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The battleground of faith

How often do you give yourself permission to look back and consider how far you’ve come? Do you pay attention to the critcal voice inside your own head or do you listen to the kind voice of the Father that sees the effort, the overcoming, the faithfulness, the moving forward? Would you allow yourself to take some time right now to reflect on how well you’re doing and how much you’ve grown? Would you let Daddy God whisper to your heart about how He sees your recent comings and goings, the triumphs rather than the failures?

Self-reflection is a habit that I’ve nurtured over time to help keep my heart, mind and Spirit healthy. In recent weeks I’ve felt the joy of realising that after nine months I am finally (and it feels like ‘finally’) back to good physical health after last year’s run of miscarriages. My iron levels have returned to normal (and what an eye opener that has been into anaemia – new found respect for those who deal with it day in, day out!) and I’m back to enjoying the burn and sweat of energetic gym classes. It is such a relief to feel my body respond and fly rather than slump as I stretch and push it.

But I’ve also noticed a stirring in my heart, like the unravelling of tightly-wound ferns responding to Spring’s warmth and light; the whisper of Holy Spirit calling me to pursue a new season of revelation and lightness in my spirit. You see, I didn’t really know that was what I needed until I stopped to listen to my heart, consider how my faith was doing and how much I needed the breath of heaven to revive my daily interactions with God. Sometimes we think we’re doing more than going through the motions of our faith – until we stop to consider what more really looks like….

I’ve blogged in recent months about the steps we have been taking back towards faith and expectation; towards acceptance that a life without children will still be a blessed life with the Lord should that be our future; towards the desire to embrace pregnancy announcements and enjoy families rather than hide because it hurts. But what I hadn’t considered, until very recently, is that all of these steps have been taken against the backdrop of a disappointment so deep that it has been strangling my faith and my belief in God’s ability to move the one mountain we’re still asking Him to move: infertility. It’s not that I doubt whether He can do what feels impossible for us after all of these years, but such is my discouragement that it has led me to thinking that he simply doesn’t want to. And therein lies the battle for our faith.

For such a long time now I have considered the opposite of hope to be despair. I read an amazing blog a few years ago about how life so often demands of us that we hold hope and despair in tension – and at the time it made a huge amount of sense. But just lately I’ve come to realise that the opposite of hope is not despair – the opposite of hope is disappointment.

If you’re anything like me I suspect you will have struggled to truly work through disappointment by yourself or take it to Jesus. Sometimes I think we feel we shouldn’t need to take to God the obstacles that we can’t get past, and so we try feebly to work through them by ourselves in an attempt to present ourselves clean and spotless to God. But we’re missing the point! It’s only in Jesus that these deep aches can be healed and restored. And God’s not looking for us to be perfect before we show up in His presence either. The honest truth is, so often the only remedy for our troubles is an encounter with God’s love and presence to release us from the pain we’re carrying – and He is simply longing to reach out and touch us.

So here is what I have learnt recently about the very real struggle between hope and disappointment, and about the battleground for faith, because I believe (from personal experience) that our God does not want us to sit down in disappointment and set up camp there. The love of God, the more of God, has something so much better than that for us all…and it begins with the restoration of hope and the renewal of our spirits.

Have you noticed the heaviness of disappointment when it takes up residence in your heart? It digs deep, advancing and burrowing its obstinate tendrils as far and wide as it can across all the aspects of life that usually bring us joy. To me disappointment seems to physically pull my body downwards, sapping my energy and leaving me indifferent to my existence. It colours my perspective so darkly that soon cynicism, discouragement and doubt have joined the dinner party and I’m surrounded by dreary voices that feed my deepest fears. I feel locked in a backwards glance, looking at all that has gone wrong, unable to consider a different future.

And do you know what, the Enemy of my Spirit loves this!? His aim is to keep me trapped at this downcast dinner party for all eternity if he can. And when I start to join in, agreeing with and voicing aloud the negative misery of these persuasive guests, I suspect his glee is even greater. Let’s face it, when we’re discouraged or disappointed the words that fall out of our mouth are not usually positive, thankful or happy. And this should alert us to the state of our hearts and the number of lies based on fear that we’ve digested. If I’ve learnt anything about disappointment over the years, it’s that the minute I start doubting my amazing God and who I am in Him, the same minute my hope withers and my faith fails. And that is why this is a battleground.

I understand the weariness of the fight. After this long I’m really ready some days to settle for an easy faith life and give up on my future. But I truly believe that I’ve not reached the end of my story yet – and I think God wants me to hang onto that too! So that means I only have one option – to ask God to remind me of the tools and the treasure that He has given me and to help me put them back into use. It’s taken time to want to do this – months if I’m being honest – but I know I don’t want to carry on as I am, I know there’s another way. So here are some of the things that I’ve started to put in place again…

Encounter: For me this tool is key. Our lives are busy and when we’re hurting often we actually don’t want to quieten ourselves before God and bring our tenderised hearts to him. The truth is, the longer we put it off, the longer we’re prolonging our own agony. (And sometimes I know we feel like doing that too!). But despite a seeming lack of interest from our Creator, He remains our only source of hope (Romans 15:13) and the one we can truly trust. He is The Expert at raising dreams from the dead. He wants to fill us back up with his joy and peace. But His one request is simply that we have the faith to believe He can do it – and so often faith is reignited by time in His presence and in His word.

Worship: Is it any wonder that Christian songs are written about the decision to give God praise when we don’t really feel like it?! Being honest with ourselves, it can be a very real struggle. But putting it very simply, sometimes worship is a choice. And when we choose to take our eyes off our problems and put them on the Peace-giver, we come to find we don’t feel the same as we did. Praising God is my shortcut to rebuilding my faith and giving the Enemy the boot – and I never regret it. Whether you get out into nature in silence or with music plugged in your ears, whether you lie on the floor and weep, whether you dance like a crazy person around your kitchen whilst belting out your favourite worship song, whether you sing out the melody of your own making – give God the glory He deserves. If you can think of nothing else to praise Him for, salvation is a great place to start! He has chosen you; choose Him and not your feelings in return.

Repentance: Have you ever noticed how prolonged or repeated disappointment can leave our hearts offended at God (or at other people)? I hate to admit it but this is a really ugly part of my nature that I’ve had to give attention to again recently. I might feel totally justified in my anger, but usually it turns out that I’m not and my offence creates a fence – a barrier – between me and God. And that barrier has to come down through humility and repentance if I want to see my hope and heart renewed.

Prayer: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a careful speech or a pent-up sob, a gut-felt ramble or a groaning cry, just let God in. Whatever you have in your heart, He can take it. Be real with Him. He made you and he thinks you’re the most wonderful being he’s ever beheld, regardless of how you see yourself. Write it out, draw it, yell it, whisper it, dance it, paint it, sing it – just let your heart connect with His. He hears – even when you think He doesn’t. And if you can, find a faith-filled friend and let them pray for you too.

Thankfulness: I think the Devil hates it when we’re thankful; He’d much rather we stayed moany and dissatisfied with God. Like worship, an ‘attitude of gratitude’ can be a choice, but what an atmosphere changer! It always amazes me how the discipline of recounting a handful of blessings usually gives way to a torrent of eyes-wide-open reminders of God’s goodness in the tiny and the huge. What better place to be building faith from?!

Renewing our mind: When we’re stuck in disappointment and discouragement so often it’s a sign that we’re listening to the wrong voices and trusting the wrong things. The misery tumbling out of our mouth is usually because we’ve started believing something that is based on fear rather than fact. Reignite the desire to be disciplined. You are not called to be a woman of despair and lack; you are called to be a woman who laughs without fear of the future. Why? Because if you’re a Christian, you believe that God is who He says He is – and all that requires is a childlike, simple faith which says yes to what’s written in the Bible. We have to be intentional about the renewal of our minds. The foundation of our faith is love and love never gives up, never loses hope. Refresh your memory with what the King of love says about you, about Himself and about His promises.

Here are some key verses that are well worth meditating on as you consider your own position on the disappointments you’ve experienced in life. I pray they bring you encouragement and fresh hope.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”. Isaiah 43:18-19

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit”. Romans 15:13

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”. Ephesians 3: 16-21

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised“. Romans 4: 18-21

There is so much more to be said on the topic of disappointment. Despite how quiet the church can seem to be on the subject, there are some fantastic sermons online, brilliant books on the subject (check my Useful Resources page for some recommendations) and a great article with some practical advice here. The battle of faith is a very real one and infertility can seem like both a barren wasteland of our dreams and a breeding ground for fear. It’s not always easy to shake off the disappointment we experience, especially when month after month our bodies fail to manifest the hope of pregnancy that we are praying for. But know this – what is being asked of you in this time of endurance is a simple question: can you agree that God is who He says He is despite what your circumstances suggest? You only need a “Yes!” the size of a tiny mustard seed to believe.

(I can’t take all the credit for the content of this post. A brilliant man called Pete Carter came and spoke on hope and disappointment recently at our church and some of the thoughts he presented are included on this page. Check out his church and their ministry here for more of his talks).

Keep holding on

Over the last five years I’ve had the privilege of chatting with countless women about their infertility journeys, and I’ve been so grateful for their vulnerability, honesty and willingness to share what they’ve been through. It has encouraged me, renewed my faith and reminded me that I’m not alone. Through these conversations, I’ve noticed a thread emerge of common themes, emotions, questions and confusions as we’ve shared our hearts together. Infertility causes so much turbulence in our lives. It shakes our relationships. It strangles our faith. It batters our identity. It drains our resolve. It dumps sadness and uncertainty upon us, leaving us gasping for air. And yet despite all this, there is one significant truth that we can guarantee will keep us steady and secure as we move forward, and that is that God is faithful.

Despite what we might think or feel and despite what we might see in the experiences we’re living through, God never abandons His post in our lives. What’s more, He can take our anger or sorrow, our confusion or pain, our poor decisions and unbelief as infertility knocks us about because He is patient and kind. And luckily for us, the Creator of our universe doesn’t see things the way we do. He will always call us back to Himself because He loves us unconditionally. He will always encourage us to be the unique and fruitful people He designed us to be because He knows that there is more. He will always have the last word on a subject because He is sovereign and almighty. And for these reasons alone, He is infinitely trustworthy and absolutely good – even on the days when our circumstances would beg to differ!

You see, despite how much they invade every area of our lives and loves, our seasons of infertility do not have the right to rule our hearts and minds – only Jesus has that privilege. And because of that, we must pursue Him.

This morning as I was pondering these thoughts, I came across this video interview with a couple who run a church in Florida, USA, called Rich and DawnChere Wilkerson. They went through infertility for eight years before having a baby at the beginning of this year. I found their perspective on the familiar themes of infertility really helpful and decided to share it here. Be encouraged today.

Welcome

I’m so glad you’ve dropped by to read my blog today. If you want to start at the beginning, my very first post can be found under the title “Where it all starts” on the top nav bar. Otherwise, feel free to have a rummage. I began writing about our experiences with primary infertility in 2015. We are currently traversing the weary and similar path of secondary infertility, and I am finding that so much of what I have written remains as true for me today as it did back in 2013 when our journey to having a family began. I hope what you find here brings you hope, comfort and strength as we trudge this twisting road together. Helena x

Another dreaded pregnancy announcement…

I have been reluctant to write about this subject for a very long time now. Quite frankly, I feel I will only have earned my right to talk about it once I’m totally sorted on the topic. But earlier this week I received another email asking for advice on how to deal well with the subject of pregnancy announcements and it made me think that perhaps it’s time I address this as it remains one of the recurring challenges for infertility inmates. I’m going to be honest right from the beginning and tell you that despite my very best efforts, prayers and periods of success over the years, I still haven’t got to a place of perfect peace and rejoicing on the subject yet. And neither, it seems, have any of the ladies who have talked to me about their own struggles with new baby news as we have rubbed along shoulder-to-shoulder over the years.

It is my deepest wish in this post to be able to offer the one magic ingredient or guaranteed piece of advice that we all simply need to grab hold of to overcome this tricky topic. The truth is I have some good ideas for what’s needed and a handful of successful coping strategies, but I have yet to nail this ugly beast called envy once and for all.

Over the last few years I reckon my husband and I have clocked up around 50 to 60 pregnancy announcements from friends and family. (For a while I kept a list – and then I wondered why I was punishing myself further and deleted it from my phone). During this period, some announcements have been handled in an overwhelmingly sensitive manner. One family member kindly called us up and told us over the phone the day before they were to reveal their news at a family party, “so that we could scream and cry in private first”. I was genuinely touched by the thoughtfulness of this gesture and the foresight that it might be hard to respond well with an audience watching. Another family member cried as she told me of her second successful pregnancy because she knew that her joy would cause us pain even as we put on our brave faces and celebrated together. I would much rather she had just felt the happiness and not our sadness but it made me realise that she wasn’t oblivious to our mixed emotions. More recently a friend who has been through infertility herself told me how she had agonised about telling me her good news because she understood from experience just how difficult it would be to hear. Not everyone is clueless. And after all, we have to be honest with ourselves – our hyper-sensitivity to this touchy subject is without doubt one of the main reasons why it’s so hard to hear when someone else has had success.

There are, of course, those friends or family members that don’t seem to give a second thought to how their news might be received. For those who don’t know that we’re trying for a family, why should they think first before steaming on in triumph? For those of whom we expect a little more, being shown a baby scan photo or told without a little consideration for our feelings can feel incredibly tough and even a betrayal of our relationship because we wonder why they didn’t know better. How we handle this stuff – from both sides – makes or breaks friendships. I’ve seen them strengthened and destroyed.

Then there’s the manner in which the news is delivered. Over the years I have received phone calls, text messages, emails, social media updates, cards in the post and face-to-face announcements. None is ideal and even now I am still a little thrown by the words, “I’ve got something I need to talk to you about” because in my mind it can only mean one thing and my aching heart can’t help but jump to self-preservation mode. The consensus amongst fellow sailors in this miserable boat of infertility seems to be that delivery which avoids immediate personal contact is preferable. Being able to hide away from prying eyes so that one can sob, shout, collapse in a heap or go and drown sorrows over the unfairness of it all is so very, very important. We need our space to digest the news and deal with any unpredictable emotional outbursts which might come soaring to the surface as the words “I’m pregnant” thud to the bottom of our stomachs like we’ve just swallowed a cannonball. Sometimes it is too hard to hide the instantaneous surge of disappointment, jealousy, bitterness or anger which leaps to our faces as we struggle to put our masks on in time. We’re doing our best to be fine with our unwanted circumstances every single hour of the day. Is it a surprise that this kind of news throws our finely balanced demeanour off kilter?

Because the truth is hearing of another’s pregnancy – especially one which has come with ease – triggers all sorts of painful thoughts and emotions. We feel it is ‘our turn next’ and when it isn’t we wonder if it will ever be our turn – especially if we have been saying ‘our turn next’ for some time. We worry about our bodies, our lack of control over their healthy function and what underlying problems might exist. We are angered by another’s ability to plan out life and gleefully record how intention has become reality without difficulty as it makes us feel utterly inept at our own designs for life. (And if it’s an unplanned but wanted pregnancy, we find the bemused delight even more galling). We struggle with the impact of a reality that is so far from our own experiences. And the more announcements we hear, the more we wonder if we will ever be joining this ever-increasing crowd of swollen bellies.

Then there’s the impact such news has on our faith. Without a doubt our relationship with God takes a bashing as someone else’s baby news raises the recurring painful questions in our hearts of ‘Why her and not me?’ and ‘Why does God perform a miracle for them and not for us?’. We wonder what we have done to be so overlooked by God and how He can be so inconsistent in reality, when in the Gospels we read of miracle after miracle being performed by His son. At the back of our minds perhaps is the uncomfortable, nagging thought that not everyone gets an Abraham and Sarah ending to their infertility story – and we wonder if we will be such a couple. Even now as I write this I think of the men and women for whom the miracle has never come. Staring the same future in the face is a painful business, especially in relation to how we interpret the faithfulness of God and the vulnerable wail of our heart’s desire.

So how do we deal well with this struggle to be pleased for others when our hearts are aching? How do we “rejoice with those who are rejoicing“? How we do choose not to covet our neighbour’s donkey (or scan picture in this case)? I suspect the crux of it all lies in two crucial things: how we choose to see ourselves and how we choose to see and trust the God who knows us best in the midst of it all.

In my experience, it’s when I choose not to compare myself to others but consider my life as precious, safe and right-on-track in the eyes of the One who made me that I can find my joy for another. Rather than see the lack in my own life, I can assert that I am seen, known and being moved forward just as this new mother-to-be is, even as I wait for the same answer to my prayers. I don’t have to worry that I have been forgotten or over-looked because I can have the confidence that my hopes, dreams and future are as important to God as every woman who receives her positive pee stick before me. (Nerida Walker expands on this more in her brilliant book God’s Plan for Pregnancy).

And in truth, despite all the negative but understandably human emotions that rise up in me when I hear of another pregnancy, my deepest desire in the struggle is to be genuinely joyful for another woman – because that’s the kind of person I long to be! And if I was in her shoes (as I still hope to be some day), I would want her to be happy for me too. What we sow into and speak over another person, especially from our place of pain, says volumes about what we’re sowing into our own lives and futures. Moreover, celebrating with another blesses us powerfully even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. As we die to the longing in our own lives and rejoice with someone who has what we want, we’re beginning to understand what putting another person’s needs before our own looks like in the smallest and simplest of ways.

As Christians we remember that our mandate is to reflect the life, love and acceptance that has welcomed us into the kingdom of God – and it’s our responsibility to reflect this even when it hurts like hell. My temptation whenever anyone tells me that they’re pregnant is to pull away, to avoid as many future details as I can about how the scan appointments have been, and to allow bitter thoughts to fester as particulars of the unfolding pregnancy are shared. I have done a lot of running away, avoiding, pulling back and shutting down to the details of pregnancy over the years. And although at times I’m sure it has been wise to have protected myself, I wonder also what it has denied me. Perhaps, using wisdom and grace, it’s an opportunity to bless and be a blessing?

Finally, when the questions shout loudly in our hearts about the faithfulness of God as we wonder about the absence of our own miracle, it is so easy to pull away from the loving arms of our Father that seek to comfort and embrace us. Even now, as I continue to nurse the pain of the last year’s disappointments, I wrestle constantly with how much I truly trust God and His word. Rather than giving as much air time as I do to these ponderings, I would do much better to press closer to Him in my pain – taking all the hurt, fears and doubts to Him – and to pray blessings upon each woman and each new life springing up. The One who made them is thrilled with all of His creations – and in my heart of hearts I want to rejoice with Him in his creating and feel His hand of blessing on my head as well.

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.

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.

Middle of the Night Shufflings

As I sleepily shuffled to the toilet in the pitch black early hours of the morning a few days ago, I distinctly heard God’s voice speak to my semi-conscious mind,

“I have not forgotten you. I just need you to trust me”.

Trusting God has been a recurring refrain from our Father’s heart to these two stubborn, self-sufficient, fix-it types over the last few years. The lesson has come in all sorts of forms and guises and we don’t seem to be getting much quicker at learning. (Well ok, we might be learning to trust Him in incremental fits and starts!).

As I have mulled over these two brief statements that came to me in the literal darkness of this new year, I have come to feel that it’s right to share them with you. God says to me and He says to you, “I have not forgotten you. I just need you to trust me”.

Come with me on this life-long journey of trust in the One who is infinitely faithful and forever trustworthy. Let’s start again today. Let’s do what He says and trust Him. What have we got to lose?

A song of joy; rebuilt with treasure – Isaiah 54

“Sing, O childless woman,
    you who have never given birth!
Break into loud and joyful song, O Jerusalem,
    you who have never been in labor.
For the desolate woman now has more children
    than the woman who lives with her husband,”
    says the Lord.
“Enlarge your house; build an addition.
    Spread out your home, and spare no expense!
For you will soon be bursting at the seams.
    Your descendants will occupy other nations
    and resettle the ruined cities.

“Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.
    Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.
You will no longer remember the shame of your youth
    and the sorrows of widowhood.
For your Creator will be your husband;
    the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
    the God of all the earth.
For the Lord has called you back from your grief—
    as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband,”
    says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with great compassion I will take you back.
In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.
    But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“Just as I swore in the time of Noah
    that I would never again let a flood cover the earth,
so now I swear
    that I will never again be angry and punish you.
10 For the mountains may move
    and the hills disappear,
but even then my faithful love for you will remain.
    My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”
    says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

11 “O storm-battered city,
    troubled and desolate!
I will rebuild you with precious jewels
    and make your foundations from lapis lazuli.
12 I will make your towers of sparkling rubies,
    your gates of shining gems,
    and your walls of precious stones.
13 I will teach all your children,
    and they will enjoy great peace.
14 You will be secure under a government that is just and fair.
    Your enemies will stay far away.
You will live in peace,
    and terror will not come near.
15 If any nation comes to fight you,
    it is not because I sent them.
    Whoever attacks you will go down in defeat.

16 “I have created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals beneath the forge
and makes the weapons of destruction.
    And I have created the armies that destroy.
17 But in that coming day
    no weapon turned against you will succeed.
You will silence every voice
    raised up to accuse you.
These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the Lord;
    their vindication will come from me.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!

(New Living Translation)

Hope is still my battle cry!

On Sunday at our church’s Christmas carol service I had the privilege of sharing what God has been talking to me about over the past few months.

These videos, made by my incredibly talented friends Georgia Hrubiak and Alastair Errett, talk a little about how God can bring us through circumstances from which we thought we’d never recover.

2017 has been the toughest year of my life and I never thought I’d be ending the year detemined to remain fixed on hope, faith and trust. I’m still working my way back to a place where my healing heart sings with joy, but scattered along the path behind me now is a trail of gold that God has created out of this year’s pain and sadness. And I marvel at His redemptive power and love for me.

Here I am. And here you are. I hope these short videos encourage your heart.

(P.s. yep, that’s right – Part Two entitled Perfect Peace is the one to watch first!).

Film credits: Georgia Hrubiak
Sound credits: Alastair Errett
Soundtrack credits: Bethel Music

Glory in the Darkest Place

Christmas is joy and fun and laughter and grace (bring it on!) but it can also be sitting with situations that make us sad and determining to look to unrelenting hope in the face of darkness. Perhaps it’s depression or the loss of a loved one or dashed dreams or an unexpected diagnosis. Yet still there is the Light, burning brightly, on which we fix our gaze. This song says it beautifully…

Brittany Hope: Glory in the Darkest Place