Dwell in Me

Seeking God in the Every Day


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Why Do We Suffer?

Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

I have often wondered about this verse. What, exactly, does Jesus mean when he says he has overcome the world? And today, as I was reading through some verses about suffering, I thought, maybe it means that although we have troubles this side of heaven, this is not all there is. And that hope and knowledge of something more, something better, can sustain us in times of trial. Knowing that Jesus has overcome the world can give us hope and the long-term perspective we need to endure difficult times.

There is really no need to define suffering or trials. And really the definition will differ for different people. As some have a higher tolerance for physical pain, certainly some have a higher threshold for emotional or circumstantial trials. I know my greatest pain and suffering has been through infertility. And I also know some of my greatest triumphs of faith and of compassion are because of infertility.

I’ve written before about whether our trials are God’s will for us. I don’t believe they are. I believe God loves us with a love so all encompassing that it pains him to see us in even a tiny bit of pain. And I believe that our trials are because we live in a fallen world–consequences not necessarily of an individual (that is, my trials are not necessarily consequences of my personal sin), but consequences of the entrance of sin in the world. That said, I am realizing that because God works our sufferings for our good, he allows trials in our lives. These trials can bring about many different results in us, and I am encouraged by the scriptures I was studying because when I put infertility in each verse, I can already see some of these results in my life. Wow. We serve a good God!

I’d like to encourage you, as you read the following verses, to keep your own greatest challenge in mind and reflect on whether God has used that suffering in your life to produce the promised results.

Has God used your suffering to produce or increase godly character and hope in your life? Has he used your suffering for the good of your character?

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Have you become more empathetic or compassionate as a result of suffering? Do you find yourself better able to relate to others in pain because you know what pain is? Has God comforted you as only he can, thereby equipping you to comfort others?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Have your most challenging experiences made you a better person? Are your trials not contributing to your sanctification?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

And oh there is so much in this next one! Has your trial pushed your faith to a deeper level? Has it moved any of your head knowledge to gut faith?

I am sure that all of these purposes for suffering have come through in my life in some way through infertility. I am also sure that there is more value that I can gain from my trials because I still have a lot of growing to do. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want this trial to be over!

Nonetheless, these scriptures reaffirm that I wouldn’t trade this experience. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but even now, even in the midst of this trial, God is already redeeming my pain, for my good, for the good of others, and for his glory. Praise God!

One more thing. God may not will for us to endure suffering, but the fact that we do is a fact of life. And God uses this suffering to accomplish great purposes. Our suffering is not due to a lack of faith or a faulty understanding of God’s promises to us. To suggest so is to question the faith of such great fathers of the church as Paul, who repeatedly asked God to remove what he calls a “thorn in his side” that God told him had to stay; Peter, who was martyred and who acknowledges in his letters that the saints are going to suffer in this world as Christ did, and Jesus himself, who asked for the cup to pass from him, but chose to do God’s will and be crucified instead. So take heart when you face trials. In this world you will. But a time is coming when pain and suffering and even the heartache of infertility will be but a distant memory. For Jesus has overcome this world.

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Jonah Liked His Way Better

So, my mom and grandmother are here this week! I’m so excited they traveled all the way from St. Louis to see me. Since they’re here, I prepared this post, on Jonah, a few days ago. I probably won’t be able to blog again until next Monday’s installment of this series, but look for more from me next week!

~~~

I had a dream a few nights ago. DH and I were in a remote swamp. It was unlike any place I’ve ever seen in real life—the kind of scene that might show up in a movie or one of those reality shows about people who live deep in the wilderness lowlands. There we were, filthy and just sitting around in the mud. Weak waves kept washing up on the bank of some murky body of water, and time after time they deposited what I can only describe as manna on the shore.

The “manna” appeared in different forms, like marzipan animals and homemade cookies. It was a melt-in-your-mouth kind of delicacy. The kind of rare treat that makes you happy deep down in your being. When I woke up, I had a message in my mind. I distinctly felt God was saying that as long as I still want my own way, I’m not trusting him.

When I told DH this great insight that had been revealed to me in my sleep, he looked at me funny and accused me of stating the obvious. And maybe it seems obvious to you, too. But it hit me. I keep saying I trust God, and then I keep asking him, “Please, oh please, can’t we just do it this way?”

Which brings us to Jonah. Jonah made no bones about his dislike for God’s plan. When God told him to preach to Nineveh, he didn’t just refuse to go, he hopped a boat in the exact opposite direction. Have you been there, too? At the heart of his disobedience was the same sin I struggle with: A belief that his way and his ideals were better than God’s.

While Jonah wanted the Ninevites doomed to destruction, God wanted them to repent and turn to him. If it had been up to Jonah, they wouldn’t have had a chance at rescue. But it wasn’t.

We saw in Moses that sometimes God calls us to do things we don’t really want to do. Moses didn’t feel equipped to answer God’s call. He didn’t question God’s desire to rescue the Israelites from their Egyptian masters, simply God’s determination of who would represent the rescuer. While Moses’ cries of “please pick someone else” can be chalked up to his great humility, it’s hard to find any virtue of Jonah’s that even begins to justify his willful disobedience.

The book of Jonah starts with his call:

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2).

Sometimes I find myself hoping for such a clear call. But what if, like Jonah, I hear something I didn’t want to hear? Would I do as Jonah does?

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord” (Jonah 1:3).

The story that follows is commonly told to children. A storm comes up and ultimately Jonah is thrown overboard to satisfy God and save the ship. Jonah, in fact, tells the crew to throw him into the sea. It seems he would rather die than do as God has commanded. But God isn’t going to let him off that easily: he provides a great fish that swallows Jonah. Jonah resides in its belly for three days and nights.

We can safely surmise that Jonah isn’t having a good week. And when you’ve hit rock bottom—or the innards of a fish—isn’t it only natural to turn to the only one who can pull us out of the deepest pit?

That’s what he does. He prays to God. He calls out to God and thanks him for providing rescue. And even then, I think, he tries to make a case for why he did what he did. He says, “Those who cling to worthless idols [like the Ninevites] turn away from God’s love for them” (Jonah 2:8).

“But,” he says, “I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’” (2:9).

In modern vernacular: “God, those Ninevites who prefer idols over you and your love don’t deserve to be saved. But, even though I don’t want to, I will sacrifice my desires to yours. I’ll do what you want, I’ll tell them how they can be saved, and I’ll praise you all the while.”

He seems noble in this moment, right? But still a little bit unsurrendered. There’s still that “I don’t like it, but I’ll do it” tone, isn’t there? Oh man, I keep seeing more of me in Jonah than I care to admit.

So, “the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (2:10). Gross, right?

And Jonah preaches to the Ninevites. And Lo! They believed God. They start moping about, showing their repentance. They fast. They dress in sackcloth—from the king down to the animals (yep, even the animals had to wear that itchy stuff). And the king announces, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (3:8b-9).

They don’t try to justify their evil behavior. They don’t moralize their way out of recognizing their sin. They just repent. The “evil” Ninevites offer us a better example of repentance than God’s own prophet. And God does indeed relent.

So, Jonah is called to prophesy. He runs away. He relents and does what God told him. And he’s fully learned through his traumatizing fish-belly experience that God’s plans are greater and better than his, right?

Let’s see: “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’” (4:1-2).

Fail. Jonah is again justifying his earlier disobedience. I guess it’s a good thing for him that what he says about God is true: God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love–even to Jonah. But God points out, and then shows Jonah in a way that we can only hope does get through, that he doesn’t have any right to be angry about what happened.

It’s easy to look at Jonah and say, “Man, that guy really messed up.” But then I have to look at myself and say, “Man, this girl really messes up.” And that’s not quite as fun as critiquing Jonah.

Jonah’s calling was straightforward, but he ran away from it. He didn’t want to go through with what God asked him. His challenges in accomplishing his call were pretty much entirely his own doing. Is God calling you to do something that you’ve been putting off? Have you been running away from God?

I have. I’ve felt the call to apply to seminary for several years. And I’ve made excuses and tried to push it behind me and pretended like maybe that’s not really what God wanted.

No more excuses. I’ve said it before, but I’m applying this year. If God wants me to go to seminary, I’ll go next fall … or whenever he desires, I guess. I don’t fully understand why or fully agree that this is what I should be doing. My plan is different. My plan is to have babies and stay home with them and maybe go to seminary when they are grown. But I guess it’s time to give up my plan and really put my trust in God. And, trusting God means choosing his plan over mine.

This is episode 5 of my “They Were Called” series. If you want to follow along, I am posting on Mondays. For previous episodes, see:

Introduction: Working for My Calling

Episode 1: David Asked, “How Long, O Lord?”

Episode 2: Moses Looked to the Reward

Episode 3: Hannah Took It to the Lord

Episode 4: Noah Chose to Build


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Five-Minute Friday: She

Every Friday, Lisa-Jo Baker provides a prompt for “Five-Minute Friday“: Write for five minutes only–no editing, no rewriting. This week’s prompt is “She.” Here goes . . .

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She wants what she wants when she wants it. She wants to follow God’s plan.

She tries to listen to the will of the Father. And she tries to tell him the way things should go.

She’s learning to trust, learning to take a new step forward after backsliding two, or three, or four.

She isn’t willing to let go of what she thought she’d be. She yearns to be willing to sacrifice everything to God.

She knows these contradict, but she wants to have it both ways.

Coffee Love

It’s never quite what we’ve planned. Never quite where we thought we’d be or thought we’d go. It seems easy to believe when things are going well–but she remembers, it’s easy to lose track then, too. It’s easy to start relying on yourself. It’s easy to think you’ve got it all under control.

Oh, she still wants that control. Wants it badly. Argues for it. Fights for it. Won’t. Let. Go.

And yet, he gently coaxes, gently teaches, gently guides. She is encouraged, uplifted, reminded who she is. She is a child of the King. She is a sinner who relies on, needs, breathes in only because of, wants, and rests her hope on Grace.

She doesn’t have it figured out, but she still thinks she does. Thinks she knows what’s best for her. Thinks she’s the only one who could possibly know what’s best for her.

She’s party to a battle that goes on and on. When she thinks she’s surrendered her all and truly looked to Him to be the everything she needs in her life–then she finds herself once again wrestling for control.

She knows, in her head, that these new paths, these plans that weren’t hers, are good. That they are right and exactly where she needs to be. But her heart takes more convincing, more prodding, more reaching down deep and falling on knees and asking for help. More digging down to the bottom and finding Love.

And she has a lot to learn.

TIME

Five Minute Friday


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He Satisfies the Longing Soul

I’ve been in a good place lately. We’re still infertile (as far as we know), but I’m either really in denial or beginning to come to terms with things. I guess we’ll find out which when a. I have my next breakdown, b. we start fertility treatments full force in the new year, or c. I find myself peeing on a stick if my period is late. (NOTE: both a. and c. would indicate denial; b. could really go either way.)

At any rate, I figure I should be thankful for the peace I have and not squander it. I’m glad I’ve been able to spend many of the past few days thinking about and doing things that are not related to infertility. I know some of what I say (especially “if we have kids,” instead of when) and some of what I do (like mentally preparing myself for dealing with baby stuff) is done through a filter of infertility, but it hasn’t been as all-consuming or tragic as it was a few months ago.

I also feel like going through infertility and the questions and pain it raises has helped me dig deeper in my faith. I’ve been communicating with God on a deeper level, in large part because I’ve been able to be honest with him and I’ve had something deep and meaningful to be honest about. 

A few days ago, I came across Psalm 107: 8-9:

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

My soul has been longing. For children. But I think that longing has been misplaced. I should be longing for God and trusting him that what we are going through is for our good and for his glory. That what he wills is better than what I will. And that his ways are not my ways.

At my Bible study the other day a woman talked about how we need to lay our wills on God’s altar with cheerfulness and thanksgiving; we should gladly take on the will of God, believing it to be better for us than our own desires.

Profound.

I have been struggling to do this, but I am trying. And I think it’s in the trying to obey–even when I fail–that I am blessed with peace.

Thanks be to God, the God who satisfies the longing soul.


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For Such a Time as This

I haven’t talked much about anything but infertility and how that’s affecting us here, but here’s a little backstory about how life doesn’t go according to our plans–with a little admission that sometimes those deviations from our plans for ourselves turn out to be better than we expect.

DH and I met in college. We were both economics majors. And his goal was to be an economics professor. He didn’t feel that his BS had prepared him sufficiently for the PhD, so we headed to DC where DH got an amazing job at the Federal Reserve Board–about the best possible place to work if you want to go to graduate school in economics.

He took one to two math classes at night each semester until he had the equivalent of a bachelor’s in math, too.

Last fall, he sent out applications. And we waited.

Believe me when I tell you that DH is an incredibly intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated person. His resume for grad school was top-notch and his recommendations were from some wonderful people in his field. I’m sure his recommendations were stellar, too. The only person I’ve ever known not to like my husband is a girl at his office who has complained that their boss shows him favoritism. What she calls favoritism most people would call respect for a job well done. 

By all accounts, DH should have been accepted into a great program with funding.

That didn’t happen.

With the wisdom that comes with time, we’d both tell you right now that the way our lives got rerouted was for the best. DH will tell you it’s a miracle he didn’t get into grad school. God brought us to Texas (where we’d both said we’d never choose to live), and DH went to school to study math full-time at A&M for a semester before he ended up getting his current job here in Houston. The job pretty much fell into his lap, and he loves it.

I guess all that should be helping us trust God in our current situation. I think it is helping, when I think about it. God hasn’t taken us on any wrong turns yet; He’s never let us down. But how easily I forget that he is in control, that he is guiding us and has been guiding us all along.

The whole grad school thing was hard for us, and it was hard for DH’s parents. It was hard for them (as it was for me) to see their boy deal with all those rejection letters. When it came time for us to go to A&M, DH and I had a lot of peace about it. After months of anxiety about what we were going to do, the day DH sent his application in to A&M the anxiety was lifted. I don’t think his parents had that same peace at the time. It took them a few months–maybe until DH got the unexpected job offer–to really come to terms with the new direction our life was going.

When we told his parents about our infertility struggles, I know they were wondering why God would put us through something so devastating so soon after the last difficult test. We were wondering too, honestly.

Yesterday I got this e-mail from my MIL. I’m glad she’s feeling better about things, and I found her words encouraging. Her e-mail is a good reminder that God is sovereign and he’ll see us through this.

I have just got to tell you guys that my whole thinking on the [infertility] matter has taken a turn. . . . Now, instead of questioning God, I am thanking him for orchestrating the moments and details of your lives to get you here into Houston for this time in your lives. The whole time we were wondering WHY? about the grad school business and the econ professor path . . . He knew that you needed to be here; in Houston; . . . a location that is monetarily beneficial, in a good-paying job. God didn’t wish this [infertility] stuff on you, but knew about it (since he knew all about you before you were born), and he has orchestrated your life with perfect precision to get you right where you need to be . . . for such a time as this!

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (I know this was so she could free her people, but I do think it applies here too).

Lately I’ve been feeling better about our infertility. I’m glad DH’s mom is feeling better, too. I tend to forget that this IF thing affects our families, too. It’s such a deep personal issue that it’s hard to see how other people we care about are also hurting and questioning why we’re going through this.

I still have some really terrible days, but on the whole I feel more at peace with what we’re dealing with. I’d still like that miracle healing, and I am so hopeful that we will be able ot have biological kids. But I’m okay with where we are right now. Ask me tomorrow and I might scream and yell and cry, but today I’m doing well.


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Feeling Sheepish

So I guess I’ve been whining a lot lately. Not just here, but also at home to my husband and to one of my dearest friends. I really appreciate how nice they’ve been to me while I just keep rambling on about my problems. My husband has been so helpful in talking through all the crazy things I’ve been thinking about and helping me find perspective.

This morning when I woke up I had a message from the one friend I’ve told about this blog. She texted to see how I was doing. I guess the blog is good therapy, though, because when I woke up this morning I was feeling a lot better. The combination of blogging, talking to DH, and letting my brain process overnight seems to have worked wonders.

I think the reason I was so upset yesterday after Bible study was that it forced me to confront the possibility that our infertility might be God’s desire for us. Until then, I had been comfortable with the idea that it was just a side effect of living in a fallen world, something that happens because the world just doesn’t work the way it should all the time. That’s why there is pain and suffering–from the very tragic, like what happened to four students in Nigeria a few days ago, to the seemingly horrific but survivable, like infertility. Not, I believe, because God wills it.

I don’t believe that God’s will is always done on earth. That may sound like heresy to some, but I think if God’s will were done all the time, the Lord’s prayer wouldn’t include “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Why would we be told to pray for something that already is? That said, I do believe that God can use what happens to us–even the terrible things–for our benefit (Romans 8:28). And it is, of course, possible that our infertility is somehow in God’s plan for us. So I imagine some good will come from our infertility. And I hope I will be wise enough to see it.

I also want to thank GardenGirl at Journal of a Subfertile for having such a positive outlook on infertility in her blog. She’s dealing with the same pain and challenges but seems to choose to live in the moment and enjoy the present. I could learn a lot from that. And so I’ll try. (I’m not promising not to whine, but I will attempt to also notice the positive things while we’re waiting.)

 

P.S. Did anyone else see Modern Family tonight? That Phil and Claire were jealous of their friends who had been unable to have children made me laugh. I guess these things go both ways sometimes.


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What Is God’s Will? (A Gloomy Post)

I’m feeling down today. I am thankful that I have had a few days (weeks?) of feeling pretty peaceful about everything, but today I feel gloomy. I guess that’s your fair warning–it’s a gloomy and fussy post and you don’t have to read it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s will and answers to prayers and trying to understand why anyone has to go through this.

In my Bible study, we’re studying I John. This week I was struck by I John 5:14-15

And this is the confidence we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

So is it simply God’s will that we cannot have children naturally?

A couple of weeks ago, the verses that stuck out to me were
I John 3:21-22

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

The commandments are straight forward enough (and I know I do not keep them perfectly, but I do try), but how do we know “what pleases him”? Could it be that what pleases him is for me to be childless?

I have always been a big believer in prayer, and I still am. As a child I saw prayers answered in ways I never expected and for things that seem trivial to me now. And I suppose our prayers for healing could have been answered already, but we have no immediate way of knowing. That probably sounds like a silly thing to some people, but I do believe that if God wants to enable us to get pregnant naturally, he has the power to make that happen.

In all this, I’m starting to wonder if he even wants us to have children.

The desire of my heart for as long as I can remember was to be a mom. I am really struggling to understand why I should have such a strong desire if it is in conflict with God’s will for my life. I want to do God’s will, but I also am guilty of wanting God’s will to involve having children naturally.

I guess I know intellectually that God wants what is best for me and that he still may decide to grant this desire of my heart, whether naturally or through ART or something else. But there’s this tiny nagging voice in my head saying the reason we can’t get pregnant is because we wouldn’t be suitable parents, because God doesn’t trust us to raise one of his precious children.

And I can’t decide if this is a test of perseverance–I just need to keep hoping and trying and doing what I can–or a message from God that I need to get over it and move on with my life, that being a parent is not what he had in mind for me. I guess it could be something in between. And it could be just that it’s my turn to face a little bit more adversity.

I’ve probably gone off the deep end a little here, and for that I apologize, but what good is this blog if I can’t think out loud in this place?

UPDATE: I found this really lovely article that is helping me process some of the things I’ve blogged about in this post. It’s here. I’m also reminded again of Job 13:15: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” I guess what I take from that is that I am going to keep asking. I don’t know what God’s will is, but I will keep asking him for healing.