Embracing Your Longest Wait

There is no doubt about it, once you decide you’re ready to start your family, your patience will immediately begin to be tested. What should be the happiest time in our lives can sometimes be the most disappointing. Starting a family seems so easy for some, yet very complicated for many of us. Whether you end up on the road of infertility and decide to pursue adoption or fertility treatments (or both), the wait is a very real and a very stressful part of the process. Waiting on the phone to ring can seem like torture.  It doesn't matter whether you’re waiting for an adoption agency with news of a match or for test results to come back from the doctor, time feels like it stands still. Add in a few good doses of some disappointment and it can be tough – painfully so. We both survived it and not only survived it, but learned to thrive in it – to the fullest extent possible! We learned to be patient and look to God for strength in those moments where you could almost hear the second hand on the clock... tick, tock, tick tock.  God yearns for us to praise Him even among our biggest storms. He sends these storms to draw us closer to Him. So do just that – draw close to Him and praise Him in your storm! If you have found yourself in this storm as we have, then follow along for some ways that helped us get through our difficult, complicated times. 

The Personal Matters

Let Go of Your Attempt to Control the Uncontrollable

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.
— Proverbs 16:9

There is nothing wrong with wanting to have children.  We believe God puts that desire in our hearts for a reason.  He specifically designed us that way from the beginning.  So once we recognize the desire is there, we begin to plan for that day; however, we do not know what God’s timing will look like, or how long that road will be.  That is out of our control.  Nevertheless, we continue to try to fight to hang on to feeling in control with our hearts.  It’s a useless battle and the outcome is simply more unnecessary stress and anxiety, both for us personally and for our relationships. So how do you plan the course and let God establish the steps?  It can be very helpful at times when struggling with this to actually make a list of things within our control (i.e. taking medication, going to doctor appointments, overall health) and things that were out of our control (i.e. my body’s response to the medication). Then we can focus our energy and thoughts on doing those things within our control to the best of our ability and turn the rest over to Him. God will allow us to be tested, and we may feel like things are completely out of our control, but God is always in control of our circumstances and wants us to live life abundantly, faithfully, and with hope.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future’.
— Jeremiah 29:11

Seek a Mentor and Supportive Friends

‘To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed. Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’.
— 1 Peter 5:1-5

The Bible is full of mentoring relationships, like Ruth and Naomi, and 1 Peter 5:1-5 describes this mentoring as a process of showing humility and bringing glory to Him. God knows we need guidance through the difficult phases of life and shows us the proper way. If possible, find a mentor who has been through a similar experience to call on as you go through this process.  Whether you’re going through fertility treatments or adoption, there are a lot of decisions to be made and having someone who has walked this road to refer to is immensely helpful.  To have a Godly mentor will help you find God’s purpose for this wait and can change your whole perspective. 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:11

In addition to a mentor, find a few trusted, encouraging friends who don’t mind a few late night phone calls when you’re having a rough day.  A friendship or two that can keep your spirits lifted, your thoughts positive and keep you focused on God as you travel this road is a blessing like no other. 

Find Your Prayer Warriors

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
— 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

This is possibly one of the most important and comforting things you can do while in your wait.  They don’t have to know all the details of your journey, but finding people that will truly commit to praying for you is an amazing experience.  Knowing these prayer warriors are out there on your good and bad days is so comforting and you will definitely feel the impact of their prayers.  In addition to asking them to pray for your one-day child, ask them to pray for your spiritual growth during this trial.  Ask them to pray for protection and strength for your marriage while you walk through difficult days.  Ask them to pray that God will show you His purpose for your wait and show you the blessing(s) that will come from it.  Ask them to pray for your humility, perseverance, and decision making.  God will not let you down and that alone will keep you going and keep your eyes on Him!  The Bible is full of references to prayer warriors, because it’s important! 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join my in my struggle by praying to God for me.
— Romans 15:30
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this , that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 1:4-6

Be Still and Listen

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

God allows us seasons of waiting so that we will have to actually “stop” and pay attention to Him.  If we always got exactly what we wanted, when we wanted it, then we, as selfish humans, wouldn't have much need to seek His will and purpose.  We wouldn't have much of an opportunity to recognize the “everyday miracles” that God performs – like the right person saying the right thing at the right time to help you in a decision or to comfort you when your heart is broken.  Sometimes, He just needs to get our attention so He can teach us a few things, shower us with His amazing grace, and give us the desire to bring Him the glory from the miraculous outcome of our situation.  And in that wait, it gives us the chance to learn to cast our anxiety on Him and be thankful – yes thankful – for the wait and the struggle. 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:6-7

I read this verse countless times while on my journey and it became my prayerful goal to learn to give God my anxiety, to just sit and LISTEN for His voice and direction, and to thank Him while I waited.  It was a hard thing to do and took a lot of diligent practice, but oh the blessings that came from it.  The peace that comes truly does surpass all understanding.  Even though your desire for a baby does not diminish at all, the wait becomes a peaceful, blessed and comforted one.  God will, if you allow Him, use our biggest pains to become the greatest opportunities for ministry.  We are living proof of that!

Praise Him – The Storms Bring the Greatest Showers of Blessings

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, 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.
— James 1:2-4
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
— Romans 5:3-5

This seems so counter-intuitive to our human nature, and it is.  But that’s the point.  Just like the chunk of coal that under immense pressure and time becomes a beautiful diamond, we cannot grow spiritually, or otherwise, without a little hardship and trial.  Our faith becomes stagnant without being tested.  And God gets a chance to show off his incredible power, love and grace through our weakness.  As Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God’s grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in weakness.  So we should boast about our weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may be seen through us. 

The obvious blessing is the long-awaited child; however, we have both found that there are countless other blessings that have come from our trials.  We are both completely changed people since going through the struggles to start our families.  Our marriages are stronger, we are better parents for our precious children than we would have been prior to the long wait, and more importantly, we know what pain and comfort is first hand so we can now pass on the comforting to others.  Those are just a few of the blessings that we never would have experienced, had it not been for our storms.  So yes, we’re incredibly thankful for the wait, for the heart breaks, for the struggle.  We’re incredibly thankful that God was always in control and always had us in the palm of His hand.  It’s hard to see that when you are in the middle of the journey, but you have to just keep telling yourself that, keep reading those verses, and keep praying that God will reveal bits of His purpose and blessings to you along the way.  But without a struggle, there’s no need for a miracle and without the miracles, God doesn’t get to show us just how incredible He is!

Trust!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.
— Proverbs 3:5-6

We've already discussed how God is in control, has a purpose and a future for you, is working in us to complete us and bless us and wants us to give him our anxiety and worry.  So now what... now we simply trust.  Cling to these verses, or one that God gives you for your particular journey, and anytime you start feeling that anxiety rise up or start to question God’s presence in your life, read the verses again and TRUST.  Banish all the other thoughts from your mind and lean on your mentor, friend and prayer warriors to help you do that!  When I got to this point in my journey, God showed me a verse that became the one I clung to.  “Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24. At that point, it became clear that it was all about faith.  That trust and faith will not return empty.

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
Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.
— Psalm 62:8
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The Practical Stuff

Be Honest – With Yourself and Your Spouse

Infertility is a difficult process to go through and you may find at times that you're just tired. Though it applies to either option, this is especially true if you are undergoing fertility treatments. It's hard on your body, your mind, your marriage and you may find that you just need to take a break. Do it! Take a cycle off and refresh yourself. Focus on your spouse, do something fun together, put the baby making on the back burner for a few weeks until you feel rejuvenated and excited to try again. There is enough outside pressure put on you during this process that you don't need to add to it by putting yourself through another cycle of medicines and procedures when you aren't completely ready. If you are awaiting that special phone call from an adoption agency, the same principles apply. Breaks may be needed, especially if you have been waiting a while. Remove your names from a list if you have to and begin again. The "not knowing" can be much more stressful than you admit to yourselves. When your name is on a list, in the back of your mind, you are constantly wondering if someone is looking at your profile and asking yourself why am I not being chosen. So be honest - with yourself and your spouse - about how you're feeling, how he's feeling, and make the decisions together.

Stay Busy and Keep Your Mind Active

When you’re waiting on a phone call or are in the dreaded “two week wait” between the time when you could have gotten pregnant and when you get the test results back, the worst thing you can do is give yourself plenty of time with nothing to do but think and stare at the phone!  During these times, call up those friends we discussed above and go do something!  Have a couple special date nights with your husband (who by the way is waiting just as patiently or impatiently as you).  And when you do find yourself quiet and thinking, then practice listening for God’s voice and stay in the scriptures.  As we all learned as children on Christmas Eve, the big surprises come quicker when you’re busy!

Save Money

Both adoption and fertility treatment options can be quite expensive, so as soon as you start your wait for a child, start saving money where you can.  It will take a lot of pressure off if you can afford to have more options, and hey... if your wait ends sooner than later and you've been saving, then hooray – you get to buy that much more adorable little baby stuff, treat yourself to a massage or take a vacation with hubby!  Also, if you are adopting, check into tax credits and also many companies offer reimbursement programs for adoption related expenses.

Do Your Research**

I’m going to put an asterisk by this one because this one partially depends on your personality.  For us, we are both engineers who are married to engineers.  We love science, we love facts, and we love knowing everything about everything.  So research was not only very comforting to us when we were trying to stay busy and keep our minds active, but also helped us feel more prepared as we approached decision points.  However, we recognize that not everyone thinks this way.  You may be someone who quickly becomes overwhelmed by technical or legal information.  If this is the case, then limit your research to finding a great medical staff or lawyers whom you can trust to guide you through the future decisions. 

Don’t Wish Away the Life You Do Have

This is a very important one that can make a huge difference on the impact this wait has on both you personally and on your marriage.  When you’re so focused on having a baby and by the nature of the option you choose, so much of life becomes dictated and centered around trying to have this baby, it can be easy to forget that the life you currently have is still pretty great.  You want to grow your family because you've got a happy family and a happy marriage now.  So don’t lose sight of that.  A friend told me once, “Look... we all know how this story is going to end.  One way or another, you will have a baby at the end of this road.  But the catch is we don’t know just how long this road is.  So don’t forget to stop at some romantic scenic overlooks along the way and hold hands with your husband.”  She was absolutely right! We've been married for a while now, Courtney for 10 years and Jenny for almost 12 years, and we both spent five of those years trying to have a baby.  We are so glad that those five years weren't solely defined by our journey to start a family.  Though that did make up a big part of our lives then, we found time to just live too – we threw parties, went on trips, had date nights, laughed, talked, worked, and lived – and tried to start a family.  As a result, our marriages are much stronger, our families much more solid, and we have no regrets!

Remember: 

Someone Else Having a Baby Doesn't Take Away Your Chance

This can be a tough area for many people going through their waiting period.  While you’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting... it seems that everyone else around you is getting pregnant.  And if your wait is long enough, you get lapped! While you’re still trying for baby #1, your best friend or sister has her 1st, 2nd and 3rd babies.  It can be tough and though you are happy for your friends and happy that they do not have to experience the same kind of struggle as you, it’s hard because it’s such a stark reminder of what you’re longing for so badly.  However, the good news is that there is no quota on the number of babies that can be born.  Just because the Duggars have had enough babies to populate a small country of their own, does not have any impact whatsoever on the likelihood that you will have a baby yourself.  Remember that God has a plan for everyone.  Only He knows just how long our road is and how many stops we’ll make along the way.  So try hard to just be happy for your friends and focus on staying positive for your own journey.  It will be worth the wait!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.
— Ecclesiastes 3

Though it feels anything but normal, this wait what you find yourself in is a normal season of life. That does not make it any easier... we know. However, you don't have to try to hide or deny your emotions because as Ecclesiastes says, there's a time to mourn and weep, but there's also a time to dance and laugh. So be honest with yourselves, with your spouse, with your friends and pray warriors, and most importantly with God. You can be frustrated and excited, heartbroken and hopeful. And you can experience all of those emotions without losing your faith! You can go through this wait and come out a stronger person, better spouse and more equipped parent. But you have to be willing to let God lead you through the journey. He will never forsake you, never leave you and will bring you to the place that He has already prepared. We just have to hang on for the ride and keep our heads up to see what He wants to show us along the way. And we have to remember that this is a season of our lives - it is not forever. God will redirect our paths when His time is right.

We truly pray that you find some or all of these tips helpful as you endure your wait. It's tough, but is worth every second of it at the end. Just use your time while you wait to really focus on becoming a better you, a better wife, a better friend and that will make you a better mom when your time comes. God really does have you in the palm of His hand and will guide you through every step of the journey if you let Him. He will show you incredible things along the way and will teach you invaluable lessons. He will comfort you with a comfort that reaches the deepest, darkest corners of your soul and will fill you to the brim with His joy. So prayerfully, try hard to focus on that, get your friends and mentors to help you along the way, and remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE in what can feel like the longest wait.

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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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?

Read More

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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