Monthly Archives: February 2018

There are good days and…

There are good days and there are days when another wretched pregnancy announcement seems impossible to stomach and the tears of frustration and envy are never far away. There are days when the adoring photo of father with baby son plastered across social media feels like a cold, hard hand slapping across the face. There are days when being sympathetic to a friend whose toddler isn’t sleeping or cooing over someone’s little one feel like an ask too many. There are days when only a punch bag or a pile of cheap plates for thrashing and smashing will fit the mood. There are days when it seems as though everyone else is popping out babies with the same ease as sneezing, whilst one’s own reproductive system seems of little use whatsoever. There are days when every word you’ve read about God feels like nothing more than a book of lies. There are days, weeks, moments when the pain of childlessness is unleashed so fiercely that no attempt at holding back the monster within will suffice…

The truth is there are days when it’s possible to accept the reality of life, to find peace and joy and fulfilment regardless of circumstances and fulfilled dreams. But there are also days when every brave smile and courageous intention evaporates at its initiation.

It would be foolish to pretend that there aren’t bad days when the longing for children – when any longing, quite frankly – is still lodged inside.

Lately, I have been reflecting on how easy it is to focus so intently on the destination, that the views along the way are almost completely ignored. It is most definitely an encouragement to hear on a Sunday from those given the microphone at the front of church as they excitedly share of how God has answered prayers, bestowed a breakthrough, or blessed with a miracle. But actually, I’m far more interested in hearing from them what it was like to survive the waiting, to navigate the moments of hopelessness and despair, and to remain faithful when everything looked impossible. So often we don’t get to hear that side of the story.

We absolutely need the testimonies of God’s goodness to remind us of His nature and ability to move in the here and now. Such offerings of joy keep hope alive and give God the glory He’s due. But we also need to be real about the struggle, about the days when we whimpered in fear and didn’t win the faith game; the days when we screamed with unrepentant passion at the injustice of being one of those who are still without.

When I dip into a bad day, I want to be surrounded by people who have built up their faith muscles because they know what it is to hang on for just a little bit longer. I want to be prayed for by those who know how to speak intimately and passionately because they chose to seek the face of the Father and they understand that nothing need be withheld in His presence. I want to learn from those who are honest enough to say they considered walking out on God ten seconds before the breakthrough happened because they were on the verge of giving up. I want to hear what it was like to be in the beginning and the middle of the story, before they got to the end.

Yes, I passionately want to be one of those stood at the front of church with the microphone, exalting God’s name because he answered my prayers, like he has done for so many others. But I want to be fearless enough to share the blood and guts of the struggle until the answer comes, to acknowledge the journey along the way, and to give honour now to the one who never lets me go no matter how difficult life feels at times.

Clean Slate

Last Friday after publishing my post Acceptance with Joy, I tapped out a comment on social media about how difficult I had found writing this particular piece. It didn’t occur to me until a few days later that my comment might have seemed a bit misleading or sensationalist to those who went on to click the link and have a read of what I had written.

Perhaps they thought I was signposting them to a page in which I shared that we had decided once and for all to stop trying for a family. Perhaps they thought I would be saying that we had received serious medical news which had drawn a clear finality to our hopes of children. These things would certainly be incredibly difficult statements to make. Instead, I simply said that I had finally come to terms with the possibility that we might never have children. I would forgive anybody who wondered why this might be so difficult to articulate, and that surely I must have already considered this potential outcome by now!?

But you see, pondering an outcome and accepting an outcome are two very, very different things! We can think about something for a long, long time; happily holding it at arm’s length, whilst quietly denying that it impacts our heads and our hearts in any way. Sometimes I suspect we could go through our whole life, quietly ignoring glaring truths or deep hurts that we have no interest in coming to terms with.

But acceptance? Acceptance takes courage and bravery because it requires eyeballing things that might not sit comfortably, or relinquishing our need to have control. Acceptance demands a prevailing peace and acknowledgement that the outcome that has unfolded – or might yet unfold – is one with which we can live, even if we had expected and hoped for something different. Sometimes acceptance is choosing to embrace that which feels like the very worst thing we could imagine, by allowing ourselves to let go of the belief that we know best or that we’re in control. Acceptance isn’t necessarily about giving up, but it is acknowledging that we need to loosen our grip. Ultimately, acceptance is surrendering to the sovereign hand of God and trusting that He knows exactly what He’s doing with us and our lives. And that doesn’t always come easily, especially when the circumstances don’t look anything like we had in mind!

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that the only desire I’ve had my whole life long is to be a mother – a biological mother. I don’t know why it’s so deep-rooted, but it is. I adore children. They give me such joy! I have never been career-focused or had particular aims in life – except motherhood. And the narrative that life so often peddles is that we can have whatever we want, if we just dream hard enough or work hard enough for it.

Then there’s our wonderful Christian faith – a faith that constantly reaches for the impossible because its foundation is rooted in a God who did the unimaginable to show us how much He loves us (John 3:16). I am absolutely sold on the mystery and majesty of believing in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I adore the stories of miracles, healings and compassion which display the Father’s love for us over and over again in the Bible. I cling to the parables and verses which encourage us to ask, seek and knock, believing that God can and will answer us. I choose to live with the burning conviction that anything is possible because I know a God who wields resurrection power. And I choose to hold on to the belief that God is faithful and trustworthy when it comes to our deepest desires.

Acceptance isn’t at odds with this faith. If anything, acceptance is seeing all the possibilities through the lens of heaven and knowing that the answer and the breakthrough could simply be one prayer, one moment away. But I think acceptance is also about the positioning of our hearts in saying that we choose heaven’s way over our own way. And for me, it has taken a really long time to get to this place in terms of my desire to have a family.

The catalyst for this necessary shift came last autumn when a friend visited me at home. I took her upstairs to the prayer room I have created and we sat on the floor and considered together the many collected verses, words of encouragement and prayers that I had pinned to two of the walls. My friend commented that the space seemed less like a prayer room and more like a war room, where I went to do business for my family. And although this accurate observation made me proud of my commitment to my cause, it didn’t sit comfortably at all in my heart. I began to realise that the IVF process we had been through over the previous 18 months had altered my interaction with God. It had been such an incredibly intense environment that survival had become little more than a daily petition to God that He would breakthrough with our miracle through the process. But in doing so my faith life had become one-dimensional and cold; a battleground of my own making.

As I reflected on what my friend had said I realised that I didn’t want a war room where all I did was contend for this one thing over and over again, focusing on what was in God’s hands. I wanted an intimate space where I could meet with God, cultivate a relationship with him based on who He is, and seek His face. In Matthew 6:33 it says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. I had been wanting to make this my goal, but failing as my heart pined and my arms impressed upon me their emptiness.

And I knew it was time to wipe the slate clean.

One day when I was feeling brave, I took everything down. For days afterwards I wondered whether the promises I had been holding onto were as empty as the bare walls I stood before now. For a while, I wondered whether God would say anything at all, and if He did would I want to hear it? But slowly, as I meditated on this verse from Matthew 6:33, God began to whisper fresh encouragement to my heart. Over time new images and pictures, verses and words came to my mind. Some were echoes of promises already received, ready to be reinstated. Others were a reminder of who God says He is and how He sees me – a renewal of our identities together to restore what had been eroded.

And overwhelmingly, the word ‘hope’ came to me again and again. Not hope in my circumstances or in what the doctors might yet do for us, but hope in the only one who is truly to be trusted in all areas of my life. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, our world expands to meet His. How will we ever know how He sees us and how we are to see Him unless we take our eyes off our problems and pursue Him?

Choosing to look away from what we long for isn’t saying that those things don’t matter to us anymore, or that we have stopped caring – it’s simply about saying that what matters most is God. And that as we patiently wait for our miracle, we will seek His face first.

(Images taken from Google)

Acceptance with Joy

As we approached the end of 2017, I found myself marvelling at the realisation that I was no longer zoning in on 23:59 on 31st December in an eagerness to shake the dust off my feet from a difficult year and launch over the threshold into a spotless new year, as yet untainted by pain and longing. What I found instead is that God’s goodness and pursuit of me in the latter end of last year had left me more healed and peaceful than I could have expected. My mess of emotions weren’t yet lined up neatly in resolved boxes, but the gaping wound of loss that our third miscarriage wrenched open in me was soothed and quiet, and I no longer felt the rawness of heartbreak. I had questioned His ability to really comfort, to really heal – and yet once again Father God showed me just how skilled He is at understanding my pain and taking it from me.

As I have continued to reflect on this shift in perspective and emotional state, I have also looked back over the adjustments that my husband and I have made in our thinking since the summer. When we experienced loss again in July of last year, it forced us to look long and hard over the previous four and a half years and to ask ourselves a question we had been dismissing for a very long time: what if we never have children?

I think up until this point in time we had resolutely set our faces towards a deep belief that children would come, perhaps with a time of waiting and struggle, but they would come. Yet as we reeled in the aftermath of miscarriage, we found ourselves needing to be more ‘real’, needing to consider what a life without babies might look like. It’s a question that came up during our marriage prep classes years ago, but the theory back then absolutely did not prepare us for the reality of walking this out!

What would being a childless couple surrounded by our friends with kids be like – for us, and for our friends? How would this play out in our local community? Where would our place in society be? What role might we have in church? How would it feel to be constantly referred to as ‘Aunty and Uncle’ and never ‘Mummy and Daddy’? How might it affect the decisions we made with our careers and home – after all, what’s the point of having lots of bedrooms if there are no children to put in them? Would we consider downsizing or moving abroad, doing aid work or throwing ourselves into our careers with more gusto? How would we manage the gaping hole of loss and what would a life without children look like as we turned 50 or 60 or 70; as our friends’ children grew up, got married and had children of their own? Would we have to spend the next fifty years answering the question, “So do you have children?” with a well-rehearsed line whilst side-stepping the look of pity that would inevitably appear? Would this sense of grief simply morph from one degree of loss into another as each milestone reached reminded us again of what we have gone without?

Now I know that there are other options. I’m aware that adoption and fostering are both wonderful alternatives to having biological children. I am acutely aware of it, in fact, because it’s one of the first things that people who don’t know me well seem to want to thrust in my face as an obvious solution to our ‘infertility problem’ the minute they get the chance; and it’s a tentative suggestion that close friends or family courageously whisper in a “Have you considered…..?” kind of a way when they sense I seem open enough to be asked. As I said, adoption and fostering children are two options which may well be the best and richly blessed answer to prayer for those who have been unable to have children of their own. I have worked with colleagues who were adopted as children, have friends who have fostered and/or adopted gorgeous children and can see the wonderful weaving of lives as they’ve come together. We know that there are plenty of incredible, deserving children who need and should be receiving love and care, and there are many, many couples who are absolutely ready and able to be brilliant parents and who go on to create beautiful, loving homes with their children. We have given all of this stuff much, much thought.

But for me, for us, these two options aren’t appropriate ‘this fixes the problem’ answers to a question that we’re still unravelling in our hearts and minds. They are not a sticking plaster to be slapped on the wound of childlessness as though it’s a ‘one size fits all’ solution. For me, the first step has to be the willingness to move towards acceptance and surrender of the life we’re unexpectedly living, and to find joy in the midst of this landscape that still seems unfamiliar and disorienting even after all this time.

As we approach the five-year mark of our (in)fertility journey, I am focusing today on the fact that I can now say what I never thought I would be able to: if I never have children in my life, I know that the rest of my days will still be rich, full and blessed and that we will be ok. My life may not end up looking anything like I had planned, and I may spend from now until I die wondering why God decided that His “best” for us was not to bestow the gift of children upon us, but I love and trust God enough to live the fullest life I can with every opportunity with which He presents me. And for now, coming to this place of acceptance and surrender is a huge leap forward. Having a healthy pregnancy is neither a right nor an entitlement. Yet when so many friends, acquaintances and strangers are merrily procreating without a second thought, relinquishing the same expectation feels like a sacrifice so painful I can’t put it into words.

But if I cannot give up my deepest desires and dreams to God, then how can He really have me, heart and soul? How can I truly say I have lost ALL my life in order to find it unless I lay every last bit of it down in surrender?

Six months ago when we stood in our kitchen and asked ourselves the question ‘what if we never have children?’ I felt like I was staring down a black hole. As I sit at my dining room table and type these words today, I no longer feel like Alice staring down a rabbit hole of confusion, at a problem I cannot fathom. My heart’s delight, my deepest joy, still comes from time spent in the presence of children. I still long, pray and hope for babies of our own – and that’s not going to change any time soon. Acceptance is not defeat. But should children never come into my life, I whole-heartedly believe that I will still have a wonderful time with God, undertake great adventures and journey deeper into my faith with Him. And I will not get to the end of my life and feel it has been a waste.

2018 is my self-titled Year of Joy. I am determined to pursue joy in my relationship with God whatever else comes. Perhaps I am beginning to realise that up until now I thought that joy could only come if a baby made its way into our family. I am learning that my source of true joy is God, and He can be (more than) enough joy for me.