Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What would my life look like if Hannah's Prayer Ministries didn't exist?

Before I hit my main topic here, let me give a quick reminder that the free book contest (August 16 entry) is only open until the end of this month. Be sure to enter before time runs out!

And now, onto the topic at hand. This week is the 2nd annual pledge drive for Hannah's Prayer. I was asked to write up my testimony of what Hannah's Prayer means to me to be shared with the members of the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums (message boards) and I figured I should post this here as well:

I honestly don't know where I would be today if God hadn't brought HP into my life when He did. What about you???

You see, I tried my local support group chapter of a large national infertility support organization. There was a measure of comfort in finding others who understood the agony of empty arms, and yet these women seemed as lost and hopeless as I was. How could I claw my way out of this dark pit when those I looked to in hopes of being lifted up, only seemed to keep me mired down under the weight of their own anguish? The medical/technical information was often helpful, though it was frustrating to explore treatment options with those who did not share my moral and ethical parameters, nor my conviction that a baby was a person from the moment egg and sperm united. The opening verse of the book of Psalms was clear that such counsel was fruitless for me: "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mocker."

And what of my most burning questions, the ones about God and faith and prayer and sin and how it all fit into my broken heart? These were answered with blank stares and shrugged shoulders. Yes, the medical and the emotional were important to me, but it was the spiritual side of this journey that caused me the most pain. Was there no one to understand? To come alongside? To give answers? To offer hope? The only two Christian women I knew who had dealt with infertility seemed spiritual giants who handled whatever God doled out with grace I could not fathom, leaving me to feel all the more alone in this journey.

I cried out to God over and over, from the depths of my being, yet He remained silent. Human help was not to be found. I was desperate. Suicide seemed more and more attractive. The glimmer of hope that was to have been an adopted son and daughter faded as quickly as it had come, dragging me down deeper into the pit than ever before. And then Mother's Day attacked, threatening the final blow to my shattered soul.

Rick had tried to encourage me through, but I was all-consumed. He must have felt as desperate over the loss of his wife as I was over the loss of our children who might never be. Little did we know how a single book would change my life. It took me many weeks to read my way through that treasure he brought home one day, Debra Bridwell's new book, The Ache for a Child. It hurt too much to read more than a page or two at a time, but here I was finally relating to a Christian woman who shared my convictions as well as the depths of my grief! Through her words, God began to move and mend and restore hope.

When Debbie described the Christian infertility support group she had helped start at her church, I knew this was the kind of support I had been craving with every fiber of my being. God challenged me anew with Hannah's story (a story that I had grown to truly hate over the prior year, by the way), and I knew instantly that God was birthing a new ministry called "Hannah's Prayer." Little did I know what He had in store!

We intended small monthly meetings in our living room and occasional BBQs and bowling trips with other childless families. Our first group meeting was January, 1995. The group itself remained quite small, but word spread and we started a newsletter that summer, printing 25 copies and not having any idea if we could ever use that many! But our mailing list quickly grew into the hundreds and collecting stories, editing, writing, printing and mailing those quarterly publications became my full-time focus. In the midst of all this I stood back in awe thinking, "I keep hearing from ladies how much Hannah's Prayer is helping them, but they will never understand how much HP has been an answer to my own prayers. I'm thankful that no one else has to flounder alone like we did, but HP means more to me that it ever could to anyone else! This group exists purely out of my selfish motives because I so needed the support!"

Rick could see the potential for ongoing growth and started a website against my concerned protests. I was terrified of computers and told him that if he wanted to put us "online"(whatever that was) that he had to take care of that whole part of it. I wanted nothing to do with computers and was especially leery of the Internet! But God stretched me once again and Rick soon had me answering emails and exploring websites and newsgroups (the now antiquated predecessor of message boards). When I typed "infertility"into a search engine for the first time in April, 1996, I pulled up a grand total of 5 websites. [For perspective, I just typed "infertility" into Yahoo (the search engine I believe I used for that initial search) and pulled up 16,200,000 websites, while Google gave 17,100,000 results!]

Thanks to the Internet, we soon had several small support group "chapters" scattered over a handful of US states and even two in South Africa. Each support group was outfitted with a small lending library of quality infertility and loss books and God's grace continued to unfold in heart after grieving but healing heart. I think it took me this long to realize that while HP had been a direct answer to my need, it really was not "just about me" and that God's plans were on a much grander scale. I'm so very thankful that He was never limited by my low horizons!

It was about this time that I received an email from Julie Donahue, telling me of her little email group of 30 married Christian women dealing with various stages and aspects of fertility challenges. (I was still computer illiterate enough that it took me several more months to understand that I could actually join this group myself!) Julie's done a great job in outlining God's work in the combined ministries over the years, so you can read "the rest of the story" in her post. [Within the Community Forums, this statement was linked to a post by "Ladies In Waiting" founder, Julie Donahue, also posted as a testimony on the message boards this week.]

All of this to say, while HP has been an ongoing blessing, what it means to me today has certainly changed and deepened over the years. I've seen how wrong I was in thinking that HP could never mean as much to others as it did to me, for this has long since ceased to be "my baby" but rather an awesome and mature ministry, brought about by the hours and tears and prayers and sacrifices of many! I’ve been privileged to watch from the beginning, in awe, as God's grace has blessed and grown this ministry by leaps and bounds, far beyond anything I could have ever wished or imagined!

What HP is today, He has done by raising up generation after generation of faithful leadership and a strong membership of women who are seeking hard after His heart in the midst of their deep grief. To every woman who has opened up your heart to the Lord and to your sisters here, thank you for sharing in this ongoing work of the Lord. For every prayer prayed for this ministry as a whole, or for the trials an unknown stranger-become-friend whom you have learned to love, or for wisdom and strength and grace for our leadership - thank you! To each and every leader here (past and present) who has given of your love and time sacrificially, often laying your own pain aside to bless others, please remember the scared little girl I once was, on the verge of utter hopelessness, and remember that God is repeating His grace to other broken hearts over and over through your tenderness and compassion. And most of all, to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, thank you that you love each and every one of us enough that through my selfishness, you saw every face, knew every tear, and loved every heart that would be touched by HP the day you first planted this seed of hope in my hungry heart.

One thing that deeply disturbed me about the secular support services I turned to was that there was always a cost involved. We were struggling to make ends meet, to even keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, much less surmount the costs of treatment or adoption, and when I reached out for help, it seemed heartless to face a "We'll help you when you pay us" mentality. (OK, so that's probably not the way it was intended, but that's how it came across to me at the time.) So from the very foundations of HP, there has been a strong leadership commitment to never place financial pressure on our members for any HP service. God's grace is free, and so should access to this aspect of that grace!

With this in mind, let me leave you with this challenge. If you truly are not in a situation where you can help meet financial needs of this ministry, or if God has not called you to give here even if you are financially able, then please pray about what other gift you can offer back to Him instead - perhaps a commitment to daily prayer, or an inquiry to Erin S. about what leadership needs you might be able to offer to help fill, or the willingness to send out a few copies of the fundraising letter Hope has posted [again, linked to another post on the message boards, but the same letter is posted in full below - please feel free to pass it along].

Or if financial giving is a way God is leading you to help, what can you give up to help make this a reality? Is there a new pair of shoes you would be willing to skip buying this fall, or can you give up your trips to Starbucks for a month and send that money to HP instead? (Yes, I understand about withdrawals, but think of the withdrawals you feel here on the days the message boards go down!) I honestly don't know where I would be today if God hadn't brought HP into my life when He did. What about you??? Please take some time this week to prayerfully seek God's plan for you in the big picture of all He has planned for HP. Your gift may seem like a very small thing, but I've learned from experience that God can grow small seeds very BIG when given to Him with a full heart.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

How to Donate:
(posted by HP Treasurer, Hope)
It's time to kickoff our Second Annual Hannah's Prayer Ministries Pledge Drive! This will run until Friday night, September 29th. Last year's pledge drive was our first one and was a great success due to all the support we received. We are excited to see what God has in store for this week as we kickoff this one!

This year we have 2 goals we are working towards. The first is a one-time gifts goal of $5,000. This money will primarily be used for the 2007 Annual Board Meeting and to really kick-off our Vision Fund. The board meeting is one of our largest expenses each year and one where we often fall short.

I would like to spend a little more time explaining the Vision Fund. This is a fund the HP Board of Directors set up in 2005. We set aside some money each year to prepare for ministry growth, future needs, expanding into new territories, etc. Basically, we feel like God has blessed this ministry greatly and never want to feel like HP cannot go where He leads due to financial constraints. I think this fund is exciting as I have seen HP grow in leaps in bounds over the past few years. I am very much looking forward to how God can use this money and this ministry in the future!

The second goal this year is to increase the monthly support by $500 each month. The monthly support allows the ministry to meet its financial obligations with security through a stable income. While God has led people to give to this ministry when we have needed it and we believe in Him to continue to do so, we also believe we have a responsibility in planning and preparing to support this ministry.

Our hope is the you will prayerfully consider how you can give in one or both of these ways. As I have stated before, please remember that gifts are welcome no matter the amount. We also want to say that we know that there is a financial burden that often comes along in dealing with fertility challenges. We never wish to increase that burden! It is through a cumulative effort of those giving what they can and when they can that meets the needs of this ministry. Please do not feel saddened or guilty if you cannot give at this time.

Remember that all donations are tax-deductible!

So, you're probably asking yourself, "How do I pledge?" It's very simple. To make a pledge, simply e-mail me ( the following information,

Mailing Address
E-mail Address
Pledge Amount & Type (one time or monthly)

I will in turn e-mail to you a confirmation letter within 24 hours which will let you know the details of where you can submit your donation(through Paypal or mail).

(Feel free to copy and share or repost anywhere!)

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you on behalf of Hannah’s Prayer Ministries and the thousands of members we minister to daily. Please take a moment and read about our ministry and how you can help support what God is doing.

Did you know that infertility affects about 6.1 million Americans, or 10 percent of the reproductive age population, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine? Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive within one year of unprotected intercourse, or the inability to carry a child to live birth.

Since the term "infertility" is limited, as we have grown, we coined the term "fertility challenges" to cover the standard definition of "infertility" in conjunction with the sorrows of stillbirth, early infant death, or those who are able to get pregnant easily, but who have suffered the loss of a child at some point between conception and early infancy.

Being unable to conceive a much-wanted child, or carry a pregnancy to term, can fill a couple with sadness, grief, anger, despair, and even a sense of personal failure. Hannah’s Prayer Ministries provides Christian based support and encouragement to women around the world who are struggling with this pain.
As with any ministry, there is a financial burden. Up until now, God has blessed Hannah’s Prayer Ministries through the gifts of various generous givers and a few occasional fundraisers. With the rapid growth of this ministry, we are reaching the limits of our financial budget. That is why I am writing to you – we need your help. Would you be willing to share the blessings you have received with this incredible ministry?

Please keep in mind that Hannah's Prayer Ministries is a California based, non-profit 501( c )(3) organization. All staff members are unpaid volunteers who are proclaiming Christians (from a range of denominational backgrounds) and have personal experience with the heartache of fertility challenges.

We are asking for donations or a commitment to a monthly gift to support our efforts to help women facing fertility challenges. Would you please make out your check to Hannah’s Prayer Ministries and mail it to P.O. Box 3321 in Borger, Texas 79008? There is also an option on giving through Paypal if you would like. A lot of women who need our help would be grateful if you could send us your tax-deductible donation today.

We are sincerely grateful for your support!


P.S. We would be happy to send you more information about our ministry. You can find more information at or e-mail us at for more information.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Breast Cancer Awareness Bear

In honor of Shelly, I want to share this!

Testimony from a Reader (pregnancy mentioned)

Carla recently shared this story and has graciously allowed me to pass it along to you:
I have hestitated sharing my story with you for fear of causing somebody more pain. But I need to give glory to God, and I long to bring other IFer's some hope and comfort. I want to say to all those out there who are still waiting and longing, I don’t know what God has in mind for you. I believe that we often suffer because we live in a bad, sinful, fallen world, not because God has willed this misfortune on us. And He doesn't always choose to reverse our losses in the way we hope or ask. But I DO know that He cares when we hurt and that He IS involved in our lives. And when He decides to intervene in human affairs, nothing can stop Him. So don’t lose your hope. Keep holding on!

My infertility and miracle-baby story:
“If I could just get rid of this terrible desire to have a baby…It overwhelms me, suffocating my joy and sucking the lifeblood from my heart. The music is gone. My soul is BARREN. Only a few lone cacti dare survive in this harsh desert I call my soul.” – Journal, Dec. 2005

What had naively begun as an expectedly simple process had turned into more than a 6½ year struggle with infertility. Now, after several years of intensive medical treatments, I was physically and emotionally drained. Even God was silent. I didn’t hear or feel anything from Him and sometimes wondered if He had abandoned me. After years of what seemed like endless silence, I started seeing faint tokens of His work in my life. A couple of times I even received direct promises of hope from the Bible, but after repeated disappointments I was hardly brave enough to hope. Were these really from God or the imaginings of my own desperate heart?

One such morning began rather ordinarily, but while reading the book of Daniel, I suddenly realized that God was speaking to ME. Near the end of the 70-year Babylonian captivity, Daniel asks God to restore Jerusalem’s desolations (9:17-9). “Now therefore, O our Lord, hear the pray of thy servant and his supplications, and cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is desolate…” I knew the rest of the story well. When the time was fulfilled, God did deliver His people so they could return to their native land.

Several things from the story grabbed my attention, in such rapid succession and in such a strong manner that I felt carried beyond my own thoughts and ideas. “Sanctuary” and “desolate”…I distinctly recognized a similarity between the destruction of the temple and my own desolation (infertility). Then the 70 years…It occurred to me that the 70 years might have a time-scale significance for our lives (70=7). Could it be possible that we would have our desolations removed after 7 years of infertility (at this point, we’d been trying to have children for nearly 6 years)? It was like God had directly told me something but again I wasn’t sure if it was really Him or not.

Around this time, a friend of mine sent me a copy of the book “Hannah’s Hope”. I literally devoured it, realizing that although I’d been in tremendous pain for years, I’d not really known how to grieve my loss.

As I began to work through the issues, the fountains of long-retrained grief broke open. The tears began to bring healing. Not that the longing became less intense, but a calmness, peace and surrender began to take the place of desperation. I experienced some of the sweetest fellowship with my Lord that I had ever had before. I began to see how GOOD He really is, regardless of what I got or didn’t get in this life. For the first time in my life, I was able to praise Him in spite of my loss. Of course, the pain didn't just magically go away.

Up to this point, we had already unsuccessfully undergone 4 fresh IVF/ICSI cycles. However, our next IVF/ICSI cycle appeared to be a big success. The signs were all positive, but the following 2 blood tests showed that although there had been a short pregnancy, it was no longer viable. We were crushed--it hurt beyond words After all these years of trying, this loss was nearly unbearable. To compound everything, my body was thrown into total confusion, with several complications (including 2 large cysts).

The intervening time of waiting seemed unbearably long. We had one last IVF cycle awaiting us, but month after month rolled by and still my body wouldn’t cooperate. Finally it became apparent that we were going to have to wait until after the summer vacation to begin again. Then, after weeks of complications, my body just seemed to shut down. Nothing was happening. Out of desperation, I finally determined to go in for a blood test and ultrasound to see what was going on.

I had no clue that today would be a big way-mark in my life. Ultrasound pictures showed that the cysts were completely gone. My bloodwork indicated I was on day 1 of my cycle, and miraculously I also began my period that very day. The nurse said everything was perfect to start our last (#6) IVF cycle if we wanted. I was in total shock--my world had just turned around by 180 degrees in a matter of hours!!

But I was also a little bewildered. While I was excited to begin our last try, we already had reservations to fly home to see my parents during the summer vacation. I was torn. In bed that night, I wrestled with God and my own heart. Should we do the treatment now or later? As I prayed and asked for some clear guidance, I heard an almost audible little voice saying “Behold I have set before thee an open door and no man can shut it.” (Revelation 3:8). This verse had popped into my head so suddenly, I couldn’t help but realize that God had spoken to me, urging us forward.

We cancelled our tickets and began doing intensive hormonal injections. Two weeks later I went in for the egg pick-up (4 eggs in total). In all the other treatment cycles, we’d never had more than 1 egg fertilize per stimulation cycle. But as I was lying in bed the night after the procedure, I asked God for 2 embryos as a tangible sign of His love and care. Even if I didn’t get pregnant, at least I would know He’d heard and answered our prayers. I prayed and prayed. All of a sudden, I felt I didn’t need to pray anymore. My prayers had truly been heard because three days later, two beautiful embryos were transferred to my uterus.

Then we prayed like we’d never prayed before! During this time, I had no symptoms like before and was gradually losing hope. The morning before the blood test at the clinic, I did my own pregnancy test at home because I wanted to be mentally prepared. I didn’t feel I could handle another “no” from the nurse over the phone. It was a BFN! We felt numb, sad, disillusioned. Our last try for our own child—and that was it. There was not going to be a child.

Despite our extreme disappointment, we went in for the blood test as a matter of routine. Several hours later my husband called in for the results, expecting the official “no” to come over the line. I noticed a strange look come over his face and he was nearly shouting with excitement, “What? HCG is 230? Are you sure???...”

Then I knew it! We were on! We wanted to laugh, to cry, to shout it out to the whole world! Wow!!! God had done it, and just when we had lost all hope!

It began to dawn on me that God had indeed literally fulfilled His promise about restoring our desolations. In fact, when the baby is born, it will have been exactly 7 years since we started trying to conceive, just as God promised. God had directly intervened in changing the timing of my body so we could do the last treatment cycle at that precise time. It was so marked, so unmistakable. I give Him all the glory!

Friday, September 15, 2006

National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week

I had intended to post this at least a week ago, but as I'm still in the window of dates from Sept. 11-17, 2006, I would rather get something posted, "better late than never"! A ministry that hits very close to home for me, Rest Ministries has been the driving force behind the establisment of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awarness Week (NICIAW). According to the ministy's NICIAW press release, "96% of Illness is Invisible – Many Look Good but Feel Terrible". This description often fits me all too well.

The document goes on to say:
Nearly 1 in 2 Americans has a chronic condition, and 96% of them live with an illness that is invisible. These people do no use a cane or any assistive device and may look perfectly healthy. Sixty percent are between the ages of 18 and 64. September 11-17, 2006 is National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. The theme is "My Illness Is Invisible But My Hope Shines Through!” It is a major public awareness campaign sponsored by HopeKeepers Magazine, a consumer magazine that offers spiritual encouragement for those who live with chronic illness or pain.
Paul J. Donoghue and Mary Siegel, co-sponsors of the week and authors of "Sick and Tired of Feeling Sick and Tired: Living With Invisible Chronic Illness" say, "Invisible chronic illnesses (ICI) have symptoms that are difficult to see and impossible to measure such as pain and fatigue. So those with ICI frequently encounter not compassion and support but impatience and skepticism from physicians and loved ones."
“Living with an illness that is invisible to those around us can often have a more devastating affect on our emotional health than the physical pain,” explains Lisa Copen, 37, editor of HopeKeepers Magazine who lives with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. “Each day we must choose to have hope, despite how medications and alternative treatments may help or hinder us.”
Copen is the author of a book, "Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend." “Part of our campaign is to encourage people to ‘care enough to be informed,” says Copen. “Just because someone isn’t using a wheelchair doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a disability. Friends and family of those with chronic illness care a great deal about what their loved ones are going through, but oftentimes the invisibility of the illness sets up an environment for misunderstandings and even doubt about the validity of the illness. We hope to increase awareness of how many people ‘look great’ but are hurting deeply.”
Outreach includes various events: the distribution of free literature such as a 5.5 x 8.5 card with multiple ways to encourage a chronically ill friend. Other resources include "You Look So Good: A Guide to Understanding and Encouraging People With Chronic, Debilitating Illness and Pain."
Fifteen online seminars will be held during the week featuring chronic illness coaches, authors, nutritionists and other professionals. Promotional items like t-shirts, bumper stickers and bracelets are available.
For a complete list of events and resources visit or call 888-751-7378.
“The feeling of knowing that one’s illness and pain is acknowledged can have a great impact on how a person copes with living with illness,” says Copen. “We hope that by recognizing people with illness rarely feel as good as they look, they will begin to feel better understood, leading them to a more invigorating life!”

INTERESTING FACT: HopeKeepers Magazine is published by the sponsor of Rest Ministries. It’s the only Christian consumer magazine specifically written for people in chronic pain.
BOOK INFO: Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend; Author: Lisa Copen; dimensions:
4.25 x 7 in.; 94 pages; Rest Ministries Publishers 2005; ISBN 0-9716600-6-9.
*(Chronic Care in America: A 21st Century Challenge, a study of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.).

I really wish I had gotten this information posted sooner as I know it is already too late to participate in most of the great chats and some of the speciality support this week. But if you are looking for encouragement for your hidden health struggles, I give Rest Ministries my highest recommendation!

Friday, September 01, 2006

11 years?

For a few weeks I had been feeling really "down" and not coping well with daily life. Rick even asked me if I was angry at him for something and I didn't have any idea I had been coming across so snappy with those I love.

When Rick went out of town for a couple days late last week, I used a long night-time house-clean session to have a long talk with the Lord (cleaning my heart along with our home). I realized that a big part of the picture is that I've been neglectful with making consistent time with Him a daily priority. I always get myself in trouble that way.

I also must admit that I've been physically really hurting, everything from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet, and almost everything in between, with many "hot spots" of more intense pain. When I'm hurting so much, it is hard to live gracefully. This is not an excuse, but rather should have been a warning sign to me to heighten my vigilance in seeking daily strength at the Pieced Feet that long to carry me in Strength when I can no longer "do it" on my own.

I do not discount either of those "factors" as to their profound impact in my ability to relate well to those around me. But I realized this week that Noel's 11th birthday would have been about now. I had thought of her quite a bit in the earlier part of the summer, but recently hadn't been "dwelling" on what time of year it was. To realize again what dates were upon us, suddenly made much of what I've been feeling "make sense".

The more years I'm distanced from my losses, the more it catches me by surprise that I'm still so profoundly impacted by due dates, anniversaries and dates of significance such as this. Now that I'm aware, God and I are working on making Him Lord of my heart, my life, and this ongoing grief journey once again. Happy 11th Birthday, my beautiful would-be-adolescent!