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

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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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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