Monday, April 28, 2014

Little Happies #6

This Little Happies is dedicated to Stephanie to try and cheer her up =)


Divine Mercy Sunday!

We are so blessed to live near this beautiful church, where we went to mass on Sunday:

The mass was so beautiful. It started with a chanted Divine Mercy Chaplet and the celebrant/homilist was the papal preacher - how cool is that?!? And of course we asked for the prayers of SAINT John Paul II!!!!

Afterwards we walked with friends to a new pizza place and ate dinner outside in the sun. Perfect end to a beautiful day =)


Murder Mystery Dinner Party

Our friends threw a murder mystery party on Saturday and it was FUN! The best party we've been to in a long time. Everyone was a different character, and the theme was circus. Throughout the evening you had to talk with the different characters, collect clues, and try to figure out the murderer.

The food was great too: unhealthy circus food (corn dogs, popcorn, bagel bites [?], wings, and other fried things.)

Mr. M was a tattoo artist. These are his intimidating tattoos, applied by me:

I picked these out at Target. It was either turtles or planes...
It turned out to be a lucrative evening too! Mr. M got voted best actor and I was the only one who guessed the murderer (it was the clown, naturally). We each got $20, more than enough for pizza the next night (see #1).


Our garden

Things are starting to grow!

cozy little garden plot, barricaded against grass and our upstairs neighbors' kids

baby kale!

baby lettuce!
In addition to the above, I'm also growing red beets, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, spring onions, and parsley.

I thinned the arugula and lettuce on Saturday and thankfully remembered that I can eat the little shoots!

great for salads!

Mr. M would like to salute his foam roll again, this time with a picture:

He uses this for neck/back exercises. And his thighs just look big because of the camera angle. They're not that big in real life!

We got a sweet Easter card in the mail from our goddaughter, with her cute little handprints making the picture of a flower =) We're always happy to get little notes from her! (Okay, from her mom, but I'm sure it was her idea!)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

ultrasound series results

I finished my ultrasound series on Easter Monday, for a total of 5 ultrasounds:

  • Monday of Holy Week
  • Holy Thursday
  • Good Friday
  • Holy Saturday
  • Easter Monday

Yes, every day of the Triduum =) Made for a very...unique...Easter!

Between ultrasound #4 and #5 (Holy Saturday a.m. to Easter Monday p.m.) a sizable follicle (I think 2.6 cm?) pretty much disappeared, so it appears that I ovulated. I'm very relieved about that! I wasn't overly surprised because my cycles are a normal 28-day-ish length, and this cycle all my chartable signs made perfect sense with my ultrasounds, but it's still nice confirmation to have. (Although it does make me wonder, I'm husband checked out hormones are normal...what is the deal with not getting pregnant for almost 3 years??)

During the series, I prayed a LOT for those of you that are dealing with LUFs or other anovulatory issues - my heart was hurting for you, thinking of how devastating it must be to not get the "all clear" at the end of a series.

And yes, we did "use" the unusually specific knowledge we had of ovulation this cycle! As usual, I'm trying not to get my hopes up, trying not to analyze every little twinge and "symptom," and trying to be at peace about whatever happens this time around. We did our part, anyway!

Next up in medical steps: laparoscopic surgery, June 20. Until then, I'm off the hook medically, which is a huge relief and a very needed "breather"!

Happy weekend to all!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How the suffering of divorce has helped me through the suffering of infertility part II

This is the second post of two on this topic. It is written by Mr. M. For the first part click here.

Until, my dear Mom saw that I was going off the deep end into despair. I can only imagine what she thought at the time: "Hmm, it's probably not that normal for your teenage son to lock himself in his room for three or so days yelling to very angry music, ignoring even your mild attempts of offering food, and claiming he was busy just 'doing body weight exercises for sports and other things'" Yeah right! Phew, glad she saw through that obvious lie! So she encouraged me to attend this religious retreat. Oddly, I didn't outright reject it. The reason I didn't reject it simply was because I liked the priest who at the time was the campus minister at my high school. He was cool and convincing in the way he talked and holy, but I still didn't see any point of attending. So I waffled at the idea. Eventually, by an odd circumstance and literally out of nowhere (I now see it as a grace), a friend of mine who wasn't that religious encouraged me to go to the retreat with him. When I say 'not religious' he and I literally never talked once about God. He said he wanted to go because his brother was suggesting to him to go. So I agreed. But then the day before the retreat he opted out! I was like “What the heck (except a little bit more expletives were added at the time :-) )?” So I didn't want to go, but my mom dragged me in the car to the retreat. The priest sort of forced me (through good ol' guilt) to go as well. Probably not the best idea for retreat masters, but it really helped me in the end. However, I was miserable to be around on the first day of the retreat. Eventually the priest got to me or “got under my skin” so they say. His words pierced my heart, touched my soul. He shook me up and I went to confession for the first time in several years. That confession broke the ice on my soul and let the warmth of love in that I needed.

Things started to reveal themselves slowly from then on. I looked around at my peers on the retreat and realized they had a joy I didn't have. What was it? Was it simply that they didn't have to deal with divorce or a similar terrible suffering? No. Most of the kids who worked the retreat came from broken or high conflict homes too. Most of the presenters talked openly about their sufferings. I remember one being a drug addict that overcame it. I could relate with my dalliance into drinking although nowhere near an addiction. Teenagers shared witness stories about how they had used others and been used in sexual relationships and overcame that suffering by living healthier lifestyles. I felt pretty guilty at those witnesses and could relate totally. They spoke to my heart too about the emptiness they experienced. The priest also had a deadbeat, alcoholic dad who shunned him for his entire life until the very end of his life through a beautiful deathbed conversion. The priest shared how he overcame extreme anger toward his father and eventually offered forgiveness to him on that same deathbed. They actually reconciled in the last moments. Wow, I related to that experience with anger toward my own father who treated my mom and I so badly! It was this last witness that particularly moved me, but throughout the entire retreat I thought to myself: “These people have went through the sufferings I have gone through. This is not just a theoretical Christianity that hasn't dealt with the hard blows of life and has followed Christ out of a place of comfort. No this is a Christianity that has triumphed over suffering. I triumph that was real and evident in their joy. They went through the same type of suffering but they had joy? What was I missing? How can I get this joy?” The answer was clear: a dynamic faith in Christ.

My life was changed from that retreat forward and healing started slowly to ensue. There are too many details to get into about how I was healed. But here is the nub in relation to infertility: I had to deal with extreme suffering pretty early on in life. I have extrapolated many of the lessons learned from that school of suffering to the current suffering of infertility. But the biggest lesson from my past was that I had to find meaning in my suffering and by doing so I would reclaim my life and my childhood. As one of my later spiritual directors once said, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.” But how? By reclaiming it by finding a meaning for all of it. A meaning that can then be transformed into being a witness. It is this discovered meaning that gave life and fruitfulness to my suffering. This 'aha' moment that suddenly makes everything redeemable – even my distraught childhood. This meaning can only come from discovering the truth of Christ. Christ can redeem even our broken childhood and our broken families. It is never too late to have a happy childhood. We, children of broken homes, do we believe that?

Basically, through many years of searching and suffering, I realized that the meaning of my suffering was to defend the truth of marriage and family as proclaimed by the Catholic Church, especially the truth of love as a total self-gift. This was the key to love that restored my trust in relationships and opened my heart back up; and it was only the Church I realized that got this truth of marriage right in our messed up society. As part of this teaching, I especially saw the meaning of my suffering was to witness to a complacent bourgeois society the truth of indissolubility and the utter harm that divorce wrecks upon everyone – the alienated spouses, the alienated children, and all of their alienated friends who have to deal with all the suffering and fallout. But most importantly, the suffering of divorce made me realize the importance of a good marriage and a home and it is on this subject that I would like to be a witness to all of you in this post.

I wept tears of joy the night my wife and I came home from our honeymoon. Perhaps it was the next morning, but I distinctly remember looking around at the four walls of our small apartment and I cried out that “I finally have a home again!” I wanted to do an Irish jig or an Italian polka for joy. (Luckily, I refrained from embarrassing myself and probably more accurately I felt the need to drop to my knees and cry.) And at the center of that home was a beautiful, faithful God-fearing wife. There would be no adequate home without a loving spouse like that as it is their love that really makes the home a true home, rather than a war zone. I remember telling my wife these ideas and I remember these thoughts every time I feel the crushing weight of infertility. I constantly think to myself “I have a home again with my wonderful, loving wife!” "We even have a home with a Sacrament in it, right there in our living room!" "We have a home that is a sanctuary, like a Church, and not a grave of unending conflict!" Thinking these thoughts makes the suffering of infertility a lot less painful. Knowing the beauty of a home through the absence of it was how the suffering of divorce has made the suffering of my infertility easier. Knowing the peace, forgiveness, wisdom, and grace of an indissoluble, total love through the absence of it lived out was how the suffering of divorce has made the suffering of my infertility easier. Knowing the importance of shared faith in God for both love and suffering through the absence of it was how the suffering of divorce has made the suffering of my infertility easier. And so on.

Amazing this paradox!? Suffering can help alleviate suffering. This is the fruitfulness of suffering through discovering a truth and meaning behind it. The suffering of divorce has made me realize the greatness of having simply a home with a beautiful, loving wife whether or not a child comes. Of course, I want to share this sanctuary of love with my own children God-willing or other children unlike my own childhood. Really I want to share my home with everyone and I get a great joy just welcoming others into our peaceful, loving home. For me, one of the biggest times of feeling fruitfulness comes when I have had a chance to be hospitable to others. I pray everyday that our home is place of God, prayer, peace, love, joy, and laughter to others. This is my mission and I hope to share it with everyone, especially those who ache in their bones for such a taste of the home. "Open up the home for it too is my gift to this broken, homeless world," I hear the Lord say everyday in my prayers. 

There is a tear of joy in my eye every time I look around at my home (like right now) and I try to remain grateful about that every time I feel down about infertility. There are many, many people who do not get to experience this type of homecoming I have had. So I keep them in mind through prayer and I am grateful of the gift of a home with my wife that I have been given. This having of a home is the “go-to gratitude” for me to help deal with suffering. You know the one thing you are just so grateful for in life that it dissolves even the worst suffering into an internal smile of the soul (if only for a few moments). Therefore, I wanted to share my experience of divorce and infertility so that you dear friends along the infertility journey may know about the greatness of the home you have and give you something to reflect upon. Even if your home is in trouble now, there is still a great beauty to it if you are married and fighting for it. Keep dying for it. Don't give up. God will bless you and please know that you are such a witness to me, like my own mother who has despite the civil divorce against her will has remained all of these years faithful to her covenant started by God long ago.

My prayer for all of you is that you all have great and glorious homes. Share those homes with the world and reflect upon this grace of a home next time you struggle with your infertility. It won't remove all the pain, but it will help make it lighter because I think we often neglect this beauty of the home since it is in the background of our love constantly or something perhaps you have always had (thank God!). Don't take it for granted.

Finally, I wanted to share this story with you dear friends because it shows how suffering can beget healing and be fruitful for later suffering. I believe, through my previous experiences of suffering, that the suffering of infertility is therefore but an opportunity of grace to help us and others to endure and to be healed from greater suffering down the road. We never know where that suffering may come from, but I think if we find that path of healing along the road of infertility then this will do nothing but good for later suffering of our own and others. Infertility, when properly suffered through, can then become a healing balm and not just a big vat of sorrow. Only suffering can heal suffering. This is the mysterious paradox of suffering when it participates with that one suffering that keeps on giving and making all things fruitful – the suffering of Christ. My suffering through my parent's divorce is living testament to that. I pray my suffering, our suffering of infertility, does the same! Indeed it is never too late to have happiness during this time of our lives. “Keep your head up, love!” (From Stubborn Love by The Lumineers.)

FYI: For all those who are children who have went through divorce check out the song Stubborn Love and its video by the Lumineers on Youtube. It is just downright moving, meaningful, and healing to me. There is a light at the end of all the pain. While the video doesn't say what this light is, the light's name is Christ. Christ says to us, “Behold I am the light of the world.” :-)

Monday, April 21, 2014

How the suffering of divorce has helped me through the suffering of infertility Part I

This a post from my hubby Mr. M. He was inspired to write this post for sometime and now he has finally gotten around to doing it. There are two parts. Enjoy!! - Ecce Fiat

I am an adult child of divorce and now I am going through infertility with my wife. Sounds pretty bad, but I promise that this is an Easter story in the end (i.e. a story that shows how out of death can come life). Yes it is true that I have often thought, “Lord, divorce has been bad enough, but why now add on top of that infertility?! Really Lord? Do you just like to burden me with a lot of suffering?!” But the more I reflect upon it in prayer, the more I realize that the suffering of divorce has actually been really helpful for dealing with the suffering of infertility. I know this sounds odd, but it has to do with the fruitfulness of suffering that I have spoken about in an earlier post. But really you may ask, “how can suffering help suffering as the title suggests?” Doesn't it just double your suffering and pain making your life more miserable? Yes, if you haven't been healed and found no meaning or fruitfulness to suffering. No, if you have been healed and have allowed your suffering to be fruitful. In fact, I feel my fruitfulness being doubled through this double suffering as I slowly heal through the pain of infertility. This is why I can say with St. Paul, “I rejoice in the suffering.” But let me explain this mystery by taking you back with me through my life. I promise if you follow me through these two long posts, then I think it will shed some light on how to better appreciate the suffering of infertility even for those who have not experienced divorce.

Let me begin by saying that I believe the suffering of divorce I went through has been far worse than the suffering of infertility. I am not comparing the two objectively for everyone. (I will make no judgment calls there as they are both pretty bad.) I am just comparing them in my life and the recognition of this fact has helped me to cope and to be peaceful with the suffering of infertility. Let me explain my situation a little further. Divorce rips at your identity. Why? Because we are the fruit of the union of our parents, so when that union is messed up so is your identity. Now, of course, we are always also the fruit of God's love – and we are God's beloved children - so that is the basic identity I have to discover past my parent's transgressions that obscured it. In order to have healing I had to discover this deep identity in God and dwell within it for years. But this truth took me several years to discover; for some it takes a lifetime; and sadly some never discover it. Some wander brokenhearted and I pray my story can point toward a healing that can make them whole again. Brokenness isn't the last word on love.

The divorce wrecked me and even prior to the divorce the anger of my parents wrecked me too. These are some of my most vivid childhood memories: I remember several nights when I was young and I was clutching my beloved cat crying and crying and crying because my Mom and Dad were fighting loudly and offensively (primarily all of my father's verbally abusive comments). I remember one night when my Father hit the wall in anger and threw something in the general direction of my Mom too. It didn't hit her and he never did physically abuse her, but it was scary enough that my mom grabbed me with the cat and ran off to grandmother's. The cops were even called. It was a disaster. “Thank God Mom let me take the cat,” I thought to myself during the chaos. The cat's presence always comforted me throughout it all. I will always remember that cat – a big grace from God to a little child going through such stress.

To make matters worse, my parent's separation happened right before I entered high school too. Yeah, great timing folks. A youthful boy hitting puberty all pent up with lots of anger, sexual libido, and sadness over the lost love between his parents is surely going to do destructive things. And I did and I am to blame for it not primarily my parents. It was so easy to pit one parent against another if I didn't get my way and to sneek out of the house to go to parties and/or other things I shouldn't have been doing.

Eventually, I became numb to the belief of love forever. I lost trust in relationships. I doubted God could do anything for relationships as my mother was faithful to God but that did very little for her relationship. Little did I know that years later this faithfulness of my mother would really save me. But at the time I was blind. So I went after pleasure after pleasure – drinking, success at school (I always held a high GPA as a point of pride), popularity, sports, and lots of sexual activity. I was a lost cause and really unhappy because all of these things were escapisms from the pain. I didn't want to deal with everything that was tearing at me as the result of the divorce, but I knew all along that that was the problem. But no one talked about it except with angry rants. There were a lot of angry rants by me and my friends directed toward our parents. But it was pointless and it offered very little healing other than not so secrete knowledge that you were not alone – there were a bunch of kids angry at their parents. Big deal. I was craving healing and all this communal pain to my mind just compounded the problems and made things more miserable.

I knew I was running away from the pain, but I just didn't have the honesty to admit it. One weekend I was brought to an all time low. I just got dumped by another girlfriend. “What did I expect anyway? Wasn't that the way all relationships go?” I thought. But this time it made me particularly mad because I had helped this woman get through a number of tough situations. Her own dad was a drunk, abusive father. Really a much worse situation than mine. I even protected her and her brother one day from such attacks and I thought she needed me so much that there was no way she would leave me. You can see the twisted logic here – what I think psychologists call co-dependent relationships – I thought she wouldn't leave because she needed me for some benefit. Problem with this is that as soon as another person can fill that need just as good as or better than me she was gone. There was no love as the basis of the relationship. We were just two kids using each other for emotional security. So I got dumped even though I had pridefully said to myself that I was useful beyond any chance of breaking up. This made me more upset and made me question everything about love and life. I remember screaming Papa Roach's Broken Home lyrics at the time: “Can't seem to fight these feelings/ I'm caught in the middle of this/ And my wounds are not healing/ I'm stuck in between my parents.” Yeah, I felt like I was just a brokenhearted kid that felt very useless and doomed to repeat his parent's mistakes. It was my junior year of high school right before homecoming too. Yeah that meant I had no date for homecoming either. “Yikes, I'm a real loser now!” I thought to myself. “Useless and alone while everyone else has a date for homecoming.” Funny how such small things, like having a date to homecoming, can take on epic proportions to a lonely, brokenhearted high schooler. Everything is magnified when you are lonely and lost. I was at an all time low. Until . . .

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday: there is no ultimate loss

Another recycled post - I hope you don't mind! It was a really healing experience to write these last year, and my thoughts this Easter are very much the same.

Easter Sunday - there is no ultimate loss

But....and this is a huge, world-changing, history-altering BUT, Good Friday is not the end! It's not! Could there be a more joyful three words in the English language than "He is risen"?

Because of Easter Sunday - because of the resurrection - because Jesus rose - Loss is not the last word. Sorrow is not the last word. Grief is not the last word. The final word is Love and Joy and Peace and Happiness Forever. These are stronger than death. As C.S. Lewis wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia, there is a deeper magic at work than the pseudo-magic of death. 

It's not that death and sorrow and pain are "really not that bad" - it's that they're not the final note of the concert. After three days of silence, the music plays on, and at dawn on Sunday the weeping turns to laughter and the sorrow to joy. 

It's hard to put into words how much hope this gives me! The best way I've found of expressing it is to say that because of Easter, there is no ultimate loss. The final enemy, death, has been defeated. What else is there to be afraid of? The sorrow I feel on a daily basis over my childlessness is a real sorrow responding to a real suffering. But it's not the final word or the deepest reality. None of this is pointless - everything can be redeemed. There is something greater going on in my life than the daily heartache I feel. That, too, can be redeemed. It's not an ultimate loss. Death and sorrow and pain are real - but the resurrection is more real, if I can put it that way! 

Regardless of how poorly I've expressed this, the fact is that at the Easter vigil, as we were all welcoming the light of Christ - the light over which darkness has no power - my eyes flooded with tears and my heart filled with hope. Not hope for any tangible thing that I believe will make me happy (*cough baby cough*) but just HOPE, pure and simple - hope that everything will work out okay in the end, because Jesus went to Hell and back. Hope that love will triumph, because it already has. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday: yes, it really is that bad

I wrote this last year but wanted to share it again this year. 

Good Friday - yes, it really is that bad

Maybe it's my melancholic temperament, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when I relate a hardship to someone else and their response is, "Oh, it's really not that bad." Now to be fair, probably some of the things I complain about aren't that bad and I need to lighten up. And I know that the respondant is seeking to help me, seeking to make things easier by helping me see the "positive side" of a situation. But the fact is, some situations don't have positive sides. Or if they do, it's not in the form of a "silver lining" that I just need to squint harder in order to see. Some things in this fallen world are just broken and bad and hard, period.

Such as Good Friday. It hit me in a fresh way this Good Friday the fact that Jesus really died. I know that sounds so basic - it's what we say every Sunday in the creed: "he suffered death and was buried." But this year, for whatever reason the fact really sunk in that Jesus' agony and death on the cross wasn't an illusion. It wasn't an optical illusion or a prank. The Son of Man, God Incarnate, really truly died that black, black day. He gave up his spirit and "descended into Hell," as the Apostles' Creed says. There's no amount of squinting that will find the silver lining in that reality - Jesus died

The Good Friday liturgy brings this point home. It's stark and sparse. Images covered in red. Priests prostrating themselves. The crowd (us) saying "Crucify him!" This year I felt a real, aching sense of sorrow at thinking of Jesus bleeding on the cross and being placed in a cold, hard tomb. We sang a song that had the line, "Heavy with weeping let these three days pass." If Jesus hadn't really died, then this would all be a show. It would be play-acting, drumming up emotions for the sake of catharsis. Instead, it's a real mourning - Jesus died that day on Calvary. If Easter Sunday didn't arrive, there would be nothing "good" about Good Friday. 

In trying to parse out why this point impacted me so much this year, I think it's because it hit home that our faith is not one of rose-colored glasses and optimism. It's one of resurrection and hope, which are two markedly different things than a tinny sort of forced cheerfulness. For me, that gives me the freedom to really grieve over the sorrows in my life - yes, infertility really is that bad. It's that hard. There's not really a "positive spin" you can give to the fact that my body is broken and my vocation to motherhood is stunted. It's all right to grieve that - in fact, it's a fitting response. 

The same goes for any truly tragic thing - yes, it really is that bad that babies die in the womb, that children starve to death, that young men and women are murdered in their prime, that the elderly languish alone, unloved. Christianity's response to the suffering of a broken world was not to say "there, there, it's not that bad" - instead, the response for which the world had been groaning since the dawn of time was the sacrificial offering of God Himself on a bloody cross, knowing that no platitudes or bandaids would go to the heart of the crisis.

I have thoughts on Easter too...coming soon =)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week ovulation ultrasound series

Happy Holy Week, everyone!

As the title says, my Holy Week this year includes an ultrasound series to see if I'm ovulating properly. When I started my new cycle at the beginning of April and saw that day 11 (the day my dr. wanted the first ultrasound) fell on Monday of Holy Week, I tried to think of some deep symbolic meaning for the timing and came up with...nothing. Not that there isn't meaning - my brain is just not grasping it. It's too busy juggling the demands of work + the physical and emotional demands of IF testing.

As mentioned in our little happies post, we were so blessed to have Rebecca and The Man stay with us this past weekend! We also enjoyed a little blogger meet-up downtown with Lora, Alison, January and their husbands/children. The whole weekend was so fun and we were blessed with the first amazing weather of the year - perfect for strolling around downtown and seeing trees like this:

Quintessential Washington - I LOVE cherry blossom time

The weekend was also a huge blessing because it got my mind off the ovulation series. I was very anxious about it because: 1) I'm just tired of IF tests, which are painful, awkward, and uncomfortable; 2) My work week had suddenly ballooned with meetings, and since you have to get wanded when the time is right, I was nervous I'd have to miss an important meeting or two.

Well, Monday's test wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. (I had read through TCIE's handy guide to ultrasounds to make sure everything was legit!) Uncomfortable and awkward, yes, but not nearly as painful as other tests I've endured. (I just had to think the word "speculum" to feel instantly relaxed!) Dr. S was very kind and gentle and even more pleasantly chatty than she's been before. She found both ovaries (whew) and many follicles, but none over 1 cm so she said I don't need to come back until Thursday, which is huge because that means I won't miss my meetings after all. I know deep down that it would have been okay, but I did cry tears of gratitude driving home and thinking, "an answered prayer! Thank you, God" (the cynical side of me wanted to add, "for once" - working on that faith and trust thing).

Plus, Mr. M has been fantastic - when I started crying Monday morning over a dumb situation, he could tell that I was just maxed out (which I was) and he stepped in - he did the laundry and the grocery shopping Monday, and has just been so helpful and supportive. He's a keeper =)

Monday evening I treated myself with a big glass of wine, cheese, and reading a book on our back deck. Ahhh...the pit of anxiety completely let go of my insides. I'll go back Holy Thursday and probably Good Friday for the next ultrasounds. Good Friday definitely seems appropriate!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Little Happies #5

Little Happies (by Mrs. Eccefiat and Mr. M who in real life share the same last name):

1.) Visit from Rebecca and her DH this weekend!!!
2.) Cherry Blossoms (and photobombing other people's pics no j/j)
3.) Cupcakes
4.) Good music - especially and currently the song Stubborn Love by the Lumineers; the video is so striking and healing for anyone who has gone through the tragedy of divorce like my DH
5.) Grilling steaks for the first time this Spring!!!
6.) Special surprise snacks, like pirolouttes and mango fruit strips, from my DH.
7.) Beautiful weather.
8.) The cool side of the pillow.
9.) Holy Week
10.) Following everyone else's lead: 1,051 days of beautiful marriage! We have grown so much in love!!!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Part 4: Let Your Suffering Be Fruitful

    This is part of a series by Mr. M on "How to Live Joyfully with Infertility." Read part one here: Get Your Treasure Right, part two here: Go Into the Desert, and part three here: Be a Beloved Son or Daughter.

    Let Your Suffering Be Fruitful
    Our Fig Tree with San Damiano
    Cross in the Background

    It was a long night wrestling with God about infertility. I just simply continued to pray and to pray to him asking him for light, strength, comfort, guidance, healing, etc. We have a fig tree in our living room (see above) and I remember looking at it as a sign of my situation. According to tradition, the tree of good and evil in the garden of Eden was not an apple tree but rather a fig tree for the fig tree in scripture can either be the sign of life or of cursing death. (We see this tradition reflected in Michelangelo who painted a fig tree in the garden of Eden on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling.) So I was sitting in my living room thinking should I grasp after this fruit of a child by doing what is forbidden (i.e. sinning in some way)? Or should I patiently wait on the Lord to give me the fruit He desires. Of course, I knew the answer, but my heart and my will were having a hard time on that day. It was that night that I realized as if for the first time that we happened to have a San Damiano cross behind our fig tree. As I fixed my gaze a little more I saw Christ's blood pouring out onto saints, the dead and suffering in hell, and even a little rooster. The rooster represents St. Peter and all those who at one time or another were a hypocrite like him in the Gospel. Needless to say, I really resonated with this little rooster. “Yes, Lord I am a hypocrite for doubting you. I am the rooster.” It was at this point I saw in that very cross the simple truth that Christ proclaims from it: “Behold, I make all things fruitful – even the greatest suffering of death.” So I thought to myself, “If Christ can make death fruitful, he certainly can make my infertility fruitful too”. I just have to have faith. It is then I got another message drilled through to my soul from God: “Your suffering is not pointless. Your suffering is worth suffering through.”

The rooster is by his right knee cap. It is small and difficult to see
to remind us that sin is always lurking in the shadows of our souls.
Sin tries to hide from our gaze as long as possible in order to entrap
us more deeply in its grips. 

    This is the answer all infertile couples must find for themselves with the help of God. I am very very sympathetic to other infertile couples who seek to avoid and to eliminate the pain of infertility by medical means. Some of these medical means are wholesome and should be sought, but others are very dangerous to the soul, especially IVF, as it alienates the spouses from one another and from the child. Now I am not going to get into why this alienation occurs here in this blog post and please know dear friends who may read this blog that I am the last person to be unsympathetic to those who choose IVF. In fact, I radically cry and pray for those couples who have chosen this procedure and I understand exactly their pain and attraction to IVF because of my own infertility I am experiencing with my wife. (If any of you ever through this blog want to talk about it, then we are here to offer a listening ear and to discuss it. You are not alone; we walk with you. We are here for you regardless of what you may have done.) But what I am trying to say in this post is that medical means of any sort - good or ill - to alleviate infertility can push the bigger question off: why go through this suffering Lord? 

    The only way to answer this question is to realize Christ's promise: “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). It is the truth of Christ that gives meaning to our suffering. That is, for suffering to be fruitful and to be meaningful it must be a witness to something; and to be a witness is to point toward a truth we have discovered. A truth that is worth suffering for at all costs. A truth that is worth dying for. A truth that is worth suffering through infertility for. What is this fruitful truth that has set us as an infertile couple free? For us, there are many truths we think our suffering is a witness to. Let me just list a few.

    First, our suffering is a witness to the fact mentioned previously in post one that Christ alone can satisfy our desire, including our unfulfilled desire of a child. He is the greatest good in our life. Not children, not a career, and not any other good work we may do. If we have a robust relationship with God as His beloved and we are faithful to what He wants in our lives (not necessarily what we want), then we have everything.

    Second, our suffering is a witness to the fact that children are radically a gift. They are not something ever owed to any of us, created solely by our wills, or to be grasped at with any means, even good means. For instance, adoption is not a substitute for our unfulfilled desire. No, our suffering of not being able to conceive biologically related children will remain even after we adopt, which is why we have to see the meaning in our suffering. But more importantly, we must choose adoption not as a fulfillment of our desire but because we feel called by God through our situation of infertility to serve the good of this little vulnerable child who has gone through a tragedy. In other words, our suffering points to the fact that the child is a gift. So we choose adoption primarily for the child's sake not for our own because again a child is a complete gift to be loved for him or herself. A child is not the alleviation of our desire anymore than it is the result of the parent's desire when conceived through sexual intercourse. No, a child cannot be reduced to the question of being wanted or not-wanted by parent's desire. A child is a gift always loved and created by God (through an act of the parents) whether or not particular parents want them. In other words, there are no unwanted children. There are only parents who fail to recognize that the child is a gift from God and loved and wanted by God always and to act accordingly with this truth. Our suffering when properly understood and lived points to this profound and forgotten reality about children today. A child is an irreducible good in himself or herself who is not owed to anyone. This is the basis of the child's radical dignity and equality with its parents. This dignity and equality of the child as a gift and the rights of the child to be treated as such our suffering proclaims incessantly.

    Third, our suffering is a simultaneous witness to both the fact that children are inextricably bound to the marriage relationship and the beauty of marriage in itself. Our culture has forgotten these truths (especially in the whole misguided same-sex “marriage” debate), but our suffering proves otherwise. Our suffering shows that yes you can have a completely beautiful marriage even without children, but nonetheless that children are intrinsic to love. Children are not an optional aspect of married love. Otherwise our suffering wouldn't hurt so much to go childless. In other words, if children weren't intrinsic to love, then our suffering wouldn't be felt as a lack. Or if children weren't intrinsic to love, then our suffering would be reduced to simply not getting something we want, like a little kid in a candy store who didn't persuade his mom to buy him a chocolate bar. But no, infertility is a greater pain than all of that. Infertility is a lack felt in the depths of love, which is why it is so tear gushing and terrible. Nonetheless paradoxically through God's grace we can still have everything proper to love when we follow Him. This is the mysterious paradox of our suffering – our marriages are complete and good in themselves and yet they lack the fullness of children that is pursued in our love as a total gift of ourselves. Therefore, how dare someone tell us to our face or publicly that children and marriage don't necessarily go together! To me, it makes a mockery of our suffering and adds an insult on top of our injury. I pray for those souls who believe these things and I pray that they recognize the great damage they are inflicting upon the suffering of infertile couples whose authentic witness of suffering is being ignored and stifled by the political and cultural ideology en vogue.

    Fourth, our suffering is a witness that suffering can be turned into joy against all odds. Just because you have infertility, it doesn't doom you into a life of sadness and nothingness. Paradoxically, there is much to discover that is good in this suffering. For instance, all of these insights I typed about here across 4 posts. All of the insights my wife has shared on this blog. But more than that, God wants to use our infertility in unexpectedly beautiful and fruitful ways. To borrow a phrase that Pope Francis used to speak about all wounds: infertility is a unique point of intimacy with God. Or to use my words, infertility is grace waiting to happen. I am sure of it. In our own life we discover this mysterious grace in many ways. We have to have spiritual eyes to see it, but it is there. For instance, our time of infertility has allowed us to take care of the weak and the sick more than our married friends with children. We have grown to see these weak, disabled, and sick individuals as our “spiritual children.” We have also come to see that our support and accompanying with other infertile couples are also part of this graceful fruitfulness from suffering and vice-versa (their support to us is an overflowing of their graced fruitfulness to us). Further, we have discovered fruitfulness through marriage ministry, through our jobs, through participation in our parish, setting up an Archdiocesan Mass for infertile couples, etc. While these activities can never be equated with physical fruitfulness, nonetheless they are still spiritually fruitful. This spiritual fruitfulness is not “second best” either. Rather, it is the goal of all physical fruitfulness. (Truthfully, this question of fruitfulness would take another long post to sort out how spiritual and physical fruitfulness are always related, so I digress.) But let me just say that suffering can bear much good fruit – this is the beauty and truth of the cross. So find out what that grace is in your suffering. Find that hidden fruitfulness buried beneath the barrenness. Every couple will be unique in this regard. But above all as you seek for this grace, remember what Christ proclaimed to me: “your suffering of infertility is not pointless; it is worth suffering through. Behold I make all things fruitful.”

    Conclusion: Don't Put Off Your Joy Today

    In conclusion, I propose for all of us struggling with infertility that this is our time to realize that radical sonship and daughtership God is giving us each day. He loves us so much! He really does. This is the core of our identity: we are God's beloved sons and daughters with a mission to go ever deeper into this sonship or daughtership through virtue, witness, and recognizing our unique missions of fruitful grace! How wonderful and beautiful! Our joy doesn't have to wait until tomorrow. It doesn't have to wait until doctors cure the underlying condition of our infertility. It doesn't have to wait until we have children adopted or otherwise. We can have it today by living from this core of who we are, by recognizing our treasure, going into the desert, being a son or daughter, and letting our suffering be fruitful. If we do all of this, then I believe we will surely be living joyfully. That is something to be hopeful about; and my prayer for you all dear friends on this infertility journey is that you may know this hope and joy today not tomorrow. Please continue to pray for us.

    Epilogue: How Do You live Joyfully with Infertility?

    I have shared a number of thoughts during the course of these last four posts. I pray that through God's grace at least one thought was helpful toward your healing. However, I am still very much in this “school of suffering love” known as infertility and I very much need to learn from others. Therefore, my wife and I would be grateful to learn from you dear friends along the journey of infertility. Perhaps you can help us? Perhaps you can share a piece of the good news of Christ with us by answering the following question: how do you live joyfully with infertility? You can mention anything from serious to fun – wherever you have found grace and joy! Please share your thoughts and insights below in the comment section. Thanks!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Part 3: Be a Beloved Son or Daughter

This is part of a series by Mr. M on "How to Live Joyfully with Infertility." Read part one here: Get Your Treasure Right and part two here: Go Into the Desert.

Be a Beloved Son or Daughter

    Too often we go through life trying to accomplish and achieve and refusing to receive from another. I have been there. In regard to this whole infertility trial, once a priest told me that "perhaps God wants you to ask for a child." In other words, he was using simple language to gently suggest that God wants me to learn receptivity in this whole ordeal and that I had in fact hitherto not been receptive enough. Guilty as charged. Also, I bought into the culture's mores. Our culture hates receptivity because it bespeaks dependence and dependence means weakness. You're weak, like a child, if you are dependent. Adults go through their entire lives believing this lie, not realizing that our true freedom is actually receiving everything from the hand of God. This point was hit home to me recently by another incident with a priest.

    I was sitting in the confessional crying my heart out to a priest one day. My sins all revolved around infertility and the mess it has made in my soul. In particular, I confessed that I was not poor of spirit but greedy. I wanted to be a father so badly rather than accept what God was giving me currently. That priest looked my in the eye, forgave me, and said for your penance I want you to meditate for five minutes upon the fact that you are a beloved son of God. He also mentioned to me that in order to be a good father in the world you must first be a son. Many fathers go their entire lives without realizing this truth and on their deathbed they have tremendous regrets. You have been given a grace to recognize the importance of sonship that is necessary for fatherhood. For a good father gives everything he has received first as a son of God. Wow - phew! This hit me like a ton of bricks. I have something to do to be a good father and I was completely missing it. But wait there is more to this story of grace.

    He recommended a book – A Father's Tale by Michael O'Brien. He suggested this book because the main protagonist is a father who comes to learn this important truth about receptivity and total abandonment to God – in short, sonship. So throughout the book the drama is his slow realization of how important it is to be a good son in order to be a good father. Now what is amazing about this recommendation is that as Father was suggesting this book, my jaw dropped because I was in fact in the middle of reading this book! Coincidence? I think not. It was grace. What is more crazy is that as I had been reading it, I thought that much didn't apply to me because “I wasn't a father!” Wow. How blind I was! After Father said what the book was about it instantly resonated with me. Yes, he is a hundred percent right in his reading and I was a fool to not realize this truth. But the bigger point was that I had forgotten to be a son and what applies here applies to his daughters too.

    We need to live from the core of who we are: beloved sons and daughters of God. Do we know we are beloved sons and daughters of God? Moreover, to live from this core dignity of who we are we need to develop virtue and get out of destructive habits. In regard to destructive habits, we need to fight and simply run away from self-pity, self-hatred, escapisms (food, buying, alcohol, sex), fear, the entitlement mentality, and focusing on defects, failures, past sins or disappointments except where necessary in order to grow in virtue. If you want happiness, then get away from these things right away! Resolve to stay far far away! But to do this staying away we need to cultivate the opposite of these things – virtue.

    In regard to developing virtue, try to find your root sin and to cultivate its opposite virtue. Right now my root sin is sensuality, which is placing some created reality other than personal relationships and achievements ahead of God. If I placed achievements ahead of God then this would be pride. If I placed some aspect of personal relationships (like affirmation and praise from others) ahead of God, then this wold be vanity. In reality, we all struggle with all three of these things. But we all struggle with one of these three more than the others. For me it is sensuality, placing a thing of God – a child – ahead of God in my life. It is not wrong to desire a child, of course, but I have let this desire and sadness about not receiving a child be put ahead of what God wants to give me and to do in my life in a number of ways (too many to go into). So the opposite of this sin is being poor of spirit, which for me means consciously receiving everything that happens to me in my life from God as a good gift. In order to accomplish this virtue, I then made a list of several things I was going to do to cultivate this virtue. By cultivating this virtue I am living in the sonship God wants for me. I pray I can continue this faithful sonship.

Next: Let Your Suffering Be Fruitful

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Part 2: Go Into the Desert

This is part of a series by Mr. M on "How to Live Joyfully with Infertility" Read part one here: Get Your Treasure Right

Go into the Desert
Now I am under no delusions that the above is incredibly difficult to realize. For instance, a week after I had these revelations I, along with my wife, was babysitting my best friend's children (2 boys – ages 3 and 9 months). We were having a grand time. I was throwing the older boy around on their couches and he was laughing wildly. His younger brother was hyperventilating with happiness too seeing his brother being flung about. Then I spun him around several more times followed by several more tosses! “Again! Again!” He cried. Eventually my arms got tired, but boy did his smile not get tired. It was glued on his face the entire time. When I saw that smile, all I could think of was “Man I wish I could make my own son smile and have joy like this.” It sunk me. Needless to say, amongst all that happiness, I was being dragged into all of these negative thoughts like “God just doesn't want me to be a father. I'd probably wouldn't be good anyway. I don't even have a job yet to support him. Man, I'm a loser.” Luckily, by grace, I am a sanguine by nature so I didn't dwell too long in the moment and moved my thoughts pretty quickly back to that beautiful child at hand and we read many books about dinosaurs. But later when I got home, I just wept internally to God in my prayer. “Oh God, you are so not my treasure right now. I just want to have a child. So please please make me know how beloved I am.” It is at this point that the second step comes in.

If we are going to realize that the core of our dignity and happiness is God alone, then we need to spend abundant time with Him. There is no way around it. If you want to be unhappy, then keep avoiding spending time with God. If we want that joy and love we are seeking, then we have to spend time with our beloved. Period. This is hard for me though as a social sanguine who gets himself into trouble by taking on too many activities. Also, I frequently don't feel like “I get anything out of it”. So I have begun to think of prayer as a desert, as it is often portrayed in the scriptures. After all, Jesus frequently went into the desert to pray. Why the desert? Why not go to the synagogue? Perhaps a comfy room in his house? Perhaps by a beautiful scene of nature? Why the heck a desert? Primarily because it is the perfect analogy and place for prayer. Follow me here for a moment.

How I feel on some days
A desert is a place of emptiness and radical abandonment of all things. Prayer has to be a desert of emptiness. I have to stop thinking of prayer as this always happy place I go for consolation. No it is a desert where there is work to be done to find water in order to survive. That water-finding is the work of person's prayer searching for God and taking time to be with God. More specifically, it is emptying our hearts out to God to receive His love. So prayer is not first and foremost what we get out of it, but first must be what we give to God. This makes prayer difficult at times because it does demand a lot of us. Who here hasn't wanted to reserve a number of places of our soul away from God? I know I have. To empty oneself is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to trust. To trust is to accept. And to accept is downright hard when you are going through pain. Prayer, like the desert, is a hard place to live. Thus, we naturally to some extent want to avoid prayer, but this aversion should be seen for what it is: a clinging to things that are not God, pride, dissatisfaction, lack of trust, not-accepting, and a refusal of one's happiness

Our prayer life has to be simple like the dirt of the desert. In the desert, things are simple. There is a cactus here and there as a reminder to seek God's live giving water, a snake once in awhile to keep us fearful of evil, some tumbleweed balls to distract us, but for the most part it is just sand or cracked ground, miles and miles of nothing. So we need to keep prayer simple like the desert is simple. We too often make it complicated, get disappointed, and move on to something else as quick as we can. We need to have simple prayer times, which means this: simply spending fifteen minutes a day giving to God our concerns in quiet conversation and then just being loved by God in quiet mental conversation. Don't bring spiritual reading to these fifteen minutes. That can be done at another time or if you have longer time to give to God. The only book you should bring to this desert prayer time is the Bible and read passages from it slowly as God always speaks slowly to us or if you really prefer choose a few lines ahead of time from a spiritual book to contemplate.

The joy of prayer is like finding a gushing river of water in a desert. Consolations and desolations come and go in prayer. We shouldn't expect always to have great feelings or great insights. Nonetheless, there are innumerable graces I have felt in my life after trying to have a more consistent prayer life. Through much groping in the desert you will find a rushing river of water. You won't find water the easy way. You will get drops here and there; sometimes finding a nice cactus. But eventually the water will start to build. You will start to see more and more water under different rocks and then bam the river is in front of you. This river is a peace; a peace of heart that God wants you to have and to give to the world. Speaking from personal experience, there is a peace that reigns in my heart from knowing simply and radically that I am beloved by God on some days that you couldn't get me to trade for millions upon millions of dollars and yes even dare I say all the children in the world. But this peace and knowledge of knowing I am beloved doesn't come overnight. It takes a lot of time spent with the beloved. I am still very much learning this simple reality of being a beloved son or daughter of God, which brings me to my next point, to be continued.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

From Mr. M: Some Thoughts on How to Live Joyfully with Infertility

Note: My husband was inspired to write a series of post (four) on his own experience of infertility + how to live joyfully nonetheless. I'm really grateful for his insights (obviously I'm biased!) and also think his thoughts are extra appropriate now, being in the thick of Lent with Holy Week right around the corner.

With no further ado...

I know it seems too good to be true. Really, can I have joy with this incredibly painful and often misunderstood suffering of infertility? Well, yes. But as I type these words I cringe and tremble because it is so hard. I know from personal experience struggling with infertility that it is the hardest thing in my life. Also, I fail at these ideas I'm proposing weekly, if not daily. Perhaps they will help. Perhaps they will be an oversimplification. Perhaps they are presumptuous. But yet they have been a grace for me and my wife in our life so I want to share this good with you. Thus, I thought I would share what God has placed on our broken hearts as healing balm. I will share these thoughts in four posts corresponding to four thoughts but please note that these thoughts are not meant to be in any way exhaustive for the depth and complexity of drama of infertility. And by the way, this suggested Rx is an on-going treatment for all of us, we infertile couples, so please keep me in your prayers as I pray for you.

N.B. Alot of these thoughts occurred to me while I was “on the cross” crying for the children I desired one weekend while I was on retreat. As a result, several of these thoughts I would like to credit to words and encounters with particular priests on that retreat. Therefore, I would like to give due thanks to these unnamed spiritual fathers. Here is the fruit of their priestly presence and teaching in my life.

  1. Get Your Treasure Right
    There are two things in this world: God and the Things of God. Sin is placing any thing of God, no matter how good, above God. We do this in any number of ways every day in many different actions. Yet the worst is when we place our identity and happiness in one of the things of God, rather than God. To be sure, God wants to give us many of these good things, but only after we first recognize that God is the giver of these gifts and that He alone is our happiness, not these other things of God. Now, there is a unique temptation of infertility that comes in exactly here. The greatest temptation we face is to place our entire identity and happiness in a child we wish so badly to have. Do we not often think, “I'll be happy when I have a child. When I don't have to deal with infertility treatments. When I (fill in blank here).” Yet the incredibly gut-wrenching, soul-piercing truth is that as good as this desire is, a child is still not God. We have everything when we are beloved by God. Do we really believe that? Is God our treasure above all things, including children? Is God our happiness? A happiness that we can have not tomorrow or down the road, but today. I know there have been multiple times where like the Rich Young Man of the Gospel I have went away sad and empty because I didn't want to make God my sole treasure. Oh God help me to leave all things behind and cling to you as my treasure! Please help to heal my mind and my will when I get my treasure wrong.      
Next: Go into the Desert