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

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. 

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.

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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