A Season of Hope

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since a little bit of urine caused a double line that signaled the break in the waiting. Three and a half years of waiting, longing, crying, begging, praying, followed by monthly heartbreaks. We had been blessed with one daughter, but we wished and hoped and dreamed for her to have a sibling. Yet, our bodies protested.

Secondary infertility is often a quiet and lonely road to travel. How can I complain if we already have one kid? There are so many couples who would do anything for just one biological kid. No. I must be content. I must not lament. 

I shoved those feelings deep inside. I congratulated my dear friends on the birth of their third child. I squealed with delight when my sister-in-law called to share the news they were pregnant again. I followed all the social norms of delighting over new babies. I only cried behind closed doors. Then promptly felt guilty for not finding full satisfaction with our beautiful family of three.

We waited over 3 years to see a fertility doctor. Partly because we did an international move in that time. I recommend that – an international move. It’s a good distraction. Anyways, we also struggled a bit with the ethics of it all. How far were we willing to go down the road of fertility treatments when so many orphaned children are in need of loving families? And also … were we playing God with our family planning?

Isn’t family planning draining? I mean, most of us have or have had a plan mapped out – by such-and-such time we’ll have X number of kids who will be spaced Y number of years apart. Carry the one and take the square root of the answer and what do you get? Well, some are lucky enough to get the “right” answer. For many others, the results are not what we expected.

After a handful of tests and a few appointments with our fertility doctor, we opted for intrauterine insemination (IUI). The day of the procedure has been etched into my brain. Dave and I boarded the train for the 45-minute journey from our little brick house outside of London to The Harley Street Fertility Clinic … disembark at the Liverpool Street station … board the Tube to the Great Portland Street stop … up the stairs and through the turnstile … walk past the street housing the Spanish restaurant with the fabulous cured-meat sandwiches … make mental note to return there when finished … enter the brightly colored blue door into a building that looks more like William Thacker’s flat in Notting Hill than it does a hospital or a clinic. 

After a nurse made sure we had paid up front, we were led down to a basement examination room. It was dark, but clean. A gruff man entered the room along with an assistant holding a vial containing sperm we hoped was from Dave. The man, who turned out to be the doctor, said only a few words, but I will never forget what he said as I prostrated myself to him on the frigid examination table, “I don’t know why the hell your fertility doctor recommended IUI. Based on your numbers, it’s not going to work.” (He is winning no awards in bedside manners)

I lay there for the recommended time following the procedure with tears flowing. Dave wiped them as best as he could, but the tears warmed my temples and wet my hair and served as building blocks to the burial chamber that would house my hopes for ever bearing a child again.

After returning to my street clothes, we left the clinic. In silence we walked past the street housing the Spanish restaurant with the fabulous cured-meat sandwiches. Not hungry all of the sudden. I felt violated and misled. We rode the Tube. Then the train. In silence. Me biting my quivering lip and occasionally wiping the escaping tears. Dave looking at me with concern and empathy. 

Because life goes on whether you like it or not, Dave went back to work that day and I later went to pick up our one beautiful daughter at school. I was in the midst of grieving, yet also grateful. So sad, yet couldn’t help but smile when my daughter ran to me … backpack swaying, pigtails bouncing. 

Life is a paradox. We live in massive contradictory situations … often times on a daily basis. And we are always waiting. Waiting for things to change. For something to happen. Or not happen. Hugging my daughter that day injected a small amount of hope. I thought it had all been extinguished on the trip home from the fertility clinic. But embers burned beneath the surface.

Hope. It’s what keeps us going some days. We’re in the midst of the Christian season of Advent. A season of waiting. Anticipation. Of hope. Renewed confidence in God’s promises. It’s hard when we’re dealing with the acute pain of an injury, an injustice, or a horrible diagnosis to see the eternal beauty of life. I’m grateful for those around me who remind me to continue to hope. To keep looking forward. Expecting good things on the horizon. 

When a few weeks later, I cultivated a detectable amount of human chorionic gonadotropin made by the cells of the placenta attached to my uterus that would nourish our second daughter for 9 months, I wanted to take the positive pee-laden piece of plastic pregnancy test and shove it in the face of that doctor and say … 

Well, you know what I wanted to say. I’ll leave it at that.

Hannah was so distraught – “crushed in soul” – about being childless that she was accused of being drunk while crying out to God in church. Rachel begged, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Isaac pleaded on the behalf of his wife, Rebekah, because she was unable to have children. And Sarah, in her ripe old age, laughed when she heard she would have a son. Because it was preposterous, of course. Unless we hope. And have faith. 

This of course doesn’t mean that whatever we hope for will come to fruition. Let’s face it. I probably shouldn’t have had either of my two kids. My body hates being pregnant and wants to kill itself. I survived both times by the grace of God. And I’m most thankful that my kids did as well without harm. However, I wonder sometimes if God meant to keep me in a season of hope for a little bit longer than I had orchestrated myself. 

If you’re in a season of waiting. Anticipating. Know that you are not alone. You are loved. You are not forgotten. 

Mother of Exiles

 

As I’ve read about the health and wellbeing of the thousands of migrants currently camped along the US-Mexico border, I’ve been reflecting on “The New Colossus”, a poem by Emma Lazarus written in 1883.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

You probably recognize it as being associated with the Statue of Liberty, though the two weren’t always so closely linked. Emma Lazarus wrote the poem to sell at auction to raise funds for the statue’s pedestal, but then it all but disappeared until several years after her death. A friend of hers lobbied for the poem to be cast onto a plaque, which has resided in the lower level of the pedestal since its installation in 1903. The words of this poem have shaped the imagery of the statue ever since.

Many have noted the poem’s pluralist roots. It’s an Italian sonnet written by a Jewish-American woman with Spanish/Portuguese roots. It contrasts an ancient Greek statue with a statue built in modern France. When it was written, nationalism was on the rise as Europeans and Russian-Jewish refugees were flocking to America. Ms. Lazarus, who was an activist as well as an accomplished writer, volunteered her time assisting refugees. She used her experience and her words in this well-known poem to challenge the nationalism of her day … to turn the tide from hostility to hospitality, from elitism to egalitarianism.

As we look towards our brothers and sisters gathered at the US-Mexico border, let us remember our past. Nearly half a century after Emma Lazarus wrote this poem, a German ocean liner, the St. Louis, set sail from Germany with 900 Jewish refugees on board. They were denied entry into Cuba, the United States, as well as Canada before returning to Europe. Though many passengers were able to relocate in western European countries, 254 passengers were later killed in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.

The asylum seekers who have recently migrated from Honduras are fleeing violence and corruption. They seek basic human needs, safety, and dignity. Many say they feel they have no other choice but to seek the favor of Lady Liberty even if she has become more hostile in recent years. 

May the Lord have mercy on his children at the border. May the Mother of Exiles join hands with the Father of the fatherless, the Defender of the widows.

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. – Matthew 25:35

Just Say No

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The plans of the diligent end in profit, but those of the hasty end in loss. – Proverbs 21:5

Some of us say “yes” way too easily, therefore cluttering our calendars.

Can you bake six dozen cookies for the bake sale tomorrow?

“Yes,” you say, even though you hate to bake.

Can I drop my kids off at your house for a few hours so I don’t have to take them shopping with me?

“Yes,” you say, even though you don’t like to babysit.

Can you lead Bible study this week?

“Yes,” you say … even though you have no time to prepare because you’re baking cookies and watching your friend’s kids.

One of the most useful skills we can learn in life is to say “no” without an excuse. Many times we say “yes” without giving the request much thought. Our calendars say we are free, so we don’t have an excuse, and the perceived urgency of the request pushes us to act before weighing its importance and pertinence in our lives.

Granted, many requests are not bad, and some times you have to pitch in and help out a friend, a co-worker, your kid’s teacher, or a family member in a tight spot whether you want to or not. However, saying “no” to some requests is also a legitimate answer. Pausing before answering gives you time to think, review your priorities, and decide how to answer. If the task is too time-consuming, mentally-, physically-, or spiritually-draining, then have the courage to pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically say “no”.

Prayer: Remind me to say “yes” to You before I say “yes” to everyone and everything else.

Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor. It’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living. – Peter Walsh

Faith Isn’t Stationary

I would sit on my mom’s lap and fidget with her cross necklace trying to turn down the volume of the booming voice in the sanctuary. The pastor of my early youth was a product of the Billy-Graham-tent-revival-altar-calling era. He used boldfaced words, exclamation points, and dramatic gestures to preach the word of God. It was mainly out of fear of burning forever in hell that I knelt between my parents on my 5-year-old, skinned-up knees and confessed my faith in God. Dodged that bullet, I thought.

After my scare into faith, I soaked in memory verses in Sunday school and pondered messages in youth group. Our evangelical church taught us to have our testimony at the ready … to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. On graduation Sunday, I stood in front of the church along with my fellow graduates and was commissioned to “go and make disciples of all nations”. With a smile on my face and a Bible in my arms, I felt prepared. I had been given the tools – the words – to share my faith. Scripture was memorized. My testimony was written. A verbal explanation of the Gospel was mastered. 

However, I quickly learned that words are empty unless backed by deeds.

Some people have a way with verbal communication. They can engage strangers and somehow manage to segue from a light-hearted conversation about the day’s weather to a deep theological discussion on the Trinity. I have not found a way to do this, nor do I have any desire to do so. Another way suits me better.

His faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. – James 2:22

The book of James points to two people of the Old Testament whose faith and actions worked together. Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did – being willing to sacrifice his own son. And Rahab was made right with God by her actions – hiding away two Jewish spies whose lives were in danger.  

Our very lives are our testimony. Hardly any words need to be spoken.

This was made apparent to me recently by a comment of a friend who saw a picture of me holding our medical foster child, Christ. She said, “I love how you carry around with you your beautiful testimony.” My eyes immediately began to well up with warm tears after I read her comment. I needed to hear those words on a day that wasn’t going all that great. Christ was not happy and not taking to his new prosthetic legs very kindly … the very reason he traveled to the States. I was hot and cranky. Yet, even in my failures, my faith was showing through my actions. And with that, God can work wonders. 

Though faith alone can make one perfect, faith is only perfected by action.

Maybe you too are carrying and gently caring for a child who needs to be fed and clothed and bathed and loved. God sees you in your house. Other parents see you at preschool, at doctor appointments, at the grocery store. Hear these words: Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you are a reliable employee, showing integrity and perseverance in a difficult work environment. God notices. And so do your co-workers. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you donate your time to fight legal battles of the oppressed, weed the gardens of the disabled, ladle soup into the bowls of the hungry. Your work does not go unnoticed. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Maybe you are choosing light over dark, honesty over lies, justice over injustice, courage over fear. Your light shines bright. Well done, good and faithful servant. 

But now, my God, strengthen my hands. – Nehemiah 6:9

Faith is not stationary. As a body is dead without air, so is faith without action. Keep up the good work.

(Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash)

That’s Word, We Pray

My youngest daughter is away at camp this week, so I get lots of one-on-one time with my oldest daughter. I’m grateful. Yet, while my youngest daughter is more like me – introverted, liking quiet, slow moments – my oldest daughter is the opposite. She likes to go and do and talk every waking minute. And since her little sister isn’t home to field some of her words, I am the catcher of all of them.

And there are a lot.

I believe it was question 1,823 that she posed on Monday: Who were your good friends growing up? I started down a bit of a rabbit hole thinking about relationships of old and new. Elementary school playmates. Middle school frenemies. High school boyfriends. College roommates. Wedding attendants. And current friends. They have all changed over the years. It’s not that I don’t keep in contact with any of them (thank you, Facebook). And it’s not that I don’t still care deeply for them. It’s just that whole talking thing that gets me. Apparently, you need to talk to keep up relationships.

I went to a Christian college, so all things spiritual and Biblical were hot topics. One evening I passed by a group of girls on our dorm floor who were talking about prayer and its importance. I remember listening for a while then saying something like … Why should I pray? I mean, God already has in mind what He’s going to do. Any words that I say won’t change it.

A couple of horrified looks told me I had gone too far. You see, my level of spiritual maturity at the time was at a 1.0. While I still have a lifetime ahead of me of maturation, I have at least realized one should not equate prayer with a vending machine. Press B-13 for a job promotion. Press E-1 for cured cancer. Press A-3 for a husband … though I’m pretty sure some of the girls on my floor were pressing A-3 daily. I’ve learned that prayer is so much more than a request. It’s talking. Communicating. Building and maintaining a relationship.

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. – Soren Kierkegaard

Since “talking” is not my strong suit, I’ve struggled with prayer over the years. I believed that if I wasn’t on my knees, hands folded, using the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer – praise, commitment, petition, confession, deliverance – then it didn’t count as a prayer. And since the Bible says to pray continually, I felt I was failing continually, because who has time to be on their knees all day? It’s come to my attention it’s so much more than this. Yes, it’s a two-hour catching-up conversation over coffee, but it’s also a quick check-in text. It’s a long love letter or a sticky note blurb. It’s an awards ceremony or a quick fist bump. It can be many words or few. For me, my most intimate prayers come not from the words of my mouth but flow through the pen to the paper. He receives them all.

Never stop praying. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

I hear some of you saying … But how do I speak to a Being that doesn’t “speak” back? You’re right, he doesn’t always speak back. Yet, often times he does. The Spirit guides your soul to peace upon sharing your worries. It guides you to wisdom upon asking questions. It always guides us to love in all matters. God will also speak to us by bringing to mind a passage of relevant scripture, through the words of a trusted friend, a good book, or the sermon of a pastor. He is faithful to interact with us when we move towards Him.

A study indicates that we replace half of our friends every 7 years. When I learned this, I texted a friend of mine telling her our time was up. We laughed and thought maybe we had a few more years in us. As I wandered around the rabbit hole on Monday talking to my daughter of friendships past and present, I realized how true this friendship-replacement assertion is. Certainly there can be fallouts, but other times a friend moves, or moves on. Differing life stages, interests, and activities can also pull friends apart. Isn’t it good to know in this ever-changing world that when we pray, there will always be a friend who listens?

For prayer is nothing else but being on terms of friendship with God. – St. Teresa of Avila

(Many thanks to the guy in the baggy pants for the title inspiration. “Pray” – MC Hammer. Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash)

Girl, Interrupted

I pride myself in efficiency and productivity. Multitasking is a game for me. Squats and calf-raises while putting on make-up. Listening to books while folding laundry. Catching up on emails at stop lights (don’t worry, not while in motion). My daily need-to-do list is long. My want-to-do list is even longer. Yet, most days I find a way to get it all done.

But at what expense?

Be wise in the way you act towards others; make the most of every opportunity. – Colossians 4:5

I’ve recently felt challenged to slow down. If I’m being honest, a large part of that challenge has come as a natural result of having a kid with no lower legs in the house. But however it was presented, I took it.

Upon checking out at the grocery store recently, I realized after about 5 minutes of waiting I had chosen the wrong lane. It was being run by a flustered new employee. But instead of jumping ship like I normally would have, I stayed and offered a smile and grace to her as I helped her find the produce numbers for my bananas and avocados.

While out weeding our yard last week, I pulled no more than about 7 weeds in an hour because I took time to chat with not 1, not 2, but 3 neighbors. Normally I’d have sunglasses on and headphones in, but not this time. As a result, I got to know a few people a little bit better.

When we recently had a subcontractor come to our house, rather than going about my own business while she did hers, I joined her and had a conversation. I learned that both her parents were currently in the hospital with stage 4 cancer. I was able to empathize and offer comfort.

God gives us all sorts of opportunities throughout a 24-hour period to be his hands and feet. But if we don’t slow down, we miss them. I’m learning to see that busyness can be a stumbling block rather than a badge of honor. Rather than equating productivity with my worth, I’m choosing to see others as worthy. Because seeing people is more important than seeing past them.

Prayer: Thank you for slowing me down. Help me to see others as you see them. Allow me to make the most of every opportunity. And if you wouldn’t mind, slow the growth of weeds in our yard.

The greatest gift you can give someone is your time, because when you give your time you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back.

 

The Road Less Traveled

Jesus had to go through Samaria. – John 4:4

There were two routes Jesus could have taken on his journey from Judea to Galilee. The quickest way was to head straight north and travel through Samaria. However, many pious Jews would have chosen the long way around to avoid coming in contact with the Samaritans, who they had despised for centuries.

When walking your dog, do you avoid the street corner where you know the homeless woman always sits? Do you delay your departure for economics class by a few minutes to avoid the unfriendly neighbor who happens to be outside brushing snow of his car parked right next to yours? When you walk down the halls at work and see Chatty Kathy coming your way, do you duck into an empty room to avoid her?

It didn’t take me long to come up with these examples because I have been guilty of ALL of them. Every. Single. One. Perhaps it’s time I take a cue from Jesus, who went directly through Samaria and faced the very people group that most Jews went out of their way to avoid. Perhaps a smile, a wave, or a friendly greeting could make a person’s day.

Prayer: Please give me the courage to face the people I often try to avoid. Give me eyes to see them as you do.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

(Thank you, Robert Frost, for posthumously allowing me to swipe the words from your poem, “The Road Not Taken”.)

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