Careful What You Pray For

When I left on retreat last Sunday, my prayer was for the Lord to continue the work he began in me last summer.

I will admit I was a tiny bit skeptical about it being a true retreat this time around, as it was also a 30 hour course on Theology of the Body (with break times, adoration, Mass, and confession every day. Oh, and awesome food :). I'm used to the schedule, but this time was different. Most of my skepticism came from the fact that when I packed my bag it contained the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Man and Woman: He Created Them, A Theology of the Body; Christopher West's two most recent books; an encyclical and a 50 page papal document. I was more than a little intimidated by this stack and prepared for this week to be different, very different, than past weeks with the TOB Institute (this was my 4th course/retreat with them).

Well, it was different. But not in the way I expected.

Yes, it was a lot of engaging my brain and thinking. And I even made it through Sunday night without crying (which made me all proud of myself, and well, pride goeth before the fall).

And then, from Monday morning through Tuesday evening, well, I'm not even sure there are words to describe it, and it is certainly too much for one post, but I will be sharing it, in a few parts over the next week or so. The posts will be titled/themed as follows (this is definitely a little bit of an accountability thing here as I want to post about these and I don't want to forget what I'm thinking of):

"The Barren Visitation" - the story of 2 women who sat with one another for a week and took turns bringing Christ to one another

"Follow Me" - where I felt Jesus calling me to that moment on the cross when he cried out "My God, My God, Why have you abandoned me?"

"My God, My God, Why Have You Abandoned Me?" - what happened when I followed Him to that moment

"In the Service of Life" - my latest thoughts on infertility, suffering, answered prayers, and pain.

The reason for this post is, yes, to hold me accountable, but also to say that I truly hope what I will be sharing is helpful to you.

I used to think peace = no pain; peace = acceptance; peace = no more hot mess of grieving. What I learned last week, is that sometimes peace = pain, anger, even hotter mess of grieving, but believing and knowing (if only in my head) that Jesus is with me and God is trustworthy.

Much of these posts will be raw emotion, in fact I still feel like I have a huge exposed wound after having a bandaid ripped off. It won't be pretty, it wasn't pretty last week, but if it helps one person reading this in the tiniest little bit it will be worth sharing.


Continue What You Began in Me, Lord

That is my prayer for this week.

Just under a year ago, my prayer was this: Break My Heart Lord, Allow Me to Feel.

In so many ways that prayer was answered. Some I've blogged about, some I haven't because it still feels so raw.

As I head back to Black Rock for another week long course on Theology of the Body with Christopher West, I am asking the Lord to please continue what He began in me last August. I am so excited to go, I am actually ready over an hour early (which never happens, at least not in the morning) and find myself with time to write this. (I figured I'd be writing from the retreat center this afternoon.)

But, along with my excitement is a little fear. Because of the raw feeling that is still left. There is a piece of me that wonders if I'm ready for this. But, I'm trusting that I am. This course sold out in less than an hour, and I was one of the ones who got registered in time. While it could be my obsessive nature of things, I also feel like it was God calling me back.

As with August, there are no big physical fertility-related events happening this week, so it is left to my heart and soul to grow, stretch, be healed. The fruits of last August's retreat have been many, the most tangible of which is the retreat I planned and held just a few weeks ago. Without receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation from Fr. D's best friend (had no idea!), and a WV logo on my shirt that started a conversation that led to Fr. Jon asking if I knew Fr. D, which led me to ask Fr. D about spiritual direction, which led to my surrender, and so much more, well, I'm not sure just what the past year would've looked like. (Have I mentioned how awesome the Holy Spirit is?!?!)

Also, as with last August, my anxiety seems to be returning. It started just before Mother's Day and has continued. I don't see this as a coincidence either.

So, it is with hope, faith, and trust that I pray continue what You began in me, Lord.


It is a Tough Thing

A run, especially one along the trail by myself, usually clears my mind in ways few other things do. Sometimes this results in turning off thoughts that are playing as if on a repeat loop. Sometimes in clarity over something I've been pondering. And other times, like Wednesday morning, in an emotion or thought that catches me completely off-guard.

I have been on such a "God-high" after the retreat 2 weeks ago. Really even before it. I knew it would eventually fade, but I was really feeling like maybe I was moving past the deep ache for motherhood. Feeling like I was really embracing God's plan for my life. Feeling like I was accepting that my marriage is one that must be fruitful in other ways. It took a lot to get to a point where I felt like we could take a break medically, and I felt such peace with that decision. I really felt like I'd turned the corner.

But as I got into the car after my run, I was surprised by the tears. And the thoughts and emotions that accompanied them. I couldn't help it. As glad I am to be using this infertility for good with things like the retreat, I wanted it to be gone. I want someone else to plan retreats and give hope. I want to be a mommy.

And just how far away this reality might be, is settling in. Without medication, my body is a mess. The good news is, it seems the brown bleeding is related to hormones. The bad news is, it seems the brown bleeding is related to hormones. The only way I will keep it at bay is with post-peak progesterone support, which for me means HCG injections. I am not ready to cut our "meds break" short, I know we need this, I know I need this, but realizing what this means for our chances of conceiving in the next 5 months is devastating. More devastating than I expected it to be.

I was caught off-guard by this onslaught of emotions. I feel horrible guilt for them, and yet I also understand that this grieving process is not linear, but rather a big hot mess. And exhausting. My brain likes linear. It likes order. I gave my fiat. I meant it then, I mean it now. And yet, I dare say to God "this isn't what I want."

This surrender, it is a tough thing.


Creating a New Humanity

I was having lunch with Fr. D yesterday, our intent was to "debrief" about the retreat and to figure out what we needed to do differently or better next time. And we found ourselves with not a whole lot. Yes there are some minor things, but overall, there isn't much. Truly, the retreat exceeded all of our expectations, and the expectations of everyone who has shared feedback with us. (If you're reading this, were there, and feel differently, PLEASE email me.)

My intent is not to write forever about the retreat, but part of our conversation was Fr. D asking if I was journaling, writing down my experiences and I realized I was, but after some additional reflection, I realize I wasn't. I have a few unfinished posts with notes scribbled to myself. I have my last post. But I haven't really written much out of fear of being boastful or prideful. And yet, this is so much a part of my story. So much a part of my road that to not write about it here seems dishonest. So, it is with caution I proceed.

As I continue to reflect, it is clear to me that the Holy Spirit was present, and I'm still pondering and praying over just why it is God has chosen me to do this. I don't have the answer to that question. It seems that question seems to be more of an answer to the other question of "why infertility?" And then I find myself asking: why do I get my answer? Ah, the life of an IF gal, always asking "why?".

I do know that a week and a half ago, it was like I was seeing God. It was like He was sitting in the room with the attendees. Crying with them. Laughing with them. Gently touching their shoulders and telling them "it will be OK." As if He stood in the room saying "My beautiful daughters and sons, I love you and I will never leave you." (I write this in this tone because it was in the moments that I was in "work" or "serve others" mode that I most clearly saw and felt the Holy Spirit.)

There was hope, where there hadn't been hope for a long time.
There was peace, where peace was a distant memory.
There was laughter, where mostly tears had taken up residence.
There were tears, that healed instead of hurt.

To have been called to this. To have been led to this retreat. And to have seen it play out.

There are two words I am wearing out: humbled and grateful.

And while I wish I knew "why me," even more so  I wish I knew how to express my gratitude for this community that has given me hope and strength when I didn't think either were possible ever again. The only way I can think that might even begin is to say that this retreat, it is all a part of your ripples. Without all of you, without the prayers, the friendships, the guidance, all of it, this retreat never happens. So, dear friends, please know that it was a fruit of your infertility as much as it was of mine.

And while I know we'd all rather have babies than retreats, I hope that somehow, someway, someday, you remember that your suffering matters. That your pain is not for nothing. That your marriages, your fully-lived sacraments bear fruit. That you have given life to the world. That you have given life to me.

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: The husband and wife, because of their baptismal and matrimonial vocations themselves, are always called to work together with God in creating a new humanity.

You are doing just that my dear friends. You are creating a new humanity through your tears, your stories and your witness.


Awe of the Lord

I feel like I need to share how the retreat went, but I am not sure I can find words. And I'm afraid if I start this post will reach the world-record in length, but I will try to keep it as brief as I am capable because I feel to not share something would be dishonoring what the Lord did this weekend.

I think I have finally figured out just what the gift of the Holy Spirit, "awe of the Lord" is.

From the fact that the Responsorial Psalm for Saturday's Daily Mass of the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary was "Hannah's Song" (1 Samuel 2), you know the very scripture that gave us the title to the retreat "The Lord Humbles and Exalts." I had no idea of this "coincidence" until Tuesday of last week. That's right, I had no idea until 3 days! before the start of the retreat. Yea, hello Holy Spirit. (There is so much more behind this story, perhaps a post of it's own...)

To the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire retreat.

To the moment when our Saturday speaker said, "I know this is a silly question, but would everyone who is affected by infertility in the room raise their hands." It was in that moment, sitting in the back of the room with Fr. Dennis that I leaned over and said to him, with tears spilling out of my eyes, "that right there, people seeing they are not alone, just made this all worth it." And I meant it. It made all of the planning, the time, the energy, and even our infertility, for without it, that moment doesn't happen, worth it. A glimpse of our ripple, perhaps?

To the panelists on Sunday (this lady was there) who know their outcome (or at least the beginnings of it) and were willing to "go back to the pain" (as one couple said) and provide hope for all of us. And, while the stories of birthed children, adopted children, and foster-to-adopted children provided hope, without the couple who shared that after 40+ years of marriage and no children there is also immense hope, it would have been incomplete.

To staying up until 4:00am (when I had to be up and ready to go by 7:30) with this lady and three others, and knowing we could have just kept going!

To so much more.

And, since this is my blog ;), I do want to share two experiences I had that were unexpected, and awesome:

1) I was able to be truly present for the entire weekend, in the manner that was appropriate. I was able to "walk the line" between my professional and personal life in a way that truly astounds me it can only be from God. When I needed to be present "professionally" (by making sure everything was set up or keep us on schedule, for example) I was able to do so. But, when I needed to be present "personally" (by allowing something to penetrate my heart or share my story authentically, for example), I was able to. I'm still in awe of this and so grateful for this gift of grace from God. It is undeserved, as all grace is, but so appreciated.

2) When we were working out the logistics for Adoration, it occurred to me that the chapel where we were having adoration and where the monstrance would be was not where the tabernacle and luna were. They weren't even in the same building. Which meant we would need to transfer the Sacred Host (in the luna) from one building to another. In the presence of 4 clergy, when I asked the question "how will we ensure this is done reverently and with respect"? I just assumed they would say that one of them would vest and retrieve the luna and another would walk with a candle or bell or something with the first. But they didn't, they said "Fr. Dennis will vest and retrieve the luna and you (meaning me!) will carry a candle and lead them back." At the end of adoration, this process would be repeated to replace the luna and Sacred Host in the tabernacle. It was one of the most profound things I've ever gotten to do. Especially the return trip b/c it had been daylight when we started, so you could barely see the candle (it was battery operated so it didn't blow out), but going back, it was dark, and knowing that the glow of the candle meant that Jesus was right behind me, being cradled and held high by one of His priests. There are no words.

I am humbled and honored to have been able to use my job for this ministry. If you are reading this and took part in the weekend in any way: said a single prayer, said many prayers, attended, presented, or anything small or big, thank-you! From the very bottom of my heart where there is a gratitude for which words are hollow, thank-you.

I am in awe of the Lord.


A Ripple Effect? Definitely!

Oh wow. Just, wow. I hope I can type as fast as my brain is working (so just accept this an apology for worse-than-normal grammar and rambling!)

So, I've been mulling a lot of things over in my head and heart these past few weeks and I've come close to writing about them, but the words wouldn't come and when they did, they weren't right.

Things with titles like this:
What if "God's perfect timing" is never?
If babies are blessings, what does it say about those of us who don't have babies? Are we not good enough for blessings? (Nice short title, huh?)
Making babies into idols.
If I hear "it's all part of God's plan" one more time I'll scream. A. Lot.

And more.

See, I told you it wasn't pretty.

I've found the phrases "God's perfect timing" and "it's all part of God's plan" to be ranking right up there with "just relax" and "just adopt" and "my sister's cousin's uncle's third cat twice removed's owner once had IF and did xyz, you should try it."

And yet, when I started to write about them, the venting that came out just wasn't right. It wasn't what I was getting at, it was something more.

And then, I read this: A ripple effect, maybe? by Ecce Fiat. (Seriously, if you haven't read it, go read it first. See my comment. Then come back. Really, go, I'll wait.)

Ok, welcome back.

I had been thinking too small. I had been only thinking of God's plan for me. And that's not it. God's plan is for all of us. I've asked myself over and over why was it that IF had to be a part of my story in order to bring me this close to God. Why did I have to be stubborn and "of the world" and be brought to my knees in such a way? And how in the world could I possibly glorify Him through it? How could I bring glory to God when I know that He can make this IF go away NOW if He wanted, and yet He doesn't. How can I not feel forsaken? Forgotten? Abandoned? I also fully believe in free will and that God is not playing puppet master with my life. He is not sitting in heaven doling out miracles and pain (as much as it may seem that way, I know it is not the case). Why yes, my hormones are relatively stable and we did take this month completely off, so while I'm post-peak, I am not 2WWing, why do you ask? (Just to remind myself that this is a "stable" time - ha!)

And then, as I was writing my comment about what I think (hope) might happen when we get to heaven it FINALLY hit me. God's plan is SO. MUCH. BIGGER. THAN. ME.

Oh my gosh. As I type it, I have chills. I'll say it again. God's plan is SO. MUCH. BIGGER. THAN. ME.

And finally, this resonates with me and lines up equally with what I believe about God and what happens when we suffer - that He, like any loving parent, suffers right along with us, His children. That the thousands of tears I have shed pale in comparison to the sorrow He feels over my pain. Over all of our pain.

That some day, after what I'm sure will be a record-breaking stint in purgatory, He will show me the ripple effect of our infertility. Of this blog. Of the times I've spoken and not know why I did. Of the times I've stayed silent and not know why I did. Of it all. He will show me that, despite my deep deep sadness and the empty barrenness of my womb, my life, my marriage did indeed bear fruit.

And friends, the best part? He will do it for each of us. This pain. This horrible, horrible pain matters. In every prayer we say for one another. Every time we give advice about this med or that med. Every. single. time. we say "you are not alone" our pain matters. Our marriages bear fruit. We breath new life into one another. I've often said "there's just something about this blogging community" and THIS is it. THIS is our glimpse, our tiny glimpse, of the ripple effect our suffering causes FOR GOOD! We may never know it in this life, but someday, we will know it.

While this doesn't answer the question "why me?" or "where will this road lead?" it gives me such hope that this pain truly is for a bigger purpose. A reminder that, shockingly - ha!, it's really not all about me.

And while I can't say knowing that my suffering is helping others in some way will make it easier or make CD1 any less painful in the coming months, I hope that by writing this it serves as a reminder to me when I forget. And I truly hope that the ripple effect continues and that one of you reading this has a glimpse of the good that is coming from all of our pain.

"God's perfect timing" just might be "never" in response to my desire for a baby, for motherhood. And that hurts worse than any other pain I've experienced in my life.

But, "God's perfect timing" for all of us, for the whole world is, well, perfect. And that is the promise I will cling to in the darkness of this valley of tears.

A ripple effect indeed.