His Presence in Presents

Presence in Presents

I see Him in the sheen of my older daughter’s blonde curls. I see Him in the sweet cooing sounds of my newborn nursing. I see Him in the giggling moments as my husband plays with his little girl. I see Him in the meals that dear friends lovingly delivered to my door as we settle into being a family of four instead of three. I see Him in the heart-to-heart talks that my husband and I have after both girls are asleep for the night. These are just a fraction of the ways I have seen My Heavenly Father lately in the many gifts He’s given me.

I think a key component of having a joyful heart is learning to recognize God’s presence in the everyday moments of life – learning to see the ordinary things as extraordinary gifts.

Actively choosing to see Him in your ordinary, everyday moments will help protect your heart and mind from sin. Instead of focusing inward, on selfishness, bitterness, negativity, pride…and so on…you are bringing Romans 12:2 to life:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

Recognizing His presence in your daily life breeds a heart of contentment, joyfulness, and gratitude. It colors your view of the world and life with a tapestry of colors and beauty. It can turn the bleak into breathtaking, the tarnished into shimmering, and the broken into whole. It can help you see the good in the painful moments. It can heal the brokenhearted.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

10 Things I Would Say to the Woman Struggling With Infertility

10 Things I Would Say to the Woman Struggling With Infertility

Infertility is a topic that is rarely discussed, but that affects one in eight couples. Chances are, if you are not struggling with infertility, you very likely know at least one person who is. This post is specifically written to a woman struggling with infertility. Through my 6 years of struggling with infertility, this is what I would say…

1. It’s not your fault.

You are not broken. God is not punishing you for your past mistakes. He is not against you. You did not do anything (or fail to do something) to cause this suffering. Some form of suffering happens to every human on the planet at some point in their lives because we live in a broken world ruled by evil and sin. But if you believe in Christ, you can rejoice that evil and brokenness will not win in the end.

2. God has not forgotten about you.

With every month that passes, baby shower invitation you turn down, friend who announces their pregnancy and then delivers their baby, it is easy to feel forgotten and left behind. It’s easy to feel stuck in the mud while the world continues to move forward, while you desperately struggle to break free. But you are not forgotten nor overlooked. God sees every aspect of your struggle. He sees every tear that escapes your eyes. He sees every moment you long for this to end. He is with you, always, and in all moments.

3. This is out of your control.

It sucks, I know. But it’s true. You do not have as much control over your situation as you would like to think. No matter how hard you try, calculate, time things, and pour money into procedures, you simply cannot control when or how a life is created. Life only comes from the Lord. As hard as it is to accept this truth, it is also pretty freeing to realize that you don’t have to be the one to carry this huge burden. Trust Christ to carry this burden for you. Your story may not (and likely will not) turn out how you planned, but relinquishing control can also bring so much beauty if you trust the One who is in control.

4. This does not define you.

It’s so easy to label yourself as “Infertile.” Please note I did not title this post as “10 Things I Would Say to an Infertile,” because that is not who you are. You are not defined by your circumstances or your suffering. Your circumstances and your roles in life will most certainly change over time, but your true identity in Christ, as His precious daughter, will never change. But your thoughts are more powerful than you may realize, so take careful effort to be aware of how you view yourself during your struggle. If you view yourself as a victim, as a broken woman, as worthless person, then your heart and attitude will quickly follow. It’s up to you to choose to think differently about yourself, and to choose to see yourself how God already sees you: so precious, worthy, and loved that He gave His Son for you, just so He could call you His daughter.

5. Don’t compare journeys.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that “comparison is the thief of joy.” There is much truth and wisdom to this. Comparing your particular journey to another’s will do no good. Please understand there is a difference between relating to and feeling empathy towards others. But comparison occurs when you discount or elevate your journey when thinking of another’s journey. Thoughts like “Well, at least I didn’t have a miscarriage, so maybe I should just get over my sadness about my infertility” or “I’ve had three miscarriages and two failed IVFs, yet this woman has the audacity to complain about not getting pregnant after only a year of trying” only lead to self-centered thinking. Respect the uniqueness of each person’s story. God gifts us uniquely, and He writes a unique story for each of us.

6. There’s freedom in surrender.

If you can accept the truth that you do not have control over your situation, then you have taken the first step in surrendering. But there is another level to surrender: all of yourself. Steve McVey in The Grace Walk calls this brokenness. He defines brokenness as reaching the end of yourself. In other words, when you are trying your hardest to overcome a situation in your life, by your own self-efforts, then you are not depending on the Lord. You are depending on yourself. The moment you realize the futility in this, and choose to depend on Christ instead of yourself, is your moment of brokenness. I can assure you there is much freedom in making this choice. I finally reached a point in my journey where “I Quit” – I told God, for the first time truly meaning every word, “If I never get pregnant, I will be okay, I know You are still good. I trust You.” I finally trusted Him to make us parents however and whenever He wished. It was a very hard choice, but I never regretted making it.

7. Remember to see the heart behind insensitive comments.

It is inevitable that you will hear comments that are hurtful and insensitive. But it is imperative for your heart that you choose to extend grace to these people so that bitterness cannot take root. I encourage you to memorize and recite Ephesians 4:32 for moments such as these. Most people are not trying to hurt you (admittedly, some are, but this is likely rare). It is difficult for people to know what to say to someone who is suffering or hurting with something they have not experienced. But they mean well. They may say something that is the polar opposite of helpful, but their heart’s intention is to comfort and show love to you. If you feel bold, you can kindly take the opportunity to help educate others about infertility and encourage them about what is helpful and supportive to say. But at the very least, remember to give them some grace.

8. This season will end, someday, somehow.

All suffering will end one day because Christ conquered sin and will return one day to restore this broken world. But even before that day, your suffering will likely end or at least change. If you continue to depend on Christ through your suffering, you will not feel burdened by this for the rest of your life. It comes back to realizing where your true identity is found – in Christ alone. As you trust and depend on Him, your suffering begins to take a backseat. Not that you won’t ever feel saddened again, but your suffering will no longer rule your heart and mind. God’s plan for why you are experiencing this suffering may not yet be revealed. Remember Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” He is using your story for His good – you just need to keep trusting Him.

9. Actively seek the good in this.

Happiness is a feeling, but joy is a state of mind, or a choice. You can experience both sadness and joyfulness simultaneously. Joy is found by choosing to look for the ways that God is bringing good out of your journey. I promise there is good to be found, but you must choose to seek it out. You may need to start small: being thankful that it’s a new day, that you met a friend who also struggles with infertility. But if you keep practicing and seeking His goodness, your perspective will grow larger: a stronger marriage, a more mature character, a closer relationship with the Lord…all because of your struggle with infertility. Eventually you can reach a point where you are grateful for your struggle because of all the ways you’ve seen God bring good out of it, and you wouldn’t change a thing about what’s happened in your journey.

10. Don’t waste the waiting.

I do not enjoy waiting, and you likely do not either. It is especially difficult to wait for something your heart desires with no guarantees at the end or a time frame of how much longer you have to wait. But this time of waiting for your heart’s desire is every bit as precious as the desire itself. Don’t waste it by wallowing in your suffering. Instead, use this time to grow. Grow in every way you can: in your marriage, in your friendships, with your family, and most importantly with the Lord. When you have a tough day, cry out to the Lord. Lean on Him for all your needs and seek His peace and comfort. My husband has said for many years, “the blessing is not just the baby at the end of the trial, the blessing is the trial itself.”

Why Hope

Hope does not disappoint. It’s the title of my blog, but also a mantra I have felt God continually pressing on my heart for the past couple months (and years, I suppose). This theme has presented itself lately through a few different shows and movies we’ve seen recently: “This Is Us” on NBC and the movies “Arrival” and “Collateral Beauty.”

This Is Us

If you have not yet seen this show…it’s not too late to start. It’s wonderful. The very first episode had us laughing, crying, and gasping at the twist in the end. In short, this show is about a family and life. Unlike many other shows, this show presents a healthy dose of reality amidst fiction. It shows that family is far from perfect, but love conquers all. It shows that life is messy and painful at times, but full of laughter and delight at others. My favorite thing about this show is how it helps you step into the shoes of every character, to see the world the way they see it, to feel hurt by the things that hurt them, to feel scared at not knowing how something will play out, and to hope that they will make it through, together.

Arrival

Yes, this is a movie about aliens. But without spoiling too much (don’t read this paragraph if you haven’t seen it), it had a wonderful theme at the end: that a chance to love knowing there will be pain along the way is still worth more than never loving at all. Life can be deeply painful at times, but it’s still worth living because of all the treasures it holds in between. This is a wonderful illustration of what it looks like to choose joy amidst suffering.

Collateral Beauty

Not only did I weep during the previews before this movie for “A Dog’s Purpose” (because coincidentally, we will be putting one of our beloved dogs to sleep this week), but I assure you that I wept during it too. The main idea of this movie is that a man who has suffered the loss of his child is having a hard time coping with that loss, so he writes letters to concepts: Time, Love, and Death. In the movie, he has the chance to speak face-to-face with each concept, which helps him process his grief. My favorite part of the movie was realizing the twists at the end. (Stop reading this paragraph if you don’t want to read a spoiler.) I loved how Time, Love, and Death ended up being paired with the company’s partner that specifically needed help coping with that particular concept. The guy who was struggling to face his own death was partnered with Death. The woman who was struggling with the passing of time was partnered with Time. And the man who needed to be reminded that love is something you choose to give to someone, even if it’s not returned or earned, was paired with Love. And then together, all three concepts helped the main character realize that life after losing his child is still worth living, that there’s still time to love, and time to live. It helped him see that good can come from bad circumstances. The movie calls it Collateral Beauty. I define it as the beautiful consequences that result from pain. It’s another way to describe joy, in my opinion.

Joy Does Not Mean Happiness and Hope Is Not Foolish

Joy is a perspective, not a feeling. Choosing joy doesn’t take away the pain you are feeling, but it can bring a beauty that you didn’t see before.

Similarly, hope is a perspective. And hope is like an underdog. It might take a few beatings along the way, but in the end, hope always wins. Life has both immeasurable happiness and suffering, but hope can persist through it all.

Joy vs. Happiness

joy-vs-happiness

I have come to really dislike phoniness. I think this especially irks me during this election season when it seems that the candidates wear whatever mask they think it takes to convince someone to cast a vote for them. But even in day-to-day life, phoniness bothers me, makes me feel unsettled. I have come to find that my closest friendships are with people who aren’t afraid to tell it to me straight and be genuine with their feelings. Those friends continue to inspire me to be the same way. After all, most people’s lives are not all roses and sunshine, so chances are, you can relate or support one another through whatever hardship you’re experiencing.

For many years I could not understand this verse from James 1. Joy when you encounter various trials? I used to think that meant that I should put on a smile and will myself to be happy when tough things happen. But can you imagine if that were actually what this verse meant? People smiling and acting happy while they bury a loved one, watch their marriage fall apart, lose their job, or any other myriad of heartaches that could happen. No, that would be insanity. Grief is not meant to be hidden or never experienced. A facade of happiness is not the same thing as experiencing joy.

In other words, joy does not equal happiness.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

I think it’s safe to say that Jesus did not feel happy while enduring the torture of a death by crucifixion. I would imagine that He felt agony and grief, but He was joyfully obeying God the Father’s will.

Trusting God during hard times does not mean you have to act happy. Being joyful is a choice, or a state of mind, whereas happiness is a feeling.

Likewise, sadness is a feeling. And it’s okay to feel sad and to grieve when something painful happens. Jesus experienced grief when Lazarus died (John 11:35). But the key is to not let feelings dictate your attitude or state of mind and to not doubt God’s love for you or His goodness. You can be joyful while simultaneously feeling sad.

Even if you can’t understand why something painful has happened or you feel angry (another feeling), you are still capable through God’s grace to trust Him. I encourage you to not try to hide your feelings of sadness or convince yourself that it’s wrong to feel sad when something painful happens (don’t be that person who always answers “How are you?” with “Great!” if it’s not really true). Allow yourself to feel sad for a time, but trust that God is using the experience for good somehow.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Like Scales Falling

Empathy

A friend of mine just buried a child for the second time. Though I’m not present with her, I can picture her standing next to the grave, unable to stop the tears from falling as she watches her husband lower a tiny casket into the ground. I can imagine her heart aching to the core, and her mind racing with thoughts of why…I can see her returning home later today, still having to carry on normal activities and chores like an ordinary day, but in her heart this day is forever tainted with grief. What could possibly be the reason for heartaches such as this?

This question is asked by many, in many different ways. “Why would God allow such terrible things to happen to those He loves?”

 I venture there are likewise many answers to this question. Just as we were each created uniquely, our stories are each unique, with unique twists and turns and caverns along the way.

You can never truly know what it’s like to experience someone else’s pain, even if your own painful experiences or circumstances are similar. But you can allow yourself to try, to empathize with their pain by imagining how it feels to be in their shoes.

Empathy comes naturally to some people, and very unnaturally to others. But in either case, it’s a loving, conscious choice to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And in our “just keep scrolling”-culture of not wanting to stop and think about things that are sad or uncomfortable, it is perhaps even more important to practice empathy.

Something I have learned through my own journey is that it is usually the painful experiences that allow me to relate to others and others to relate to me. The longer I live, the more varieties of pain I experience as the consequence of living in a broken world. But this has allowed me to more easily practice empathy, and try to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Acts 9:18
And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight

I know this verse relates to the moment Paul experienced an encounter with Jesus, but I like the symbolism of a person who formerly could not see what was always there suddenly being able to see clearly.

Through my own painful experiences, my eyes have been opened again and again. But the truth is that I’m so thankful to finally be able to see. This is one of many reasons God allows His beloved children to experience suffering.

I would not go back and trade any of my painful experiences if I could. I would rather experience hurt and be able to see than live in a bubble and be blind. I love all that I’ve learned from my suffering. Of course there may be a lot few tears shed along the way, but I will continue to be in awe of all that He is working out for good.

Yes Lord, I Would

Yes Lord, I Would

The death of a loved one. Terminal illnesses. The loss of a child. Abuse. Addictions. Heart-wrenching sufferings. If you’re praying, hoping, or waiting for something…and it is never realized…if something you hold dear is taken away…would you still love the Lord?

This is a tough, tough question to ponder. Believe me, I know. Really. I spent 4 years wrestling with this question as I considered the possibility that I may never get pregnant. I especially fought with God over this topic because I felt convinced that He had been the one to give me the desire to have a child in the first place. And then He had the nerve to not give me that desire? I felt confused, frustrated, angered, and most of all hurt. Never before had I struggled so much with the idea that God is good.

In my darkest moments, I started to believe that maybe He isn’t good, that maybe He has completely forgotten about me. But sometimes you have to experience darkness in order to notice the spark of light that was there the whole time.

I love how the movie Facing the Giants illustrates this topic. (Warning: contains spoilers) Brooke (the wife of the main character) is hoping to get pregnant. Then there was a heart-breaking scene where the main character, Grant, finds out from the doctor that he is sterile or has a low sperm count and that the two of them will likely not have children naturally. It was on the same day that Grant also finds out that he is unwanted as the head football coach, and is left feeling like a complete failure in every way. Grant and Brooke are sitting across from one another at the kitchen table as Grant pours out his heart before his wife about his tough day, and finally tells her that he can’t give her the children that she desires. They both cried and tried to tell one another it will be okay, but they both questioned God about what He was doing, where was He.

But then Grant spends the whole night in the Word, seeking after God. When Brooke approaches him in the morning, Grant asks her, “If God never gives us children, would you still love Him?” At the time, she doesn’t answer. But later in the movie, after Grant surrenders his career to God and beautiful changes take place with his team, Brooke’s heart is softened too. She also has been experiencing sickness, so she goes to the doctor to see if everything is okay. She is told that she is not pregnant, but instead of letting the despair of the disappointment overcome her, she holds her head high, and goes out to her car, where she tells God that she will still love Him if she never gets pregnant. But just before driving away, a nurse runs outside and stops her – her test results were mixed up with someone else, and she is pregnant. It was so beautiful watching her reaction to the joyous news.

facingthegiants

Once you notice that spark of light, there is the potential for something wonderful to happen to you.

You can begin to surrender your desires to the Lord, trusting Him to work things out according to His plans instead of yours. You can begin to experience a kind of supernatural peace that can only come from a loving, Heavenly Father. You can begin to choose joy even though your suffering remains.

And then before you know it, you realize that the room you were in is no longer dark, but is getting lighter day by day. Not because your suffering has ended, but because you have accepted that you are not the one in control (or under the illusion that you were in control in the first place). No matter how your story ends, you can still choose to trust God and choose to be joyful no matter the circumstances.

Comparison

Comparisonis thethiefof joy

It’s so easy to compare yourself to someone else, especially in a culture where people often post the best, happiest, most glamorous representation of themselves. Wishing you were a better parent, wishing you could look like them, wishing your job was as fulfilling as theirs, wishing that others were more like you…

It is so true that comparison is the thief of joy – it only leads to feelings of inadequacy or superiority, and nothing in between.

When it comes to suffering, it can be easy for you to compare your experience to someone else’s. Again, you will likely think one of two opposing thoughts: “I’m glad my suffering wasn’t as bad as theirs” or “They didn’t suffer as much as I’m suffering.

But comparing your specific suffering to another’s will only steal your joy. Everyone’s journey in life is going to look different. Even if the type of suffering is the same, we are each unique and respond to suffering in unique ways. Therefore, you will never have the same journey as another.

Can it be beneficial to relate to others about your suffering? Absolutely! It can be helpful to know others who have shared in similar types of suffering because they can offer encouragement and wisdom. But relating to others is very different from comparing your journey to another’s.

The surest way to maintain joy as you experience suffering is to abide in Christ.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. -Colossians 3:1-4

Choosing Joy Amidst Suffering

I cannot count the number of times that I have retreated to the corner of my closet to curl up in a fetal position and sob, snot and all. Whether I was battling thoughts of despair regarding our struggles with infertility, or just needed to stop everything for a moment and face some serious emotions that I had been trying to bury, to my closet I would go. I don’t know why I picked my closet. I suppose it just felt safe and non-judgmental. But most of all, it was quiet and free of distractions. It was a place I could completely bare my inner thoughts, fears, and anguish before the Lord.

Like you, I too know what it’s like to experience suffering. Not only have we experienced suffering in our marriage as two people who sometimes act selfishly try to form a life together, but we have struggled for five years with unexplained infertility. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s a struggle that isn’t often spoken about, but affects 1 in 8 couples. I spent years questioning why God was making us wait to become parents when it appeared to come so easily to most of our friends. After God worked in our hearts and we became open to the idea of adopting, we rejoiced in receiving the call from our caseworker that a birth family had chosen us to adopt their baby. But even with that joyous news, our suffering did not end. My mother-in-law, Lisa, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the fall of 2014, and she died eight days after our daughter was born. A few months later, my nearly 95-year-old Meemaw died of peritoneal cancer. A month later, the long-time friend and man who first shared the gospel with my husband died of brain cancer.

Suffering is inevitable.

Because we live in a broken world – a world with sin – all people will experience suffering in some form or another. You’re not the only one suffering. Believer or non-believer, all people experience suffering because we live in a world ruled by Satan at the moment. Jesus Himself suffered, arguably the most of all.

Though you may be tempted to think otherwise, God does not cause your suffering. Instead, He allows you to experience suffering in the hope that you will trust Him completely.

A wonderful book I’ve read recently (The Grace Walk by Steve McVey) distinguishes between suffering and brokenness. He says that a person may experience suffering, but not necessarily reach a place of brokenness. He says that brokenness is when a person reaches the end of themselves, of their own self-efforts or attempts at controlling their lives, and instead decides to surrender to God and trust Him completely.

Reaching a place of brokenness seems really scary before it happens. But as someone who has experienced suffering that led to brokenness, I can promise you that there is so much peace and joy to be found in that moment.

Because after reaching a place of brokenness, you will never view your suffering in the same way again.

You will begin to see that there is so much good to be found in your suffering. Before you write me off as crazy, hear me out. Reaching a place of brokenness – where you decide to completely trust God no matter what happens – will help you to choose a joyful attitude. Unlike the feeling of happiness, joy is a state of mind. Joy is something you can choose even if you feel sad. You will be able to look at your suffering and focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have. You will be able to see how much God has taught you or how much He has moved throughout your suffering. And ultimately, you will bring glory to God because other people watching you respond to your suffering by choosing joy will be perplexed. Christ will do such a wondrous work through you as you learn to trust Him more and more.