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Monday, November 23, 2009

Castles in the Air

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

I'm the kind of person who likes to look before I leap, so to speak. I like to know what I'm getting into. I don't really like doing something if I haven't investigated it first and if I don't have a general idea how it's going to go.

Even in the case of something fairly small, like trying a new restaurant, I feel pretty overwhelmed if I don't know what to do ahead of time. If I know someone else has been to that restaurant before, I usually call them and ask very specific questions about the place. I want to know what the atmosphere is like so I'll be dressed appropriately, what kind of food will be served, and whether I'll have to order up front at the counter or at the table with a menu. For me, one of the most stressful situations in the world is being somewhere and not knowing what to do or what will happen next.

You can imagine how helpless this life with infertility makes me feel. Talk about not knowing what will happen! There are a lot of unexpected twists and turns, and there is an enormous amount of uncertainty. Will I get pregnant this month? Next month? If I do, what will happen next? Another miscarriage? How would I handle another loss? Will we have a baby a year from now? Five years from now? Never? Will we adopt? Unfortunately, I can't call anyone ahead of time and find out exactly what will happen step by step!

One of my biggest challenges is making plans, and letting go of them is even harder. I married my husband at a young age. Sure, we had ideas and plans about the future -- what we thought would happen and what we hoped would happen. I had dreams of building our family while I was young, and having my children in my twenties. I envisioned my children growing up with my sister's children. I imagined family portraits of all of my mom's grandchildren together, separated in age by only a few years. After we bought our first home, I pictured our children growing up under this roof and all the memories we would make here as a young family. But infertility has changed all of that.

Even now as I write those words, I know that in my heart I haven't let go of all of those plans just yet. Some of them have been put on hold for a long time while others have been put to rest. I still dream of watching my children grow up in our home, but I know that I'll never be a twenty-something-year-old mom. And I know that if we do have children someday, my sister's boys will be much older than their cousins.

I certainly realize that these may someday seem like small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things. We would be thrilled to become parents even under different circumstances than the ones we'd imagined. Adapting to changes and making new plans are simply a part of life. Still, it's hard letting go of them, my "castles in the air," even though I know that life rarely turns out exactly how anyone plans.

Several weeks ago I finished reading the classic Louisa May Alcott novel, Little Women. I absolutely loved every second of it. It was my first time reading the book, although the movie has long been one of my favorites. In one of the many memorable scenes early in the book, the March sisters and their dear friend and neighbor Laurie spend an afternoon daydreaming about the future. In the chapter titled "Castles in the Air," the characters (who are teenagers at the time) reveal their loftiest lifelong dreams. Each one has a plan for where they'd like to be in the future. Besides Beth, who is humble and meek and wise beyond her years, everyone dreams of being rich and famous: Laurie a famous musician, Meg the mistress of a luxurious home, Jo a successful writer, and Amy a world-renowned artist.

"'Wouldn't it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true, and we could live in them?' said Jo, after a little pause."

The great thing about being the reader is that we get to see exactly what the future holds in just a few hundred pages. Even in the book, no one's life goes exactly according to his or her plan, although some get closer than others.

I don't think that it's a bad idea to have big dreams, goals, and plans. And I don't think it's bad at all to pursue them and to hope that they'll come true. But I do think it's important to not get carried away with our "castles." Many times I feel totally crushed by the weight of all of the unknowns in my future. I've felt like I'm just spinning my wheels, staying in one place while others move forward. Sometimes it's overwhelming to think that people around me are seeing their plans and dreams fulfilled with each passing year. Sometimes I begin to panic. I get so focused on the big picture that I forget to enjoy what is happening around me today.

When I let myself, I realize that there are little detours along the way that I don't want to miss. Sometimes when we have to wait a very long time or accept a change of plans, we might just get to do things we never thought we'd ever be able to do. And we might find ourselves very thankful for that.

I'm planning to keep my castles in the air. But I reserve the right to rebuild them as I go, because sometimes God may have other plans.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Giveaway Winner!

I am so excited to announce the winner of this great cookbook that I could hardly get to sleep last night! Oh, I wish I had 20 of these to give away to all of you. Thanks to everyone who entered. Your memories of your favorite '80s songs sure did make me smile and brought back lots of memories of my own.

Just before midnight last night, I typed up all of the possible winners' names and cut them into strips.



There were a total of 21, not counting my husband, sister, or myself, and excluding those who said they didn't want to enter because they had already ordered the cookbook.


I placed all of the names in a cute little jar and drew out the name... (drum roll please)



AMY C!

Amy has been a dear blog friend of mine for a little over a year. In her blog, Inside the Parsonage, she writes about life as a mom, pastor's wife, and child of God. Amy is currently expecting her second baby after living through the pain of miscarriage.

I love that in Amy's comment she wrote that she never wins stuff like this! Here is her comment:

Love that you are having a giveaway! Even though I never win, I still like to play. :) I don't want to seem like I am copying your answer, but if Livin' on a Prayer comes on the radio, you will see me rock it out like no other. It may just be my favorite. That, or Whitney Houston singing "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." Totally different types of music, but still awesome. :)

Amy, I'm so happy to send you your prize! I know your sweet little family will enjoy lots of great meals from this cookbook. Congratulations!

Thanks again, everybody, for playing along. It was really fun. Wishing you all a great Thanksgiving filled with wonderful, delicious food!

Friday, November 13, 2009

'80s Rock, Thankfulness, and a Giveaway

It's a strange title, I know, but I promise it's all going to come together by the end of this post. Keep reading!

Earlier this week I was so excited because my favorite band in the whole wide world released a new album. I've been waiting for the November 10th release date for months and months and it was finally here! That evening my dear husband picked up the new CD on his way home and delivered it into my eager hands.

I'm a child of the '80s. I was born in 1977, so most of my school years were spent in that glorious decade of big hair and rock-and-roll. Honestly, I've been a fan of Bon Jovi for almost as long as I can remember. I was about 9 years old when my sister and I bought our first Bon Jovi tape. We listened to it all the time, but it was with their next album, New Jersey (1988), that I became a true fan for life. I played that tape in my sister's Walkman until I knew every single word to every single song. It was four more years until they released another album, so I had plenty of time to memorize every line. One of the things I love most about this band is that they didn't die with the '80s. They released two more albums (not counting the greatest hits one) during my high school years in the early '90s, and the brand new CD is their sixth one in our current decade. I absolutely love these guys and the way that their sound has grown and evolved with the times. The music is different enough from their early days of synthesizer-heavy anthem rock to be current, yet it's still true to their original style.

Can you tell that I'm a fan? I am, people! If you haven't listened to Bon Jovi in a few years or twenty, give them another try. Their lyrics are positive and hopeful and the music still rocks. The new CD is called The Circle. I personally enjoy all of the songs on this particular album that deal with overcoming obstacles, like We Weren't Born to Follow, Thorn in my Side, and Happy Now. Check it out HERE or HERE.


We're changing topics now, but I'll come back to this later, I promise.

Sometime around the third or fourth week of October of every year, my house begins to look like an amazon-dot-com warehouse. It means that my Christmas shopping has begun! My husband and I save money here and there all year long so we can do our end-of-the-year gift giving. I got my first couple of brown boxes in the mail today and they were full of all kinds of surprises for our family and friends.

There was one little thing that I had ordered for myself because I just couldn't wait for Christmas. I don't know how many of you are familiar with The Pioneer Woman, but she has a fabulous blog that is chock full of the most delicious recipes you've ever tasted. I have tried three of the recipes from her blog in the past few months and I haven't been disappointed. In fact, I've been amazed! Here is a photo of my sister cooking the Pioneer Woman's pot roast at my house earlier this year:


The Pioneer Woman just published a beautiful new cookbook, which is the gift I gave to myself. I didn't just order one copy, though. I also bought one for my sis, on the grounds that she may even get it early if she's really, really good. Oh, and I bought a third copy to give as a Christmas gift to some lucky family member or friend.


Oh yes, and I bought a fourth copy... for YOU!

Because it's November and because I am so thankful for each and every one of my special bloggy pals (I really mean that), I'm doing my first-ever giveaway! And let me tell you that you don't want to miss this prize. The cookbook is amazing. I know you will love the beautiful photographs and the step-by-step instructions that this cookbook offers.

Now, I know you may be wondering what this has to do with '80s rock? Well, in order to enter for the random drawing, I want you to leave a comment telling me YOUR favorite song from the 1980s. I won't pick a winner based on your answers -- that's just for fun. The winner's name will be chosen completely at random. Leave one comment from today, November 13th, until midnight on November 17th. I'll announce the winner here on the blog AND in your email if you display an address on your blog profile. If you don't have an address displayed, I will also try to let you know via a comment on your blog. Don't forget to check back to see if you've won the cookbook! You'll be asked to email your name and address to me (staceysthoughts@gmail.com) so I can send it as soon as possible. I want you to have this lovely book in your hands before Thanksgiving arrives!

Just to clarify: I'm not giving away a Bon Jovi CD! I'm giving away a cookbook! :)

Okay, so let's hear your favorite '80s song. I think I might have to go with Bon Jovi's own Livin' on a Prayer. And it cracks me up that now, thanks to Rock Band on the Wii, my sweet little nephews love that song, too. They can sing every word! They know all about Tommy and Gina. :)

Now it's your turn. Ready, set, go!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Endurance

There is no shortage of good analogies for the infertility journey. Infertility can certainly be compared to a roller coaster, with all the ups and downs and twists and turns. I've compared it to running a race, of course much more like a marathon than a sprint for many of us.

The only hang-up I have over the race analogy is the finish line and the idea of winning or losing. The goal of having a baby may not be realized by everyone. That's a hard truth, I know, but it is true. But the infertility race can have other endings, other finish lines. Although it may not result in a pregnancy and the birth of a biological child, the end prize may be parenting by adoption. For others, the finish line may come in the form of acceptance, coming to terms with a child-free future. I guess any way you look at it, there will be an ending to it. This journey I'm on will eventually come to an end one way or another. In my heart I feel that our personal goal is parenthood, whichever way we may arrive there.

This month I've been trying to turn over a new leaf and make better, healthier choices. I'm not technically on a diet; I'm just trying to be more active and be better about what I eat. While working out today, I decided to revise my analogy a little bit. Yes, I'm still "running." I'm still putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Sometimes the race is harder than other times. To me, it's more like running on a treadmill.

You see, I've also had times where I felt like I was stuck in one place. When you're on a treadmill the scenery doesn't change. You are at the same time moving and, well, not moving. Your legs are going, your heart is pumping, and you're sweating your butt off, but you can look up at any moment and see that your surroundings are the very same as when you started. Infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss are like that. Day in and day out you are doing the work, but when you look around it seems you haven't gotten very far. You think, "How is it that so much time has gone by and I'm still right here?" As frustrating as that seems, it's not, however, that you haven't made progress! After all, you are hopefully in better shape when you step off of that treadmill than you were when you began.

That's the way I'm choosing to look at it. Instead of running a race or running toward a very specific goal, maybe I'm running for endurance and for strength. Maybe I'm running to encourage someone else that they can do it too. Sure, I know that it's important to run (or walk, in my case!) with your eye on the prize, but I think that we can still run with purpose for the sake of finishing strong and not necessarily "winning." We know when we get on a treadmill that we won't be running across a literal finish line. But we get on anyway because we know that it will have its advantages. We'll burn those calories and we'll be closer to maintaining a healthy body.

If I can finish my infertility journey with a sense of purpose and even with a sense of pride for the accomplishment of feeling stronger, wiser, and more compassionate, then that, too, is progress. That, too, is winning.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Feeling Down

Holidays do funny things to me. Let me tell you, I'm a sucker for seasonal things. Here in Texas we don't exactly have all four seasons outside, but every year I'm determined to celebrate the season inside my home. I just love holidays. Even if no one (besides my husband and myself) ever saw the decorations, I would still decorate!

That's why this post is hard for me to write.

Lately I've noticed that it's getting harder and harder to conjure up those same old feelings of joy for holidays. I think with each passing year, the emptiness in my heart and in my home become harder to ignore.

Certainly there is joy and happiness and love in my heart and in my home. My husband and I are very happy with our marriage and in our little family of two. But there is a huge, unfulfilled desire that neither of us can ignore. We want children. We want to be parents. There is a void there for us both. There is an empty place in both of our hearts and in our home where our children should be. The holidays remind me of this.

Last week was so hard for me. I couldn't keep my eyes dry for very long, and it seemed that I was surrounded by a flood of emotions. The truth is, sometimes I struggle. Sometimes I feel like I don't do anything that makes a difference or amounts to much outside of these four walls. Sure, as a homemaker I have lots of responsibilities at home. I keep the house clean and the laundry done, on top of many other daily tasks. This is probably true for many people out there, but sometimes I don't feel needed. I don't feel necessary.

Oh, I imagine that there are parents who have those feelings, too. And sure, you can call it a pity party if you want. I'm just keeping it real and keeping it honest.

Halloween was just the very beginning of the whole holiday season. I don't recall ever being this affected by it in years past. Although I'm not necessarily a huge fan of Halloween in particular, I felt a huge absence this time. It was pretty quiet here. We spent the weekend with friends who were visiting. Our doorbell was rung only twice by trick-or-treaters that night. My sister sent photos of my adorable nephews dressed up in their costumes (they were a very handsome duo of Luigi and Wolverine). Countless friends posted pictures on Facebook of their cute little marauders. And I felt sad. Even in the days leading up to it, I felt so empty and so burdened by our situation.

Last Friday we went to see my two very favorite Christian artists, Bebo Norman and Jeremy Camp, in concert. It was a fairly small crowd and it was a special treat for me. We had great seats and it was a great show. I was particularly touched by the words to a couple of familiar Jeremy Camp songs that I've heard over and over again:

I still believe in Your faithfulness
I still believe in Your truth
I still believe in Your holy word
Even when I don't see, I still believe

and

I will walk by faith
Even when I cannot see
Because this broken road
Prepares Your will for me

It truly was like a balm for my hurting heart, because I'll admit, right now I don't see. I cannot always see the big picture in this.

I know that the holidays are just getting started. I hope as the weeks pass and as my decorations change from autumn to winter, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, that we might begin to feel the excitement that usually comes with it. I hope that we'll focus on the many good things that have kept us happy and strong for all these years: our family, our friends, each other, and our hope and trust in our Lord.

Even when I don't see, I still believe.