Dwell in Me

Seeking God in the Every Day


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Fear: An Enemy to Keep Fighting

**This post is very much pregnancy related.***

Fear.

Never a friend.

But always sneaking up on you, no matter how many times you say, no thanks. You’re not welcome here.

Recognizing and fighting fear became a big lesson for me as we were going through infertility treatments and prayers and whys and what-ifs. I learned a lot about this enemy and I wanted it out of my life for good. But it somehow keeps sneaking back in.

Yesterday, when the baby wasn’t moving like normal, I let it in a little. I knew it was better not to be afraid, but it was a fight to push fear back. Have you been there?

I know I still have a lot of growing to do in eliminating fear and its control in my life. But I’ve learned a little, and I tried to put what I have learned into practice. I prayed. I worried and feared that something may be terribly wrong with the baby, but I prayed.

“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18a)

That verse continues: “For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

God doesn’t punish us. Right?

But bad things happen. They do. I’ve seen plenty. I’m sure we all have. I’ve experienced more than enough, but I’m sure I will experience still more. So how do we go from there to trusting that the bad things that happen can be used for good? Or that the terrible things in our lives can be part of God’s perfect will for us?

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21: any wonder why we praise this man’s faith?)

And I thought about it. What if the Lord was taking away this prayed for baby? I know it sounds terrible and gruesome and now, in the light of day and on the other side of this, it’s harder to imagine than it was yesterday morning. But what if? What if the Lord wanted this child to bypass the evils of this world? What if the Lord wanted to postpone our meeting until we might be reunited in heaven? What if he did? Could I face it?

Could I trust that it was to be used for my good?

Could I trust God in the face of that kind of loss?

I prayed that I would be able to. I prayed for trust and faith in him. And I prayed that our baby was okay. And I prayed that if he did in fact call our baby to himself right then that I would keep praying.

I can’t imagine what that would have been like or what that would have looked like. And I thank God that this is not where things are right now. Our baby is fine. Hours at the hospital yesterday hooked up to fetal monitors have determined that the baby is fine. But there was that moment. And in that moment, I let fear sneak in a little more than I should have, but a little less than I would have in the past.

I am growing. But still not completely perfected in love. And still with much to learn.

And I am praising God for the miracle of life that is still alive in me. I am overwhelmed by his mercy toward us and thankful for his grace.

And praying that these next few weeks will go smoothly, that we’ll meet our child soon and on this side of heaven. And that God will continue to grow us in wisdom and to perfect us in love. Because if we let the fear in–it’s too much. There are too many ways this could all go wrong. Yesterday was such a poignant reminder. And a good reminder, also, that this baby is not mine, but the Lord’s. May the Lord use our child for his purposes and to do his perfect will.

I John 4:18

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Who’s Serving Whom?

A few days ago I watched an episode of the remade Upstairs, Downstairs. It’s really just a poor girl’s Downton Abbey–something to fill the time while I’m working on knitted and crocheted gifts for the baby shower I’m going to next weekend. But this morning as I was laying in bed, half-waking, half-praying, I suddenly had this picture in my mind like I was the lady of the house and I was speaking to the people I’ve hired to do my beck and call–my servants.

This picture came as an overlay to my prayer. And I suddenly realized that I wasn’t praying, I was listing a litany of requests that I wanted to have filled.

The next thought  came swiftly on the first: Do I treat God as though he is my servant?

Of course, the relationship should go the other way. I should be striving in everything to serve God, my Master–which is a synonym for Lord–my leader, my guide. I am not the boss. God is the boss. I don’t even know where I’m going this afternoon; God knows every step I’ll ever take.

Yesterday afternoon, I was listening to the radio and the broadcaster was talking about sheep that live in his town. These sheep are apparenty moved from pasture to pasture around the town on a regular basis. And he said that as he was driving by the sheep he was thinking about how the Bible often compares us to sheep and Jesus or God to our shepherd. And he said, you never see one of these sheep stand up on its hind legs and tell the other sheep, “Hey, I’ve figured it all out. Follow me!” No. Instead, the sheep just sit there, mindlessly really, grazing on the good grass their shepherd took them to. They don’t even know where they are–all they know is that food has been provided for them.

If we think of ourselves as sheep under an all-loving and all-knowing shepherd, our prayer requests may come across as almost foolish. Imagine the sheep trying to tell the shepherd where it wants to go, how to get to the best pasture, the source of the water it wants to drink. The sheep doesn’t know these things. Instead, he relies fully on the shepherd to lead him and meet all his needs.

Now, this could be scary. In theory, the shepherd could be a wicked shepherd. He coud be leading the sheep to certain death just to satisfy his own evil desires. But a good shepherd would never do such a thing. Even in situations that a sheep might find confusing or frightening–like being sheared, perhaps–the shepherd knows exactly what he’s doing and why.

Praise God that he is the good shepherd. There is no wickedness or evil intent ever in the steps he lays out for us. We may stray, but he only loves us, only wants what’s truly best for us.

How much better would it be to unite myself more fully with the Father as my shepherd instead of viewing him as my equal–or worse, my servant? Why should I bother with a list of “please this” and “please that” when all I should be saying is, “thank you.” Thank you because God is the good shepherd. Thank you because even when the road seems a little rocky or the shears come close, he is leading me the right way. The good way. Thank you, because he is God, and I am not.


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Rejoicing with Those Who Rejoice

Joseph, favorite son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his own brothers. The motive? That boy was daddy’s favorite, and they were jealous. Murderously jealous. In fact, if a tribe of Ishmaelites hadn’t shown up at just the right time, the original plan was to kill the boy, their brother, the favorite son of their father.

It’s really a sad story. I can’t imagine being so totally rejected by my own brothers and sister. It would be heartbreaking.

But this story has a truly remarkable ending. Joseph is raised up among the Egyptians. He becomes the number two guy in all of Egypt and prevents the people from starving during a severe, seven-year famine.

He also finds himself in a position to make an important choice.

When Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery appear before him wanting to purchase food for their families, he could have repaid their evil with evil. He could have sent them away empty-handed, or sold them as slaves, or even had them killed. But he doesn’t.

Joseph forgives his brothers. Yes, he makes them jump through a couple of hoops and pass a few well-designed “tests” before he reconciles with them, but we don’t see him taking vengence or holding any kind of grudge against the men who kept him from his beloved father and baby brother for over twenty years.

***

So, one of the tests Joseph gives his brothers is to see if they continue in their jealousy. He has a feast prepared for his brothers, and he feeds them all more than enough food, but he gives to Benjamin–his full  brother, the baby of the family, and his father’s new favorite–portions five times bigger than he gives all the other brothers.

And the brothers don’t complain. If they are jealous or begredging Benjamin this bonus serving, they keep it to themselves this time. The difference in treatment brings out no apparent ill-will. Instead, the Bible says, the brothers drank and were merry.

***

As we discussed this story this morning at my Bible study, someone mentioned Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” And I found it so very intereting when she said, “It seems easy to find people who weep with us when we’re weeping–but how often do we actually rejoice with others who are rejoicing?”

There’s a funny thing with infertility and the infertility community that’s been bothering meI don’t want to be insensitive, but I feel this needs to be said. As people dealing with infertility–people who want to be pregnant or have children more than most–we have a tendency to complain about other people’s pregnancies. We whine and mope about seeing pregnant bellies while we’re in the grocery store or out to dinner. We cry about pregnancy announcements and pictures of babies and bumps on facebook. We talk about how hard it is to be around people who have what we want the most.

I wish I could claim innocence here, but I know I’ve been guilty too.

And we can sugar coat it all we want. One book I read said pregnant bellies were “grief triggers.” This book–with a Christian perspective–was arguing that it is perfectly fine to foster those feelings of disappointment and sadness when we see pregnant women or new babies.

But I think we go beyond “grief trigger” and quickly end up at jealousy. And it’s not fine. We shouldn’t be okay with those emotional responses.

Maybe we can’t help it. Our emotions sneak up on us and we aren’t really ever in control, right?

But maybe we should try.

Because you know what? I’m going to be one excited lady when I’m pregnant. I’m going to be praising God and smiling and joyful–even if I’m sick and tired and feeling bloated. And I’m going to hope that people will want to rejoice with me.

And I’m not a fan of double standards.

So I’m rejoicing with you while you rejoice, dear mama-to-be.

And I’m weeping with you while you weep, dear friend still waiting.

And I’m starting now.


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Waiting and Waiting and Why?

What’s it all about anyway?

Waiting. And waiting. And maybe some more waiting.

I don’t have an answer. But . . .

I trust the wait is not in vain.

God is using this difficulty in my life to shape me, to turn my heart to him, to transform me into the woman he wants me to be. And this shaping is an answer to prayer. Years ago, we sang the song “Holiness” in church, and I remember praying the chorus on so many occasions:

Take my heart and mold it
Take my mind; transform it
Take my will: conform it
To yours, to yours, O Lord

I believe God is doing these things through the circumstances of my life. Sometimes it’s a painful process, but I need to remember it’s an answer to prayer.

I trust that God knows what’s best (and I do not).

We’ve all heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20. I’m not convinced this is true for humans–but we can look back when we’ve seen how a situation played out and maybe see ways we could have acted or thought differently. God has the luxury of knowing what is going to happen, where we’re going,  and how we’re going to get there. God is outside of time. I think about that and try to picture what it means, and I can’t wrap my mind around it. But I find it comforting to know. I wonder if to God we are a movie he’s seen before. A good movie that he chooses to watch again. Like the celestial equivalent of Pride and Prejudice. Or Sliding Doors.

Either way, God is there, “Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” (Isaiah 46:10)

He knows. He knows where I’m going and why I’m going this way. And he allowed this trial because he knew how he would use it for his glory and my good.

I trust that God’s timing is perfect (and mine is not).

If it were up to me, I’d have a near-two-year-old right now. But I don’t. If it were up to me, I would have gotten pregnant last month. Or the month before that. Or before that. But I didn’t.

And man, the timing just made so much sense to me last month. It meant I’d get to share with my family in person at the trip we have scheduled to visit them in mid-April. I had the anouncement all planned out. But it wasn’t God’s timing, It was my timing. And what do I know about timing?

How can I even presume to know that one month is the right month? How can I even think for one moment that I should be in a position to determine such an important thing? That I should have any say in when a precious–nay, invaluable–human life should begin?

God’s shown us through his word that his timing is indeed perfect. What might have happened to the Israelites, for example, if Joseph hadn’t been in the perfect place at the perfect time to sustain the known world–including his own family–through severe famine? I’m sure each day that went by in prison had Joseph asking, “Is today the day?” As the years went by and he kept waiting, how did he not grow weary? How did he not lose faith? But he didn’t. And God’s timing was perfect.

I trust that God is good.

We can see the end of Joseph’s story. And since we know the ending, we see that God even used Joseph’s slavery for good.

We may not all have the opportunity to see how God has used the bad things in our lives for our good. Or we may allow bitterness to creep in and hide this truth from us. We can ignore the blessings of God–especially when they come in the midst of affliction. Or we can recognize them and give him the glory as  Joseph did.

Joseph’s second son is Ephraim, “for the Lord has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:52b). Do we see how the Lord is making us fruitful in the land of our affliction? Are we allowing the Lord to make us fruitful in the land of our affliction?

When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he also reveals his faith in God’s goodness.

“As for you [my brothers], you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

Can we look at our affliction and trust that God is good?

I trust that God is bigger. And that his ways are better.

He knows. Everything. The number of hairs on my head. The number of children I’ll have–and when I’ll have them. The location of the end of the rainbow.

And because he knows everything, I can trust that he knows the best possible outcome in any given circumstance. And even the best circumstance for any given person in any given moment. The depths of his wisdom and knowledge are infathomable.

And he is sovereign and just asking us to give our foolish attempts at control over to him, because he’s really in control anyway.

And why shouldn’t we, when we know that his ways are better?

I’m not saying it’s easy to surrender. But it is necessary. Painful, even. Yet absolutely necessary for the well-lived life.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

I trust that God loves me.

This is the key. Because if I don’t believe God loves me, then the fact that he is sovereign, all-knowing, and in control is terrifying. A capricious or unloving god would be an all-powerful super-villan. How could we trust such a god? How could we commit our lives or surrender our desires to such a god? Such a god–an unloving god–would perhaps be worth struggling against.

But praise God, he IS love. He doesn’t just love us, his being defines the term! He loves us. He weeps with us, as Jesus did at Lazarus’s tomb. He struggles with us. He hurts for us. He triumphs and rejoices with us. Our God is not a sadist–he takes no pleasure in suffering. He is a father who loves us. Truly loves us.

And this love he has for us? This love we could never even almost hope to approximate? It’s a game changer.

Oh, thank you, Father, for revealing this love to me through infertility. Because it is this love that makes me sure. This love that lets me know that you are trustworthy. And that this waiting is not in vain.


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Hope in 2014

Sixty-five years ago today, DH’s grandparents said “I do.” We celebrated Grandpa’s 90th birthday just after Thanksgiving. He and Grandma have been through a lot. They’ve traveled the world, they’ve buried a daughter. Grandma walks some four miles a day and Grandpa had no qualms about standing with one foot on a ladder and one on a bookshelf as he held nail-gun aloft to help install shelving in our study in November. But we are so grateful for the example they have given us about marriage. I don’t know that they are always happy, but they have built a marriage that lasts and I hope we can follow their example.

Thirty-one years ago today, DH’s parents said “I do.” It was kind of an accident that DH’s mom and dad wed on the same day as Grandpa and Grandma. They wanted to get married over the Christmas holidays, and DH’s dad, who really pays no attention to tradition, had apparently never realized December 31 was his parents’ anniversary. When my mother-in-law picked the date, Grandma made no complaint. I’m not really sure when my MIL found out she was going to share an anniversary with her in-laws, but I think it was too late to change the day when she did. I’m so glad to have my in-laws in my life. They have been supportive and kind, and I know I won the in-law lottery. And I’m grateful for their example of what a marriage should be. They honor and love and support one another and treat each other with respect. I hope we will be like that when we’ve been through 31 years together!

Grandpa was named after his father; DH’s dad is the third, and DH is the fourth. While my father-in-law isn’t big on tradition, my husband really is. And so I knew the date we’d get married before DH had even proposed. Six years ago today, we said “I do.” And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

My husband is my best friend. He has proven that he will do everything in his power for me. He has not left me to deal with infertility on my own, but has stood beside me, sometimes even googling right along with me. He’s supported my writing and celebrated with me when I’ve hit blogging milestones. He even gave me a day at the spa when I published my 100th post a few weeks ago. He’s cried with me at our loss and looked forward with me in the hope that we will someday–we hope soon–have children in our home. He goes with me in our nursery each night to pray and lift our requests and our hurt and our cries for understanding to God. He has strengthened me in my faith walk and he helps me be my best self. I don’t know where I would be without him.

And I look at him and hope, oh how I hope, that God will bless us with a child. With a child to carry on the heritage that we have received from his grandparents and from his parents. Maybe even with a son to carry on his name. What a gift that would be for this man who loves tradition. It’s not a gift I can give him, but I keep praying.

I had hoped last year that it would be our last anniversary as two. It wasn’t. But you know what? It’s okay that it wasn’t. God will bless us in his time. We do head into this new year with hope that maybe this will be our last anniversary as a family of two. But maybe it won’t be. But if I’m going to be in a family of two, I am so very glad to be in this one. Thanks be to God.

The traditional gift for the sixth anniversary is iron. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” I have no doubt that DH has sharpened me in the years we’ve been together. And I believe he will continue to strengthen me and make me a better person for the years we have to come. May there be many.

God bless you all as we wave goodbye to 2013. Here’s to a 2014 of blessings and joy for all.


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Choosing God over His Promises

Well, so much for getting back to posting several times a week! I miss it so much though. And there are so many things I want to write. And today I realized that we are three days from the next action and there are things I want to write about before that happens. I don’t know if I’ll get to say all the things I’ve been wanting to say in the next few days. The fact is that my to do list before we go to my parents’ house for Christmas is very long and I don’t know where I’m going to find the time. But know that this is where I want to be. And I’ll be here when I can!

I have things I want to write about before the next steps because I know that whatever happens on Thursday is going to affect my perspective. And I want to be clear that I am saying that whatever happens on Thursday, I’m trusting God with this. If it was worth doing or if it wasn’t. If something happens that I can’t or haven’t yet imagined. If anything, in every scenario, I’m trusting God with this.

And this is why: Because I don’t have the answers, but he does. Because my ways are not his ways, but his ways are higher than mine. And because, at the end of the day, I want to know God and give him the glory more than I want anything–and I’m willing to give him the child that I hope for and that I desire. Because if God doesn’t want me to be a parent, I’m sure it’s because that is best for me. BEST. Not an acceptable outcome or something I’ll learn to deal with, but absolutely God’s best, his most excellent for me. Because I trust that he is working all things for my good. And because only he knows what is coming up and where we’re going.

So, God, I’m saying to you right now: Take it. Take all of it. I will not withhold from you even the dream of a child. I don’t have a living child to offer to you, but I give you the dream.

There’s this story in the Bible–a completely heart-wrenching, heart-aching, heart-breaking story in the Bible. God decides to test Abraham. The test he gives Abraham–the exact test–is not replicated in the Bible except by God himself. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. The only other time in scripture that God requires a father to sacrifice his son, God is the Father.

It’s in Genesis 22:1-19. God comes to Abraham and tells him to take Isaac to a place he will show Abraham and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. A few chapters earlier, when God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded for the towns, asking God to spare them if there were as few as 10 righteous people present. And God agreed to do that. He didn’t show any displeasure with Abraham for asking. But here, when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham doesn’t argue. He doesn’t beg. He doesn’t ask for a reprieve. He just does it.

He wakes early the next morning and takes all that he needs for the sacrifice, including the wood, the boy, and two servants and a donkey to carry his provisions. There are parallels throughout this account to the sacrifice Jesus makes on the cross. I was especially struck by the fact that the Genesis account is largely shown through Abraham’s perspective–giving us a sense, perhaps, for how God himself suffered to see his own son hung on a cross. The parallel of Jesus at Gethsemane and to the crucifixion is more from Jesus’ perspective. I encourage you, if you’re interested, read the scriptures and pay attention to the parallels.*

And Abraham comes so very close to sacrificing his son. He has Isaac on the proper mountain, bound and laying on the wood. As he holds the knife and extends his hand over Isaac to finish the task, he is interrupted by God. The Lord speaks to him and stays his hand. Isaac is, symbolically, resurrected, and God alerts Abraham to a ram trapped in a nearby bush. The ram is sacrificed in Isaac’s place.

Here’s the thing: God promised Abraham he would have Isaac. He promised Abraham that Isaac would have many offspring, and that through Isaac, Abraham would have so many descendants they couldn’t be counted. In other words, without Isaac, there was no promise. There was no heritage. There could not be more descendants than stars in the sky or more descendants than sand on the seashore. To sacrifice Isaac was to say to God, thanks for the promises you offer, but if I need to choose between you or your glory and the promises, I choose YOU.

I think it’s amazing that Abraham takes the test and he doesn’t seem to resent it when it’s over. And I was touched at the idea that God is using this test of Abraham both to refine and strengthen Abraham and to share with him something about himself. Abraham dies long before Jesus’ is born on this earth, of course, but it is as if God is reaching down and including Abraham in this story and giving him a glimpse of the sorrow, the struggle. But as Abraham shows God that he truly does love God more than anything–and that he would choose to have God even if it meant losing the promises God had made him–God showed us through Christ’s sacrifice that he loves us more than anything. He loves us so much that he did not withhold even his son, his only son, from us, but instead gave him as a sacrifice to pay for our sins.

And it is because he loves us so much, and because he is who he is, that we can trust him with this.

In truth, there is no choosing between God and God’s promises. For when we are faithless, God is faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13). It goes against his character for God to break a promise. It cannot happen. But what do you choose?

I choose God. And his glory. And I don’t know if he’s promised me children, but I’m willing to give them up. I’ll give it all up. Because I want God’s best for me more than I want my best for me. I just don’t trust my own judgment. I trust God’s.

Whatever happens next–whatever outcome–this is in God’s hands. Thanks be to God for whatever he has planned for us. I can’t wait to live out this excellent life for his glory.

*Look, for example, at the length of the journey, carrying wood, a donkey, the substitute, a crown of thorns . . . There are other things that parallel but that is a good start.


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What Can Separate Us?

I will place enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

I’m going to try not to get too theologically deep with this one, but I have been thinking about this verse quite a bit lately. In context, this is part of the curse on the serpent following the first sin. The crafty serpent convinces Eve to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the process he displays all of his evil wiles and powers of deception. Eve eats the fruit and passes it along to her husband, who appears to have been standing passively by and waiting for her to make a decision. He follows along (first peer pressure?) and before you know it, God’s good and perfect creation falls to sin.

For satan, this seems like a battle won. In the war of God vs. lucifer, it looks like God: 0, lucifer: 1. He has deceived God’s image-bearers, leading to the first death and to the end of innocence.

All three persons are found guilty before God: Adam for eating the fruit he knew he shouldn’t have eaten, Eve for doing the same and, really, for choosing to listen to satan over God, and the serpent, the “craftiest” of all of the beasts, for pushing them to sin. All three will be penalized. Adam will henceforth have to work to draw forth sustenance from the ground. Eve will suffer pain in childbearing. And the serpent? He will crawl on his belly in the dirt. Oh, and one more thing: God “will place enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

Most people understand this verse not just as a general statement about the relationship between people and snakes. It is called the protoevangelium, or “first gospel,” and refers to God’s plan of redemption for man. And satan fails to realize that he has just set himself up for ultimate destruction.

From the beginning, satan has worked to try to separate people from God. And from the beginning, God has had a plan to redeem us from our sins. The ultimate offspring from the woman is Jesus. While the serpent will attempt to strike a blow at him, the injuries satan can cause are minor compared to the final destruction God has promised the devil.

I find I’m moved by the idea that God would allow satan even a minor jab at Jesus. And I think the injury satan ultimately inflicts is in Jesus’ death on the cross. But this is not really the fatal blow it appears to be, for Jesus rises again, triumphant in the defeat of all sin (of death). But satan? His doom is coming. He has already lost, though maybe he doesn’t see it yet.

And when I think about how this applies to my life, I wonder if things like infertility, uncertainty, difficult circumstances and challenges, and all of the things that seem like the worst.thing.ever are the equivalent of satan striking at our heels. He hasn’t given up, though his mission has proven futile.

What has happened in my life when satan gets his jabs in? Infertility has undeniably strengthened my relationship with God. Uncertain circumstances have provided me the opportunity to see how God is working in my life. Challenges with doctors, insurance plans, and unexpected bills have given me chances to turn to God, laying my burdens in his hands and learning to trust that he will take care of these things.

Does it sting? Sometimes it hurts more than I can believe or express.

Is the pain lasting? Will it defeat me? I know that it isn’t. I know that it can’t.

Could these jabs from satan draw me away from my Father? Nope.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Satan loses, my friends. In fact, he’s lost already. Nothing can separate me–not infertility, not heartache, not loss–from the love of God. Praise the Lord!