He Gave Us a Sword

A year ago, I was a mess.

I’ve talked about this a bit in some previous posts, so I won’t go into much detail now. The truth is, it’s hard for me to believe the contrast between this year and last.

Depression to JOY.
Anxiety to CONFIDENCE.
Defeat to VICTORY.
Anger to PEACE.
Loneliness to CONNECTEDNESS.

There wasn’t one moment that changed things, but rather a collection of moments and revelations. I’ve talked about some of it here, but I want to share a specific moment with you today.

This one happened in January during the 21 days of prayer and fasting at my church. During these 21 days there was an opportunity to get together with other believers at 6am Monday-Friday for a time of worship and prayer. A season for strengthening. I don’t often get the chance to attend because I have little ones sleeping in their beds, and my husband usually has responsibilities early in the morning. He does work there after all.

But I got to go one lovely Friday morning, and in a brief instant the Lord encouraged me through a simple phrase and an image.

“I have a sword…He gave us a sword.”

In my image I saw myself cowering. My surroundings were hazy and unclear. I knew there was a battle going on, but I was clearly losing; just barely managing to miss the arrows flying toward me. There was a sense of hopelessness.

But then, it started to clear, and I came to realize I wasn’t empty-handed. I had a weapon. A Sword.

I was armed, and with that realization came a strength I had not previously known. The fog continued to clear and I saw I wasn’t by myself after all. The body of Christ was standing together, proclaiming the coming victory, wielding their Swords with power. We were going to FIGHT TOGETHER.

Friends, I share this with you because as we move forward in Christ, the enemy has to step back. The more we recognize our identity in Him and utilize the tools He has bestowed upon us, the more powerful we become.

Are you living in defeat? There is more than what you can see in this moment. Call your enemy out for what he really is and grasp onto the promises your KING has for you.

Here are a few tools you can use to sharpen your sword:

Depression: “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and SET ME FREE.” Psalm 118:5

Anxiety: “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come BOLDLY and CONFIDENTLY into God’s presence.” Ephesians 3:12

Defeat: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me VICTORY. This is my God, and I will praise him – my father’s God, and I will exalt him!” Exodus 15:2

Anger: “You will keep in PERFECT PEACE all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3

Loneliness: “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such PERFECT UNITY that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” A prayer of Jesus in John 17:22-23

The art of fighting with a sword requires practice and care. Our sword is our Bible. To use it well we must read it, memorize it, study it, and dwell on it throughout the day. Left unattended, it will rust and become useless. Don’t neglect your Sword.

Brandish your weapon. Victory is ours for the taking.

Infertility: Caroline’s Story

If there is a form of etiquette concerning asking people to publicly share about their infertility experience,  I’m pretty sure it includes not bringing it up at a baby shower. But Caroline and I got to talking, and the Holy Spirit stirred it up, and out it came. I am so grateful.

I love that we end this week of stories here. No matter your own personal struggles, even if it has nothing to do with infertility, I believe you will be encouraged by Caroline’s words. It is my prayer that everyone have a chance to know this sort of sweet love from the Father.

Infertility: Caroline’s Story

Caroline 1

The last four years have had its share of heart ache, disappointment, financial strain, and just a complete emotional drain.  But there has also been a new awareness of God’s goodness, joy, and a spiritual wholeness than can only come from my loving Father.  I want that to be the focus of the last four years.  God’s goodness is the testimony, not the loss and pain.

Billy and I have been married for six years.  After a year of trying on our own to get pregnant and several tests to see what was wrong, we were told it was unexplained infertility (basically nothing obvious was keeping us from getting pregnant, some couples just need a little medical boost!).  We were were encouraged to try insemination, which resulted in a positive pregnancy after the first try!  We were beyond thrilled!  But around week 5 I began spotting – leading my doctor to do an early ultrasound.  I was told this was an ectopic pregnancy.  I had never heard that term before but my doctor began telling me that my baby was growing… just in the wrong place.  My baby was growing in my tubes which if left alone would kill us both.  I thought I had options.  I had none.  I had to go straight to the hospital to get a shot that would dissolve the pregnancy but save my life.  Billy and I were devastated.  I sat in that public waiting room watching mothers who already had children with them having more children.  I felt a bitterness I’d never felt.  You see, up to this point, I had been in a place spiritually that I had never been before.  Through different small groups at church and intentional days of prayer and fasting, I felt God had brought me to a place with Him I’d never been before.  So why would he do this to me?  Why would He take this good thing from me?  I was mad at Him.  I would sit through my quiet time, skipping over the prayer time and tell God I just needed to read His word in silence because I didn’t trust what I might say to Him.  I didn’t participate in worship at church, and if you know me, I LOVE to worship!  I was broken and didn’t know how to feel ok during this time or how to get back on track with God.  But God was doing something in me I couldn’t see at the time.  He was faithful to send me friends who spoke words of life over me.  He gave me songs that began to mend my heart.  I’ll touch on those specifics later but let’s get through the rest of the tough stuff.

A year later we did another insemination which also ended in an ectopic pregnancy.  This time I wasn’t mad at God but I did get lost in the “whys.”  Again, God was faithful to give me what I needed to push on.  After these two ectopic pregnancies, a laparoscopy was done and it was discovered I had endometriosis and damaged fallopian tubes.  Both tubes were removed.  We began looking into IVF.  Unfortunately, my Type I diabetes had gotten so much harder to control in my late 30’s, even with good eating habits and exercise.  My blood sugars were so out of control my doctor could not recommend me to try to get pregnant.  I was crushed.

Caroline 2

But then, an angel appeared.

Amy and I have been best friends since high school. One Sunday at church, I was telling her about there seemingly being no remaining options for having a baby. She grew quiet and then said she would have our baby, she would be our surrogate!   She told me God had actually put it on her heart months ago but she felt like she needed confirmation.  I’d say that conversation was it!  Billy and I talked and prayed about it.  Amy and her husband Jason prayed about it.  The church prayed with us.  This was totally a God thing!

We got started with appointments and doctor’s consultations and visits right away.  The four of us had a lot of decisions to make.  I’ll tell you, you think you know where you stand morally on pregnancy, abortion, when life begins, etc…until you’re faced with infertility and needing the help of science and medicine.  All four of us involved felt very strong in our pro life convictions, but there were SO many details and decisions that had to be made that most people never have to think twice about.  I want to get to the “God’s goodness” part so I’ll make this brief.  We had two transfers with Amy: the first ended after the second week, the second transfer ended in a miscarriage around week 10.  Through the heartbreak, God was still moving and working miraculously in me!

Caroline 3

Here are the things that helped along the way.  After the first ectopic, in my season of being angry with God, a sweet friend said, “Caroline, God grieves with you.” And it clicked.  God hadn’t done this TO me, it just happened to me, but he was WITH me through it all.  This is also about the time I truly grasped the promises in Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  I began to trust that if it wasn’t a baby we would get, God would give us an even better gift!  It’s hard to imagine what could be better than a baby, and I’m not talking about a monetary gift or thing, but that’s why we have earthly eyes and imaginations and God does not!  After the second ectopic, I remember sitting on my bed in my room and hearing the song “Beautiful Things” by Gangor. I began weeping at these words:

“All this pain I wonder if I’ll ever find my way.  I wonder if my life could really change at all.  Could a garden come up from this ground.  You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust.”

I wept because I believed these words – that God would make beautiful things out of my dust.  I also prayed that all this pain wouldn’t be for nothing.  God doesn’t intend for our trials to be for nothing, but we in our messiness and earthly selves, often get in the way of learning from our trials and disappointments.  Just before Amy’s first miscarriage, her dad, who has been like a spiritual dad to me since high school, reminded me not to ever let the devil steal our joy.  This was just a general conversation, Amy hadn’t miscarried yet, but that came to help me through that loss.  When I got the call from the doctor’s office, I was doing yard work and had been listening to a message on how grieving can be a way of worshipping God.  So when I got the call, I wept.  I cried and cried but in those tears I told God that Satan was NOT going to steal my joy!  I told God that I loved him and thanked him for helping me through this!  Yes, my heart throbbed, but I had such hope in Jesus!  I also heard a song from Shane and Shane called “Though You Slay Me.” There is a version that has an excerpt from John Piper’s message on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. John Piper says, “Every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.  Don’t look to what is seen.  Don’t say ‘It’s meaningless!’  It’s not!  It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.”

Caroline 4

Billy and I still don’t have a baby.  We have some options and a lot of praying to do.  But what we do have are God’s promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  He does grieve with us.  He does walk through each and every heartache with us.  My pain has not been for nothing.  I’ve been able to share the gospel through sharing the ups and downs of the last four years with unbelieving friends.   He is a good, good Father, in all circumstances, all the time!  Trust Him that He wants good things for you!

Infertility: Tina’s Story

Have you every had a moment when you were graced with a chance to see why you were called to something? That happened for me with Tina.

We were acquaintances who attended the same church, but different campuses. We ran in the same circle of friends, but were not close friends ourselves. After publishing my final post during a series on infertility, I invited women who wanted to connect and talk about their experiences to get together one evening. I remember Tina so brokenly telling us that only a few hours prior to our meeting, she had learned the gender of the baby she would never get to meet.

What a heart-wrenching, yet beautiful, moment that was. We wrapped our arms around Tina and prayed with her. And that’s when I knew. All this writing about infertility, a topic I knew little about, was all worth it so that she could have support from these women who could relate.

And now, it is with such great pleasure, that I let Tina tell the details.

Infertility: Tina’s Story

Tina 1

I guess my story really began before I even knew I had a story.  Early pain and suffering associated with my menses during adolescence was my first indication of the more difficult road that lay ahead. At 25, I was diagnosed with Endometriosis which could indeed impact my fertility, but could also be treated with surgery. I underwent my first laparoscopy and my symptoms improved significantly. Over the years, the birth-control pill disguised my symptoms so well that when I began considering marriage in my early-mid 30s, I felt the chance of infertility was minute for me.  However, I was wrong.  While engaged, we sought the advice of experts; in order to know what challenges, if any, we may face trying to conceive once married. Indeed, we learned my AMH levels were still very low, much like those of a woman 10+ years older than me. We stayed prayerful and hoped for a miracle as we began our married life together.

Approximately 5 months after marrying, I discontinued the birth-control pill and our conception journey began. Many months of trying on our own, months of trying with the help of oral hormones, and months of trying after having a 2nd laparoscopy ensued. By this time, I was over 35 years old and knew my chance of conceiving was decreasing rapidly. I cried a lot. I’ve always been the type who remained in control, but THIS was a game changer. I found my reliance truly could no longer be on myself and instead would have to fall into the hands of the Most Capable.

In January of 2016, we decided to proceed with IVF.  By February, I was given the highest dose of hormones possible because the outlook of conception was bleak. The doctor was quite surprised to retrieve 10 eggs, 9 of which were considered usable. Of those, we had 4 to fertilize! After 17 months of seeing negative pregnancy tests with no response from other forms of treatment/procedures, this was truly a welcomed surprise. About a week later, following the incubation period and some testing, we were told our 4 fertilized embryos would not be suitable for transfer. Just like that, our IVF journey ended and my hopes were dashed.

Over that next month, my husband and I had deep discussion about what to do next. We shed lots of tears together, but remained prayerful. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in God, though.  Why? Well, ironically, at the end of 2015 during Open Enrollment, my company announced that for the first time, they would be introducing a fertility program with limited coverage for eligible employees to receive a financial benefit for IVF. After investigating further, I found that I qualified for this coverage. We were ecstatic! We felt God was on the move on our behalf. We believed this window of opportunity to receive financial assistance for this extremely expensive procedure was an answer to prayer.  To know that over half the cost would be covered was a huge relief and we were very thankful for this opportunity. Therefore, when IVF failed, we were left confused, and wondered if we had misinterpreted this window of opportunity. Personally, my faith was at a low.

In March, I missed my period for the very first time ever. I was scheduled for my annual gynecology visit and it was there that I found out I was PREGNANT!! I was beyond emotional; overjoyed, flabbergasted, and most of all thankful. I passionately, with my whole heart, thanked the Lord for our miracle. To me, this baby was a sign that my body was capable and this was God’s timing. At my 9 week visit, our 2nd ultrasound revealed no heartbeat. Our baby had stopped growing over a week before. Following my D&C, one day after our wedding anniversary, I entered into a whirlwind of emotions that would continue for months. Moments of thrashing anger, constant questioning of God as to “Why” he took our little girl (Ivy) haunted me.  Yes, we chose to have genetic testing of the fetus to see if we could identify the cause of my miscarriage and in the process learned we lost a baby girl. I had days of true sorrow, some of sheer discontent, and others of deep depression. I found it hard to pray during that time; after all, I had little gratitude in the midst of my pain. My husband would quote scripture, pray for us, and research sermons about infertility and miscarriage to pass my way. He was, and still is, my Hero. We sought the help of our Pastor, a Christian counselor, and an Infertility group for me, as we knew we could not go at this alone.  I also began to learn more about environmental toxins, even in our skincare/beauty products, that expose us to greater risk for infertility and hormone disruption. Because of this, I decided to make some positive changes in my regime, while becoming an advocate for safer products. The support of close friends, even new friends from my infertility group, family, coworkers, and my newfound endeavor brought light to this dark journey and made the healing process bearable.

The summer of 2016 brought forth several attempts at IUI. It was our final attempt in August, with a switch to a new doctor and new medicine that we conceived our precious son that I’m carrying today!  With each kick and flip he does, I’m reminded of when John leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb!  This journey has taught me that I never was alone. God was with me, had gone before me, had placed special people on my path, and anticipated all my needs. He allowed me to feel ALL of the emotions for myself for a very important reason. He knows my story will bring hope to someone and is a testament to His power and provision. He is still in the business of performing miracles and I’m devoted to glorifying Him with our little miracle!

Tina 2

Infertility: Lara’s Story

Lara and I know each other from when we were in school. We now live in separate states, but thanks to each other posting about infertility on social media, we have recently become reconnected.

I appreciate Lara’s vulnerability in her writing. She speaks of struggles that I’m sure are faced by many in the battle of infertility. There are still a lot of unknowns in her story. A lot of questions yet to be answered. With so much of her story yet to be written, I am honored that she would be open herself up so that others in her situation would not feel alone.

Infertility: Lara’s Story

This is a story that is not yet finished.

It’s about a girl who fell in love with a boy. They had their ups and downs, like all couples do. They moved in together, got married, and started to plan their life. It was tricky at first; the boy was in the Navy and the girl had yet to find a stable job. They moved a couple of times but decided to settle in Virginia, and then decided to start building their family.

Lara 1

Something wasn’t right, though.  Something was horribly wrong with the girl and she knew it. But like anyone who doesn’t want to receive bad news, she ignored it-until she couldn’t anymore.  Until the boy said “Find out what is wrong. You can’t keep living like this.” And so she did.

She was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), the culprit for all her troubles.  She tried to fight it, tried to beat it down, but PCOS was strong and nasty and dug its ugly claws into her and snarled “You can’t get rid of me so easily.”

All they wanted was a baby, a child to call their own. Someone to love forever, someone they dreamt about. But it never happened. And it never happened. And her heart broke over and over and over again.

She was transferred to another doctor, a specialist, feeling like she was being separated from the “normal” women. Because of course, she was no longer normal. She was infertile.

She was given many more tests, many more medications. She was poked and prodded, she had her blood taken, she had ultrasounds, she had shots and shots and more shots. For months, she was stuck in a vicious cycle of ultrasound, shots, ultrasound, shots, ultrasound, shots, test, no baby.

And it was in these months that she sank into a deep, black darkness… 

If you haven’t guessed already, this is a story about my own infertility journey. I stopped here, not because this journey is finished, but because I wanted to describe, in the first person, this particular chapter.

Lara 2

I’m going to say a word; a word that we shy away from because there is a stigma attached to it. But there should be no stigma, because it is a disease. Do we shy away from diabetes or heart disease? No.

I was depressed. When I look back on those months all I remember is a blackness that I felt in my heart. I could think of nothing else besides how I was a failure. How I could not do this simple thing of making a baby. I saw my friends and family members have their second and third babies. I knew that I was being punished for something. This is all my fault.

“You are a failure.” 

I heard this inside my head, every day. Every single day I told myself that I am a failure. No wonder I was depressed. You tell yourself the same thing over and over again you begin to believe it.  I blamed myself. Sometimes I still do. But then something happened…

She remained stagnant in that darkness for what seemed like forever, watching everyone else live lives she couldn’t. Screaming at herself. Not saying anything.

Then one day she saw the boy. Really saw him. Even though he had been there through all the doctor appointments and injections. She saw that he was hurting, too. She saw that he was angry that he couldn’t fix it, couldn’t make her happy. And with his help, working together, they pulled each other out of the darkness.

They made a promise to each other that they wouldn’t leave the other behind again. They were a team and they were going to get through this together.

Their story doesn’t end here. They are still fighting: together. They are still on their journey: together. They still are: together.

This is not an easy journey, and I speak as someone who is still writing theirs. I have been where you are. I am going where you have been. No one should have to walk alone. So I am making you a promise. I promise that I will always be there for you. We may not know each other, but I make this promise to you regardless. I won’t tell you not to blame yourself; this is easier said than done. I won’t tell you that your journey will conclude the way you want it to. I will tell you that you will get through this. I will tell you that you are strong, you are awesome, and you are worth it.

And you are not alone.

Lara 3

Infertility: Marcy’s Story

I first met Marcy through church. We attended the same campus and would often see each other at a midweek small group for mommies and littles called “Baby Praise”. This was a chance for parents and kiddos to chat together while learning songs and lessons that were being taught in the preschool age on Sunday mornings.

Not knowing her story, I admired Marcy greatly. She had a set of very young triplets who were all potty training, and another little baby boy to boot. Watching her mother her little ones motivated me in the mothering of my own. I knew I could learn a great deal from her!

When I first posted about infertility, I learned the miracles behind all four of those precious babies. It is a great honor and privilege to be able to share her story with you today.

Infertility: Marcy’s Story

Marcy's Wedding

Our breakthrough came at a time of surrender. After my 5th loss, we decided to go on a mission trip to Colombia, South America. My husband, Allen and I thought it would be a great chance for both of us to get away, change our focus, and do something we’d felt called to do.

Our introduction into infertility had begun  three years prior. We had decided we were ready to start having children and were surprised when that didn’t happen right away.

After trying a few rounds of Clomid, we still didn’t get pregnant and we were officially referred to a fertility specialist, where we learned I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). The doctor was confident that with intervention, I should be able to get pregnant quickly. A few weeks later we were thrilled to learn the treatment had worked – I was pregnant! We told our families and a few close friends; eagerly looking forward to our ultrasound. When the day finally arrived we were nervous but excited. Our excitement quickly faded when the ultrasound began. We immediately knew something was wrong. The doctor explained that even though I was 8 weeks pregnant, they couldn’t find a baby. Testing determined I had an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. We were crushed.

Despite our devastation, we were eager to have a baby. As soon as we were cleared to try again, we did. Two months later, we found out we were expecting, only to lose this baby too. This pattern of pregnancy and loss continued. In total, we got pregnant five times and lost all five babies. Our hope was wearing thin. During this time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join an infertility support group. It was such a gift to be able to share and talk with women who knew my hurts and hopes. They were a pillar of strength for me throughout our  journey.

It was after our 5th loss that we decided to take our mission trip. The trip was life changing. We went with a wonderful group of people, met many others and experienced so much. Our faith grew exponentially. I began to realize how much bigger the world was outside of me and my trials. I began learning how to focus less on me and more on others.

Marcy's Mission Trip

Shortly after our trip, a few of us had the opportunity to share our experience with others in our community. At the end of the night, I also shared my infertility story with some of the ladies. Before I left, these women prayed over me. Something changed that night. I left feeling hopeful and sure that I was going to be a mother, somehow, some way.

Just before our trip,  we had  met with a new doctor, who’d diagnosed me with endometriosis. He set us up with a new plan and with our renewed hope  we were eager to try it.

As we went through the “two week wait” of not knowing if this attempt had worked, we would pray daily for the child that we hoped was growing in my body. Allen would jokingly pray for the “babies” and even went as far as to pray for 4 babies. I remember telling him, “I don’t think I could handle four. Three, maybe, but four at one time? No way!” Little did we know, just a few weeks later, we would find out we were expecting…TRIPLETS! We were excited, nervous, scared, hopeful, fearful, you name it – we felt it. Again, we turned to our team of prayer warriors and asked for prayer over our sweet babies.

Marcy Triplet Announcement

Seven months later, at 30 weeks and 3 days, we welcomed Hallie, Hannah, and Caleb into the world. I was so overwhelmed and in awe of what God had done. Never in my dreams could I have imagined this would be our story. Just a year prior, we were questioning if we would ever have a child at all. Our hearts were so full.

Marcy's Triplets

Despite having been given so much, Allen and I would often talk about having one more child, “Bennett”. It was a name we loved and we both felt our family wasn’t quite complete. We would mention it from time to time, but we had no desire to go through fertility treatments again. If we were supposed to have another child we trusted God would open the door. This wasn’t something we were ready to pursue, but merely a thought in the back of our minds for “someday”. Much to our surprise, when the triplets were 18 months old we learned we were once again pregnant. Due to our history, we were overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions. We reached out to our closest friends and family for prayer and support. 9 months later, we welcomed our baby boy, our “cherry on top”, our Bennett!

Marcy's Family

When I am asked what I want other women battling with infertility to know, so many thoughts come to mind. I remember being in the thick of it, hearing other women’s stories, appreciating them, but knowing they weren’t my own, questioning if, how, and when I would get my happy ending. What I want women in this battle to know, is that yes, every story is different. No, I can’t promise how yours will end, but what I have learned through my story and the stories of others, is that God is writing a perfect story for YOU. Despite how it may feel and look right now, God works all things for good and he can do abundantly and exceedingly more than we can ever hope for or imagine. My best advice is to find a group of women who can understand and support you. Lean on them, share with them, pray with them. Above all, hold on and trust God.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5-6