I Thought I Would Never Conceive a Child

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by Diana Olsson

I met my husband, Oscar, when I was 16 years old. He was 18 and we were both in high school in Fiji at the time. Eight years later we married and moved to Brisbane, Australia. Life was great. We were young, in love, and loved to travel the world together. Then, when I turned 30 years old, we decided to start a family.

I stopped taking birth control pills and we actively tried to get pregnant. I thought it would happen right away and it didn't. Year after year passed and still no baby. We went to see numerous doctors who told us that it wasn’t a medical problem as everything seemed to be fine. After four years of trying to conceive, my husband asked me to consider in vitro fertilization but I held onto the hope of having a baby naturally. Deep down, I knew that God had promised us a child but I just didn’t know how much longer we would have to wait for it to happen. Slowly, as the years went by, doubt crept in and soon I stopped believing that I would conceive a child naturally.

Then in 2016, after living in Sydney for a year, Oscar moved back to Brisbane, while I stayed in Sydney to work and look for a job in Brisbane. I suddenly found myself on my own for the first time since I was 16. During this season, I would scream and cry out to God about my life, my marriage and my inability to conceive. I realized that He had taken away all of the distractions in my life so that He could speak to me. He spoke to me about putting him first in my life. Over the years, my husband and my marriage became my priority and I had stopped believing God for my own dreams. I spent the next few months learning to dream again and believe God for the dreams that he had given me years before.

I also attended COLOUR, Hillsong’s annual women’s conference, while I was in Sydney. Even though I had attended the conference for many years, this year I noticed a difference. There was a special focus on the birthing process and the leaders prayed for women to conceive – physically and spiritually.

By the time I rejoined my husband in Brisbane after six months apart, I had surrendered my plan to God’s plan and timing.  Then, five months later, the unexpected happened.

My period was late that month but that had happened before so I waited until I was more than a week late to take a home pregnancy test. I was shocked when the result was positive. I woke my husband up and told him that the test was positive but, even then, we were both still cautious. We didn’t want to get our hopes up until we saw a doctor. Even when the doctor confirmed that I was pregnant, I was still fearful that my pregnancy would be short-lived. We've had so many friends who've had miscarriage after miscarriage, so it was hard to believe at first. It finally hit home when I had my first appointment with the obstetrician and I could hear the baby’s heartbeat. We waited until I was three months pregnant to tell our family and friends and they were as excited as we were at the good news.

So after 20 years of being together, 12 years of marriage, and six years of trying to conceive, our miracle baby is almost here.  While preparing to give birth, I've realized that I am not the same person that I was a year ago. In taking the time to be alone with God, I've learned so much about His character. What I’ve learned is that it was much easier to have faith in someone's miracle than my own because it's not easy to trust God when it seems like He's taking too long.  If you're waiting for your own miracle, learn to put Him first and make time to hear from Him. He is faithful and his mercies are new every morning. Also, surround yourself with prayer warriors who will pray for you. And whatever you do, never give up hope because God’s timing is always perfect.

 

Grateful for a New Beginning

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By Celena Spencer

At the age of 38, married with three kids, I almost died. I knew death would be inevitable and I saw my life dwindling before me. I could not control my actions or my thoughts. I woke up each day with a heavy heart and a discontented spirit, one where I saw the glass as always half-empty.  Something was missing in my life, and I felt like I was not living anymore. I was overweight, overzealous with my career, easily angered and impatient with my kids and husband. I did not have much time to commune with God and I approached every situation with an ungrateful attitude. I was dying on the inside and it showed on the outside. I often fell asleep at the wheel while driving; this went on for about a year. I wanted to be the perfect mom to three children, and keep up with being a supervisor in a large school district. In the meantime, I was losing myself. I felt I was going to die early. I anticipated death with the path that I was traveling down and I knew it was only a matter of time. I desperately needed God to give me a new beginning.

Instead of getting better, things got worse. In May of 2016, I was told that I would lose my job due to a reduction in force. My immediate response was, “I am talented and experienced. I will be fine. I will find a job in no time.” As time passed, and summer turned to fall, I started to scream inside. I said to myself, “Now I will have to stay at home with my children and I am not a stay at home mom.” I was scared and frustrated but, more importantly, I felt like I was in a desolate place. When my husband would tell me that we would be okay, I looked at him and then at our three kids and back at him and thought to myself, you have got to be kidding me. All I saw was the mortgage and bills stacked high but my husband remained calm and said, “It will be okay.” All the while, I was panicking. I have worked my entire life and loved working but now I felt like I had nothing. After 11 interviews, I asked God, “Why am I not being hired?” Now, it was the beginning of September. My two oldest kids were back in school, my youngest was in daycare, and I still did not have a job. I became so infuriated with God. I was mad at Him for the circumstances of my life. I worked hard to get to where I was in my career and this is not what I expected to happen.

One morning after dropping off the kids, I was by myself and it was quiet. At this moment, God gave me a glimpse of who I had become. He showed me someone who was unrecognizable. I was impatient and thoughtless, vain and angry. The person I saw, I did not know and it grieved my spirit to the point that I could not hold back my tears. As my tears poured onto the table, I realized that even though I had masked these feelings and behaviors, they had begun to spill out at different times during my life.

And now, I was at a place in my life where I was condemning the name of Jesus. I was not living for God; I was not living out my true purpose, the assignment God knitted for me in my mother’s womb. God called me to be an educator, of that I am certain, but was education my only calling? I wrestled with these feelings until I realized that God was showing me a new way to live. He was asking me to live with an open door policy, where He leads and I follow, without any preconceived ideas. This was my new beginning, the one that I had so desperately prayed for.

If there is one thing I have learned from my experience of being laid off, it is that maintaining a relationship with God is an intentional effort. God forced me to be still and listen. At first, I did not want to listen but now, I cannot get enough. He has shown me how I was destroying myself, the calling on my life, my marriage, and my family. This season was not a time for being alone as I initially thought. I realized this is a time to learn, listen and be held by Him. God is changing my whole life, from my perspective to the way I approach situations and people. Before, an ungrateful spirit consumed my thoughts; my tongue would always find a reason to complain. Now when I wake up, I thank God for breath, that my three children are healthy and that we have food consistently in the refrigerator. I am thankful for the roof over my head, thankful that all three of my children have beds to sleep in, and thankful that we can take a family vacation. When I am finished thanking Him, how can I be ungrateful?

Each magnetic drop of a new beginning has brought me to this point in my life. The funny thing is God knew that I would come to this point, where I would need a drop of his love in the form of a new beginning. Now, not only does he want to show me his love, he also wants to create in me a new person where he is glorified through my life. By allowing me to be unemployed, God needed me to be still, so that he could show me what I have become before it was too late. There are many people who do not get a second chance or an opportunity to make things right. I am extremely grateful for this new beginning. I thank God each day for his love for me. To be loved and cared for in this way is indescribable.

God has shown me that I need him every day. Although I have viewed my time off as unemployment, God views it as a time of rebuilding and restoring. He has been my teacher for the last 10 months, and for that I am grateful.

 

Celena is a happy wife and mother of three. She taught ESL in the public schools for 11 years. During this time, she became a vice principal and a supervisor of bilingual/ESL. Currently, Celena has become a stay-at-home mom who enjoys each day with her husband and three children.

Dear Younger Me

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"Girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow's workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders," says the United Nations

Today is International Day of the Girl Child, a day aimed at highlighting and addressing the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.

We believe that strong and confident girls grow up to be strong and confident women. So today we are reminding you of the beauty, strength, and power of being a girl. We also believe in the power of our individual stories and today, our community of women are sharing words of wisdom with their younger selves to help inspire this generation of girls.


Dear Jenn, 

Life is going to take you to some amazing places, so don't be afraid of the unknown. It's your imperfections that will drive and lead you into your purpose, so embrace your flaws. It may be hard to love yourself now as a teenager and you may feel that you need to be perfect, but one day you will love yourself unconditionally and smile back at the girl in the mirror. You won’t worry about what others think and the only opinion you will care about is the one from God above. Trust the process, embrace the uncertainties, dream big, always believe in the possibilities, be the best version of yourself and remember everything has a funny way of working itself out. Also, know rejection is a redirection to something greater.

One more thing, your impact can and will be greater than your insecurities, if you allow it. Trust me baby girl, you’re gonna be just fine. See you in the future and let’s laugh about the past together.

With unconditional love,

Jenn Daniel, Founder of Princess Chambers, Inc. 


Dear Nicole, 

You've experienced many losses in your life and the most painful one was losing your mother at seventeen. Even in the midst of all of your pain, confusion, anger, and fears, remember that God loves you and has a plan for your life. Although your story right now is extremely challenging choose to believe and trust in Jesus, have hope and know that your life is not defined by your negative experiences because you will have a different outcome. God will send you a man who loves and adores you and your marriage will flourish. You will be a great mom with two healthy and loving children. And you will have incredible opportunities to make a difference in the world through your story and leadership. Please don’t ever give up. You will be ok.

Love,

Nicole Crews, Leader at Hillsong NYC


Dear Megan,

No fear!  You are capable of more than you think,  so be bold and take chances.  Life is too short to hold back and not take big risks.  

Love,

Megan Montgomery, Writer and Marketing Leader 


Dear Kendolyn,

Love yourself through the good and the bad and commit to loving yourself in every season of life. You can only love others and truly walk in your purpose when you are at peace and happy in your own skin.

Love,

Kendolyn Walker, Writer and Program Director at I, Too, Arts Collective


Dear Abby, 

God's plan for your life is so much better than yours. Also, healthy conflict exists and it is good. Learn how to have it as soon as possible and you will be more courageous.

Love,

Abby Crews, Marriage and Family Therapist


Dear Ana, 

 Don’t rush to be an adult. Enjoy being a teen and take advantage of all the free advice.

Love,

Ana Chen, Youth Advocate at United Way NYC  


Dear Nono,

Go for your passion regardless of what others say.  God has placed so much inside of you and He will make a way.  Other people don't understand it or doubt it because it's not meant for them, it's for you.  

Love,

Nono Osuji, Founder of the Lupus Diaries


Dear Renee,

Fight for yourself. Fiercely. Relentlessly. The love that you so desperately want from others, give it to yourself. Nurture and take care of yourself, even if you feel like you don't deserve it. The two most important and long-term relationships you will ever have are your relationship with God and your relationship with yourself. Protect those at all costs! Being afraid is okay, but don't settle for anything less than your best. You're a leader and not a follower. Trust yourself. You've been put in Earth for a purpose. A BIG one. And life has been hard for you at times and it's unfair, but you are still a queen. And despite it all, you're a conqueror. I'm so proud of you.

Also, don't let boys treat you like crap. You deserve better. Surround yourself with people who are honest and will call out your shortcomings but also kind and loving enough to call out your greatness. Be that person. Go outside, smile, laugh, look around this world and soak up all the beauty.

Love,

Renee Reese, Lawyer and Entreprenuer

 

The One Relationship Trait We All Need

Vulnerability. For researcher and storyteller Brene Brown, vulnerability means this: "To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen ... to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee."

In this Ted Talk, she shares why numbing vulnerability is dangerous and how we can learn to live more fully by practicing vulnerability in our relationships.

Do you struggle with vulnerability? Share in the comments below what vulnerability means to you and one thing you plan to do this week to build more vulnerable relationships. 

 

Thank You, Grandma and Grandpa!

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Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

 

For many of us, Grandma and Grandpa were our first caretakers. They were the ones who took us to school or watched over us when Mom and Dad were unavailable. For others, it was a praying grandmother who first introduced them to Jesus, church, and the "sweet bye and bye." And while it's not as widely recognized as Mother's Day or Father's Day, National Grandparents Day is on this Sunday, September 10.  

WHY GRANDPARENTS DAY? 

Marian McQuade was a grandmother herself, with 43 grandchildren, when she began a campaign in 1970 to set aside a special day of recognition for grandparents. Marian's goal was simple: alleviate loneliness.  As an advocate for the elderly, she was concerned by those she encountered in nursing homes with no one to visit them. It took her three years but in 1973, the first Grandparents Day was celebrated in West Virginia. It became a national commemorative day in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter issued a resolution declaring the second Sunday of September as National Grandparents Day.

So this Grandparents Day, in honor of your grandparents (and Marian McQuade), here are four ways to help your grandparents or an elderly neighbor feel less alone and more "grand."

1. SCHEDULE A VISIT:  

No matter where you live, take some time to plan a visit with your grandparents or set aside a time to call them to talk about what's going on in their lives. If your grandparents are deceased, you can visit their grave, send flowers, or reflect on a special moment you shared with them. 

2. WALK IT OUT:

Take your grandparents for a brisk walk or another kind of physical activity to help increase their heart rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of healthy activities here

3. TAKE A #GRANDIE:

Snap a quick #selfie, or 100, with your grandparents to help them live their best Instagram or Snapchat life. Make sure you use Clarendon a.ka. America's favorite filter. 

4. BRING THEM TO CHURCH:

Studies show that churchgoing is passed down through families from one generation to the next. If your grandparent went to church, not only are you are more like to attend but you probably would not have become a believer without their guidance.  Take the time to return the favor this Sunday and give Access-A-Ride a break. You can bring them to their church or introduce them to your church and the brave new world of pastors in skinny jeans. #BeABringer

No matter what you choose to do this Sunday, take some time to thank Grandma and Grandpa for the unique role they've played in your life.  

Why We Should Change How We Talk About Desiring Marriage

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by Tasha Levi

One of the reasons people feel alienated by the church is our inability to address complicated issues without assigning religious clichés as simple solutions. This is especially true with singlehood. 

"Lay it down."

"Don't be desperate."

"Don't make it an idol."

"God should be enough."

"Stop waiting for someone to complete you."

Every singles ministry leader, young adult ministry pastor, and a married couple who "sealed the deal" before 30 will dole out these responses like a broken record. 

I dislike every single one of them. I understand that, at times, they may be necessary. However, we're failing to address the growing epidemic in America, in black communities and the church: fewer people than ever before are getting married.

They are healthy, whole, God-fearing, kind, educated, working women all across America who are 25, 30, 35, 40 and beyond. They have patiently waited and expect only to receive the same canned responses to their situation. Many of whom want to have children and are celibate while their biological clocks are ticking and their bodies are asking for the sexual satisfaction it was made for. I emphasize "made for" because sex is another topic that Christians can be impractical, shameful, and dismissive about.

But my biggest problem with the list of clichés is that it's not biblical. The modern western church has made desiring anything but God alone sinful: a truly monastic approach to Christian living not exactly found in the scriptures. 

From Genesis to Revelation, we see the contrary. We see stories of restored dreams, renewed hope, and fulfilled promises. 

Of course, Christianity doesn't guarantee every selfish ambition will come to pass, nor am I promoting that. However, marriage is a noble pursuit that we shouldn't treat as a right of passage designed only for those who are "called." 

There is nothing wrong with desiring a healthy marriage and family, and we should stop making singles feel guilty for it.

In the beginning, when God made Adam, He said, "It's not good for man to be alone." He said this as Adam was walking with Him in the cool of the garden, before the fall. Still, God said, "Wait a minute," puts him to sleep and forms a woman out of his own body, and then says, "It is good!"

So, where did we get this other reasoning about marriage?

"Isn't God enough?"

Yes, but he also offers his children companionship with each other in Genesis 2. 

Abraham and Sarah's story might be the most broadly shared story of a long awaited promise fulfilled. The book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham and Sarah were people of great faith, but many of us only see a man and his wife begrudgingly waiting year after year for that fulfillment. Sarah even laughs when God tells her that she'll have a son. She laughs because she's heard this promise before, has already waited years, and still sees no sign of it in her near future. 

The same Sarah who arranges for her husband to impregnate her servant. 

Still, over and over, God keeps returning to them in the midst of  self-inflicted disappointment, hurt, delay, and continues to reaffirm His promise.

Hannah is no different. You can't sugarcoat her story. She all but tumbles into the temple one day, bearing her naked soul before God. The priest, Eli, watches her pray and thinks, "She must be drunk. I have never seen a woman pray like that." She says to Eli, "Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” (1 Samuel 1: 16). 

Listen, if a modern day woman were to say these exact words, she'd get clobbered over the head with, "God needs to be enough!" and "You're making this an idol!"

Instead, Eli says, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition."

I often wonder why people are so turned off by women who want to be married. If a woman repeatedly says, "I'm praying for a new job" and says so persistently for three years, no one bats an eyelash.  If she says, "I'm desperate for a job," still no one thinks anything of it. However, there is a stigma attached to women who openly desire marriage. If a woman says, "I really want to be married," then and only then is she called "desperate."

Even so, God could have chosen to accuse the "desperate," but Luke 18:1-8 shows us the nature of God's heart to those who persistently ask.

In a particular city, there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.' For a while he refused, but afterward, he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?"

By now, you're probably thinking, "hold up ... what about when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?" I'm glad that you brought that up.   In Hebrews 11:17-19 it says, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back."

So, even though Abraham went up to sacrifice his son, he did so in faith, knowing God cannot lie and would, therefore, have to raise his son from the dead. God was testing Abraham's faith, not accusing him of idolatry. 

I know, it's not easy to hold on to something you don't see happening. It's hard to stick it through, believing, hoping. Our knee-jerk response is to self-protect by doubting or letting it go. 

We see this with the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4: 7-18. When Elisha asks the woman if there's anything, she wants in the world, and she says no. He says, "By this time next year, you'll embrace a son." She responds, "No, my lord. Do not lie to your servant." I mean, she gave up a long time ago.

But again, no matter how long, no matter how hard, God will still do it. 

No, never flush that thing. Never bottle it up or brush it under the rug. Give that Godly desire to the Lord. There's only one person who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and his name doesn't rhyme with Jesus so let's not confuse the two. If God says He's going to do a thing, He's going to do it! 

That's the kind of God He is according to His word.

Tasha Levi

Tasha Levi is a proud Brooklyn-native who enjoys reading, writing, interior decorating and traveling. She earned a B.A. at Temple University studying Political Science with a focus on political inequality. Her favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Khaled Hosseini.