How do you know when you have arrived? When you are there? Seems like we spend a lot of our lives working towards getting there, feeling like we’re not there, thinking things won’t be good enough until we are there, thinking life would be so much better if we were there already. How do you know when you get there? And where is there?
I think “there” is the state of contentment. It’s realizing that maybe we already are there, that we already have it all – all the things we really need to feel happy and full. Wikipedia says it’s the “acknowledgement and satisfaction of reaching capacity.” That’s what we’re looking for. That feeling of fulness. Of satisfaction. Like we have arrived.
But will we ever get there? Contentment seems so elusive, like such a hard thing to obtain. It never seems to stay around for very long. I could say I’ve felt periods of contentment lots of times throughout my life, even content with certain parts of my life despite others most of the time, but complete contentment? Is that really possible in this life? Will I ever be like the apostle Paul and hold onto contentment in all circumstances? He says the secret of being content is doing all things through Christ’s strength. How does that interact with desire? God gives us desires as well. Desire is something you feel when you don’t have something you want. What about in times of grief? God created the grief process too. Are you supposed to be content in grief?
As I reflected over the past year and look forward to a new year, the word content kept coming to mind. I really feel content right now. And I’m trying to wrap my mind around it. It feels really nice. I want to hold on to it. I want to bottle it up like an elixir and save it for the next time I’m feeling discontent. I wonder – how long will it last this time? Am I more content because I’m getting older and wiser? Does it get easier and last longer with maturity? I definitely think age and life experience help – as long as you keep growing – it’s certainly possible to be old and immature and discontent. Or is it because I’m so acutely aware of the feeling of peace due to a long long journey of grief?
I really think my current state of contentment has a lot to do with grief. I believe that if it enters your life and if you let it, grief can be an avenue towards contentment. I keep feeling so amazed at how much I am loving my job, loving my life, loving plan C. I feel overwhelmed as I remember the depth of grief I went through and ponder the heights of the benefits I can see now. I just can’t believe we went through something so life altering – an entirely different plan for our lives than we had – and we feel content. I feel like I keep trying, but still can’t comprehend it or really put it into words.
Peter Scazzero, in The Emotionally Healthy Church, talks about how the brokenness of grief can change a person. His explanation has helped make some sense of what has happened in me. ”Grieving our losses transforms us in remarkable ways that make the process worthwhile. Layers of our counterfeit are shed. Something truer – that is, Christ in and through us – slowly emerges. New possibilities become possible – for us and for all those we touch with our lives.” He says it gives us ”a greater capacity to wait on God and surrender to his will. Grieving breaks something in our fearful self-will that wants to run the universe for God.” He says it liberates us from having to impress others and focusing on the things of this world. It strips away so many unimportant things in life and leaves a desire to just make room for the most important things. Out of the painful struggle comes a growing strength and a greater willingness to take risks. I have to say I absolutely agree with every bit of this. Scazzero ends with saying grief leaves us ”more at home with ourselves and with God”. Now that sounds like contentment.
Contentment brings a deeper appreciation for the wonder of life itself – the beauty of creation and the blessing of relationships. There are certainly many paths to contentment. Grief is just one of them. Choosing thankfulness is another. The practice of simplicity another. And the secret is doing everything through Christ who strengthens us. May we all strive to focus more on the important things, less on ourselves and the things of this world – and live in the beauty and peace of contentment. Maybe some day we can say like Paul:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13
Can I say that out loud? Can I say that God has shown me over and over throughout this process that He is doing some things in this just for me? I’m not saying that it’s all about me or that this journey stops with me, but God keeps showing me that I’m a really important part of this story. And that I can accept that some of this he has done just for me.
For a long time in my adulthood (can’t believe I just used that word), a lot of the things I would learn, I would do so with the focus of being able to pass this along to my children. Learn more and more about relationships so I could be the perfect parent. Or do my own work, so I wouldn’t pass on my baggage to my children. Or get some things done before I had kids, so I could have more time with them and their lives could be more perfect. I would even buy kid books with my allowance thinking that I probably wouldn’t have extra money to spend once I had kids, so I should get them some great books now. Even before I had kids, I was trying to focus on the kids! As I’ve said before, I had no idea how much I just wanted to skip over me and focus on my kids. A lot of my struggle throughout this process is the struggle I have had to work on me, accept me, look at me, deal with me.
In some ways, my life is about me! My body, my voice, my time and place on earth. My life really is about what I do with me. What God wants to do with me. I have to take responsibility for all of me. Own me.
And God keeps telling me that I’m just as important as my kids would have been. That the things He has been teaching me can be just for me and don’t only have value if I pass them on to kids. That maybe He chose not to give me kids so I could learn how to be a kid? So I could learn how to be free again, enjoy life, have childlike faith, get off this performance treadmill I was on. Just because I am His child, adored, loved, delighted in, chosen.
The greatest part is that it’s still not all about me. I had to work on accepting myself as God’s vessel, so we could get back to Him using me. My life is a small blip in time in a small part of the world. But in a tiny way and at the same time a huge way, my life is about what God can only do in me. I’m the only one of me there will ever be. I’m the only one that can tell my story. I’m the only one that He can shine through in this specific way. There is a unique part of me that reflects a unique part of Him since I’m made in His image. There’s something unique about His image that He created me to reveal Himself through. Wow! What a glimpse into how infinite and extensive and global His image is! It’s not even remotely minutely close to being all about me. But it is about my small part.
The glory of my story does not just come on me and stop with me. It wasn’t meant to be all about me. It was never meant to stop with me. But it was meant to go through me, specifically me, only me – then back to Him and out into the world.
The same is true for you!
If perfect weather is predicted for a free weekend in the spring or fall, the Henrys are going camping! We love to get out and really enjoy the weather while it lasts. I’m definitely a fair weather camper. I don’t go when it’s too hot or too cold. So it’s a special treat when good weather falls on a free weekend. We take advantage of it, pack up our gear and the dogs – and take off! We love the adventure. Sometimes we go with close friends or family. Most of the time we like to go by ourselves. We are both introverts who love people and work with people. So we have to get away to recharge, to retreat, to get refreshed. To unplug. Sometimes we go hiking or canoeing. Sometimes Patrick goes fishing while I read, write, draw or take pictures. We do a lot of sitting and thinking. Some talking. A lot of soaking in nature. A lot of staring at the fire. A lot of listening…as nature speaks of the amazing details and beauty of God’s creation. …As God speaks of stillness, regeneration, growth. Of peace. Of seasons. Of life.
One of our favorite camping spots is near the White River. The very tall pine trees in this campground provide lots of shade and a wonderful pine scent. We snatched up the chance to get out this past weekend. Here are a few pictures of the campsite and my attempts at camping family photos!
…on Facebook. I know I’m not the only one that has a love/hate relationship with FB. I love connecting with people – old friends, new friends, family. I love it when people post funny stories. I love seeing pictures of what people are up to, places they’re going, kids growing. I love how easy it is to send someone a message when I don’t have their email address. But sometimes I hate it. Hate that I waste time on it. Hate farmville requests. Hate that I sometimes feel sad when I look at pictures of everyone else’s kids. Hate that I start comparing myself to others. Hate that I compare “likes” on an infertility blog post to “likes” on a pregnancy announcement. (You know you keep track of your “likes” too.) Hate that it brings up my need for approval and acceptance. We all have a need for acceptance, but I hate that it crosses over to comparison, discontent, and seeking the approval of man. I hate that it brings up that I still care about what others think of me. I hate that I’ve struggled with whether to share my blog posts on FB or not. So here are the reasons to and not to share.
Reasons Not to Share: The main reason is pride. And shame. Which is a form of pride. My blog is very personal. The only way I know how to write is in a very real, raw way. Which puts me in a vulnerable place. So I’ve used that as my primary excuse. Which was protective and a good reason for a long time. But now that I’m in a much more healed place, I avoid out of a fear of judgment. I’m afraid that some people still think that there’s something wrong with us, that we didn’t pray hard enough, should be adopting etc. Mostly I don’t want others to know that I care, that it was painful, that it hurt, that I hurt. More pride. More fear. More shame.
Reasons To Share: God called me to start a blog. This story is not just about me. This is not just for me. And now that God has brought so much healing and freedom, He wants me to share it. He has brought beauty from ashes. What better place to share that the gospel of Christ is about brokenness and healing, barrenness and redemption, pain and peace. I’m just a vessel. I’m called to be a witness, to testify to God’s deep love and grace. I’ve been through the valley and have come out on the mountain top. It really is a miracle. God has changed me through this. I can’t be silent anymore. I have to put myself out there and share it now. I have to proclaim what the Lord has done. I have to shout it from the rooftops. I just can’t say it enough. This is why I write. There’s just no good reason not to share now. It doesn’t have to perfect. I’m not perfect. My life has not been perfect. People don’t have to “like” it. I don’t always like it. But it’s real. And I love that. I love that it’s so real. That’s what we need more of these days. On Facebook too.
Ok – To Share wins.
There are so many things I’m doing right now as part of Plan C – that start with C! So I’m going to put out a few posts about things we are doing now that begin with C. The first is some pictures of our trip to Colorado this summer. We love the outdoors, especially rivers and mountains. Our idea of a great vacation is a camping road trip – hitting several national parks and seeing beautiful scenery all along the way. With no specific plan to stick to or schedule to follow. Just a general guideline of the route we want to take and places we want to see. We love the adventure of exploring, the serenity of nature, and the beauty to be found.
We’ve done several road trips to national parks in other states that have ended with visiting family in Colorado. Patrick’s mom and sister’s family live in the Denver area, along with several of his cousins. I’ve always loved going there, and now we get to go there a lot. It’s such a great place to visit if you’re the camping outdoorsy type.
Instead of just ending in Colorado this year, we spent all of our time there. (After a quick stop in Santa Fe to see Patrick’s dad and his family).We went to the amazing cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. We saw the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We also hit Pagosa Springs, Durango, Silverton, Ouray and Gunnison along the way. The scenery before and after and between the parks was just as amazing as the parks themselves. We found some great camping spots. We ended again in Denver just in time for our niece Laighla’s 5th birthday! I feel so relaxed again just looking at the pictures and thinking about our trip. We had so much fun. We love Colorado! We’ll be going back in a couple of months when Laighla’s little brother is born!
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last…” John 15:16
Chosen. The idea of being chosen usually involves something positive. Chosen for the part in the school play. Chosen to be on a team. Chosen for a job. Chosen to receive a reward. Have you ever been chosen for something you didn’t want?
I specifically remember a time I was on a walk and talking with God about this infertility struggle I was going through. I remember exactly where I was when He let me know that I had been “Chosen to Wait.” Chosen. To not get what I wanted right away. Chosen? Now that was a different perspective. Because up until that point, I was feeling Forgotten. Left Out. Defective. Barren. Nothing close to Chosen.
But with this revelation, I started to realize that this was not really about me. It was about God wanting to tell a story through me. And choosing me to have a story for His glory. It was so difficult to accept for a long time. It was so painful to think that God chose me to go through the unbearable pain of infertility. I just couldn’t see how this difficulty could be a blessing. I kept thinking – I don’t want to be chosen for this. Why can’t God choose someone else? I’m really not that strong. I’m really not a good choice. I’m not strong enough to be a good smiling example of patience or trust or faith right now. Obviously I’m not being a champion of strength. All that’s coming out of me is brokenness.
But being chosen wasn’t about my strength. Just His. It wasn’t about having pretty smiling faith. It was about ugly faith. Tear stained faith. A tiny glimmer of faith that was never going to die no matter the outcome.
Chosen. For a story. That would reflect His glory and could only come from His strength. Really good stories only come from really difficult circumstances. They’re the ones where miracles happen, where God comes through in impossible circumstances, where God changes our hearts instead of our circumstances, where there’s no way we could have done it on our own. Where God shows us that our lives are part of a greater story. His story. And that He chooses us to play the part we were made for.
“’You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God.’”
Last week I felt like I was having a bad week. It wasn’t really all that bad. There were so many good things that happened. It was really only a 2 on a scale of 1-10 of bad weeks (with 10 being really bad). But in terms of infertility, I was a little sadder than I have been in a while, a little more afraid of feeling depressed again, a little more aware of some more things I need to work through. Really I was just faced again with my stuff. Since I’m in full time private practice now, my schedule has changed a lot. I’m still getting used to the lack of structure, the lack of lots of people around to interact with, the waiting and sometimes slow process of building up a caseload. I’ve been making a point to set up lunches and get out there, but it seemed nobody was able to get together last week – they all wanted to get together this week or next! I kept going through my to do list, my coping skills list, trying to call friends to hang out with. After I kept getting voicemails, I was reminded of other times this happens. The times I keep trying to find someone to talk to, getting no answers, and then finally hear God quietly reminding me that I can talk to Him.
So we talked. About my stuff. Again. When I’m busy working on this new chapter of my life, I feel a sense of purpose and joy and fulfillment. But this week when I had a little too much time on my hands, I felt sad about not having kids.The process of waiting and having no control over when my schedule fills up felt a little too familiar to the waiting and having no control in the fertility process. I got restless and felt frustrated. Old thoughts tried to creep in – if only I had kids, I wouldn’t have to face myself or my stuff. I could just focus on the kids and pretend I don’t have issues! This is not fair that we have to keep working on my stuff!
The truth is last week was really good for me. It reminded me of the value of the struggle. I came out of it with much more clarity and vision for what to do with my time now. A renewed sense of purpose. A full schedule for this week. A painting. Now 2 blog posts! I was reminded of how much growth comes from the struggle. The angst of dealing with the stuff is an important part of the change and healing process. They say that all the work the chicken has to do to peck out of the egg builds the strength it needs to survive. If there was no struggle, or if someone broke through for the chick, it would be too weak to survive.
The struggle is an important part of the creative process. This wonderful creative work God is constantly doing in our lives. Just like great works of art don’t appear in one sitting. Beautiful songs and powerful messages don’t just fall from heaven. Books don’t pour out in the first writing. It’s all a process. A necessary process. A frustrating process. It usually involves lots of emotions. Some giving up. Some ripping pages up and starting over. But the struggle is essential to the process. Out of the struggle comes the growth, the clarity. It makes the finished product so much more beautiful, the victory more triumphant.
There’s always another layer of growth. A new thing to learn. God is always doing a new thing in me and through me for His glory. It will always be a process. There will always be a struggle. A battle through my flesh to get to my spirit. I have to be ok with the process, with the time it takes. Sometimes it takes a bad week. Sometimes it takes years. I love it though. I love the glory that comes out of the struggle. And I love that God is relentless about getting our stuff out of the way so He can fully shine through us.