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Meditating on God's Word

In order to benefit from a Bible reading plan, I need to not just do the reading; I need to meditate on God's word. Here is a quote from George Mueller on this idea:

"...the first and great primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. ... the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. ... The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord's blessing upon his precious word, was, to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation." (emphasis mine)

I want a happy soul, a soul that is rich in communion with God! George Mueller's ideas are so helpful toward this end.

What does meditation on God's word look like, practically? Here is an example from some of my own recent study. As a sort of theme verse for my current reading plan, I have memorized 1 John 5:20-21. "And we know that the Son of God has come..." Here I can stop and marvel that Jesus Christ has come to be the Savior of the world. What an amazing truth in those ten words! The Son of God has come, he has taken on flesh, broken into the sinful world, died on a cross, and provided redemption. "...and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true..." Not only has Jesus come, but he makes a way for us to know him. We have opportunity to grow in understanding of the infinite God. "...and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ..." I am saved by God incarnate, I can know God infinite, and I can abide in God. My life is wrapped up in him, and in him I am seen as righteous. "He is the true God and eternal life..." He is the only true God, and he is the only true eternal life. Why would I go anywhere else for happiness and satisfaction? "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." I need this reminder. I am God's child, yet I am prone to worship other things. I need to be on guard against idols, and especially right now the idol of having a child. I could go on, but see how meditation makes our experience of reading God's word so much richer? When we meditate, God's word intersects with our lives and sinks deeper into our souls.


A Plan to Read God's Word

If we want to prioritize God's word in our lives, we need a plan for reading God's word. Without some sort of plan, I will find myself sitting with Bible in hand, closed, unsure of where to turn and what to read. That uncertainty quickly leads to discouragement, and before I know it I'm not even picking up the Bible for private devotion anymore. So for the past couple of years I have had specific plans for my quiet times, and my love for God's word and its fruit in my life have grown. Now, it is vital to keep in mind that a plan is a tool. If you can't follow your plan, don't feel condemned. Take hold of grace, make adjustments to your plan as needed, and start again. Also, feel free to take breaks from your plan. For instance, for about a year and a half, I was following the daily readings in D.A. Carson's For the Love of God (Vol. 1). Most days, I read the passages that were listed in order. However, there were times when I felt the need to focus on putting a particular sin to death, or on rereading some Scriptures about suffering, or on a topic related to the teaching at church. So I would set aside my plan for a time (anywhere from a couple days to a couple months) and pursue that other focus. The point is that a plan should be helpful, not rigid, and you should continue to ask the Spirit's guidance as you follow your plan. Lastly, I find it helpful not only to plan for what I will read but also to plan for when I will read. Most weekdays, I sit down with my breakfast, my Bible, a journal, and any supplemental books I might be reading. This is what works best in my current season of life. My husband, who gets up much much earlier than I do, finds that he is too groggy during his morning at home, so he tries to get into his office 30 minutes or so before he needs to start work, and he spends time in God's word there. Find a plan for what to read and when to read, a plan that works with your schedule (and you may need to rearrange some things, like bedtime, to make God's word a priority), and you will benefit!

My current plan is to study God's character. After looking at the topic of idolatry, I thought it would help my soul to love God more than anything else if I learned to see him more fully. So each day, I read a small section from one of the chapters about God's attributes in Wayne Grudem's Bible Doctrine. Then, I spend time reading and meditating on specific passages of Scripture that Grudem references in the section I've read. My view of God is definitely growing larger as I study his infinity, his holiness, his presence, his goodness. I'm looking forward to what I will learn as I continue this reading plan. I'm also always looking for new ideas for plans to take in God's word, so let me know if you have a plan to recommend!


God's Word

For the month of January, our church has been considering God's word, through 3 sermons and a seminar. (Before that, we had the privilege of hearing an absolutely outstanding message on "Not Shifting from the Gospel" - I wish I had posted on it, but I didn't have time to do so earlier this month; I highly recommend you listen to it for yourself!) God's word has been a dear source of comfort to me during this lengthy season of affliction, and it was good to be reminded of those benefits through these recent messages. A few points have particularly stood out:

  • We most need to rely on Scripture as true when we don't see the truth of it reflected in our circumstances. I have found this to be the case in my struggles with infertility. The more my situation makes it look like God is distant or uncaring, the more I need to cling to the truth in God's word that tell me he is near and kind. As it seems less and less likely that we will conceive, I need more and more to believe that all things work for my good (Rom. 8:28).
  • The effect of Scripture on our souls is gradual, occuring over time. I spent many, many months meditating on 1 Peter 4:19 before I began to see in my life any fruit of trusting my faithful Creator. If you have been trying to spend time in God's word and are discouraged about lack of growth, don't give up! Affection for God and his word will come in time.
  • God is eager to reveal himself to us, especially through Scripture. He is not hiding. Even reading some of the most difficult to understand passages, we can look for our need for a Savior (examples of sin and suffering in this fallen world) and God's disposition to provide a Savior (to rescue his people from their sin and suffering).

I have been encouraged afresh to press into God's word, to search in Scripture for comfort and correction. This week, I'll continue to share some thoughts about how I personally plan to benefit from God's word in the coming months.


Round 8, Day 13

Thank you to all of you who prayed for our IUI yesterday. It went very, very well. We were almost completely free from anxiety during both the “preparation” and the procedure. Aaron’s counts basically tripled from the numbers in the past. As a result, our attitudes have shifted from expecting next to nothing out of this cycle to cautious optimism that it might actually be a success. We really pray that it is so. In the meantime, we are seeking to set our minds on the Spirit rather than on the possibility of conception, because “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). Who doesn’t want life and peace?

Next medical step: a progesterone check on Monday.

Coming this week on the blog (schedule permitting): thoughts on God’s word.


Round 8, Day 9

All systems go for an IUI on Monday morning. (A bout of the flu this week appears not to have interfered at all.) My ultrasound this morning revealed the usual gaggle of follicles that just need a little more prompting. The largest on the left was 16mm, and the largest on the right was 20mm, but judging by my estrogen levels the 20mm is actually that little cyst Wendy saw last week. So we'll give the 16mm a few days to grow (and another dose of Follistim to grow on), and some of the other medium-sized ones on both ovaries will probably catch up. Please pray for Monday morning to go smoothly; the whole IUI process has tended to stress us out. (Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that our past 2 IUIs were done on already crazy days.)

This prayer encouraged me this morning, especially the second half:

O my Saviour,
I thank thee from the depths of my being
for thy wondrous grace and love
in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.
May thy cross be to me
as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,
as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,
as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.
By thy cross crucify my every sin;
Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;
Make it the ground of all my comfort,
the liveliness of all my duties,
the sum of all thy gospel promises,
the comfort of all my afflictions,
the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,
the very essence of my religion;
And by it give me that rest without rest,
the rest of ceaseless praise.

O my Lord and Saviour,
Thou hast also appointed a cross for me to take up and carry,
a cross before thou givest me a crown.
Thou hast appointed it to be my portion,
but self-love hates it,
carnal reason is unreconciled to it;
without the grace of patience I cannot bear it,
walk with it, profit by it.
O blessed cross, what merices dost thou bring with thee!
Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will,
heavy because I shirk thy load.
Teach me, gracious Lord and Saviour,
that with my cross thou sendest promised grace
so that I may bear it patiently,
that my cross is thy yoke which is easy,
and thy burden which is light.

-"The Grace of the Cross" from The Valley of Vision, p. 172


Round 8, Day 2

I'm not big on making new year's resolutions. However, in keeping with its policy of opposing me at every juncture, my reproductive system appears to have made a few. Uterus, cervix, and ovaries jointly resolved to reach new levels of stubbornness and cussedness, and their first ornery act of the year was to delay my period for just over a week while simultaneously yielding negative pregnancy tests. But their fun could only last for so long, and a new cycle began yesterday.

I visited the lovely Wendy the Wonder Wander and Nurse Answers today for ultrasound and bloodwork. There is a tiny cyst on my right ovary (perhaps the reason for the aforementioned belatedness?), but it should not interfere with our treatment plans for this cycle. What, you ask, are those plans? Clomid for the last time, along with a couple injections of Follistim, followed by a chaser of Ovidrel trigger shot and an IUI. I'll keep you posted... Along with all of these fine medications, I'm starting to think that modern fertility treatment has decided to borrow the age-old method of leeching to help patients conceive. In keeping with my clinic's new policy, I apparently need some new blood tests run. So after today's appointment, I hopped straight over to my primary care doctor for another visit to the vampires, uh, I mean, the phlebotomy lab. And remember right arm? Well, after months of being on its best behavior, it chose today to offer only a mere trickle of the elixir of life. So poor left arm bore the brunt of two needle-pokes and valiantly gave up 5 total vials of blood between the two appointments. And while I'm told these are necessary tests, I'm convinced it's just covert leeching.

In other news, it's de-lurking week! Join me on the tail end of the fun and leave a comment. If you read regularly, if you're reading for the first time, if you comment often or never, now is the time. Say hi, and if you feel shy and don't know what else to say, let me know what your new year's resolution is. Maybe my uterus can get some new ideas...


Barrenness and Its Discontents

Sometime last month, a friend asked me if there were certain things I wish people understood about my suffering with infertility. Things that compound the sorrow because others "just don't get it." At the time, I mentioned the pervasiveness of this trial; it is not limited to my reproductive system, but it affects my marriage, my work, my schedule, my friendships, my involvement in church, my relationship with God. That overflow is what first came to mind, but since then I've been pondering the question off and on and I've come up with further answers.

I wish people could understand the grief, the sense of loss. I don't just feel a wistful longing for what I don't have; I feel an aching gap of what could have been - the child that could be learning to walk, or starting to eat solid foods, or smiling for the first time, or ready to enter the world, or beginning to move in my womb, if only we had conceived at any point during the past two years. Month after month I mourn the baby that might have been. And that mourning doesn't diminish over time, like many griefs do - it mounts and grows and swells. When one cycle ends, I weep for the possibility that died that month, and the month before that, and the month before that, and all the months that have come and gone. Studies have shown that women dealing with infertility have depressions rates similar to or surpassing those of people who have AIDS or cancer or other terminal illnesses. I am grateful for the grace that has kept my sorrow from deepening into depression, but my grief could so easily tip into that precipice.

I wish people could understand the horrible catch-22 that infertility has brought into my closest friendships. Many of my closest friends are experiencing all the things that I long for - pregnancy, childbirth, caring for an infant. I don't always know how to deal with that, and I sense that many of my friends don't, either. There are so many "darned if you do, darned if you don't" scenarios: A friend joyfully announces a pregnancy. I want to be happy for her, but her good news is a stinging reminder of my anguish, and I fight back tears as I offer congratulations and wish she has been more sensitive. Alternatively, a friend waits for months to tell me about her pregnancy because she is not sure how to tell me and does not want to hurt me. When she finally shares, I go through the first steps of my previous reaction, then find a private place to cry over the fact that infertility has put up barriers in our friendship and turned me into a burden on others, a pariah. Or consider another: I am with a group of friends with newborns, and the conversation naturally turns to infant milestones, breastfeeding tactics, or some other such stuff. I start to withdraw, get a glassy stare, and mentally chant, "Do not give in to self-pity! Do not give in to self-pity! But what are they thinking to talk about this stuff around me?" But if my friends don't tell me about those milestones, about how they are feeling post-partum, or if I am not with them as they discuss those things, I feel left out and awkward and like I don't have a place in their lives anymore because I haven't conceived or given birth. Added to the grief of infertility is the grief of feeling friendships slip away. I want to still be a friend, and I want to serve my friends, and I want to know what their lives are like right now. But all of that hurts right now, and it is messy, and it takes a lot of patience on both sides to sort through.

I wish people could understand the way the heartache of infertility sneaks up on me in some of the most mundane moments. A song uses barrenness as a metaphor for spiritual dryness, and while most people just sing right through it, I am stuck in my tracks. I am barren, not metaphorically but literally, physically. My mouth continues to form the rest of the words of the song, but my mind is echoing, "I am barren...barren...barren..." We're praying with friends, and they are asking God for the salvation of their children. Others are agreeing in prayer. Meanwhile, my heart is fluttering rapidly and I have to sit down. My children don't exist. In a conversation with another lady about food spills and cleaning carpets, she mentions how much worse it will be when she has kids. I smile and nod knowingly, but my gut drops. I don't have the luxury of such assumptions. My carpets may be clean forever. These are the sorts of things that no one would even think to notice, but are the flags of infertility that wave at me everywhere I go.

I wish people could understand how unknown the future is. Yes, you might have a friend that tried to get pregnant for 7 years, then gave up and started to adopt, and then had pregancy take her completely by surprise (or whatever the variation of the story). But that doesn't help me. That doesn't give me any guarantees. You may be sure that I'll have babies someday, but I'm not so sure and I seriously question your certainty. I daily stare down the possibility that I will never be pregnant, and it gets more likely with every month that passes. By all means, have faith for me - I certainly need it - but please recognize that only the Lord knows if and when and how he will make me a mother.

I wish people could understand how silent, how hidden infertility is. You cannot tell by looking at me that I am in the midst of affliction*. This is not the kind of trial that mobilizes people to bring meals, to offer to clean the house, to send flowers. I can still function, outwardly. It is inwardly that I fall apart and lose control. People ask me if there is anything they can do, and I honestly don't know how to answer that question. But sometimes I wish that infertility brought some kind of acknowledgment besides words.

At this point you may be thinking, "Didn't she say up in paragraph two that she's not depressed? What is all this doom and gloom?" I know this all sounds rather bleak. It's not the complete picture - there is trust in God, there is spiritual fruit, there are many, many kind and compassionate friends, there is some kind of burgeoning hope - but I wanted to take time to write about the facets of my personal suffering that are often hardest to express. Because the anguish is real. Distress is not dismissed. Not by God. Not by me. And, hopefully if you've read this, not by you.

*Unless I am publicly weeping. Which does happen, and is humbling.


Catching Up

Well, the new year is underway. We had a pleasant Christmas visit to West Virginia - where I did not have access to high-speed internet, so I'm now trying to catch up on e-mail, blog reading, etc. My apologies to Amy for the long delay in publishing her comment. I'm also still catching up on life at home and work, and those take priority over blogging. Until I'm enough up to speed to continue posting, I leave you with this snapshot of an infertile holiday adventure...

After attending church with Aaron's family in West Virginia, I was walking across the fellowship hall when I was hailed by a lady who knows the Pattersons well. From the other side of the room she asked, "Andrea, how are you feeling?" A little confused, but assuming she is wondering if we're tired from the travel, I reply, "Fine." She continues, "Have you been sick at all?" Realizing that she is probably not referring to my general well-being but assuming that I am gestating, I cut to the chase. "No. I'm not pregnant." Well, somehow she had heard wrongly that I was (perhaps someone slipped and said the wrong name when talking about my sister-in-law who is due in April?). She said she'd been praying for me to have a healthy pregnancy for months, so she was duly surprised not to see a baby belly on me. I said that she was welcome to pray instead for us to conceive. She inquired further and I explained that we have been trying for two years. Unexpectedly, her response was knowledgeable and compassionate (not the mere platitudes that many acquaintances tend to offer). While the encounter was definitely a startling and melancholy reminder of my un-pregnant state, God helped me to react graciously and turned the conversation to a good ending - more people praying for us!