Monday, October 13, 2014

The Fear of Suffering Infertility and a True Story

Another Mr. M post...
                  Do you have a fear of suffering? Hmm... that is an interesting question isn't it? I have never thought about my own fears vis-a-vis suffering until recently. I was reading a book and it proposed that one of the greatest obstacles in our relationship with Christ is not suffering, but the fear of suffering. We know suffering is inevitable in life and yet how many of us are really ready to accept suffering for Christ? I know I am sure not. Why? Because upon reflection, I realize that it is because I am afraid of suffering. I don't want to face the suffering Christ might be giving me to become a saint. I often think that "suffering is too much" and I just try to escape it. But the fear lurks because I haven't really confronted my unnamed fears. 
                  So what are the unnamed fears in regard to infertility? There are many but I realized that one of the greatest fears of infertility is not right now but in the future. I fear the future possible suffering of having an entire life of barrenness, the loneliness that ensues, and aging into our old years without the friendship and companionship of children. What's worse is the thought of leaving my wife all alone should I die before her, like most men do. Who is going to take care of her? Who is going to take her to medical appointments? Who is going to cry with her? Who is going to help her pay bills? Who is going to hold her hand when everything around her crumbles into uncertainty? Who is going to pray with her? Who is going to die with her? Sigh.
                 Recently, this fear struck me forcibly by an event that is nothing short of a miracle. We take care of a dear old, elderly widow by bringing her groceries every week. She has no family to take care of her. So I asked her after about a year and a half of friendship what the story was about her lack of a family and she said "we just couldn't conceive." "I was pregnant only once over fifty years ago and I miscarried. Everyday of our early marriage just seemed so unfair. I once knew a woman who had 19 children and I couldn't even get pregnant once." Gulp. Cue emotional tears here. I asked her how she got by. "Well I don't think I got by. I just took it day by day and prayed a lot of rosaries." That's it. Those were her simple words of wisdom to us. As I looked upon her, I then thought of her as potentially being my future wife in several decades and all of those above questions hit me like a ton of bricks.
                "Well what if?" I said to God later that night. "Where will you be then Lord?" Then, in response to my frustrated challenge, I heard as clear as day the Lord say to me in prayer, "I have provided for your dear elderly friend by sending you and others to be her children in old age, do you not trust that I would do the same for you and your wife? I am gentle and loving and I have always gotten you through suffering. I will provide and I will be with you always." At this moment, I realized the incredible blessings the Lord had provided us also in our own infertility - this elderly lady's friendship and the opportunity to serve her.
                When we first started helping her we had no idea her back story and she didn't know anything about us. We just knew she needed groceries because she was a shut-in due to her age. So my wife went first and then me and then it became a weekly thing, which again we didn't know it would be in the beginning. Eventually, we became friends, we had her over for dinner, we took her to the race track once (she loves horses), and we took her to some parish events etc. Only much later and very recently did we discover what I told you above. Wow, what a mystery. Unbeknownst to us, the Lord brought us together to help alleviate not just her suffering but undoubtedly her suffering of loneliness due to her infertility and, in turn, the Lord gave us a beautiful friendship and comfort to my fear of later suffering in infertility. God brought us together to help both of us in our infertility. None of this was expected when we said "yes" long ago to the Lord's plan to take an elderly lady groceries. Isn't it amazing how the Lord provides in the most unlikely of places? And what is crazier is that I am not sure any of this would have happened had it not been for our infertility. That is, if we were running around with children because we were blessed with a child early on in our marriage, then would we have really said yes to this weekly commitment or rather more likely find someone else to do it, perhaps our single friends?
                I don't know. But this event gave me dramatic pause in how I consider suffering. We often say that a greater good comes out of every suffering. And for once, I feel I got to experience that greater good with certainty. Yes, I still struggle with infertility, but now I know a little bit more clearly that truly God has us in the palm of his hand. I learned that I just have to trust God a little more, be a little less afraid of suffering, and "take it day by day." After all, what is to be feared when you have God bringing good out of all things? Indeed, "perfect love drives out all fear" (1 John 4:18). 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Confession: Money has Emptied My life but God is Slowly Restoring It

Mr. M here again. The following thoughts have been percolating in my prayer over the last month or so. So I share with you my struggle and God-given inspirations:

I have never cared that much for money and I have generally been pretty detached from money in my life. Proof: I never chose a career or college major based upon the potential future money it could bring me.  I never have been really stressed about money or finances although I lived below the poverty line ($11,670) for three to four years while I was a graduate student. I qualified for medicaid and government assistance at that time but I never took it. Instead, I lived in a house with six other guys and shared my room with another guy. I just wasn't that interested in money and I found ways to live within my meager means. Further, after I married, I am proud to say that I have never had a fight with my wife about money other than little, inevitable bickerings about small purchases. "Do you really need that?" She is really good with her financial decisions, by the way. I really appreciate that.

But this all changed when adoption came on the radar. I now find myself obsessing about money and worry about it more than ever before in my life because I have to some how come up with $25,000 to $35,000 without going into debt and without sacrificing our built up emergency fund that gives us financial stability and keeps finances off "the fight radar." Realistically, given my doctoral studies, I can't do much about our financial situation either because I can't take a job until May 2015. This kills me as a man who wants to provide. So this situation of being a student stresses me more out toward money than anything else.

As a result, I feel depressed about our financial situation even though we have been able to pay off all of our debt. I have always saw paying off my debts as soon as possible as a moral responsibility. And I thought being debt free would always feel good! False. Being debt free can be pretty damn miserable. It is an illusion to think that having a good financial situation (debt free, owning a home, good retirement savings, money to give away to others, or whatever else etc.) will bring you peace. It is a moral imperative to do some of these things, like debt reduction, and to be prudent with money, but in fact, tons of people who are millionaires and have great financial situations are MISERABLE because they are obsessed with managing their money. Peace ultimately doesn't come from doing budgets, paying off debt, etc.

And this is where I am. I am that obsessed millionaire except without the millions. I have allowed the concern for money for an adoption to cause me to be obsessive towards money. Is this more a male problem than female vis-a-vis infertility and adoption? I don't know. But I, unwittingly, have allowed money to become the thing I think about most albeit for a good end. Ugh. What a wretched and pathetic thing - I have allowed the little money I have to control me and to dictate my happiness. I am that greedy, capitalist we see portrayed so often in the movies and what I need isn't more money or more ways to save money. Those money saving strategies aren't enough and have contributed to the hollowness in my life. They have caused me to be hollow because I thought I primarily needed a practical, money strategy for my money problems concerning adoption. But, I don't. I primarily need a spiritual solution to get me through this financial problem because this problem of managing money is a spiritual reality much more than a practical one. 

The primary antidote I am seeking that I realize more and more is not actually more money through fund-raising or figuring out ways to spend less in order to save for the adoption. I need a Savior. Fast. I need the proper spiritual attitude to correct this problem of obsessiveness. What could this be? Do you have any thoughts on this? Here are mine.

First, for me, it is putting down the Dave Ramsey books and fundraising books (however helpful those are) and picking up my relationship to God in prayer. I need to build up my relationship with God through prayer and relearn trust in God and not in mammon. I need to learn to trust that regardless of my financial situation and whether or not I ever get enough money for an adoption that God will take care of me and this situation.

Second, I need to hope. Not primarily hope that external things in my life, i.e. this bad financial situation vis-a-vis adoption, will change, but hope that God will make this terrible situation good even if I remain stuck in this terrible situation. Hope that God will use this situation for my salvation and for the salvation of others. Our hope is in Him not in mammon and its many gifts. How can I practice this hope though when it is so hard? Prayer, especially when things are tough and when you just want to throw your hands up in the air (or smash the wall). I need prayer to be my go-to stress reliever and "financial consultant."

Third, I need the faith to realize that I am beloved by God. We are called to believe the following above everything else: with his love, I have everything. How many martyrs have taught us this? So it doesn't matter the amount of money I have and it doesn't matter what financial situation I am in. These are secondary things, which perhaps God will give me and perhaps he won't. The point is that I always have His love, but oh how little I believe that this is enough on most days. Oh how often I think how "unfair" this situation is - that I have to come up with all of this extra money just to have a child. So I need a greater faith. I need to stop focusing on my self and my woes, and more on Him or I will always just be that little kid in the candy shop without candy. But how do I encounter and re-encounter this great faith in His love? More prayer and friends who will help me to see and to live this reality. I need my friends, the saints too. Honestly, where would we be without the lives of the saints to challenge our narrow world-views toward our bad situations? They have the widest world-views because they were the ones that saw the other world, heaven, in this world and in all of its bad situations.

Fourth, I need to live the love God has given me. We can always love despite whatever bad, external situation we are in. This is the "interior freedom" God gives us as Fr. Phillipe puts it in his masterful book Interior Freedom. My freedom is in loving as God loves, not money. When do I feel the most alive? When I am loving as Christ loved and not when I am managing my money. Sure, these two have to be related. There has to be a way to love as Christ loves while managing money as Christ has come to redeem all things. But it is so difficult because money often usurps, in subtle ways, what should take precedence in your life. Look at the Gospel. Judas was the one in the Gospel who managed the money Christ and His disciples had and look at where he ended up! Yikes! If that is not a warning for me, then I don't know what is. What I know is this: I need to spend more time doing love and less time focusing on money. If I put love as my first priority, then the secondary thing of how to manage money will follow. So I need to practice more love and get the attention off mammon.

These are non-negotiables. If I don't trust God, hope in God, have faith that God is my everything, and love more than I think about and manage money, then I will be hollow as I have become. My focus needs to be on these spiritual things primarily. I have to put these first things first. Only after working on these, will I be able to approach money rightly and think about money with these questions in mind - Lord, we give you all of our money, what is it that you will have us do with it? Do you want us to focus on money or do you want me to spend more time in prayer with you and trusting you? Do you want me to focus on money or do you want me to spend more time hoping? Do you want me to spend more time loving others around me?

For me, at this point in my life, the Lord has made it clear: I need to do a lot more trusting, hoping, believing, and loving. It is these things that I am going to focus on right now in the coming months and only through doing this will I believe I will have peace. I will re-approach money down the road as it is an inevitable part of life and the adoption process. Right now, I am setting the budget and financial matters aside for a long while and spending more time with the Lord everyday. This is my act of trust. Matter of fact, as soon as I finish this post, I am going to go pray a little more and let all thinking about finances go. Lord, help me to trust. Help this poor sinner who values mammon over you. I surrender to you all of our finances and all financial goals until I am in a better place to address them with you. Jesus I trust in thee and I trust that you will provide.

As for all the readers out there, please pray for me and my dear wife. I hope in sharing these "financial" (really: spiritual) struggles with you that it may be something of a witness so that you don't fall into the same trap I have fallen into as I feel that adoption magnifies one's concern for money. God bless you all.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why I'm using Facebook again

I stopped using Facebook in August 2012. There's a very particular reason why I quit. We were a little more than a year into our marriage, a little more than a year TTC, and already it was hurting. Several of our friends had infants, and I was feeling really left out (although they tried their best to make me feel included). So one Sunday, I made plans with three girlfriends to go out after mass for brunch and shopping, without any kids. I was already feeling on edge to be the only non-mom, and it didn't help that one of them kept commenting how great it was to have a break from kids. It also didn't help that during our shopping stroll after lunch we ended up in Babies R Us. I made some excuse about having to leave the store because I felt like I was having a panic attack being around all that baby stuff.

Anyway, later that day, I was browsing Facebook and noticed that one of the ladies posted something like, "Such a fun moms' outing today!!"


Like really, ouch. That seriously hurt. Moms? Clearly I am not a mom, and I don't forget it for a nanosecond of my life. Her comment made me feel so invisible.

Anyway, maybe it was a hasty reaction, but that was it. No more Facebook. I'd had enough with pregnancy announcements and baby pictures out the wazoo. Enough with feeling less-than and comparing my life to others.

So I quit cold turkey that very day, and honestly didn't regret it at all. I was relieved! I didn't have to be surprised by another announcement or feel a pang in my heart looking at my friends' adorable kids every day. I had real friends that I stayed in touch with and I enjoyed being away from the hubbub of constant information. It really was perfectly fine being off Facebook; I survived handily :)

So when a few weeks ago the thought occurred to me, "maybe I'll go back on Facebook," I was shocked at myself! Who is this crazy person?!

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be okay. I'm in a very different place than I was in August 2012. Yes, infertility still hurts a lot. (Just got another pregnancy announcement today, and cried.) But I also feel a good bit stronger! Yay! I've come to expect that most people will keep having children - that's just a fact. In a lot of ways, I don't feel as tender and vulnerable as I did a few years ago; it's not all so new and shocking any more (depressingly, I suppose).

And I realized two things: 1) I have things I'd like to share with the world! :) No, I don't have cute children to post pictures of. Fact. But I do have a cute husband :) and we do fun things and our life isn't half bad and I would like to share that life pictorally with friends who live scattered around the country. Because my life is worth sharing!

And 2) I miss people that I used to connect with through Facebook. Mainly college friends, who have scattered, and family that lives in my home state. I realize that Facebook is not nearly as good a communication method as an in-person chat or even a phone call. But the fact is, I'm finite, I have lots of people I love, not nearly all of them I'll be able to visit or call. Facebook is the next best thing, and I'd like to encourage and love on my friends that way!

Finally, I learned some handy tips and tricks from Rebecca (thank you!) such as not following people whose feeds are way too filled with all things baby, and asking not to be notified with posts about pregnancy and babies after I've liked or commented on them. Whew! That makes a BIG difference! There are some people I love in real life who I really just can't take on Facebook - and they don't need to know that. It's not you, it's me!

Plus there's the Catholic IF group that seems like a great place to be! I'm sorry that this is an anonymous blog so I won't share my name, but I'm in there now!

This probably is one of the more nit-picky, minutiae-filled posts I've written, ha :) But this was a big step for me, wading back into Facebook! Hopefully it doesn't sound weird, but I think it's a good sign for my healing, namely my willingness to be present again in this way, despite the possible heart-pains it might bring.