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

Making the Silent Nights Holy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With much love,
Courtney

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

It'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.