Dwell in Me

Seeking God in the Every Day


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Is Jesus Weeping with Us?

My parents’ next-door neighbor once told my mother, when she was going through a difficult time, that “God never promised you a rose garden.”

It was the first time I had heard the phrase. And it certainly wasn’t a particularly empathetic thing to say. But sometimes we can find truth even in hurtful words. While this pithy maxim was no comfort to my mother at that time, I can take some comfort in it today. It reminds me in times of doubting, when I let fear seep into my consciousness, that God is working even in the trials.

The saying isn’t in the Bible, but the Bible backs it up. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have troubles…” (John 16:33) and we see God’s servants–Abraham, Joseph, David, Jesus, Paul–suffering over and again in the scriptures. We know that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And 2 Timothy 3:12 tells us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

God, his Son not sparing, has given us salvation. And he has promised us a better life to come–but that is not this life. We can take solace in Romans 8:28, though: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This doesn’t mean everything we experience will be good, but does assure us that every experience will be used for our good. Our hardships and trials may strengthen us or better refine us into the people God wants us to be.  “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…” (Malachi 3:3).

I have confidence that God–who is all powerful–is at times restraining himself from stepping in to lift us out of our trials. I believe his love for us is more than we can even begin to imagine, and that he feels pain at our sorrows.

When Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, we can be sure he knew what he was about to do. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” he said to the disciples. “But I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). He knew before he even set out for Bethany that his friend would live again.

Yet, upon seeing the sorrow in this place, Jesus wept. He doesn’t weep here because Lazarus has died. He knows Lazarus will live again. It says, “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:32-33).

He wept not because Lazarus had died. He wept because his friends were in pain.

What comfort there is in knowing that Jesus weeps also for us in our sufferings. That he would be moved by our pain also.

So many times I’ve thought, like Mary, “Lord, if you had been here….” Or, “Lord, if you wanted to you could take it all away. You could heal our broken bodies. You could pull us out at any moment from this trial.” And these things are true.

So why doesn’t he lift us out in immediate answer to our prayers?

If Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Mary is right to say this. But if Lazarus had not died, he could not have been raised from the dead. We see that there is more glory for God–and surely a deepening of faith for all those witnessing this resurrection–because Lazarus died. The trial–the death, the four days of mourning–was never in vain.

While I will have troubles in this world, God is using them. Not one trial will be wasted. Not one heartache will be for naught. And God must have purpose in our trials; if they were of no use to us or to him, I don’t believe he would allow them.

Maybe God will see fit at some point to step in and give us a miraculous healing. To bless us with children conceived naturally in our own home. But maybe he will give us children another way. Or maybe he is directing us to a childless life for a greater purpose and glory than we can understand.

But knowing that God has allowed trials in our lives, and that following Christ does not mean freedom from all pain or suffering or illness in this life, reminds me that in the hard times God is still with me. He is here, refining me like silver, blessing me in trials, feeling my pain and heartache, loving me and drawng me closer to himself each day.

And with that knowledge has to come grattitude. I’m thankful that he loves me enough to make me the person he knows I should be. Even when it’s painful for both of us.

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Defining ‘Good’

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

What is good?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How do I know if something that happens to me (or around me) is good or bad? Is it even possible to know the difference this side of heaven?

Maybe this seems a pedantic question. Or even a semantic one. But I think there may be real spiritual implications in how we define this one little word.

As with many words, we can be a little loose with our language sometimes. How often have you said something was amazing or awesome–even though you know that these words can truly, deeply, only apply to God? And what do you love? Do you love your spouse? Your shoes? That great movie? Clearly we don’t mean the same love for all things.

So, I’ll start by refining what I’m talking about when I ask this question. I’m not talking about what tastes good, what looks good, what feels good–these are clearly things open to interpretation and different for each person. I can no more determine what tastes good for you than you can for me. It is a matter of personal preference.

I’m also not talking about clear, defined standards set forth in scripture. I don’t need to debate whether God is good–in the most complete and intrinsic sense of the word. And I don’t need to debate whether no one else is good. Jesus said as much. (See Luke 18:19, “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good–except God alone.'”) Similarly, I’m not asking if creation was good or bad–as God declared all things good when he made them. That was before the fall.

I’m talking about how we evaluate the things around us. How do we view our life circumstances? Do we view them all on the basis of personal preference–if it feels good (or bad), it must be good (or bad)? Or do we view life circumstances and the trials and challenges and sufferings in light of scripture?

In Romans 8:28, we see that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

Maybe infertility isn’t intrinsically good. But maybe it’s been good for me.

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)

If I am living in light of eternity, and living as a sojourner and alien in this world, then what is good and what is bad is going to take on a new meaning. What causes pain or suffering or temporary discontent in this life may be bringing me closer to God. What I see as “bad” and what causes suffering may be integral to developing my relationship with God. And does that not make such events–or at least the repercussions of such events–good?

The world is full of evil, don’t misunderstand me. And the devil will play his games and work his tricks to try to pull us down. But I would submit that if we are living life in view of eternity, we won’t be fooled by the devil’s schemes. We can’t be brought down into the pit of despair when we know that God is truly for us (Romans 8:31).

Bad things happen. I’m not saying that bad things are good. But if we believe, if we trust God in everything, if we do not fear the world because we aren’t of this world–even the worst things can be used for good in our lives.

And so I ask again–can we define what is good? Because I don’t think I can trust my instincts. I think knowing what is good for us and what is bad for us is impossible this side of heaven.

And what are the spiritual implications of not being confident in our definitions here?

There is one who knows. One who knows that the difficult childhood you went through directly relates to your acceptance of the Son. One who knows that the wealth and prosperity you received in this earth did nothing but distance you from himself. One who knows how to bless us–even when that blessing includes a baptism by fire and trial and pain–so that we will truly know him. And since he knows and I don’t, I must choose to trust him and trust his direction for my life–even when it goes against my hopes or plans or sense of what is good.

All the “good” things this world can offer us are really bad if they pull us away from God. All the “bad” things in the world that push us on our knees and draw us to God and Christ are a gift to us. When I’m with God, if I have any care whatsoever about this life I’m living now, I’ll not be surprised to hear him say, “That trial of infertility? I allowed that in your life. I did it because I love you, and because I knew it would draw your heart closer to mine.” And what response can there be to that but a heartfelt thank you?

So I give up on trying to value my circumstances. And I say, why not thank him now?

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)


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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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Because of Infertility

Years after the car accident–the one she was in as a six-year-old that took her sister’s life–Shelly still suffered from survivor’s guilt. It came and went over the years, but the idea that she should have at least suffered physically, instead of walking away from the wreck, haunted her.

At one point, when she’d thought she had finally gotten past the lingering effects of the accident, Shelly began to have terrible dreams. Night after night she would awaken after seeing herself maimed and injured, but never killed, in her dreams.

As she was walking across her college campus one day after a particularly vivid dream, she felt God speak clearly to her. He first reminded her that she was physically fine. None of these things in her imagination or thoughts from her subconscious had happened. But what he followed with is why I’m telling this story:

Think, he said, If you were maimed or severely injured, think of the people you would be able to reach for me and for my glory that you cannot connect with currently. Think of the great work I would have for you that you would be able to accomplish because of–not in spite of–such a physical challenge.*

She thought about it and laughed. Of course God was right. Of course he would be able to use anything that happened in her life for good and for his glory. At the realization, as this sunk in, she says she felt her spirits lift. A burden of worry and a weight of fear were lifted.

And the dreams stopped. To this day–and she has grown children now–she has not had nightmares or feelings of survivor’s guilt.

Sitting above the Clouds, Inca Trail, Peru

I think the lesson translates as easily to infertility as to any other struggles that we, through our human eyes, see as hindering our ability to be successful or happy. I know there are things I do because of infertility that I wouldn’t be able to do if I’d gotten pregnant right away. God can use me in a way I never would have expected because I haven’t been able to have children. Especially if I’m willing to surrender and listen to him.

God will use us in the shape we’re in. And he will use the imperfections, the challenges, the pain, the heartaches in our lives to use us in different and better ways. He will truly work all things to the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purposes.

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*There are no direct quotations from God in this post. I’m paraphrasing from a second-hand source. But I did my best to recreate what I heard and stay true to the point of the message.

Shelly told this story to a group of women in a Bible study through my church. She told it, and many other stories from her life and other’s lives, because faith stories build faith, as she said. And she graciously gave me permission to share this story here.


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Out of My Head, into My Heart

I’m not a very emotional person–at least compared to other women I know. I live my life through my head. It’s hard–so hard–for me to get things into my heart.

I think sometimes this means I’m not a very compassionate person. I struggle with sympathy, not to mention empathy.

People talk about feeling someone’s pain so deep that it feels like it’s their pain. Or seeing something beautiful and just feeling this little twinge of emotion that flows up like something real and tangible.

Not me.

Like a white-washed tomb–my heart felt empty and unmoved inside this body.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had through infertility is convincing my heart that what I believe in my head is true. I’ve called this the head knowledge-gut faith disconnect.

And one of the biggest blessings of infertility is that my heart seems to be working better. Like infertility is the hammer that has broken my heart open and at the same time knocked down the walls I’d built around it. The feeling is coming back, empathy and compassion are slowly seeping in. Not perfect, but gradually coming to life within me.

Outside Recoleta Cemetery,  Buenos Aires

That opening up makes me hurt more. Opening up lets in the good with the bad, the pain with the joy, the heartache with the peace. And it is what enables me to trust that what God says is true, that God is who he says he is. That God is everything to me. These weren’t possible with my hardened, sealed up heart.

So today, my heart is aching. Aching for one of my only “real life” friends who is dealing with this infertility mess. Her embryo didn’t make it in her first IVF transfer.

And she says she is struggling with this same head knowledge-gut faith disconnect right now.

Praying for her today. For her faith and trust in God. For peace and strength. And for beauty in the pain of death.

And thanking God that he has used infertility for my good and his glory. That I can be there for my friend because of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

I may have picked a different road in life. But God knew where I needed to be today and how to get me here.


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Busy Busy (Thank the Lord)

I’ve been a terrible blogger lately. I think it’s because I’ve been busy with all the Christmas preparations. We had a Christmas-party filled weekend that started with a caroling party at our house, his company party, and the church’s Christmas pageant on Sunday. We’re hosting DH’s family at our house on Christmas Eve, and I have been gathering groceries, wrapping gifts, and trying to finish my present for DH. Oh, and I decided in a fit of inspiration (read: insanity) to try to make homemade gourmet marshmallows for the members of his family as Christmas gifts. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I’m so thankful for this busyness. Especially because in the few moments I find myself alone with my thoughts (like waiting in the customer service line at Walmart, ugh!), IF has been starring center stage. It’s worse than normal. And when the radio plays my now least-favorite song of all time (“A Baby Changes Everything,” by Faith Hill), I change the station as the tears start flowing.

Oh Christmas.

I do so love this time of year. Except when I remember that while the whole world is expecting a baby, my womb is still empty.

Merry Christmas everybody. Wishing supernatural comfort, strength, peace, and joy to everyone dealing with hurt and loss this holiday season. I may be back before the 25th; I’ll definitely be back before year-end.


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Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving. I have so much to be thankful for. It takes effort to remember that today while cramps pulse through my body, a constant physical reminder this day of what I don’t have.

I am trying to praise. To praise the God who is outside of time, the God who sees the whole story, the God who knows where we are going and how we will serve him. The God who satisfies the longing soul.

And part of me wants to beg and plead for immediate answer to our prayers, to complain about the road we’re on, to demand that if he loved me, he would do what I want him to do.

What a petulant child. Who am I to question the God whose plan is perfect and whose ways are not my ways?

I do not know the why. I do not have the answers. But my God surely does. And he promises that all things work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

So today, while I am thinking about Thanksgiving and feeling the physical pain and the emotional heartache of what I don’t have, today I am thankful. I am thankful for infertility.

Not because I feel like it has made me better in any way.

Not because I would ever have chosen this for myself.

Not because I can even fathom how this could possibly be for good.

I am thankful for infertility because I choose to believe what God has said. I believe this is for my good. I am thankful because it is God’s best for me. Because God is using it for good and for his glory, albeit in some way I cannot now understand.

Thanks be to the God who sees, the God who provides, the God who heals. Thanks be to God.