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Tu-be or Not Tu-be

(Sorry, I couldn't think of anything better resist.)

It's laparoscopy eve, not-so-affectionately known as the day when I consume nothing but broth, juice, and sorbet. Oh, and an entire, undiluted bottle of citrate of magnesium later tonight. Blegh. I'm worn out, both from the lack of nourishment and from the business of getting work and home squared away before tomorrow. At this point, a day where I have to do nothing but succumb to anesthesia sounds pretty appealing. If it weren't for the fact that induced subconsciousness is tied to that pesky surgical procedure...

I've devoted serious effort this week to fighting my fears about the laparoscopy. Meditating on Psalm 23, Psalm 27, Isaiah 41, and Isaiah 43 has helped. The fear has subsided some as I rehearse the truth that God made me, and he is with me, holding my right hand, and that he will not let me come to ultimate harm. But I still worry about the potential negative implications of whatever the doctor might find while investigating this blocked fallopian tube. I want the laparoscopy to clear the way for us to conceive, not doom me to infertility that can't be overcome. My prayer is that the results of the laparoscopy would be tangibly beneficial - something I can embrace as good not just by faith but by sight.

I'm feeling awfully tired, so I'll wrap this up. For those who want the details, the laparoscopy is scheduled for noon. I've been told the procedure itself will take one to four hours, and then I'll be kept in the outpatient recovery area for another one to four hours. I should be home tomorrow evening, hopefully with two totally clear fallopian tubes. I don't know when I'll get around to posting an update, but I'll try to do so as soon as I feel up for it. Calls and e-mails are welcome, if you want an update sooner than I post. In the meantime, I am so grateful for all of your support - the prayers, the notes, the calls, the small gifts. I go to the hospital tomorrow knowing that all of you are metaphorically holding my hands, and that is a very comforting thought.


The Benefits of Practicing Spiritual Disciplines

(This is the last part of a talk I recently gave on how I practice the spiritual disciplines; read part one here and part two here.)

Let me say again that I am not trying to convince you that my practice of the spiritual disciplines is the best way. I don’t want anyone to think that God is impressed by the time that I spend reading his Word and praying. He isn’t! I am a justified sinner, and practice of the spiritual disciplines doesn’t alter that one jot. If Christ has redeemed you by his death on the cross, you have his righteousness complete and nothing can add to that – not even reading your Bible for hours on end. Practice of the spiritual disciplines is simply a way to draw near to the foot of the cross and to be refreshed in the grace of God. My particular practice of meditating on Scripture has benefited me in the following ways:

1) My mind is renewed first thing in the morning. Without preaching the gospel to my soul at the beginning of the day, I would live out that day as a functional unbeliever. I might not remember everything I read (in fact, I often have to look it up again when Aaron asks me about my quiet time!), but immersing my heart in God’s truth before I do anything else is a practical way to express my dependence on him and to prevent me from seeking do everything in my own (limited!) strength.

2) I am more likely to recall Scripture. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” and that is just what daily meditation on God’s word does. By soaking my soul in Scripture, I have godly wisdom (rather than human wisdom) in my mind when I or someone else needs encouragement.

3) The Lord’s truth becomes more real than my feelings or circumstances. Sometimes – often even – my circumstances seem to say the exact opposite of God’s promises, and my emotions feel more vivid than the peace purchased for me on the cross. Daily meditation on God’s Word helps me to keep perspective and to affirm that he is sovereign and good and that his gospel is truer than anything I feel or experience.

4) God’s Word provides me with comfort and endurance for trial. Psalm 119 speaks over and over again about the relationship between affliction and delight in God’s Word. Suffering has driven me to the Lord in his Word, and in turn the Lord has sustained me through suffering by his Word. Even the most well-meaning words of comfort from friends often fall short, but meditating on Scripture has provided a balm for my troubled heart and patience to wait on the Lord.

5) Through daily practice of the spiritual disciplines, I find joy in the gospel. In God’s Word, I see over and over again my need for a Savior and God’s provision of a Savior. Over these past few years of devoting myself to meet with the Lord every morning, I have seen my gratitude for his great sacrifice increase.

I could say so much more, but I hope that I have been able to give you a taste of the satisfaction to be found in meeting with the Lord by daily practice of the spiritual disciplines. He has much grace for you, whether you are just starting to seek time with him or seeking to be more consistent in that time or wanting to get more of him out of the practice you already have in place. If you need to, find fellowship, make a plan, and ask God to make you more aware of your need for him. And above all, trust that the Savior will draw you to himself and give you joy, wisdom, and comfort from his gospel. He is faithful and he will do it!


The Habits of My Practice of the Spiritual Disciplines

(This is part two of three of the talk I recently gave about practicing the spiritual disciplines. You can read part one here.)

I share my practice of the spiritual disciplines not as a list of rules or how-to's, but to give you one idea of what a consistent time to meet with God might look like. The principle of meeting with the Lord is the vital thing. Here is how I seek to put that principle into practice. It’s not the only way or the best way, but it has served me and I hope that hearing these particulars might serve you, too.

I usually have some sort of meta-plan – a long term plan for what I will read in God’s Word, how I will devote myself to prayer, and when and where that will happen. I used to think that it was somehow more holy to NOT have a plan, to let the “Spirit” lead me to what passage of Scripture to read. In reality, that just gave my flesh the chance to say, as I stared at the cover of my closed Bible, “I don’t really know what to read today,” and therefore to leave God’s Word unopened. The lack of a plan really resulted in the opposite of a Spirit-led practice of the spiritual disciplines! Having a plan helps to overcome the obstacle of my sinful laziness. Last year, my “meta-plan” was to study God’s character so that I would trust him better. I used Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine and J.I Packer’s Knowing God to guide my Scripture reading to that end. This year, my “meta-plan” involves using D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God; for each day, this book suggests four passages of Scripture (usually 2 Old Testament and 2 New Testament chapters) and then Carson comments on one of those passages. This plan is set up to cover one calendar year, but it will probably take me longer than that. I like to be flexible with my plan, so I often take small breaks to pursue separate mini-plans. Sometimes I will use a morning to listen to a sermon. Sometimes I will use my time to complete a reading assignment for care group or to review notes from a recent message. Sometimes I will take a week or more to focus on putting to death a particular sin or preparing my heart for a foreseeable temptation. Approaching my long-term plan with this kind of flexibility keeps my practice of the spiritual disciplines from becoming legalistic and helps me to treat it as a means of grace that serves my soul.

On a day-to-day basis, I also have a plan for the when, where, and how of my practice of the spiritual disciplines. Though I am still not a morning person (and honestly, I’m not a night person either; I’m really just a sleep person!), I have come to see how much I need to renew my mind at the beginning of each day. In order to make sure that my time with the Lord is not rushed, I wake up with plenty of time before my first obligation of the day, and I do my devotions first. (If I wake up late, or if I run out of time, it is better for me to sacrifice a workout or a shower or nicely-styled hair than my time meditating on God’s Word!) For me, “plenty of time” means waking up between 6 and 6:30 – that gives me three hours before I start work. Within 10-15 minutes of getting out of bed, I sit down at the table with breakfast, a hot drink, my Bible, my journal, and a pen. I learn best by writing things down, so a journal is an invaluable tool to me as I meditate on Scripture. Typically, I read through whatever passages are in my plan for the day; then, I look back through the passage for verses that stood out to me. I write out those verses in my journal, and then I pray through those verses by writing out thoughts addressed to God, asking him to help me apply his words to my life and considering how the passage connects the gospel to my heart. Some mornings I end up meditating on several passages of Scripture and filling up many pages of my journal; some mornings I may only meditate on one passage and write on half a page. When I am finished reading and meditating, I try to spend about 10 minutes praying for others. This is a new practice for me, since the church’s recent prayer series, and it definitely does not come easily to me! (So please ask me, if you think of it, how I am doing in this area.) But again, having a plan is helping me to practice this discipline. I have an index card of verses to pray for Aaron each day. I have the church prayer list, and I pray through one section of that each day (for Sunday celebrations on Monday, for outreach on Tuesday, and so on). And I have begun keeping a small notebook in which I write down particular prayer requests as I hear them (otherwise, I tell someone I will pray for them and then completely forget!). These small tools are helping me to grow in a more outward-focused prayer life, coming before God on behalf of my husband, my church, my friends, and my world.


A Talk About Practicing Spiritual Disciplines

(I had the opportunity on Saturday to give a brief talk to the women of our church about how my practice of the spiritual disciplines has developed. This is the first of three parts.)

God kindly saved me at an early age, but it wasn’t until my late teen years that I started to understand the idea of a daily practice of the spiritual disciplines. I had thought that personal study of the Bible was something that only pastors or “super-spiritual” Christians did. Sure, I had been told (from the pulpit) of the importance of daily “quiet times” – but I didn’t really think the idea applied to regular believers like me. Then I began to learn of friends who sought to practice the spiritual disciplines, to set aside time to read God’s Word and to pray; as I heard about their practices and what they were learning, I began to realize that God means for all Christians to commune with him in these ways. So with a little instruction and a little fellowship, I began.

At first, I set aside time right before bed to read the Bible and to pray. “I’m not a morning person,” I thought, “so I’ll be able to focus better at night.” I kept this up for years, but my practice was very inconsistent. By the end of the day, it was easy to let other things crowd out that time with the Lord (and night-time prayer quickly morphed into sleeping!). When others mentioned the benefits of setting aside time to meet with the Lord in the morning, I inwardly scoffed, “That just wouldn’t work for me. I don’t have to be that legalistic.” But I also felt a tiny prick of conviction, a budding awareness that it was only my pride and self-sufficiency that led me to think I didn’t need to renew my mind with Scripture until the end of my day.

My practice of the spiritual disciplines grew gradually through my late teens and early twenties, but in the Lord’s providence a few things merged together to transform my limping habits. First, marriage to a godly man provided daily fellowship; knowing that, over dinner, Aaron would ask me if I had met with the Lord that morning gave me strong motivation to do so! Second, our church’s teachings on having a plan for reading the Bible and on meditating on Scripture gave me better tools for benefiting from God’s Word. Third, an extremely difficult and ongoing trial made me aware of my desperate, daily need for grace and help from God and his truth. God used these three things – fellowship, planning, and recognition of my need for him - to change my practice of the spiritual disciplines from an occasional five-to-fifteen minutes before bed to a regular 45 minutes to an hour with him almost every morning. Having a more consistent, longer quiet time first thing in the morning doesn’t earn me any points with God; instead, this time is a means of grace to me, an opportunity for me to meet with the Lord as he has revealed himself in his Word, to preach the gospel to my unbelieving heart, and to steep my soul in truths that I need reminders of daily.


A Laparoscopy Is Like the Sun

I've got some preparations to do for next Friday's laparoscopy. I need to have some pre-op bloodwork done. I need to buy broth and jello and non-citrus juices to consume for my required clear liquids diet the day before the surgery. And most importantly, I need to prepare my heart.

Remember the old three trees diagram? Over the past couple of days, I've been working through one to start fighting my fears about the laparoscopy.

1. heat - I am having surgery to investigate my blocked fallopian tube, and the outcome in unknown.

2. bad fruit - I am afraid of the surgery, of what the doctor will find, and of what the long term implication will be for my fertility. I am afraid of having endometriosis or of having my fallopian tube removed or of something else that will make it hard for us to ever conceive.

3. bad root - I want my fertility, and I fear even the little bit I have being taken away from me. I believe that I've already been through enough and that I shouldn't have to face another obstacle. I don't see the surgery as a potential solution but as another pitfall. I believe that I deserve an easy, happy ending to this trial. I believe that I need to have my fertility in order to be satisfied in life. I am doubting that God is with me in these things, thinking that if he really loved me he wouldn't make me go through this procedure now.

4. consequences - I dread this laparoscopy. I imagine worst-case scenarios for the outcome. I resent when others speak of the surgery in an optimistic way. I don't want the medically-best procedure to be done, but I just want whatever preserves an illusion of fertility for me.

5. the cross - The cross tells me that my status as fertile or infertile does not matter much in comparison to my status as a justified sinner inhabited by Christ (and surgery can't change that!). The cross tells me that God is with me always as Immanuel, so I don't need to fear what will happen in the operating room. The cross tells me that God is for me, that he does not put me through needless trial, and that he can work good out of even the most wicked of circumstances. The cross tells me that I actually deserve an unhappy ending and nothing but hardship, but that I have been rescued from that fate by my Savior.

6. good root - I should believe that God loves me, that he is with me, that he is exercising control over this surgery, and that he is not overloading me with trouble. I should believe that God is choosing the best path for me to have children, and if he does not choose to give me children then I will still be satisfied in Christ. I should believe that God will still be good, no matter what the outcome of the laparoscopy. I should desire God's glory above my fertility.

7. good fruit - I should not fear this surgery but trust God and take comfort in his presence with me and his love for me. I should speak more of my confidence in the sure hope of the gospel than of my anxious imaginings of what might be found wrong through the laparoscopy. I should welcome encouragement from others rather than complaining in my heart that those who are optimistic about the surgery just don't understand what I am facing. I should feel glad that this problem with my fallopian tube did not remain undetected but that God sovereignly led to its discovery.

8. consequences - I will have peace and hope, rather than fear, as I anticipate the laparoscopy. I will not cling to the vestiges of my fertility, but I will cling to my steadfast God.


Stopping Off for a Second to Be Super Again

Last night, Aaron and I started watching season one of A Bit of Fry & Laurie on DVD, and it is really striking my funny bone. (And I mean that in a pink and slightly special way.) I found a few clips to share, for your Presidents' Day pleasure.


Sweet Comic Valentine (*NOW WITH 100% MORE DUCK!*)

So all kinds of folks are sharing their Valentine's day or general love stories; I guess I'll toss ours into the pot.

Aaron and I started officially dating on February 3, 2001 (a good story in and of itself), so our first Valentine's day together rolled around pretty early on in our relationship. We met as RA's (resident assistants) in upperclass dorms, and the job required Aaron to be on his floor that night. Thankfully, his floor was open for visitors, so I went to go see him. I don't remember if I gave him anything (surely at least a card?), but his gifts to me were memorable.

First, he gave me a fragrant stargazer lily.

Then, he gave me a pig.

Yes, a pig. But not a live, or even a life-size, pig. He bestowed upon his new sweetheart a little rubber pig. You see, in those days, Aaron constantly carried around a small zoo in his pockets. There's a long backstory involved, but he always had on his person a green boat duck (it was a duck! I just remembered this morning - the boat is part of the backstory, but at the time Aaron carried a duck, a duck that has, to our great detriment, convinced both of our mothers that WE LOVE DUCK STUFF, THERE IS NOTHING WE WOULD RATHER HAVE THAN DUCK ORNAMENTS, TIES, SOCKS, SHOWER CURTAINS!), a white dove, and a tiny pig by the name of Travis Beacon (not Bacon). So as a symbol of our newly pledged affection, I received a matching piglet - May Parker (not Porker). Nothing says "Be my Valentine!" like a porcine figurine!

And after all that, he gave me three sweet kisses. Our first.

May Parker still has a place of honor in my jewelry box.


Doomsday Officially on the Calendar

I've scheduled my laparoscopy. Those four words don't adequately convey the cringing emotion behind them. Those four words mean that I started a new cycle* this past weekend; no miraculous intervention occurred to prevent the need for the laparoscopy. I've asked for faith that God can restore my fertility, but I have to remind myself that he is not bound to do so, that he is able and good even though he has not chosen to heal me at this time. I will have the laparoscopy on February 29. I find myself full of fear - fear of the unknown quantity of the surgery itself (how strange to go under anesthesia not knowing what the result will be when I wake up), fear of what the doctor will find, fear of the long term implications if the fallopian tube gets removed or if endometriosis or something similarly serious is discovered, fear that this laparoscopy will deliver the final blow to my hope of conceiving and giving birth to children. I know my fear reveals that I do not fully place my trust in God's total rule and steadfast love, so between now and the last day of February I plan to do battle against my fear, by God's grace. "For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6).

*Last month, I charted my cycle for the first time since starting fertility treatments, just to see if anything had changed after all the medicated cycles. It appears that I had a 7 day luteal phase - do you think the HSG (on day 12) could have caused things to go wonky, or what?


Documenting the Years of No Pants

Here I present the evidence for #69 on my 100 things list:

I'll give you three guesses to figure out where we went on this family vacation. I have to say that Mark makes a better Lady Liberty than yours truly. And please appreciate my dad's boredom and/or studied ignorance of our earnest efforts to be statuesque.

Remember the tiny private school I attended (#9 & #10)? The entire student body (not just my class) signed this sweatshirt.

Okay, so my lower half is technically clothed here. But I think the make-up job, well, makes up for it. And Mark really struts his pants-less stuff.

You're welcome.


Meditation on Romans 5

Yesterday I wrote about preaching Romans 4* to myself. In Romans 5:1-5, I found promises of God that I can preach to myself until I am fully convinced that God is able to do them. These are the precious promises of justification, the blessings secured to me by the righteousness imputed to me by Christ. I have peace with God. I have hope in his glory, knowing that he will show himself supremely good no matter what happens. I can rejoice in suffering, even in infertility. God promises me endurance, character, hope, and love. By his Spirit, he has helped me to endure three years of infertility and all its disappointments. I trust that he will give me endurance for as many more years of suffering that lie ahead. He is producing character in me, teaching me to obey him in everything, to know and trust him, to bear fruit even under withering heat. Now I need hope - hope that my future will not be all trouble, hope that hope itself will not shame me. Within the online community of infertility, hope is often portrayed as foolish, weak, silly; the real infertility veterans wear a badge of cynicism, a shield meant to inure us against disappointment. There is a fear - a fear that I feel - that high hopes will make the fall that much harder. If I don't hope that I might be pregnant, that next cycle starting won't hurt so badly and faulty expectations won't leave me feeling foolish. But hope won't put me to shame. God promises! This is where I want to grow right now, in having enough faith to hope that God's glory will be shown in my life, whether through a miraculous pregnancy or through ongoing trust despite deferred hope. Hope will not put me to shame, because I have assurance of God's love, proven on the cross of Christ and shed on my heart by the Holy Spirit. With that assurance, may I not waver or distrust these heavenly promises.

*By the way, click here for someone else's very helpful thoughts on the same verses in Romans 4.


Meditation on Romans 4

Preaching Romans 4:18-25 to myself...

In hope I want to believe against hope. Though I don't have the same specific promise as Abraham (the promise of offspring), I have the same God. All the facts point to a very slim, almost non-existent hope that I will ever conceive. But I want to hope against hope, to hope in God's power and goodness against the odds. I don't want to weaken in faith when I consider my as-good-as-dead reproductive system (at least as it stands now, with this blocked and poisonously-leaky fallopian tube) or the ongoing barrenness of my womb. I don't want to waver in distrust but to grow strong in faith, giving glory to God, fully convinced that he is able to do as he promises. He hasn't necessarily promised me children, but he has promised to work all things for my good. He has secured that promise by sending his only Son to die for my sins, then raising him from the dead and justifying me so that I can receive all the blessings pledged to the righteous.


Dim Shadows and Bright Hope

We live in a gap between God's promises and our reality. God gives us promise and hope, but we live in a world full of trials and disappointments. In this gap between promise and reality, our faith is cultivated. We learn to place our faith entirely in our entirely faithful God. (These words come from a message on Genesis 15 preached at our church two Sundays ago.)

This past Sunday morning, we sang the hymn "Great Is Your Faithfulness." As I sang, my heart (and my eyes) filled to overflowing with the ache of that gap between God's promises and the reality of my infertility.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

I don't always feel like I have the strength necessary for each day - for disappointing diagnoses, for watching other's pregnant bellies grow around me, for waiting and waiting and waiting. And bright hope for tomorrow? All I can foresee in my circumstances is dim trouble - another cycle starting, another friend's baby being born, a surgery in which I may or may not lose one fallopian tube. Blessings all mine? All? What about the blessing of children? I am too often aware of the blessings I lack, rather than the abundance of blessings I have been given in Christ.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

There is so much more in my life that I want the Lord to provide - healing, freedom from infertility, pregnancy, children. But he provides all I need. He has given me salvation, pardoned my sins. He does give me strength for each day, grace to navigate the temptations of infertility, even if I barely make it through the rough waters by clinging to him as my life preserver. I do have bright hope - hope of heaven, hope of increasing Christ-likeness, hope of seeing my Savior face to face. I do have every best blessing in Christ. Oh, I don't always feel these things. I shed many tears over the distance between my experience and the truth of God's promises. But...

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

My circumstances toss the little boat of my soul around on waves of doubt and distress. My feelings turn me round and round like a whirlpool. My diagnosis, my expectations, change like storms. But God does not change or turn. His compassion won't fail me. The same compassion that moved him to sacrifice his Son on my behalf is extended to me today. He knows how much it hurts to live in the gap between his promises and my reality. So when the heartache seems to swamp me, I ask for new mercy to see the Lord and his word as more real than my circumstances. By faith, I will see more of his faithfulness.


Now We Are Six

Lauren tagged me for this; it was hard to come up with six things that didn't replicate my 100 things list!

Here are the rules of the tag, followed by my answers:

The Rules:

1) Link to the person that tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog.
3) Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4) Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs.
5) Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6) Let the fun begin!

1. I have rather particular habits when it comes to the preparation of tea. Hot water (preferably from a kettle, not heated in the microwave) must be poured OVER the tea bag/leaves; filling a cup with water and then adding the tea bag/leaves is absolutely unacceptable. I like the tea to steep for four minutes (I usually drink black tea; for green, white, or red tea the steeping time varies a bit). When the brewing completes, I remove the tea bag, squeezing it out with a spoon to get the last drops of flavor. Sugar, if I want it, must get stirred in before milk or cream, because I have this notion that it won't dissolve as well after the addition of milk. When brewing tea for more than one person, I adore using this teapot of ours.

2. When my husband travels for work (like he is right now), I eat horribly and tend to stay up all hours of the night reading. I'll have things like popcorn for dinner (if I have dinner at all). I can't fall asleep very easily without him beside me, so I try to lull myself to bed with a book - but with no one to ask me to turn the light off, I often just keep reading!

3. I love to cook, but I hate getting my hands dirty. This means I wash my hands between almost every step of a recipe, and I handle food very delicately so as to touch it minimally. Strangely enough, I don't wash my hands much any other time than when I cook.

4. When I drive and listen to the radio, I often use the fingers of one hand to spell in sign language the words that I hear in news reports or in songs. It started as a way to practice the sign alphabet and get quicker at using it, but now it's just a subconscious habit.

5. Apparently, I give unusual pronunciations to the words "both" and "what." I've been told that I say the first "bolth" (which I find somewhat embarrassing, although I can't really hear it when I say it). Someone also pointed out that I enunciate the "w" and the "h" in question words, making "what" into two syllables; I'm not quite sure how I do this.

6. I have a minor passion for paper goods. Stationary, notes, invitations, journals, calendars, recipe cards, paper plates and napkins, etc. - I'm drawn to them and would probably buy a bazillion of them all if I weren't tempered by a streak of practicality that limits me to what I can actually use. Picking out invitations was one of my favorite aspects of wedding planning. Finishing a journal and getting to pick out a new one thrills me.

Let's see, I'll tag In Search of Morning Sickness, who could probably use the distraction while her husband's deployed, and Katie, who may not have time with two under 2 right now, and Jon, a newcomer to the infertility blogging community, and anyone else who hasn't done this already but would like to do so.