Thursday, February 6, 2014

This Is My Story

**This is probably the longest post I have ever written, but the Lord laid it on my heart.  I put start and stop point below for the important stuff.  Happy reading**

My woman's group at church has been doing Beth Moore's study on Deuteronomy.  It's amazing!  After our lesson last night we started talking about the importance of sharing our stories of faith, bondage and redemption.  Here's the thing, testimonies can be tricky.  Some people have profound moments where their whole life turns around.  Their stories are powerful - from redeemed drug addicts and saved inmates to dramatic healings and saved marriages, and those stories are so amazing, so incredible, so beautiful that they must be told.  For the rest of us, especially those who grew up in the church, our testimonies can seem boring and stale, but let me be clear about this, there is nothing mundane about the transforming, redeeming love of Christ...NOTHING!!

I've thought a lot about my testimony, and seemingly I don't have one.  I was saved at six, baptized in my teens and grew up in a God-fearing home.... Then the Lord began to show me something that changed the way I looked at testimonies.  That word (testimony) is such a churchy word.  It's basically a really fancy way of saying story, so when someone asks you to share your testimony, they're asking you to tell your story. All of it.  That makes a lot of sense.  Those people with incredible "testimonies" don't have a better story than the rest of us, they just have a more dramatic climax.  There are still chapters in their stories that need to be told and chapters that have yet to be written.  Such is the same with me.

My testimony isn't just one fabulous story.  It's a composite of circumstances and situations that have tendered my heart toward many people.  For example, I hated high school.  I was miserable.  Surviving those years and learning to lean on Christ is part of my story, and I'll always be able to relate on some level to our youth.  My pageant days don't make for a great testimony, but the struggles with self esteem and body image have allowed me to understand in a very real way how to help women with a similar struggle.  Then there was depression which is a chapter all of this own, but God was there in a way unlike ever before in my life.  None of those are my "testimony" because a testimony isn't one thing.  It's a the story of our salvation our walk with Christ here on this earth.  There will be dramatic chapters and there will be more subdued moments and it's all PART of our story.

That whole tangent leads me to this.  There was a time when I thought my struggle with "infertility" (and I use that term lightly in this situation) was my "testimony."  Praise God that it was only part of my story, because this is a Mommy Blog which means that I am a Mommy.  Anyway, that part of my life is obviously not something I think about sharing often, because it was only a chapter.  Nonetheless, it was part of my story and I have felt lead to share it for a few weeks now. I've ignored that prompting, but after our lesson last night, I know someone needs to read this. So here it goes:

START HERE

In the summer of 2000 I began what would become a life long journey of reproductive disease when I had an ovary cyst rupture.  Honestly, it was not a big deal.  I was in and out of the hospital in about five hours and on my way to recovery.  Then I had another "episode" and another.  By the fall of that year I was diagnosed with Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  I was told that told that it was extremely rare for someone my age to have this condition, but that it could be controlled with birth control pills, and possibly a minor surgery when I was ready to have children.  That doctor was wrong.  When the birth control pills didn't work, they tried a more aggressive hormone therapy, and I had my first of nearly a dozen surgeries to remove the growths.  When I started having symptoms again only two months later, my doctor at the time said that it would be impossible to have growths so soon and that I was making it up.  Praise the Lord my parents did not believe him.  That day they were on the phone with our insurance agency to approve a visit to a specialist.

At the very tender age of fourteen, I met a fertility specialist who would become my doctor for the next nine years.  Can you imagine that for a second? Any lady will tell you that a trip to the gynecologist is traumatic even after you're married and have bared it all in childbirth, but here I was, fourteen years old and innocent as a rose.  Uncomfortable took on a whole new meaning.  Looking back it blows my mind, but I knew that it was the only way to get relief from the pain.  The doctor ran some tests, took some ultrasound images, and even performed exploratory surgery to get a better grasp on my condition.  To further complicate things, I was diagnosed with not only Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome but a new condition called Endometriosis.  It is unheard for a fourteen year old to have either one of those diseases, but to have both was unfathomable.  Plus, it is almost medically impossible to have both conditions at the same time.  To very loosely explain this, one disease is when your body produces too much estrogen and the other occurs when your body produces too little.  Crazy, I know.

That was the day I was told that I would never have children.  At fourteen that doesn't hit you quite like it does when your in your childbearing years. Praise the Lord for innocence.   I remember being much more worried about dealing with the physical pain than the possibility of infertility.  In my naive teenage mind, I just assumed that having kids was at least fifteen years away and scientists would probably invent a new drug or a new technology to fix that.

Over the course of the next nine years, I underwent nearly a dozen surgeries.  I walked a fine line of having to too much estrogen and not enough.  Treating one condition would aggravate the other, so it was a constant battle dealing with the extremes. Plus, you can imagine what this did to my weight, my boobs, my sanity.  It was like PMS every day.  Extensive hormonal therapy left my 16 year old body in medically induced menopause. During that time I also had countless other complications arise from the diseases and had to see specialists and undergo surgeries in other fields. For example, I had Endometriosis spread to my kidneys, bladder, liver, bowels, and nerve endings to name a few.  The nerve endings were the worst because there were days that I physically could not walk.  When I was seventeen my parents took me to a pain management specialist, and that's where I learned how to physically deal with chronic pain.  By the way, don't EVER look to me for sympathy if you're sick or in pain (minus something drastic)  because in the midst of all of that I managed to go to school, work, sing in the choir, volunteer at church, and compete in Miss Kentucky.  Pain is not an excuse to cop out of life be it physical or emotional.  Put your big girl panties on and deal with...ok?

Despite learning how to deal with the pain and keep the diseases under control, there were still flare-ups. These typically occurred when I was under stress. The conditions were more tolerable during my college years, so I started to face the reality that my life might not include biological children.  It wasn't a huge blow to me because I had known since I was fourteen that it was a possibility.  It was just time to deal with it.  So I prayed. Hannah's Prayer in 2 Samuel was one of my favorites, but it was the story of Abraham that brought me hope.

 Aside from the obvious theme of "infertility" and the promise of a child (ok a nation) there was one story that really stood out to me.    It came from the passage where Abraham was told to sacrifice Issac on the alter.  He was willing to give up his one and only son, his promised blessing from heaven, to obey the Lord.  You know the story (and if you don't please email me and I'll share it,) the angel stopped Abraham as he raised a knife to kill his son. The angel said that because Abraham had sacrificed Issac in his heart, he would not have to sacrifice him physically.

 I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that like Abraham the Lord was calling me to yield my will to him.  I knew that the Lord would give me the desires of my heart if I trusted him.  I also knew that meant I had to ask the Lord to make the desires of my heart reflect his perfect, holy and pleasing will for my life. I knew the means by which he fulfilled those desires had to be completely left in his hands.  I never once grieved my "infertility."  I grieved the physical pain of my condition, but not the possibility of life without children.  I knew that the Lord had put on my heart the desire to be a mother, and he would fulfill that in his own way and in his perfect timing.

I realize that it is easy to have that kind of faith when you're twenty, and single, and babies seem like a lifetime a way than it is to have faith when you're married and trying desperately to conceive.  Nonetheless, the desire to be a mother was there as was the call to completely submit my plans to the Lord.

Fast forward a few years.  I was engaged to Eric.  He was aware of my condition.  He knew the probability of us having biological children was slim which meant that he too had to trust the Lord to bring us a baby according his plan for our life. It was totally a God thing that Eric's life motto happens to be, "In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps."  Needless to say, we entered marriage fully prepared for the process of adoption.  In fact, shortly after our honeymoon in October 2008 we started planning a trip to Ireland. Oh the irony!!  In November of 2008 (one month later) I had a flare-up with my Endometriosis that landed me back in the doctor's office.  Having recently undergone surgery, the doctor was not thrilled with the timing and informed us that he was confident that we could not have children.

Honestly, it wasn't a crushing blow.  We had total peace as we walked out of the doctor's office and went to see a movie (Four Christmases, by the way.).  I don't think we ever even talked about it.  It just wasn't an issue because we had sacrificed our plans, and we knew that whatever the Lord had for us was better than anything our minds could conceive.

You can imagine our utter and total shot three weeks later when we got a Big Fat Positive on a pregnancy test!  Only eight weeks in to our marriage and we were expecting our miracle baby.  Now it was a faith in timing.  HA!

We named our son Elijah.  Its Hebrew meaning is "The Lord Is My God."  Obviously it holds tremendous significance for us.  As you know, we call our son, Eli.  Eli was the priest who told Hannah (the one struggling with infertility) that she would have a son. Oh how I loved telling that story to anyone would listen!!!

 Three and a half years later we welcomed faith baby number two and we named her Elizabeth.  The Hebrew meaning is "God Is My Oath."   God promised to give us the desires of our hearts, and he kept that oath.  I will never forget the lying in that hospital bed the night Ellie was born holding these two precious gifts.

My story has so many sub-stories.  If you're struggling with a physical condition, trust the Lord for healing.  He may take away your condition or he may make your weakness perfect in him.  Either way, he will give you the strength to persevere.

If you're struggling with infertility, trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Trust his timing, and be willing to submit your desires to him because he will take them, mold them, change them and ultimately fulfill them according to his plan for your life. Keep in mind that your baby will have a calling on his or her life, and that plays in the Lord's timing as well.

If you're going through a situation be it a health battle, infertility, a career change, whatever, sacrifice your plans in your heart just as Abraham did.  The Lord will determine your steps.  He will shield you, protect you, and lead you into his perfect will where he will be glorified.

It's funny, because I started writing this for my many friends struggling with infertility.  I wanted to encourage them.  As I've gotten to this point, I'm realizing that I need to be reminded to yield my plans before him. (not for another baby) He's brought me through before, and he'll do it again.

STOP HERE

I know many of you are going to ask, and I don't want to have to address it multiple times so here we go.  It is extremely rare to continue having problems with these diseases once you have children.  Something about pregnancy sends you into "remission."  Of course, nothing with me is ever as it should be, and I started having flare-ups with the Endometiosis and Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome just before we decided to have Ellie.  In fact, it was the number one reason we went ahead and tried.  Unlike the first time I got pregnant, I was much more antsy about it.  I was tempted to obsess over every detail because the desire to conceive was so great.  However, the Lord constantly reminded me to sacrifice my desires in my heart and to trust him.  Three weeks after deciding to have another baby we once again got a Big Fat Positive!!!

The day of my c-section my doctor discovered several spots of Endometriosis.  The disease was not gone.  Most of the time I'm fine.  However, I still have days that hurt.  I don't talk about or harp on it. I don't believe in that.  We all have pain, mine just happens to be considered "chronic," although that seems very dramatic.  So many people don't realize that I continue to deal with it, and that's the way I want it. We all have struggles, but our weakness is made perfect in Christ.  He is my strength.   Again, unless you are literally dying I probably won't show you much sympathy, so don't tell me about your headache, back ache, cold, or stomach bug. Sorry, but that's a fact.  Ask my husband and kids! Ha!

Anyway, that's my story...at least the part the Lord put on my heart to share.

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