Max Lucado once said, “Rather than ask God to change your circumstances, ask him to use your circumstances to change you”.
I’m going to be honest, not once in the fifty months that we have been going through infertility have I stopped asking God to change my circumstances. I still long to have children of my own and I believe it is right to keep seeking God’s face for the fulfillment of this promise. Furthermore, I suspect that whether we take up the challenge within this statement or not, it’s likely that one way or another our circumstances will change us anyway. I am not the Helena of 2013 when we first started trying for a baby, and whether I had got pregnant easily that year or not, over time my circumstances would have changed me. Change is inevitable, as much as we resist it. We can’t help but be suspicious of it, figuring that we like ourselves as we are thank you very much, and actually we didn’t think there was much that needed improvement.
But how naive we are.
Infertility has an unfortunate habit of making one incredibly insular and self-involved. As my previous post, Badges of Honour, explains, for many of us, infertility can leave us feeling that we are the only one to have ever experienced this struggle, the only one to know what it is truly like and we battle to think outside of ourselves and our own situation. But my struggle to conceive has also blessed me with the unique opportunity to consider the ways in which I am being changed and what I have learnt along the way. In the beginning, I wrongly assumed that God must need to test and teach me something that many of my friends didn’t need to learn, and that attending life’s School of Infertility was the best way for me to receive this education. These days, I simply believe that through my circumstances I have been given the chance to embrace Lucado’s dare, humble myself and invite God to transform me. And whether it’s infertility or the breakdown of a marriage, or job redundancy, or depression or loss, in it all God is beckoning us forth to learn more of who He is and how much He loves us.
These days I find myself contemplating and counting the treasure that Father God has bestowed upon me over the last few years. These jewels around my neck are precious and costly and I wear them with pride. They are the treasures of Isaiah 45:3, hidden in the darkness that we have been walking through, and stored in secret places. They have indeed revealed more about the God I worship and adore; the One who calls me by name. They have changed how I see myself and how I see my God and they remind me that I live a different way now.
These treasures haven’t come easily. They have required much seeking and persistence. The treasure hunt itself has defined and refined my character. I have learnt along the way that Father God delights in a treasure hunt. I can feel His smile as together we uncover another gem. He adores the hiding and the finding, and He loves to watch my face as I uncover a new gift. There is so much glee in realising how much we both love a happy surprise, especially one which has been gained through trouble or refining.
As I share them with you today, I want to encourage you to look to the gems that you now also wear around your own neck. Celebrate them and marvel at their beauty, for they come from the One who loves to give good gifts to His children and who calls you to live a richer life than you had planned for yourself.
Treasure #1: The renewing of my mind
It took me a while to cotton on to the fact that the renewal of my mind was the key to everything. For a long time I couldn’t work out what this verse in the book of Romans even meant! I assumed that one day God would take hold of me and like a Marvel comic book protagonist going through a laboratory superhero transformation, He would simply reprogramme me with a new way of thinking and in an instant I would be changed to approach everything with a Christ-like mindset. How silly I was! I have learnt that being a follower of Jesus means just that: following to see where the Lord leads and choosing to actively participate in His way of life. Once I realised that by reading God’s Word, worshipping Him in how I live my life and actively choosing to declare the truth of His promises to dispel the negative thoughts that plagued me, the way I thought and spoke about myself, my circumstances and my heavenly Father changed. When I choose to focus on what God says about the world, my situation and who He is, I find freedom from fear and sadness, joy in the little things, an overwhelming sense of hope and a deeply grateful heart. I have had to work at this discipline. Renewing my mind seems to be an ongoing work, requiring time, patience and practice as I delve into layer upon layer of my life, my history and my heart. But as I choose to apply God’s word to my life, to surround myself with words, songs, pictures and choices that reflect who He is, my life has become a richer, steadier and more hopeful place than I could ever have imagined.
Treasure #2: The power of praise
This season of physical barrenness has opened up to me a beautiful, plentiful, colourful vista of praise. Over the last four years I have hungrily devoured a wealth of songs, albums, poetry and Psalms which have revealed and reflected the compassionate, powerful heart of God and provided me with the words I have groped to find to show Him how I feel in return. Whether in a place of deep loss and grief or soaring on the high of answered prayers; whether using worship music as a love song, a weapon against the enemy or a battle cry, my desire to lift my voice and glorify my God has intensified and grown. I am a hungry, passionate worshipper whether I’m in the car, the shower, at church, work, or home and whether the songs are by Christian musicians or secular singers. God can be found in everything! Praising God is a shortcut to hope and His presence on the bad days. It is intimacy and joy on the good days. Yes I have lifted my hands and praised Him with gritted teeth and a breaking heart. Yes there have been moments of apathy or indifference as I struggle to engage, but the overwhelming, urgent need within me now is that I have to praise Him! There is no greater privilege, no greater joy than to join with the angels in lifting my voice to the One who gave me the very breath in my lungs. Worshipping in all circumstances recentres us and shifts our perspective away from ourselves and onto the majesty, splendour and wonder of a limitless, loving God who holds the world in the palm of His hands and knows us better than we know ourselves.
Treasure #3: Surrender
I’m under no illusion that I am a bit of a control freak. I come from a family where everything is planned, everything is a known quantity, and if we don’t know something, we research it until we do. Minimal risk is a good thing. Spontaneity is to be treated with caution. And I’m on the more relaxed end of this spectrum in my family! But infertility has forced me to walk away from this constant ‘need to know’ attitude. Within months of starting to try for a baby, ‘everything going to plan’ lay in pieces at our feet and we found ourselves walking an uncertain path with no clear idea of where it would lead or for how long we would be walking it. So often our easy, luxurious Western lives go without a hitch. We make decisions and they happen. It’s only the rude awakening of something like an unplanned biological hiccup that pulls us up sharp and reminds us just how weak and feeble we really are. Surrender has not come easily to this independent, feisty, self-sufficient daughter. It’s taken me a long time and many, many moments of yielding and re-yielding my heart to God to enable Him to have my hopes, dreams, fears and character; to give back to Him the woman He created and to let Him love me into the person He made me to be. I am learning that resistance is futile in the arms of the Saviour – and why would I want to resist anyway, when what He has, who He is and what He can do is so much greater than I could ask or imagine?!
Treasure #4: Hope
Hope has been my battle cry over the last four years. Very quickly I realised that if I wanted to survive this tricky time, I had to choose to fix my eyes on Jesus: the one who pierces darkness with His light. There have been so many times over the last few years when giving up has felt like the best option for us. We have regrouped on many occasions and asked ourselves whether we should simply accept defeat and find a new dream. And without fail, every time that we have got to this place, a verse of HOPE has sprung up in a text message, a sign outside a church, a sermon on a Sunday, and many other places. I have studied and soaked up the many verses on hope in the Bible and they are all rooted in the One for whom nothing is impossible. So how can we not then be expectant? Father God has been teaching me how to hold despair and hope in tension and to always choose the latter; how to keep my eyes fixed on all that He is capable of; how to believe for what we can’t see in front of us but to have the faith for the impossible; how to trust in the more that He has in store. God always has another move – and this is the hope we cling to, the gold which sparkles despite the dross.
Treasure #5: Prayer
Many years ago a friend prophesied over us that we were a couple of faith and that we would be endurance pray-ers We were newly married and they sounded like great qualities. Never did I consider how these two gifts would be honed and put into practice in this time! I have always loved to pray and prayer has become a constant conversation as well as those specific moments in a quiet time. Sometimes when I get alone with my Daddy, I talk more than I should. Sometimes I find myself stuck on repeat. Sometimes the words dry up and all I have to offer is the groans of my Spirit. Sometimes I have no words at all and find myself needing the words of another close heart to pray for me. Always, always I am learning how to pray. Prayer is as vital as my heart beating and developing my prayer life in this time has been one of my favourite treasures. These days there are verses and pictures, prophecies and song lyrics pinned up all over the walls of our nursery bedroom, our prayer room. Prayer is stepping into His presence and being heard and healed. Prayer is putting God back on the throne of our lives. Prayer is allowing Him to be King. Prayer is intimacy, vulnerability, repentance and restoration. Prayer is urgent, fiery and passionate, but it’s also gentle, quiet and uncertain. Prayer is worth the effort even when we wonder whether our requests and offers of thanks have been caught by heaven, for God has shown me on too many occasions now that He is definitely listening!
Treasure #6: Choosing joy for those whose answer has come before yours
Over the years, as I have sat in the waiting room of infertility, a steady stream of courageous friends have passed through. And as we have sat and waited together for a while, the one issue that has come up more than any other is how to be joyful for someone else’s pregnancy. It seems to be one of the toughest challenges of them all: celebrating with someone who has what you long for. Even now, after all this time and with so many opportunities for practice under my belt, I am amazed at how the words “I’m pregnant” still sting. I still find it tricky to choose wholehearted joy without a tinge of jealousy. And yet those times when I have triumphed, when I have whooped with delight over a friend’s scan photo or held a baby shower, bought beautiful gifts or gladly held a newborn and marvelled at their beauty, I know that I am sowing into my own future. Each time we choose to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, we bless those that God loves and we hear the echo from the future of what’s to come for ourselves. And in doing so, I also feel I am sticking two fingers up at my enemies, Fear and Doubt, and letting them know in no uncertain terms that love is stronger and I will not give in to the anxiety that my time will never come. This jewel has been earned with grit and sacrifice, with tears and transformation. It is a pearl of great price and it is a beauty.
Treasure #7: Who I am in Him
Isn’t this one the biggest wrestle for us all? Every single day we’re labelled, defined and pushed into boxes. The question we ask someone when we meet them for the first time is so often, “What do you do?”. Moreover, deep within each of us is a desire to stick a label on ourselves, to say “This is who I am. This is what I do”. Having purpose makes us feel good, needed and seen. Over the last few years my CV has recorded a wide-ranging scattering of different roles, none of which really represent me. I had hoped to add to this the position of mother and would quite happily have let that define me if it hadn’t evaded me. So what a wonderful privilege to have found myself in a long period of life where rather than being pigeon-holed, God has brought me before Himself and asked me to explore with Him how He sees me. Isn’t it wonderful that Father God simply says to us, “Do you know who you are?”. In heaven when He created us He didn’t slap a sticker on our chest and categorise us by our family, social position or talents. In God, there is a huge expanse of freedom to explore who we are in Him. This particular treasure changes everything. This beautiful gem is the one where the deepest transformation is taking place. Like a precious diamond being cut, the process is painful as the unnecessary is cut away, and yet the final product will be stunning.