As happy as I am to feel the kicks of our little guy today, Mother’s Day, I am also keenly aware of how hard this day is for many. Some would say, “The day is to celebrate those who are here and are Mothers, not to make others feel bad.” And that’s a true statement, but it doesn’t change the fact that many wish to be celebrating, but their reason isn’t tangibly here to celebrate at the moment.

I was single until I was 38, just under two months shy of my 39th birthday. I can’t exactly remember when Mother’s Day shifted from being a day where I longed to become a mother to a day when I wondered if I would ever become one. Perhaps it was gradual, but there came a time when Mother’s Day was bittersweet. I could happily celebrate my mother, people who have been like a mother to me, and my friends who were mothers, but there was a nagging sadness on the inside as I questioned whether I would become a mother myself. If they asked mothers in the church to stand, or they gave mothers a flower, I wasn’t included despite the deep desire I had to be a mother. It was hard.

After I married and Mother’s Day came around again, it wasn’t really any easier, but for different reasons. If you’ve read The Pregnancy Story, you know that it wasn’t exactly a quick or clear road that led us to our little man. We had tried unsuccessfully to have a child and the nagging question of, “Will it happen for us?” was there. Certainly there are many ways to become a mother, and we have never ruled out other ways, but the desire to carry a child and the cloud of doubt surrounding that still existed. So, while we celebrated with our mothers and friends and were very happy to do so, it was still hard. Infertility is hard.

Today some have referred to me as a mother-to-be or future mother, but I disagree. I was a mother from the moment of conception the very first time I was pregnant. And as I hold my ever-growing baby bump today, I remember that not every baby makes it this far in a pregnancy. I think about the positive pregnancy test last July and I know that if things had turned out differently, that little one would be in our arms today. I know that whether a mom loses a pregnancy at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 20 weeks, or 40 weeks, she mourns the loss of that child. One thing about being older is that I know more people and I know more stories about their babies in Heaven. My friends have lost babies at every stage of pregnancy and they don’t forget, nor do I. Even if their arms are full of other children, there’s still a empty space for the one or ones who left us far too soon. And that’s hard.

And I recognize that even having a little one in arms isn’t a guarantee that we get to outlive him or her, as should be the natural course of life. To have held your little one and then have to bury him or her, whether at 1 month or 20 years old, is a tragedy that I struggle to comprehend. I know a handful of moms who know this ache today. The ones I know have other children, but as one friend posted on Facebook, there’s one child’s photo on the wall that is frozen in time. I don’t know this pain personally, but I can say without a doubt that it’s hard.

Another hurt that I only know vicariously is that of carrying a child for 9 months and making the difficult and courageous decision to allow another family to shepherd that child into adulthood. Regardless of the reason that a birth mom decides not to raise the child she carried, she is a mother and feels the hurt of that separation. I’ve read the blog of a friend who talked about the day she left the hospital without her little girl who was being adopted by a great family. While it was a beautiful thing, the pain was tangible in her words as she described it. It was hard.

Then there are moms who have raised their children for years only to have them walk away in one manner or another. Maybe they walked away into a life of drugs or other addictions, or maybe they are estranged for some reason. It is a mother’s goal to prepare her children for a successful adulthood, so perhaps she’s even afraid to talk to someone today about her kids for fear of how they would look at her if they knew. The hurt of seeing her child make poor choices as well as the possible hurt of feeling the need to hide the truth ravage her heart daily, and probably even more on a day when she’s congratulated for being a mother. That must be terribly hard.

And there are those of us, whether we’re moms or not, who are losing or have lost our own mom. Everyone has a need for mothering and we love our moms, even if they couldn’t care for us they way we needed. When Mom gets sick, when Mom can’t care for herself, when Mom can’t remember all the details of her life, that’s hard. And when she’s gone, that’s hard. Two of my nieces are watching their birth mom deteriorate right now, and although she wasn’t always able to be motherly for them, they love her and are hurting as she goes. I watched my mom battle cancer, and it hurt. I haven’t lost her from this earth yet, but my dad went on before me, so I can relate. We hurt alongside a sick mom and we never stop thinking about a mom that we lost. That’s hard.

Being a mother isn’t always straightforward and easy, especially when there are empty arms or babies in Heaven that we wish were here with us. The unanswered longing for motherhood, whether while single or married, is unimaginably tough. Losing a mom or anyone who has been like a mother is deeply painful. We are bound to think on these things on a day that celebrates mothers. As the mothers were called forward in church today, first for a time of prayer and then for a gift and flower, I felt the bittersweet-ness of that moment. I felt glad to be able to go forward this year, but also still feel the sadness of loss. I thought of all my friends who are experiencing hard moments on Mother’s Day and I thought of all those who have much to celebrate.

If Mother’s Day is hard for you, you probably read this looking for me to describe your situation. If I missed your reason that Mother’s Day is hard, I’m so sorry. Feel free to put it in the comments so I and others can know! As it says in Romans 12:15, as we put love into action, we “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Whether you are rejoicing or mourning today, I am praying for you.

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As I sit here at 4 AM, just 9 hours after the official reveal of the gender of our first baby, there’s one overwhelming thought in my head: “It couldn’t have been any other way.”

I mentioned in The Pregnancy Story that I was convinced that baby is a girl. Because we speak Spanish in our home, we’d even started talking about “la bebé” quite some time ago. You can’t say “the baby” in Spanish without using a masculine or feminine article, so we’d just decided to use the feminine one because I was so certain. Part of my certainty came from the fact that God laid a girl’s name on my heart in September, the day we were driving into Fayetteville, AR (where we live now) for the first time. I felt like God was confirming to me, “There’s a little girl with this name who will be part of your family.” I clung to that hope as we rode the waves of transition and infertility that I’ve shared here previously.

When our level-2 ultrasound rolled around on April 3, I was 20 weeks and 1 day pregnant. I had started feeling the baby move about a week before and I was ready to see this kid again on screen! We told the ultrasound tech that we didn’t want to know the gender, but that we’d like him to write it in an envelope for us to take with us. It turned out to be a bit of a tough exam that day – this baby wiggles a lot! I wondered if he’d get a clear shot of the gender since many of the required anatomy pics were a challenge. When it came time to officially record the gender, we were informed and we both closed our eyes tightly to maintain the surprise.

Some of you who know me well might be thinking, “But Robbye, you aren’t really big on surprises, are you? Don’t you need to make a plan before this baby arrives?” Partly it might have been my confidence in the gender, but it also had to do with a certain cookie cake. Back in December we had taken a trip to the nearby mall for the first time. We went specifically to get Claire’s gift cards for my nieces for Christmas, but we wandered the mall too. We happened past The Great American Cookie Company and I saw a cake with a cookie button. It said, “He or She – Press here to see.” I understood at a glance that smashing the cookie button would reveal pink or blue icing. Now, knowing that I was there for Christmas presents, I believe that we already knew we were pregnant, but we were perhaps 1 month along. Having experienced loss, I was cautious, but I thought, “If we get to reveal the gender of this baby one day, I want that cake!” Thus, there in that ultrasound, I couldn’t spoil the surprise because I wanted to press that magic gender button!

He or She Cookie Cake

Something clicked at that ultrasound appointment as I sat there with my eyes squeezed shut. The seemingly obvious suddenly became reality for me: this could be a boy. If it’s a boy, did I not hear from God back in September? I wrestled with this, but ultimately concluded that I never heard that my first child would be a girl with the name God gave us. That realization really made me doubt my 20-week stance that I was carrying a girl! And frankly, it took me the two weeks between the ultrasound and the party to emotionally process that I could be having a boy!

So that brings us almost to today, April 17. A sweet friend took the sealed envelope late last week to The Great American Cookie Company to order this awaited cake. She shared with me today that she told the gal at the store that she didn’t want to know the gender and even shielded her eyes when the worker opened the envelope. Being a faithful employee, the lady returned the paper to the envelope and stapled it shut about 20 times! That meant that today, as we were about to press the anticipated cookie button, no one present knew the gender!

There was an air of excitement as we pulled together our closest friends for this moment. It helped that there were some cookie-craving young folks yelling, “Smash it!” in the crowd. As we voted with those present, the overwhelming majority was voting that baby is a boy. I refrained from voting, mostly to preserve my recently-processed emotions and prevent a possible disappointment moment. Praise the Lord that he gave me two weeks to really process and be ready for either outcome today!

As I watched the blue icing squirt out from beneath the cookie we pressed, I was both surprised and not surprised at the same time. I thought, “I wonder where that little girl is and how she’s getting to us? And, oh my word, what am I going to do with a boy?!” I was not and I am not disappointed, I’m just curious what the future looks like. Thankfully I know Who holds and future and I trust Him completely.

And somehow I know, “It couldn’t have been any other way.”

Pressed cookie button with blue icing

The short-short version and a disclaimer: We are so excited to share we’re expecting a baby on 8/20/18! The hand of the Lord was on this situation, though it wasn’t a quick or easy journey for us. If you want the VERY detailed story, read on, though please know that some might find that I over-share in this blog. I share this level of detail to bring glory to the Lord for what he has done as well as possibly encourage anyone else on an infertility journey. End of disclaimer!

 

This story really begins with expectations. While training for my very first mission trip in college I was taught, “You never know you have expectations until they aren’t met.” I think that’s especially true about overseas travel, but maybe the saying for everyday life is more like, “You don’t know how deeply rooted your expectations are until they aren’t met.”

I’ve always been a planner and I’m generally overly analytical. I think things through in detail and then I want them to go just as I’ve planned it. When Leo and I started trying to get pregnant I said, “Well, we can’t be sure how long this will take, so we can start now and see what happens!” What I really was thinking, though, was that I’d been tracking my cycles since before we were married, I knew exactly what was happening in my body, and based on family history I knew there was a good chance of it happening the very first month of trying. My expectation and plan was that we’d be pregnant that very month! It didn’t go the way I had planned.

In addition to not having a successful pregnancy right away, there were complicating factors over the months that followed. We took malaria medicine to go to Kenya, so that knocked out two months. Upon return to Peru from Kenya, I developed what appeared to be a case of Shingles, so there was no trying that month either. When we were technically able to try again, some doctors would have recommended against it because of the time we spent in Kenya where Zika is prevalent, but for that matter, we lived in Peru where they also warn against Zika. During all these months there were also additional stressors outside my pregnancy plan: there was information gathering, appointments, and interviews at the embassy for Leo’s visa for the USA, but we were still hopefully that the pregnancy plan would be a go at some point.

The negative pregnancy tests were hard. I took them as failure on some level. I kept them mostly to myself because Leo preferred to know when it was a firm “yes,” but I couldn’t always contain the tears and frustration each month. I was doing what was in my control to make sure our plan was successful, but it just wasn’t working out. My husband is the ever-optimist who would simply say, “We’ll try again next month,” but I worried that there was something else preventing success – after all, we weren’t blinding trying.

Then came July. That second line on the test stick appeared indicating that there was HcG, the pregnancy hormone, present. It was faint, but I’d taken the test pretty early in my monthly excitement because I was a couple of days late. If you know anything about pregnancy tests, you know that false negatives are common, but a positive is definitely a positive because it means the pregnancy hormone is there. I hurried out and bought a little onesie that said, “Yo ❤ Papá” and I was planning how I would share the big news with Leo. Then the next morning my waking temperature dropped – I took it everyday and knew that wasn’t a good sign. It should stay high if I were indeed pregnant, so I waited another day before sharing the news. By the following morning I was certain that I was not, in fact, going to remain pregnant. It was a Sunday, so I couldn’t get to a doctor or have any blood work done to confirm what I was experiencing. Monday morning I did have some blood work done because I wanted to know what was going on in my body, but by the time I got to the doctor with the results, she dismissed it. “I can’t even tell if you were pregnant to begin with.” Her only recommendation was that I lose weight and that we get a battery of tests to see what our chances of conceiving were. That was not what I wanted to hear in the midst of that loss. We were moving to the US just over a month later and we didn’t have the money anyway, so we just let it go without further testing. I was devastated. I suspect Leo was also disappointed, but he hadn’t shared the day or so of excitement because I hadn’t shared the news immediately with him. I tucked the wrapped onesie I had purchased into a drawer, unopened and ungifted, where it would eventually be packed for the move to the US.

The pregnancy plan didn’t stop even in the midst of our transition. The next months were filled with packing for the US, traveling for several weeks, waiting for US insurance to kick in, setting up our apartment in Arkansas, the MULTIPLi annual staff advance, and other transitions. It didn’t change my feelings of disappointment seeing a negative test at the end of each month – I was still hoping each time.

I finally got an appointment with an OB-GYN here in Fayetteville, AR, on October 19. We talked fertility for probably at least 30 minutes. She agreed that we hadn’t been trying blindly and gave us several options for proceeding. One option, given the day of my cycle, was to start an ovulation stimulation drug (Clomid) that day and take it for 5 days. While I was pretty certain that I had been ovulating every month, that drug can also help ensure that more than one egg is released, increasing the chances that at least one is successful. We decided to give it a try (couldn’t hurt, right?) and also to do some basic blood work on me that would give us a picture of my overall hormonal state. I went home with some renewed hope that we could make some progress or get some answers.

A couple of days into taking the Clomid, I got a call that left me feeling more hopeless than I had anticipated. My expectations of the blood results were clearly not in line with what I heard on the phone. It was very matter-of-fact from the nurse at my doctor’s office. “Most of your labs were normal, but your AMH is low (0.42), so we’re going to refer you to Little Rock or Tulsa to a fertility clinic. It needs to be as soon as possible.” I mumbled something about needing to think about it and she told me to get back to her, especially at the end of the month regarding the results of the Clomid.

I turned to Google: I learned that AMH is a hormone that all immature eggs secrete, and that as an egg develops for release, it secretes less and less AMH. So, theoretically, if AMH is low, there are very few immature eggs waiting in the wings to develop and be released. What that also means, then, is that even IVF treatments aren’t theoretically successful because there simply aren’t eggs present to stimulate for harvest. Most fertility clinics will not do IVF and would recommend donor eggs, I read. I had not technically been told that I had “low ovarian reserve,” but that can be the official diagnosis of someone with low AMH.

[As a side note for anyone who may want more details or who stumbled on this article because it contains the words “low AMH,” there are recent studies that indicate that AMH may not be a good indicator of fertility. A study done in North Carolina showed no appreciable difference in conception rates between those with normal AMH and low AMH over a 12-month period. Here’s one article that reference the study: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/nation-world/national/article178330131.html]

My Google searches also led me to this article on egg health: http://natural-fertility-info.com/increase-egg-health. While all my reading indicated that AMH is NOT a measure of the egg health (rather only of eggs present), there are some who theorize that it is possible to produce new eggs and that we are not, in fact, born with all the eggs we will ever have, as has traditionally been thought. I don’t know about all that research, but I was willing to try some of the things I found in that article. I had already heard about and tried Maca in Peru to help regulate hormones, but I specifically ordered gelatinized Maca which can be easier to digest and more potent. I started taking two 950 mg tablets per day. On one hand it’s just a root, but on the other hand it couldn’t hurt and Peruvians have been using it for centuries. I also ordered Royal Jelly and tried to get in two pills per day, not with a meal, because I read it was more effective that way. I generally failed at remembering that, so I gave up and got in one pill with breakfast most days. Both Leo and I cut out caffeine from our diets since this can also cause thickening of bodily fluids on both sides. We added some orange juice since this can apparently thin bodily fluids. I tried to eat better and get more exercise too, keeping up with the pre-natal vitamin I’d been taking for nearly a year.

The end of the first month of Clomid ended as so many months before had ended. I called the nurse to inform her and also to let her know that we’d decided that we couldn’t afford to go to the fertility clinic so late in the year. We were going to have to wait until the new year, with new insurance, a new deductible, and with foreknowledge of what our costs would be. I wasn’t exactly sure that we’d go to the fertility clinic anyway since I had read that they would probably not accept us with my eggs, but that’s what I told her. Meanwhile I was researching options that included a fertility clinic in NY that specializes in women with low AMH and auto-immune issues (The Center for Human Reproduction), as well as adoption agencies and advice from friends who have adopted. I also asked the nurse if there would be any harm in simply continuing the Clomid for the remaining months of the year. I’m not sure what caused me to ask that, but I think it was me needing some sort of plan until the new year, or perhaps simply the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The doctor had no problem with us continuing the Clomid.

The only other thing that I can say I did was buy some “Tussin” (guaifenesin) at Dollar Tree. A friend had told me, “Well my friend swears by Robitussin,” so I checked back into my reference book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” Sure enough, Toni Weschler also says that a woman can take 2 Tbsps of guaifenesin three times a day in the 3-4 days leading up to her most fertile day of the month [make sure it doesn’t have any letters after it – just plain Robitussin]. I also read online that it’s a myth, but I was willing to try it with the idea that it thins the cervical fluids and makes it easier for the little swimmers to reach their destination. I needed to be doing something and this was a $1 investment that might help, so I tried that the second month on Clomid.

Now, if you’ve read “The Transition Story,” you may like to know that by now we are arriving to the part of the car saga where we’re parking our first car back on the lot where we bought it after two frustrating months of transmission issues that haven’t been resolved. We were at the lowest point of our transition to the US and discouraged in a way that I can hardly describe effectively. We had and have many prayer warriors and friends alongside us that knew enough details to know we were struggling hard, and they stood in the gap to pray for us in a way that we simply couldn’t even pray in this time frame. I’m so thankful for those sisters and brothers. Prayer was the most powerful medicine through all of this.

November and early December included four 16-hour trips to and from my sister’s house in NC (two round trips, also described in “The Transition Story”). In the middle of the night, in a rest stop somewhere in Tennessee, as we traveled to NC for the second time, I got a little surprise in the bathroom. It crossed my mind at the time that it could be implantation bleeding, but I had seen the same thing on the same cycle day the month before to no avail, so I dismissed it… mostly. A night or so later I saw it again, but more this time. Again, I tried not to read anything into it, because it could easily be hormones that were a little confused or some low progesterone. Spotting comes from a number of sources, after all.

As we made the second trip back to Arkansas in our new-to-us Honda Fit, the fourth 16-hour drive in about 3 weeks, I was so exhausted that I told Leo that I just needed to rest my eyes for 20 minutes in a rest stop. It wasn’t the first time this had happened on these long road trips, but I did feel exceptionally drained at that moment. The end of the month was approaching, though, and that can cause exhaustion anyway. We rested and then made the remaining couple of hours to our home. The following morning, as always, I took my temperature. It spiked on a day that it should have been dropping for the inevitable end to the month, it was exactly day 28 of my cycle. It was about 6 in the morning, so I snuck over to the guest bathroom so that I wouldn’t wake Leo. I chided myself a bit as I did it, but I pulled out my Dollar Tree pregnancy test from the cabinet. I mentally prepared myself for another negative, but I glanced down before the three minutes had passed and saw a second, bright-pink line. I stared in disbelief. Could it be?

I waited all of an hour before I woke Leo up early to tell him. It was unceremonious this time because all I could think about was July. I didn’t know if this was going to stick, but I knew I needed Leo to be in the whole process with me. As soon as the doctor’s office was open, I called and left a message for the nurse to call me. I told her, “I got a positive pregnancy test this morning, but I don’t know if I should believe it because this happened in July and then it didn’t last.” She was so kind and told me to come in that afternoon for a blood draw and then I’d come back in two days to see how the numbers were progressing. When she called that afternoon, she told me that I was definitely pregnant. My HcG levels were in the 200s (a home pregnancy test detects them around 25). Then she asked if I was taking a progesterone supplement. My heart skipped a beat in fear as I said that I wasn’t, thinking that perhaps my progesterone was low and I might be losing this one too. She quickly assured me that everything was fine, “We typically are looking for your progesterone to be over 15, but yours is 47, so that’s great!” I was elated, though still anxious to make sure that the HcG was increasing as it should two days later. Those results took a little longer because my doctor and her nurse were not in the clinic to call with my results, but after a slightly panicked call to the nurse line, someone realized what results I was looking for and called me to say that the HcG had more than doubled and that it was all looking good! It was only then that I pulled the “Yo ❤ Papá” onesie in wrinkled wrapping paper from a drawer where it was hidden.

It might have been hard for me to believe what was going on inside me except that less than a week later, I lost my lunch for the first time. From about week 5 and on, I was queasy 24-7, and often downright nauseated. I tried all the traditional remedies for morning sickness, but I just felt awful. I slept with a trashcan beside the bed. Around week 7, I ended up in Urgent Care because I was vomiting blood. Apparently my vomiting was so violent that I was rupturing capillaries in my esophagus. Eww! Around week 9, we ended up in a 14-hour, threatened miscarriage, ER adventure where Leo got the first glimpse of the little one (I didn’t get to see anything!). While we unfortunately met my insurance deductible that night, we did find out that baby was still alive in spite of bleeding near the egg sac. We got our first pictures of baby two days later at my doctor’s office for the emergency follow-up, and more pictures another week later and the regularly scheduled, 10-week appointment.

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The good news continues. At the February 22 appointment, baby looked good. We could see arms and legs this time, we got a wave from baby, and then baby put his/her hands together as if in prayer. I tear up even now as I consider this little miracle inside me. The road that led to this little one was nothing like I expected and I sometimes struggle with fear of the unknown in this process. A wise friend told me that Jesus is the same before we walk into an appointment, as he is after the appointment, so whatever happens in there, He is unchanging. Another friend says her husband told her during her pregnancy, “You’re pregnant today, so that’s what we’re celebrating.” I find myself repeating often, “God, you are the same yesterday, today, and forever,” as I acknowledge that He is our hope and in Him we put our trust. I also confess with regularity, “God, this baby was yours, is yours, and will always be yours, so I trust You with the future. All that days ordained for her were written in Your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16). We want her here with us (yes, I’m convinced baby is a girl), but our trust is and will remain in You.”

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This is the picture of the baby’s arms together like s/he’s praying. Pray with us for this little one!

If you’ve read this far, thank you! This is a long entry because this has been a seemingly long and tough road for us. We are excited and we appreciate your continued prayers! Our next regularly-scheduled appointment is on March 22, and on April 3rd I will have a special level-2 ultrasound where doctors from Little Rock will be watching via technology and looking for any abnormalities (there is always an anatomy scan around 20 weeks, but because of my age I will get the more in-depth scan and measurements). We expect this little one to arrive around August 20, 2018. The name will remain a secret, but we will likely be sharing the gender along the way when we find out. Stay tuned and please pray with us!

Transitions are hard. Any transition has challenges, even if it is a good change or a desired change. Starting a new job that you’ve always wanted is exciting, but still has a learning curve. And it seems we almost always underestimate the challenges in a transition, doesn’t it? Or at least things never go exactly as we expect.

So it has been with our transition to living in the USA. Leo and I both knew that an international move would be hard, but somehow it’s been even harder than we imagined. One step forward, two step back. Swimming upstream. Walking against the wind. A hard row to hoe. Flying into the Jetstream. A baptism of fire. However you label it, it’s been difficult. And it wasn’t just one big issue, it was a lot of little, bothersome things that left us struggling along the way.

Where to start? These are some of the pesky things that discouraged us along this journey:

  • Lost Immigration Packet: We hadn’t been in the US long when we got a letter from Immigration (the Texas Service Center) saying that they’d never received the package of information we turned in to the immigration official when we crossed the border at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. This package represents months of information gathering, personal documents, and some irreplaceable items. There were criminal record reports, financial information including the information of our financial sponsor, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and much more! Thankfully we were able to scrounge up what we needed to take to an extra appointment with immigration in Ft. Smith, Arkansas in order to keep things moving towards Leo’s green card. But this was an extra and unexpected step for us that started out a little scary, became a hassle, and simply frustrated us.
  • Lost Social Security Card: When we were finally able to apply for Leo’s Social Security card, we waited anxiously for it to arrive in the mail. It never came. Perhaps you aren’t aware that you can only request 10 SS cards in your lifetime, and a maximum of 3 in one year. So, right off the bat Leo’s is lost in the mail and he’s down one card request for his lifetime. And when we asked if they could verify if it was returned to sender (to know if he’s vulnerable to identity theft) we were told that all returned cards are shredded, but no one tracks the cards that are returned. What the what? Oh, “And here’s a book about protecting yourself against identify theft.” Gee, thanks. We thought we left difficult (and incompetent) government processes behind, but this second unnecessarily-extended process aggravated us.
  • Bad News from the Doctor: In October, we received disappointing news from my doctor that it was unlikely that we would be able to conceive a child naturally. My AMH (http://natural-fertility-info.com/amh-ovarian-reserve-continued-follicle-production.html) levels were “low” or “very low” at 0.42, depending on whose scale you read. My doctor was ready to send us to a fertility clinic, stat! Unfortunately, many fertility clinics will not accept patients with low AMH because they are not candidates for IVF since it’s also unlikely there could be a good egg harvest. It’s likely that a fertility clinic would have recommended donor eggs to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy. While it’s not directly related to the process of transitioning to life in the US, this was a disheartening turn of events since we both wanted children. It was especially hard to process in the midst of all the other readjustments that were taking place.
  • Scary Health Issues: Leo began work at the end of October at the local Chick-Fil-A. Within a week he began complaining of arm pain. I chalked it up to using muscles in a different way, recommended Advil, and told him it would get better. It didn’t get better. In fact, it progressed. He started losing feeling and control in both arms and he was in nearly constant pain, culminating in nearly dropping an entire fry basket of chicken one day. This led to a series of doctors appointments, nerve conduction tests, and eventually to physical therapy. He was unable to complete the required duties at CFA, though he left under good terms since it was a medical concern that was keeping him from working. While no one could definitively say what was happening, it’s suspected that it was an overuse syndrome that would have progressed to Carpel Tunnel syndrome if he’d continued working in that same role. It’s probable that CFA was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back and not the entire cause of the issue, but it was a exasperating blow for him that he couldn’t continue work and faced weeks of physical therapy that continues even now. This was a setback that proves to be a bit infuriating to someone who desires to provide for his family, and especially heartbreaking when he’s trying to learn a new culture and language and simply fit in here in Arkansas.
  • The Search for Community: Finding a church and friends was tough for us. We visited many churches, but felt like we were walking in and out unnoticed at times, and other times simply not feeling at home at the church. We tried English and Spanish services to see what might click with us. It’s surprisingly hard to make friends in a new place too. While we had some invitations here and there, we spent and still spend a great deal of time as just the two of us at home. This has been hard, especially for Leo as an extrovert who doesn’t speak the local language well yet! It’s hard for me when we do get together with folks because, unless they speak Spanish, much of my energy is spent in translation. Leo and I are good friends, but we were also feeling the loneliness of having no community. We’ve found a church home and we hope that true community will soon follow.
  • The Car Saga: We purchased a car within the first week after we arrived in Arkansas. Within three days there was a major malfunction in the transmission (it felt like someone hit us from behind!). We had the car checked out at the dealer, talked to the guy that sold it to us, and were promised that it was just a software update that was needed. The problem happened again. The seller took the car back to his mechanic and had it for three weeks. When we got it back, the original temporary tag had expired and we were on to a second temporary tag. After being assured that the problem was fixed, it reoccurred on the second day we had the car. It took the rest of the month (and the rest of the life of the temporary tag) to work the situation out. It finally culminated in us parking the car on the lot where we’d purchased it because the second tag had expired. We were car-less again, but thankfully able to eventually reverse the original purchase agreement.
  • The Car Saga Part 2: The renewed car hunt took us to another dealer near home who really messed with us and in the end, couldn’t get us an acceptable rate on a loan. Apparently when you live out of the country for 6 years, they claim that you have “no recent credit” to support the loan, so you’re back to essentially having no credit (in spite of the credit card that you maintained while out of the country). We were going to have to have a cosigner to not get killed with the interest rate.
  • The Car Saga Part 3: All attempts at having a long-distance cosigner failed, so the car hunt took us back to NC with family support. After a week of disappointing test drives, we finally found a well-cared-for and relatively low-milage Honda Fit in our price range. We jumped on it and after some craziness at the DMV (two trips and lots of time in lines) trying to get a temporary tag for the drive to Arkansas, we were finally on our way.
  • The Car Saga Part 4: On MLK Jr. Day, our new Honda Fit was hit by a young man who simply pulled right into us (we had to stop in front of where he was pulling out and he was only looking left to make his right turn onto the road). A relatively small hit with scrapes on the hubcap and a dent in the rear quarter of the passenger’s side turned into over $2,500 of damages and 9 full days of repairs since the axle was also bent in the process. It took countless calls to the insurance company, car rental company, and body shop to get our car out of the shop only 10 hours before we left for another cross-country road trip.

So, I share this whole bulleted list not for sympathy, but just to say, “This has been rough.” And we are aware that many people are suffering and our situation could be much worse, but this is where we were/are. We knew the move would be hard, we knew there would be a learning curve and adjustments, and we thought we were prepared for a transition. We simply couldn’t have anticipated that on top of the normal transition stuff and ongoing ministry and work, we’d be bogged down by a seemingly endless assault of annoying occurrences that sapped our time, finances, and energy. It seemed like we’d never get our heads above the water in those first four to five months. God has worked many miracles in the midst of the trials, and we have cherished the rays of sunshine, but we also are thankful for your continued prayers!

As of today I have been married 6 months. A couple of weeks before our wedding someone said to us, “It gets hard. At some point you start treating each other like your family.” Now that could sound like a good and beautiful thing, right? But it can also mean that you let it all hang out, especially the stuff you’ve never shown before, and you take for granted that the other person is there in it with you. Seeing each other day-in and day-out, sometimes for 48 hours straight in our small apartment, changes things dramatically from the dating and engagement phase. For me, and I suspect for many others, the reality is even more challenging than I imagined.

A friend posted an article from Relevant the other day titled “How To Survive Your First Year of Marriage.” (https://relevantmagazine.com/article/how-to-survive-your-first-year-of-marriage). My friend is actually in the picture that accompanies the article, which is amazing, but the title is what caught my eye. For a brief moment I thought I might actually get some solid input! I read it and was completely disappointed. There was no practical survival advice about the first year of marriage and there was no encouragement for the hard moments. It simply said that the infatuation wears off, relationships take work, and having a vision to work toward together is a good thing. I hope that someone wouldn’t get to the point of marriage without knowing those things. I’m not sure I would have gotten through wedding planning and to the alter without knowing those things. I’m not an expert, but those points were way too basic for me at this point! Ironically, the title of the article has now been changed to “How To Make Sure Your Relationship Lasts Past The Beginning.” That sounds more accurate for the content, and I wouldn’t have read an article with that title hoping for advice for where I am.

While trying to overcome my title deception, I turned to another form of technology. I sent an iMessage to a long-time friend who’s a few years ahead of me in this journey. My message said, “I have a question for you: I remember you once told me that you fought about everything your first year of marriage except money. The context was talking about Dave Ramsey, but I wanted to ask something else. Do you have advice on learning to fight well? My family stuffed, then exploded, so I’m really poor at proper conflict resolution.”

My friend claimed she wasn’t wise in these matters, but I found her response to be just what I needed to hear. She said, “Right now I’m just a beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” Even so, she pointed me the right way and encouraged me in the process. I asked permission to present it here, in a numbered list as it was presented to me, only edited to remove text-message-speak and identifying details:

“Here are some of my thoughts about marital conflict, in no particular order:

  1. Living life in such close proximity to another human is incredibly challenging. I didn’t think marriage would be a cakewalk before I got married, but it is definitely harder than I expected.
  2. Being constantly reminded of my selfishness (not because my spouse reminds me verbally, although maybe sometimes) is a tough reality to face!
  3. I am not always right. This frustrates the daylights out of me, because I’m a super holy person. 🙂 [Yes, my friend is sarcastic!]
  4. The best advice I can give you is to point you to Jesus and God’s Word. Seems cliché, but it’s true. In your moments of frustration, conflict avoidance, deep compassion and love for your spouse, extreme negative feelings towards your spouse, and everything in between: take it to Jesus.
  5. You already know there is absolutely nothing you can say to God that will change how HE feels about you. So, tell him how you feel. Air your frustration to Him. He can handle it. And then pray for wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and revelation about how to proceed and communicate effectively with your spouse.
  6. I used to think I had to find the exact right marriage book (or now, parenting book) to help me self-help-fix my relationships and myself. That’s not to say there aren’t some great, Godly books out there; there are. But I consistently underestimate God’s Word, how living and active it is and applicable to every situation. If I read my Bible asking for insight and wisdom, especially on a specific topic or relationship situation, God highlights things as I read that make sense in a way they haven’t before.
  7. Nobody knows your spouse better than his Creator! He can and will guide you in your relationship with your spouse. He’ll give you wisdom about when to bring things up, and when to let things slide. He designed you two to be in relationship, so He knows how it’ll go!
  8. And 9 times out of 10, if I PRAY FOR MY HUSBAND, earnestly pray for him – even if it’s to say “LORD HELP ME LOVE HIM HE’S SUCH A DOOFUS” – the Lord softens my heart towards him. My frustration lessens because I remember we’re on the same team, not opposing ones, that we’re in this for the long haul, and that we have to learn how to walk together.
  9. I tend to be an over communicator, I think. Especially early on in our marriage I thought we had to talk each and every little thing to death, the moment it took place.  Sometimes that’s just not the case.  Sometimes walking away from the conversation and revisiting it later (after sleep, or food, or time has passed and perspectives are better) is the best solution.
  10. So the long and short: Jesus loves you. He created you. He knows THE STRUGGLE IS REAL in relationships between humans. There is no greater thing you can do for your marriage than to read God’s Word, which can lead to transformation you could never have constructed on your own.”

What do you think? Was this wise and practical advice? What would you add?

As I write to you all, I sit in a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. We returned a couple of hours ago from an amazing launch service for City Church Nairobi, a partner of MULTIPLi Global. I feel immensely blessed because I was able to travel for this special event, I traveled with my husband (!!) of four months who is napping in the next room, we have amazing opportunities this week to minister and see ministries in Kenya, and we have food, bottled water to drink, water to bathe, and water to flush the toilets.

Why do I feel blessed to be able to flush the toilet? Because most of the people in the city that I call home haven’t bathed or flushed their toilets in 4 or more days. Even worse, there’s no more bottled water for purchase in the city, or if there is, it’s triple the normal price or more. It has been a terribly hot summer there and temperatures aren’t letting up. Then today there was a small earthquake (4.1), as if they weren’t already dealing with enough. As I try to focus on the ministry that we came to do in Kenya, I find that my loyalties are divided. It’s tough to tear myself away from the news articles and Facebook posts about the current situation in Lima and other parts of Peru.

Perhaps you aren’t up to date on what’s going on in Peru. It’s not too surprising – I had a difficult time finding an article online in English that explained the situation clearly. Somehow after the news agencies virally showed a woman miraculously emerging from one of the mudslides, the overall story slid right out of the headlines. Here’s a short version: Abnormal rains are causing mudslides and flooding in various parts of Peru, mostly in the north and along the coast. The amount of mud and debris in the rivers then causes water treatment plants downstream to close their intake valves. They simply can’t filter out that amount of junk from the water. Water distribution is then cut to cities like Lima, people go to the store to buy water, supply and demand raises the prices and panic levels, and suddenly there’s no water to be purchased in the capital city of 10 million people. Major roadways have been washed away making food and water distribution to affected areas very difficult, not to mention just transporting people out of those areas and transporting in the physical labor to help. Bridges are out across the country, agriculture is swamped, food prices are rising, and the ones suffering the most in all of this are those who were living in poverty before the first drop of rain fell. (Read more here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-peru-floods-idUSKBN16O2V5)

As I sat on a conference call late last night that was aimed at disaster relief efforts, it was difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the situation in Peru. My mind recalled images of disaster relief trips to Mississippi after Katrina. I flipped between the thoughts, “I’m thankful that I am not there to have to deal with the water crisis in our own home,” to “I feel helpless being so far from my home country right now,” to “What will we do when we return to Lima next week if there’s still no food and water?” and even, “Will there be enough water for the cat sitter to give to Toby?” What irony that I am currently double-fisting a lovely Kenyan tea and bottled water in a country that is suffering a terrible drought, while excess rains fall in Peru where many don’t have clean water to drink.

I was thankful for this reminder from my boss:

Psalm 29:10-11 (NIV)
10 
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.

I desire to rest in the peace of knowing that the Lord sits enthroned over the flood. It is in that peace and strength that I want to pray for Peru while also focusing on my tasks here in Kenya. My loyalties need not be divided in this time, for my loyalty is to the Lord who is enthroned as King forever.

Please pray with me for Peru and Kenya.

If you’ve read “The Relationship Story” on my blog, you know that I had been seeing Leonardo Ramirez since we reconnected on a mission trip in July 2015. Things had been going very well and we’d been meeting with his pastors on a regular basis since we became official-official in January. We’d talked about marriage, but with my 3-month departure for the US looming, I wasn’t expecting anything to be set in motion until I was back in Peru in September.

A few days before I was scheduled to leave Leo said to me, “You’re going to miss our dating anniversary on the 10th and you’re going to be gone for three months. Pick a nice place to eat and I’ll even put on my sport jacket and get dressed up.” I didn’t really think much of it because Peruvians like to celebrate. Even my small group had a special dinner to tell me goodbye and scoffed when I said I was “only” gone for three months. It’s a very considerate culture.

I considered a few differently Lima restaurants, but we finally decided that we wanted something with an ocean view. There’s a shopping center built into the cliffs overlooking the ocean on the coast of Lima. We’d been there and walked along the path that follows the cliffs on various different dates over the last year, so we settled on going there, though I settled on a restaurant in advance. There were several good options there.

Leo had Monday off from work, so we chose June 6, 2016, for the special dinner. We had the taxi take us to a lighthouse along the cliffs. One of my favorite early photos of us was taken at that lighthouse on our third date, if I remember correctly. So, we got out there, took a new photo at the lighthouse, and then walked along the cliffs toward the shopping center.

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The new lighthouse picture we took that night. June 6, 2016.

When we arrived at the shopping center, I proposed that we start at one end of the line of restaurants that have an ocean view and just ask if an inside ocean view table was available – it was chilly that night, after all. The first restaurant that we came to, Tanta, had a table with a nice view, so we took it!

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At our table in Tanta – clearly I was saying something at the time. June 6, 2016.

Dinner was normal, from my perspective, though later I learned that he was quite nervous. Maybe I should have picked up on it, but I didn’t! Apparently when he went to the restroom at one point, one of the waiters stopped to ask him if he was okay. He was at the sink splashing water on his face and trying to compose himself, so he must have looked rough! He told me that he said something to the waiter like, “It’s a very exciting day for me.” When he came back to the table he first asked if I was ready to leave but then asked if I wanted dessert. We decided on dessert, which is always really amazing at this particular restaurant.

After dessert he was telling me how much he had appreciated getting to know me over all this time and so forth. I thought he was just being flowery – most Peruvians are able to give a small speech at the drop of a hat. I was listening but also trying to think how I would respond in kind to properly say goodbye for the three months. It’s not in my nature to be so flowery, though I have tried to learn while living in Peru. Suddenly Leo stood up and threw his chair out of the way. I thought, “Why is he standing up? Everyone is going to look at him.”

He was saying [in Spanish] in his loud, deep voice, “…and I want to tell you in front of all these people that I love you….”

I watched in shock as he pulled something out of his pocket and I was thinking, “Surely that’s not a ring box. It’s a ring box.” Later Leo told me that I looked really pale! It’s a moment that one tries to imagine in life, but when it actually happened, it was quite startling.

He continued, “…and I want to ask you, and it cost me a lot to learn this, [switching to English] ‘Will you marry me?” Later I asked him who had taught him to ask me in English and he said, “Oh, I had to use a translator app and have it repeat it to me over and over.” What a sweet gesture to hear the proposal in my heart language!

After asking in English, Leo knelt down on one knee and returned to Spanish, “Robbye Fielden, quieres casarte conmigo [will you marry me]?” I am thankful that he asked in both languages because it meant so much for me to hear it in my native tongue and I know it resonated more with him to ask it in his.

As he knelt there I could feel that not only was there a physical ring in his hands, but he had completely laid out his heart between us in the most vulnerable way and was offering it to me. Of course I happily said “Si!”

As we hugged I heard an American two tables down exclaimed, “Oh how sweet!” I also realized the entire wait staff had lined up and was applauding. I had briefly forgotten that others surrounded us in the restaurant. I was still in shock for a while – it felt surreal! I think Leo was shaking from adrenaline for the next two hours. It was definitely an exciting night for us! We’re eagerly anticipating our next big adventure which will begin on November 26, 2016!

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Engaged! June 6, 2016.

Leo and I met sometime in late 2013 or early 2014. He insists that we met earlier than I remember and that I was a bit snobbish and was only speaking English with a group of foreigners. I don’t quite remember it that way, obviously, but he could be right. I first remember him in a course that we took together at Iglesia Centro de Fuego in early 2014. We were both attending the same church at that time and that course is where I feel like I got to know him by name in a small group setting. Admittedly, I might have met him before that. I’m not always the best with names, something that I should work on!

I was on home assignment away from Peru for a few months in 2014. When I returned to Lima I decided to start attending a new church plant, La Ciudad. Because of that, I didn’t see Leo for a while. It was probably around May 2015 when I first saw him again. I was hanging out with my friend Gretchen (a Californian) and she mentioned that her husband, Jack (Peruvian), was out with his friend, “Aldo.” At least, that’s what I heard her say. Jack has a friend Aldo, and I guess my brain just misheard and replaced the name with something plausible.

While I was still with Gretchen that day, Jack and Leo walked through the door. I thought to myself, “That’s not Aldo. Who is that? He’s cute. I know him, but it’s not Aldo. Come on brain.” Then Leo spoke to me by name and I was baffled. I knew I should know who he was, and after I realized he wasn’t Aldo I still knew I should know him, I just couldn’t put it together since we were out of context and it had been a year since I’d seen him! That’s what having two whole lives full of people (in the US and in Peru) will do to you – name/face overload with slow recall. It was probably 10 minutes before my brain finally kicked in and I said to Gretchen, “Oh, Leo! From the course at church!”

Fast forward a month or so: Gretchen and Jack were planning a mission trip in July 2015 through Iglesia Centro de Fuego to Jack’s birthplace in Aucayacu, Peru. Gretchen was going to be about 7 months pregnant and couldn’t go. She asked if I’d go to help with the administrative aspects of the trip and I agreed. At one of the planning meetings Leo walked in and I realized we’d be going on the trip together. I can’t honestly say what got my attention that day, but I left feeling like I had a crush on him! Consequently I set about praying for the Lord to take away that interest – Satan loves to distract people from their true purposes on short-term missions by romantic relationships and I couldn’t have that!

In Aucayacu I was determined to put aside my feelings of interest in Leo, and I continued to pray to that end. Contrary to my efforts to ignore him, I noticed the first night at dinner that he was the first person up from the table gathering dishes and setting about helping wash up. The first thought that crossed my mind was what my former roommate and I used to say when her then-husband-to-be did something she wanted to encourage: “That’s so sexy.” I then reminded myself that I shouldn’t be noticing such things and silently prayed that the Lord would take away my interest in Leo.

In the days that followed on the mission trip I continued to try and ignore my feelings and focus on the work at hand, but I couldn’t stop my brain from taking note and watching as Leo jumped in where needed. He was a clown one day, dancing and entertaining a group of kids; he was up front another time as he led the community in motions to some of the songs we sang; and he was available to serve whenever and wherever needed. Even though I’d known him a while, I’d never seen him in front of a crowd of people and he was so natural and engaging. Crushes can definitely have disastrous consequences on a mission trip, but mission trips sure do reveal another side of a person that we can’t always see in everyday life. I saw Leo in a whole new light and it was super attractive to me.

For me the deal was sealed on the day of our departure from Aucayacu. Everyone was saying their goodbyes and Leo was holding a little girl who was about 1 year old. She was playing with his facial hair and he was kissing her hand as I snapped a couple of pictures. I looked at the pictures and something told me that our friendship wasn’t over.

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The picture that I took of Leo the day we were leaving Aucayacu which confirmed for me that I wanted to know this man more!

The more in-depth friendship started simply with texts over WhatsApp after I forwarded him the pictures I took. We talked about all sorts of things, each of us revealing bits more about ourselves along the way. There were some interesting similarities in our life stories in spite of our obvious differences. We saw each other a couple of additional times in group settings as the mission team (half of which was from the US) had a debriefing night, we ate with a group from church, and later met again with the Peruvian part of the mission team.

Our first one-on-one date was Monday, August 3, 2015. We met up at a theater that shows new release movies for about $2 on Monday-Wednesday. I honestly wasn’t sure if it was a date and I had no idea, especially factoring in the culture, whether I should offer to pay for my own ticket. Trying to navigate those tricky waters, I reached for my money and Leo simply said, “How about if I treat you today.” I agreed. We saw Minions, and then given that it was early when we got out, we turned around and saw Pixels right after that! Leo posted a picture of us at the theater together, so I knew he didn’t care if it was known that we were together, but I still didn’t know if it meant anything! The texting continued throughout the week, so I was cautiously hopeful.

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Our first one-on-one date to see Minions at CineStar. August 3, 2015.

The next Monday we met again at the same theater to see Mission Impossible. As he walked me to my door that night [he always sees me all the way home safely, even if it means a long trip home for him], we started a conversation that was surprisingly deep and interesting to me. We were talking in the street at my front door until almost 2 AM! The next day we agreed to meet up for coffee at 3 PM to continue the conversation. The conversation continued through coffee, a walk along the cliffs overlooking the coastline, through the shopping center built into the cliffs, onto the bus toward my house, and through a rotisserie chicken dinner. He left me at my door at 10 PM after another standing conversation there in the street. I think we were both shocked that we could talk that long and not tire of one another! I told him that night at dinner that I was enjoying getting to know him – that I felt like I could be completely myself around him from the beginning (even when I dropped food on myself at dinner!). He told me something that night that set him apart from every other relationship I’ve ever been in. When I said I thought we had a good connection, he responded, “I’ve learned to wait on God’s answer. I don’t put my answer out there and ask God to bless it, I wait for Him to give direction. He matures everything in His time.” I think in that moment I knew what the Shulamite in Song of Solomon felt, much to my chagrin.

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The picture that I took of Leo the day we were leaving Aucayacu which confirmed for me that I wanted to know this man more!

I remember the first day that Leo asked me if he could call instead of text. It was the day after the 7-hour marathon conversation date. I was thrilled, but silently praying that I would be able to understand the Spanish well over the phone! The phone is always more challenging because there’s no body language, facial expressions, or lip reading to help with comprehension. I understood, thankfully! I wrote in my journal that it really required a different set of language skills to talk to him like that. I wasn’t able to multitask and I left the conversation completely exhausted, but I knew it was worth it.

Seeing movies at the cheap theater became a regular date in our relationship as did the pathway along the cliffs (called the Malecón). We were able to see each other on a decently regular basis as I could juggle my work to be completed in odd hours and we enjoyed each others’ company. On January 10, 2016, he officially asked me to be his “enamorada.” Technically that translates to girlfriend, but most of you reading this in English would have already assumed that we were boyfriend and girlfriend! Chalk it up to cultural differences. For Leo, we were “just friends” until January (one doesn’t kiss their friends), and by officially asking me to be his girlfriend, we were entering a more serious and intentional phase that would involve both sets of our pastors and accountability. It wasn’t what I was used to, culturally, but I have the utmost respect for how Leo has directed our relationship from the beginning. I can’t say that I was never frustrated by the differences, but I am thankful for him!

The months after January 10th proved to be some very intense ones. We learned about one another on a whole new level, navigating conflicts, cultural differences, and the hard questions that come with looking at the possibility of a future together. We both grew and changed tremendously in this part of our relationship, thankfully drawing us closer together, though there were moments when I thought we were being driven apart. It was challenging, but rewarding in a way that I never thought possible. I learned, over time, that it is often our differences – and they are many – that make us stronger as a couple. We are different genders, nationalities, ages, personalities, family cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, denominational backgrounds, and more, but we are united in Christ and are learning to use those difference to our advantage!

As the day of my departure from Peru for a 3-month visit to the US approached, I was dreading having to leave Leo. Little did I know that I would be leaving my fiancé for three months! But that’s another story…

 

With Mother’s Day coming up, I’m wondering how many of my single and/or childless friends will find themselves hurting as they leave the church. I have plenty of friends who completely avoid church on Mother’s Day because it simply rubs salt in an already open wound. It’s not that we don’t want to celebrate mothers, rather it’s that we’d like to be mothers and, for one reason or another, that hasn’t been an option in our lives. All the celebrating reminds us that we aren’t mothers and we may never get that incredible opportunity. And, as I’ve discussed on my blog before, people say dumb things! I’m sure they mean well, but they just don’t think about the effect that it has on the recipient.

I saw a post on Facebook today entitled, “People With No Kids Don’t Know.” It featured a comedian, Michael McIntyre, who was contrasting life without kids to life with kids. We all know that comedy uses exaggeration to make a humorous point, but he said some things in his “comedy” that are very hurtful to those who desire kids, but do not have them. His comedy put people in only two boxes (Kids & No Kids) and made the assumption that those without kids were choosing to be that way and had absolutely no knowledge of life with children. It made me cringe instead of laugh. There is most definitely at least a third box (and probably more), of people who do not have kids and are wrestling with their desire to do so and the life they’ve been handed. While I understand why he setup his comedy act as he did, I suspect that few in that third box will find his act funny.

Here are some thoughts about Mother’s Day and life with kids from someone who does not have kids, but would like to:

Yes, I know I have more free time than people with kids, but I would give anything, including every free minute of the day, to fill that time with a child or children. If I happen to mention my free time, please do not respond with, “Free time? What’s that?” I am well aware that you have much less free time than I do, but I’d trade you in a second. Would you give up your children forever to have my free time?

Yes, I know that it can be frustrating to have children. I understand that children misplace their shoes every single day. I know that it takes longer to get out of the house and that everything you do takes longer than when one has no children. But again, I’d much rather be in your shoes. When you tell someone without children that, “the grass is always greener on the other side,” all we hear is you taking your children and family for granted.

Yes, I know that I’m not dead yet. I know that there is still a chance that I will have kids one day. Believe me, I think on it a great deal, so you don’t need to remind me. If you tell me, “Don’t worry, your time will come,” or “But you’re still so young,” it doesn’t encourage me, even if that was your intent. You cannot possibly know what the future holds for me, so please, don’t pretend too. If you’d like to encourage someone without kids, perhaps try something like, “Is Mother’s Day hard for you? How can I pray for you?” Or perhaps, “Is having kids a desire that you have? Does that make Mother’s Day tough on you?”

And yes, I can even understand how mothers might not actually enjoy Mother’s Day. I get that it can be a disappointment each year because you are still doing all your usual motherly duties and not getting the break and special treatment you were hoping for. You might even have a bigger than normal mess to clean up in the kitchen because your children tried to cook your breakfast. But please, if your find Mother’s Day disappointing this year, remember to appreciate that you are a mother and that you get to do those motherly things. Please do not tell me, “Don’t worry, you aren’t really missing much with Mother’s Day.” There are many who would rather be disappointed as a mother on Mother’s Day than spend another Mother’s Day with empty arms. Hug your children, fill your arms, and remember how blessed you are on Mother’s Day.

Before you suggest that I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth and taking the life I have for granted, please know that I appreciate what a life without children has to offer. There are things that I have seen and done that would not have been possible if I had children. I freely admit that. I see the advantages of it, but I still long to have kids. I suspect the number of mothers who actually long to completely give up their children and return to their former, childless state is very few. It is the natural order of things to marry, to have children, and to eventually enjoy an empty nest. My life hasn’t followed the natural order, and I’ll enjoy that which He has for me, but I would appreciate it if those with children would think before they quip and try to make light of my childless state. Make sure your encouragement is really encouragement. If you don’t know what to say to someone without children (or in any other situation where someone is grieving, for that matter), ask how you can pray or simply state, “That sounds tough.” Your sympathy is much more encouraging than misguided humor or a thoughtless statement.

For those without children, did I miss anything?
For those with children, do people without children say hurtful things that we aren’t aware of?

Disclaimer: This blog entry is not about pointing blame at anyone mentioned here, directly or indirectly. It also is not claiming that being overweight is a direct result or the only possible result of a poor self-image. It is not a how-to for fixing one’s self-image. This is simply a retelling of some positive progress I made yesterday with regard to my own personal understanding of who I am. Please read it from that perspective. I could write many more blogs detailing other aspects of this issue, but that’s not my intent here.

Yesterday I read a raw, honest blog called, “The ‘After’ Myth.” It was a blogger’s account of how reaching a weight-loss goal didn’t actually fix her self-image problem; about how learning to love oneself is actually a significantly separate task and loosing weight can’t make that happen [my summary, not hers]. I know that feeling all too well. I once lost 100 lbs in my adult life, and I liked myself for a little while, but it didn’t last. Even though I was a size 6 (granted, with a BMI that was still technically not in the normal range), ran a half marathon, and could wear almost anything I put on in the store, my life didn’t magically change like I thought it would. The first time the guy I liked picked my friend over me, all my underlying feelings of being unloveable returned, and the weight followed. It didn’t come back all at once, but when the feelings returned, it became clear to me that the weight-loss adventure hadn’t accomplished what I was hoping, deep-down, that it would accomplish. I still didn’t love myself.

The thoughts on this amazing young lady’s blog and my subsequent thoughts started bouncing around in my head and colliding with thoughts that were already there from the Priscilla Shirer Simulcast I’d attended earlier in the day. Priscilla Shirer spoke on the topic of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6. She talked about the “helmet of salvation” as more than just receiving the forgiveness of sins by accepting and believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. She reminded me that it’s about a complete change in identity. I am a daughter of God. I know that God raised me up and seated me with Christ in the Heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). I know that I am God’s handiwork (verse 10). And there’s so much more in the Bible about a believer’s new identity in Christ. And I know all that, and have known it for many years, but I don’t live like I know that. Maybe I live outwardly like I know that, but not inwardly. I know that I am rooted in Christ. Verses about being rooted in love and rooted in Christ are painted in murals on my wall, among other places. How can I know that my identity is rooted in Christ and still not love myself, all myselves (past, present, future Robbye), like I should?

Instead of slowing down at the end of my day, my brain started moving faster and trying to process what the Lord was putting right in front of me. I needed to look more carefully at a particular question: “When did I stop loving myself?”

In late March and early April I had a Facebook profile picture of my dad holding me when I was just a few weeks shy of 1 year old, at Christmas 1978. I love that picture for my look of pure joy, my dad’s red hair (I only remember gray), and the way that my dad was looking at me adoringly when the picture was snapped. I can remember other baby pictures and pictures of little Robbye that I think are super cute. I love her. When did I stop loving myself?

RAFconPapi

I remember the disapproval of other people as early as 5 years old. Around that age there was a neighbor of the lady who kept me after school who told me I was such a “cute, little, fat kid.” I distinctly remember recoiling in my head at her words. I’m not sure what I said or did outwardly. I also remember being in a “fashion show” at a local department store where my mom worked and we got to pick out a new outfit in the store to model. I think I was 6 years old or less, but I honestly can’t place it in my history. I loved my new outfit and I wasn’t embarrassed to be on the stage, but I vaguely remember noting that I wasn’t the same size as all the other kids that participated. I was super young and I didn’t feel that different than others on the inside, but it seemed that I wasn’t measuring up for some reason. I played outside, rode my bike, walked to the country store down my road, and went to dance class like any other kid. I just wasn’t ever particularly tiny.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal last night:

I remember the first picture of myself that I recall hating. Perhaps there were earlier ones, but this one doesn’t require a photo album for me to remember it. It’s etched in my brain. It was my 4th grade school picture. I had forgotten that it was school picture day and was wearing a light pink t-shirt from my dance studio. I pulled my hair down from a ponytail, so it had the tell-tell wave of recent captivity in it. The worst part, and the part that I recall hating most, was that my body had begun to mature and I hadn’t yet been taught to wear a bra. I remember thinking that I looked unkept and misshapen, though maybe not in those words exactly. I remember instead the intense emotions that I felt when I saw myself; embarrassment, shame, and hate, to name a few. I hated that picture and I hated myself.

It only got worse from there. There was the kid in 5th grade who told me, with disgust in her voice, that I needed to shave my legs. I didn’t know that I needed to shave my legs. No one told me. I hated myself for not knowing and for having to be told that my legs looked disgusting.

I don’t believe I liked a school picture again until perhaps my senior year. I felt awkward and when I saw my pictures, I hated myself for looking so awkward. Even now, I cringe when I see those pictures because the emotions that I felt then flood into my mind all over again. To be honest, I still cringe at some pictures of me now too.

I think what resonated with me in the blog was that the writer mentions to her readers that she is still the same person in the “Before” pictures as the “After” pictures. My brain yells, “How can that be??” I look back in my mind at myself in all those unloveable years and I don’t love me. I think I look awkward, ridiculous, and utterly unloveable. Where is my sympathy for that young girl? With all the compassion God has gifted me with for others, why can I not see young Robbye (and even current Robbye) for her true identity? Why do I feel that the person in the pictures of my few years as skinny adult Robbye is more valuable than pictures of me now?

I pity young Robbye, and I pity current Robbye. I don’t see her as courageous, loving, kind, gifted, or talented. When I hear compliments along those lines, they bounce off of my view of her. I see her as someone to be pitied. WHY? LORD, HELP ME!

I ended my journal entry with a written prayer and closed the book because my body couldn’t bear to lay propped up on my elbows to write any longer. I lay in bed continuing to think about my former self. I pictured young 4th grade Robbye in her dance studio t-shirt with the wave of a ponytail in her hair. What would I say to her? “Keep dancing, Robbye, because it is through dance that you can express your true self and enjoy your body. You dance well and I know you love it!” How do I know? Because she is me, and I am still her. What would I say to 5th grade Robbye about her unshaven legs? To 6th grade Robbye? I continued to picture myself each year (I’m very visual), allowing images from each year to flood my mind. Images of my friends, my successes and giftings, and the joys. I refused to let in those awkward or embarrassing memories that usually surface when I consider those years. I continued to speak to my past self, congratulating her on being who God created her to be at each age, pointing out her courage or compassion as she walked through tough times personally or with her friends. I reminded her that it wasn’t anyone else’s thoughts or opinions that mattered. [She always knew that, in her head, but I told her anyway.] It helped her to hear those things, and it helped current Robbye to see younger Robbye in light of those words. I knew and know, in my head, what the Lord thought and thinks of me, but I was the one who needed to apply those things and say them to myselves so that I might believe my own words.

Lest you think I’ve had a psychotic break, I’ll return to speaking of myself in the first person and as one person. This morning I can look back at my younger years and swell with pride. I don’t think it’s the harmful or self-elevating kind of pride, but rather just a level of pride that indicates that I am happy with who I am, who I have always been. I suspect I will need to remind myself of all of this in the near future. Thought patterns don’t change quite that easily overnight, but it is a relief to wake this morning with a fresh view of myself (all of myselves). I know I will need to rehearse my identity often, to remind myself who I truly am in Christ. Hopefully I can believe it more easily now, with the Lord’s help, of course!

For the Christians out there: What are your favorite verses from the Bible about our identity in Christ? For those who aren’t familiar with what the Bible teaches about our identity: What do you love about yourself, in the healthy sense of self-love?

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