Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review: Infertility, Finding God's Peace in the Journey

I have a new favorite IF book!

Back in November, I went in to our local Berean bookstore, looking for one of the few pretty standard Christian Infertility Books (Hannah's Hope, The IF Companion, and a couple others are pretty "big"). I was annoyed to discover that Berean had only one book in the entire store on infertility (and for a moment, the store associate thought it was in the Parenting section. I was glad to find it in the "Women's Health" section instead). Anyway, I bought the book, stuffed it in my purse, and went on to meet a friend. When I got home, I logged on to Amazon and ordered those more "common" books and shoved this one to the back of my ever-growing pile. After all, I'd never heard of the book or the author, and had never seen it mentioned in any of my IF circles. I knew that it was recommended by Greg Smalley, and H. Norm Wright so I figured it couldn't be bad, but I still wasn't enthused about reading it.

All those other books were great and I appreciate what I learned from them. I read through all of them and was left with just a couple more obscure titles, including this one. When I darted over to California earlier in the month, I tossed this book in my bag figuring it would give me something to do on the plane.

I started reading it and it wasn't long before I was hooked!

Infertility: Finding God's Peace in the Journey by Lois Flowers is a practical, Biblical guide book of the journey of Infertility, written for the IF Patients. As the author tells her story, she challenges the reader at every step with Biblical truths and logical challenges to the traps we often willingly fall victim to in our IF journeys that would seek to steal our joy and attention from God. She maintains a delicate balance of bold truth, and compassionate earnestness.

I've tried for a while to figure out why I like this book so much more than other books because really, what she says is not so profound that it's vastly different from other Christian books on the subject. I think I prefer this book because I appreciate the author's tone and approach. While other IF books are very warm and almost personal, they appeal to the heart. They give me a sense of sitting and chatting over coffee, hugging and crying along the way. Those are wonderful elements of those books but for that reason, I never completely identified with them. I've done my share of crying no doubt, but at the end of the day I need help logically processing through everything. I think that's why I blog. It helps me to outline my thoughts and not just stew in them.

This book appeals to the head and mind of the IF patient, which is much easier for me to identify with. I dogeared tons of pages that contain content I've read before framed differently, but in this context the concepts reached out and grabbed me like they hadn't before in other mediums. My mind was challenged at every step, which in turn trained my heart. The author never allows the reader to just sit and stew in her own melancholy thoughts. She confronts prejudices, false entitlements and pity parties with the truth of God expressed with all the compassion of someone who knows the pain of this journey.

My favorite part of the book is when she quotes the Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis. Those of you who know me know of my soft spot for Lewis but the Horse and His Boy is a book I hadn't cracked since adolescence so I've forgotten much. In an exchange between Aslan and a main character, the boy is asking the "Whys" of Aslan's workings in both his own life and that of a friend. Aslan answers:
Child...I am telling you your own story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.
Wow! Over and over I turned that in my head. In November I remember lamenting to my best friend that while I was overjoyed for her pregnancy (and I am!) I couldn't help but think that there must be some cosmic checklist that they accomplished and we didn't for God to decide that natural childbearing was a part of their story and not ours. In my head, there had to be some discriminating factor. I still saw infertility as incompleteness. As a blessing withheld. Childbearing was something they somehow deserved and we didn't, for reasons unbeknownst to any of us. That passage by Lewis and Ms. Flowers' excellent correspondence of it to the infertility journey continues to challenge me even now.

My other favorite part of the book is when the author is addressing the grief IF women often feel in modern Christendom, when motherhood is so magnified, and sometimes too much so. The IF woman is left feeling like the world thinks her life is "less blessed" or "less purposeful" and sometimes, she thinks those things about herself. The author writes:
I agree that children are wonderful blessings. If they were not, infertility wouldn't be nearly as hard as it is. I also understand why people with children might count them among the greatest blessings in their lives. But to suggest that people without children (married or not) are somehow missing out on the ultimate blessing is both narrow-minded and unbliblcal. The Scriptures (especially Psalms and Proverbs) list dozens of other sources of God's blessing. And nearly all of these have to do with a person's heart and relationship with God and others, rather than her ability to reproduce her own genetic material.

For example, you are blessed when you refrain from walking in the "counsel of the wicked" or standing "in the way of sinners" or sitting "in the seat of mockers" (Psalm 1:1). You're blessed when you delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it around the clock (Psalm 1:2). You are blessed if your "transgressions are forgiven" and your "sins are covered" (Psalm 32:1). You're blessed when you take refuge in the Lord (Psalm 34:8), when you make the Lord your trust (Psalm 40:4), when you have regard for all the weak (Psalm 41:1), when you learn to acclaim the Lord and walk in His presence (Psalm 89:15), when you seek Him with all your heart (Psalm 119:2), when you maintain justice, and when you "constantly do what is right" (Psalm 106:3).

You're blessed when you are kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:21), when you are generous to the poor (Proverbs 22:9), when you are faithful (Proverbs 28:20), when you honor the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:3), when you are disciplined by God (Psalm 94:12), when you find wisdom (Proverbs 3:13), when you serve others (John 13:11-17), when you fear the Lord continually (Proverbs 28:14), when you read the book of Revelation and take its message to heart (Revelation 1:3-4) and when you actively watch for the return of Jesus Christ (Revelation 16:14-15).

The author goes on to share the beatitudes as well and finally concludes:

Notice that this passage says nothing about having children. Like most of the blessings delineated in the Old Testament, all the blessings here are a direct result of Christlike behavior, not of familial relationships.

God may not have blessed you with biological children yet. And He may never choose to do so. But regardless of whether you ever have a successful pregnancy, you have many other wonderful opportunities to receive His blessing, most of which can have eternal impact. In the meantime, you can either bemoan the fact that you're missing out on the blessing of children (either temporarily or permanently), or you can actively seek out ways to grow in purity and godliness, serve others and develop wisdom.
What a wonderful, exhaustive list of God's goodness and mercies! As a long term Christian, I knew all of these things, and I also know that I do not exist so that God may bless me, but that doesn't mean that I have always stopped my heart from wallowing in what I was bound to "miss out" on! This passage was such a challenge to me and I hope that it would be a challenge to our church culture too.

I really love this book. I want to find the author and hug her guts out. The book does have an appendix for family and friends of infertile people, as well as a resource for pastors, and those are well and good too, but this book was just so instrumental in shedding light on lies in my heart, in encouraging me in places where I felt a bit on shakey ground, and in challenging me to really appreciate this journey of IF.

I recommend it with my whole heart! Praise God for the "inconvenience" of Berean having only one book on the shelf. I am confident that it was so I would read this book that I otherwise would not have touched and I am so grateful for the gift it has been. I hope it will encourage you all likewise!