Hard Candy Shells

Four years ago, I sat in Church with my arms fiercely crossed. My heart was as hard as the look of stone on my face. I was captive to some pain in my life, and in no mood to hear an inspirational sermon. Many days I was good at hiding it – this was not one of those days. I was, in fact, sitting there at Church merely because it was easier than fighting about not wanting to go to Church.

Pain is like a candy shell – hard on the outside, even though I was mush on the inside, and all it would take is a little tap on a chisel to open it all up.

The message was on the ordinariness of Jesus’ disciples – how plain and dull and ordinary those twelve guys were. And yet they were called to do extraordinary things. The pastor then went on to share how he and his wife felt very ordinary, yet called to something extraordinary. They were planning to adopt. Because they’d heard that if just 7% of the world’s Christians cared for an orphan, there would be no more orphans. And they felt compelled to be part of that 7%.

7%

Tap-tap went the chisel. My arms fell to my side. Still rigid, but there was a crack in the ice. I was no stranger to statistics, but this one shocked me.

See, part of my pain and hardness that morning came from an all-too-familiar ache as I sat there and watched baby dedications before the sermon began. I sat there, just coming to grips with being infertile, and longing for nothing more extraordinary than plain old ordinariness.

I had the faintest idea of what a motherless child might feel because I was sitting there as a childless mother.

My arms were still crossed, but that hard candy shell was about to burst as that chisel chipped away. To be honest, the orphan care stats weren’t the focal point of the message – just one of the many illustrations that the pastor was using. But it was the one that penetrated my heart.

I went home and started exploring if it could possibly be true that the world’s orphan crisis really could be eradicated with just 7% of the Christian body’s efforts. My googling led me to an annual Summit put on by “Christian Alliance for Orphans”, and in May of 2010 my husband and I jumped a plane to explore this new world. Little did we know the floodgates we were opening.

The world of orphan care is as equally complicated as that of infertility – and to be clear, I think the two are all too often linked when they really are separate things, but that’s for another blog post. What I mean here is simply this: a lot of people start the road to infertility “just wanting a baby”, a simple enough concept until it gets complicated by doctors and thermometers and pee sticks. So, too, the intro point to orphan care is often a simple prick of desire – maybe to build a family, maybe to be part of this world’s greatest social crisis, maybe because of some indefinable nudging to explore. A simple enough concept until it gets complicated with attachment disorder and interracial dynamics and the all-consuming question of how to help without hurting. The more you learn, the less you know – but that becomes more and more okay, too. 

Today, I sit again at the CAFO Summit, amidst a crowd that is still full of many strangers, but no longer strange to me. It is a room filled with some of the most ordinary-extraordinaries I have ever met, living out the Gospel in all aspects of orphan care: adoption, foster care, family preservation, global and local initiatives, wrap-around support, mental health, and more. There are no easy answers in the world of orphan care. There are diversely opposing viewpoints and constant new lessons. But an aroma of surrender permeates the conversations and the praise.

And it’s not just about 7%, it’s about all of us. While it is actually true that it would take only 7% of the world’s Christians to care for all of the world’s orphans, making this the most solvable crisis on the planet, it is a call to us all – it’s a big ocean where every drop counts – the other 93% of us get to support those called to the deepest parts of that ocean.

All of us ordinaries have a place here – just you and me and all of us who have nothing more to offer than our plain ordinary selves – like twelve guys who used to follow a carpenter around. Just ordinary people called into an extraordinary story. Hard candy shells and all.

Dancing in the Driveway [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested.

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Wedding Run

Ten years ago, I was in the middle of full-swing-wedding-planning. We were only engaged for three months (I know, I KNOW!), so it was go-time from the minute that ring was placed on my finger.

There were no doubts. None. I count myself lucky in that regard, because doubt sneaks up on just about every decision I’ve ever made in my life, but I was spared that in the spousal department. It was simply the easiest decision I’d ever made.

I penned this letter to my Jason last year on our ninth wedding anniversary. It was a particularly painful summer as we’d just finished our last unsuccessful fertility treatment, my husband had just lost his job, and we were in the middle of a major home remodel. So umm, I was a little to the left of crazy.

Still, I married a celebrator. A man who is so good – so good – at pulling me out of my own head and helping me celebrate what we have, and we especially love celebrating having each other. As year ten approaches and someone in this marriage is a little less, ahem, crazy, we’re going BIG. We’re celebrating year ten ala Europe, and you’d better believe I’ll be blogging about that goodness.

As NIAW steers to an end, this letter is dedicated to beautiful relationships everywhere. I oh-so-hope that anyone experiencing unplanned unparenthood – or any sacred loss – can dig deep into the relationships they have and find much to celebrate even in the midst of crazy-town.

Dear J,

Nine years ago this morning I woke up as Mrs. Miller for the first time. 3,285 mornings later, waking up to you is still my very favorite part of the day.

There are so many things I didn’t know nine years ago. I didn’t know we would be cuddlers. I didn’t know I could love you more today than I did then.

I didn’t know how hard marriage could be. I didn’t know how bitter a look we could give one another. I didn’t know how we could bring healing to one another’s world.

I didn’t know that we’d dance so well – not the tango or salsa or real dancing – but the dances stolen in the driveway at midnight just because the moon is peaking through the mist.

I didn’t know anyone could know me better than I know myself. Like knowing what I wished I had ordered for breakfast as I look longingly at your plate, and you nudge a fork towards me. Or like that time you packed a book for me to read on vacation so that when I exclaimed, “Dang, I forgot to bring a book”, you were right there. Like knowing my favorite tea. Like the grin and grip of trusting my driving.

I didn’t know that we would explore the world. That my love for airports and cultural foods and all things related to a passport would be shared. That a spirit of adventure would root deeply in us both. That we would sell everything and then buy it back again. That the gleam in your eye – the one that comes on the verge of adventure – would be so alluring.

I also had no idea the storms we’d be asked to weather. The tears we would cry. The nights of deep and dark pain that would penetrate our souls. The losses we’d be asked to bear.

There’s something about those stormy days, though, that make it all the sweeter to hold your hand on the sunny ones like today. There’s something so much richer to clinging to one another when we’ve been through days where it’s all we had to cling to. There is a grace in knowing that this anchor holds. That our relationship isn’t determined by the number of sunny days versus dark days. That our love isn’t circumstantial. That loss, while real, doesn’t define us. That our friendship outweighs our fears.

I’ve been given a rich life with you, my love. I’m thankful every day, but particularly today, day number 3,286.

 

Oh the Questions I’ve Asked [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week) (link). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested.

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Clouds

I could dedicate a whole series JUST to the spiritual dynamic of infertility. I’ve asked more questions than I’ve had answers, though I’ve found answers to the most critical ones.

I’ve wrestled with this post because there is just no way – NO WAY – to capture the fullness or scope of this sacred conversation in one little post. The majesty and the mystery of sacred sadness fills many pages of Scripture. While my God’s character doesn’t need defending, I care very much about how He’s represented to a hurting world. I feel the weight of portraying just how good He truly is, while admitting just how many times I’ve questioned that in the midst of loss.

So I won’t try to accomplish in one wee post what acres of Scripture work to portray over generations of time. But for today, for one glimpse, I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in on one of the many conversations I’ve had with this good, mysterious God.

Dear God,

When I started this journey, questions flooded my mind. Why me? Why do you allow painful things for your children? Why are you withholding something good from me if you are my good Father?

I’m not sure those were wrong questions, but I am not sure they were entirely right, either. I think the real questions are simply this: who are You – really – and who am I – really?

I wonder if I’m any closer to knowing. Maybe in part.

Here’s what I know so far:

God, you are hard to understand. Intensely intimate and frighteningly distant. Jealous but kind. Firm but gentle. Generous yet controlled. Good but not safe. You give. And you take away. You are a mystery, yet worthy of trust.

I, too, am a deep mystery – even to myself. Hopeful yet despairing. Giving but oh-so-selfish. Jealous and bitter. Thankful and humbled. Trusting and yet suspicious.

I guess we make a fine pair. I know now a little bit of what Job felt when he realized He’d been searching for an answer for his pain and instead You responded with more questions. Not in a mean way but just, you know, reminding us both that we weren’t there when you laid the foundations of the earth and what not.

You don’t owe me answers – though I wouldn’t turn them down if you offered them. I kind of envision a long coffee date in heaven where You walk me through my story. But right here, right now, I don’t have answers to all my questions.

I have answers to the important ones, though, like what faith in You really requires, that You aren’t afraid of Friday or honest questions, that you allow pain, and yet are the God who brings life from death.

 

Welcoming Baby (when it’s not yours) [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested. 

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

IMG_4179

More than 200 babies have been born to our social circle since we first started trying. That means I’ve had, umm, a lot of practice in “the reaction” to pregnancy announcements, births, baby showers and first birthdays. I’ve cried, laughed, cursed, whimpered, scowled, celebrated, jumped, squealed and hid. Let me be clear: all the littles that fill our lives are SUCH a gift – it’s just that their arrival sometimes provides shock waves.

Truth told, it’s not always a friend’s first child that stops me in my tracks, but when they start popping out number two or even three, well, that’s a bit disorienting. It’s easy to feel like your feet are stuck in quick-sand while people are running laps around you.

But one of the sweetest announcements I ever received was from a friend who had also dealt with nearly a decade of infertility. A lot of people tell you “it will happen someday”, but in truth the odds are severely against that – chances of an infertile couple conceiving go DOWN each year, not up. With all the different emotions that can flood your mind when another pregnancy is announced, I think there’s also this heightened sense of awareness for the TTC (trying to conceive) community. Because you know what a miracle one little embryo is. Especially to someone who’s been told it would never happen.

This is a letter I penned years ago in celebration of one such miracle.

Dear Shan,

Ah my friend, today you have crossed into a new world.   Today, the day you gave birth to your beautiful baby boy, you are entering the-land-of-the-newborn. I hear it is a beautiful but sometimes terrifying place.

As you start this new journey, the first thing I want to say is “thank you”. Thank you for being my guide through the desert of infertility for so long. You spoke words to me that were exactly what I needed to hear. You knew when to stay silent. You let me rant, rave, cry, and nervously giggle when the emotions were all jumbled.

Thank you for sharing your heart so freely, because it helped me find my own. You gave me freedom and courage to be honest about this journey. I know you won’t ever forget your own nine-year journey through infertility, because it’s so much more than a physical journey, but not everyone is willing to share it, and you were. And that has meant the world to me.

And second, I want to say DRINK UP! You will always remember the desert, but you don’t live there anymore. So drink, drink, DRINK … drink in the smell of your baby. Drink in the magic of ten little perfect fingers and toes. Drink in the baby meows and coos and cuddles. Drink in the cutest chubbiest cheeks this side of the Mississippi. Okay, both sides of the Mississippi. Drink in the midnight feedings when it’s just you and him while the rest of the world sleeps. Drink in the attention and the oggling. Drink in the wonder that God opened your womb.

Don’t hold back. And don’t apologize. Not to me, not to anyone else still wandering their desert. Don’t hide your babe from us. Because we need to drink him in too … even if my story isn’t your story, I need to drink from the well of promise and hope that this baby boy represents. I need to hold him and cuddle him and laugh at all the adorb things that he inherited from you.

And I might need to cry. I might need to cry because I don’t get to keep him, because I don’t get to see my husband’s eyes in his. And because you are now entering a world that I might never relate to, never really understand. I will listen, and nod, and even chime in my overblown opinion from time to time, but probably won’t understand. Tell me about it anyways.

And I might need to brag, to celebrate that I don’t have to wake up every two hours. To sigh in relief because I’m not juggling life with a newborn. To go on and on about my trip to the Caribbean in this carefree childless life I lead.

Each moment – laughing, crying, bragging with you through this new chapter – is a tiny sip, a tiny dip into the well that reminds me that this sacred journey is not arbitrary and that for some, it’s not forever.

I LOVE YOU. So much. I’m SO excited for you and I’m already in love with his little face. So many new things lie ahead. So DRINK, savor, and celebrate my friend, for you are doubly blessed as God has trusted you with a desert and now, an overflowing oasis.

 

Bringing Sexy Back to Infertility [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

Resolve to know more. This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested.

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once. 

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Keep Calm & Grab a Pee Stick

Infertility brings a lot of, shall we say, interferences. Things like thermometers and ovulation kits and charts can quickly take over your nightstand. Se-xy.

You might be dealing with the super-se-xy side of infertility if …

… you call out “hey Babe, can you grab me a pee stick?”

… a romantic whisper in your ear is “hey, did your temperature spike today?”

… you HAVE TO COME HOME RIGHT NOW. No, seriously. Like right now.

… balancing your chart and your checkbook take the same place on your things-I’m-not-excited-to-do-today-list.

In the midst of making trying to make a baby, sometimes you gotta fight for the sexy.

Today’s letter is in honor of all women everywhere who have turned to the help of thermometers, baby-making-charts, or a smiling pee stick to tell her if she’s ovulating.

Dear pee stick,

Yes you, the one with the smug smile. You’re such a punk. And I think you know it.

I just got you and your smug smile out of the box a few months ago. Because I don’t need you. Or so I want to believe. It’s no big deal having you around when you stare blankly. But on the day you smile, well, I kinda hate you on that day.

I want to throw my hands on my hips and tell you “you’re not the boss of me.” But then you smile patiently, and remind me that you are, actually. You call the shots here and tell me when it’s go-time.

By morning, you’re a science teacher, telling me something interesting about the chemicals in my body and that ovulation is nigh. By mid-afternoon you’re the obnoxious coach who won’t stop with the whistle – alright, already! By evening, you’re the wench in my bedroom.

The hardest part about having you in my life is that I know I will probably see your smug smile again next month, when we are trying. Again. I know this because 48 months of trying have taught me well. We will smile at each other, but only one of us will really mean it. 

So let me tell you something. I’m taking sexy back. I’ll patiently listen as you share your opinion. I’ll heed your advice. And I’ll happily give you credit if you ever earn it. The bathroom is yours, but the bedroom – that’s ours.

 

For more information on infertility, you may visit:

That Time I was Given a Label [NIAW]

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested. Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Image

“Oh, so you’re infertile.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa – let’s not go throwing labels around there, Doc.

The objection was clear in my head – the actual words that came out of my mouth were a bit more stutter-y … “I, uh, well, I don’t know, if, well, but, I … we’re just … under a lot of stress right now.”

“You’ve been having unprotected sex for a year and you’re not pregnant. So you’re infertile.”

And BAM, just like that I had a label.

The doctor wasn’t wrong, he was stating clinical fact – and it’s not that I need to be coddled – it’s just that, well, it wasn’t a label I was ready for. It took me another year to use the label for myself. Somehow, taking on that label felt like an admission. An acceptance. Of something I was all too unwilling to accept.

The thing about labels is we know that they can’t capture who we really are. We know that. But still we fight against them as if they will brand us permanently.

Am I infertile? No, I’m a woman who is experiencing infertility. But also yes, I am infertile. Will I be forever? I don’t know – that’s not part of the diagnosis. I just know I have been for seven years.

Some of my reasons to avoid the label “infertile” included:

  1. It would mean admitting I was truly actually trying. That’s a vulnerable thing. To declare to the world that you are trying at something that for many comes naturally – or even accidentally.   Not just casually you-know-whatever-if-it-happens-it-happens. If I’m the married girl who doesn’t happen to have kids yet but isn’t trying, I’m just a happy childless girl. But if I’m infertile, it tells the whole world that in my most intimate of relationships and desires, I am trying – and coming up empty.
  1. Labels suck. They just do. They can’t ever be fully true. And a lot of them are painful. Widow. Orphan. Cancer patient. Infertile. They describe something we’re experiencing, but not who we are. Somehow, though, the person often gets lost in the label. I was afraid of getting lost. No longer being me, but being the infertile girl. A stigma. Something to be pitied.
  1. Infertility is awkward. Let’s just admit it, it is. From the lame jokes about “are you sure you know how it works?” to the uncomfortable silence when a friend tries to find the words to tell you that SHE’s pregnant while you are not. It’s awkward. Procreating is one of the most natural human experiences and involves the most intimate of human interactions, so whether you like it or not, placing yourself out there as an “infertile couple” is going to be awkward, because your sex life just became open for discussion.

But perhaps most of all, hearing that label – pronounced so abruptly – left me feeling broken. I could no longer hide behind “we just didn’t get the timing right this month”, or “we just have to get through this stressful season” or “I ate the wrong foods this month” or the myriad of other excuses you come up with when answers aren’t making sense.

Now, six years after that fateful labeling-moment, there’s no doubt that the label fits. There are no medical explanations, but our bodies don’t make babies. After I learned to accept the label as a description of part of my life but not my whole life, using it became easier. But sometimes – somedays – there’s still that bruise from the initial label. It’s usually when something breaks. A couple weeks ago I set out to bake. I rarely bake. But I’d had a few days off in a row and I thought I’d celebrate with a morning baking project. I diced the mango and mixed the oats and started dreaming of the smells that would fill my home, the smile that would cross my husband’s face when he came home to his little Suzy-homemaker, not to mention the nom-nom factor I was expecting for my own tastebuds. Then I opened the oven. Which was still cold. Though I’d turned it on 20 minutes prior. Broken.

I know, I know – it’s just an oven. But it’s a broken oven. I want to label it “Broken” and call up the shipping company to haul the brand-new-oven-turned-piece-of-junk out of here. See, my tolerance for broken things changed when I realized that my uterus was one of them. It’s just an oven, but it’s a trigger, too. Reminding me that some things are just supposed to work – and they don’t.

This week’s letter is one I penned many moons ago as I discovered that we had a new label awaiting us: “Unexplained Infertility”, which affects about 10% of infertile couples. I know, I know, we’re in the top 10% of something – woot!

Dear Doctor,

I will do it. I will give you more blood. I am 100% powerless in this, so I will comply with your process – again. You’re not the first doctor I’ve talked to, you know. Probably won’t be the last.

You’re not the first to start the conversation with a sympathetic nod and insightful questions to “figure me out”. You probably won’t be the last to finish the conversation perplexed, since my reproductive system hasn’t offered a lot of clues.

So, here is my blood. Take it, analyze it. I’m pretty sure I know what you’ll find. I think you’ll tell me I’m fine, and healthy, and “would make such a damn good mother”, yet here I sit, with nothing but a skimpy gown between you and me, looking at a calendar and analyzing body fluids, informing you of all the intimacies of my healthy sex life, including date and time.

I remember when I used to be scared of what you would find, what the results would show – something terrible that had to be fixed. Or worse, couldn’t be fixed. I didn’t really think of this option: finding nothing wrong. Having no “answer”. Having nothing to fix.

I like you, doctor. I really do. I appreciate all your efforts and tests. I just need you to know, though, that at the end of the day, I think we are both playing here – playing house, playing doctor – you remember the games. Because if we’re not playing, then it’s real. And I hate remembering it’s real.

So, when you call or email me and tell me that all the results are normal, that I’m perfectly healthy and we just need to “give it time”, I will smile and nod, because you see, I’ve played this game before.

Post-script: Email from Doctor the following week read: “Your blood test looks good.” Called it.

Infertility: Remembering Friday – My Messy Beautiful

Sometimes I wish I was still oblivious.

I wish that I didn’t know what the effects of child abuse looks like.

I wish that I didn’t know what a last breath sounds like.

I wish that I didn’t know what an empty womb feels like.

 

Unplanned Unparenthood

While I’ve discovered beauty from ashes …While I’ve learned to embrace the rain as much as the rainbow … While my heart swells when I pay attention to all the ways love wins …

Sometimes I’d still rather just not know about the battle love had to fight.

And to me, knowing is what Good Friday is all about. It’s about stopping, pausing, and being honest for a minute about the days that aren’t bright and sunny. The days that bring questions and sometimes shocking, painful answers.

Like the day that Jesus died.

I so get Peter. I so totally and completely get Peter. He watched Jesus be arrested and then killed on a tree. And he spiraled.

Good Friday was the biggest disappointment of all time. And Peter was an eye-witness.

I’ve spiraled, too. My big disappointment – my Friday – hit like a mack truck when infertility became part of my story a few years ago. The pain is no longer raw, but neither does it just go away. And Good Friday is simply a day to remember.

It’s interesting to me that it coincides with the beginning of  National Infertility Awareness Week this year. Just as Good Friday is a day pause and take stock, to be aware of what redemption cost, NIAW is a week of intentional knowing about infertility.

Sometimes awareness is used as an excuse to build sympathy, or worse – guilt. Lord spare me from that train-wreck.

I’m a fan of Henry David Thoreau’s idea of awareness when he asks “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

So in honor of Good Friday, Messy Beautiful Warriors everywhere, and NIAW – but most of all in honor of the story I’ve been given to tell – I’m going to invite you to see through my eyes for an instant.

Each day next week, I’ll be sharing snippets of letters I’ve written over the years as I’ve tried to give voice to a silent pain. My hope is not so much that you understand me better through it, but that you’ll be able to see a glimpse of just how sacred loss can be, and discover with me the majesty of a God who dares to breathe life into death.

Today’s letter was penned just after I got home from a Good Friday church service a few years ago. I had listened to more than just the Pastor’s words – his body language was screaming as he squirmed with discomfort talking about the day Jesus died.

Dear Pastor,

I know, I know, you aren’t comfortable with Friday. You want to rush through the devastation of Friday so you can get to your Sunday sermon.

But some of us are experiencing our own Friday. Some of us are sitting here with broken hearts, broken hopes, broken dreams, broken expectations, and broken plans – much like Peter was.

Peter was one of Jesus’ best friends. He walked on water. He proclaimed him as the Messiah. But that Friday, he was the guy who denied even knowing Him. That Friday, Peter saw things about himself and his God that he didn’t want to be true. That he couldn’t believe were true.

Peter saw Jesus die.

And I bet there were still days – even after Sunday – that Peter wished there’d been no Friday. I bet there were days he just wanted his friend back.

Because Friday hurt. Friday was dark, and painful, and ugly, and terrifying, and opened places of his own soul that Peter wishes he’d never seen. And certainly wishes no one else had seen.

Each of us has our Fridays. Those days, weeks, months, or years of broken dreams.

And I have to tell you – I take comfort in knowing that Jesus gets it. He gets me. He’s had other friends with broken hearts and broken dreams, and they made it through. Which tells me I can, too. But first they survived Friday.

And to be honest, most Christians I know want to jump to Sunday – to skip the pain and get straight to the celebration. I can’t help but wonder if Peter would have punched someone in the face if they’d tried to tell him on Friday just how “good” it was.

I guess the thing is, Sunday didn’t erase Friday. In fact, Friday is really what made Sunday matter.

So all I’m asking, Pastor, is to just let it be Friday sometimes. Let the dream be broken. Let the disappointment be felt. Let it hurt. Let it suck. Let it be confusing.

Let me know that there’s a place for me here, whether I’m in a state of Sunday-praise, or Friday-pain. 

*This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Life in the Lunch Line

There I stood.  One of hundreds.  Standing in line to satisfy one of the most basic needs of all.  Food.  We all just wanted food.

Lunch Line Pic

The lunch line.

I’d just sat through Donald Miller’s encouragement on how to handle disappointment.  I’d heard Mike Foster talk about the difference between hurt and hype, and how hope is found somewhere in between.  Randall Wallace gave insight not only into the skill of kilt-wearing, but into the soul that he brought to writing William Wallace’s “FREEDOM!!!!!” in Braveheart.  I’d just finished sharing life across texts.  Important life.  Life that includes reminders of deep truth and questions about angels cradling lost babies.

And then I got in the lunch line.  By the time 60 minutes had passed and I made my way into the cafeteria – the altar at which I had waited to bow – I found myself in wall-to-wall people and I was ready to use elbows if needed.

I can’t tell you how many days of my life go just like this lunch line.  I hear/read/think something great, something inspirational, something revolutionary, something Truly Important.  But then I get in a line – often on the freeway, sometimes on the internet, or sometimes just in my own head.  I get busy taking care of basic things and basic needs.  And I get frustrated and annoyed and ready to throw elbows.

As I sat down with a plate full of food to finally satiate the beast, my husband asked me this most obnoxious of questions:  “So, how do you apply what you just heard to this moment?”  Grrr, the bane of a pastor’s wife’s existence.  Actual application of spiritual truths.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Well, Don just taught on facing disappointment – to list both the griefs and the blessings.  I can name a few blessings that came out of that hour in line – can you?”

“Wait, I get to list my griefs first,” I said.  Wait.  I get to list my griefs first.

While at the moment I was being snarky, I was about two minutes away from one of those deep “aha” moments.  My lists went like so:

Grief #1.   I grieve inefficiency.  Seriously, wasted minutes are like nails on a chalkboard to me, and I’d just wasted 60 in a line.

Grief #2.  I grieve feeling overlooked – all of a sudden I felt like a number instead of a person attending this conference.

Grief #3.  I grieve the loss of time with friends.  Meal-times were the breaks I’d counted on to debrief with friends at the same conference.

“Okay”, he said, “those are all valid.  Now list the blessings.”

Blessing #1.  It didn’t rain on us in line, even though it had poured all morning long.

Blessing #2.  A good friend that we hadn’t even known was at this conference stood in line with us for the full hour even though he’d already gotten his food.

Blessing #3.  I got a one on one lunch date with my husband.  These are far too far between in our daily lives.

Blessing #4.  I was looking at the ocean the whole time.  I mean, seriously, could there be a prettier campus than Point Loma?

I know, I know – it was a lunch line.  For an hour.  Epiphanies can show up in the oddest of places.

As I sat there, giving my husband snarky but real answers, I realized just how important both lists are – those of griefs and those of blessings – though blessings get more press.  “Count your blessings, count them one by one.”

And don’t get me wrong – counting our blessings can be crucial to mental and spiritual health.  But permission to list my griefs gave my list of blessings context. 

Here’s what I mean.  If I’d had to start with a list of blessings, I can guarantee you that they would have come out of my mouth with an undertone of resentment, because I was upset.  But not totally clear yet on what I was upset about.  So I would have shrugged and sighed my way through the blessings, and felt like because there were blessings, I wasn’t allowed to be upset.  I’ve done that a lot in my life – the “resentful blessings” list.

The two-list method is far healthier.  It’s like getting to exhale before I inhale. 

And sometimes the lists are small and take minutes – like griefs from a lunch line.  Other lists are much bigger and take much more time – like dealing with death and loss and major-life-disappointment.

I’d call Infertility my First Great Grief.  I started out to fill a need almost as basic as food.  I mean, let’s be honest, making babies is about as simple as it comes – until it’s not.  And I found myself in a seven-year line that has no end in sight.

For a long time, I didn’t give myself permission to list my griefs in this.  Because I knew my life had blessings, and I knew I was supposed to count them, and I had this unhealthy sense of equating grieving with whining.

But then.  Oh then.  God called me out.  A couple of years ago, He told me it was time to go INTO my grief, to stare it in the face, to dare to see what I could find by looking at it instead of stifling it.  He told me to air my griefs to Him, to list them one by one.  He can handle it.

And I’ve learned so much.  So.  Much.  About myself, my God, my grief, and yes, my blessings too.  See, when I tried to see only my blessings, my griefs were in the way and blocked the view.  But the interesting thing about looking at grief is that it’s a window, not a wall – it allows you to see through to the other side.   And yes, even infertility has its blessings.  Would I have chosen to learn them this way?  No.  But can I count them? Yes.  My life is so full despite my womb remaining empty. 

So let me encourage you in this today, friend – if you have griefs, small or large, on the lunch-line or life-loss scale, count them.  Count them one by one.  And then your blessings, too.  One rarely exists without the other.

P.S. I’m now rather passionate about encouraging others to “go there” with God – to dig into their grief and be willing to be surprised by what they might find.  If you or someone you know is walking through the grief of infertility or infant loss, share this link:  www.choosejoyevent.com – yours truly will be talking about choosing joy even when you want to punch it in the face.

Unplanned Unparenthood

Loss comes in all shapes and sizes.  Mine has come in the form of unexplained infertility.  Last year, I wrote this letter to a friend as I began a journey inward:  a journey into and through my loss. A journey of looking loss in the face and daring it to have something for me.   

This week, I’ll be sharing what I’m learning.  For all those that have faced a future different than what they’d planned, Thursday night will be an important conversation:  Join us for Unplanned Unparenthood and spread the word!  

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Dear Alli,

Your eyes stopped me in my tracks.  Your eyes hold ache.  An ache I know.  An ache I never ever wanted to know.  And my heart breaks in knowing you are now holding this pain too.  Your eyes woke me up to the almost sacred union of infertility.  We know what many women don’t know.  Won’t know.  Can’t know.  The sisterhood of the empty womb.  Not quite as sexy as traveling pants, but what are we gonna do?

We know what it’s like to spend our first few months trying, giggling with our husbands because, well, trying can be quite fun.

We know what it’s like when it stops being fun. When you have to bust out the thermometer, and the calendar, and seventh grade biology books.

We know what it’s like to experience a slow surprise when, month by month, you realize that everyone else’s normal may not be your normal.

We know what it’s like to hit the one-year mark and gasp.

We know what it’s like to literally ache from emptiness.

We know what numb feels like.

I hate knowing these things.  And I know you do, too.

You are on month 20.  I’m on month 50.  Yes, five-zero.  I probably represent your worst fear.  Between us is another thirty months of disappointment.  After just six months of trying, I was so scared that I’d still be sitting here years later.

And here I am.

Fears do come true.  Infertility makes you face that head on.

I hope your fears don’t come true.  I hope your story of infertility ends this month with a pregnancy test.  But if in thirty months you’re still waiting, I want you to know…

That thirty months later you won’t cry as often.

That thirty months later your life will be full, even if your womb still isn’t.

That thirty months later your marriage can be stronger, and more beautiful, than you’d ever imagined.

That maybe you’ll be asked to love an orphan.  That maybe your longing will teach you about theirs.  That maybe you’ll learn how to love by choice instead of by birth.

That maybe you won’t parent at all.  And you’ll learn to celebrate that path, too.

But I guess the reason I’m writing isn’t really to comfort you or scare you or even challenge you.  I’m writing you because I’m just learning how to talk about this.  I’m just learning that we need to talk about this.

Maybe there are things to gain through loss.

Maybe there are gifts and miracles and promises we haven’t understood or discovered before.

Maybe there’s a freedom we can’t even envision.

I’m ready to find out.  And by “ready”, I mean totally terrified.  But let’s go, step by step, and see what there is to see on this unplanned path.