Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blog Worth Visiting - Blessed Are the Barren

I have to take a moment and highlight a relatively new resource in the world of infertility encouragement, a blog that has caught my attention with the author's thoughtful reviews of several popular infertility books. Of course it didn't hurt that her review of Hannah's Hope was an encouraging one, but I love Jen's candor and the tone of many posts I took the time to savor today. Her reviews of books, movies and music and detailed, insightful and not afraid of honest criticism. While Blessed Are the Barren is obviously only one viewpoint (and the name might be a hard pill for some to swallow), I believe Jen's blog does a great job of representing infertility from the 20-something Christian woman's perspective!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Prayer for Times I Struggle with Forgiving Others

Dear Lord, I thank you for the immesurable grace you have given to us, to those who might as well have been in the crowd, jearing and demanding your crusifixion. That you could pursure us with the passion of a loving Husband, seek to nuture and protect us from harm with the heart of a perfect Daddy, and embrase us in fellowship as our Brother, even when we are your enemies, is beyond comprehension. When we struggle with unforgiveness, help us to remember all you have forGIVEN in us! And may we humbly lead by example as we receive your grace and pass forgiveness on to others through your strength.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Latest book review for Hannah's Hope

There is a radio program / podcast called Journeys To Motherhood that I stumbled upon earlier this year. I was thilled to find an entire radio series dedicated to nothing but issues related to fertility challenges and I've enjoyed listening to several episodes.

There is a lot of "spiritual" content in the programs, but often not from a specifically Christian viewpoint. So it was especially delightful to find the kind review of Hannah's Hope written by host Barbara Winters in her blog this week. I hope to be a guest on Journeys to Motherhood this spring, possibly late February.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bitterness of Soul

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the 9th in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Bitterness of Soul" chapter nine of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. - 1 Samuel1:10 (NIV)

Therefore I will not keep silent;
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
- Job 7:11 (NIV)

Naomi knew the pain of a bitter heart. She lost her husband and both sons in a foreign country. When she returned home her soul was so wounded that when friends called her Naomi, a name that means "pleasant," she replied, "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty" (Ruth 1:20-21). Literally translated, the Hebrew word mara means "bitter." The idea behind this word is marrow, or the core substance of something; thus Naomi's bitterness penetrated through the very depths of her being.

Mara is quite similar to the word used to describe the bitterness Hannah faced as she went before God after years of pain and longing for a child. Hannah's bitterness, marah, also indicates great heaviness, disconnection, and chafing.

Bitterness is described in Hebrews as a root that defiles the soul, causing us to miss the grace of God. Nothing chokes out peace faster. Intense marah was deeply rooted within my heart for a long time. I felt raw, weighed down, constantly rubbed in the wrong direction. I was disconnected from God, my husband, my friends, and even myself.

I felt totally neglected and abandoned. I wondered how I could trust a God who would be so unloving as to give me such a strong desire to reproduce then not enable me to accomplish the task. All the waiting, disappointment, frustration, faith, hope, prayer, begging, pleasing, doctor's visits and medication seemed futile. God seemed so very far away.

Finally I had it out with God in a yelling, stomping, fist-shaking, tearful fit unlike any I had ever dared before. I had never dared admit to Him, nor to myself, just how really angry I was. But He had known the true nature of my heart all along. I couldn't shock or surprise Him with my temper tantrum. He was big enough to handle all my rage. By fully confronting Him, I admitted to both of us exactly how I perceived our relationship. But to my surprise, rather than driving Him further away, He drew me close!

Honesty unlocked the rusty gate to the wall I had built around my heart. It was an amazing breakthrough for me to understand that even if my prayers are only yelled at God in total disillusionment, I must keep taking my pain to God. He cannot help me when I lock Him out, hide or run away. I am free to weep with Hannah, as long as that weeping was done before the Lord.

The truth is, even when He seems silent to my cries, He is listening and does care, grieving deeply with me in my loneliness. Not only does He care, but He relates with personal understanding. Remember Jesus' cry from the cross, "My God, why have you forsaken me"?

While I demanded the joy of motherhood, I never stopped to consider how it would break my heart to be rejected by my child in the way I was treating the Lord. By grace, just as I could never stop loving a prodigal, God's persistent love never abandoned me either.

But neither did His love trespass where uninvited. In order for fellowship to be restored, I had to ask Him to knock down walls and weed my heart. Jesus declares, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2). Pruning often seems more painful than letting bitterness remain rooted, but God is the master Gardener who desires to see us bloom. By drinking deeply of Living Water, even when I don't feel like it, the soil of my heart will slowly soften, allowing weeds to less painfully release their hold.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Here is an old article I wrote 10 years ago for the "Hannah to Hannah" newsletter in the early day of HP when most of our ministry was offline, through support groups and a printed newsletter. I pray it will be a blessing to you today:

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
Copyright © 1997, Jennifer Saake

We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.
And we offer up to You the sacrifices of thanksgiving…

How often do we take the time to truly think about the words we sing in church each Sunday? What are sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise? "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Hebrews 13:15-16).

We see "sacrifice" used throughout the Old Testament. God said that without the shedding of blood there could be no removal of sin, so animal sacrifice was ordained from the day sin entered the world through Adam, and was to continue until the day that God the Father experienced the grief of watching His own Son Jesus, the "Second Adam," die in our places to clean our guilt and make a way for us to be adopted into His Heavenly family.

"I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs" (Ps 69:30-31). Webster's dictionary includes several definitions of "sacrifice," many along the lines of bloodshed on an altar, but here are some alternate definitions that I think are more applicable to the idea of offering sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. "An act of offering to a deity something precious" or the "surrender of something for the sake of something else."

We are introduced to Hannah in the context of her family's journey to the temple to offer a yearly sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:3). Hannah was abiding by the law of the land in making the blood sacrifice demanded of her, but her heart was willing to sacrifice more. "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow saying, 'O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…'"(1 Sam. 1:10-11).

That was some sacrifice! No, Hannah didn't offer false thanksgiving by denying her pain or trying to pretend to God that everything was fine, but in the same breath that she asked Him to grant her heart's desire, she turned around and promised that the child would belong to God for his entire life. What an act of reverence for the God who created her and held the power to breathe life into her empty womb! We see that from this point on, even before God allowed her to conceive, Hannah worshipped the Lord (1 Sam. 1:19). The change from a bitter soul to an attitude of praise was the willingness to sacrifice her will to God’s. The words of Jonah reflect what Hannah probably felt, "But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD" (Jonah 2: 9).

Let's take a look at another family in the Bible - the first family that ever existed. Adam and Eve's first two sons were named Cain and Abel. Because sin had already entered the world before these sons were born, they grew up under the sacrificial system and worshipped the Lord from the time they were tiny. Cain and Abel both knew God's rules by heart. God was worthy of their obedience, respect, and honor, if for no other reason that simply because He is God! "For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods" (1 Chronicles 16:25).

The problem came as they grew up and started their own careers. Abel raised sheep while Cain pursued farming - both professions were honorable. These men knew that God required a blood atonement in repentance for sin. While Abel could readily offer the sacrifices God required by giving from his own flock, Cain had to exchange his produce to buy lambs for each sacrifice. (Kind of gives new meaning to the figure of speech, "You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip!")

At some point Cain tired of the system God set up. I don't know if he just didn't like the hassle of selling crops and buying sheep each day, or if his pride got in the way and he decided that since Abel could offer the product he produced in shepherding, that he should be able to offer the work of his own hands as well. Whatever the reason, Cain decided to bring a sacrifice of his produce rather than offer a blood sacrifice to the Lord (Genesis 4:1-5). When his offering displeased the Lord, Cain pouted. God gave him a second chance to make his attitude and actions right, saying, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Gen. 4:6-7).

Unlike Hannah's story of obedience and willingness to sacrificially offer her one true desire to the Lord, Cain's story took a tragic turn when he hardened his heart in rebellion. In the end, Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy, and Eve, the world's first mother, lost two sons in one day - one to death, and one to banishment by the Lord. God's displeasure with Cain had nothing to do with a preference of meat over fruit. It had everything to do with Cain's heart attitude and unwillingness to submit to God's perfect plan. When Hannah did have a son, Samuel put it well: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Sam 15:22).

I'm afraid I often tend to be much more like Cain than Hannah. I don't like to bend when God calls me to something outside my comfort zone. While we live in an age of grace and are no longer bound by the Old Testament code of blood sacrifice, God still desires my heart to be soft to him and offer praise and thanksgiving even when it hurts - no, especially when it hurts - for this is where the sacrifice begins! "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps 51:15-17).

We are instructed, in view of God's mercy, to offer our "bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" and this is seen as an act of worship. How can we do this? "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:1-2). Even when we allow God to renew us, at times it is still hard to understand his perfect will for us in light of fertility challenges. "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice" (Proverb 21:3). God also told Cain that he must "Do what is right," but how can I know what is right for me in infertility or in Noel's death?

I have often felt, especially in the earlier days of our struggle, that the withholding of children was a sign that, like Cain, God was not looking on us with favor. I have struggled with anger towards God, and my face has definitely been downcast! I cannot go exchange my fruit for flock to make an acceptable burnt offering, so what can I do? I have finally realized that doing what is right in infertility is simply allowing God to make the rules! He is asking me to make a change in the sacrifice I am willing to bring, and it is up to me if I will trade my bitterness for praise as Hannah did, or if I will use my pain to feed a jealous rage like Cain.

I want to offer myself to God as a great parent, to raise the children He gives us, and train them to follow after Him. My desire is a good one. There is nothing wrong with this desire, just as there was nothing wrong with Cain choosing to farm the land. In fact, my desire is God-given! But perhaps one thing I have in common with Cain is pride. After all, God had apparently always showered Cain with blessings in the past, as He has me, so it is easy to expect Him to continue His blessings on my terms, without waiting to see what His will or His master plan will be. "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river…” (Isaiah 48:17b-18a).

For Cain it would have been as simple as letting go of his pride and continuing to buy his sheep from his brother, as an act of obedience to God. For me it is letting God teach me to surrender my plans to His will. He knows that I still desire to raise a family, and I fully believe that some day, somehow, He will give me my heart's desire. But I am learning to exchange the sacrifice I want to give for the one He asks me to offer, in obedience to His perfect will for my life.

He does not want just my parenting skills, but He wants all of me! "To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33). I am learning, slowly, but learning none the less, that to give my whole self - body, mind, heart, spirit, soul, wants, dreams, desires, goals - over to Him, is the only acceptable sacrifice in His sight. "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6).

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:6-7). When we pray in an attitude of true thanksgiving, being honest with God about our pain, yet making the effort to sacrifice our attitudes to Him, we are rewarded with a peace that defies earthly reason. "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:1-4).

"Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed." (Ps 103:2-6)

Reasons for Thanksgiving:
God responds to our pain - "For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help" (Psalm 22: 24).

He puts an end to our pain - "Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Ps 30:4-5).

He helps us - "Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” (Ps 28:6-7)

He carries the load - "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens" (Ps 68:19).

He is our comforter - "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" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

He is faithful - "Know that the LORD is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations" (Ps 100:3-5).

It is within His character to bless those without hope - "He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD" (Psalm 113:9).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

National Adoption Day 2007 – NOVEMBER 17

National Adoption Day is a collective national effort to raise awareness of the 114,000 children in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families. For the last eight years, National Adoption Day has made the dreams of thousands of children come true by working with courts, judges, attorneys, adoption professionals, child welfare agencies and advocates to finalize adoptions and find permanent, loving homes for children in foster care.

National Adoption Day is celebrated every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. For the first time in 2006, National Adoption Day was celebrated in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In total, more than 250 events were held throughout the country to finalize the adoptions of more than 3,300 children in foster care, and to celebrate all families who adopt.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fill My Cup, Lord

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the 8th in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Fill My Cup, Lord!" chapter eight of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

Remember the woman at the well? She went there in the middle of the day when the other women of the town would not be near to avoid their whispers and gosip. Jesus asked her for a drink of water, then offered the quenching of her soul's thirst. The Greek phrase translated "living water" in John 4:10-11 is closely related to the Ephesians concept of being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

She sought happiness in the arms of men. Jesus offers peace that could be found in none other than Himself.

I sought joy in the new life of a baby. Jesus offers New Life in Himself.

I wanted to know the feeling of carrying another soul inside my body. He provides the Holy Spirit to indwell me.

I longed to nurse a child. Paul wrote, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:2-3).

I dreamed of watching my baby grow and mature. But am I every-growing in Christ? "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:13-14).

I bemoaned the "bread of adversity" I felt unfairly called to taste. The Lord answers with the cross: "And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me'" (Luke 22:19).

I pleaded for a child to enrich my days on earth. He commands, "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20-21).

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." - John 10:10 (NIV)

Dear Lord,
As I writhe under the cramping of my soul, it is the bitter cup of affliction and stale bread of adversity that drive me to my knees in anguished prayer. I'm scared to be brutally honest with You about the depth of my anger, fears, frustrations, hopes and dreams, yet help me to be real before You and honest with myself in the process. In the midst of this pain, let me clearly hear Your still, small voice comforting and guiding me. Thank You for the many times and ways that You have provided for me; please bring these to mind as they are so easily forgotten when my heart aches so deeply right now. Thank you that you truly do offer answers to every longing of my heart.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

President Bush recognizes Oct. 15 National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day

To read a moving letter from President Bush written to the families of children who have too soon left this world, please visit

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Finding the Right Doctor

Going back through some of the articles I've written over the years, I thought this one might be helpful to some:

Copyright © 2001, Jennifer Saake

"Patient refuses selective reduction." The words jumped off the page at me as I was reviewing some of my old medical records. My mind vividly flashed back to that long-ago day when I was interviewing a new RE ("Reproductive Endocrinologist" or infertility specialist) for the first time.
I had come to his office as a new patient in the sense that I had just moved to this state and needed to re-establish myself with a physician who could handle my infertility care. I was not, however, a "new patient" in the sense of inexperience. We had already been traveling down the long road of infertility for well over five years and had seen eight or nine previous doctors in our quest to build our family beyond the two of us.

As Christians I believe that God calls us to be responsible, informed, and clear about our options and limitations while battling through the jungle maze of infertility treatment. We are taught by society to trust our doctors and not to question that they know best. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the medical issues of reproduction and blinded by our desperation for children to the point where we let our doctors dictate the path first, then only check in with God after the course is set.

After my first referral from my family physician to an OB/GYN whose business card proudly announced his special interest in infertility, I felt great hope that we would soon be pregnant. His initial evaluation was that I simply was not ovulating and his claim was that this was the easiest kind of infertility issue to resolve. With a prescription for the fertility drug Clomid and reassurance that I should easily be pregnant within six months, I left his office very happy. Two years later, after much reading, personal research, and talking with other fertility patients, I finally realized that I had been receiving sub-standard and often inappropriate treatments. It was time for a change!

No doctor is the perfect fit for every patient. There is no law saying that you must stay with the first doctor you find. Give your doctor a fair chance, but if you are not satisfied with your care, let him know and give him a chance to fix things. Ask LOTS of questions and push for detailed answers until you feel you have a full understanding of the issues. Your doctor does not know everything. He is human, with human limitations (cannot read every new medical article published about your specific condition, has bad days, doesn't always do things right the first time) and human emotions of his own (pride, personal opinions of right and wrong, personality conflicts, stresses outside work, etc.).

HSG, HCG, IUI, IVF, post-coital, endometrial biopsy, luteal phase, follicles… The tests, treatments, and terms used can all become so confusing. In trying to understand what all these things mean it is even harder to understand what all the consequences may be! Again, ask questions and do your own research until you really understand what your doctor is talking about. Don't be afraid to bring other tests and treatments to his attention and find out his views on things you are not yet actively dealing with. As you gain a big picture of what your options are and where your treatment may be headed, take it all before God and ask Him for very clear direction. Write down your limits and share them with another couple that will hold you accountable; then you won’t be swayed by the emotions of the moment when your doctor proposes something outside your boundaries.

For my husband and I personally (and I am not saying these are the limits God will give your family, I'm just using our own experiences as an example), we felt convicted early on in our infertility journey that if we were to have a biological child it would need to come from my egg and my husband's sperm and be carried in my body, otherwise we would adopt. If we had to look at donor or surrogate issues, we felt that we would respond to the introduction of a third person in our marriage for the sake of conception as a form of adultery and that it could cause great harm to our marriage. My husband also had a very strong conviction against masturbation, causing much frustration when the issues of sperm collection for tests or insemination were important. We resolved this by having our doctor prescribe a special sterile "fertility condom" or "condom for insemination," allowing us to collect through the act of loving intercourse.

When I was seeing my new RE for that get-established visit and still far from being pregnant, why was my chart marked so prominently with words about refusing abortion of one of more babies in a multiple-birth scenario? It was another limit we were setting. I wanted this doctor to know from the outset that any time one of my eggs and one of my husband's sperm were united in conception, that from that moment on we would consider this our child, a unique person with value and soul. He was firmly instructed from the start to do everything in his power to keep me from getting into a compromising situation of being pregnant with more babies than he felt I could safely carry to term in any given pregnancy. Yes, we wanted children, but not so desperately as to put any of our babies' lives at risk because there were "too many."

It was a long journey, but by seeking God for wisdom with each step, becoming educated about our medical issues and options, setting firm limits within the convictions God gave to our family and persisting until we found the doctor that was right for us, we survived! Appreciating the amount of thought we had put into becoming informed and our honesty in setting strong limits, our doctor went out of his way to help us work for our goal. By God’s grace, within two years of that first consultation we were back in our RE's office to introduce him to our son!

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:2-5)

Friday, August 31, 2007

2 Hearts Beating As 1...Sometimes

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the 7th in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Two Hearts Beating As One...Sometimes," chapter seven of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" - 1 Samuel 1:8 (NIV)

Unlike my husband, I found that infertility defined me. Someone would ask, "What do you do?" and Rick would answer with a description about his job, while I hoped no one would aim the same question my direction. "Stay-at-home-mom" was a socially acceptable answer. "Stay-at-home non-mom" never went over as well...
Infertility can feel like being caught in a burning house. The two of you run in different directions, tripping into and over each other, trying to escape the terror. As the suffocating heat closes around you, part of the panic comes from the lack of assurance that you are still together in this darkness.

While their barrenness was beyond the control of either Elkanah or Hannah, God ordained Elkanah to guide his family through the process. The apostle Paul give this admonition: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:22-24).

I know submission can be an unsettling concept. Since sin first entered the world with Adam and Eve, it's been hard for women to let men lead. As a direct result of our sin nature, we have an impulsive drive to run the show. While my desires often conflict with Rick's God set him in authority over our family... When my doctor presents a medical course that offers me hope, it is hard to hold back when Rick gives a flat-out no, or even when he wants to just take time to prayerfully seek more answers. But my marriage vows are to my husband, not to my doctor or anyone else!

Does this mean that my husband's decisions are always the "correct" ones? Not necessarily. But I am called to trust God by allowing my husband to lead me, even in the face of his very human fallibility. I challenge you to allow your husband to take the leadership role in your fertility journey. In the struggle to "have a family," it can be so easy to forget that as husband and wife we already are a family. It is important never to lose sight of this fact. While the desperation might make it feel otherwise, our marriage relationships truly must remain higher priorities than having babies.

Thoughts to Ponder:
What most attracted you to your spouse in the beginning? Why did you marry? What do you most desire about your partner? What joint activities bring you the most shared pleasure? If these answers don't readily spring to mind, it has been too long since you shared a common heartbeat. Sit down and list your answers on paper, then pursue ways to add to your list of joys together.

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham... You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear - 1 Peter 3:5-6 (NIV)

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the man you have given me to share my life with. While there are times I just feel like he doesn't "get it" or can't understand my depth of grief, thank you for the checks and balances of emotions and rational thinking between us. Thank you that even though he is not perfect (nor am I!) I can trust you to guide us through him when I step aside and allow him to lead. Thank you for the times I can lean on his strength to take the next step in our journey and his sanity to hold back when I might blindly rush ahead of your plan.

Help me to remember to keep our marriage a priority when this baby quest becomes too all-consuming. And thank you for your grace to bring our hearts back together at seasons we seem far apart. For my sisters without their husbands, due to divorce, widowhood, emotional/spiritual disconnection, or even separations such as military deployment, I pray your extra strength, comfort and grace upon their hearts tonight. You promise to be a father to the fatherless and a husband to women alone. Please be all of that to my hurting friends tonight.

And daily, Lord, please be preparing me more and more to be your Bride, ready to stand before you, spotless and blameless because of the blood of your Son, in whose name we pray, Amen!

How Long Does It Hurt?

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the 6th in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "How Long Does It Hurt?," chapter six of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. - 1 Samuel1:7 (NIV)

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days... So his father wept for him. Genesis 37:34-35 (NIV)

Culture dictated this time of feasting, yet Hannah found herself observing an unplanned fast. Bitter, salty tears didn't mix well with the food Elkanah lovingly provided. Why bother feeding a body that had failed her, anyway? As for her heart, did she really want it to continue beating if it would only be an ongoing target for Peninnah's brutality? Deeply depressed, she could nourish her spirit only with tears. The very thought of food was repulsive... Would this parching thirst of her soul never end?

Infertility provides many decision crisis points: If we buy the larger home in hopes of filling it, will empty rooms seem much too empty in the interim (or if they never do have inhabitants)? But if we buy smaller while knowingly trying to grow our family, might we regret such a decision very quickly, should children come sooner rather than later? Or can we even think of buying a house at all, when medical aid and adoption can be so costly?

The loss of a child brings even more quandaries. When a hoped-for adoption or early pregnancy suddenly is no more. do we tell the world or grieve in silence? When a child shared our home and hearts, even for a brief time, how do we cope when she is gone? "Dare we try ever again, after having our hearts ripped out?" No one expects to need to make choices such as "Should we cremate or buy a burial plot?"

It can seem that all decisions either become rooted in or somehow always circle back to "the baby thing." How can I get out of bed this morning, brush my teeth, and go through the motions of normal life when my life is anything but normal? No matter how seemingly unrelated to my parenthood journey, anything that stirred up my emotions invariably led me back to my deepest pain: how much I missed our babies, how much I wanted to be a mommy to living children. I felt useless without being able to accomplish my one greatest goal in life. I felt lonely and unfulfilled. It all seemed so unfair...

The loss of a child, either a unique individual or the child who may never be, though he has filled your hopes and dreams of a lifetime, is not something you ever fully "get over." Just as Jacob, after being told of his son's death, could not imagine life ever again without tears, you may be in the darkest days of grief right now. How long will it hurt? In some sense, forever.

Grief ebbs and flows. With time and by the Lord's grace, there will come a day when you surprise yourself by hearing your own laughter again. "Even in laughter the heart may ache" (Prov. 14:13), but when that day comes, there is no need to feel guilt in experiencing moments of joy.

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13(NIV)

Dear Lord,
Grief is such a strange creature. Sometimes when I most expect to grieve, I end up handling things fine. And other times the silliest little things trip me up and send me for a tail-spin. While I don't understand this journey, thank you that You promise to never leave me nor forsake me in the midst of this pain. When I'm hurting with such intensity I can't believe I will ever survive, you are right there sharing in my tears and anguish. And when those long-distant rays of joy finally begin to sooth my aching heart, you celebrate with me as you embrace me with Your amazing comfort.
In the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ,

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Encouragement for Those New to Infertility

I wrote this little note on the Hannah's Prayer message boards last fall. As it still continues to receive comments, it seems that it is a message many need to hear. If you are realitively new to the world of infertility, this is for you.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and bewildered by all these emotions, scared by the "alaphabet soup" of infertility's medical jargon (pct, HSG, hCG, IUI, IVF, ICSI...)or simply lost in the surprising depth of grief this journey can bring, I just want to tell you that you are not alone.

Everyone's timeline for processing this experience is different, but for me it was the first 6-18 months of our journey were the most devistating. I would hear of someone who had been struggling for years to have children and panic at the thought that if my heart was already so crushed "only" a year into our wait, that I would not physically/emotionally/mentally/spiritually survive that long.

If this is where you are today, I want to encourage you to look to the Lord for your strength for this day, for the hope, help and grace to survive this moment. You do not know God's plans. He may have a long path through infertility ahead of you (and if He does, He will be faithful to walk along side you through it), or your journey through barrenness might be comparatively a rather short one.

Like Peter who called to Christ to let him walk on the water, then took His eyes off Jesus and looked instead to the crashing waves, when I tried to look/guess/worry too far into the future, I floundered and felt like I would drownd. So my encouragement is simply this:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
- Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV)

As you adjust to the shock and learn coping skills, you will not always feel the deep darkness of grief so closely suffocating in around you. Yes, as your journey continues, you will still have painful seasons, and some especially hard days, but you will also learn and grow and gain confidence in the way God calls you to walk through this grief. Jesus Himself "was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Isaiah 53). We could have no better companion to hold us through this journey than Him!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Put Yourself In My Shoes Before Your Put Your Foot In Your Mouth

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the 5th in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Put Yourself in My Shoes (Before You Put Your Foot In Your Mouth)," chapter five of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. - 1 Samuel1:6 (NIV)

I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and He answered - a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless! Job 12:4 (NIV)

We know of Hannah's misery, but we don't know much about Peninnah. I believe she had unfulfilled desires too. It is obvious that her fertility did not earn her first place in her husband's heart. Maybe Peninnah turned her bitterness outward, much as I did with my yearning for motherhood. The barbs she tossed at Hannah may well have been thorns thrown in self-defense. Flaunting her fertility could have been the only way Peninnah knew how to cope with her own broken heart. (see Psalm 73:21-22)

While, sadly, there are a few vindictive individuals who may set out to intentionally use my grief against me as Peninnah did to Hannah, most scenarios that bring me pain are neither premeditated nor spiteful. It is easy to believe everyone is out to hurt me, when in fact most people are either unaware of my sorrow or honestly wanting to say and do the "right" thing. People who haven't walked in these shoes have no idea of the depths to which we grieve and experience anger and hopelessness. It's no wonder their comments and behaviors can often seem insensitive or downright clueless.

I have to remind myself that the outside perspective is one of innocence. My own perceptions were also much different before I walked this road. I try to remember times when I have hurt hearts with statements or actions that unintentionally inflicted pain. Like the time I blurted out the figure of speech, "I just about had a heart attack" (indicating my great surprise over an event) twice in the same conversation with a friend who had father's heart-related death. (I'm so sorry, Julie!) Each time I instantly wanted to chew off my own tongue for the poor choice of words. Yet not knowing the right words to say, compounded by embarrassment over ones I had used, I just stumbled my way right on through my story, not even stopping to admit my insensitive tread on her tender heart.

When a friend says or does something that seems less than supportive, I can step back and ask the Lord how He might want to use me to encourage her and seek His grace to love her in spite of the heartache she causes. There are always going to be specific time (like when my hormones are a mess), places, or people that get under my skin, even when I try to seek the Lord's guidance. Some days the Lord-love-her-through-me approach is easier than others, but overall this strategy saves a lot of unneeded self-pity. When I pray for someone who causes me pain, God can bring surprising blessings as a result.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Psalm 73:21-22 (NIV)

Dear Lord,
Sometimes my heart feels so crushed that it is hard to see beyond my own grief. I take things personally when there is probably no harm intended and I ache so much! Please help me to be able to see the loving intent behind carelessly worded conversations, and give me grace to return love in situations where my heart seems senselessly trampled.

For that one person (you know exactly who I'm thinking of here Father) who has such a knack for intentionally getting under my skin and poking at the most raw and tender parts of my spirit, help me to love her through your strength. Open my eyes to the hidden heartache she herself might carry, and teach me to be a blessing in her life rather than letting me become a brute beast in return.

Thank you that you are the trustworthy Friend I can always turn to and that you love me unconditionally.

In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
The One who promises to be closer than a brother,

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Christian Woman's Blog

In an effort to reach more women with news of Hannah's Hope as a resource, I have just joined the Christian Women Online Blog Ring. Please note that many of these blogs may reference motherhood and living children on a regular basis.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

God's Umbrella

I've met a special friend in the Shoutlife community. From Hollye's website I found a link to her sweet article on surviving infertility and miscarriage entitled God's Umbrella. I pray it is a blessing to you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Reflecting on William

I don't think of Will too often any more. I guess it is easier not to. But after calling to wish my nephew a happy 11th birthday, the memories came flooding back...

It was this week, 11 years ago, that I spent 24 mostly-sleepless hours with a friend who was scared and alone in the midst of a medical crisis in her 8th month of pregnancy. She had had no prenatal care, so I witnessed her first ultrasound and learned with her that her child, I hoped our child, was a son. Through that long day and night and into the next day, we talked of plans and dreams and her hopes for this baby's life.

At the end of it all I went home, emotionally and physically exhausted, carrying with me the news that we were not to be his parents afterall. I went home to a mass email birth announcement from my brother along with 30-some congratulatory emails that were "reply to all". It was the day before Father's Day. It was all just too much. I fell apart!

A month later we were back in that same hospital, setting our own dreams aside to again offer support to this woman whom God had placed in our lives, as she placed our longed-for child in the arms of his new parents. It was one of the hardest things God ever called me to do, especially knowing that his parents were not Christians.

I don't think of Will too often any more. But at time like this, when the memories come uninvited, I take it as a call to pray. Prayer is the only method of influence I will ever have on Will's life, but I pray that it is one that makes a profound and eternal difference.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Because He Loved Her

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the 4th in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Because He Loved Her," chapter four of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

But to Hannah [her husband] gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb.
- 1 Samuel 1:5 (NIV)

I once heard that infertility is like a roller coaster where the wife is struggling to hold on during the wild ride while her husband is frantically trying to find the brake. In this month of June, where fatherhood is widely celebrated, let's remember that infertility is not just a "woman's issue". Little frustrates a man more than feeling inadequate to prevent his wife's pain.

Remember Leah, who felt she needed to earn her husband's love (Gen. 29-30)? With each pregnancy she announced sentiments like "Surely my husband will love me now... At last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons... This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons."

While I am repulsed at the very thought of polygamy, this was the reality for many Biblical women, including our beloved Hannah. You see, some early religious leaders had twisted God's command to Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply" to the point of actually advising that a man should divorce a wife after 10 years of barrenness. [For more about Jewish traditions surrounding infertility, see "And Hannah Wept" (Philadelphia, New York, Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1988), pp. 47-48.] So, when Elkanah took Peninnah as an additional wife, not as a replacement, this was an act of great mercy. He was affirming his love for Hannah, with or without children. What a contrast between Jacob's attitude toward Leah and the loving grace Elkanah showered on Hannah!

For the first few years of our infertility journey, I struggled greatly with the idea that if only Rick would have married the "right" woman, he could have been a father already. One of the most loving gifts Rick ever gave me was his ongoing assurance that infertility was our battle, not my humiliation to bear alone. God knew from the start that it would take ten years and giving our hearts to a dozen children before we would bring two safely home. While it was my body that complicated our efforts, Rick frequently reminded me that as one flesh before God, there was non his or hers. God's plan for us as a couple included wrestling to build our family.

Point of Action:
- Make a list of some specific ways your husband has treated you with grace in the midst of grief and use this list as a guide to help you pray for him with thanksgiving.

My Loving Heavenly Father,
Thank you that I can always run to you when I myself am in need of a Daddy's strong arms. Thank you that nothing in our lives catches you by surprise. There is no path that you allow my husband and I to walk through where you have not already prepared the way.

For the loving husband you have blessed me with, thank you for his faithfulness and grace toward me, even in the seasons where my grief makes me rather unlovable. Let me never take him for grated and help me to be the life-partner he deserves, that you have called me to be. Help me to see our shared journey a bit more through his eyes so that I can support and encourage and pray for him in meaningful ways.
And for my friends who are struggling alone, having lost their husbands in the midst of this painful journey, please give them your special grace and protection in this double grief.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

For Such a Time as This?

I am a Regional Manager with a mineral makeup company. In a recent traing chat there, one of the other 5 ladies I was chatting with mentioned her recent miscarriage. We all expressed our sympathies, then one of the other gals told her to feel free to contact her any time because she had a stillborn baby girl 8 years ago. The first rep (who just miscarried) replied that her first son had been stillborn as well! I was able to tell them both about Hannah's Hope and Hannah's Prayer Ministries. As the chat unfolded, I just sat there praying and asking the Lord what are the odds that out of 6 ladies, 3 of us have lost babies, 2 to stillbirth?

I don't know all the reasons God has put me in the position that He has with Mineral Girlz (though I'm having a blast and very excited about the business side of things), but I can't help wonder if at least a part of the picture has to do with these two ladies and their losses? Could I be there for such a time as this? (Esther's story has been one I've pondered much this year.) Please pray for both of these ladies and my sensitivity to God's promtings for any ways He might have me minister in their lives as we work together.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

One Pastor Shares His Reflections on Mother's Day

Rev. Lamar Oliver of Pharr Chapel United Methodist Church in Morgan City, LA sends out weekly devotional messages to members of his church. Here is what he wrote this week:

Normally, your Mid-Week Message is composed on Wednesday mornings, but while sitting here watching television with Erin this evening, I saw the most ridiculous commercial that got us talking about worship this Sunday. One of the seemingly endless jewelry store ads shown during this week every year, it reminded viewers that "You only have one day to celebrate mom - so make it special." How utterly stupid and absolutely contrary to not only good sense and manners, but also to the Christian faith that we profess to live under. This mindset, however, is one of the reasons why this Sunday, Mother's Day, is one of the most dangerous for pastors and also one of the most misunderstood days in the life of the church.

I will never forget the first Mother's Day that I had in my first post-seminary appointment. We were in the midst of the Easter season, and I preached from the lectionary texts for the day. It was about two o'clock that afternoon when my phone rang, and the matriarch of the congregation was on the phone asking me why I did not preach about mothers on Mother's Day. Who did I think I was? After all, "People go to church on Mother's Day with mom expecting a sermon on motherhood, moms, and how great it all is." Her tone indicated that there was no way I could give an answer that would satisfy her, but she did get me thinking. How should we communicate to people that the church is to be a place of worship - worship of God, not anyone else (even mom)? How should we communicate that if you have to wait until Mother's Day to let mom know how much she means to you then you don't have much of a relationship with mom to begin with? How should we communicate that when the church makes a big deal about the oldest mother and the youngest mother that chances are very good that there are women sitting in the pews who are inwardly weeping (if they show up at all on this day) because they know that they will never be a mother, never have a chance at the award for oldest, youngest, or most prolific mother? How do we communicate that while Mother's Day is the day on which the most phone calls are made that there are women in our midst who will not get that phone call from a beloved child this year because they had to endure every mother's nightmare of outliving their child? How do we communicate that there are many mothers and children who have no relationship at all and all that this day does is bring pain and sorrow for pain that in some cases goes back decades? How do we communicate this message to those for whom for whom Mother's Day is hard because they will not be able to call mom this year since mom has passed away?

This Sunday, as is the case every Sunday, we will gather to worship God. We will gather to give thanks for everything that God has done, is doing, and will do. Mother's Day will be recognized - but in the context of a God who is much bigger than anything we can imagine. Let us remember that Sunday, like every day, is not about any one or anything but the triune God.

Planning to make a big deal about mom on Mother's Day? Why wait. Call mom now. Write mom now. Send flowers now. Don't wait to be prompted by Madison Avenue. Planning to hide from the world on Mother's Day because of the pain of the day? Know that I am in prayer for you now.

Either way, join us for worship this Sunday as we explore again the God who not only provides the great things in life, but also is big enough to get us through the most difficult times in life.

To contact Rev. Oliver, please email or visit his website at

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mother's Day Survival and "Is God Punishing Me?"

As we count down this last week before Mother's Day, my heart is keenly aware of what a painful season May and June can be for men and women longing to hold their children. Praying God's comfort for each grieving heart.

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the third in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Is God Punishing Me?" chapter three of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord...
1 Samuel 1:3 (NIV)

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other landmarks can be such painful reminders of the ticking of our biological clocks. Day like Mother's Day cause us to question God's plans as we struggle to figure out why God's withholding the desires of our hearts. If God promised that none of his people would miscarry or be barren (Exodus 23:26), is infertility a punishment for our sins?

While some see a simple cause/effect here (you sin, you can't have kids), under Old Testament law, both the promise and the punishment were corporate. God promised the nation of Israel, as a whole, protection, as a whole, when they obeyed His laws. When they, as a nation, turned their backs on Him as they had in Hannah's day, His veil of protection was lifted from their entire nation. Is our nation (with legalized abortion, homosexual marriage...) any more just today???

If sin = infertility, no one would be able to have children ever! A quick look around at children born out of wedlock, into abusive homes and more, is proof that this equation doesn't work. In fact, the Bible is clear that we all sin (Romans 3:23), and yet children are born continually. If you are living under a burden a guilt that your empty arms are a punishment from God, it's time to be free from the burden of false guilt and blame! In the natural course of a fallen, sinful world outside of God's protection, there will always be sad and sorrowful things that happen in this life.

Consider Job: "This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). So God rewarded Job's faithfulness by giving him a life free from suffering, right? Anything but! God allowed Satan to take everything from Job, including the lives of his children, his great wealth, his health, and even the understanding of friends. "In all this, Job did not sin" (2:10). (NIV)

We see another example of grief without blame in the gospel of Luke:
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
- Luke 1:5-7, (emphasis added)

"Well, that's nice for Hannah, Job, Beth and Zac," you may think, "but I still know God must be judging me for my sins." But God says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Paul, once a murderer and more, wrote, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

No sin is too big. If you have admitted your past to God and repented, He has already offered His forgiveness, and He desires to wash you clean of guilt. Will you accept? If the God of all the universe has forgiven you and yet you will not forgive yourself, is this not insulting our sovereign God? Forgiveness must be accepted to be of any benefit!

Infertility hurts this much because you already have a mother's heart. God knows about grieving for children in a very personal way too. He has gone to greater measures to make you His child than you will ever go in the pursuit of growing your own family. I like to paraphrase John 3:16 this way: "For God so longed to call me His child, that He offered the life of His only biological Child, to pay the price of my adoption."

Thoughts to ponder:
The Law that bound Hannah was established for the purpose of showing us that God's measure of perfect holiness is a standard too high for any human to obtain. Praise God for His grace and the gift of salvation!
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
- Galatians 3:23-25 (NIV)

Dear Lord, in this coming week as the world celebrates those who have what we most long for, please make yourself real to us, reminding us that our empty arms are not a curse, and that your loving Father's heart grieves with us. Hold us and comfort us as we grieve and give us grace, strength and peace to sustain us through especially painful days.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Do you Shoutlife?

You've heard the negative press about myspace, but now there's a Christian alternative for social networking in a clean environment. I have a page there to promote my book and other life interests. I've found a couple of great groups dealing with infertility and loss and even started one for Hannah's Hope. My page does mention all aspects of my life, including our kids, but it also is a rich resource to connect with many brothers and sisters in the Lord, including other infertility authors. Please come visit me at my Shoutlife page!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Envy, Jealousy, and Rivalry

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the second in this series.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Envy, Jealousy, and Rivalry," chapter two of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read a portion of this book here.

[Elkanah] had two wives; one called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. - 1 Sam 1:2 (NIV)

As I tried to persuade God to give us a child on my terms, we watched three nephews born. Wait! When did the starting gun fire? How did everyone else get so far ahead in this race?

It seemed our brothers and their wives, along with every every woman I saw, was either nine months pregnant, pushing a baby stroller, or both! I began dreading my trips to the grocery store where I would inevitably see women with gobs of kids stuffed into shopping carts, hanging from their arms, and running about their feet.

Many of these moms didn't seem happy with their blessings either. When I would hear a mother yelling obscenities at her child just for acting like a normal kid, it was all I could do to keep myself from committing child theft. I kept wondering what criteria God was using in the allotment of offspring...

In short, I felt I knew better than God. I called Him to account for decisions that made no sense from my limited perspective... Believing that I would make a better mother than so many who were given the chance, I felt that we had earned the right of parenthood. Didn't God owe us something here?

Surprisingly, the answer was, and is, no. God does not owe me anything: not a baby, not even an explanation of His choices. As Hannah endured years of social inferiority as a barren wife, she had no way to know that God's ultimate plan was to bless her with a special son whom He would use to lead His people. To look at my current circumstances... would be like trying to see a finished picture in a single piece of a complex puzzle... God sees the big picture from beginning to end...

While commonly thought of as synonymous, envy and jealousy carry subtle, yet signifcant, distinctions. Envy represents resentment of what others have, selfishness, covetousness, greed, and desire for gain at the cost of another. It distorts the truth to validate or intensify its own perspective of pain. Matthew 27:18 explains that it was out of envy that enemies of Jesus handed Him over for murder.
Like envy, jealousy can involve anger and a defensive spirit, but it can be expressed in both positive and negative ways. Jealousy involves a protective element, a desire to grasp tightly that which seems rightfully mine. Ungodly jealousy indignantly demands its own way. An example of righteous jealousy would be the passionate protection of my marriage against outside threat.

Thoughts to ponder:
Are my feelings toward others who have what I so long for rightly described as envy or jealousy?
If envy, do I blame God for what I see as injustice?
If jealousy, is my jealousy expressed in positive or negative ways?
Am I ready to ask God to help take this hurt and use it for His best purpose in my life?

Dear Lord, we ask that you would guard our hearts against the bitter grasp of envy. And when hurt and jealousy arise, for this truly is such a painful journey, we pray that you would help us to express jealousy in righteous ways rather than hateful ones. It doesn't seem to make sense why you have allowed us to walk through this heartache, nor why children suffer neglect at the hands of unloving parents. We need your comfort and grace to trust that you have a big-picture plan for each of us.

Monday, March 26, 2007

explaining my infertility to those who don't know

I've been very vocal about our infertility journey since just a few months into the process. Probably pushing my poor husband and dad way out of their comfort zones on more than one occasion.
Though our active journey through infertility is over, it is still very much a part of who I have become. As I meet new people it doesn't take me long before I share my story. I still cringe when I enter a new group of people and there is nothing but parenthood talk. Who's silently hurting, I wonder???
So after a recent work-from-home chat group I attended where one of the opening questions was, "So who here has kids?" followed by many enthusiastic parents telling all about their little ones, I posted this little story on a work-at-home board in hopes of giving a glimmer of hope to anyone who might not have been able to join that conversation (warning, living children mentioned):

To look at me now you would never guess the journey that brough us here. I have a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old.

But what you don't see when you see me at the park is the nearly 12-year-old daughter who should be with us. Nor the 5 1/2-year-old son. Nor the soon-to-be 5-year-old daughter.

You also don't see our 7 "almost" children ranging in age from 8 to 18 - the ones we invested our hearts and hopes and prayers in, but never got to bring home for a variety of reasons.

You don't see 10 years of tears and anguish and prayers and endless doctor's visits, and coutless negative pregnancy tests, and gallons (at least it seemed that way) of blood work, and pills, and surgeries, and needles, and scheduled marital relations...

For what you do see I am forever thankful, more than words can say. For what you don't see I am forever changed. If there is more to your life than meets the eye, please know that my heart goes out to you today. If I can be of any help, please let me know. And feel free to stop by my support website at where I post ongoing blog updates to encourage you in this journey.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Family Ties

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the first. You may read through the full series of these devotionals here.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Family Ties," chapter one of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read this chapter in its entirety here.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them... God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. - Genesis 1:27, 31 (NIV)

To raise children was Hannah's occupation of choice, with no back up plan arranged. When grown-up reality didn't measure up, her definition of family, her very understanding of life itself, was shaken to the core.
In her book The Ache for a Child*, Debra Bridwell explains the devastation this way:

God had the desire to create new life; and He wanted to create it in His own image. If He, being perfect and complete had this desire to create, how could it be selfish or wrong? And because He created us in His image, with many of His attributes, it should come as no surprise that we share His desire to create.
If we yearn to take part in the miracle of creating a new life "in our image" with attributes like our own, and want the intimacy of nurturing our child to maturity, that is only natural. This yearning is God-given and a part of how we are created. It's no wonder that we can feel jarred and confused when we are unable to fulfill it.

One of God's first instructions to the human race was to be fruitful and multiply. Scripture speaks highly of the role of parenthood. If children are a mark of God's blessing, what does infertility mean? Questions seem to mount much faster than answers...

Shortly after I began planning to write Hannah's Hope Julie Donahue (co-founder of Hannah's Prayer Ministries) challenged me to read through my entire Bible, looking for every passage that could in any way, directly or indirectly, relate to infertility. The adventure took fourteen months. There were times when the study seemed to painful to continue - so many passages were laced with generational records. I would pray:

Lord, one of my greatest fears is that our family tree will stop growing here. I don't want to be an old stump, cut off and cast away. The psalmist wrote, "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table" [Psalm 128:3]. Father, reading of your faithfulness to countless generations serves only to discourage me more. You were faithful to them - what about us? Will my husband ever have a "fruitful" wife? Will our family tree ever produce new shoots? These passages carefully explaining who begat whom, all the way back to Adam, are very painful for me.

If we climb through the branches of Hannah's family tree, we see that the Jewish nation had a tentative start. Infertility took center stage in God's account of history and the establisment and continuation of the Isralites often seemed in question. Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah ninety when their child of promise was finally born (Gen. 17:17). Isaac, in turn, prayed for his barren wife, Rebekah, before God placed twins within her womb (Gen. 25:21). One of those boys, Jacob, also went on to taste fertiltiy challenges. While he had twelve sons, only two came from his beloved wife, Rachel, who struggled through years of infertility, both primary and secondary.

I've often wondered if Rachel's first son, Joseph, might also have battled to become a father. The Bible records only two sons for him, something rare in an age without birth control, when a large family was a sign of prestige. When this beloved son of Jacob chose to name his second son Ephraim, he pronounced, "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering" (Gen. 41:52). I find it ironic that Hannah's story is stages in the the hill country of Ephraim, the land of the "twice fruitful."

Realizing that her ancestors had also known her pain might have offered Hannah great comfort. But these same stories could have just as easily added to her burden and grief. Imagine Hannah's growing grief as she began to realize that those evenings of passion shared with her sweetheart were not producing within her womb the expected results. Her quandry gives new depth of meaning to Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." But even when it seemed God was silent to her cries, when she felt outcast and rejected by both God and man, she knew where to turn in her questioning and pain and this is what we much learn to do as well.

But I cry to you for help, O LORD: in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
Psalm 88:13-14 (NIV)

I look forward to sharing devotional time with you on the first Monday of each month. This month we have set the stage and can relate to what Hannah was feeling. Next month we will begin to explore how to cope with this anguish we all know so deeply. If there are portions of the book that have especially ministered to you, please leave your comments as I will be visiting often in selecting passages for future devotionals. May the Lord grant us each grace and peace as we pursue hard after Him for the healing of our deepest hurts.

*quote from Debra Bridwell, The Ache for a Child (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1994), p. 27

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Almost 12? A new ministry in memory of our Noel.

This past winter I've found myself draw to the interests of pre-teen girls. I couldn't figure out why, but I spent my hours exploring doll company websites and even wanting to write a new book series for "tween" and younger teen girls. And then it hit me...
Noel would have been turning 12 this summer. With this realization, suddenly my winter interests took perspective and I realized that I was once again striving to fill that "missing" place in my heart.

From this renewed longing to connect with the daughter I will never know this side of heaven, I have found a joyful new passion. While not a link I would typically post to an infertility blog, please allow me to share with you now my new Inner Beauty Girlz site, dedicated in loving memory to our Noel. The purpose of this blog is to reach young ladies for Christ by drawing their interests through beauty tips and trips, contests, book and product reviews and more.

If you know of any young ladies who might be interested in Noel's page, please pass the link along Or if you have suggestions or ideas, I would love to hear from you. Afterall, I'm working from the premise of what I think Noel might have liked, but have no first-hand experience in parenting a preteen daughter!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hannah's Prayer 2007 Retreat

Here's your chance to sit down and chat with a wonderful, loving group of real women who know exactly what it feels like to walk in your shoes. Come to the Hannah's Prayer 2007 Retreat from April 27-29, 2007 at The Sheraton Westport in St. Louis, MO, featuring speaker Kathe Wunnenberg, author of the wonderful devotional journals, Longing for a Child (infertility), Grieving the Child I Never Knew (pregnancy loss and infant death), and Grieving the Loss of a Loved One (all losses).

Purpose: The purpose of this retreat is to strengthen our relationship with Christ and one another and to encourage worship even in our toughest journey through infertility and loss.
Theme: "Growing in Christ"
Theme verse: 2 Peter 3:18 "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen."

Visit the Hannah's Prayer Retreat Website for full details and registration information.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

To the lady in room 212, tearfully remembering your baby today

I do not know your name.
I do not know the circumstances.
I do not even know if the child you grieve is a son or a daughter.
I only know that on this date one year ago today, we shared the labor and delivery wing of the same hospital. And while I went home with a precious miracle, you went home with empty arms and a broken heart.
Within my first hour home from the hospital, I posted a prayer request on the Hannah's Prayer message boards for you and your family. And with every landmark we have celebrated and rejoiced over the life of our son this year, I have carried you in my heart and lifted you before my Father in prayer.
You have made it through your first year now. I wish I had some way to let you know that your baby has forever left an imprint on me; that you are not forgotten.
So today I once again entrust you to the Lord who knows you so deeply that He has numbered the very hairs on your head. May you somehow know the comfort that only He can bring your grieving heart today.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

fertility "collection condoms" or SCDs (seminal collection devices)

OK, I will admit that this information is a little more blunt than my standard blog fare, but I pray that it will be useful to someone. As noted in chapter 4 of Hannah's Hope, and more fully detailed in appendix b, for some couples the most sucessful way to obtain sperm samples either for testing or insemination is through the use a a special sterile, medical grade, non-spermacial condom.
At the time my book went to press, I did not have a current resource to offer for those seeking to obtain such a device. While most fertility clinics can obtain them for you, if your clinic cannot or does not have a resource to do so, here are some links that may be of help. Please note, these links are for informational purposes only, not a specific endorsement on my part of any specific clinic, product, company or medical procedure:
Understanding a Sperm Analysis
Using a Sperm Collection Condom
"Pre-seed" Semen Collection Kit
Semen Analysis Supplies (scroll down to "Semen Collection Condoms – Male-FactorPak)

Since it took us more than a year to track down this information when we needed it, I pray that someone who will benefit from this information will stumble upon this blog entry and find the information you need to help reduce one aspect of all the stress that infertility brings.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

fiction titles with infertility and/or loss plot lines

I sometimes am more moved by fiction than by other kinds of writing. I'm starting a running list of Christian books that include infertility or loss in the plot lines.

What have you read that others might find interesting??? As a "comments" reply here, please give the title, author, and enough about the plot line that someone can decide if they are "ready" to give that book a read or if there are any unexpected surprises that could be painful triggers if caught by surprise. Here are a few I have enjoyed:

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett (this author is a former member of Hannah's Prayer, by the way) is a fictionalized look at Esther, and in Ginger's telling of the story, she is never able to bear children. Spellbinding reading!

Rain Dance by Joy DeKok (also a past HP member, still living with primary infertility) is a compelling story about what happens when a Christian woman facing a childless future and a woman seeking an abortion are waiting to see the same doctor. The infertile woman feels like she could have been pulled from the pages of my journals!

Empty Womb, Aching Heart: Hope and Help for Those Struggling With Infertility by Marlo Schalesky is a fictionalized compilation of many real-life infertility stories (including my friend Julie Donahue's adoption story!) spanning all aspects of fertility challenges. The short stories are fast reading, realistic and great at getting to the emotional and spiritual heart of each challenge!

The Marriage Wish by Dee Henderson is about a young widow who goes into preterm labor shortly after the death of her husband and their little girl lives only 3 month, all in NICU. It's a tearjerker for sure, but very realistic in dealing with the grief emotions that she processes as she slowly learns to risk loving again.

Several books by Janette Oke include infertility and/or loss themes:
The Love Comes Softly series, while the main character is quite fertile, also includes a subplot of a friend with recurrent losses and eventually giving birth to her only living son with special needs. Later in the same series, there is stillbirth.
Canadian Mountie series, especially by the second and later books, is very much an infertility story and also includes adoption loss and sucessful adoptions.
A Bride for Donnigan has the main character being very unsympathetic with her friend's miscarriage grief until she herself suffers a stillborn baby.
- I know there are other titles that are strong fertility-related plot lines, but these are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head.

Karen Kingsbury has too many fertility-related stories for me to even list. Visit her website (where you can read her own adoption story!) at

Julia's Hope by Leisha Kelly is an after-infertility mom of twins who opens her home as a bed-and-breakfast type place and her first client is a pregnant teen who is sent away to give birth and relinquish her child for adoption to save the family's disgrace. There is a lot of after-infertility emotional processing and conversations with God here.

While I have never had a chance to read it, I've often wanted to pick up The Long Awaited Child by Tracie Peterson. From the Stepping Stones bookstore review: "Novelist Tracie Peterson has written or co-written over 35 novels. This novel is the dual story of a woman, who wants nothing more than to be a mother, and a frightened pregnant teen, who wants nothing more than to run away from that responsibility. Be ready for some tears as you read how each of them overcomes past heartache to give the other her heart's desire."

Angela Hunt has written some compelling things. While not directly related to infertility, both "The Pearl" and "Unspoken" were thought provoking for me. I would not advise reading either when feeling emotionally fragile, and since not written specifically for an infertile audience, there will be things that might not sit well. But Pearl deals with the death of a child and a mother's depth of grief that drives to a splintered marriag and desperate measures including cloning, while Unspoken is a sweet story for anyone with a loving "Fur Baby" (animal/pet that is a stand-in child) in her life, though it does also relate a lot to grief (and has a subplot of miscarraige through another character) and has a rather tragic ending. I have never read "The Truth Teller" by this same author but believe it is a story about an infertile woman who is widowed and tries to still have her husband's child - as with any of Hunt's books, I would expect there to be a lot of plot twisting, no easy answers and ethically challenging complexity involved.

So, what hidden infertility/loss plots have you discovered? Have the books been helpful or hurtful as you have read? Please share your finds by posting a "comment" to this topic!