Finding God’s Goodness in Infertility.

Here’s a big piece of my heart.  Here’s why I’m passionate about making your own adventures right where you are.  Because each moment matters: the good, the bad, and all the ones in between. There’s a purpose and a piece of Him to be found in each and every one – especially the broken ones.

My good friend Dolly Parton once said — or sang, rather — “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” I did a little research on what this actually means.  Evidently, after a heavy rainfall water saturates the ground, a tree’s moisture-seeking roots follow the water and, therefore, plant themselves deeper into the earth. All of this rooting and growing prevents the tree from easily being blown over and prepares the tree for storms yet to come.  Now, just because the tree hasn’t blown over doesn’t mean it wasn’t affected by the harsh weather. A lightning strike, for example, almost always leaves a mark. Or the heavy weight of snow and ice after a winter storm can leave a tree missing limbs. I want you to keep that picture in the back of your head as I continue.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t do well in winter.  I was born and raised in South Florida, people — I’m not cut out to be cold! Just like the seasons of the calendar year, I think there are seasons of the soul. There are times of abundance, times of darkness and coldness, and times in between. If you are anything like me, winter is the hardest both in the seasons of the year and in the seasons of the soul. Not so much in the length, but in intensity.

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I went to college in Florida and began dating Jimmy, my now husband, who lived here in Ohio. It was while I was away at college that I began to know God as someone who wanted more than just formalities with me. I began to know Him as the pursuer of my heart. You see, up until that point, I believed God was real and that the Bible was true, but it was more like a history book to me — a culmination of facts without anything that personally related to me.  My time away at college was the beginning of my journey to know God, replacing my past experience that was limited to knowing about Him

One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet, but that you should probably know about me: I’m a complete, total, bone fide A-type personality. I like a good plan. And I make really good plans. Ask any of my friends or family — I’m the “planner” of all things: vacations, family dinners, parties. You name it. I’ll plan it.

So fast forward 3 years from my Florida college days. At this point, Jimmy and I have gotten married. We both have great jobs and a cute little apartment. Life is good. Things made sense. Things are going according to the plan. Jimmy and I wanted kids from the beginning, and the plan was that we would be married for two years and then have our first baby, a summer baby. How’s that for specific?

Well, about a year into our marriage I felt convicted that maybe I was being a little too controlling. I wanted to show God that I trusted Him and His plan for my life. So I went off birth control and told God, “Whatever you have for our family is good with me.” Well, God decided to call my bluff on that one.

All the while I’m thinking I’m going to have a baby in the winter months and that’s my way of surrendering to “God’s plan.” But nothing happens. And a year goes by. Still nothing. So we start actively trying, tracking my cycle and all that comes along with it. And a second year goes by. And we find ourselves in a fertility clinic where they diagnosed us with “unexplained infertility,” which, as you can imagine, is a very helpful diagnosis. Then a third year of infertility goes by. We were working with the clinic to do different treatments, trying different medicines. But nothing worked. We would find out years later that my husband has a genetic abnormality that makes having a healthy pregnancy extremely rare.

Around this point I asked Jimmy about adoption. I’ve always loved the idea. In fact, when I was little and I was “planning” my future family, it always included both biological and adopted kids. Well, that made one of us. Jimmy was adamant that adoption was not for him.

So another year goes by with more fertility treatments and multiple miscarriages. And still nothing. Throughout this time, I would find myself trying to make sense of why this was happening, trying to write up some narrative, some explanation for why God would make us wait.

And a couple circumstances ended up fitting the bill. They made sense as the “why” we needed to wait to have kids. Three years into our marriage, Jimmy’s pancreas almost completely stopped working. We found ourselves basically living in the hospital while doctors did their best to find the cause. After six weeks in the hospital, we started a treatment plan that allowed him to come home and has allowed him to live a mostly normal life. After Jimmy came home from the hospital, I was convinced that I understood God’s plan. I couldn’t have a baby or be pregnant during that ordeal. That would be a terrible plan. Surely now it would make sense for us to have a baby.

Well, you guessed it — still no baby.

At this point, I had pretty much stopped asking God for children. I felt like it was harder to ask and be told no than it was to just not ask at all. I also didn’t really share my struggle with anyone. Growing up in the church, I felt like I knew what I was supposed to say, and I felt guilty that I didn’t “feel” the things I was saying to be true. And that shame would haunt me for a long time. There was a gap between what I knew and what I was feeling. My head knowledge said, “God is good. His love is not dependent on my circumstances. God has my best in mind. There’s a reason nothing has come to be.”

But what I truly felt was passed over, forgotten. I knew that God could give me a child — this “good thing” that I wanted — but that He was choosing not to. I was still struggling with the idea that God loved me and delighted in me specifically. Instead, I felt like I didn’t deserve it, like I was too messed up inside and not “good enough.”

Late one night I got a call from my mother-in-law. She says she has to come over right away and talk to me. I’m very close with my mother-in-law, and I could tell from her voice that something was up.

So I wake Jimmy up, and I tell him what’s going on, and I’m convinced someone is either dying, dead, or getting kicked out of the family. So, naturally, Jimmy rolled over and went back to sleep! Don’t worry, honey, I got it!

Kris (my mother-in-law) comes over and proceeds to tell me that she got a call from her cousin, who had gotten a call from her cousin, who was in custody of a little boy. He was two, and his parents were deep down the black hole of addiction. The state had taken temporary custody, and the cousin-of-a-cousin wanted to find a placement for the boy — a long-term solution.

So Kris’s cousin thought of Jimmy and I. Keep in mind, we have not shared the details of our struggle with infertility anyone. This is completely out of left field. But my heart was in from minute one, and to my surprise, so was Jimmy’s.  He never hesitated. The next morning when I told him what was going on, he said, “Absolutely. We are going to take him.” After I picked myself up off the floor, we started the process to adopt our son, Cam.

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Cam came to live with us almost immediately. And it was like he had always been there; he fits with us perfectly. That’s not to say it was an easy transition because it certainly wasn’t. Here we had this two-year-old who hadn’t known any level of consistency in his life until ending up with that cousin. He hadn’t known when he would eat, where he would sleep, or even the people and places each day might bring. To this day we still can’t completely grasp what he might have experienced before he came to us.

And as he joined our family, we saw Cam struggle with remnants of that part of his life. He was having to process more than his two-year-old mind and body could handle, and, to be honest, so were we. My introduction to motherhood was not at all what I planned it would be. There were rocky moments, moments far different and far more difficult than I expected.

But God’s grace flowed freely and we made progress. It was and still is such a privilege and joy to watch Cam come into his own. Few days go by in which I’m not leveled by the idea that God chose me to be a part of this amazing kid’s life, that He trusted me with this special little boy. Eventually, we were able to finalize Cam’s adoption. Here he is stamping the approval sign on his adoption file.

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 So fast forward a few years. We got a new plan. We are going to fill our nest through adoption. Our hearts are both in it, and we are excited about the possibilities of adding to our family.

But next came a series of closed doors. We sign up with an agency, only to be told that the agency was shutting down and that they couldn’t continue the process with us any further. We got a call from the state at two different times that there was a possible match with another child for our family, only to have both of those placements fall through.

At one point we got a call from a family friend of ours who is an OB in Chicago, who explained that a lady had just come into the hospital and given birth to a baby girl. She already had five children, hadn’t known she was pregnant, and wanted to place the child up for adoption. If we wanted the baby, we could come and get her and start the legal process.

We, of course, said yes and started to pack. But the next morning as we were getting ready to leave, the OB called back and said that the mother changed her mind. She wanted to keep the baby.

It was devastating. We were hours away from having another child, and I had let myself feel hope. I had let myself feel that longing for more kids again.
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But I also felt ashamed that I wanted more kids so badly — ashamed that I wasn’t “content” with the gifts that God had already given me. That was another Christian concept I grew up with in my head but didn’t feel I was doing right.

And this kind of warped thinking, this deep brokenness began to take over. I was still trying to hide all of these feelings from those around me. I didn’t want them to see what weak faith I have, what a lousy Christian I am with all these doubts, insecurities, and longings. I had a loving, faithful husband, a fantastic little boy, and yet I still wanted more.   

Meanwhile, people are popping up pregnant all around me, every which way I look. Everyone is talking about these “blessings” they are receiving from the Lord. And while a baby is absolutely a blessing, I allowed even that truth to become very warped as it applied to my life.

If being pregnant was a blessing, not being pregnant was the opposite. The opposite of a blessing is a curse. So I fell deeper and deeper into the lie that, yeah, God is good,  but He is not good to me. And He’s not good to me because deep down I’m really a flawed person, and He could never delight in me enough to bless me with another child.

Keep in mind I hadn’t actually prayed for a baby in years. We were seven years into this and somewhere along the line I had just stopped asking. However, God started to hold me accountable to this flawed thinking, and I felt God calling me to ask Him, to trust Him with this vulnerability.

I felt like He just kept saying to me, “You haven’t even asked me. How can you be upset with me if you haven’t even asked me?” So after wrestling with this for some time, I finally conceded and asked Him for a child.

And He says, “No.”

If I wasn’t a complete mess before, I really was then. It’s like I had put a band-aid over a bullet hole, and it just wasn’t holding anything anymore. I can remember actually saying out loud in the shower, “You asked me to ask you, and then you said no — that’s just so mean. Why would you have me ask you in the first place? What is the point of all this?”

And God clearly answered me, not in an audible voice but in the depths of my heart. He said “No, how dare you. You have placed your faith in an object rather than in Me. You don’t trust me to give you what you ask for, and you don’t trust me to take care of you if I don’t. It’s time to give this to me. All of it. No matter where I take it.”

Over the next few months, God would continue to gently nudge me and say, “Give it to me. See what I have for you here in this, because I do have something for you here.”

This was really the changing point in my fertility struggles, but more importantly in my faith. I had lived under the assumption that God can’t be in winter. This bleakness, this fruitlessness, this darkness can’t be blessed by Him. If God loved me, I wouldn’t be here.

But I realized that I had believed the lie that God had somehow withheld good from me, the good that I expected. I had distrusted God’s intentions for me and for my family. In order to combat this flawed thinking, I had to accept the hard truth that not having any more children was from God in His complete goodness. I had to trust that He was working something that I could not see.

Slowly but surely, God began to shift my sight from seeing all that wasn’t to all that was. I finally came to realize that God had a vision far greater than my own sight could see. For me, there was so much purpose in the heartbreak. Those dark days became an invitation to know God in a new and intimate way.

I wasn’t cursed like I had come to believe. But I was chosen. Chosen for this path, for this moment. The God of the universe, the One that created the stars and taught each one how to shine, wanted to walk through these hard moments with just me. Yes, I was more flawed than I had ever wanted to admit, but I was more loved than I had ever dared to imagine. While I was still a hot mess, He, in his complete grace, sent His perfect son to be broken on the cross for the sole purpose of covering my brokenness. Him for me. His love is so deep and so wide it covers each of my flaws, each my insecurities — all of my shame, all of my guilt

After a few months, I started to feel like I was really starting to heal from this road of infertility. I started to know God in a whole new way. I was ready to start moving on. In fact, I began to share a little bit of my story with others and started reaching out to other women who were struggling with infertility.

And, of course, I have a yet another new plan. This time I’m sure I’ve got it figured out. My husband, who was on a little bit of a different page than me, asks if we can do one more fertility treatment and then be done. Jimmy told me that, in order to close this door and not look back with regret and “what if’s,” he needed one more treatment. I of course now know what the Lord has in store for my family (I know the new plan), so I know it won’t work. But I know this is what my husband needs, so I agree.

Jimmy also didn’t think anything would actually come from it because he simultaneously had this idea to book a family trip to Hawaii, a trip where we would go on this major family adventure and embrace ourselves as a family of three. So the treatment comes and goes, and I get my blood work back, and it comes back that I’m pregnant. But getting pregnant isn’t the hardest part for us, it’s sustaining the pregnancy.

The first ultrasound was always where everything had gone wrong in the past. So the day comes for the ultrasound and Jimmy and I are ready to go when I decide last minute I want to go by myself. I just knew that the news was going to be bad, and I really want to process and mourn it by myself first. So I go to this ultrasound by myself. And in the middle of it the tech says, “Okay, so here are the two sacks, and then over here is your right ovary.”

A couple moments pass and I say, “I’m sorry, did you say two sacks? Sacks of what?” And she looks at me and says, “Babies. It’s twins.”

I think I’ve lost two this time, and I’m having a little bit of trouble processing that. The doctor finally comes and asks me what I think of the news. And I must have mumbled something about not having heartbeats — throughout every past miscarriage I had never heard a heartbeat.

But the doctor looks at me confused and says, “Didn’t the ultrasound tech show you? Here.” And she puts the ultrasound on my stomach, and suddenly I hear not one but two strong heartbeats!

So I go to my car, get in, and I’m of course crying at this point. And the Lord brings Isaiah 61:7 to my heart: “Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.”

To this day have trouble wrapping my head around all of it. That not only would God, in His infinite loving kindness, continue to call me out of my shame and into a personal relationship with Him, but then on top of that, He is also going to double what I had been asking Him for all along.

When we told Cam we were having twins he said, “Oh, that makes sense. Because I’ve actually been praying for God to give us triplets.” I was sixteen weeks pregnant on our celebratory “family of three” trip to Hawaii, and Addi and Chase just turned 1.

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So here I stand completely awestruck by God, awestruck by the story He chose to write for me. And, yes, it has tattered and torn pieces and parts, but it was so intentionally and delicately written by Him just for me. 

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As I look back on this journey God has taken me on and reflect on these difficult moments in my life, I can see a beauty being formed within me that was so much more stunning than any of my own plans. I wouldn’t change any parts of my story. And it’s not because I know the end result is my three kids; it’s because I was able to know a side of God that you don’t get to know without heartbreak.

No matter the weather outside, I know that there are those of you who are still experiencing full blown winters. Winter comes in all forms: infertility, marriage troubles, loss, broken relationships, illness, work problems, financial insecurity, trouble with a kid — the list is endless.

So may this be an encouragement to you where you are at. Things may not make sense in the moment, but stay the course. God is up to something. There’s a part of Him to be found exactly where you are. He has entered this darkness with you. There’s no darkness that can hide Him, and there is no darkness He won’t, in time, lead you out of. 

So, ladies, if you take nothing else from me, take this: You are radically and relentlessly loved by God. I pray you plant your roots deep in that truth. After all: the safest place for your heart to weather life’s storms is with the One who made it.

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I took these rocks with me to a recent speaking engagement as a gift to the women in attendance. Written on it was Psalm 61:2: “When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”  For those of you who feel like you are drowning, email me your address and I will send you a rock. A rock you can put somewhere to serve as a reminder to plant yourself deep into the One who never moves.

I have a board hanging in the middle of a large gallery wall in my home, and I want to finish with the words written on it:

“May you open your hands dropping all that troubles you at his feet, gently letting go with each exhale. May you rest in the promise that you are never alone and your beautiful story has already been carefully and meticulously written just for you. May you end this day not adding up where you have failed but celebrating the beauty of His everlasting grace.”

 XOXO,Holly

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