Saturday, December 26, 2009

Choosing Joy

17 years ago last month, my husband and I, just three months into a new marriage, set out on the intentional path of striving to expand our family. Our oldest living son turned ten this week, so obviously that dream was slow to be realized!

Through those first seven years we had just two positive pregnancy tests. One resulted in our oldest's birth. The other led to the miscarriage of our sweet Noel Alexis. It was 15 years ago tomorrow morning that the bleeding and pain began. Tears for a few hours, followed by five months of numbness.

In hindsight I now see that my total lack of ability to process any form of emotion after Noel's death was more than just "denial" or "normal grief," but rather grief compounded by post-partum depression. (A journey I would again face on a much grander scale after the birth of our second living child, our daughter who will be seven next month.) It took me nearly half a year to allow myself to say the words, "I was pregnant," or "I had a miscarriage."

When I finally did choke the words out, the flood of sobbing, body-wracking tears last for hours! The emotions that had been pent up for months, not allowing a smile, a laugh, a tear, stayed close to the surface for the next few years, never giving me a moment's notice of when they might spring forth. I had irriational thoughts, like wanting to walk up to total strangers and simply announce, "My baby died." Infertiltiy is brutal. Miscarriage is torture. To miscarry our only known child in the midst of a many-year battle through infertility threatened to drive me to insanity with the intensity of my grief.

While on the one hand Noel's death intensified the infertility experience to a more painful level than I could ever have imagined, on the other hand she brought a strange measure of healing as well. I found joy in knowing that after more than two years striving for motherhood, that I was now, and forever more would be, somebody's Mom! Once I could admit to myself that Noel's brief life had not been a dream, simply a "late period" as I tried desperately to convice myself, I found some measure of hope and comfort in the fact that she had actually touched my womb, even if all-too-briefly.

Naming Noel was a very helpful step for me. Rick and I, not knowing if I had carried our son or daughter, but both "feeling" she was a girl, prayed long and hard over the right choice of a name. We chose "unisex" manes with meanings that touched our hearts, spelling Noel with the male spelling but pronouncing it with the femine pronouncation. We figured if "she" actually was a son, then he would forgive us in Heaven, but giving "her" an identity that I could relate to was so very important to me. Her name means "Christmas Minister of Needs" for she came and went over the Christmas season and ministered deeply to the hearting heart of this infertile want-to-be mother. I read of how "Mary treasured all these things in her heart" and my heart treasured the knowledge of the daughter I would some day see face to face in Heaven.

I hated when well-intended friends would try to comfort me with, "Well, at least now you know you can get pregnant." From anyone else, those words seemed to invalidate my child's precious, unique life and the profound loss to have her missing from ours. But when not minimized by other's "at least" statements, to be honest with myself it also was a relief to realize that we were truly "only infertile" and not utterly sterile, that there was hope of future conception.

But it also terrified me that if it had taken two years to conceive in the first place, even with medical aid, that it might be a very long road to a second child. And now that I had a "history of miscarriage" my innocence was shattered. Getting pregnant was just the first step, but the expectation of a living, bring-home-baby at the end could no longer be taken for granted in my heart and mind.

If you have stuck with me through all this rambling, you are probably wondering what does any of this have to do with "choosing joy"? With the dawn of 2009 God impressed upon my heart that my "theme word" for this year was to be Joy. He's confirmed it over and over, and while my husband may wonder where that joy has been (because he's seen me in some pretty black places with my health this year - 10 weeks in a foot cast, followed almost immediately by 5 months of IVs - physically exhaused, grumpy and especially wrestling to process all the emotional anguish of news about this retrovirus), I have to say that God's joy has been more tangilbe to me this year than in any I can remember since we started the infertility journey 17 years ago. I may not always be "happy" but God's joy, bouied by hope, and sustained by peace that passes understanding, has been tangible in ways I cannot put into words.

Here, in this week where we mark the birth of Christ, the death of our first daughter, the birth of our first living son and the due date of the child who would have been turning 8 but is also awaiting us in Heaven with two siblings, God gave me a beautiful reminder of all He has taught me this year. The Christmas stocking I've had since childhood had too many holes for my husband to use to put some goodies in on Christmas Eve. So we pulled out a couple of "extra" stockings we had picked up one year when we were out of town for Christmas and had forgotten our regular stockings at home. One bears the script "Noel" while the other says "Joy." In past years, without hesitation, I would have instantly grabbed "Noel," thinking much more of the daughter who was not there to share in our celebration than of the Christ-child who's birth I should have been focusing on. This year, with only the slightest moment's indecision, I eagerly reached for "Joy" instead.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I'm reflecting on "birth" right now - the birth of the Son of God (that came at the cost of a Father's greatest grief), the birth of our first living miracle (10 years ago this morning I was just starting labor), and the births we never got to enjoy, our little ones awaiting us in Heaven.

Joel Samuel, who shared a due date (2 years later) with his big brother and would now be turning 8, has been especially on my heart these past couple of days. His name means "The Lord will repay the years the locusts have eaten," and we named our son in faith that after so much heartache (deep financial struggles, multiple failed adoptions, miscarries...) God surely had something more in store for us than years of tears and loss that had marked our first decade of marriage.

We had no idea what form that "something more" would be, perhaps emotional, spiritual or even physical tangible blessings, but we clung to the hope that His "more" would be perfect in His right timing and that He would not leave us adrift in the despairing grief that threatened to sink us. My heart is full with all I want to write on the kindness and grace God has washed over us in the eight years since Joel left my womb for Heaven, including two more living miracle babies! Yes, there have been hard times too, like my recent diagnosis of a retrovius (XMRV is one of only 3 known human retroviruses, the most well-known being HIV), but God has been so gracious through it all.

It seemed for so long we were the ones grieving, in need of tangible financial or other help. This Christmas, when so many are struggling, we live in a warm home with bountiful food, God's blessings overflowing. My eyes tear as we hand warms socks and an energy bar to the man with the cardboard sign on the corner, as my husband quietly walks forward to pay for lunch for the man who digs through his pocket and turns to walk out of the fast food joint because he doesn't have the change to cover a value meal, as we place a few small gifts of love in a friend's arms to put under the empty tree in her tiny apartment. We do it for Jesus. We do it for Joel.

Yesterday we enjoyed the blessing of a long, leasurly lunch with Rick's parents to celebrate Big. J's addition to our family 10 years ago - such a wonderful change of pace after 19 weeks of spending my Sunday afternoons hooked up to IVs! (On top of that, my hives are even starting to clear up. What a blessing!) We'll celebrate him again tomorrow (his actual birthday) with my side of the family.

My brother, sister(in-law) and nephews got in from Washington yesterday evening and spent the night with my parents. We will be seeing them in a couple of hours and spending the next 10 days together, so you might not hear from me much until the end of the year. As a "Christmas gift" I wanted to point you to a current blog give-away for Joy Dekok's wonderful book, Rain Dance. It takes on some heavy topics (infertility, post-abortion syndrome, grief - topics that scared me away from the book for far too long) but is an amazing read and will touch your heart. Enter to win your own copy at

[Edited Dec. 26 to say, after dedicating this entire post to Joel, I realized belatedly that it was actually Hannah Rose who shared a due date with our oldest J. She is the one that would have been turning 8 about now. Joel was due in September, as we had two back-to-back miscarriages.
There, Mommy-guilt for having mistaken dates surrounding the lives and deaths of my children, now somewhat relieved by this admission. As this is a mistake I still can't believe I would ever make "in my right mind," and especially one I'm still shocked that it took me nearly a week to even realize I had made, I'm chalking this one up to CFS / XMRV "brain fog". :( ]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Different Christmas Hope

My friend, Holley Gerth, has done it again, posted another amazingly thought-provoking article that I just have to share with you. This one will be especially meaningful to anyone who is coping with the loss of a loved one this Christmas, including women facing miscarriage (any form of pregnancy or infant death really - check out Part Two) or infertility (be sure to follow her my storm link too, if you are walking infertility). Even if you don't fall into those catagories, you will still find it a worthwhile read!

A Different Kind of Hope

I also posted some reflections on Joy on my InnerBeautyGirl blog yesterday (including brief mention of living children along with part of our infertility story) and shared additional thoughts on Christmas and grief on my Hannah's Hope Book blog last year.

Need more encouragement? Don't forget to leave me a comment on the Lemon Fresh post below. I'm truly finding Squeezing Good Out of Bad to be offer a refreshing perspective on times of trial and would love to see you win a copy for yourself! But there's no chance to win if you don't leave a comment on that thread.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Lemon Fresh Blog Tour

Sour circumstances left you feeling down? Unemployment, foreclosures, divorce, bankruptcy and cancer don't even begin to peel the skin off all the bad news in our world today. At a time in history when the evening news contains more bad than good, people wonder if sweeter days will ever come. In steps James (Jim) Watkins. With a fresh perspective on life, love and the pursuit of happiness, Watkins serves readers a refreshing cup of encouragement and hope.

Written from his own experiences with cancer, unemployment and other life-puckering crises, Jim prompts readers to look at the cup of suffering with eyes focused on the true thirst quencher - Jesus Christ. Readers will be pleasantly surprised at the balance of readability and deep wisdom offered within the pages of Squeezing Good Out of Bad. With scripture references, humor-filled lists, and a creative manuscript, Watkins brings the bitterness of hard times and blends it with the sweetness of God's presence. He's been there. His transparency is as refreshing as, you guessed it, a tall, cool glass of lemonade.

Leave a comment here and ask your friends to do the same. One comment from the blog with the most comments in this tour will win:

First prize: Jim will stop by your house with fresh-baked lemon cake and hot lemon tea. (Disclaimer: Offer available only to residents of Corn Borer, Indiana.
Alternate prize includes a copy of Squeezing Good Out of Bad, mixes for lemon tea, lemon cake, lemonade and assorted lemon candies. Not available where taxed or licensed. Winner responsible for safe and proper use of products.)

If Jim's disclaimer isn't enough humor for you, read on:

When life gives you lemons . . .
10. Don't confuse them with hand grenades (Identify the problem)
9. Check the delivery slip (Determine if it's your problem)
8. Sell them on eBay (Profit from the problem)
7. Paint smiley faces on them (Laugh at the problem)
6. Join a citrus support group (Share your problem)
5. Use as an all-natural, organic astringent (Grow from the problem)
4. Don't shoot the delivery driver (Forgive the problem-maker)
3. Graft to a lime tree for a refreshing, low-calorie soft drink (Take the problem
to a higher level)
2. Grow your own orchard (Live a fruitful life despiteor because ofthe problem)
1. Give off a refreshing fragrance (Live a lemon-fresh life)

Interview with Humorist and Author
James (Jim) Watkins

about his new book, Squeezing Good Out of Bad

Jim, you've been in the literary world for a while, give us a quick recap of how you got started to where you are today.
By second grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I felt the suspension of disbelief was stretched too thin when the real-live puppet Pinocchio became a real live boy. So I rewrote the ending having the wooden puppet die a painful, prolonged death of Dutch elm disease. (At that point, I'm sure my parents and teachers weren't sure if I'd become a writer or a life-long patient at a psychiatric hospital.) I later went on to become the editor of my high school paper, worked at a Christian publishing house as an editor during college, and then dabbled in writing while holding down a real job. Since 1988 I've been writing and speaking full-time.

In Squeezing Good Out of Bad you give many insightful tips on how to turn around sour circumstances. Share a practical way we can be encouraged during tough times.
My "top ten list" of chapter titles 10-4 provide practical steps for dealing with lemons, but the real secrets are found in chapters 3-1. (Yes, like a true top ten list, the chapters are numbered backward.) Romans 8:28 promises that that God is working all things out for our good to accomplish His purpose in our lives. But we have to read on to verse 29 to find that purpose: "to be conformed to the image of His Son."

No life is perfect. Can you give us an example of how you got through a challenging situation and were able to use these principles to see the good in it?
I think it's so important that we take our faith seriously, but I certainly don't want to take my situation or myself too seriously. So I create a mental "top ten" list of what good can come about in this situation. For instance, last year I had radiation for cancer and it totally depleted me physically and mentally. My family dubbed it "radiation retardation." Because of that, I was fired from a wonderful part-time job because I just couldn't do it. So, "Top Ten Great Things about Losing My Job":
10. I'll be paying less taxes next year.
9. I've got twenty hours a week of free time.
8. . . .
Our family is going through something right now that is far worse than cancer, and I can't see a single good thing that can come out of it. So, at those times, you just keep hanging on--with white knuckles--to the fact that God loves you and the Romans 8:28 is still in effect.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spare time? What's that? I'm a firm believer in "redeeming the time" so I try to keep busy doing things that matter for the Kingdom. But after my little brain is worn out--usually around 7 pm--nothing beats a session of "Freecell."

What's the last book you read and why?
Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, the only real reading for pleasure is on airline flights. The King book is research for a book I'm proposing as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

What do you hope readers will gain by reading your book?
I wrote the first draft nine years ago, and even though I have a great agent, we just couldn't find a publisher. That was before cancer, family crisis, unemployment.
. . . So it's a much more comforting, honest book. And it forced me to not be so flippant and casual about the serious issues people are dealing with. Henri Nouwen talks about "wounded healers." I think, because of the lemons that have piled up in my life, I can more compassionately offer comfort to those buried under a pile of lemons.

Publisher: XarisCom
ISBN: 978-0-578-01006-9
Retail: $12.96
A book that will make you laugh, think, and start looking at those sour places of lfe in a whole new way.

James N. Watkins is the author of sixteen books and over two thousand articles. He is the acquisition editor for Wesleyan Publishing House, an editorial advisor for ACW Press, instructor at Taylor University and a sought-after conference speaker. He's won Campus Lifes Book of the Year award and various other awards for writing and editing. Together with wife Lois, they have two children and four grandchildren. His family is the lemonade in his life.

Disclosure: I will recieve a complimentary copy of Squeezing Good Out of Bad via Kathy Carlton Willis Communications, gifted to all participants in this blog tour.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Clean Water for Africa

* 1 in 7 people don’t even have access to a clean water source.

* More people in developing countries die of a water related disease than of malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. It is a problem as urgent as it is compelling.

As shared in my Thanksgiving post, there is much need for clean water in other parts of the world. If you are planning to purchase a Christmas tree this year, why not help fund clean water in Africa at the same time? Find out more about The TreeWell Project at (If you don't live near Reno, NV but like this idea, think about contacting the director of this project to help plan something like this from your own town for next year!)

* Statistics quoted from The TreeWell Project website.