Life in Status Updates

I know it’s been a while. I’m humbled to see that my fertility posts are still getting new readers. I shared my story so others could find encouragement, and I’m encouraged right back that I might be able to help someone just a little bit.

At the end of this last Clomid cycle (which was #6) we went through a rollercoaster of emotions. That sounds cliché, but it’s totally true. I’ve been wanting to share about it here, but at first I didn’t have the energy, and then with an end-of-summer vacation and the start of preschool approaching, I didn’t have the time. And then I realized I had written about it: briefly, in pieces, on Facebook, as we went through it all. So I’m going to share my last few status updates and give you a little peek behind the curtain in case you’re in the same position or are wanting to understand this experience a little more.

July 1, 2017:

We are delighted to announce something that, on many days over a number of years, we were not sure would happen… but Baby H is on the way! 9+ weeks along, 31-ish to go! This new arrival is expected early in February 2018.
We want to thank you, our friends and family, for your love, prayers, and support, and ask you to keep it coming. Things are going great, and most of the time we feel hopeful and excited… but because of the path we’ve walked to get here, fears still surface, and it’s already become clear that our pregnancy journey will feel a little different than what we expected. We’re sharing this news “early” because a) it’s hard to keep such exciting news under wraps, and b) we need your support no matter what happens. Through everything, God has proven himself good. We are so thankful for this miraculous new life that has come about after a LOT of prayer… and a dash of science. 😉

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July 8, 2017:

Mike and I are having a very hard weekend as yesterday we learned that we lost our baby. We are thankful for all the people around us who celebrated with us, and now we ask for your continued prayer and support as we grieve and figure out how to move forward. Yesterday was such a hard day but we saw the light shine through many times. We know we are being held up by a loving God and loving friends and family.

P.s. I am doing fine- was sent home with meds to speed the process along, and while it’s unpleasant, everything seems to be happening normally. I would still appreciate prayers for full recovery.

P.p.s we will probably not be very active here on fb right now, but we do want to get the word out and the prayers going. This news is okay to share.

God brought this verse to mind on our way home from the doctor’s office yesterday and I have been feeling its truth so I thought I’d share. He is good.

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July 21, 2017:

How am I doing? I’ve been asked this question quite a bit recently, and I don’t mind at all, I’m just not always sure how to answer.

I’m okay, but I’m not great. I’m mostly able to function, but sometimes normal functioning is overwhelming to take on. I can get out and about, but I might cry on the way there or back. I’m usually tired when I get home from simple errands or outings. I haven’t straightened my hair in two weeks and have put on mascara maybe three times- to some of you that will speak volumes! 😉

I am so thankful for the visits, texts/messages, cards, flowers, and gifts from friends and family. They say grief comes in waves, and it’s true. Thankfully, support from others is helping to buoy me along, always coming right when I need it. Thank you, Lord; thank you, friends. Please keep praying.

You all are great, but I am MOST thankful for my sweet husband Mike. I was so happy to get him home after his week in Chicago (although I made it through the week at home with help from friends)! We are trying our best to hold each other up and are being blessed by the love God has grown in us over the years.

I can see plenty of silver linings, but I’m still under a cloud. My joy is a little out of focus- taking a back seat to God’s quiet peace that tells me I will be alright even though it’s not all right, right now.

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July 31, 2017:

Yesterday marked our 12th anniversary. Over the years, in a variety of situations, we often ask each other, “is this what you thought being married would be like?” Super funny in the middle of some ridiculous repair, or cleaning up a surprising mess, or doing something really basic/boring. But we also use this line for comic relief in more serious times– disagreements, disappointments… heartbreaks.

When we make our little joke, Mike usually says, “It’s better.” (Awwwwww) And it’s true.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of heartbreak over our miscarriage, our rumpled bed caught my eye. I took a picture so I could remember the bittersweet time we spent sitting there together, sharing the sorrow. It was NOT what I thought being married would be like. I didn’t envision that much sadness or that many tears coming our way. But even when life brings heartbreak, sharing it with Mike is still better than I ever could have imagined– and I imagined it would be pretty great! I’m thankful that we have so many good people around us for encouragement and support, and for God’s exponential grace and faithfulness to us. Cheers to the next several dozen years!

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p.s. here’s a happy bonus picture from last weekend when we had a great idea to take our picture on top of a parking garage with a nice city view behind us… and found that the top level was closed off for construction. Womp-womp.

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See? Rollercoaster.

So what actually happened, to fill in the gaps of those posts, was that I had a missed miscarriage. The baby’s development had stopped but my body didn’t know it yet. It was discovered during my first ultrasound at almost 10 weeks along. One of the most painful moments I’ve ever lived through was being told there was no heartbeat. We were then given the options: have a D & C, wait for my body to catch up and miscarry naturally, or take medicine to start the miscarriage process right away. This was a Friday morning, and Mike had to leave town on Sunday morning, so I chose the medicine in order to have my husband with me while I miscarried. The medicine (cytotec) worked as described, and while obviously it wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was very similar to my first miscarriage, which was a little earlier (6 weeks along) and totally spontaneous. I was happy to have my husband with me for support and for us to grieve together. It was a sweet time, although obviously bitter, too.

Once Mike left I had to really push myself out of my introverted comfort zone and allow people to visit and help me. It was the best thing to do, and not actually that hard once I started. During those six days I was so blessed by friends bringing meals/snacks/coffee/gifts, or just their company. One of my sweet friends went with me to my follow-up ultrasound appointment. There were also many messages lighting up my phone, which I enjoyed reading as I was able, and ignored when it felt like too much (I actually turned off Facebook notifications for a while so I wouldn’t feel nagged by the little red numbers). Managing my busy social schedule and keeping the house tidy for guests was a good way to keep myself busy when I needed to be. Part of managing my schedule, though, also included time for grieving however I needed to. Maybe it was reading Scripture or something relevant to my situation, or prayer in whatever form it took (often tears), or watching TV or taking a nap. It ended up being… I hesitate to say a “good” week… but it was a healthy week that brought many blessings, even in the middle of a lot of sadness.

When Mike came home I thought things would be easier, but my emotions came out in different ways with my safest/favorite person by my side again. We grieved together and it was difficult but okay. Things have gotten a little easier, but we are still working on how to carry this grief as we move forward. I have had some physical symptoms that seem to be related to stress or anxiety, so I’m getting help for those things.

As painful as it is sometimes to look back at our excited announcement, I’m ultimately glad we did it. I’m glad we celebrated that little life as much as we could, and that we made a public announcement “early.” Yes, it meant our hearts were out there. We were nervous. But we got so much more support because we shared, and we’ve needed it all.

Speaking of moving forward… we are. We’ve seen a specialist (a reproductive endocrinologist, or RE) who had a pretty hopeful interpretation of my/our history, and the plan is to begin letrozole/Femara cycles as soon as possible. This drug is similar to Clomid in that it encourages ovulation, although it does so in a different way, but the timing of the cycles should look similar to when I took Clomid. The main difference will be the addition of ultrasound monitoring to measure follicle growth, and a “trigger shot” to release an egg at the right time. I hope to share about my letrozole experience here for anyone looking for that information, so stay tuned.

If you have had to go through anything similar to our experience, I am so, so sorry for your loss and for the pain you’re feeling. It’s not right or fair, and it’s a heavy thing to carry. I would encourage you to consider sharing with others in a way that makes sense for you. Maybe it’s with a counselor, or a few close friends, or trusted family members. Maybe it’s on social media or a blog. After I opened up on my blog and shared the post with my broader circle of friends and even acquaintances, I was surprised by how free I felt to post on social media– almost like a “normal” person again. So I would encourage anyone to share with safe people, because you will need their support. Also, it seems that sharing can knock down walls you may have put up in other places that you didn’t even realize, and you may feel more free in your everyday life in those areas after you share. But of course, do you. 🙂

I’m saying a prayer now for anyone who will read this post and is in the same boat I’ve been in for the past few months. I pray you will find the peace, healing, and strength you need to keep going. I pray you will find the people who can care for you. I pray you will find the balance of grieving what was lost and hoping for what is to come. I pray that you will receive your miracle. That’s what I pray for myself, too. ❤

 

 

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My Fertility Journey: Clomid Cycles

image created by me using the Rhonna Designs app

I first want to say that I’m glad you’re here! I only just recently started sharing about my fertility journey, and you can read my first post about it here. I also had some words on how to relax, if that’s something you’d like to read about. Today I want to share details of my Clomid cycles, because stories like these were exactly what I couldn’t find when I went looking for them.

The thought of medicated cycles was scary to me when it was initially recommended by my doctor. First of all, it was something I never thought I would have to do, so there was the shock of realizing I was on a different path than I thought I’d take… but I’m also kind of a “crunchy” or natural person and just don’t have much experience with medications in general. The last time I regularly used a prescribed medication was the birth control pill, and I didn’t respond well to it. That was over eleven years ago.

So I hit Google hard to find out what Clomid is, how it works, and what it’s like to take it. Here are a couple of links that sum it up nicely: WebMd, VeryWell

If you love torturing yourself go ahead and scour the TTC forums for people’s personal experiences… but please try not to get sucked into the black hole. 🙂 Believe me when I say that forums can make you crazy. I’ll have more to say on that below.

Before describing my experience, I feel like I should just “disclaim” that I am NOT a doctor or any kind of medical professional. Every person is different, every doctor uses different protocols… there are a lot of variables involved in this kind of treatment. Please don’t take my word over your doctor’s; I only want to share my experience in the hope of helping others. I also don’t have any referral links… not popular enough for that.

I have done 5 rounds of Clomid. My medicated cycles have “worked” in terms of ovulation, but haven’t “worked” in terms of conception (yet!). My side effects are not on the serious end of the spectrum, but range from “annoying” to “difficult.” I know some women have a terrible time on Clomid, but everything I’ve read says that most will be able to tolerate it. And tolerating it just means that the pros outweigh the cons; it can still be a pretty unpleasant time. While taking the pills, I get more emotional (crying, irritable), which can be managed but makes you feel out of control and not like yourself. I also found that it caused constipation for me, which is never fun. Once I had hot flashes for the first few days. During the first three cycles I also experienced “dryness;” I won’t get into that too much but I will say it made life difficult during the timed intercourse phase of the cycle. It was pretty tough, and negatively affected our chances of success. The first three cycles were at the lowest dose of Clomid, 50mg. After that we tried a Clomid challenge, during which the dose is 100mg, and I felt so much better. I haven’t heard or read about anyone else having that experience; if anything, the symptoms seem to get worse as the dose increases. So I guess I’m abnormal! Anyway, after that I continued at 100mg and had no more dryness (although still constipation and emotional changes, which I was prepared for). Even after the dose change, I found myself thrown off by the surprising things my body was doing, which changed from cycle to cycle. I had no idea what to expect in the first place, and still haven’t quite pinned it down, other than… expect the unexpected! 

Here’s what life has looked like for me during Clomid cycles:

Days 1-4: This is your very brief time to grieve the start of a new cycle if you need to. Then you have to decide if you want to take Clomid, call the doctor’s office, get meds ordered, tests scheduled, etc. My cycles have mostly been unmonitored (I am working with an OB, not a specialist). During my Clomid challenge cycle I had a lab and a sonogram to check for cysts on day 3, an HSG on day 7 (that one doesn’t have to be on a specific day but within a range of days), labs on day 10, a follicle scan on day 12, and a lab on day 21. That was a busy month! Once I know what Day 1 is, I take a good look at my calendar to see what I absolutely have to do for the next 30ish days. I also want to get an idea of when we will be “trying” and when my two-week-wait is. Once I know which weeks are which, I can plan accordingly. I also might start shopping for healthy treats, or at least make a shopping list.

Days 5-9 (or 3-7, depending on dr.’s orders): This is when you actually take the pills. I recommend watching your body very closely and keeping track of symptoms or anything that feels different. I have been using the Free Menstrual Calendar app for years to track cycle length, so I use this to track my BBT, CM, OPK, BD, meds, symptoms, test results, and appointments. I also use its companion app, Fertility Friend, for the actual BBT chart. You can use Fertility Friend for everything, but I started out with FMC and want to keep my data there for consistency’s sake. At this point I stick to my usual life schedule, but start to be mindful of my stress levels. I also try to tidy up at home so there is less clutter around, but I don’t go into a full cleaning frenzy.

I also continue to make sure I have healthy alternatives ready if I start craving any foods. My biggest cravings are sugar and dairy, which I try hard to avoid as ovulation gets closer. I wish it weren’t the case, but during the beginning of a cycle I’m usually binging on all the things I’m not supposed to eat so they will be gone during the next phase of my cycle. Why I don’t just throw that junk away, I don’t know. The reality is, it’s like Mardi Gras for me. 😉 Sugar-binging aside, I cut my coffee down to 1 cup per day (I would normally have 2 small cups), and no caffeine after 3:00pm so I can sleep at night. I make sure my husband and I are both taking our vitamins. A word on that: I initially wanted to take herbs to help with this process, but after reading up and asking a couple of experts, it seemed that herbs wouldn’t help enough to be worth it, and in the worst case scenario they might interfere with the Clomid. So I’m not messing with fertility herbs right now. I do take a prenatal multivitamin, fish oil, calcium/magnesium/zinc, B6, B12, and vitamin D. My prenatal multivitamin is pretty good, but after years of reading up on natural support for fertility I have decided I wanted a little more of some things. I did research safe dosing (and not only on “natural” sites) to make sure I’m not OD-ing on these supplements. During this phase I add fiber or magnesium as needed based on how my digestion is affected by the Clomid. I also start scheduling appointments for massage and acupuncture. Typically I’ll do 2 or 3 massages in a cycle. It’s nice to have one during each week that you’re trying, and one during the wait. For acupuncture I will do 2 visits a week, maybe 3. From what I’ve read and what my practitioners have said, you can start acupuncture as soon as bleeding from your period has stopped and continue until ovulation has been confirmed. But defer to your practitioners.

Days 10-22: This is when you try, try, and try again– the timed intercourse phase. Sounds so romantic, right? I like to keep the house tidy, laundry done, etc. so we both feel calm at home. We try to BE at home, too, so additional commitments are limited. I plan ahead for the things I might not feel like doing- especially cooking and exercising. Sometimes I do better at this than other times. When I’m doing well, I’ll look through my recipes to choose some comforting, healthy favorites that I enjoy cooking or are quick and easy. I’ll start thinking about exercise and plan to get up a little earlier so I can at least do something a few days out of the week.

This phase is when I start indulging in my healthy treats. Maybe I’ll make a dessert, or buy allergy-friendly cookies, chips, and other treats. I like to have a nice bar of chocolate around, or dairy-free ice cream. I also have special drinks ready (my favorites are kombucha or Perrier) for when I miss my occasional glass of wine that I ALWAYS want when I’m not supposed to have it. I think for me this falls under the umbrella of SUGAR cravings. Ugh. I will also add that, although I talk a big game about my “healthy treats,” sometimes I need to eat a bag of tater tots from Sonic. Just do your best!

This phase is when you’ll use your OPKs (ovulation predictor kit) if you’re using those. I use ClearBlue Digital tests, although I kind of wish I had gone for the old-fashioned test strips and learned how to use them, because they’re cheaper. When we first decided to do Clomid I didn’t have time to get the strips ordered and shipped, and my doctor recommended ClearBlue digital, so I just went to the store and got it. When you hope each cycle using OPKs will be your last for a while, it’s easy to keep spending $30-40 on the test kit each time. I’ve come to terms with the cost and enjoy the ease of use. I actually think the old-fashioned strips would have led to a whole new level of over-analysis for me, so maybe we dodged a bullet there. Follow the instructions for your specific test as far as what day to start and what time of day to use it. I’ve read online that testing midday is best, but ClearBlue says to test after your longest sleep, so that means FMU (first morning urine, lovely) and that’s what I do. When I think ovulation is approaching I will test twice a day. In addition to the tests, I keep track of CM (yep, cervical mucus) according to my Creighton Model method for another indicator of when ovulation will occur. I also track my BBT (basal body temperature), but this can only confirm ovulation after the fact, so it’s good to track all of these signs simultaneously.

This “trying” phase will vary based on when you ovulate, doctor’s instructions, whether you get a trigger shot to induce ovulation, etc. etc. My doctor’s instructions say days 10-22, but based on my own cycle it looks a little different, maybe 12-24.

Still, you don’t want to miss ovulation day, so it’s best to cover your bases and get as busy as you can! Which is toughhhhhhhhhhhhhh, and exhausting. Seriously. I knew this phase would be difficult for me, because of all the emotions and hormones and everything, but the pressure affected my husband, too. We were not always able to get our timing right, which was disappointing and frustrating. This is why we both started putting more and more effort into preparing ourselves, our home, and our schedules for each cycle. I recommend preparing to show extra grace and gentleness to yourselves and each other during this time. And don’t take yourselves too seriously…

Lol… yep

You will probably have your progesterone level checked near the end of this phase of the cycle. This confirms whether you ovulated or not. I’ve had results ranging from 17 up to 55. All of those times I ovulated but was not pregnant, even when I had that really high result and thought it meant for sure I was. So listen to your nurses when they say it ONLY indicates whether you ovulated, and does NOT indicate pregnancy. DO NOT Google your progesterone level! Just, no.

Days 23-end of cycle: The two-week-wait. This is the time between ovulation and when you find out if you’re pregnant or not. And it suuuuucks. Because of the Clomid, you will probably feel different than you normally would at this time in your cycle. I have had a LOT of different symptoms during this time: twinges, cramps, tender breasts, hunger & cravings, thirst, fatigue, constipation, heartburn/indigestion, low back pain, vivid dreams, and more. I’ve found this is a good time to schedule MORE meetings, coffee with friends, a game night, seeing a movie, volunteering, etc. ANYthing to get my mind off of analyzing my symptoms. I haven’t done the best with scheduling, especially since sometimes ovulation is hard to pin down and I’m not sure when the “trying” will end and the wait begins. So by the time I’m in the wait, it’s too short notice to make plans. Even in those cases, you can try to get out for an ice cream date or a walk. I did make a list of things I could do if I was starting to go crazy: laundry, read a book or magazine, take a walk, learn something new, round up items to donate… I’ll admit that I didn’t do many things on my list, but even just writing it helped. Maybe that’s because it forced me to acknowledge that it is, indeed, not good to spin my wheels over mystery symptoms.

The first few cycles I was on TTC forums WAY too much during my wait, and while it seemed like a good idea at the time, it was overload. Still, I hesitate to say “stay away from forums all the time!” because it was reading forums that taught me a lot about how different everyone’s experience is. One symptom in one person could result in pregnancy, but the same symptom may be followed by a period for someone else. So if you feel like reading forums is okay for you right now, you should just do it. But I would encourage you to limit your time there, take breaks, and be aware of your emotional state as you go. If you’re already feeling down, maybe don’t go online and accidentally read about how someone with the same symptoms as you got their period or had a miscarriage. Also, going online and reading about people with your symptoms who ended up pregnant might get your hopes up too high. In a nutshell, proceed with caution.

Clomid has been a good thing for me, even though we don’t have our BFP (Big Fat Positive) yet. I’ve learned so much about the menstrual cycle, what’s supposed to happen, how different hormones work and how they make you feel, etc. My body wasn’t having normal cycles on its own before, so it was eye-opening to see what it should be like. It was also relatively low-cost, at least for unmonitored cycles. For a monitored cycle, you might want to look into how much it will cost for all the imaging and labs for your specific insurance plan. Some of the labs and imaging can be expensive. We are still paying for mine, although it’s pretty manageable and we don’t regret having the testing done.

I hope this will be helpful to other women who are just starting to take Clomid, or are in the process of deciding whether to try it. I would say “go for it,” but be aware that it can really take you for a ride. Get ready to feel weird. Keep your expectations realistic. Be gentle with yourself and your partner. Bring questions to your doctor or nurse. Do what you need to do to stay calm. If it’s possible, save up for the little extras that will make you feel good about life and yourself. I also recommend having a network of trusted friends who you can share with throughout your cycle. I tend to keep in contact with my friends during the first 3 weeks or so of a cycle, and then it’s understood that I’ll duck under the radar until I have news for them.

Clomid works for many women, although not for all. It hasn’t gotten me pregnant yet, but it has been a great way to wade into the waters of fertility treatments. I hope I don’t have to go too much deeper, but if I do, I think I have developed a set of tools to help deal with all the stress and emotions that come along with this process. And I hope you might benefit from looking into my toolbox!

If you are a Clomid newbie, or fellow veteran, please say hello. I would love to answer any questions you might have, and encourage you and wish you the very best as you walk this path! I’m saying a prayer right now for anyone reading this whose heart is hurting, that you will feel some comfort and know you are not alone. ❤

My Fertility Journey: When You Should Relax, but You Can’t

With this week being National Infertility Awareness Week I was hoping I could write some posts on the subject and get back into blogging a little more frequently. Thankfully it’s working out so far. In my first post I brought up briefly how people tell you to “just relax,” which of course is NOT what one should say to an infertile person. BUT, the tricky thing is that relaxing is actually an important part of trying to conceive. Important, and incredibly difficult to do.

I wish it weren’t the case, but my fertility journey has been fraught with stress. Part of this is my personality, but part of it is that THIS PROCESS IS STRESSFUL. You’re so out of control, there is so much uncertainty, so many emotions… even the most happy-go-lucky person is bound to get stressed out.

For most of my medicated cycles, I was a bundle of nerves and anxiety. It came out in different ways: controlling my diet, constant Googling…. actually those are the two biggest ones. Oh, also crying.

Every visit to my acupuncturist, she would feel my pulse and tell me I was stressed, and needed to “rest.” Even if I had literally just woken up from a nice long sleep, or had had the least stressful day ever- “You’re stressed,” she would say, matter-of-factly. 😦  And it always sounded like chiding, which annoyed me and initiated big-time internal eyerolls. I knew she was right, that my body was probably stressed even though I felt fine, but I felt like I was already doing everything in my power to reduce stress. For goodness’ sake, I only work like 10 hours a week (doing only things I love), I scale back my commitments strategically based on my cycle, I stretch and do gentle exercise, get massages, pray every day, connect with friends and my church community, try to get quality sleep, eat well, etc. etc. etc. “WHAT MORE COULD I POSSIBLY DO???” I thought. And I even thought it in all caps.

And that was the problem.

I brought up the subject of stress with my chiropractor, asking her what I might be missing, and experienced a true case of right place/right time. In that moment she really helped me put it all together. Stress undoubtedly has effects on the body, which we all know, and while there are physical things we can do to help ourselves curb these effects, another problem is thought patterns. I had heard this before, but for whatever reason (I believe it was the Spirit working in my mind), it clicked that day. She explained that when you get worked up in your mind about “what if this?!?” or “what if that?!?” your brain takes action to protect you. It’s fight or flight. Think of yourself as a zebra, going, “what if I’m about to be chased by a lion?!?” Your zebra brain starts preparing you to RUN, right? Well, my dear doc explained to me that my brain works similar to the zebra’s. If I’m in a constant mental panic about what could happen or what something means, my brain gets ready to RUN, and when I remain in that state it is hazardous to my health.

Before that day, truly relaxing seemed so conceptual, and so impossible. I know I had heard all of the information before, but at that time I understood it on a more personal level and was ready to make some changes. For me that meant no more obsessive/compulsive Googling, no more poring over forums, no more freaking out over symptoms. Just do what I can do, and be done. At a certain point, all will be done that can be, and inventing more to do is not helpful, as much as it may feel like it would be.

So, what did I do instead? Well, I deal in “replacement behaviors” in my professional behavior analytic life, and have seen the benefits, which means I also apply the principle to my personal life. I don’t remove without replacing– try to stop a behavior without putting a new one in its place, and you’re setting yourself up for failure. So I repeated to myself the reasoning that got me to clarity in the first place (a panicked brain leads to a panicked body). I worked to recognize when I was spinning my wheels mentally and reminded myself that what I was doing might actually be harmful to me– and this was not in a self-guilt way, but just a gentle reminder of, “Hey, you’re doing it, time to change course.” I would take a deep breath and think a more hopeful thought.

I replaced ttc forums with Christian infertility blogs, which was much better for my soul. In forums, it’s desperate wonderings and questions of people you know nothing about. Most of them have likely had their babies by now and moved on, but you only see the one day when they were freaking out about something. There usually aren’t any solid answers because those forums are essentially rooms of people wondering the same things. You also get a lot of misinformation and superstition. But with blogs, you can get to know someone’s story. There is more context and background, more honesty, more of a complete picture. And of course there’s the faith element, which brings the Holy Spirit into the process to give more encouragement and peace.

When something came up that I just couldn’t stop thinking about, I would look it up but made a point of looking for articles from reputable sources like a fertility clinic, doctor, experts in natural family planning (great for help with bbt questions), etc. instead of forums full of people just like me– if I don’t have an answer, they probably don’t, either!

I decided to avoid browsing for natural remedies or aids for fertility, too, so no Googling “Clomid + [insert herb here]” or reading articles about the supposed benefits of different natural things. This meant scrolling past posts on Pinterest or Facebook from natural health sites I already follow. Quick aside: I’m not saying that these natural remedies don’t work– I believe that sometimes, for some people, they can– but I have committed to try meds for now, so I’m going to stick to the food and supplement choices I have already made and call it good. A medicated cycle is not the time to start researching all kinds of other things to add to the equation that could either do nothing OR possibly interfere with the medication. This leads to wheel-spinning and what-if thinking.

I listened to less news and more music. I created a specific playlist filled with calming or uplifting songs and made a point to listen to it a few times a day. I put it on my phone, too, so I could listen in the car. I like listening to the radio, especially in the car, but personally I’m sometimes bothered by the jarring sounds of commercials (sometimes without realizing it). So, no commercials yelling about cars or satellite tv or stupid morning shows. Just the calming, familiar sounds of some of my favorite musical friends.

I also wrote some “affirmations” on my prayer sheet that I look at every day, and asked God to help me remember that I am safe, I am doing my best, I am not accepted based solely on what I do, I am guided by the Spirit, I am being equipped for whatever comes my way, etc.

I made these changes at the end of one cycle/beginning of another, and I noticed the positive change right away. I went into the next 30+ days with a more balanced perspective. It felt like I didn’t get my hopes up as much, although I was still sad when that cycle ended. When I got to the parts of my cycle or felt symptoms that would initially power up the Google machine, I was ready to tell myself “no” and make a better choice (hmmm, also exactly what I tell preschoolers when I’m at work…). I spent some time reading heartfelt stories of others who have been through or are still going through infertility and who share their hope through the ups and downs. My eyes were open and ready to identify and avoid my stressors. I’m so thankful to God for the mental clarity and self-control to make the changes, and thankful for practitioners who prompted me to think more deeply about how or why I needed to make changes.

So, if you’re ready, hear this: you can relax. You don’t need to shame or punish yourself into it. Search your heart prayerfully for what you need, and look at how you can make small changes to address those needs. This journey is undeniably stressful, and you will continue to encounter stress even if you do alllll the relaxing things and think alllll the relaxing thoughts, but you don’t have to live in constant panic or worry.

For the Christian, peace is not something we have to strive and strive for, or conjure up on our own. God is a God of peace, Jesus promised peace, and the Spirit brings peace to the heart. I’ve had many times where I just didn’t feel the peace, but I’ve found that in those times I can cry out to God for it. He is helping me understand what his peace looks like and how to live in it, although I’m certainly not perfect at this. Sometimes I believe the lie that grabbing my anxieties back from God and getting my hands dirty in them will help. As you may know… it does not. But I keep seeking, I keep crying out, I keep sharing with trusted people so they can speak peace into my life. I would encourage you to do the same!

Here are some verses that have helped me:

1 Peter 5:7–  “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Philippians 4:6-7– “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Galatians 5:22– “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Isaiah 26:3-4– “You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16– “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

What are some verses that have helped you when peace feels out of reach? How do you relax when it seems impossible?

Thank You

Thank you, friends, for reading my last post about my experience with infertility. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I shared. I mostly just knew that, after a long time of feeling like I hadn’t heard much from God, he was gently leading me to speak up, and I had to obey. I want to praise my faithful God for never giving up on me, and for helping me use the gifts he has given me!

I hoped I would feel some relief; words had been welling up in my heart for a long time. I hoped I would feel a little sense of accomplishment by actually sitting down, letting the words come out, and arranging them for an audience. I hoped I might help someone else feel less alone, or like they felt better equipped to help someone close to them.

And I do a feel a little relieved, a little accomplished, and a little like maybe I have made a difference. So thank you for encouraging me with your clicks, likes, comments, prayers, and the heartfelt “me too” stories some of you shared with me. I am buoyed.

This is the biggest response I’ve ever had to a blog post, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I am working on some more content for next week when National Infertility Awareness Week begins, although my posting content kind of depends on how I’m doing with life at that time, so we’ll see.

But I wanted to be sure to follow up now, while I can. I do feel like I have opened the floodgates and acknowledged the elephant in the room, which paves the way for me to share about life’s more trivial delights without feeling like I’m hiding something.

So here are my breakfast potatoes. I may be dealing with fertility challenges, but I ate a small heap of potatoes on this chill Saturday morning, like a normal person (normal people eat potatoes in heaps, right?), and I don’t feel like it’s a lie to share about it. That’s worth celebrating.

And there’s even more. I bought a house plant that I hope I don’t kill. I’ve tried some awesome allergy-friendly recipes. And I have some bones to pick with Bible verses I see posted all over Pinterest. I hope I can tell you about all of those things (or things like them) now that I’ve addressed the elephant. But for now, THANK YOU for “listening up,” and happy Saturday!

Speaking Up

For a while now, I haven’t felt like myself, and therefore not shared much of myself. For years I have stepped back more and more from social media, and obviously haven’t blogged here in well over a year. I sometimes felt like opening up, but it was still too tender. Or I was too weak, too tired. I have been trying and trying to figure out how to tell my story, to give an explanation of why it’s been this way and share what I’ve been going through. So I’ll just say it.

It’s infertility.

I don’t much like the look of that word. 😦 Partly because I know I do have some fertility, but also because it’s painful to see it, like it jumps up to smack me when I use it to describe myself. But it’s on my chart and part of my life, although I prefer to describe this journey as one of trying to improve or heal my fertility.

Regarding the withdrawal from the online world, I found these words about stepping back from Facebook as I was scouring the interwebs for stories like mine, and just felt like, “YES,” so I want to share here because it perfectly sums up how I’ve felt.

The most important thing in my life right now is trying to get pregnant, and it affects many of my feelings and actions. As a result, I have gradually stopped updating my status, because I don’t feel like it is accurately reflecting how I really feel or what is really going on in my life, like I am not acknowledging my reality. And replacing that reality with superficialities feels misleading and disrespectful. Doing so has just felt more and more like a lie over the past year.

Thanks, Kim, for sharing… some years ago now! 🙂

That is almost exactly how I’ve felt- like most of the time it would be a lie to post anything happy, or silly, or even educational when I’m going through this. Some days I can barely muster up a “good” when someone asks me how I’m doing, so how could I come up with social media posts? I mean, I haven’t been entirely absent, and not every day is bad… sometimes things are so funny or cute that I can’t not share (like preschooler quotes), but for the most part my online presence has decreased significantly.

National Infertility Awareness Week starts Sunday. I have seen a few National Infertility Awareness Weeks pass over the years, silently reading posts about others’ experiences, and felt maybe a quiet call to speak up, but didn’t feel quite confident enough to share.

Over the years my husband and I have been walking with this burden, we have shared “in real life” with a number of close friends and family members. We have also received short-term counseling at different times (individually and together, professional and faith-based). We have found sharing and counseling to be extremely helpful. I have also shared part of my experience at church at a women’s ministry event. As we have shared, and as we have allowed trusted individuals to speak gently and wisely to us, we have seen and felt the benefits.

But somehow the internet and social media seemed like the final frontier. It’s a much broader audience, obviously, and there is less control over how that audience will respond. But with where I’m at now, I feel like the call to share and the confidence to do so are better aligned. And it’s important to me to share while I’m still in the trenches. So this NIAW, I’m speaking up. Which is fitting, because the slogan for the week is “Listen Up!”

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So I’ll tell you what life has been like for me and my husband for the past stretch of years, and what we need from you (“we” as in Mike and me as well as others going through this). If you want to read the whole story, great. Settle in, because it’s long. If you want to skim down to the end where I’ve got a do & don’t list of ways to help, that’s fine too (and I’ll never even know). But here goes…

Our Story

When we got married over 11 years ago in 2005, we knew we didn’t want to have kids for a few years, and that was fine. There were no “surprises” during that time and we were totally okay with that.

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A little later, we thought we might be ready for children and started not-not-trying. That was for maybe 3 or 4 years. During that time I would get an occasional nagging feeling of, “why isn’t anything happening?” We looked into it at a bare minimum level and were told we were both fine. We figured it just wasn’t time for us yet. But as time went on we both felt like we should try a little harder.

For about another year I researched and really dove into natural treatments for fertility, and started learning about my cycle, although in hindsight I didn’t have the full picture of how things should go. When that didn’t “work” either (although the natural treatments helped my overall health), I shut it down for a bit, threw myself into work and managing other aspects of my health, and chose to ignore that I might have something going on. I think I just wasn’t ready to deal with it, and while I sometimes regret not addressing my fertility issues sooner, or pushing harder when I was told I was so “healthy,” I am okay with how things have happened overall. I just really wasn’t ready, and if I had started dealing with it then, I don’t know if I could’ve handled the weight of it.

For about another year, we were in the diagnostic phase. We learned a natural family planning method (the Creighton Model– ask me about it!) that helped me track my cycles in pretty great detail and revealed where there might be some problems. It filled in a lot of the gaps in my understanding of how the menstrual cycle works. Mike had gotten the all-clear from the doctor, but for me there was poking and prodding and waiting and testing some more. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but I also had to overcome a big fear of/discomfort around needles- ouch! When I got to the point where I could go for a lab by myself, and only cry a single tear in the car afterward, I felt like a champion.

Anyway, after a few months of testing I received diagnoses of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and anovulation (lack of ovulation). The doctor said we could start with Clomid whenever we liked (a drug that essentially induces ovulation- this is the first line treatment for female infertility), and told us about other options like surgery and IVF down the road if meds alone were not effective. We took some time to consider our options, but didn’t feel like we could decide right away. For me especially, it was hard to process something I never thought would be part of my experience.

At the end of 2015, a few months after my diagnosis but before any treatment, we VERY surprisingly learned that we had somehow gotten pregnant. Sadly, I had a miscarriage at around 6 weeks. While there has been sadness to work through, for the most part we were and are just happy that conception was possible for us. That pregnancy was a blessing for which I am still truly grateful. It really lit a fire under me to get pregnant again; I felt so calm, so joyful, so decisive for the week I knew I was pregnant. I had to get back to that place, and I believe I will.

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Christmas Day, 2015. Not pictured- a tiny baby. 🙂

We are now in the treatment/actively trying (or TTC, trying-to-conceive) phase. We have done 5 Clomid cycles in the past year with some breaks in between because of travel– since we both have to be together and in town for my labs– and those breaks have been pretty long because my post-miscarriage cycles are long (as in 40-50 days). But I do seem to ovulate on my own now; my current OB-GYN suspects I may not have PCOS at all, but that my body was just late to the party and is ready to get started now. I’m not sure, because I do still have some PCOS symptoms, but she could be onto something. I can tell things have changed in the past year or so.

This phase has introduced me to the part of infertility that makes life feel like it’s all too much at times. It seems to be the perfect storm of hormones and anxiety and ups and downs and hope and despair that brings everything from the past 5+ years to a head. We haven’t been in this treatment phase for very long, all things considered, but the truth is that we were already infertility warriors before we got to this point.

What TTC is Like

In this phase, you count time in cycles, and even phases of cycles (follicular, ovulatory, luteal). When somebody asks you what day it is, you might think of your cycle day before the actual date (“Day 20, I mean the 14th”). Medications bring new, unpredictable symptoms that are endlessly confusing because you’ve never had hormones at these levels before.

A medicated cycle looks like this: take the meds, brace yourself for symptoms. For me, taking Clomid, the symptoms have been really manageable- maybe a little emotional or forgetful, and some slight digestive side effects. One cycle, I broke down in tears at some point between 4-6pm every day like clockwork for the 5 days I was taking the meds. Another cycle, I lost track of things, like a mango I unwittingly placed in the freezer and didn’t find until 3 weeks later. For me I just feel “weird” in different ways, but many women experience much more intense symptoms. Clomid is effective for me; I have ovulated every time.

Next, for about two weeks, you “try, try, and try again.” And if you dare tell me, that’s the fun part! I will slap you in your face. It should be the fun part, and maybe in the “not-not-trying” phase it was the fun part, but when the stakes are this high it’s definitely not fun. It’s serious business. And, okay, it’s not always terrible, but trust us both: it’s no walk in the park. After all the mating, it’s time for waiting.

You get to go through the two-week-wait, that time when you can no longer do anything to get pregnant, but you can’t find out if you are pregnant yet. And because of what the meds did to your hormone levels, you get to experience fun symptoms that may be different from how you normally feel during this time of your cycle, all of which symptoms could either indicate pregnancy OR the approach of a new cycle. So you go back and forth between feeling hopeful and hopeless, and trying to simultaneously keep each extreme in check. A very common symptom of the two-week-wait is Acute Google-itis. And that struggle is real: “what does this symptom mean?” “what about this?” And most of the results you get are from TTC forums from like five years ago. Super helpful, right? But we do it anyway. Actually, I have realllly cut back, but when I first started this crazy ride it seemed like an uncontrollable urge, so I just let myself Google to my heart’s content. Maybe I got it out of my system?

The next part is finding out if you got your “plus” or not. We have not yet, so the final phase of a medicated cycle for me/us has been disappointment and sadness. 😦 Because you have to hope it will work every time. You know it might not, but you have to hope. There’s always a chance until you know for sure, but when you finally know for sure, it can feel crushing. It might feel like it’s too hard to keep going like this. But if you know it’s not time to give up the fight yet, you eventually feel the fight come back, even though the sadness remains. You get back up, take hold of hope once more (Isaiah 40:31), and you get ready to do it all again.

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And that’s what life has been like for us for a while. Exhausting, right? Well, 1 in 8 couples is going through something like this right now. And while of course I can only speak for myself (and a little for my husband; I’ve been speaking for him for over 11 years), I have a feeling the things I need look a lot like what another friend or acquaintance of yours might need. Infertility is a condition/experience for which awareness truly can be helpful in and of itself. So be aware, and consider how you might help. This is NOT a complete list by any means, just the ideas that came to me first and seemed like the most important. There are many other lists available online!

What You Can Do to Support People Going Through Infertility

-Listen. When we are ready to share, please listen. That’s all you have to do, and it can mean a lot. Please don’t be afraid to stand beside us as we walk this road. It’s okay to just say “Thank you for telling me about this,” or something to that effect. Hear us.

-Don’t try to fix us. I’m at a point where, unless you are some sort of licensed medical professional specializing in fertility, I don’t want advice from you. Like, I super-don’t. Thankfully I haven’t been the recipient of too many comments such as: just relax/go on vacation/stop trying so hard/look into adoption and it will happen. Or, a real doozy, “just trust God’s timing.” This might seem like a nice thing to say, and I absolutely believe that trusting God is an important part of this journey that I need to work on like any other Christian, but underneath this platitude lurks the idea that God is doing this to me, and from what I know about God, I just don’t believe it. I believe that he wants a baby for us, too, and is sad with us. That’s my own little soapbox- sorry/not sorry, I’ll step down from it now. The point is, unless you are a professional, please don’t tell me what to do. It’s not your place. This “advice” from others seems to be a big reason that people going through infertility don’t share their struggles. Please don’t be the barrier that keeps someone from sharing and feeling a little more understood, accepted, loved.

-Do check in with us. While platitudes and useless advice are not helpful, it is great to know we are not forgotten. Using your knowledge about the person, reach out in a way that makes it easy for them. This means that the crowded church lobby or a baby shower (where all the preggos and babies are, btw) is not the place to ask your friend how “things” are going. Although, disclaimer: sometimes it can be okay- I have had these conversations before and been fine, but usually I was the one bringing it up, and it was with a very close friend. BUT, 90-plus percent of the time, I much prefer a text/email/Facebook message so I can respond in my own time. The thing about infertility is that it’s just as unpredictable as a mood swing or a hot flash. 😉 So while one day you might actually see a pregnancy announcement on Facebook and be totally okay, the next day you might walk past the baby aisle at Target and feel like going to pieces. It’s merciless. But it’s precisely because of these unpredictable highs and lows that I need my friends to check in with me. DON’T ask, “are you pregnant yet?” but DO ask, “How’s it going?” or “How are you feeling today?” or even just a simple “Thinking of you!” Feel free to ask if you can bring a meal (especially if they are on bedrest or having serious side effects to meds) or stop by with a treat like a latte, flowers, or a note and a gift card. It may not always work out to help, but it means a lot when you offer your support in a variety of ways.

-If you pray, PRAY. It’s the best thing any of us can do. Infertility makes me aware of just how out-of-control life is, and how much I need prayer. And sometimes, when it’s been really hard, I could barely even pray for myself. I have relied on the prayers of the brothers and sisters in my corner in a big, big way. And bonus points for telling us when you pray. I’m trying to get better at this myself when I pray for others. It means a lot when anyone tells me, at any time, that they are praying for Mike and me. And it’s more than just praying for a positive pregnancy test, it’s praying for all the struggles and emotions that come along with this crazy experience, and being able to continue to grow in our faith rather than stagnate or turn away in anger. Because I’ve been tempted toward both, my friends.

I’ve read that going through infertility can be a similar to going through cancer or the loss of a close loved one in terms of the emotions and stresses that come along with the experience, and I think the comparison is pretty accurate. I don’t bring this up to diminish those other experiences, but to shed light on just how big a deal this is for those who go through it. With some thought and compassion, you can make your corner of the world a little safer and brighter for someone going through infertility.

If you are friends with someone going through this, I encourage you to reach out to them! And if you can’t think of anyone you know who is going through it, you may know a silent warrior. Or you may know someone who has quietly been through it. I would encourage you to be aware of the statistic of 1 in 8 and hold space for those people in your heart, being mindful of what you say in social situations. It isn’t that we can’t handle anything somebody might say, it’s just that the world will be a little better when we all act with gentleness and compassion. (And that’s a reminder for me, too, because I can suffer from foot-in-mouth syndrome!)

Thanks for making it to the end of this diatribe. 😉 In a way I shared because I needed to for myself- I’m hoping that by getting this out in the open I can get back to sharing more of myself and engaging with my larger network of friends. But I’m also sharing because I have needed these stories and not been able to find them at times. And when I have found others’ stories, I just ate them up, so I figured one more drop in the blog ocean could actually be a good thing in this case. For the most part the blogs I’ve found are about IVF, so if you are a fellow Clomid woman and would like to connect, feel free to get in touch with me. Or be encouraged to reach out to someone close to you. Or, just read and know you are not alone. ❤

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Mike and Kristen say keep on keeping on!

Here are some resources that have helped us and may provide information or insight to you:

Resolve: The National Infertility Association– I haven’t looked too deeply into Resolve, but I know they’ve been around for a long time and are the main infertility organization. I haven’t investigated all of their political affiliations, but I know they are active if that is your realm and you’re into that. I’m more interested in the support and awareness aspect. I know they have a lot of resources for support groups, information on different family-building options, insurance navigation, etc. etc. and have helped many people in different ways.

Trials Bring Joy blog– I have taken so much encouragement from Chelsea! I pored over her blog (I think I’ve literally read the whole thing) and so appreciate the real way she shares her whole story- ups and downs and everything in between. I am especially encouraged by how she’s shared her faith in God throughout her journey. (She and her husband are now expecting twins.)

Infertility bloggers explain what infertility feels like– this post would be a good explanation for someone on the outside of infertility, but is also a good “you’re not alone” for those on the inside.

The Creighton Model FertilityCare System for natural family planning helped us BOTH understand what goes on with the menstrual cycle and how to use the system to achieve or avoid pregnancy. It is a natural, well-rounded, whole-person and whole-couple system that respects the lives of the couple and their children. This method comes from the Catholic tradition, so we appreciated the faith element, but if that’s not your thing, don’t worry– it’s not overtly religious.

Plus or Minus by Matt and Cheri Appling- reading this book together was the very first step Mike and I took in acknowledging infertility. It helped us start the hard conversations and I highly recommend it.

10 Things to do Instead of Saying “I’ll Pray for You” a great post to read if you know anyone struggling with… anything, really. (Infertility, loss, illness.)

Psychological effects of infertility– interesting read; it was my favorite thing I found when I was looking into all the different effects of infertility that are similar to grief or long-term illness.

Dessert Discovery

My husband and I have a special tradition for Valentine’s Day. It began when we were dating: he called my grandma to ask her what my favorite meal was so he could prepare it for me. She told him I would like roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans– which I did– and our first Valentine’s Day celebration was a success. He’s been cooking the same thing every February 14th (or thereabouts) since that first time way back in 2004.

Thing is, dessert isn’t part of the package. Or, more accurately, dessert is served out of a package. 😉 The main course is the feature of the evening and the focus of our celebration, so over the years he will just buy something, or I might buy something, or I might make something. And once I discovered my sensitivity to basically every foundational ingredient of every dessert, desserts became much more complicated. So I’ve taken over that portion of the Valentine’s Day meal.

This year was no exception. You might say that on this day I literally “had one job,” as the saying goes.

And I almost forgot to do it! Several days before V-Day I had found a recipe for chocolate mousse which I thought would be well suited to allergy-friendly substitutions, I purchased ingredients, and I thought through the process (important!). I planned to prepare this sweet treat on Sunday afternoon so it would be chilling in the fridge before Mike’s preparations were going full tilt and I wouldn’t get in his way.

But I took a nap instead.

I realized my error as Mike was about to serve up the beefy, potatoey, beany goodness. I may have shed a tear. How could I have forgotten the dessert??? Sigh. I decided I would make it anyway, because my heart was set on it, and we could enjoy it as a late-night treat.

I’m glad I was stubborn! This mousse whipped up like a dream, set more quickly than I thought it would, and tasted amazing. And since an easy, “normal” tasting treat like this is so hard to come by in allergy-friendly-dessert-land, I had to share.

This is the recipe from Lemon Tree Dwelling that saved my Valentine’s Day. All I did was sub in a can of full fat coconut milk for the heavy cream and I still ended up with a great taste and consistency. I heaped in some extra cocoa, as well. I feel like it could handle more alterations, like less sugar, sugar substitute (i.e. stevia drops), carob instead of cocoa, etc. etc. But this time I went for it, keeping the sugar and only amending it to be dairy-free.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the can of coconut milk should be refrigerated for at least a few hours beforehand. I usually keep one can in the fridge at all times, just in case. 

You’ll notice this recipe is for a “spiked” mousse, but it needn’t be. Try it without that extra liquid, then add a little water if it needs thinning out. I don’t have my own picture of this because I was in a frenzy when I made it. So enjoy Cathy’s lovely image and try her recipe if you want to whip up something special but so, so easy.

image from Lemon Tree Dwelling

 

Starting 2016 with Prayer

Here it is– another new year. So far I’ve been pretty successful with writing “2016” when it is called for, which feels like an accomplishment!

I don’t feel very accomplished when it comes to this blog– seeing that it’s 25 days into January and this is my first post– but hopefully the motivation will pick up before long. I do have things I want to write about. (And please feel free to give me ideas- I neeeed more ideas!)

This year feels like it’s gotten off to a late start for me, which is kind of silly because the year starts whether you’re ready or not! But exactly 2 weeks after Christmas Mike and I took off on a cruise vacation to celebrate our 10th anniversary (which was in July). We were gone for almost 2 weeks and it felt like an extended Christmas in a way. After a 3-day work week and a relaxing weekend, today we are officially back to “real life.”

my own photo, taken at Orient Beach in St. Martin

my own photo, taken at Orient Beach in St. Martin

Although I suppose “real life” actually started yesterday when we were back at church, finally! As a ministry couple it’s extremely rare for us to miss 2 Sundays in a row, but our cruise went from Sunday to Sunday so we found ourselves away from our church family for longer than usual. Our church is in the middle of an exciting time of refocusing around updated core values, and while I was sad to have to miss the first couple of sermons on these values (thankfully I can catch up online!) I was happy to be back for the message on prayer.

As 2015 was winding down, I felt the need for revitalized prayer habits and structure. I found myself forgetting things that I meant to pray for, or found my list to be too long to really dig into each day. I knew I needed to do a better job of managing my time, my list, and my focus.

Our pastor’s message on prayer yesterday provided great motivation for me through the truth of God’s Word. (Click here and then on “We Believe God Answers Prayer” to listen.) Because I believe God is the source of my life (and all life), because I want my relationship with him to be my top priority, and because God graciously hears and answers prayer, I know I must pray. I must turn to God daily in praise, thanksgiving, supplication, and to listen and learn.

It’s been on my heart for a while as I listened to God and other Christians that with so much to be thankful for and so many requests for myself and others, and really for the world– in other words, with so much to pray for– I needed to plan things out a little better in order to get more out of the time I spend with my Creator. Specifically, I wanted to create a different list for each day rather than using the same list every day… which kept getting longer and longer, and would make prayer time seem like a more and more daunting task. As I write, list organization does not seem like a particularly deep or emotional way to relate to prayer, but in a roundabout way it is.

See, as I have spent more time in the Word learning about God, as I have felt more of his guidance and seen more of his grace in my life, I naturally want to pray more, and I want to pray about more. But I would forget, or run out of time, or whatever. So it seems that to re-organize and re-focus is what my prayer life needs right now.

I wouldn’t call it a “resolution,” per se, but I am starting the year off (albeit late) with the goal of adhering to a daily prayer time with a more detailed and focused plan. Each day I will focus on…

-an attribute of God from Scripture

-someone or something or some part of life I am thankful for

-requests relating to that same category

-confession of sin

-prayer for specific needs &/or current events

Those categories may change over time, but it’s what I’m starting with. I’m also not sure exactly which method will be best for writing down these daily plans, but for now I’ve been inspired by a menu planning notepad that I found in my basement. I’m considering a notebook or planner, too, but we’ll see how it takes shape. I could get hung up on those details forever, but I don’t want that to keep me from getting started.

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My “new” prayer planning notepad!

Speaking of, I should wrap up so I can go use my re-organized, re-focused list for Monday!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Happy New Year to you! I’d love to hear from you. How do you plan for prayer in your life? What methods do you use to track and/or organize? Are you a journaler, a list-maker…..?

2015 Verse of the Week #52: Psalm 46:10

Here it is, my 52nd and final verse for my 2015 verse-a-week challenge. Looking back, it has been an enriching experience to write about each verse (or passage) as I attempt to commit it to memory. I don’t think I did as much as I could to memorize these verses long-term, so I might need to do some printing and flash-card-ing. I don’t think I would do too well on a quiz of all my verses, is what I’m saying. BUT meditating on Scripture is always a worthwhile exercise, and even if the words don’t all stay intact in the mind, the heart is never left unchanged. Almost a year after posting my first memory verse, I do feel different. I place more of a value on meditating on Scripture, looking at it in context, applying it to my circumstances, and sharing it with others. I can also see areas in which I can improve, specifically in the word-retention department. So I will work on that. I don’t think I will repeat this exercise in 2016, although I will be focusing on verses in other ways, but I am so glad I did it this year.

The final song for the final verse is called “Be Still,” which is track 12 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. Here is the verse in the English Standard Version, which is actually the same as the 1984 NIV used for the Seeds song:

Psalm 46:10

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

This verse is perfect for this week. In my planning ahead I figured it would work well for the end of the year at that quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s. There would be time to reflect and time to look ahead. And that is true, but of course there is more.
The theme of this verse seems to be God’s constant presence, steadfastness, and help in the midst of human conflict or natural disasters. I particularly love verses 1 and 2 from this Psalm:
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…
Hard things happen in the world and in our lives every year. That’s just the way it is. But at the end of this year, and maybe just today, I’m finding myself weighed down by it on a personal and universal level. Christmas, while joyful, can bring pain with the thought of those who can’t be with us. Remembering loss can make it hard to want to move forward, hard to know how. Also, reminders of the tragedies endured by people around the world are everywhere this time of year. Seeing and hearing those stories can make it hard to imagine better things coming in the new year. Of course there is hope with the start of a new year, and I do still feel that in my heart, but there is a downside to it that I’m noticing today.
During times of grieving over personal loss or over tragedies in our world, I naturally tend toward a couple of different responses (and I don’t think I’m alone in this): one is to distract myself with busy-ness or meaningless things so I don’t feel the sadness, and another is to focus on the sadness and get kind of caught up in it. But these are not fruitful responses, and in this week’s verse God calls us to a better response: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Something came to me in a time of sadness a couple of years ago as I found myself facing doubts about who God is and how he operates. I have to say, this was from the Holy Spirit and not something of my own invention. But I started to test doubtful thoughts or feelings of being upset at God with these questions: 1) Are the things I have known to be true of God still true? And 2) Do my feelings indicate that I am believing something false about God?
Psalm 46:10 does not call us to be still and give in as our minds race with panic over what-ifs. It does not call us to be still and feel hopeless. It does not even call us to be still and empty our minds of thought or our hearts of feeling. No, we are called to be still and know that God is God. In the context of this passage, the character traits of God we are called to know are his deliverance and peace in contrast with the turmoil seen in other nations and in the earth itself. Some of the things said of God in this chapter:
-he is our refuge and strength, ever-present help in trouble
-he causes us not to fear (so he brings peace)
-he makes his people glad (he brings joy)
-he stabilizes us
-he helps us
-he is in control of the earth (he will bring justice)
-he is with us
-he is a fortress for his people
-he is working among the nations on behalf of his people (again, justice)
-he will be exalted among the nations and in the earth (meaning he is worthy of praise by merit of his character and deeds)
I have found that when I ask myself these questions regarding what I believe to be true, worries and hopelessness fade away. Pain may linger, but there is comfort in the truth. If I am feeling like God doesn’t care or is withholding blessing because of something I’ve done, the Word and the Spirit call to my attention the truth of God’s care for me and his many gifts of grace (even if I don’t get what I think I need or deserve).
If I say I believe that God is good, that his love endures forever, that he cares for me, that he works for the good of those who are called according to his purpose, then times of pain or fear or hopelessness are the testing ground for those truths. Because if they are, indeed, true they will bring comfort, peace, wisdom, maturity, understanding, and character (which includes action). But we must take the time to be still before God. Knowing these things about him will not come if we distract ourselves and place our focus on things of this world or creations of our own minds.
I think my favorite set of passages to focus on this year came from Seeds Family Worship’s album The Character of God. These verses and songs would be helpful to meditate on during a time of doubt. For example, if I am feeling like God is withholding something from me, have I begun to believe that God is unfaithful, or unloving, or unwise in his relationship with me? When I boil it down like that it sounds ridiculous, so I come to the logical conclusion that no, I do not believe those things about God. He is faithful to sustain me (1 Cor. 1:8-9), he is love and has love for me (1 John 4:16), and he is wise in all his ways (Rom. 11:33-36). If these things have always been true, and the character of God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), and I want to continue to believe and live by these things, then this true God will help me change my perspective so it lines up with his truth. This brings comfort (although not instant pain relief), peace, wisdom, and maturity into my life. And I lather/rinse/repeat with it. 😉
This week my prayer for myself is to know and embrace God’s truth and character as the new year approaches. I pray that I will take time to be still and know who he is, then carry that truth with me as he inspires me to action.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on this verse or anything I have shared. And Happy New Year!

This image is the work of artist Ivan Guaderrama. Click the image to see more of his work.

2015 Verse of the Week #51: Psalm 136:1-6, 26

It’s week 51 of my 2015 verse-a-week challenge. Only one more Monday left in the year! The words from the almost-last-passage of 2015 can be found in the song “His Love Endures,” track 10 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. Here is the verse in the New International Version (here the “new” NIV appears to be the same as the 1984, the translation used by Seeds):

Psalm 136:1-6

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136:26

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

 Thinking about Scripture around Christmas time usually takes on a different meaning– as it should. I’m looking across the room at twinkly lights and glittery ornaments and wrapped gifts this morning as I listen to words of truth about God in this song. I’ve also started my day with an advent reading which included passages from Genesis, Isaiah, Micah, Galatians, and 1 Peter (from She Reads Truth, which has been an excellent resource for me during the Christmas season).
The immediate connection I see between Psalm 136 and Christmas is that the advent of Jesus is an expression of God’s enduring love. But there is more, of course.
First of all, and this thought doesn’t really “flow” with the rest of what I want to say, but it is worth noting: this psalm was written and would have been read in a corporate setting in a call-and-response format. The priest would have read the instructions for praising and giving thanks and the descriptions of God, and then the congregation would have responded with “His love endures forever.” I mention this because I think it is important not to overlook the corporate part of faith: we were designed to worship together. I see a connection here to Christmas time, a time when we gather together. Our culture makes Christmas gatherings out to be either a harmonious celebration of traditions (Gingerbread! Turkey! Presents!) or a stressful obligation fraught with conflict (Politics! Racism! Judgment!), but among people of faith our Christmas celebrations ought to be filled with love and humility for one another, and acknowledgment of God’s gifts above material things. Not that I’m perfect at this or anything…. but it’s good to have goals! 😉 Anyway…
My reading from 1 Peter this morning comes to mind when I read and hear Psalm 136:5-6 (about God’s creation of heaven and earth). Check it out (ESV translation):

1 Peter 1:20-21

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Jesus is present in the descriptions of God in Psalm 136! Jesus has always been present with God. The same God described in the psalm– he who is good, God and Lord over all, worker of wonders, creator of heaven and earth, he who reigns in heaven in enduring love– this is the God who came to be with us as the Christ.
Yes, he was with us by walking among men on earth, but once he completed his earthly work God again sent himself to be not only with us but within us as the Holy Spirit. According to another one of my readings this morning from Galatians (again, ESV):

Galatians 4:6-7

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

The gift of the Spirit that would eventually be accessible to all who believe was ushered in by the first Christmas. Salvation, life, comfort, guidance, reconciliation with God (and much more) can be ours because of the goodness of the God whose steadfast love endures forever.
We humans have turned Christmas into a frenzied season, a season during which we often end up worshipping our own creations of traditions, gifts, decorations, etc. over the one who really deserves our awe and wonder, the one who really works the “magic” (aka “great wonders, Ps. 136:4) of Christmas.
Because of God’s sending his son as a redemptive gift to the world, we should give him our thanks and worship. That is what Christmas is about. I am praying this morning that my Christmas will be less about celebrating my own personal gain (in the form of presents) or my own accomplishments (like getting presents wrapped and delivered), less about traditions, and more about giving thanks to the God of love who sent his son to the world for me. And for you!
Merry Christmas- only 4 more days until it is here!

from year27.com. This artist, Jill Davis, has a shop that is worth a look. 

2015 Verse of the Week #50: Zephaniah 3:17

I can’t believe I’m on week 50 of my verse of the week! This week’s verse can be found in the song “Mighty to Save,” track 8 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. They use the 1984 NIV, which I really like, and I had a tough time choosing a translation of the verse to post here. I settled for ESV, but thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the different translations of the verse on Bible Gateway. Here is the verse, before I get carried away with translation talk:

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

It seems there are many different ways to translate these words, but the over-arching theme is the same: God is strong to save his people, in whom he takes delight. Some translations leaned more toward a militaristic interpretation of God’s might in the first portion of the verse, and in the latter part of the verse some translations use analogies of a marital relationship to describe God’s love. If you find these things interesting as I do, I would really encourage you to look at some different translations! But enough about that.

Zephaniah is one of those often-overlooked “minor prophet” books. Its 3 chapters occupy a scant three pages of my Bible. But the content is no less important than the longer or more popular books, as it addresses some of the most important themes of the entire Bible: God’s judgment and salvation. Zephaniah’s prophecies apply both to his contemporaries in the kingdom of Judah as well as to future generations. Jesus himself quoted from this book on a couple of occasions (Mathew 13 and 24) when making reference to “the day of the Lord.” Zephaniah has come up a few times already (albeit briefly) in my Bible Study Fellowship study of Revelation due to the similar themes, so I was happy to get to focus on this verse this week.

While this verse is drawn from prophecy regarding the always-mysterious “day of the Lord,” the words can give comfort, lead us to truth about who God is, and even provide certainty in spite of the mystery surrounding end times.

I also love this verse at Christmas time. The advent of Christ is such a huge, important, game-changing part of God’s working to bring his plans and promises to fruition. God judges, but he also saves because he loves.

This verse tells me that God is near, not distant as a judge has the right to be. He is seated on the throne in holy majesty, true, but he simultaneously dwells with his people in Spirit in addition to having sent his Son to walk among men.

This verse tells me that God is victorious and strong.

This verse tells me that God is extravagant, demonstrative, and joyful in his love for his people.

This verse tells me that God is trustworthy.

I haven’t been doing as much of my chalkboard art lately, hence the borrowed images from others for the past several posts– instead I’ve been creating artwork on paper in conjunction with my Advent readings– but I did create a digital image for Zephaniah. Enjoy!

File Dec 14, 9 07 01 AM

created by me with the Rhonna Designs app for iPhone