Thursday, August 27, 2015

I am not awesome, I am angry

My husband gave a speech today at Toastmasters. He talked about his wife convincing the family to do surrogacy, and how he was against it at first, but then he came around. He came around because my generosity inspired him, and his love for his kids challenged him to make that possible for someone else. He gave a speech today about how awesome this has been for our family, and how amazing I am.

Today, amazing me, worried and fretted, and pleaded with God and second guessed and basically just freaked out. Today generous me, wondered why the hell I decided to do this in the first place. Today I thought maybe God was punishing me.

I thought all those things as I waited for the blood to start flowing, like it did last Saturday, in a sudden, scary gush. It was nothing like the bleeding I experienced with both of my own children. That was alarming, this was terrifying. Thankfully within a couple of hours it stopped. Those hours were awful. When you call the reproductive specialists and report bleeding, they basically tell you to get off your feet and wait. You wait, and wait to see if this is just a something, or if this is the worst.

Wednesday we found out it was just a something, but a something that could turn into the worst. It’s a hemorrhage common with IVF, in fact as many as half of all IVF patients run into this complication to various degrees. They kind of gloss over these kinds of things when you sign on for this. “You could have complications as IVF has a higher complication rate, but everything looks really good on your end, so I don’t think we have anything to worry about” they say after physically evaluating you. With the first Hitchhiker, I had one of these hemorrhages, but it was small and resolved before it ever showed up anywhere but the ultrasound, it really was no big deal. This one though is big, bigger than the baby’s entire life containing sac, and it sits right next to him. It’s blood vessels trying to bring more blood to the uterus, but too much or it’s part of the lining tearing away. Whichever it is, it’s a growing clot of blood,and if it grows too much it will kill the baby. “It’s a pretty sizeable one” the doctor said in a sober voice. Then he went on to tell me not to have sex or exercise until we saw improvement, but “that’s really just so you don’t feel like you have caused anything bad to happen”. In reality, there is nothing I can do to stop it, or make it worse. Nothing.

No, I just have to wait. I have to wait for more bleeding. A) a sign that it is emptying out and shrinking B) a sign it’s gotten worse and my body wants to keep bleeding or C) the beginning of a miscarriage because the clot has gotten the best of the baby. That is crap. Such crap. The percentages are in our favor, but still, seriously, I am waiting to bleed and then waiting to see if the bleeding is too much.

Next week if the worst hasn’t happened I will walk into another ultrasound appointment, with two desperate parents by my side, and we will wait to see. Will there still be a heartbeat, or just one giant clot of blood?

Seeing the heartbeat this week was supposed to be a big sigh of relief, the numbers were stronger, the symptoms stronger this pregnancy. We weren’t going to have to say that dreadful word miscarriage. But here we are saying it again, and talking about blood and how much is too much.

And in the midst of this, photos are all over Facebook of a woman’s “beautiful" 8 week old miscarried fetus. Those pictures aren’t beautiful to me. They are my nightmare. After another 3 months of medications, my hips so swollen with injected oil they burn and are covered in stretch marks, after losing one hitchhiker, I don’t want to see a beautiful 8 week old fetus anywhere but on an ultrasound with a flashing heartbeat. Because damn it, I have worked hard for this.

And there you go, awesome, generous me, is worried about all the work I have put in, and I want the experience I signed my family up for.  I want to hand over a full term baby to a happy couple. I’m pretty selfish at this point and I am anything but awesome. I am frustrated, I am angry, I am a nervous wreck.

I know it could be worse, so much worse. Women far more awesome than me have experienced far worse. I have two amazing kids tucked into their beds right now, in my home, far from danger. My life is pretty great actually. Which makes this worry, and anger, and frustration so much harder to bare.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Not wanting to see God in times of darkness, and how bears are scarier than Goliaths

Two weeks ago, I gave this sermon at our church. I hadn’t posted it, because I already posted a lot of these sentiments on the blog already but I saw a video of  couple announcing their miscarriage on Youtube this morning, and it really struck a nerve with me. They had JUST experienced a miscarriage, and they were praising God and thanking him for the opportunity to  minister to others through the experience, and were happy that God would work through it. Now, I think that is awesome that they were able to do that, to so quickly find God and fid the good, but not all of us can, and I couldn’t. I was so mad at God in the immediate days following the  miscarriage, I didn’t want to think about my faith, I didn’t want to pray, I wanted nothing to do with it, as the immediate pain washed over me, and that is part of the message I gave two weeks ago, when I shared with the church the story that had been playing out in my life with the Hitchhiker’s death, and how far I felt from God. I learned a lot as I processed those things this summer and studied David’s life for VBS and Alaska. So I decided to share this message on the blog today, for those of us that aren’t ready to immediately thank God and praise him in the darkest of circumstances.

When we hear the names, David and Goliath a lot of images come to mind, possibly from a children’s story book when we were little, but pretty typical we see and underwhelming little guy going up against and overwhelming big guy. There is so much more here than meets the eye.

When we get to this point in David’s story, he has already been portrayed as the kid that no one thinks much of. Samuel the priest was told by God to go to David’s house, the house of his father, Jesse and anoint the new king. When Jesse presents his sons, no one even thinks to go get David. David is the scrawny little shepherd kid. The other sons are the big brawny guys that can get things done. God sees to the heart though, and he has Saul anoint David as the future king, much to his family’s surprise. You would think that this would set David up to get more credit at home. You would hope, but no, when we get to this story, he is once again, the scrawny kid of the fields. No one believes in him. That is a horrible place to be, to be discounted and disrespected and treated as if you aren’t capable. David though, doesn’t let it flap him. He comes right at them, and says God got me through the times I had to fight off lions and bears in the field so he will get me through this.

Lets think about that for a second, this scrawny shepherd boy wasn’t just watching sheep in a field, he was protecting sheep in a wilderness that included lions and bears. Not little ones either, big lions and bears, the bear in question isn’t a berry eating black bear, no it’s a grizzly kind of bear that roamed the wilderness in those days in that place. These were big scary animals, and David was literally getting between them and their food on a regular basis.

A few years ago in Alaska we were working near an area known for it’s grizzlies, so we went to the river early one morning to see them. Pretty quickly we found a large grizzly in the middle of the river on a higher portion eating a salmon. It was a good distance out, so we ventured out of the van and near the river, so we could get a better view, where some other people were watching the bears. After we had watched it for a bit, the bear sniffed the air and noticed all of us, and seemed to decide that it did not want us near it’s food, so it headed into the water and toward the river bank. We very quickly got back in the van, but one of the other bear watchers stayed on the bank. We watched as the bear got closer and I started to panic. I had a van full of youth group kids and my own children and I didn’t want them to witness a bear mauling, and I had no idea how we could stop said bear mauling. The guy stood there for a while, and finally the bear got pretty close and slammed the ground with it’s front paws, a few times, and finally the guy took the warning and left. The bear did not want that guy near his food, and it was scary watching him protect it.

I cannot imagine what David went through regularly with the lions and bears that wanted his sheep. I have so many questions about this, like why did his dad send him out there, as a scrawny kid to defend sheep against lions and bears? Did he still get scared when they approached? How many times did he miss one when he was using his sling to make them go away, and how close did they really get? Our friends in Alaska run into bears often. One man from the church in Skagway, walks the tracks everyday of the train, and checks them. He has had a lot of bear encounters, and I asked him, if they no longer intimidate him, since he has seen them so much, and by the way the ones he sees are not grizzlies, but the smaller, less aggressive black bears. He told me that of course they are still intimidating, they can still kill you quickly if they wanted to, and especially if you are between them and their babies, or them and their food. David was regularly fighting off lions and bears to defend his sheep with nothing but his sling and his bare hands.

If we really look at this story, this whole Goliath thing from David’s perspective, wasn’t that big of a deal. In his Ted Talk, journalist and author, Malcom Gladwell really breaks down this story in detail and shows that with the cultural and historical context of war fare and the health and skills of these two warriors, it was really Goliath that was at the disadvantage hear, not the scrawny little shepherd. David couldn’t be an infantry soldier, as Goliath was, he couldn’t wear armor, he wasn’t big enough. He was a sling fighter, something they actually had for armies then. He would have been in the sling fighting company once he reached age to be an official part of the army. This battle between the Israelites and the Philistines was at a stand still, so the Philistines sent their biggest infantry soldier for combat, expecting that the isrealites would send someone similar in. David was not what they were expecting. Goliath himself, appeared huge and indefeatable, but if you look closely at the scripture Gladwell says, there are some pretty big indicators that he probably suffered from the same disease that many people of unusually large size do, making their vision very poor and making them vulnerable because of weaknesses in their brain structure and their arteries. So David was incredibly gifted with this sling, this sling that could turn rocks into bullets basically, from a distance and he was not going to be close, like hand to hand combat close to Goliath, making David’s skills even more powerful, and Goliath was vulnerable to this kind of attack. Really David had the advantage in this particular situation. He had the upper hand.

It wasn’t a huge miracle that day, it was something God had set up for years, every time David encountered a challenge with a lion and a bear, and some brothers that didn’t care. It was something that was born out of a lot of struggles that he had already, that made him ready for this giant one. I wonder though which was harder for David to get through, that encounter with Goliath or all of those other challenges before?

With Goliath, David knew exactly what he was getting into, he wasn’t going to be surprised like he was by the animals. He knew right where Goliath was and he was choosing to face him. As he made that choice he could reflect on all that God had brought him through and have confidence. I think the harder challenge is getting through the day to day struggles and those curve balls that come at us. It’s hard in those moments sometimes to see God and know that he is with us. It’s hard to have the faith that tells us though something isn’t easy, it is possible.

Recently I faced off with my own Goliath. I struggle with how much to share with you about it, but I stood in front of the congregation in December and told you about this challenge in December, and since then I haven’t really shared with you publicly what happened, I haven’t told you all the rest of the story.

We underwent the process for me to be a gestational carrier, to carry a baby that was not mine for a couple that couldn’t. It was a huge thing, but I felt confident that God had prepared me with so many other things in life to do this. I had that same attitude as David. God brought me through that other hard stuff, we got this, he will get me through.  It was a big adventure in loving my neighbor and following Jesus example to lay our life down for others. It was hard, there were lots of hoops and lots of medications, and injections, but it was all good, because Jesus had my back on this one, and all the evaluators agreed I had a good support system and was very physically and emotionally capable.  I had a few responses similar to David’s family and Saul when as we told people what we were doing, people doubted me, or doubted the sanity of doing such a thing, but it didn’t stop me. We transferred an embryo in January.  A few weeks and many positive pregnancy blood tests later, we got to see this baby, we had worked so hard for, and I watched as his parents were filled with joy to see his little tiny, still had a yolk attached self on the ultrasound machine. Three weeks later we went in for the second ultrasound, this time the baby was bigger, and there was no yolk sac, but there was no heartbeat either. He had stopped developing and died.

I wish I could say that in that moment I looked up to the heavens and said “The Lord gives and he takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” I didn’t, I couldn’t. I couldn’t wrap my head around this happening. I wish I could tell you I had faith in that moment that everything was going to be fine, but it wasn’t.  I didn’t have miscarriages, my body was super well prepared for this, my uterus was beautiful. I was following God’s call to serve others. This was not part of that, this couldn’t be part of that. I didn’t want to talk to God. I didn’t want to read scripture. I had the presence of mind to ask for prayer, because I knew we needed prayer for our two families at the time, but I couldn’t do it myself. I was hurt and confused and so horribly sad. As a youth leader I was living out one of my biggest nightmares, a child under my care had died. I love all my youth group kids as my own, but I am always very mindful that someone loves them and worries for them far more than I can, and here I was carrying someone else’s baby and it had died under my watch.  Why would God let this happen? I didn’t want to know, I didn’t want to know what positive things might come out of this in the future. At the hospital a week later as I was waiting to have the surgery to remove the baby, the chaplain came in, and wanted to help us remember and recognize the life of this baby, as if we could forget him. As I was laying there in nothing but a paper surgery gown she described tombstones, that we could have his name carved into, but he wasn’t ours to name. She went on and on, but I wasn’t even wearing underwear, I couldn’t process how to memorialize a baby that was currently dead inside of me, but wasn’t mine, without underwear on. It was cruel in that moment to even ask such a thing of me. Then she asked if she could pray with me, and I was so hurt I said no. Why would God send his representative in at a time like that with words like that for me? If God knew me and loved me, he would know

Thankfully even if we don’t want God, God still wants us. God pursued David, at times in his life when David was ignoring God. We can see in the Bible that God rescued David, even when David ran away. God came to David even when David rejected Gods ways. David amassed tons of wives, but he still had to have Bathsheba, another man’s wife, something that was definitely not okay with God. David had the Ten Commandments, he knew that was wrong, but he let his own desires take over his desire for God.  Even then God still pursued him, even then God loved him, even then God helped him get through. Yes there were still consequences to his actions, but God did not abandon him, even in David abandoned his desire to follow God. There is so much more to David’s story than the battle with Goliath. He is called the man after God’s own heart, yet he is far from perfect. He didn’t have to be perfect, because he served a perfect God, whose love was so perfect

Life was hard for David, the everyday things seemed to get in his way a lot, not just the big tragedies. The power of being a king would get to be too much for him. His own lust would prove to be too much for him. Parenting proved way too much for him, if you want to read some messed up Bible stories just take a look at the ones about David’s kids. At times he was confident, but we can see in the Psalms that he wrote, other times when he was afraid and felt that God had left him alone and helpless.  We can see by looking at his story though, that God never left him, we can see from his Psalms that though he had times of fear and doubt, David was always reminded again of God’s love, mercy and protection. God brought him through it all and wrote a story of his love through David’s life, but it wasn’t easy, Goliath, was the easiest part of the story it seems.

God is so willing to stand by us, like he stood by David, that even if we reject him, he is willing to continue pursuing us. Jesus sacrificed himself, so that we could be made right with God no matter what we do, we can be forgiven, no matter what we do, we can be friends with God. No matter what when we choose to follow God, he is with us.

I forget sometimes like David did, that God is with me. I forget that even when bad things are happening, he is in my corner, working things out in ways I might never see. I forget that he has worked some pretty big things out for me, and instead like David did, I hide in a cave of fear and doubt and depression. That is what I was doing after the baby died. Maybe you do that too. Maybe sometimes things overwhelm you and cause you to turn away from your faith and miss out on seeing the amazing, protecting and providing presence of God in your life. Thankfully though, God is willing to help pull us out of that, and he has also surrounded us in the church with people that are willing to be with us through hard times as a physical representation of God’s love.

God pulled me out of that darkness, very gently through the people he has placed in my life. He surrounded me with a family that loved me through it, and let me rest and heal. He surrounded me with friends that told me it was okay to be sad for a baby that wasn’t mine, and gave me permission to worry more about my feelings for a while than the baby’s parents’ feelings. He surrounded me with friends that reminded me that God mourned with me, and didn’t try and get me to put a positive spiritual spin on it as it was all so fresh and raw. He gave me two great friends in our pastor in Alaska and a local youth pastor, that gently reminded me that God was with me, but didn’t try and make me talk to him. He surrounded us with friends who quite literally fed us through that time, dropping food off at our door without even asking. When I felt so empty and do worthless, God literally wrapped me in love, through the presence of our giant great dane, who everyday would wrap his giant body around me on the couch for a while. The death of the baby was an unexpected bear attack and I panicked for a bit, but I wasn’t alone, God got me through, and slowly I was able to see that, and slowly make my way back to understanding his presence. What has he gotten you through? Or are you having trouble finding him at all?

A few months ago, we got the all clear to try again, and I along with the family of the baby were very excited and hopeful. Until I got the dates for the medications to start and the transfer itself. I had to start meds the week of Vacation Bible School and increase the doseages over the course of the Alaska Mission. I immediately started to panic. Originally with the first transfer I was supposed to be in that sweet spot of pregnancy where normally you had a lot of energy and felt pretty good considering you were growing a human. I was supposed to have a big baby belly to take pictures with in front of the Welcome to Alaska sign and put in a book of our adventures with the baby.  I wasn’t supposed to have an empty belly and be on meds that made me overly tired, cranky and nauseous.  So I prayed a lot, I would exhale prayers of Jesus help me, I prayed so much I probably more than made up for the days I didn’t want to talk to God, although I am pretty sure God doesn’t keep track of those things so it doesn’t really matter. I had to rely on God for everything, for the strength to get out of bed some mornings to the strength to stay awake long enough at night.

God came through. We had one of the most successful weeks of Vacation Bible School ever, thanks in very large part to the many incredible volunteers. I am still hearing from parents about the impact it has had on their kids, even their little kids, and the conversations that are now taking place around their homes about Jesus. I was weak, but he was strong and he provided so many willing volunteers who were much stronger than I.

Then Alaska rolled around a few days later, and I was really nervous about how I would be able to lead the team well. Again God provided. We had a drama free team of students, that all meshed well together despite being from two different churches. They worked hard and they really reached out to the community of Skagway.  We had a dream team of leaders with us that helped to make sure everything ran and were proactive in jumping in and getting things done. These things equipped me for the battle of a youth mission trip.

We were absolutely welcomed back to Alaska with open arms, and even so much sunshine we got sun burnt. Everywhere we went on our first full day there, we heard, “Portland is back! Welcome back Portland” and we were greeted with lots of hugs, smiling faces and excited anticipation for the week ahead. I saw one of our old Kayak guides, who had taken us kayaking on the lake and even he recognized us, and was glad we were back to work with the kids of Skagway. It was so encouraging to see that God had made our presence known in such a good way in that town, and that by doing so he was making himself known. Our faithfulness in going back, showed his faithfulness, our joy brought his joy, and our love showed his love. That is such a powerful thing. Every night people of the town made sure we had dinner, and it was always amazing. They even opened their businesses to us once again, and gave us free rides on the train, free kayaking and a free zip lining tour. We poured out God’s love and they flooded us right back with it. That was incredibly empowering and energizing to me.

Our programs were flooded with kids again. We had lots of little ones in Vacation Bible School so many that we had to add a third group the schedule. We had kids were at the age that they could come to both VBS and youth group at night, and they eagerly came. At youth group we saw all the old familiar face and were blasted with a bunch of new ones and new names to learn and it was fantastic.

One of the things that we had planned to do this year, that we had never done before, was have a lock in, which is our term for an overnight event at the church, only there are no locks on that church, so we just called it an overnight event. We wanted the students from Portland and Skagway to have more time together before we left, to form deeper relationships and share more experiences, because we really feel that it’s through those things that Jesus love is communicated the best. Several people told me this was a crazy idea, that we would already be exhausted and then to throw this in at the end of the week would be the end of us. We did it anyway, and it was amazing. This picture was taken that night,and my heart just bursts when I see how many kids were there, and all the old faces and the new ones, and all three groups of kids having so much fun together that you don’t know which one is from which group.

That night I had to take an extra injection of meds, because the doseages were increasing. I worried that it would tire me out, and I wouldn’t be able to make it through the night. There was a pause in the action, where the kids were entertaining themselves, so I decided to go in and take my meds, and when I came out, a mom from Skagway that had been helping with youth group all week was waiting for me. She had seen me getting all my supplies, and heard me talking to Spencer, so she asked if I was going through the invitro fertilization process. When I told her yes, she proceeded to tell me her story of invitro and multiple miscarriages, and I knew the ending to this story, because her twin daughters are two huge parts of our youth group up in Skagway and I absolutely adore them. I can’t tell you how encouraging that was, to hear her story, and to see those girls there having a blast with their Portland friends. It gave me the boost I needed to finish out an exhausting week. God provided, as I saw his faithfulnees to that mom, and how he helped her overcome the lion of infertility.  

Now I am staring down another bear. On Wednesday I go in for another embryo transfer. Last time it was so exciting. This time it’s not. I didn’t slay the giant last time, I didn’t make it to the end of a healthy pregnancy and hand over a healthy baby. The giant of this whole thing is looming over me and it looks bigger than ever. So I have to draw on all those bears God helped me slay in the past. I have to see that God got me through those so he will get me through this.  I have to look at this photo of us on the mission trip, in front of the Alaska sign. We didn’t stop on the way in to Alaska this year as we normally do, instead we stopped on the way out. Which was a huge blessing to me personally to not be confronted with that sign and the lack of a baby belly with which to take a picture. Instead we took this as we were leaving after a great week of seeing God work through us and through the people of Skagway, and I was able to stand there with a smile on my face.

What bears has God brought you through? What giants is he having you face down now? Are you able to see him at work in your life, or are you missing out because you are stuck in fear and doubt, or even shame about who you are or the circumstances of your life. God is there for you, God is supporting you, God is helping you slay those bears, you just have to look around and see him. You just have to choose to want to see him, and allow him to lead you. And if you feel like you can’t see him, like he isn’t there, or you don’t want him there, that is ok too, God won’t leave you, and someday, he will gently remind you of his love and his presence, and hopefully in the mean time you can be encouraged by the people around you, who are able to see God but mourn with you too.