Thursday, December 22, 2011
1. a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound.
I have been very open about my struggle with infertility over the past three years. In that course of time, I have heard every platitude imaginable: "just relax and it will happen", "God's timing is perfect", "when you stop wanting it so much, it will happen", "you can always adopt", etc.
Platitudes used to make me angry, but I have come to realize that people just don't know what to say sometimes, especially if they have not personally walked the path you are walking. People are uncomfortable with pain and unanswered questions and they just want to "fix" it and make it better. The most comforting words I've received are, of course, from people who know this struggle personally--they have been a balm to my weary soul. Of course, the "I am so sorry" and "I am praying for you" responses are helpful too--just to say, "I know you are hurting and I am here" is really all that needs to be said (just a hint to those who may be looking for things to say to anyone who is grieving).
Since we found out our first (and probably only) round of IVF was unsuccessful yesterday, people have offered me all kinds of grace. There have been platitudes too--some that stabbed at my heart because they were too painful in their simplicity--including an email encouraging me to "relax and it will happen in God's timing"; I am just going to pass those off as well-intentioned, and am grateful that people try their best to offer something. I know it means that they care.
I have come to regret sharing this IVF journey so publically, not because of what people say, but because others became emotionally invested in the outcome--not to the extent that Joe and I are invested, but still invested. People who love us are broken-hearted on our behalf. If they feel even a fraction of the pain I feel right now, that is too much to ask another to bear.
We speak about this as a "failed IVF"--as if a process did not work. Really, it is a death...or in our case, 7 deaths. We implanted 2 embryos and there were 5 others we hoped to be able to freeze and use for another attempt, but they did not make it. I have always been a pro-life person, but watching those tiny little cells develop daily, I believe more than ever that life begins at conception...and I feel like I lost 7 little lives that I loved the instant they were created. I am not sure what the technical term for IVF failure is. I don't know if what happened would be considered a miscarriage, but that is what it feels like to me. There were two living beings--half me/half my beloved husband--inside my body and now they are gone. The past two days feel like a funeral procession that will never reach the actual funeral.
My in-laws took us out to dinner last night to cheer us up. It seemed like a good idea to get out of the house and focus on something other than my sad thoughts. At one point during the meal, I saw my husband look up at a picture on the wall: a picture of a dad and a little son following behind him, imitating him. Joe looked like someone had punched him in the gut and I knew instantly what he was thinking: "Why can't that be me?". I started sobbing when the entrees came. I don't know why. Joe held me and I heard my step mother-in-law say to Joe's dad, "What happened? Did we say something wrong?" They were nothing but gracious and kind and upbeat but, for some reason, it suddenly seemed cruel that life goes on as normal--eating, breathing, talking--when your whole world has been forever altered. Isn't that the nature of grief, though? You are normal one minute--thinking, "yes, this hurts, but I will be make it through this"--and then WHAM! a huge wave washes over you, instantly knocking you off your feet, and you wonder how you'll ever be ok again.
I am mourning the deaths of our little Fox babies, but I am mourning something else: a dearly held dream. This was the only round of IVF that we can afford. We will, after we have grieved, start looking into adoption. We always wanted to adopt and feel it is the Biblically mandated duty of every Christian to care for the orphans, aliens and widows. But I had always dreamed of still having a baby of my own--just one; a baby that was part me and part Joe...with his tender heart and wry humor and keen intellect and piercing green eyes. I want that more deeply than I can express in mere words. People tell me that it is not God's time yet. The truth is, I have no assurance that God will give me that desire; actually, it does not seem to be His Will for me at all. I turn 37 in a week and have had actual babies placed in my uterus and it still did not "work". All the vacations and relaxing in the world are not going to help me have baby. This very clearly seems to be the end of the road for me in terms of having a natural child--though I still trust that God can work a miracle if that is His Will (and that is what it would be: a miracle). I think I will be a mom, one way or another, but I believe the time has come for me to release the dream of giving birth to a child. That is a painful, gut-wrentching, terrifying release. There is some intense anger also--that what comes so easily to an unwed teenager in the back seat of a car will never be mine. It is unjust and unfair...but that is my reality.
I re-read C.S. Lewis's book "A Grief Observed" last night. It is the journal he wrote after his wife died from an agonizing bout with cancer. His brutal honesty and courage to wrestle with the darkest questions gave me hope. I know an awful lot about God (have a theology undergrad and spent 4 years in seminary). I have studied the Scriptures and immersed myself in the spiritual disciplines. None of that knowledge means anything when your heart is broken. I know the answers, but I don't FEEL the answers. C.S. Lewis told me last night that it is ok to get angry and to hurt and to cry out to God--and maybe even normal to feel His absence during a time you most long to feel His Presence. Great men and women of the past have wept and questioned and perhaps even yelled at God in the wee hours of the night and He was big enough to take it. Even my precious Jesus quoted the Psalms during his Agony: "Why have You forsaken me?". I have no doubt I will come to the end of this season of mourning, knowing my God more deeply and intimately for the struggle. Perhaps, I will be grateful some day for the struggle itself, knowing that all suffering produces Christlikeness, if we allow God that room to work in us.
C.S. Lewis asked a question some may consider blasphemous: Is God a vet or a vivisectionist? Is he caring for us (though we may not understand the "treatment") or is He experimenting on us in a cruel and malicious way? When you are hurting, you ask those kind of questions. Lewis said his deep fear was not that He would begin to doubt God's existence, but that He might begin to doubt His nature. Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for letting me know that those questions are part of grief and not a lack of faith. Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for letting me journey with you through your pain and loss and see you "come around" at the end--giving me hope that though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning.
Lewis also posited that perhaps God is like a great surgeon, getting to the root of an illness. If He were to stop the surgery--no matter how painful it is to the patient--before the problem were fixed, that would be the most cruel act of all.
I trust God has a purpose. I know God uses all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose--to make us into the image of Christ. I don't FEEL that right now, but I do KNOW it. There is one thing that I do feel in the midst of all this: that my pain, my questions, my doubts, my anger, my inability to understand, my uncontrollable weeping...none of these things can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord. I am clinging to that truth, whether I feel it or not...trusting that one day I will feel it again.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!!
St. Patrick's "Breastplate Prayer"
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Monday, March 14, 2011
There is a daily, 3-minute, online spiritual retreat with Scriptures, questions and pictures. They have a new one each day:
I tried it out this morning and found it brief but relaxing...a nice way to start the day.
Apparently, you can sign up to get a daily email reminder that gives you a link to the daily "retreat"--if it something you find interesting.
p.s. For some reason I felt like checking in on my blog site today, after an absence of about 8 months. I have been bombarded by spam on here and just got tired of dealing with it, but am thinking about maybe being more regular on here or just deleting the blog. Gotta decide one way or another about that. Thanks for checking in!
Thursday, July 8, 2010
The surgery was meant to tell me if I had endometriosis or any other problems that could be inhibiting my fertility. Turns out, there is nothing wrong with me...at least no endometriosis. My worst problem was a few random staples from a previous surgery that had made a home on top of my liver (or bladder--not sure--all the pictures look the same to me), but they had a protective layer of something formed over top of them and weren't disturbing anything, so I guess they are still in there, hanging out.
On one hand, it is really good news to not have endometriosis. That can be nasty stuff...hard to get rid of...hard to keep away...making an inhospitable home for developing babies. But there is part of me that is disappointed. I guess I just wanted an answer, a diagnosis, some reason why we aren't able to conceive. Test after test seems to reveal that everything is working just fine, except that it isn't. Having a "name" or an answer to why the baby thing isn't happening wouldn't change the fact there is no baby. I just wanted some title or diagnosis...something to make me feel some semblance of control in a situation where I have no control.
There are so many times in life that are like that. If we just knew what we were facing, if it had a name, we feel like we could handle it better...get our minds around it all a little more. So much of life, though, is "limbo": the unknown, the unnamed, the uncontrolled. I don't like that part of life, but it is life, nonetheless. I have no simple answers for how you handle those times, those "un-namable" times. But it does make me think that maybe a lot of life is about learning to trust, and these times that we don't understand help us learn how to trust in One who does know the reason, the name, the answer...One who is in control, and who does a much better job running things than any of us could.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I know part of the issue is my own ultra-sensitivity to the topic, as well; I think that sensitivity just comes with the territory (being hyped up on hormones doesn't help anything, either). I guess I wrote what I wrote because it is something I have been thinking of for a long time and those are things I would never have thought of until I went through the struggle myself--stuff that was never covered in my pastoral care classes. A dear friend went through infertility struggles and I know I said something to her about adoption and about God's timing at different points, not understanding how that comes across. I meant well, I just didn't get it until I went through it myself. So, that note was really just a "heads up" to say that when people are hurting, sometimes well-intentioned comments don't always come across the way you mean for them to come across.
I also should have added a great big "Thank You" for the overwhelming love and support I have received and the kindness that so many have shown to me...including people who are willing to listen to me talk about this over and over again as I process. I am really blessed and thankful, even though this process is painful at times!
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Because of our ages and our desire to have children, my husband and I started trying to conceive right after we got married. After about 7 months, we started tests to see if something was wrong. Nothing showed up, but still no baby. So, at a year of trying, we began fertility treatments. What all is involved in those treatments is long and arduous to explain, but sufficed to say, the longer the infertility goes on, the more intensive the treatments become.
As people have learned about my desire, and struggle, to have a baby, they have offered friendly advice. Most if it is harmless, though the emotional roller-coaster of infertility makes the most benign comment a potential landmine. So, for all 5 people who regularly read my blog, I want to pass on some helpful suggestions of things NOT to say to people struggling with infertility.
Top Three Things to NOT say to those struggling with infertility:
1) Just relax and it will happen (variations on this include: "When it's supposed to happen, it will" or "I have a friend who went on vacation, and she got pregnant; you just need a good vacation").
Reasons why this is troublesome to me:
My doctor assures me that there are medical reasons for why infertility happens, whether we know the cause or not (my age is not helping anything either). The "relax" comments are like saying to a diabetic, "Just get rid of the stress and your body will start making insulin correctly".
Women get pregnant in the middle of wars, economic hardship, while in mourning, sometimes even from rape. I just don't buy the stress argument. And who isn't stressed? I don't feel any more stressed than most people who somehow find themselves pregnant.
This comment makes me feel like I am doing something wrong, like I am at fault, and simply need to incorporate more yoga and deep breathing and then things will work out ok.
2) Don't discuss how easy it was for you (or your wife) to get pregnant with someone struggling with infertility.
This should seem pretty obvious, but I cannot count the number of conversations I have had with friends who have children where this has happened. I will be with a group of girlfriends. They will ask how things are going on the baby front. I will tell them how the latest fertility treatment didn't work. They will say something about how sad that is, and then, moments later, turn to another woman and say, "I didn't really have any trouble getting pregnant, did you?". They proceed to have a five minute conversation about how fertile they were. Not kidding! This has happened multiple times.
I think people do not know what to say, especially when they haven't struggled in this area. But let me give you a clue: discussing the ease of your fertility with an infertile person is NOT a helpful thing to say. I liken this to telling someone that you miss your father who passed away and how sad you are to not have him in your life anymore...then your friend says, "That is sad. I'm so glad my father is still alive". People just don't think, sometimes!
3) Have you thought about adoption?
This bothers me on multiple levels. I want to say, "Do you know that I think about babies for several hours a day and yes, surprisingly, the idea of adoption has actually crossed my mind?". I guarantee you that any person struggling with infertility has thought of adoption. Everyone. I promise. You do NOT need to say it. If they want to pursue that option, they will. If you want to suggest an adoption agency, wait until they ask.
Adoption is expensive and time-consuming. Fertility treatments are covered by my insurance at 90 percent, adoption is not. Right now, it is more financially viable to try this route. Besides that, I would really like to give birth to a child that is genetically connected to me and to my husband and to our families--just like most people do every day, all around the world. I think that is a normal, human desire--and I think it is a God-given desire. It may not happen for me. I may not be able to naturally have a child of my own--and I will deeply mourn the loss of that dream. Until that happens though, my husband and I need to let things run their course as far as we think it needs to go.
Two months into starting fertility treatments, I had people talking to me about adoption. At least let me have a little hope that I can have a child of my own...it is the desire of my heart. When people suggest adoption, it feels like they are saying, "It's not going to work. Give up now." And when you are undergoing infertility treatments, you are desperate for hope, desperately searching for some sign or signal each month that it might have "worked" this time, and continually devastated by the loss when it doesn't happen--both wife and husband mourn deeply, in their own ways, month after month, as infertility goes on.
I am not opposed to adoption and would like to adopt even if we are able to have our own child. But I want to do it because the time is right and God is calling us to that--not because we want a baby at any cost. The are reasons people seek adoption and I think that each couple will know if and when that is the right choice for them. When dealing with infertility issues, just steer clear of the word "adoption" unless they bring it up to you.
What do you say to someone?
Just listen, let them know you care, don't offer easy answers, and pray for them. That's it. Simple. Easy. For those of you who are pastors, you can send me $5 for this handy pastoral advice!!!!
Monday, July 5, 2010
There are a lot of reasons this "young" thing bothers me. First and foremost is that Jesus did not seemed so focused on a person's age. I can't remember one instance where he even referenced age. Jesus seemed more concerned that His followers were 100 percent sold out and committed to Him. Passion, surrender, and commitment were the trademarks Jesus looked for in followers (and leaders). I feel like our denomination should be calling out for passionate clergy, for people who are desperately in love with Jesus and want to lead others to Him, whether they are 18 or 98 really doesn't matter.
This whole obsession with younger clergy seems to be a grasping effort to stop our decline as a denomination and bring in new life--a tourniquet to stop our slow bleed. It is not that I am opposed to younger clergy (since I am one!), or to reaching younger generations for Jesus Christ. I fully support that and think those are good and necessary things, but they are not the only things. People matter to God. People of all ages. And God can use anyone...ANYONE...to accomplish His purposes.
I first heard my call to ministry at age 16 during a sermon in my home church on a typical Sunday morning. My senior pastor, Rev. Dick Teller, was preaching about Noah and God's promises, and I felt God speak to me that day about my calling as a pastor. Rev. Teller was in his 60s at the time. By our current rhetoric, only a 30 year old should have been able to reach me as a teenager. But for me, it was a wise, faithful, godly, dedicated pastor in his 60s who spoke to my heart.
My husband, Joe, likes to listen to sermons by Bishop Will Willimon. I did not hear this myself, but I trust Joe implicitly. Apparently, in one recent sermon, Willimon said that he told his District Superintendents that if someone 40 or over calls their offices expressing an interest in the ministry, get to them when you can. If they are under 40, clear your schedule and meet them immediately. Somehow, I'm not surprised by that, but it makes me sad. Why wouldn't you drop your busy administrative schedule to run out and meet anyone who feels God is calling them to ministry, regardless of age? I just don't believe that the less wrinkles you have, the more effective you will be in ministry.
I am a much better, wiser pastor than I was when I first started out. I have fallen flat on my face and learned from mistakes. Ten years from now, I will probably be able to say the same thing. With age often comes wisdom. The more you experience of life and of God, the more you have to offer the world, not less. For me, as a person in my 30s, I tend to seek out counselors and advisers who are older than me, who have already walked where I am headed. In spiritual matters, I lean toward people who have learned more than I have. Age is a virtue, at least in terms of wisdom and guidance.
I guess I can't speak for everyone in my age bracket, but I think most people want a pastor who truly loves God and knows what he/she is talking about...whether they are 30 or 70. I have found, as a younger clergy, that most people need to get past my age (as well as my gender) before they are willing to trust me...even younger people. It may be cool to be young, but I am not sure that most people really want a pastor who is cool. They want a pastor who is authentic and has something to teach them that they haven't been able to find on their own. Teach pastors how to do that and the church will grow.
I went to a "young clergy" event at Ginghamsburg UMC a few months ago. It was wonderful. We had a chance to hear from great preachers who have been pastors for a long time. They shared wisdom with us to help develop us. My only problem with the event was that I know a lot of pastors who are older than 35 who would have gained much from attending. It also struck me as odd the idea that just because you are under a certain age, you are all in the same place of ministry. I sat next to a woman who was 2 years younger than me and had been a local pastor for 2 years and had not been to seminary yet. I am going on my 10th year of pastoral ministry and have gone to seminary. We were in different places, asking different questions, needing different things. I think it would be great to have events based on years of ministry experience, regardless of age, because then you might be asking the same questions and struggling with the same concepts.
Ministry is hard and there is so much to learn, continually. The minute you are ordained it seems you are expected to know everything there is to know. What if, instead of obsessing about younger clergy, we focused on training and equipping more effective clergy of all ages? What if we had events based on years of ministry experience or situational need? What if we made pastors feel supported and valued, instead of indicating they are past their prime the minute they say goodbye to their 30s.
In all this diatribe, I am not saying we shouldn't recruit and train younger clergy. I am saying that our obsession with youth is not going to solve the problems in the United Methodist Church. Younger Clergy are not the elusive holy grail that will save our dying denomination. Things like vision, accountability, encouragement, Scripture study, prayer, passion, renewal, revival are what we need...and those things have nothing to do with age. Let's fall more in love with Jesus and desperately depend on His Spirit. That's where our focus needs to be. Just my two cents...from a frustrated pastor who is going to throw up the next time she hears "younger clergy".
Saturday, May 29, 2010
The man who asked to see the manager proceeded to loudly and rudely eviscerate the manager, claiming that he was paying for "food and ambiance" (not sure how much ambiance you expect to get with an $8 burrito, but it made us laugh). He said a bunch of other rude, inappropriate, loud things that made him look like an imbecile and proceeded to embarrass his wife (and everyone within a mile radius). He proclaimed that he was so upset by the experience that he didn't think he'd even be able to eat his food at this point (when the food eventually arrived, he somehow managed to move past his pain).
Now here is my main problem with this situation: you don't treat people like they are dirt beneath your feet, no matter how hungry you are. I am not opposed to lodging a complaint when necessary. In fact, I recently called the Fazoli's complaint department after waiting 20 minutes at the drive thru for some tortellini...but I didn't make the drive thru attendant feel like he was sub-human.
Another issue this situation raises for me deals with our culture: We expect everything instantly. We can't wait for anything, and worse, don't feel like we should have to wait for anything. Are we really so important that the whole world needs to revolve around us and our needs? Sometimes kitchens get backed up and that is just life. Waiting 20 minutes for your food to show up is not going to kill you. I worked at a McDonald's one summer in a wealthy suburb of Detroit where my dad lived at the time. Sometimes the grill would get backed up, especially later at night when we had less people scheduled and a little league team would show up. When there are 30 people in line, you aren't going to get your order in 10 seconds. That is just life. People take out their frustrations on the front person, because the grill people (who are working hard to get all the orders out) are hidden...and it seems that all the frustrations of a person's existence come to the surface when she is forced to wait and is no longer in control of a situation. I think you can tell a lot about a person's character by the way they wait, but that's a whole other blog.
The moral reminder to me from this experience: A little waiting every now and then isn't going to kill you...so find a way to enjoy what is happening, rather than complaing and making everyone around you miserable.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I'm not sure I have anything to say about Advent that hasn't been said a million times before...so I will speak to something that has been convicting me: the idea of finding ways to give more (i.e. "Live simply so that others may simply live"). I really like the "Advent Conspiracy" website. I also have been reading their book: Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder. The main premise of the website and the book is that we have lost the meaning of Christmas due to our preoccupation (even worship) of consumerism. They encourage us to take back Christmas by doing 4 things: 1) Worship Fully, 2) Spend Less, 3) Give More, and 4) Love All. There is much that is convicting and inspiring to me about those ideas, but for today, I just want to share an excerpt and a quote from the book that I found compelling.
First, the excerpt (p.13):
The water crisis around the world is staggering. Hundreds of children die simply because they don't have access to clean drinking water. It makes our mouths drop and our stomachs turn when we realize that the amount of money we spend on Christmas in America is close to forty-five times the amount of money it would take to supply the entire world with clean water. (see Living Water International for more information)
And a quote from C.S. Lewis (p. 61) challenging us to give more to the cause of Christ:
"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."
Just some thoughts that have been meaningful to me as I prepare for the coming of Christ...