A New Year, Another Leap of Faith

Photo by savit keawtavee

(Photo by Savit Keawtavee)

There’s something poetic about starting a new adventure with the beginning of a new year. Four years ago tomorrow was my first day at IJM. God moved us away from our comfortable lives in Nashville for my “dream job” here. (His hand was very evident in the entire process.) One year ago this week, after a long journey through infertility and 4 agonizing rounds of IVF, we learned we were having twins (if that’s not a new adventure, I don’t know what is!). And yesterday, the email went out to the organization that I’m officially leaving IJM.
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Seriously, check out these dates. There’s something very poetic about it:
1/8/09 – I printed off a marketing job description at IJM that became my inspiration for wanting to work there (I wrote about this fun detail here)
1/9/12 – my first day at my “dream job” at IJM
1/2/15 – after our journey through infertility, we learn God has blessed us with twins (what?!)
1/7/16 – the email goes out to the organization that I’m leaving IJM
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It is with many bittersweet feelings that I am saying goodbye to an organization and team that I have been so honored to be a part of. It’s quite surreal. I could have stayed at IJM for many, many more years. I leave there forever changed in so many ways, and grateful to have been a small part of the life-changing work being done.
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One big lesson I will carry with me is how we, at IJM, pray so earnestly and specifically for details of the people’s lives that we are trying to serve. For a rescue mission at 10pm tomorrow to find the one girl. For the court hearing to proceed as scheduled. For the missing file to be found so the case doesn’t get delayed. For the $10,000 gift to come in on time. So often, in our own lives, we pray very generically. Why do we feel we can pray so boldly for other people’s lives but not our own? I need constant reminding of this, that I can (& should) pray boldly for the details in my own life. I was able to walk that lesson out in our very personal journey the last 2 years.
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Anyway, I do walk away from IJM with every intention of staying connected, and, God willing, of returning some day. Another thing I have learned over the last 5 years is that we really have no idea the plans God has for us. He sure does hold so many surprises. But, we can be assured that He has it all figured out and His ways are definitely best.
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A little snippet from our journey is that because God moved us to this area for my season with IJM, we are also back closer to a lot of family. I honestly don’t know how we could have survived the first few months with twins in Nashville, without the family support. God knew…
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So for this next leap of faith, I have embarked on what is truly the most challenging job of my life, being a stay-at-home mom to two precious baby girls. And for this season, my job is here with them.
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After marrying a teacher, I never thought I could ever be a stay-at-home mom. Of course I’d have to work. Well, when twins come along, and you factor in childcare for two (especially how expensive it is in this area), while working at a nonprofit job, it just doesn’t add up. I would barely bring home a couple hundred dollars a month, in order to have someone else take care of my children.
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I struggled through making the decision to work or not work, even full-time or part-time. Fear was evident on all sides of the equation.
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We are taking a leap of faith in many ways, including figuring out to afford this life as a family of four. The funny thing was, the finances were essentially the same either way, whether I worked (and had childcare) or didn’t. So the decision became clear, though still quite scary.
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During nap times and other sparse moments of free hands, I will pursue contract marketing work here and there and I will put more effort into my role as a Noonday Ambassador, which I love doing. Noonday allows me to pursue my passion of helping be a part of dignified poverty alleviation, making a difference in the lives of families around the world, while building relationships here in my community, and helping provide a little income for my family as well. It will also give me opportunities to get out of the house. Hello cabin fever!
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There’s a whole other blog post to be written about the leap of faith in trying to figure out how to be a parent, and especially to raising twins. But that’s for another day.
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Speaking of twins, one is waking up from their nap. Gotta go…
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What a Difference a Year Can Make

Karen & Cason Maternity ShootWe are under 48 hours from holding our twin daughters in our arms and I have so many thoughts and emotions swirling inside. I am…

Nervous
Overwhelmed
Excited
In Awe
In Love Already
Emotional
Feeling unprepared
Feeling prepared as we’ll ever be
Amazed
Terrified

It has been quite a journey to get to this point.
It feels so long and somehow rather quick in hindsight.
Suddenly it’s now the end and it’s the beginning all in one.

One thing I’ve been marveling at in the last week or so is where we were at this time last year compared to where we are today.

August 1, 2014 – After the months of testing, consultations, switching insurance, trying acupuncture in the meantime, severely altering my diet, and waiting on the right timing, we did our first self-administered injection in our first round of IVF treatments. It was a terrible hour long process, where almost everything went wrong and I sat there wondering, how in the world will we ever do this…

August 4, 2015 (Tuesday of this week) – We will welcome our daughters into the world and everything will change, forever. Our daughters that we were not sure we’d ever have. Almost exactly a year to the day since that awful, first injection.

One takeaway for me from this story is that we have no idea what God has in store for us. What His plans are for our future. To remember how we were feeling this time last year and seeing how He worked out His specific plan for us.

What a difference a year can make.

And this is so true – in so many areas of life, for so many people.
For the person waiting on a job, a house, a move, an adoption, a relationship, a diagnosis…

God has a plan. And even though we may experience some pretty low times of desperation or questioning, we can look to how God has worked in our lives and in the lives of loved ones we know, and be reassured that there is a next chapter in our story. It may be one we never imagined, but His plans are far better than ours can ever be.

Today, I am grateful and marveling at how our lives have completely changed from where we were a year ago, and we never could have predicted how it would turn out.

What are you waiting for today? Trust that God does have a plan. And that His plans are perfect.
How have you seen this play out in your own life?

God has given us our miracle(s)!

Barnes Twins Coming August 2015

“With God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26

I am a bit at a loss for words. How can I do a post like this justice and adequately give due glory to God? I can’t… I still can’t believe that this is a real post that I get to type. But let’s see if I can put some words together. It might be a little disjointed.

It’s been more than two years since we started trying to get pregnant and a year since we started down the “infertility” road. After being told last spring that we had a 1% chance of getting pregnant naturally, I clung to the idea that my God is a God of the 1%. He is the God of the impossible. If He choses, He can make it happen. We just didn’t know, in His sovereign plan, if He would choose to do it. There were many days where I didn’t think it would ever happen.

He has taken us down quite a journey, especially over the last 6 months of seeking treatment. Four months in a row of attempted IVF cycles will do a number to your emotions.

As I typed out my last post, about how God had to take me to a place of brokenness to really start to find a hunger for Him, we were in the midst of our 4th attempt. (Only our 2nd where we were actually able to do an egg retrieval & embryo transfer.) We made it all the way to the embryo transfer and were in the excruciatingly long 2-week wait before the pregnancy test as I hit publish on that last one.

God knew the journey He had to take us on. For some reasons we see now and others we’ll never know.

Because of my previous response (or lack of response) to treatment — including the one unsuccessful IVF round where we had one embryo to transfer — we decided to transfer 2 embryos this time around. We took the risk.

We found out we were pregnant before Christmas and were able to share the news with both of our families as we saw them in person over the holidays. It was the best and only present we needed, and a welcome miracle at the end of a hard year on both sides.

This past Friday, we went for our first ultrasound where they discovered that it is, in fact, twins. (For about two minutes we thought there was only one, but the second one was hiding a bit!) Both decided to stick around! We saw two tiny miracle hearts beating, at only 7.5 weeks. Wow.

We are so grateful and also quite overwhelmed! Twins! How in the world are we going to handle twins? There are so many logistics to figure out in the next several months.

As we continue on this new phase of our journey, we will lean on some of the lessons that God has taught us over the recent past. Both are possible blog posts that still need to be written:
1. We are not in control. Only God is. We could attempt to take matters into our own hands — I tried acupuncture, a special fertility diet for 6 months, 4 months of medical treatment where we could try the exact same combination and my body would respond differently every time — but it is only God who has any control over the outcome. It’s all in His hands.
2. God provides. We’ve experienced this in not having any idea how we were going to pay for such expensive procedures and medications. But month after month, God provided, in amazing ways. I know He will continue to do so.

Okay, I have 2 quips that I have to randomly fit in:
1. You all prayed too hard and God sure did answer — twins! 🙂
2. I guess we’re making up for lost time and trying to catch up.

And a serious note. For some reason, God has chosen to answer our prayers. I’ll never understand why. Why He has chosen to answer this one, but there are so many couples going through similar journeys and who haven’t gotten their hearts’ desire. I remain extremely sensitive to others who are walking this difficult road. And I don’t want to trigger anyone else’s sadness. The infertility journey is one that will forever mark who I am and I don’t think that will change.

As of today, we are only 8 weeks along. It is obviously still early and I am not naive to think “we’ve made it”. But we also couldn’t wait any longer to share the news of these two tiny miracles with you all. So many people have been praying for us and supporting us. We are so grateful for you! Would you please join us in praising God for these two lives and also praying for their continued health and development?

And maybe kick in a prayer for our wisdom and decision making about the future? We sure do have a lot to figure out! We have many more opportunities on the horizon for us to desperately lean on God in all things.

Our two 5-day old embryos on the left and our split screen ultrasound at 7.5 weeks showing two little blueberries!

On the left are our two 5-day old embryos before our transfer and on the right is our split screen ultrasound at 7.5 weeks showing our two little blueberries!

“I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” -Psalm 9:1-2

Photos are by Stacey Michelle Photography.

The Beauty in the Brokenness

October was hard. Really hard. On the personal and family side of things. A month that started with a lot of hope, felt like it crashed and burned quickly.

After a disappointing, failed first round of fertility treatment in August, we started a second round of treatment and hefty meds in September. This time we actually made it all the way through an IVF cycle (which is no walk in the park, but those are details for another day). It was like holding my breath every single day. But after making it to an embryo transfer, I was filled with so much hope, thinking “this could finally be it”. Almost 2 years later.

Then life came crashing in at once. My mom started chemotherapy for breast cancer. Two days later my grandma passed away. Two days after the funeral, we go in for our long-awaited pregnancy blood test. (It’s an excruciatingly long wait from the day of the transfer to when you can take the actual test. It feels like forever.) We got the call later that afternoon that it was negative.

I haven’t been very acquainted with grief and mourning in my sheltered life. But I became acquainted quickly. I didn’t even have a name to put on our own personal situation. It wasn’t a miscarriage because it was never a clinical pregnancy. But if we believe that life begins at conception (and we do), then it was a life lost. We have a picture of our 3-day old embryo that they gave us, before they transferred it back in. It’s a little 8-celled miracle. It still sits on my dresser, partly because I’m just not sure what to do with it now. But that was a life. I do believe we have a child in heaven now.

A week later, we plunged back into another treatment cycle, anxious to keep the momentum going. But after a week of pills and shots and every other day doctor’s appointments, my body just wasn’t responding and we decided the best thing to do was to cancel the cycle. Talk about dashed hopes and feelings of “this is just never going to happen.” I had to have a talk with my doctor about if and how to move forward. That same day, my uncle died…

I had some straight up bouts of “ugly crying” that weekend. And moping around, and crying again. It was a tough couple of weeks and it just was too much. I learned about grief and feelings of brokenness. And I learned that I just needed to stop and figure out how I, personally, needed to deal with it. And that it was okay to feel how I felt.

Getting to the point of this story, if I had written this post when I first thought about it, it would have been very different. I was going to call it “A Time to Mourn”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but thanks be to God, the story didn’t stop there.

I was so glad to turn the page on October. I’ve never been happier for a new month to come.

November then turned into a big month of healing and growth for me. It’s hard to summarize, but I think that God had to take me to a place of brokenness to really start to find a hunger for Him.

“I will gladly rejoice because of Your gracious love,
because You recognized the sadness of my affliction.
You felt deep compassion when You saw the pains of my soul.
Psalm 31:7 (The Voice)

I started devouring a couple of great books. The un-ironically similar Bittersweet and Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Both exactly what I needed to read and worthy of their own posts. I started diving into different scriptures and finding that I had a hunger to know more of who God is. With refreshingly nothing to do with my circumstances. My circumstances were what helped drive me to this place, but I wasn’t looking up passages solely on hope and waiting anymore. I found a craving just to know Him better. I dove into Scriptures on the attributes of God, what He says about Himself, and His promises to us.

I found myself giving thanks to God despite, within and because of my circumstances. One particular devotion on SheReadsTruth.com (“Give Thanks in Sorrow”) struck me with this perfectly phrased message:

“God doesn’t ask us to silence our sorrow in favor of thanksgiving. Rather, He uses our sorrow to proclaim a type of thanksgiving we wouldn’t be able to express otherwise… Extracted from all earthly attachments, void of trimmings and trumpets sounding, sorrow is a connection to Christ and our need for Him in its purest form…

I love that.

God doesn’t ask us to toss our grief and sorrow aside. To sugar coat it and forget it. He wants us to turn to Him in the midst of it. He hurts when we hurt. And it’s in the brokenness that we find a new dimension of Him that we wouldn’t know otherwise.

We learn about the Abba Father who wants us to climb into His lap and bring everything to Him – our hurts, our wants, our questions, our cries for healing and peace. This is the God that I’ve been discovering over the last several weeks. I’ve found myself praising Him for bringing me through this time of sorrow because it brought me to this place with Him that I wouldn’t know otherwise. And it’s a sweet place to be.

It IS the beauty in the brokenness.

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A Joyful Confidence

Thank you all so much for the outpouring of support, encouragement, and prayers from my last post, where I opened up about our journey through infertility. I wasn’t quite sure if many people would read it, or what reactions might be. But I was blown away. I do hope these posts can be – at the same time – authentic, open, informative, God glorifying, and encouraging to those going through any sort of trial.

In the spirit of remaining authentic and vulnerable (since I don’t have everything together), I will tell you there have been some hard days. If I had written these posts in May or June, they might have been a bit more raw. There were a couple days in June where I think I got a taste of what depression might feel like. It only lasted a couple days luckily. I was definitely not myself.

It can be challenging when it seems like everyone around you is pregnant and your Facebook feed is full of birth announcements and gender reveals. Or so much worse, when you hear stories at work of children who are pregnant as a result of the unspeakable abuse they have suffered. It seems so backwards and unjust. It’s hard.

At IJM, we have quarterly all-staff prayer retreats (a phenomenal perk for which I am so grateful). At our June retreat, Nancy Ortberg was our speaker. She is an amazing example of someone who can at once be open, raw, incredibly God honoring and full of practical wisdom. In the midst of sharing with us some of her life’s trials, she dropped a piece of wisdom that I picked up and have clutched like a treasure ever since. She said:

“Trials are a test of our joyful confidence in God.”

Read that again slowly…

Trials are a test of our joyful confidence. In God. Despite our circumstances. In the midst of trials. Knowing, believing, clinging to the hope and truth that God’s plans are best. Even when we don’t understand it or feel it. Trials are an opportunity to show where our hope really lies.

Similarly, and perfectly complementary, in a Tim Keller sermon that I keep going back to called “Peace – Overcoming Anxiety”, he said:

  1. Peace is confidence and trust in God’s good and wise control of your life.
  2. Joy is a buoyancy. It’s unsinkable. It’s a focus on the unchanging privileges we have in God.

Peace and an unsinkable joyful confidence. This has become a prayer for myself and one I’ve had others praying for me too. That I would maintain a joyful confidence and a peace, despite our circumstances. Despite what our feelings of the day would like to dictate.

God has definitely answered that prayer and I am so grateful. We are actually in a pretty good place right now. We knew God started answering that prayer for peace and a joyful confidence when we walked out of the doctor’s office in late June with our medical plan of action (after months of waiting for insurance to work out so we could start doing something) and we actually felt really light and carefree crossing the parking lot back to our car. How many people leave a fertility clinic practically skipping and laughing to their car? I knew it was strange… Only God.

And we’ve experienced relative peace… through some pretty brutal medical treatment involving 2 weeks a month of self-administered shots, 3 times a day… Only God.

I don’t know what next month will bring, but I’m learning to lean on Him for each and every day. That’s really all I can do. And quite honestly, that’s not a bad place to be.

Joyful Confidence

“Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure.” ~James 1:2-3 (The Voice)

How do you find peace and joy in the midst of trials? What are some Bible verses that you turn to in those hard times?


Our “Something”

Everyone is dealing with something. It struck me one morning as I was getting off the metro a couple months ago. People were coming and going from all directions. I had just ridden my 5 stops in a bit of a distracted fog. A funk really. But stepping off the metro, I realized that I was bracing myself. Putting on a happy face, ready to walk into work again like everything was wonderful.

And if that’s what I was doing (me, someone who has the strength of positivity) I wondered how many people around me were doing the same thing. Or who didn’t even have the strength that day to try. Everyone is dealing with something.

For us, that “something” has been and continues to be a battle against infertility. There, I said it. Ripped off like a bandaid. We’ve gone public. Completely exposed.

Such a taboo and vulnerable subject. And I’m tired of it being that way. It’s become core to who I am now and no matter our outcome, I think it will always be a piece of me.

I’ve sort of wanted to blog about our journey for the last several months for a couple reasons:

  1. Infertility actually affects 1 in 8 couples. I want to break the stigma and help people understand how common it is and how many people around you are probably dealing with it too. And possibly help you understand what they’re going through.
  2. To encourage others who are in the same journey. I’ve heard it said that infertility carries the same weight as a cancer diagnosis, as far as emotional trauma goes. It is a hard and lonely road and I want others to know that they’re not alone. I want to encourage others to reach out to their support networks or others dealing with it too.
  3. So that God can be glorified. I know that if we have to go through this, that one of the purposes is so that God can use it to His glory. And He can’t be glorified if we don’t share what He has done (& is doing).
  4. To share (& process) some of the lessons that we’ve been learning through it all that really are applicable to everyone, regardless of your exact circumstances. Like lesson #1: “Everyone is dealing with something”.

I’ve been held back from sharing publicly by fear of being too vulnerable. Not sure if I wanted everyone to know our business.  (Our inner circle of friends and family have been journeying with us for months.) But I’m feeling even more compelled by the reasons above and it’s time I give in.

As for our journey, we’ve been “trying” for 2 years. Journeying and struggling through “infertility” (as a label) for the last 9 months or so. Currently going through medical treatment, which is no walk in the park. It has been a roller coaster. So many ups and downs. Sometimes by the hour. Certainly by the day, week, and month. If I’m going to lay it all out there, I’ve struggled with feeling rocked to the core of my identity, with feeling incredibly alone, with feeling traces of hopelessness, and of course, with wondering “why us”. We’ve also been drawn closer to God and to each other. We’ve had the great opportunity to encourage and be encouraged by others we know going through this too. We’ve experienced the tremendous blessing of an amazing support network. We’ve seen God move in some mighty ways and have learned some really valuable lessons.

Everyone is dealing with something – a loved one battling cancer, conflict in a marriage, chronic migraines, feelings of loneliness, a miscarriage, unemployment, a personal financial crisis… something.

A simple, but profound lesson that I’m grateful to have fully realized. It has helped me view people with more kindness and empathy. In a world of social media where we choose which are the best pieces of ourselves to post publicly. Where we constantly compare ourselves to someone else’s highlights (but not the lowlights). And in a society where we put on our happy face and answer “I’m good, how are you?” without thinking twice. We just don’t know what others are struggling with.

It has made me want to be kinder to the cashier at the store, to greet the man always handing out papers at my metro stop, to give drivers on the road the benefit of the doubt (I know that’s a hard one!). To realize and remember that the person next to you is probably dealing with something hard too. We might as well choose joy and try to spread it to others.

As for our current struggle:
“I watch in hope for the Lord. I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” ~Micah 7:7

Path

More to come soon…


Back to Blogging (& growing)

So I’m embarrassed to say that my last blog post was on February 20 – almost 5 months ago! I started 2013 strong (in regards to blogging), but it didn’t last. In real life, 2013 started out with a bang. Between the last week in February and sometime in late April, we had 2 free weekends. It was all great things, but it was hard to catch my breath, let alone blog – though it would have been great material for blogging (like the inspiring Justice Conference in Philly). Alas, I had to let it go & just move forward.

Suddenly, it’s July. More than halfway through the year. When did this happen?

My “one word” to focus on for 2013 is Grow. So how am I doing? Decently, I think. Work is constantly challenging & stretching. I don’t think that will ever change. We’re really focusing on taking things to the next level, so I definitely feel like I’m growing there. In regards to church, I said I wanted to grow into a place of service & deeper involvement. Well, in early spring Cason & I became leaders for our Sunday morning class and we started facilitating a midweek couple’s Bible study. We are growing deeper relationships with others, which I always want more of. Personally, I haven’t really made the time to grow in pursuits outside of work (like learning how to use that camera). Maybe someday soon. This is my attempt to get back to blogging more often than every 6 months! A constant struggling point is trying to figure out the balance with my work life (which I feel is both work & service/ministry) and finding a place of service in the community (outside of the church). Similar to our involvement with refugees in Nashville.

OneWord2013_Grow

All of that to say, the remainder of 2013 has plenty of room for continued growth.

What’s next? Well, in less than a month I turn 30. By the time that happens though, I’ll have traveled to Uganda & back. I’ll be visiting an IJM field office and helping with a project at a local courthouse. I’m extremely excited. This is something straight off of my bucket list. But more about that trip another day…

How is your 2013 progressing?

Happy one year DC-iversary to us!

On February 3, 2012 I woke up, headed to the Nashville airport, said goodbye, and boarded a plane for this new life.

I can’t believe it’s now been a year. So much changed last February.

We traded a 1900 sq. foot house with a yard for a 2-bedroom, 6th floor condo. A comfortable job for one that has stretched me in all possible ways. A fantastic church where we had put down roots to the challenge of starting over. A town full of people we knew to one where we were brand new.

It’s kind of crazy to look back and see how far we’ve come in 12 months. To see God’s provision through every step of the way. Continue reading

Bucket List

Jumping back in to the January blog-a-day (I told you I wouldn’t hit every day… I might miss the next few days too), today’s topic is “Bucket List”. I’ve never given this much thought before. Turns out most of mine center around travel experiences. No surprise there.

The fun part was, as I was thinking through possibilities, several of the things that came to mind were things I’ve already been incredibly blessed with doing. I guess I’m off to a good start.

Watching the sun rise over the Grand Canal in Venice in 2002.

Already checked off the list:
Watch the sun rise over the Grand Canal in Venice Continue reading

Did I Embrace 2012?

One Word

At the beginning of 2012 I wrote a post called “Embracing 2012“. Embrace was my one word to focus on for the year, instead of all sorts of different new year’s resolutions. 2012 was my year to embrace a new season of life, with all of the challenges, obstacles, and opportunities that would come with it. You can read that original post here.

So how did I do?

It was quite a year, full of all of those things listed above: challenges, obstacles, and opportunities. Moving to a new state, adjusting to a new lifestyle, learning a new job, finishing my MBA, being lonely & trying to slowly make friends, settling into a church, and growing immensely spiritually…

Here’s what I wrote I would try to do at the beginning of the year & some reflections on each:

Continue reading