We never know what battles people are facing.  For others to be able to witness my mom’s strength and faith throughout her battle is something we will never know the full impact of.  God will not let any struggle go without glory coming out of it, if we let him use us.  And be their words when they don’t have the strength to share them.  Maybe they are too tired to share, or feel like they are being self-centered by sharing too much.  So share for them.  Advocate for those who need it.

8.  Organize a Meal Schedule

This is something us southerners pride ourselves on.  We can whip up some meals or have them delivered.  We love to eat and we believe in the healing power of food!  But spread it out.  Remember that the caregiver is exhausted too and doing more than their share of the duties around the house along with caring for their loved one.  Meals are a great way to help them out too.  We tend to bombard people with all kinds of casseroles and crock pot meals immediately, and forget that they still have months of need ahead of them.  Spread the love out over a long period of time.  Most cancer patients take up to a full year to endure treatments and overcome those side effects.

9.  Have Their Homes Cleaned

This is a fantastic way to help.  But do it when they are gone to treatments and not at home.  Having too many people around agitates cancer patients, and they are usually resting 24 hours a day. 

10.  Don’t Forget the Primary Caregiver

We tend to focus on the person who is sick and inadvertently forget about the primary caregiver.  This is almost always a spouse, child, or parent.  Seek ways to encourage and support them.  Don’t leave them out.  They are fighting physically and emotionally as they watch their loved one fight, and as they take on the stress of looking after them.  Offer to sit with their loved one while they go and do something small for themselves, even if it’s just talk to clear their head.  Bring them meals, help with daily house or yard work, send them cards, pray for them, and just be there to listen when they need someone to cast their burdens on.  They don’t always need advice, they just need ears to listen.

I could probably name a multitude of other ways to support someone you know with cancer.  These are the catalysts that really got my mom through her battle and I pray that our struggle will now help others. 

If you or someone you know is battling cancer, I would love to talk to you.  We also have a prayer wall on our site.  Our mission here at Our Not So Engineered Life is to let others know they are not alone, no matter what struggle they have.  We would love to pray for you, and our faithful prayer warriors would love to as well.

To the Infertile Ones... It's Not Your Fault

I was so weighted down by this guilt I carried. I wanted to protect him from my pain. I wanted him to have more than what I could give. That little black mark in my medical file... my diagnosis. 

My fault.

For two years I told myself it was silly to feel so much weight for something I had no control over, by my heart wouldn't let it go. For two years, I looked in the mirror with every failed try and saw a failure as a wife. For two years I battled a guilt that wasn't mine to battle. I couldn't give him a baby; it was my fault.

On the rare occasion I would try to talk this out with my husband, he would say the perfect things. He would try his best to relieve me from this guilt I had placed upon myself. He would tell me to stop thinking that way because we were in this together. No matter what happened, natural conception, IVF, adoption or no child at all... we were in this together. My heart wasn't accepting though. I didn't want him to have to shoulder a diagnosis that wasn't his. I wanted to believe him. I fought to trust every word he said and that he truly didn't resent me for that little black mark in my medical files. I just couldn't let it go. I was so afraid of resentment and failure.

Two years into our infertility my perspective changed. Two years in and I finally understood. We had run out of options to try with the regular OB/GYN and had been handed over to the fertility specialist. Being the extremely thorough doctors that they are, they wanted to start from scratch and run every test, identify every possible factor, and then move forward with developing a plan to help us have a child. So we tested... only this time, he was thoroughly tested too. When the test results were all in and the doctors called us in to discuss the results, we were shocked to learn we both had a black mark in our medical files. We had known I had PCOS. What we didn't know was that my husband also had a factor as well.

My first reaction was complete relief, followed instantly by a flood of compassion, sympathy and heartbreak for him. I knew how he was feeling because I had been there for the last two years. I saw the look on his face as he now wrestled with what I had been fighting for years. I knew how he felt. But with that came a huge awakening.

Infertility isn't my fault. It isn't his fault.

It just is...

I finally understood all those beautiful words of reassurance he had speaking to me. I didn't marry you so you could give me a child. I will still love you just as much if we can never have kids. This isn't your fault. We are in this together. We multiply our blessings and divide our burdens - that's marriage.

I finally understood as I had my chance to say all those things right back to him as he fought back similar fears and self-imposed guilt.

Friends, a diagnosis of infertility is so hard. It puts a gut-wrenching pain into your lives and into your marriage. It affects you both. You have enough to face dealing with your diagnosis and the subsequent decisions of how that will impact your future. Be kind to yourself and don't add to your stress with self-imposed, undue guilt. Never forget why you are trying to have a baby with your spouse in the first place. You love them for who they are, period. You married them to have a life with them, period. Remind each other of this... often. Keep the communication between you open. You will likely both deal with the circumstances and stresses in different ways and to varying degrees, but allow each other the freedom to handle this process in you own styles. But in those different styles, never stop talking. Infertility can kill a marriage... but it can also bring you closer together than you ever thought possible. This takes work; it takes communicating when you'd rather pull the covers up over your head. It takes listening when the other person needs to vent their frustrations. But it is worth it. Free yourself of a guilt that isn't yours to carry and let your spouse know that you need them in this as much as they need you.

In good times and bad, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. We're in this thing together. No matter where it takes us. No matter where it leads.

I wish I could look each of you in the eyes when I tell you this, so you'll know how serious I am when I say it...

This infertility is not your fault.

It's Time to Thrive

There are times that my heart just aches... for each of you and where you are on your journeys through infertility or fighting for your health; for our country as the past few months have been hard hitting with disaster after disaster. Whether we're facing our own individual storms of another failed cycle and another discarded pregnancy test or facing frightening news of a diagnosis and the uphill battle that lies ahead of us as we fight for our health; or we're seeing hurricane devastation to entire cities and states or crazed madmen terrorizing a city of innocent victims, there's an awful lot of emotion to deal with.

I struggle to find the words that can explain all of the hurts. I wish I knew the right thing to say that could make it all better. It feels like sometimes we're just surviving. One step at a time, facing one battle after another, just surviving. But that's not the life God intended for any of us.

I had no sooner typed those words and was struggling to find the right way to describe everything in my heart when the next song started on my Pandora station...

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died

Like a tree planted by the water
We will never run dry

So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our soul
With one desire

Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
— Casting Crowns, Thrive

It is time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive. 

Jesus Himself told us there would be trouble in our world. It shouldn't surprise us when we turn on the news or sit face-to-face with a doctor as he tells us what the test results show. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) When we face these times of trouble and we find that our heart is aching, it's a call to action. It's a call to dig deep in His word, to seek after His perfect will with all of our heart. It's a time to trust and thank Him profusely that in Him alone we find peace - true peace - a peace that isn't all rainbows and unicorns, but deeper than that. Peace that means that even if the world spins out of control around us, our souls are still at rest. Peace that allows us to find comfort in a scripture verse and a whisper from the Holy Spirit on the same day we find out we are miscarrying. Peace that allows us to lend a helping hand to our neighbor even when we also just lost everything. Peace that allows us to rise up together as a community and pray for each other, together, as we battle our own uncertain futures. The peace and power of the Holy Spirit that can allow us to thrive in the middle of our own individual heartbreaks, is also the same peace that will be a beacon to the world when the hurricanes hit or the madman attacks a city or you step into your inner city to serve the homeless and help the poor. 

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With the peace that comes only from Jesus Christ Himself, we are equipped to more than just survive. We can truly thrive, even if... We can cling to our faith and put a smile on our face as we shed tears, because our future does not depend on our current circumstances, but on our future in Christ. We can take comfort in knowing that God alone knows our paths, our dreams and our futures and He is good. If the dreams we have aren't meant to be, we can trust that if we surrender them over to His mighty hands, He will replace them with something so much better. We can thrive. 

Facing these times of adversity allows us the unique experience of realizing our painful times are so much bigger than ourselves. They are times that help our faith grow deep. They can teach us lessons that we would never experience otherwise. They give us the opportunity to have a platform to help others when they encounter similar pain. They give us the chance to stretch out our hands in love and show others just how much God loves us. Our pain can hurt deeply. Our circumstances can bring us to our knees and knocked the air out of us. It can break our hearts. But it cannot steal our hope and peace because in Jesus, we know our broken circumstances are temporary and not without purpose if we trust that we were meant to more than just survive.

IVF: Playing God or Trusting God

All I want is a baby... One to love and nurture, one to raise and hold. But everything else has failed. All the treatments and medicines have failed to make that dream a reality. Then the doctors come in with their advice... "We think in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is your best option for getting pregnant and having a child." 

But I'm a Christian and my mind starts racing. 

How far is too far? Am I trying to play God? What about the "extra" embryos?

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Being a Friend When Infertility Strikes

A friend loves at all times... but what if your friend (or family member) is going through something that you cannot understand?  Until I was faced with infertility myself I had no idea just how common it is. It's such a personal struggle for so many women and couples that it often stays hidden just below a very thin surface of brave smiles.  In fact more than 1 in 8 women and couples will be affected by infertility. So the odds are good that you know someone dealing with this extremely difficult issue. 

If you have a friend dealing with infertility, she is likely feeling very isolated and very alone. While you may not have walked the road they are facing, it's likely that you have experienced some sense of hurt or deep fear over something personal in your life and can relate more than you think you can. I confided in a friend who had reached out to me, but fearfully, I gave her an out by saying something along the lines of "but you don't want to hear about that."  Her quick reply of "I may not have dealt with this issue, but I've been through hurt before. At the end of the day it really doesn't matter what causes the hurt and fear, it feels the same, so please let me help you through yours." made all the difference. I knew I wasn't alone. Keep reading for some tips on how to be a good friend when infertility strikes.

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Hello My Name Is...

As I talked about in my last post, A Clean Slate, Now What?, it has been a while since I've written last. So there are probably some of you whom I haven't met yet. I so wish I could meet each of you sweet friends face to face over a cup of coffee. I want to hear your story, what you're excited about, what you're struggling with, and how I can pray with you. Since that's a little difficult to do over this whole internet thing, I'll introduce myself and tell you our story and how this little space to hang out in came to be. I love that this is an safe space in the world for us to encourage each other through some tough times. I love hearing from you though emails, prayer requests and comments, so please follow us on social media (@ournotsoengineeredlife), subscribe to the newsletter (I promise we don't send out very many), leave us comments and let us know what's going on in your journey. Your story matters!

The conversations are where the best relationships are born, where we get to know each other and encourage each other through life's journeys. Please know that I do love open comments and conversations, but I also highly respect the need for anonymity, especially when you're struggling through a difficult time in your life. So right up front, I just want to assure you, privacy will be respected as we talk about prayer requests and things of that nature.

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So with that... Hello, my name is Courtney. I am about as extroverted as they come and a full blown night owl. But many of my favorite people in this world are quite introverted and love running before sunrise... yes, like in the morning. Running... before sun up. I do not get it, but love them in spite of their questionable decision making. :) So wherever you find yourself fitting on the social interaction scale, you are welcome here. I am so thankful you are here and really wish I could be serving you a cup of coffee at my kitchen table right now. So let's just pretend, shall we? 

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I absolutely love making new friends, entertaining in our home and laughing over good food and coffee. Despite being an engineer, I'm most happy when I'm cooking, crafting, planning parties or writing. {Proof you can teach an old dog new tricks...} I'm fiercely competitive, love traveling and am not very good at relaxing and sitting still. You will almost always find a stack of three or four books by my bed that span the ranges from inspirational religious books to good old fashioned murder mysteries. Most of my time is now spent trying to make the most of our family time, keeping up with my daughter's endless energy, hosting play dates, or attending school and church functions with her. I am also a Bible study junkie. I thoroughly enjoy leading and being a part of women's Bible study groups, speaking and serving God through bringing comfort and encouragement to others who are walking through a difficult season of life. 

In 2002, I proudly graduated from the University of Alabama { Roll Tide } with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a heart that was deeply in love with this handsome guy who had graduated from the University of Florida as a Nuclear Engineer the previous year. In 2003, Rob and I were married and working for the same company. We spent our first several years together enjoying married life, being committed to our challenging and enjoyable careers, traveling and hosting parties for any and every occasion.

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When we began contemplating having a family, we were so full of excitement, nervous anticipation, dreams and plans... plans that two engineers can't resist making. For a marriage made of two people with extremely logical, Type-A personalities, we are in our comfort zone when there is very little "unknown" to be treading in. Why would there be? If we have already thought through all the variables, planned for anything, and are prepared to move forward before we ever take our first step, then the "unknowns" shouldn't be a problem. Shouldn't be... until life throws in an unexpected twist.  That was our state of mind when we entered our "5 year plan" to start a family. We were ready to begin the next phase of our lives with nothing but excitement - and a lot of naivety. We had no idea we were about to step off a cliff that would drop us into an entire world of not knowing what was to come or what to expect - but also into a world where God would become so unbelievably real in every moment of every day that we were forced to recognize that our plans are meaningless unless they fall in line with His plans, His will and His purpose.

God chose this moment in our lives to intervene, take over and show us that He is really in charge. To read more about our walk through infertility, miscarriage and our multiple rounds of IVF, click on the button below. 

Our lives took some pretty drastic turns after realizing we were going to struggle to have our family, but in hindsight, I wouldn't change a thing. Those changes and struggles brought us so much closer to each other as husband and wife, and even closer to God. I know now what a tremendous blessing it is to be called Mommy. Now, as a stay-at-home-mom, I am striving to live every day intentionally for God, supporting my husband, raising our little one and taking every opportunity to encourage others. I am passionate about telling our story so that you know that you are not alone and that there is always hope. 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I am an open book about our infertility journey and IVF processes. If you are facing fertility treatments, I would love the chance to pray with you or help you navigate through the sometimes overwhelming amount of information and decisions. I am by no means a medical expert, but I have walked in your shoes and understand many of the emotions and fears you may be facing. Please feel free to contact me or visit our prayer page to let us know how we can pray for you during your journey. You are not in this alone.

With love & laughter,

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The Slate is Clean, Now What?

It has been a roller coaster of a year, but as I sit here with coffee in hand, watching birds eat from the feeder on our new deck, I'm ready to dust off the keys and let you in on a little something I've been learning over the past few months. Sometimes, an answered prayer isn't the end of the story, but rather the beginning. What you think may be the ending of a book is just the birth of the sequel. Sometimes the answer to prayer is going to be simultaneously more wonderful and more difficult than you ever thought. A fresh start is anything but a clean slate... but a reminder that we all carry baggage with us, that has to be occasionally purged, sorted and reorganized. But that's not a bad thing at all if we remember where it came from and why it comes with a great importance.

The beginning of this year, my family moved across the state. We went from a terribly stressful, hectic, out of balance life to one that brought the freedom to breathe easier, to play together, to start fresh. God answered our family prayers in a big way. He led us to an amazing opportunity to place priorities back in the right order; to give my husband a dream job that suits both his personality and his passion; to bring us back to my hometown, closer to family and the exciting opportunities a bigger city offers for raising a child. It was a dream come true... except for after years of making life and marriage work in spite of the stresses and unrelenting schedules, I now felt completely lost in the freedom and fresh start this answer to prayer brought.

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Over the summer we stayed incredibly busy exploring our new home, settling in and decorating the new house, traveling with my husband's job, meeting new friends and soaking up every minute the last few months brought before my baby girl started to big kid school in the fall. It was a challenging but wonderfully sweet time for us as me and my mini-me learned that extroverts could survive while rebuilding a a social world that had suddenly become very small. Fast forward to the fall and to school days, and our days are now filled with getting my big girl up and ready in time to catch the bus in the mornings and making sure I'm home in the afternoons to welcome her home with a big hug, a bowl of ice cream and listen to stories of how her day went. But in the time in-between the bus routes, I've come face to face with the task God had laid before me years ago.

I had become distracted with all that life was throwing at us. I was trying to just keep my head above water. I was tired, spent and just wanting to hide from anything that might add to my stress. I needed to take a break from writing for a while to get through all the transitions and find my voice again, and then it just became easier to not write that first post. I was selfish and I was scared. But God wouldn't - won't - let me step away from what He's called me to.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When we find ourselves in a distressed stage of life, it's hard to keep that bigger picture. It's hard to not make things all about us. But God is wanting us to trust Him to bring us comfort, so that we can do the same for others around us and point them to God's unfailing goodness. He has reminded me of this time and time again. He allowed us a season of infertility, loss and fear so that we could see His goodness, experience His comfort and see His bigger purpose. It's my honor and privilege to keep telling our story, to listen and invest in yours, to pray with you that you will experience the same comfort I did and see just how much God loves you as He rescues you from your pain.

In reading through the Old Testament this year, one thing has been made exceptionally clear, God doesn't show up in pillars of fire and burning bushes and divided seas very often. He sometimes uses the dramatic to make Himself and His direction known in a very clear way. Then He fully expects and asks us to faithfully follow Him in joyful obedience. He will keep us on the path He originally set out for us, confirming and encouraging us in His precious whispers until it is His plan to use us another way. So I was praying for a change in direction and God was answering me with making the passion that started this website stronger. I prayed for the easy way out and He answered with emails of prayer requests and relationships to remind me of the importance of just following Him faithfully. Encouraging you, praying with you, listening to you and walking through difficult seasons with you is truly a beautiful gift and an honor. The pain I once went through with infertility isn't baggage at all... it's an opportunity to serve Him passionately and to be rewarded with the gift of some amazingly wonderful friends along the way. I have seen God do so many amazing things through friends that came alongside me when I was hurting and continue to see that repeated time and time again when I have the privilege of helping you through your pain. God works miracles through relationships when we aren't scared or too tired or too timid to put ourselves out there to be used and to open up ourselves to let others see our vulnerabilities. When we are weak, He is strong. His Word never changes and He loves us too much to let us hurt alone if we will just be open to His plans for our life. 

God answered our prayers for a fresh start that has turned out to be the beginning to the sequel He started through this blog and ministry years ago. That is to walk alongside you, to encourage you, to listen to you and your story because, my friend, your story matters so much and sometimes we all need a reminder that we are not alone.

With much love and prayers,

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Joy Is More Than Her Middle Name

Today I am thrilled to be able to share such an encouraging word from my friend Sarah, whom I "met" through adoption.  I know you will be blessed by her words today as she shares about finding true joy as we abide in Christ.  AND, she has an amazing Bible Study releasing on November 30 (which you will read more about at the end of this post).  Join me in welcoming Sarah today to the blog!


In March of 2015 our little Liana Joy Manhua arrived home from China. I’ll never forget the moment of stepping off of the plane into the chilly air at the top of the mountain at Yeager airport. The barren trees from the surrounding hills were home. After two weeks away, I was finally going to be able to hold my other children again. Together. Our Family Day. Our Belong Day. Her first day with her new family. This face says it all. She wasn’t quite sure about all of us. And we weren’t really sure about her either. 

Liana Joy Manhua. Joy wasn’t something I just chose randomly. I believe God gave us her name.

I wanted to give her a meaningful first name. Lian means flower in Chinese. Liana, adding the ‘a’, was the Hebrew word for My God has answered. God answering prayer summed up our adoption experience. Manhua was her Chinese name. It was a part of her, and we wanted that to stay a part of her. 

I choose Joy for her middle name because it was short. That’s it. I liked it, and it was a short second middle name. God just laughed, I’m sure. Joy would become more than her middle name.

Joy became something we fought for, in the middle of the tears - both hers and mine. Joy became a distant dream as my own dreams died. Joy was birthed again as God showed me HIS dream for our family. And how much more beautiful, amazing, and fulfilling His plans were, compared to mine. 

Joy was something I tried to fight for, choose, and just wait to show up. But it didn’t. Joy didn’t show up until I began to abide. In John 15:11 Jesus says: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. What things? What did Jesus say so we can have joy - full joy? 

If we read John 15:1-10, Jesus is telling the disciples the secret of abiding. The secret of abiding is we stay connected to the Father, and Jesus, so we can bear fruit. How do we abide? I love this quote by Andrew Murray in his book Abiding in Christ:

It is only into the thirst of an empty soul that the streams of living waters flow. Ever thirsting is the secret of never thirsting.

Abiding isn’t about doing, it is about thirsting. Do you thirst for Christ in your life? One way is to ask if you are reading God’s word everyday? Not because you should, but because you get to. When the hard season of adoption hit us, I backed away from Scripture. I felt too hypocritical to read. I knew joy was far from my heart and mind, so I stopped reading God’s word. I didn’t want to do it as a check-list item.

I realized joy would never find me if I waited to “feel right” before seeking Christ. Abiding would only come in the pages of scripture. Joy would only show up if I showed up first. So, slowly I learned the beauty of showing up one day at a time. If you are struggling to find joy, find God first. Don’t worry about where you were yesterday or what tomorrow will bring. Start today. 

If you want help in knowing where to start, my new book is for you. The Glorious Ordinary is a nine-week Bible study designed to lead you into deeper study of God’s Word. No matter if you’ve studied scripture you entire life, or are just starting out, this study is for you. I’ve provided the passages to read, questions to answer, and scripture to memorize. It releases November 30!

Sign up here to get started abiding TODAY. You will be the first to know when my book releases as well! I’ve developed some great printables to help you in your Bible reading journey. You will receive them all of for free, right in your inbox. Click here to sign up. 

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Sarah lives her life with an amazing husband and four little ones (one adopted from China). Her inner-planner girl would like to say she’s super efficient and has the house, homeschool, and husband all neatly organized. But she doesn’t. Sarah’s house is run with fuel from coffee and Jesus. She is learning how to find the thrill of walking one day at a time in the messiness of mundane. She invites you to study God’s Word in your ordinary days. 

If you are having a hard time starting a Bible study habit, check out Sarah’s 5 Steps for Starting a Bible Study Habit - Today! Found at sarahefrazer.com/audio-course

Connect with Sarah here: Website / / Facebook / / Instagram / / Pinterest / / Twitter

The Instant Your World Changes

Like an earth shattering event that causes rivers to change course or flow backwards for a time, our lives can be drastically altered in a single instant. The words that follow “I’m sorry, but…” pack a punch.

I’m sorry, but…

You’re infertile. It’s cancer.  You can no longer work here. You’ve lost the baby. Your pregnancy test was negative. Your disease is progressing, in spite of the treatments. There’s been an accident.

The instant those words are spoken, two worlds collide. Our biggest fears meet our reality. Life, as we know it, from that point on is different; not just for us, but for our loved ones, friends and family alike. The tectonic plates shift and it takes some time to realize the magnitude of the change that just took place.

If your world has just changed course with little to no warning, you need to be reminded of something important. God is still in control and He is still good. He doesn’t allow the world to be shaken underneath you without a greater purpose or plan at work. And he doesn’t leave you isolated. You are not alone in your struggle.

You see right after tragedy strikes, whether on an individual level or a global one, people respond. It’s how God designed us and it’s where we see His love in action in an incredibly powerful way. But if you’ve recently had a loved one suffer a devastating blow, you know how helpless it can leave you feeling. We want to fix things. We want to take all their pain away and protect them. But that’s not what God asks us to do. Certainly there are urgent logistics that need handling and there are needs to be met and don’t need to be minimized. Us Southern ladies will be the first ones to start up a meal delivery schedule for you because we know that various forms of chicken casserole will heal diseases and broken hearts that modern medicine can’t touch. And if you have something really serious, soup… we will bring you soup. That is our love language and we speak it well! The foods and childcare and grass cutting are absolutely needed, so if you’re doing that, please keep doing those wonderful things. But if you have a loved one hurting, the biggest thing you can do is to simply come alongside them and reassure them that they are not alone. Hold their hand, literally if you’re lucky enough to be close enough. Call them, cry with them, laugh with them. Let them talk and don’t try to fix it. Let them get angry, and sad, and hopeful and don’t interfere with their grief process. And pray, oh my goodness, pray.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had friends call with every single one of those events. Miscarriages, layoffs, cancer, failed IVF cycles, serious accidents. It’s been a heavy couple of weeks, but one that has reminded me that these things in life happen to each of us at some point. When they occur and our life shifts course we’re not targeted, it’s not a string of bad luck, it’s not a punishment. God doesn’t work that way. We simply live in a fallen world where death and destruction are a part of it and walk side-by-side with life and resurrection. They don’t undermine who God is or threaten His authority over all of life. If anything, they remind us greatly how much we need Him and how much we need to be thankful for all the good things. They usher in opportunities for His power and love, provision and healing to flow directly from heaven into our daily lives. Though it may not seem like we’re doing much, praying for a hurting loved one and letting them know we’re praying for them, may just in fact be the biggest thing we can do to comfort someone who has just had their world rocked. It’s at the core of a beautiful, powerful force waiting to be unleashed.

 

It’s the same force that took a devastating earthquake and turned it into a gorgeous snow-capped mountain. It’s the same force that used an explosive volcano to create a luscious, tropical island paradise. It’s the same force that will take your tragedy and turn it into a beautiful story to tell others of God’s glory. It’s the same force that brings us together, setting aside the petty differences, and reminds us how crucial it is for us to simply love one another. The force of God Himself is ready to flood into our tragic circumstances and broken hearts and cover us with comfort and healing, purpose and peace. 

So, my friends… if you’ve just been given bad news and are trying to figure out how to recover or fight for your life or family or marriage, please, please know, you are not alone. There’s an entire community of people praying for you right now. Jenny and I are praying for you. Feel whatever you need to feel to get through each step of this journey, but never question that God loves you and sees you and will provide for you to get through this. He will not forsake you.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
— Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)

If you are wondering what you can do for someone in your life who is hurting, don’t over-complicate it. Just be there for them. Call, send cards, text, send all the chicken casseroles, and for God’s sake, pray! Pray they will experience God’s presence and healing every single day. Pray they will be overcome with His peace, even in the midst of the painful circumstance. Pray God will be glorified through this experience.

After the dust settles and the fight is over, the transformation will be clear and beautiful if we have let God into it. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
— James 1:2-4 (NIV)

This is a subject that is near to both Jenny and myself. Like many of you, we’ve walked both sides of these earth shaking events and are passionate about letting others know how much they are not alone now. In the coming weeks, you’ll hear much more from us about practical ways we can strengthen each other as we go through hardships. So stay tuned…