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Merry Christmas!

We leave today to spend a week in West Virginia with Aaron's family. I'll be taking a break from the series on battling bitterness while we're gone, but I'll resume when we get back home.


Battling Bitterness, Part 5

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:12-15).

Knowing that I am forgiven and chosen in love by God to be holy, I can seek to replace my bitter tendencies with other practices, as this passage in Colossians instructs. I can put on a compassionate heart that recognizes the struggles and challenges of those who tempt me to bitterness. I can consider how to show kindness toward those people, thinking of small or large acts that could bless them. I can cultivate humility, instead of the pride that is so quick to take offense because I think I deserve better treatment. I can respond with meekness, a quiet trust in God instead of a brazen assertion of my rights. I can exhibit patience, graciously enduring the failings of others because I know that I too fall short. It's helped me to take time to think of each of these traits and how I can apply them to each specific relationship where I struggle. How can I show compassion to this person? How can I be kind to that person?

All of the above - compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience - I can fool myself into thinking I can behave in those ways self-sufficiently. But the call in the latter part of the passage confronts me with my need for the Spirit to do a dramatic work in my heart. Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are worthless without love. It often feels impossible to truly love those against whom I have been cherishing bitterness. I have to cry out to God to give me love for those people. But my blood-bought peace with Christ calls me to the peace of Christ with others. And when that peace rules in my heart, when I am held in sway by the gospel, then I have the best source of love. These abstract (but not inconsequential!) thoughts get teeth in the last snippet of the passage: And be thankful. If, rather than rehearsing bitter complaints against certain individuals, I thank God for those people and even try to thank the people themselves for whatever I can, I will grow in love for them. Purposing to be grateful forces me to look for the good in people, which will weaken bitterness and water the seed of love.


Battling Bitterness, Part 4

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:12-15).

Bearing in mind the awesome blessing of being God's holy, chosen beloved, let's move on through this passage. The next part that really affected my thinking about bitterness was this: "if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other." Notice what it doesn't say. It doesn't say, "If you think you have a complaint against another, just pretend it doesn't exist and ignore your wounds." It also doesn't say, "If you have a complaint against someone, forgive him when he has appropriately received punishment and groveled in repentance." God doesn't ask us to overlook injustice; we can acknowledge the fact that people do wrong us. But God doesn't want us to whine about, to take revenge on, or to hold a grudge against those who offend. He wants us to forgive freely and unconditionally. How is that possible? When someone hurts me in small ways over and over again, or when someone commits a staggering betrayal of me, where do I find the ability to forgive? "As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." The Lord forgave me freely and unconditionally. "While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly ... while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6,8). God didn't wait until I acknowledged him, until I got my act together and did the right things. No, when I was ignorant of the wrongs I had done to him, when I was willfully choosing sin, when I was offending and mocking him, he forgave me sacrificially and completely. And that's the kind of forgiveness he calls me to extend to people who injure me.


Battling Bitterness, Part 3

So now I knew where I stood. I was cherishing bitterness because I was functionally ignoring God's forgiveness and love. And I knew where I wanted to get. I wanted to revel in the gospel so deeply that I couldn't help but leave bitterness behind. I wanted grace instead of grudges. How would I get from Point A to Point B?

In the footnotes of that section of A Gospel Primer, the author referenced three Scripture passages that would become my route to renewal.

One of those passages came from Colossians 3 (more on the other two passages in a future post). I ended up spending some time over several weeks meditating on and memorizing the following verses:

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:12-15).

Before launching into application of these words, I found in them a reminder to stop and dwell in the astonishing mercy of God. There are seven words that at first glance seem like an inconsequential clause, a phrase to gloss over as you get to the business of the instructions at hand. But these seven words are the primary business, the basis of everything else in the passage. I was arrested by these seven words: "as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved." God chose me to be his own before he even created the world (see Eph. 1:3-4). I am holy in Christ, and his Spirit sanctifies me. The Lord loves me, not because I am lovely or lovable, but because he has a great passion to claim sinners. Knowing that Jesus died to make me chosen, holy, and beloved, how much easier is it to put aside bitterness and love others?!

I'll stop there for now, but I'll share more of my meditations on Col. 3:12-15 soon.


Battling Bitterness, Part 2

As I first sat down to consider how I could put off bitterness and put on love, I didn't know quite where to begin. Having just gotten the book A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent, I decided to thumb through it and see if anything pertained to my struggles. From a section entitled "Stimulated to Love Others," I read the following:

When my mind is fixed on the gospel, I have ample stimulation to show God's love to other people. For I am always willing to show love to others when I am freshly mindful of the love that God has shown me. Also, the gospel gives me the wherewithal to give forgiving grace to those who have wronged me, for it reminds me daily of the forgiving grace that God is showing me.
Doing good and showing love to those who have wronged me is always the opposite of what my sinful flesh wants me to do. Nonetheless, when I remind myself of my sins against God and of His forgiving grace toward me, I give the gospel an opportunity to reshape my perspective and to put me in a frame of mind wherein I actually desire to give this same grace to those who have wronged me (emphasis mine).

In my bitterness, I was far from desiring to give grace to those who wronged me. I wanted to give the silent treatment, or sarcastic cutting remarks, or a stern lecture. To really defeat bitterness, I needed not simply to resist making those remarks or turning a cold shoulder. I needed a complete change of attitude. What could make that change? I needed to spend time reminding myself of the gracious, forgiving love God has shown to me. I wronged him, sinning against him in pride, in selfishness; how did he respond? He did not shut himself off from me, roll his eyes at me, speak or act harshly to me. No, he sacrificed himself, so that I could be his friend rather than his enemy. When I revel in being forgiven and loved in Christ, then I will actually want to forgive and love others.

So now I knew where I stood. I was cherishing bitterness because I was functionally ignoring God's forgiveness and love. And I knew where I wanted to get. I wanted to revel in the gospel so deeply that I couldn't help but leave bitterness behind. I wanted grace instead of grudges. How would I get from Point A to Point B?

In the footnotes of that section of A Gospel Primer, the author referenced three Scripture passages that would become my route to renewal. I'll address those next...


Battling Bitterness

Earlier this fall, I began to recognize some bitterness in some of my relationships. When particular people committed petty offenses against me, I would react out of proportion. As I sought to understand my responses, I saw that I was beginning to hold grudges, to keep a record of wrongs. Each slight dredged up resentment over any time that individual had acted inconsiderately or sinned against me in the past (at least according to my perception). I didn't want to forgive; I wanted to act in a way that punished the people who had hurt me. Thankfully, God opened up my eyes to this pattern of bitterness. Then, he provided time for a spiritual retreat, during which Aaron suggested that I focus on how I could grow in love for those toward whom I was tempted to be bitter. It's been a fruitful study, although I still need to pursue growth here. I'd like to take a few posts to share some of the ways I've sought to renew my mind, in case that would be a timely help to any of you. Coming tomorrow (Lord willing): the quote that kicked off my battle against bitterness...


If I Twittered...

Tweeted? Whatever. Here are some random thoughts I might have posted this past week:

I'd like to thank the return of '80s fashion for the fingerless gloves that now keep my hands warm enough to type in my home office. about 4 days ago

Grrr. I hate it when I forget my tea is steeping. Now drinking a cuppa that brewed for 20 min. about 2 days ago



We're hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, and preparations are chugging along. Plan menu? Check. Buy groceries? Check. Mix up bring for the turkey? Check. Since I know I'll be busy in the kitchen for most of the day tomorrow, I thought I'd post this meditation on thankfulness today. I read it yesterday in A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent.

Thankfulness Enriched by Relief

The more absorbed I am in the gospel, the more grateful I become in the midst of my circumstances, whatever they may be.

Viewing life's blessings as water in a drinking cup, I know that I could discontentedly focus on the half of the cup that seems empty, or I could gratefully focus on the half that is full. Certainly, the latter approach is the better of the two, yet the gospel cultivates within me a richer gratitude than this.

The gospel reminds me first that what I actually deserve from God is a full cup churning with the torments of His wrath. This is the cup that would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserve each day. With this understanding in mind, I see that to be handed a completely empty cup from God would be cause enough for infinite gratitude. If there were merely the tiniest drop of blessing contained in that otherwise empty cup, I should be blown away by the unbelievable kindness of God toward me. That God, in fact, has give me a cup that is full of "every spiritual blessing in Christ," and this without the slightest admixture of wrath, leaves me truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy. As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty or want, I can see them always as infinite improvements on the hell I deserve.

When I look at any circumstance that God apportions me, I am first grateful for the wrath I am not receiving in that moment (The empty part of the cup never looked so good!). Second, I am grateful for the blessings that are given to me instead of His wrath. (Life's blessings, however small, always appear exceedingly precious when viewed against the backdrop of the wrath I deserve.) This two-layered gratitude disposed my heart to give thanks in all things and it also lends a certain intensity to my giving of thanks. Such a gospel-generated gratitude glorifies God, contributes to peace of mind, and keeps my foot from the path of foolishness and ruin.

I pray that you all have a gospel-generated intensity as you give thanks this holiday! Happy Thanksgiving!


Some Personal Additions to "What I'd Like for You to Know"

A while back* when I pointed you all to the infertility edition of the "What I'd Like for You to Know" series at Rocks In My Dryer, one friend asked if there was anything I would add to it. Here are a few personal additions, but first a caveat. This is a list of challenges that are often overlooked. People can see when I'm doing well, and by God's grace I have grown in contentment amid infertility. Here, I'm addressing some specific temptations that you wouldn't be aware of if you haven't experienced infertility or a similar trial.

I don't just grieve over our inability to have a baby; I grieve over a whole set of dreams.
We don't have a baby. I've never been pregnant. But the ache of infertility isn't just about these efforts for a first child. We wanted to have a full family, maybe four kids. Even if we do ever conceive once, I know that won't be a magic bullet that kills off our infertility once and for all. One child would be a miracle, and I would be overjoyed. More than one child... well, that seems like too much to ask at this point. We will probably exhaust our arsenal of fertility treatments if we get pregnant. Or we will exhaust our finances (after having to scrape the funds together in the first place) if we pursue adoption. Infertility doesn't just mean we can't have one child; it means we can't have the family we hoped to have.

Milestones are bittersweet.
The anniversary we celebrated recently was delightful. We're grateful for every year of marriage. But I'm also very aware that an anniversary marks one more year that we haven't gotten pregnant or had a baby. When people enthusiastically say, "Happy anniversary! Wow, has it been six years already?!" - I welcome their kind joy for us, but I also think, "Yes, it has been six years, six years of just the two of us, many more years than we expected to be childless." My birthdays and Aaron's birthdays remind me that we won't get to be young parents like we wished. The new year means another year of disappointed hopes has passed, another year of trying to build a family has turned over.
And it's not just our own milestones. Your anniversaries cause pangs of jealousy; "Oh, they've been married for four years and already have two kids." Your children's birthdays can be the hardest of all. When you're celebrating your child's third birthday, I'm aware that you announced your pregnancy with that child just as we started trying to conceive. Your two-year-old? He was born during our first failed IVF cycle. If your baby is turning one, I'm steeling myself for the impending announcement of the next pregnancy. Now, we love you, and we love your kids. I sincerely do rejoice with you at your milestones. But they are also vivid reminders of what might have been, and what clearly isn't, in our family of two.

Stories of Joe and Suzy, who did (fill-in-the-blank) and then got pregnant, don't help.
One of the default attempts people make to sympathize and encourage when they hear about our infertility is to tell an anecdote of some other couple they knew. "I knew these people who couldn't get pregnant and they gave up trying, then seven years later they had a baby!" "Bill and Mary finally adopted, and then she got pregnant!" "The Smiths had twins through IVF, and then they conceived on their own four months after the twins were born!" I understand that those stories are meant to convey hope. But they don't. It would be kind of like telling a friend who just found out that she has breast cancer that you knew a guy who had prostate cancer that was cured by a little radiation. Misses the point, huh? Infertility has so many underlying causes - female factor, male factor, ovulatory dysfunction, endometriosis, thyroid disorders, poly-cystic ovaries, and so on. Your friends who ultimately got pregnant probably had an entirely different reason for their infertility, and so their success has about as much bearing on our situation as the case of prostate cancer would have to the case of breast cancer. It's much better to ask questions about our specific struggles than to offer a random story of so-and-so. (I would imagine that this would go for most health challenges or significant trials.)
Relatedly, it's also not helpful when you only offer blind optimism that ignores my very real doubt that we will ever have children. All of those types of stories mentioned previously have one common thread - the "happy" ending. When people assume we will get that same "happily-ever-after" to our story of infertility, it hurts more than it helps, because it misses the fact that a large part of the struggle is the uncertainty, the fear that our family will never grow. We've had people visit our new house and make comments about how certain rooms will make a great nursery someday; that's like salt in the wound, because we might never need a room for a baby. I need others to hope and have faith for me, but not at the cost of belittling the pain of how small that hope often feels. And not in a way that communicates that the only happy solution is the one where we get the baby. God will be faithful and will bless us even if we never have children.

Reaching across seasons of life should go both ways.
Most of my friends have children. Most of them have young children, which means they're in a season of life where motherhood is fairly consuming. Their thoughts and therefore their conversations tend toward what's going on with the kids. This increases exponentially when the conversation includes a group of moms. That's understandable, and I generally want to know what's going on with my friends kids and how they're enjoying or being challenged by being a mother. But I really appreciate those who are sensitive toward the temptations those types of conversations pose for me. It means a lot when a friend makes an effort to talk about the areas of her life beyond being a mother, or when she asks me about my life. It helps so much when someone steers a group conversation to a topic that everyone - including me - can discuss, or when someone pulls me aside after a talk-fest about kids' antics or schedules or what-have-you and asks how I'm doing or acknowledges that the conversation was probably hard for me.
At my church, we emphasize that our common bond is not in a season of life or in certain practices, but in the gospel. As the odd-woman-out, I often feel like the burden falls on me to make the efforts to find that unity in the gospel. I'll keep making those efforts, but I'm blessed when those in the majority resist the urge to rely on the common bond of circumstances and make those efforts toward unity a two-way street. (Again, this would apply to many different trials - to the single in a group of married women, to the public-schooler in a group of home-schoolers, etc.)

These few temptations aren't the whole story of infertility. And these temptations aren't necessarily constant. By and large, I have outstanding friends who are deeply sensitive, who have shown great kindness and made serious efforts to understand over these past four years. I'm so grateful for the gifts that I have even while I suffer - for my marriage, for my home, for my church, for grace to persevere. But hopefully this list will help you to understand some of the unspoken challenges and to learn how to extend even more compassion and comfort to those who need it.

*Two months ago, I noticed when I dug up the older post. Have I seriously been thinking about the question for that long? My blogging is finally starting to catch up with my thoughts... And sadly, thinking about this post for so long hasn't really made it well-written. Oh well.


Roasted Vegetable Soup & Salad

We served this meal to friends recently, and it was a hit.

Spinach Salad with Roasted Fall Vegetables

for the roasted vegetables

  • 1 medium squash (I've used butternut or acorn squash; butternut is much easier to peel! I think yams would work well, too.), peeled, seeded and cut into 1 1/2" pieces
  • 1-2 baking potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 1/2" pieces (you could also use 1-2 lb new potatoes, halved or quartered)
  • 1 onion (I like red), peeled and quartered
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 450F. Divide vegetables between two rimmed baking sheets; toss with oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast 40-50 minutes, tossing vegetables and rotating baking sheets from top to bottom halfway through cooking time. Let cool to room temperature.

for the dressing
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
Whisk all ingredients to combine.

to assemble the salad

Toss 1 lb baby spinach in dressing. Place spinach on plates, then top with roasted vegetables and cheese, if desired (feta or goat cheese work really well).

Roasted Vegetable Soup
  • 6 beefsteak tomatoes, halved and cored
  • 2 leeks, rinsed well, white and pale green parts cut int 1/2" pieces
  • 2 carrots, cut into 1/4" pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • about 30 oz vegetable broth (2 cans or one carton)
Preheat oven to 425F. In a roasting pan, toss vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a single layer (tomatoes cut side down) for 1 hour. Use tongs to peel off tomato skins. In a large saucepan, bring vegetables, broth, and 1 cup water to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender (or in batches in a stand blender). Serve hot; can be topped with fresh basil or Parmesan.

We like this meal with a good crusty bread. I roasted the vegetables for the salad first, then roasted the vegetables for the soup while the salad veggies cooled; the oven kept the kitchen toasty warm on a cold fall day! It makes a great meal for those with allergies or dietary restrictions (no dairy, egg, soy, etc.; just watch the ingredients on the broth, and leave the cheese off the salad). Enjoy!


When I Said "Warm Clothes," I Meant Clothes that Would Keep Me Warm, Not Clothes Appropriate for a Warm Climate

Aaron and I had a truly lovely weekend away. We rested, we did some sightseeing, and we had extended time to talk and fellowship and enjoy our marriage.

On Friday, I flew into Buffalo, NY, and Aaron met me at the airport (he had been working last week at a conference in upstate New York). After checking in to our hotel in downtown Buffalo and relaxing there for a bit, we walked to an upscale restaurant where Aaron had reservations for us. I had an exquisitely delicious garlic soup that I absolutely must figure out how to recreate!

After sleeping in a little on Saturday (since we now get up at 5am most mornings, sleeping in meant not getting out of bed until 7:30, but that would have been 6:30 central time - still, it felt great!), we drove up to Niagara Falls. We crossed into Canada, found a place to park, then walked along the river to the falls. It was raining and foggy, so we didn't have a great view, but it was still pretty spectacular! After admiring the falls, we visited a greenhouse on the grounds of the Niagara Falls park, then we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the falls. For the afternoon, we drove back to Buffalo and toured a Frank Lloyd Wright house (the Darwin D. Martin house). Since I have an interest in architecture and design, I found the tour fascinating. After the tour, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing at the hotel.

On Sunday morning, we went across the street to a local coffeehouse for breakfast, and we sat in their cozy chairs and spent extended time reading our Bibles and journaling. Then we returned to our room to pray together for a little while. We prayed specifically about Aaron's job and our family-building, the two areas where we're facing significant trials, and we asked the Lord to show us one step to take in each of those areas. After we finished praying, we packed up and went to the airport. As we waited to board our planes, we wrote our Christmas lists (they're coming, Mom & Dad!). Then we flew our separate ways - Aaron on to the next business conference in Arkansas, and me back home.

The Lord definitely answered the prayers for our weekend! We both feel restored from the busyness of these past several months and renewed to keep persevering in the months to come.



This Sunday will be our sixth anniversary. (If you haven't already seen it, you might enjoy the slide show I made for our fifth anniversary last year*.) Aaron is flying me off to some secret destination for the weekend (all I know so far is that I should pack warm clothes). I'm terribly excited and so ready to get away. We'd love your prayers for a weekend of rest in this busy season, and for us to have fellowship and fun together as husband and wife!

*You know, last year when I did NaBloPoMo. Things are a little quieter around the blog this November. See above re: busy season. So, so busy.


BooMama Heard My Cry!

Well, I guess it probably wasn't really a response to my request for crockpot recipes. But...

BooMama is hosting a Souptacular Crockpotalooza today!

I haven't even begun to look through the recipes. Oh, except for the Elton John soup. Because, seriously, how can you resist the urge to click immediately on a link to something called Elton John soup? Anyway, I don't have any contribution to make to the Souptacular Crockpotalooza, but I'm excited to browse through all the links that BooMama is collecting and to find some new meals for our repertoire. You know, when I have time.

Another thing that requires time? Thinking. And blogging requires thinking. And I have no time, so no thinking, and no blogging. I did try to think while staring at a blank "Create Post" window for about 45 minutes yesterday morning. Hmm. Maybe those thoughts will become coherent enough to write soon.


Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Crockpot Recipes

Fall is in full swing here, and I'm craving cozy comfort food. I want to use my crockpot more, but I have been making the same crockpot recipes for years and I'm ready for some variety. I checked out a slow cooker cookbook from the library, but I'd love to hear your favorite crockpot recipes! Please leave links or full recipes in the comments.

And because I'm a giver and not just a taker, you can find a couple of our favorite crockpot recipes here.


I Felt a Little Sheepish When He Said, "So, I'm the Fourth Doctor You've Seen?"

On Monday, I saw a new doctor, to get another opinion after our less-than-pleasant consultation with Dr. Ego. I liked the new doctor quite a bit; he was sympathetic, ready to take my opinions into consideration, and eager to offer help. When he heard our position on not freezing embryos, he said that he did not think IVF would be worthwhile for us. In his opinion, the limitations imposed by fertilizing a small number of eggs make the risks of IVF outweigh the potential benefits. However, he tried to offer as many other options as possible. He asked if we would be open to using donor embryos and gave me a list of the embryos that they currently have available at their clinic. (He also informed us that insurance companies consider donor embryos cycles the same as fresh IVF cycles; that means we'd have to choose between dFET and IVF for our remaining two covered cycles.) He said that we could continue to do IUIs. He mentioned that, judging by our records, it's entirely possible that we could still conceive without medical assistance. And he directed me to an article that he had recently read that mentioned a Christian fertility doctor in Oklahoma (turns out he had his facts a little mixed up, but I appreciated the effort all the same).

All that to say, I definitely like this doctor's personality a lot, but Aaron and I aren't sure what to pursue next. We'll probably take a break for the rest of the year, regardless; we don't really want to squeeze fertility treatments into the next couple of months that are already full of business trips, our anniversary, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In the meantime, we're praying for guidance as we consider all the possibilities. Do we look around for a doctor who will do IVF within our parameters? Do we try one of the other medical options, like donor embryos or more IUIs? Do we pursue adoption? Do we just rest as a family of two and wait to see what the Lord does?

"We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you" (2 Chron. 20:12).

"But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hand" (Ps. 31:14-15).


Six Things, or a Partial List of the Last-Bite Rules

Michele tagged me for the six things meme. Since I've already done a general response to a similar tag, I'm going to narrow my focus for this one. I have a quirk, when eating, of choosing my last bite before I take my first bite; this quirk is, judging by the comments I receive on it, both baffling and beloved to those who learn of it. I here present a list, by no means exhaustive, of the last-bite rules.

1. Bread (whether sandwich bread, a slice of French baguette, a muffin, etc.) must be eaten starting with the bottom crust and ending with the top crust - preferably not a corner, but a middle-section of the top crust. In order to ensure that eating bread in this order results in the best-possible last bite, one must, when buttering toast or spreading peanut-butter and jelly, apply the thickest coating of said toppings along the top crust of the bread.

2. When eating a salad, be sure to keep an eye out for when each tasty element (vegetable, fruit, cheese, etc.) dwindles down to its last piece. Save those pieces up and then collect them all on your fork for one scrumptious last bite full of the best contents of your salad.

3. After picking up a chocolate-chip cookie, scrutinize it for the spot with the highest concentration of chocolate morsels. (Hint: Looking at the underside of the cookie gives the best data.) Hold that part of the cookie in your fingers - but don't touch the chocolate chips and melt them! - and eat your way to that pre-selected, chocolaty-ist piece. (P.S. This reservation of the last bite by holding it between your fingers and gradually nibbling towards it applies to all hand-held foods, including breads in accordance with the dictates of Rule #1.)

4. Chips. Chips are tricky, therefore it is best not to eat them too often. In order to follow the last-bite rule of chips, one may be forced to over-indulge. The last chip cannot be chosen only by taste, not by sight. When eating chips, keep eating until you get that one with an extra burst of salty flavor. If you encounter this chip at only your second or third one, chances are you won't be ready to stop eating, so you will keep munching chips until you find the next chip with that special something. Make that your last bite; every other chip to follow will inevitably disappoint.

5. Main dishes, in all their variety, follow this general rule: get as much of the good stuff as you can in the last bite. Either look at the beginning for the part that appears to have the most flavor (seasoning, toppings, etc.) and mark it out for the end, or, in the case of pastas or soups, make sure as you eat to reserve pieces of the flavorful ingredients for the finale.

6. IMPORTANT over-arching rule of last-bite eating: If you are getting full, HEAD STRAIGHT FOR THE LAST BITE. Do not abandon the already-chosen last bite because you cannot make it there; skip everything else to ensure you have that savory finish before you can eat no more.

After reading this (partial) list of the last-bite rules, you may think I'm certifiably obsessive-compulsive. The thing is, I hardly think about these things as I do them; it's just an ingrained approach to eating. If you share a meal with me, you won't even notice that I'm doing it. However, if you spot me slightly tilting a chocolate-chip cookie and glancing at its underside, now you'll know what I'm up to!

I'll tag KC, Renee, Faith, and Stacey. You're it, ladies!



Sorry to be gone from the blog for so long again. Aaron's grandfather died on Wednesday, so we've been in West Virginia for the funeral. It was a good time with family, remembering the long life of a 95-year-old patriarch. My family has been visiting us since last Saturday, so our trip to West Virginia was sandwiched by time with my dad, mom, and brother. They head back to Texas today. I'm grateful for the time with them, and it was nice to have them stay at our house instead of having to stay at a hotel. Now, life will return to its normal rhythms, and that's no bad thing either.


Wheeee! I'm Writing My Own Content Instead of Providing Links!

I continue to be displeased by Dr. Ego and his clinic. Since Dr. Owlish left the practice, there has been a huge turnover among all the support staff as well (nurses, ultrasound techs, receptionists). Now, not only do I dislike my doctor, I also sense a general air of incompetence at the whole clinic.

A week ago Thursday, I showed up for day 3 blood tests and ultrasound. I had asked for an early appointment, because I teach at a homeschool co-op on Thursday mornings now. However, what normally takes 15-20 minutes took over an hour that day. First, I had to wait a while to be seen. Then, the nurse didn't have my charts and didn't know what to do. When she figured it out and started to prep my arm to have blood drawn, I asked if they were running all the extra panels Dr. Ego had suggested (Factor V Leiden, MTHFR, various antibody checks). Blank look. Eventually, I had to give them my copy of Dr. Ego's notes (which thankfully I still had in my purse) so that they knew what to do. After the nurse painstakingly coded all 5 vials of my blood, I waited again for an ultrasound. Finally, I was free to leave - at exactly the time I should have been starting my first co-op class.

That circus of an appointment cleared me to do the Clomid challenge test (a test to determine appropriate medication dosages for IVF). After five days on a high dose of Clomid (who knows what that has done to me, since I come close to overstimming on the lowest dose of Clomid!), I revisited the clinic for bloodwork. As I settled into the chair and rolled up my sleeve, the nurse (different than the previous one) said, "I have to draw about 6 vials today; do you want to lay down?" I asked what tests were being run. "Factor V Leiden, MTHFR, various antibody screening panels." I told her those had been drawn the previous week. She went back to check my charts and then returned to say there were no records of those tests being done. So it was all done again. Hmph. (I don't have results yet.)

Now I'm supposed to have a e-tegrity test done at the end of this cycle, to examine the enzymes in my endometrial lining. This test is not covered by insurance, so Aaron and I have been debating whether we want it done or not. However, it may be a moot point, because a precondition of the test is that I use OPKs (ovulation predictor kit) and call when the line darkens to indicate my LH surge. I've been testing every morning for the past four days, and the line is getting fainter, not darker. I tend to ovulate early (day 11-13), so I'm guessing the high dose of Clomid caused me to ovulate even earlier. I'll call the clinic later today and see what they want to do if that's the case.

In the meantime, I finally called another doctor yesterday. I had gotten a recommendation from a friend, but I haven't had the time or inclination to go through the hassle of setting up an appointment and getting a new referral. However, when I called this potential new doctor and my insurance company, I found out that my referral is global, not tied to a specific specialist. So I can see any RE I want (in the network) without having a re-issued referral. I can't believe how easy it is! My consultation is set for Oct. 20; I'll find out then if this other doctor will work with our preferences about IVF or not. Please pray that he will!


national what day?

Carolyn McCulley has a fun post up today.

(She's also written some thoughtful posts recently on politics and the economy.)


Fertile People Are Talking about Us Everywhere!

If you're not already following along, Shannon at Rocks In My Dryer has been running a series called, "What I'd Like For You To Know;" as Shannon says, "the idea behind this series is to allow women to share something about a specific life challenge or circumstance, addressing some of the misconceptions and (most importantly) telling us all how we can reach out better."

This week's edition of the series is about infertility, written by a woman who has experienced primary and secondary infertility as well as pregnancy loss.


A Mother of None on a Mother of Six on a Mother of Five

As an infertile, married woman who works outside the home, I've struggled off and on over the past few years with feeling like a second-class citizen of the church. It's not that the church intentionally belittles me and my position; far from it. But in the rush to uplift the crowd of stay-at-home moms with small children, sometimes those in other seasons of life get unintentionally trampled. In the effort to counteract cultural criticism of stay-at-home moms, the church at large uses superlative language to praise stay-at-home moms that inadvertently leaves those Christian women who aren't in that season, for whatever reason, feeling like they don't measure up, don't matter as much. I know that moms staying home with young children do hard work and need encouragement. I know that the church has a responsibility to minister to that significant population within their bodies. But single women, barren women, elderly women, working women - they all need encouragement, too. So I was very refreshed, a little over a week ago, to read the words of a stay-at-home mother of six on this very topic. She of Amy's Humble Musings has written an insightful post on the issue of a woman's highest calling (it's a response to the selection of Sarah Palin as vice president on the Republican ticket, but it's not a political post). I'd encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

I am a wife and mother. It is what God has called me to do. However, this is not true for all women. All women should NOT aspire to be a wife and mother. Instead, all women should aspire to present their bodies a living sacrifice to the Lord. God is glorified in us when we are satisfied with His will for our lives. This is why some marry, some stay single, some have children, and some are barren. Glorify God in your present circumstance, the one you are in right now, not in a future marriage that may or may not happen.

Any other gospel that makes the widow, the abandoned, the orphan, the poor, the single, or the barren unable to attain high favor (or a high calling with God, if you will) because of their circumstance is really no good news at all. The Lord is honored by our love and obedience to His Word, not in our ambition to serve in the “highest calling” as a wife and mother one day [emphasis added].


When Short on Time, Link

Many bloggers have reflected today on the events of seven years ago. I really appreciated this post from GirlTalk (excerpting an article by CJ Mahaney).


I'm Ready for a Dietary Change. The Bread of Anxious Toil Tastes Stale.

Since I last blogged, I've been baffling plumbers, buying a car, and burdened by busyness. I've been battling anxiety (mostly failing). I'm behind on everything.

But, God provided some space to breathe over the past couple of days. Perhaps soon I can return to regular blogging.

Thanks for bearing with me.


In an Attempt Not to Bias Readers, the Doctor Character Doesn't Get Named until the End. Also: Sorry, This is a Long One

Scene: midday Monday at the offices of The Fertility Institute at Posh Hospital; a slightly nervous couple waits to speak about IVF with a doctor they have never met

Doctor: Hi, nice to see you. (shakes hands) So, why hasn't this worked yet?

Andrea: That's what we'd like to know.

Doctor: Well, we can't tell. You're young. All your numbers look great. You've had a number of mature follicles every cycle. Your sperms counts are fine. But IUIs only give a 17-18% chance of pregnancy. IVF, for patients your age, has a 70% success rate. So I really want to push things. I want to increase your dosage and get as many eggs as we can.

Andrea: But...

Doctor: Then I'm going to say we do IVF with ICSI. (spelling it out and speaking slowly while writing on a chart) That's intra... cytoplasmic... sperm... injection...

Andrea: Yes, we know. We've actually done two IVF cycles with ICSI at a previous clinic. (thinking to herself, "It's all in that fat stack of patient records you're holding; have you glanced at those?")

Doctor: Oh. (glancing at papers) I see that.

Andrea: When we did IVF before, we only...

Doctor: (back to the chart he's writing out) So we're going to run a bunch of tests first, to make sure we don't miss anything and we have the best chance of making this work. We'll do a Clomid Challenge Test, to determine the best dose of medications for you. We'll do some bloodwork to check for antibodies that would fight against pregnancy, and for blood-clotting disorders. We'll do one test - and this one isn't covered by insurance - to check for enzymes in your endometrial lining that would support a pregnancy.

Andrea: Okay, all those tests sound fine. But you should know, we don't want to freeze or discard any embryos. We want to fertilize a small number of eggs and transfer all the viable embryos.


Doctor: Boy, kids. That really, I mean really lowers your success rates to almost nothing. I mean, I understand, I respect where you're coming from. But if you don't give me any out, I can only let you fertilize three eggs. What if they all fertilize? Three embryos is the most I'd be comfortable to transfer, and I can't take the risk of you having more than that.

Andrea: Well, when we talked about all this with Dr. Owlish, he told us that only one out of every five eggs has the genetic material to turn into a viable pregnancy. So he suggested we fertilize 6-8 eggs.

Doctor: Hmm, Dr. Owlish is usually more conservative than me. I can't let you do more than three. What if we end up with four embryos, and you have quadruplets? They'd probably have all sorts of disabilities. They wouldn't be able to take care of themselves, you wouldn't be able to train them. I would haunt you for the rest of your lives. Your lives would be a living hell.

Aaron & Andrea: ... Um, we know the concerns, but our history...

Doctor: I know my numbers. I can't do more than three.

Andrea: Look, we don't want high order multiples, either. But we fertilized four eggs at our previous clinic, and we only ended up with two embryos for a day 3 transfer for our first cycle, and one embryos that barely made it to blasocyst for a day 6 transfer for our second cycle. So doesn't that show...

Doctor: I know my numbers. We're better than your previous clinic. We have much higher pregnancy rates.

Aaron: But doesn't our track record have an influence?

Doctor: Every cycle is different. I know my numbers.

Andrea: So why, if we know fertilizing four of our eggs in the past did not result in four embryos to transfer, would it be different here?

Doctor: Better eggs. Better lab.

Andrea: Well, have you worked with patients who only fertilized three eggs before? What were the results?

Doctor: It runs the gamut. Some end up pregnant. Some don't make it to transfer. We don't have many patients who restrict us this way. I respect your position, but you have to respect that I know my numbers. I can't do more than three. You might be able to find another doctor in this area that would work with you, that would let you fertilize more eggs, but they don't have the success rates that I do. I'm sorry, kids; I know this isn't what you want to hear.

Andrea: (this is going nowhere; let's change the subject) So, we run all these tests during one cycle?

Doctor: Yes. (standing up to leave) So call on day one and we'll get you started.

Aaron & Andrea: Wait! Dr. Owlish also suggested donor embryos?

Doctor: Hmm, that's really rare. Nobody wants to do that.

Aaron & Andrea: more questions...

Doctor: more non-answers... Good luck! (exit)

(end scene)

So, how do you interpret the conversation? We were less than pleased. Whether he's right or wrong about the number of eggs we should fertilize (and I'm inclined to think he's wrong, because we know what happened with four eggs fertilized), he is not the kind of doctor I feel comfortable working with. Though this was the first time we met, he didn't do any introductions and he never addressed us by name. He didn't really listen to anything we said, and he seems far more concerned with his precious numbers than with the individual patients sitting in front of him. I'm trying, with mixed success, not to be angry at this doctor. I'm glad that my confidence is not in doctors but in God, who does hear me. Our plan, at this point, is to go ahead with all the tests (doesn't hurt to gather more information) while researching other doctors in the area and considering our next steps.

Oh, and I think the blog nickname for this particular medical professional will be Dr. Ego.


31 Words

I was tagged by Mustard Seed Baby for this post. The rules state that I should answer each question with one word. I might cheat by hyphenating some!

1. Where is your cell phone? windowsill
2. Your significant other? charming
3. Your hair? wavy
4. Your mother? Dutch
5. Your father? Dutch
6. Your favorite thing? books
7. Your dream last night? none
8. Your favorite drink? properly-prepared-tea
9. Your dream/goal? heaven
10. The room you're in? home-office
11. Your hobby? blogging!
12. Your fear? chidlessness
13. Where to you want to be in six years? here
14. What you're not? extroverted
15. Muffins? blueberry
16. One of your wish list items? this
17. Where you grew up? everywhere
18. The last thing you did? laundry
19. What are you wearing? skirt
20. Favorite gadget? immersion-blender
21. Your pet? none
22. Your computer? laptop
23. Your mood? weekend-ready
24. Missing someone? Wacoans
25. Your car? Ion
26. Something you are not wearing? socks
27. Favorite store? Ann-Taylor-Loft
28. Like someone? Michael Kitchen
29. Your favorite color? green
30. When is the last time you laughed? morning
31. Last time you cried? July?

Consider yourself tagged if you read this and want to give it a try. Happy weekend!


He Knows. He's Good.

"...then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials..." (2 Peter 2:9)

I read that verse on Monday morning, before going in for my beta but knowing the results would likely be negative. That phrase, "then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials," is one full of implicit questions and answers about suffering.

When faced with affliction, most of us wrestle with challenging questions. Why has God let this happen? Why won't God stop this, take this pain away? Can God control the sorrow that batters me? If he can but doesn't, can I trust him?

We need, I need, to hold tightly to two handles. The first handle is God's sovereignty, his powerful ability to control all things in heaven and on earth. Nothing happens apart from his decision. The second handle is God's goodness. Many of us only have a grip on that second handle. I think that, within contemporary Christianity at least, the most common answer to questions about suffering is that God is good and loving and would put an end to all our problems if he could, but, well, he's just not strong enough to do that. I understand how alluring that seeming solution is, but that? Isn't God. And it's ultimately a sloppy sop of comfort. If God is powerful but not good, we're all in trouble. If God is kindly but impotent, our trials are hopeless. But, praise him, he is both! He is King, and he is Love. When I suffer, I have to hang on to both handles of God's sovereignty and goodness, dangling in the paradox of the space between them, mid-air in affliction but sure of the One to whom my soul clings.

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials. I am not stuck in the maze of infertility, following a God who doesn't know the way, can't see around the walls, and keeps running into dead ends. He knows how to get me out. He hasn't yet, but that's not because he takes sadistic pleasure in watching me scurry from bend to bend, corner to corner. It's because he knows the best way to rescue me. That way may be longer and have more twists than I would like, but the path that looks quickest and easiest to me would get me lost. He made the maze, and he'll lead me through it and out of it. He knows how to rescue me, and at just the right time, he will. He is a proven, wise, compassionate rescuer.

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials. He knows, and he's putting that knowledge to good use.


We Called It "The Dress Car." Because It Was So Fancy.

Back in June, I wrote about how my first response to a day full of challenges was, "What next, Lord? Are you going to cause one of our cars to explode?..." Well, it turns out that was a strangely prescient though not altogether accurate thought. Today we found out that one of our cars was in fact on the brink of exploding!

Aaron's car had a leaking tire on Friday. He filled it with that fix-a-flat stuff and drove it home from work, but he noticed that it seemed wobblier than usual. Usual being not-wobbly, except when you go over a bump in the road. So we got a recommendation for a mechanic near our new home and made an appointment. "Brake problems," we thought, "or maybe suspension." Then the mechanic called. The back frame of the car is split in two. "If you had hit one big bump," he said (Hi! We live in the Midwest, where we grow pot-holes as big as Rhode Island! And we had the pot-hole-iest winter ever this year! And many of the roads haven't been fixed yet!) " could have punctured your gas tank and..." FIERY DEATH!!! "We don't recommend repairing the car," he went on to say.

I'm so grateful the Lord protected us from an EXPLODING CAR and FIERY DEATH!!!

Oh, Subaru, mostly green (though Aaron thinks you're blue) except in the parts where you got rusty (and Aaron patched you up and painted you... blue), we'll miss you and your 219,000 miles.

Anybody selling a commuter car for cheap?


I See Phelps's 8 and Raise Him 1

That is, if I can set my nine* failed assisted reproduction cycles against his eight gold medals. It's hard to say which accomplishment required more effort, endurance, and sacrifice.

Today's results were negative, in case you didn't catch that.

I'm disappointed and wondering what comes next, but still in faith for whatever the Lord has in store for us.

I read these words this morning before I left for the clinic, words that I want to be increasingly true of me, words that are being worked in me by God through this lingering trial of infertility:

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
(Psalm 73:25-26)

*ten, if you count the IUI that was converted to timed intercourse due to an insurance requirement being missed


Accept No Gospel Substitutes!

A couple Sundays ago, Tab preached a most helpful message from Hebrews 9:15-28. You can listen to the message here. The main point was that, when it comes to relating to God, there is no substitute for the gospel, the finished work of Christ. We often think of the gospel as a one-time thing, what brings us to God when we first become believers. But the gospel isn't just the gateway of first-time access to God; it's the gateway for our everyday relationship with God. Unfortunately, we're all prone to substitute other things for the finished work of Christ, thinking we need to add to the gospel or move on to something new. Tab highlighted three "gospel substitutes;" I'm going to focus on two of them.

The first gospel substitute is self-reliance. We think there is something we can do, even have to do, that will bring us to God. Do you ever think that, because you didn't make time to pray in the morning, you can't be close to the Lord or get help from him on a certain day? Or do you think that you have to work up some specific emotion in order to connect with God while singing worship? That's the gospel substitute of self-reliance. That's forgetting that faith is not based on our works but on Christ's work. What's the remedy in those times when we think our relationship with God depends on something we do? We have to go back to the gospel. Jesus appears in the presence of God on our behalf (v. 24); he has a permanent place in heaven securing the way to God. We don't have to do anything to relate to God. We simply, completely rely on the access bought by Christ's sacrifice.

The second gospel substitute is self-atonement. This is the highly insidious belief that we have to make up for our sins before we can relate to God. As if we even could! Yet we give into the lie again and again. Here's what it looks like: We sin; then, we think we have to wait to draw near to God until we've stopped sinning. ("I can't pray for help when I still feel so angry at my husband!") Or, we think we have to wait to draw near to God until we feel forgiven. ("Yes, I confessed that sin to God. But he won't really forgive me and help me change unless I feel bad enough about what I've done.") Don't we all think those kind of thoughts? When we do, we're making our own (in)ability to atone for our sins a substitute for the gospel. What's the antidote? We remind ourselves that Jesus has appeared once for all to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (v. 26). His once-for-all sacrifice leaves no room for any extra sacrifices we try to make to pay for our sins. What joy and freedom this good news brings!

I'm so glad to be at a church where I hear the regular call to accept no substitutes for the gospel. I've needed these truths during a busy season of moving, infertility treatments, and family visits. I'm going to continue needing these truths every day of my life, so that I can keep growing in the grace to rely on Christ and not myself.


Mixed Messages

Last Wednesday, I visited the clinic for a post-IUI scan of my ovaries. The first time I did an IUI at this office, the nurse told me that the purpose of the ultrasound was to see if I was producing enough progesterone. If the ovaries measured above a certain size, that indicated sufficient progesterone production. If the ovaries measured smaller than the desired size, then an HCG booster shot would need to be administered. The nurse I saw this past week gave me a completely different interpretation of this scan and its purposes. According to her, my enlarged ovaries mean that I am slightly hyper-stimulated and that it is not safe for me to take the standard-protocol HCG booster. So according to the first explanation, a bigger ovary measurement is a good thing; way to go, ovaries, no more HCG needed! But according to the second explanation, a bigger ovary measurement is bad news; sorry, no more nice HCG for you. Which is it? I don't know. How much affect does it have on the ultimate outcome of the cycle? I don't know that either. But I'm content to wait and see; I go in for the beta on Monday.

"But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness."
(Psalm 69:13)


Learning How to Use My "New" Oven

I declared the pork done when it caught fire.

Had I but Internet Enough, and Time

Faced with technical difficulties (a dysfunctional laptop, an Internet connection that spontaneously swapped its user name and password with another account to the bafflement of the good people at tech support) and a full schedule when I wasn't trying to straighten those issues out, I was unable to post last week. Over the next few days, I plan publish the things I wanted to write last week, from the frivolous to the medical to the spiritual, in no particular order.


Laissez-Faire Attitude Exhibit B: I Took My Trigger Shot an Hour Late on Friday and Didn't Get Anxious about It

Thanks to those who prayed for our IUI yesterday morning! The Lord mercifully caused things to go quite smoothly, despite the fact that we were exhausted when the alarm sounded and not eager for the whole IUI process. We didn't have as rushed of a morning as we often experience on IUI day. We made it to the clinic with ample time, and we were even seen early, which meant we could make it to church.

In keeping with my new, accidental laissez-faire attitude toward this cycle, I didn't pay too much attention to the report of the sperm counts for the IUI. They gave me numbers, but I honestly couldn't remember what the ranges are for good motility and post-wash count, and I didn't feel like asking. So the numbers were just... meaningless numbers. I started to look up the information this morning, then I decided that I didn't really have time to search around. Yes, knowing what kind of counts we had for this IUI might give me some idea of what to expect, but simply knowing the numbers and statistics won't affect the outcome of the procedure. So I'll just wait in blissful, distracted-by-settling-our-home ignorance.

As we sang yesterday morning in church:

We offer our lives to proclaim
What a Savior!

Anything can happen with this IUI, as long as it results in a proclamation of the greatness and kindness of Christ.


I Probably Didn't Really Have Time to Re-Write Showtune Lyrics, Anyway

At this morning's follicle check and blood draw, the nurses thought I would likely be on Follistim and Repronex for another day, back for blood and ultrasound tomorrow, then probably scheduled for a Monday IUI. I had run out of Repronex, so I had to "borrow" some from the clinic in case I needed it tonight. On my drive home, I began composing alternate lyrics to the Les Miserables tune, "One Day More," to post as a description of the pending plan. I could hear the different sections - me, the patient, in place of Valjean, the nurses in place of the Thenardiers (no insult to the nurses intended; their instructions just fit the rhythm) - joining in a glorious, swelling medley of assisted reproductive technologies. When I stopped to fill up the tank of my car, I was trying to think of rhymes for "ovary," "Follistim," and "Repronex" - not an easy task. I filed the idea away to come back to after work.

Then I checked my patient voicemail box, and found out that the doctor actually wants me to stop meds, to take the HCG trigger shot tonight, and to come in for the IUI on Sunday. So much for my new Broadway hit! Please pray for us on Sunday morning.

(For those who like the numbers, here's the run-down: two 17mm follicles on the left, a few 13s on the right, and E2 at 1023.)

(Also, it bothers me that I don't have accent marks in the proper places for all the French words and names, but I don't have time to figure out how to do that right now; please imagine little slanted hash marks.)


Courtesy of Unpacking and Search Engines

While unpacking some miscellaneous desk items, I unearthed a post-it note on which I had scribbled some of the odder phrases that led people to my blog through search engines. Without further ado, I present the list.

IVF and pepper (huh?)

OB-GYN Christmas jingles (huh? two times!)

perfect me heart motives (sanctification for pirates!)

entrusted picture dictionary (how would you draw a picture of "entrusted"?)

want to be infertile (trust me, honey, you don't)

arrested development in the emotions of an embryo (I... don't even know what to say about that one)

Those of you who've been following along for a while will be glad to know that people are still stumbling upon my site when looking for:

chicken reproductive system pictures

And now, also:

artichoke reproduction system

I hope the chickens and artichokes are more successful at reproducing than I've proven to be!


Oh Yeah, There's More to Our Lives than Home-Ownership

So, not only did we move into our new house this weekend (hello, boxes that are still everywhere!), I also started medications and appointments for a new IUI cycle. A friend who was helping me unpack our kitchen laughed at the initial contents of our new fridge - a large jug of water, a bowl of leftover potato salad (from a night we had spent painting at the house), four boxes of Follistim, and one box of Repronex. Rather telling of our priorities at the moment!

I don't think I've mentioned this yet on the blog, but Dr. Owlish has left the practice (he moved to be closer to family, so I guess I can't begrudge him that). It was disappointing, as we had been so pleased to start seeing him, but we trust God's timing. I've been handed over to the other doctor at the clinic, but I haven't actually seen him yet (and may not for some time, who knows?). He's a very respected doctor in the field, nationally, so I assume I'm in good hands, but I don't know if we will click with him personality-wise in the same way we did with Dr. Owlish. Anyway, the new-to-me RE reviewed my charts from the cycles I did with Dr. Owlish, and he decided to add Repronex into the medicine mix. I don't really know what it does, but I've been too swamped with all the house stuff to worry about asking. It's another injectable drug, one that I mix myself. Then I squirt the Follistim into the same syringe, so I only have to give myself one shot total instead of one for each medicine. It makes for a lot of needle juggling, especially once I've sterilized things and don't want to set them back down! I've taken this combination of meds for three days now, and a check-up today showed dozens of small-to-medium follicles on each side (the largest were 13, 12, and 10 mm) and an E2 level of 202. I'll continue the same doses (75 IU of Follistim, 37.5 IU of Repronex) for three more days and go back for ultrasound and bloodwork on Friday.

It's kind of strange to have infertility treatments feel like an afterthought, amidst all the business of settling our new home, but I'm grateful for the temporary shift in focus. I pray, of course, that the upcoming IUI will be successful, but I have such abundant evidence of God's kindness all about me right now that it's easy to trust him for the future. No matter what happens, I know that he has positioned us well for whatever will come next.


Look at That! My House Matches My Blog

Here are some pictures of our house! We put in some long days of work on it over the weekend. This week, we have contractors in to work on the basement and the hardwood floors. We move in on Saturday. I'll post a variety of before and after pictures of the interior soon.


After More Delays and Obstacles Than I Would Have Thought Possible

We're buying a house this afternoon!

What are you doing today, big or small?


$50,000 to $0: How We Did It

(Grab a cup of tea; this is a long one! I'm answering the questions about how we paid off our debt as a Works-For-Me-Wednesday post.)

Thanks for all the congratulations on paying off our debt! Several asked how we did it. It began when, a little less then a year into our marriage, our church hosted a Money Wise Workshop*, given by Tom Werth (now on staff at CrossWay Community Church in Kenosha, WI). At the time, ironically enough, Aaron had just lost his job, so we couldn't begin to apply much of the information until a few months later when he had full time work again. Still, we gained a conviction that being debt-free wasn't just preferable but biblical, and we learned some practical tips to send us toward that goal.

We had a credit card balance from our honeymoon, a handful of student loans (mine were consolidated, Aaron's weren't), and two car loans, all adding up to about $50,000, as best as I can remember. We didn't have a large income at all; that year, our combined earnings were about $45,000. I share that to encourage you that it can be done, even without a huge cash flow.

As our first step, we set up a thorough budget, based on our income after taxes and giving to our local church. We cut out just about every extra - clothes, eating out, etc. During that time, we asked our family, in lieu of regular birthday and Christmas gifts, to give us gift cards to favorite stores and restaurants; that helped to give us little splurges that we couldn't otherwise afford. We did what we could to keep our living expenses to a minimum (affordable rent on a small apartment; the most basic phone plan; no internet at home - we used the library; a strict grocery budget that sometimes meant we ate nothing but eggs, pancakes, and pasta at the end of the month).

Once the budget was in place, we asked some financially-sound friends to help us make a plan to pay off our various loans. They gave us some advice that actually went counter to some of the conventional wisdom but that worked well for us. For instance, one recommended that we pay our credit card off before starting any "emergency fund" type savings; his reasoning was that the interest rates on a savings account were so much lower than the interest we were paying on our debt that we would actually lose money by saving. So we paid off our credit card first, as quickly as we could, then started an emergency fund (the standard 3-months-worth of living expenses) to save for things like car repairs, job loss, etc. Another friend (and a CPA to boot) recommended that, rather than following the course of paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first, we pay the loans off essentially from smallest to largest. This had a huge impact, because we were able to quickly escalate payments on each loan.

Here's how that worked: Aaron had one small student loan (about $1000, I think) for which we only paid about $10 per month. We paid up on that as much as we could and were able to pay it off fairly quickly. Now, we rolled that $10 a month into the payment for the next loan, another small student loan on which we owed $30 per month. That one was paid off fairly quickly, too, and it motivated us quite a bit to see the progress of having two fewer bills to pay. We added $40 per month (the combined amounts from the two loans now paid off) to a car payment, meaning we paid something like $190 per month instead of the required $150. It took a while longer, but after we paid off that car, the snowball effect of the cumulative payments really took off. By adding the now freed up $190 per month to our other car payment (which was set at $175), we paid that car off in half the time of the 5-year term of the loan. At that point, we turned to tackle our two largest student loans (originally about $13,000 and $20,000 respectively). Again, adding all the previous payments no longer owed to the monthly payment on those loans (one at a time), we paid about $450-500 per month toward the first loan, and eventually about $1000 per month toward the second loan. We couldn't always make the big payments (like at Christmas-time, when we had extra expenses in the form of travel and gifts), but we paid as much as we could every month, and the effect was enormous!

During that whole process, we used any unexpected windfalls to pay whatever loan we were targeting at the time; tax refunds, Christmas bonuses, and the like took big bites out of those loans. We started out paying off our loans with very slow, small steps, but eventually we could take long strides and pay down debt quickly. When we began, our debt seemed insurmountable and I felt we'd never be done with it; but it only took five years!

As our income increased over time (although we still make a very moderate living) and our debt decreased, we were able to build non-essentials back into the budget, although we still keep those to a minimum (i.e. $50 per month for clothing, $60 per month for eating out). We don't buy things unless we have cash in the bank for them, and we use debit for most purchases. The only occasional exception is travel; we might put part of a vacation on credit, but we determine to pay off the balance within a month or two at the most. Once we take on a mortgage, we'll have to tighten the budget again, but now we know we can do it, by God's grace. We certainly couldn't have stewarded our finances this way without help, and I hope that by sharing these details some of you are helped, too!

*It looks like you can download the seminar audio and workbook for this workshop from our related church, Covenant Life, here.


"Madness" and "Craziness" Are the Two Words Most Frequently Uttered in Our Household Right Now

I'll spare you the details, but here's a status report from the past week of our efforts to buy a house.

Tuesday: We think the sale will fall through.

Wednesday: We might get the house!

Thursday: We think the sale will fall through.

[Insert holiday weekend.]

Monday: We might get the house!

Tuesday: Negotiations are still up in the air, but we're engaged in a mad scramble to pull everything together to possibly close next week.

Please pray for us!


Approximately $50,000 to $0 in 5 Years

As of today, we are completely and gloriously debt free! We just paid off the balance of our last school loan, so now we have no education debt, no car payments, no credit card balances, no mortgage, nothing owed to anyone. We're so grateful for the teaching we received early on in our marriage about the principles of financial stewardship and for the money-savvy friends who helped us put together a practical plan to pay everything off as soon as possible. Thank you, Lord, for providing!


Orange-Avocado Salsa

For the Five-Ingredients-or-Less edition of Works for Me Wednesday, I thought I'd share this orange-avocado salsa, a summer favorite of ours. We like to serve it over grilled chicken breasts with rice, but I bet it would be tasty with fish or pork chops, too.

Orange-Avocado Salsa

1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp honey
2 large navel oranges
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 avocado, pitted and diced*

In a medium bowl, whisk lime juice & honey together. Season w/ salt & pepper (I know, those weren't on the ingredients list, but that would have made for seven ingredients rather than five; shhh!). Set aside.

Cut up the oranges: Slice of both ends of each orange. Following the curve of the fruit, cut away the peel and pith. Quarter the oranges (basically, cut an X lengthwise through the core of the orange, if that makes sense), then lay each half (two of the quartered sections) flat and slice sections 1/4" thick; this will give you a bunch of little orange triangles.

Add orange pieces, onion and avocado to honey-lime mixture. Toss gently to combine. Serve immediately.

*This may be obvious, but here's how I dice an avocado. Use a chef's knife to cut the avocado in half vertically, curving around the pit. Separate the two halves, then whack the pit with your knife (this is why I use my big, nicely weighted chef's knife for this task); twist to remove pit. Now, cut 1/4-1/2" dice into each avocado half, without slicing through the skin. Use a spoon to scoop the dice from the skin of each half. Nice and neat!


Progressing Towards Home

We were finally able to get a variety of professionals in to the house at the end of last week. That process was a comedy of errors that felt more like a tragedy at the time - locks changed on the house so we couldn't get in for the first appointment, miscommunication about the rescheduled appointment so that we weren't all in the same place at the same time, and so on. The realtor, an air tester, an HVAC professional, a mold assessor, and I all managed to converge on Friday. Conclusion? The furnace, which wasn't working at our original inspection, was repaired by the seller; it's still an ancient, inefficient piece of machinery, but it's safe and it works. The air test showed the presence of mold spores common after basement flooding, but it's not toxic and the levels aren't too high; it still needs to be addressed, but it's not a major health hazard. And the mold assessor judged that the only areas of the basement that definitely need remediation are the bathroom and storage area, although we asked for a quote for the whole basement to be safe. All in all, we feel much better having a more realistic picture of the works that the house needs, and we were reassured to find out that not everything has to be done up front. We're asking the seller to remediate the mold, so please pray that those negotiations go well (and quickly!) this week. If we reach an agreement on that, and if Aaron and I feel like we're not taking on too many future projects, then we'll move forward. I'm ready to be done with this whole process!

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1).


One Item Checked Off the Wait List

NO nine-month wait added to that list. The nurse just called with negative results for the IUI cycle. I had such low expectations that I'm really not disappointed at all. We're going to take July off, because hopefully (please, Lord?) we'll be moving. And I probably have cysts anyway, but we won't bother to check this time. On the bright side, now I don't have to worry about a pesky due date interfering with a trip to Hawaii that my family has planned for March 2009. That's a nice shiny silver lining, huh?


Quick Update

This has been a week of waiting. Waiting to get results for the IUI next week. Waiting to hear back from the seller of the house. This morning, we finally got official approval from the seller to bring in a professional mold mitigator to give an estimate about how extensive the mold is (the inspector only saw a little bit in the corner of the basement bathroom) and how much it would cost to take care of it. So we called our inspector to ask for a recommendation for a mold remediator; he wasn't in, so I left a message, and now we're... waiting.

I'm trying to remember that I'm waiting on the Lord, even though it feels like I'm waiting on people.


Meditation on Psalm 31

I wrote this reflection on Psalm 31 in my journal on Wednesday morning, after all of Tuesday's challenges. (It will have more context if you read the Psalm first.)

Lord, rescue me! Under the weight of all of yesterday's disappointments - the low counts for the IUI, the refusal of the seller to do any repairs on the house - help me to take refuge in you. I know you have already delivered me from my sin; now please deliver me from these trials! Hear my pleas! Remove the shame of having all my desires squelched. Help me to trust that you lead and guide me through infertility and home-buying for your name's sake. Help me to hate the sin in my heart that makes children and houses into idols. Remind me that you are not indifferent to my affliction and distress, but you are gracious. When my eyes are tired of crying, when my soul and body are weary of difficulty, when I feel like all I have are sighs and sorrows, remind me that you are a strength for the weak. You are a sympathetic high priest. You have taken the burden of my iniquities; you made this enemy your friend. You are kind, even when I have a hard time seeing it. Help me to rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love.

God, give me confidence that you have goodness stored up for me. Right now, in my unbelief, I expect abundant hardship from your hand. I believe the reverse of the Savior's words about your Fatherly love - I feel like I am asking for bread and you give me stones, for fish and you give me a snake... Or rather, for a child and you give me infertility, for a house and you give me a moldy basement and a rusty furnace. Conquer my unbelief! Cause me to fear you and take shelter in you and to expect good from you.



Tuesday was challenging.

The IUI went okay. Everything about the procedure itself happened as usual. However, Aaron's numbers were below the preferable range for IUI (motility 31% instead of 50% or greater, a count of 9 million - I think - instead of 10 million or greater). The nurse said the numbers weren't bad enough to cancel the IUI, but... momentary silence implying that we shouldn't get our hopes up... So we'll see. I have an ultrasound tomorrow to check if my ovary size indicates adequate progesterone production, and then we wait until the end of June to test for pregnancy. I know our God is bigger than any statistics, but if the conditions of this IUI are less favorable than our previous five - well, less favorable than a whole batch of negatives equals a pretty poor prognosis of success.

Then, we had bad news on the house front. You may remember we've been waiting to hear back in negotiations with the seller to take care of some relatively major issues (water damage, ancient furnace, etc.). Late Tuesday afternoon, the seller (or rather, her lawyer) sent a two-sentence letter "respectfully" declining to do any of the repairs we requested. I was bitterly disappointed. I've been trying to prepare my heart for a potential negative outcome and trying not to idolize this particular house, but the groundwork I laid crumbled almost immediately. The door hasn't completely closed on that home; we did hear a new development from the seller's lawyer today, and we're going to get some professional estimates on the work that needs to be done before we make any final decisions. But it's certainly not turning out to be a straightforward process.

So I've been weary. I'm battling unbelief, and I'm disappointed to see how my heart is growing to expect difficulty from the hand of God rather than blessing. (Honestly, my first thought upon getting the IUI and house news in the same day was, "What next, Lord? Are you going to cause one of our cars to explode? What else will you make go wrong?") I know that he will work this all for my good, and I know that all these things that feel like Plan B to me are part of his best purposes. But right now, I'd like to trade in my Person Who Grows Through Hardship badge for a membership in the People Who May Not Learn A Lot But At Least Life Is Easy club.


No Menopausal Nuns Were Hurt in the Making of this IUI ::updated::

When the nurse called with the results on Friday afternoon (E2=285, follicles measuring 15, 13, 10, and 9 mm), she told me to come into the clinic again on Saturday morning for more bloodwork and another ultrasound. At that appointment (to which I rode my bike), C-Pug declared, "Your lining is gorgeous!" My follicles measured 18, 15, 11, and 9 mm, and my E2 had gone up to 495. The doctor instructed me to take one more dose of Follistim on Saturday night, and then I took the HCG trigger shot last night. The IUI is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. Please pray!

(For those who don't spend all their time immersed in the world of infertility terminology: E2 is a specific estrogen which should reach levels of 200-600 for every mature follicle; a mature follicle (the sac in which the egg grows) is 18mm or larger; HCG is human chorionic gonadotropin, a pregnancy hormone (the medical form is derived from the urine of pregnant women and menopausal nuns) that mimics the effect of another hormone (luteinizing hormone, or LH) which induces ovulation; IUI is intra-uterine insemination.)

(As I mulled over this post later while I drove around on some errands - what? doesn't everybody do that? - I realized that I gave inaccurate information in my parenthetical note at the end. It's actually follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, I think, that comes from the urine of menopausal nuns. Which makes more sense. How would menopausal nuns secrete HCG? Anyway, the title of the post still holds.)


Cycling... and Cycling

I had my second ultrasound and bloodwork appointment for the current IUI cycle this morning; I'll get all the numbers (follicle measurements and estradiol levels) this afternoon, but the ultrasound tech said everything looks "gorgeous" - apparently, her favorite adjective, since she uses it every time I see her - and that things are really growing. This particular ultrasound tech is really darling, so I hereby decree that I will nickname her Cutie-Patooty-Ultrasound-Girl, or C-Pug for short. By the way, my protocol, for any who are curious, is 75 IU of Follistim per day (a lower dose than my last cycle, and I think this will work much better for my production-happy ovaries).

So I have two weekend assignments for you:

1) Both Monday and today, I rode my bike to the clinic. It's only a 20-25 minute ride each way (as opposed to a 10-15 minute drive) on a nice route between our apartment and the hospital. The nurses had instructed me not to add any new excercises during the IUI cycle, so technically biking isn't forbidden for me, but I'm starting to wonder if it's too much. What do you think? I'm popping up a poll in the right side bar, so go ahead and vote.

2) Legal wheels are still turning on the house stuff post-inspection. But that doesn't stop my mental wheels from spinning with decorating ideas. (I figure, hey, whether we end up buying this home another one, I'll still be decorating something.) So tell me in the comments, what are your favorite decorating and design resources - websites, magazines, books, stores, etc.?

Happy Friday!