Saturday, October 18, 2014

Infertility as a Refining Fire

"...Of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. ... there was given to me a thorn in the flesh... Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12: 5, 7, 9-10)
For over two years, we have been doing everything in our power to claim the blessing of parenthood. After a year it's officially "infertility", but when young people are infertile some doctors neglect a sense of urgency.

Trying to conceive ("TTC") can easily become all-encompassing. We are used to making plans, following through, and achieving goals. I think it is easy to believe that fertility is in our control.

The lie that our fertility is in our control is further perpetuated by the terminology used to describe "solutions" to prevent pregnancy. Use hormonal birth control ("HBC") to plan your family. When/if you decide to have children, stop using your chosen method of birth control and whammo! you should expect to get pregnant within weeks, right?

In reality, the average couple has only a 20% chance of conceiving in any given cycle, and some sources state that as many as 1 in 8 couples will experience infertility.

Infertility and the resulting feelings of failure, worthlessness, and depression have been the greatest trials of my life thus far.

Speaking from experience, infertility can (and usually does) impact every aspect of a couple's life:
  • Physiological or hormonal causes result in medical treatments that can be very invasive and have unpleasant side effects. 
  • The cyclical grief that matches the menstrual cycle is emotionally hellish. 
  • Spiritually, infertile couples may struggle to understand this trial and why God denies them children. 
  • Employment may be affected if there are frequent visits to doctors, or if treatments or medications impact one's ability to do work. 
  • Socially, infertility leaves couples feeling lonely and isolated. Marriages and other relationships may become strained. 
  • Financially, infertility can be hugely damaging, since treatments are costly and many insurance companies do not cover these services (and adoption, the "alternative" to treatments, is comparably costly).
On the other hand, infertility can be a refining fire. It is possible to find and prove your strength by continuing to fight for your future children. Trusting in God and in His timing can deepen your relationship with Him. Working to strengthen your marriage and keeping communication open with your spouse yields rich, eternal blessings. If you are willing to reach out to support groups or share your experiences, the isolation dissipates. The quiet that accompanies infertility is an ideal time for personal growth and developing talents. But like all Abrahamic trials, it is nonetheless excruciating.

It is a comfort to know that infertility is often treatable. I do not believe God wishes to withhold the blessing of family from me, and I feel that I have appropriately prioritized family. I feel that it is my duty to do everything within my power to claim the blessing of children. This time has given me the opportunity to strengthen my relationship with Jesus Christ. It has also given me an opportunity to strengthen my marriage, improve my health, and to contribute financially for longer than originally intended/expected. I admit that I have grown in ways I may not have otherwise. I also admit that there have been periods of stagnation.

I also find comfort in these words from Brigham Young:
"Many of the sisters grieve because they are not blessed with offspring. You will see the time when you will have millions of children around you. If you are faithful to your covenants, you will be mothers of nations. … Be faithful, and if you are not blest with children in this time, you will be hereafter." (Found here)
Ultimately, in the eternal plan of happiness, I know that if I am faithful to my covenants, I will have a posterity. God is faithful in keeping promises.

My church leaders have given powerful counsel in local congregations, too: whether we receive our desired blessing is not so important as whether we prove our integrity in difficult times. I want to be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. (Daniel 3:16-18
They had faith that God could deliver them, but even if He did not deliver them, they would trust in Him. Their faith and integrity were such that they would not disobey God's commandments (to worship only Him), nor deny their beliefs.

Ultimately, I have found that the best comfort comes from relying on the atonement of Jesus Christ, living in such a way that I can have the companionship of the Holy Ghost (the Comforter), and trusting in covenants I have made in the temple. As previously stated, God is faithful in keeping promises.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lessons from The Book of Mormon: achieving family cohesiveness and harmony through the gospel

I recently began re-reading The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. After hearing a speaker call this book a "manual for happiness," I decided to read it through this lens, looking for ways The Book of Mormon teaches us how to be happy.

I'm realizing, though, that The Book of Mormon also teaches us a lot about family.

In 1 Nephi, we learn about Lehi and his family, who, because of a vision Lehi receives, flee the city of Jerusalem to be led by God to the promised land. Like many families, members of Lehi's family subscribe in varying degrees to his religious beliefs, the family's goals and values, and even what constitutes as acceptable behavior.

While in the wilderness, we learn that Lehi finds a divinely presented Liahona: a "round ball of curious workmanship... of fine brass" with "two spindles" that direct them on their journey "according to the faith and diligence and heed" of Lehi's family members (1 Nephi 16:10, 28). As family members are in harmony with each other and with God's commandments, they are blessed with what they need and led by the hand of God. As family members disobey God's commandments and even attempt to kill each other (Laman and Lemuel attempt to kill their father, Lehi, and their brother, Nephi), everyone is thwarted and even endangered together:
And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness... And it came to pass that after they had bound me insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work. Wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me....And it came to pass that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea. And after we had been driven back upon the waters for the space of four days, my brethren began to see that the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish save that they should repent of their iniquities; wherefore, they came unto me, and loosed the bands which were upon my wrists, and behold they had swollen exceedingly; and also mine ankles were much swollen, and great was the soreness thereof. (1 Nephi 18:11-15)
While disobedience and disharmony in our own modern families may not take such a dramatic twist, I believe this is a pattern we need to be familiar with and aware of. When even one family member chooses to disregard familial goals/values or the commandments of God, all family members are negatively affected to some degree: goals go unmet because everyone is not working together, abuse occurs, gospel progression (including making/keeping covenants) and spiritual growth slow and halt, etc.

We cannot force family members to believe or act in certain ways -- this is contrary to God's laws and creates contention and bitterness. Ultimately, family members must choose their own beliefs, and what they choose to do because of them, for themselves. We know from Nephi's account that Lehi and Sariah were goodly parents and taught their children correct principles. We do not know why Laman and Lemuel disregarded their teachings.

However, I believe it is possible to take preventive measures in family life to encourage cohesiveness and harmony in subscription to core family values, beliefs, and goals:

  1. A foundation on the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Families that understand such principles as faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, obedience to God's commandments, humility, love, and forgiveness, and work to implement these principles in their day-to-day lives, will find that they can rely on each other and on their Savior. Jesus Christ and his teachings are a sure foundation, leading to our ultimate salvation, whereas worldly teachings and principles are shaky ground, leading to our ultimate destruction. 
  2. And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)
  3. Intentional living of the gospel. Prophets have counseled families to hold regular family prayer, family scripture study, and family home evening for many years. These types of things do not happen on their own! Parents who invest time and planning to incorporate these events into the daily and weekly family structure bless their families by doing so.
  4. That I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning. (1 Nephi 19:23)
    My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children." (2 Nephi 4:15)
  5. Intentional fostering of relationships. In my experience, the strongest families know, love, and care about each other. Spouses should hold their marital relationship paramount and take opportunities to improve it, including reading marriage books, attending marriage classes, and seeking marriage counseling. Spouses should maintain fierce loyalty to each other and to their marriage, seeking to become one. Additionally, parents should build individual relationships with their children, and should encourage their children to love and value each other. Family members who dislike each other will understandable not wish to work together or value similar things. In 1 Nephi, there is much evidence that Lehi knew each of his children well, including their strengths and weaknesses, and encouraged them to grow in positive ways.
  6. And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness! And he also spake unto Lemuel: O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord! (1 Nephi 2:9-10)
  7. Working familiarity with the teachings of the prophets and apostles. Family members who know what the prophets teach and can apply these teachings will find their faith in Christ strengthened and their resolve to follow Him and His teachings increased. Followers of Christ tend to a oneness with Him and with each other. Additionally, the prophets give timely counsel in our days, and individuals who seek to live this counsel will be in harmony with each other. If you need ideas for incorporating General Conference lessons in your family, I highly recommend We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ.
  8. And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one. (3 Nephi 19:23)
  9. A willingness to seek and follow personal revelation. When family goals and values are based on spiritual promptings, families can be assured that (1) those goals and values will be good and right and (2) that each family member can receive their own personal witness as to the origin and nature of those goals and values. Parents who earnestly seek direction for their families from the Lord will receive direction. Children who are taught how to seek and receive revelation may do so as they wish, and, assuming the family's goals and values are based on spiritual direction and confirmation, can get their own answer affirming the same.
  10. It came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot. (1 Nephi 11:1) ... And I bear record that I saw the things which my father saw, and the angel of the Lord did make them known unto me. (1 Nephi 14:29)
When family members seek to base their lives on Jesus Christ, live the gospel, strengthen family relationships, learn the teachings of the prophets, and receive and follow personal revelation, the family unit can enjoy greater harmony in working toward family goals and establishing values and beliefs and can be led by God as they do so, rather than being swallowed up in discord.

Do you agree? Have you seen these principles in action? What other factors influence a family's cohesiveness and harmony?