Exciting Announcement

Books, Spirituality

The sound machine stopped raining, and David’s alarm went off. As I do every morning, I reached to the phone on my nightstand. It read, “2 NEW E-MAILS.” 

Before I reveal their contents, please allow me to explain the context in which I received them…

* * *

Thomas Nelson Publishers requested and published Barren among the Fruitful as part of the InScribed Collection. It was an exciting time that ultimately ended in my own and other authors’ heartbreak.*

As David and I left Colorado in 2015, I was professionally rudderless and wounded. I found myself in a new place I knew could become my lifelong home, but where I could not envision my professional future. I prayed for direction and peace.

I carried with me from Denver one particularly enduring friendship with Stephanie. We were coauthoring a manuscript based on her experiences as a news anchor with the aim of encouraging young women to find success and contentment not in worldly achievements but in their relationships with God. But our work had begun to feel like a pipe dream as I returned to my years of freelance proofing, editing, and ghostwriting. The only yes we’d had was from a vanity publisher who would print our book as long as we paid a ridiculous sum for him to do so. Stephanie had a publicist who was still shopping our book to traditional publishers, but I was just jaded enough to assume that would fizzle to nothing.

To pull myself out of the melancholy, I decided to abandon writing (unless I could help my friend), and I signed up for a class at the local college that would result in a building contractor’s license. David and I agreed: it was time to start a new chapter of our lives. I would take my love of and skills in restoration and become a residential contractor, if for no other reason than to work confidently on our own house.

* * *

Those 2 e-mails were a full stop to our new plans.

The first was a very polite rejection letter for Stephanie’s and my coauthored book. It was more than polite–it was helpful. The acquisitions editor who wrote it took the time to explain why our book wasn’t a fit for her publisher, and she offered some suggestions. This is practically unheard of; writers are typically lucky to receive even a form letter of rejection.

The second e-mail was from the same acquisitions editor, but sent only to me. She had self-admittedly “cyber stalked” me after receiving our book proposal based on my bio and curriculum vitae. She wondered what my plans were for a follow-up to Barren among the Fruitful and asked to chat.

I was shocked. Thrilled. Nervous. This had all come about because of Stephanie’s efforts to get our book published, but now I had a publisher coming directly to me. As soon as David got out the door to work, I called Stephanie.

She answered the phone in her usual energetic way that makes even saying “hello” a challenge! She agreed with me that the rejection was so nice–even encouraging. But she went on to say, “The whole time I was reading about what they are looking for in their authors, I kept thinking, They just need to sign Amanda!”

“Well, Stephanie, as a matter of fact….” I told her about the other email. She was (and continues to be) over-the-moon thrilled for me.

So here is the exciting announcement: I have indeed signed with Harvest House Publishers for my next book. I will turn over my manuscript on June 30, 2018, and the book will be published October 15, 2019. Its title is tentative, but its contents are not. I’ll tell you all about it in my next post…

*Since I wrote that blog post, the InScribed Collection has been rebooted with new authors.

I’m Ready to Have a Good Day

Books, Spirituality

It’s been almost 4 months since you’ve heard from me, and there’s a reason for that. The day of my last post, I learned that Barren‘s publisher had decided not to publish more books in the InScribed Collection. This decision has touched me professionally and emotionally. I am wondering how God will use me now. (On bad days, I’m wondering if He even wants to use me.)

The seven books in the collection are different from anything else on the market because of their origins. We 7 authors are truly friends. We were all brought together by Ashley Linne and the publisher’s editorial staff in 2013; and from the moment we met, we “clicked.” Yes, we promote each other’s work, but we tend to be more concerned with each other’s lives. In just 2 years we’ve birthed 3 babies and made 4 cross-country moves. Our Facebook Group page looks more like a family’s daily ramblings than a work site.

The team’s dedication to God and each other over our concerns for our own works made all of our books better. We learned from each other. I would do a theological review for one author while another was teaching me how to blog (or do anything tech-related!). I know this is a unique community experience among authors. I don’t know how to move forward without them going with me. So at the moment, I’m not moving forward. I’m mourning. I’m waiting.

I learned during David’s and my 7 years of fertility treatments that God teaches me the most when I’m not doing anything but listening. But I’m a where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way kind of girl. Just ask my parents: Back in 2002 they said, “Sure you can go dig in Israel–if you get a full scholarship to do it.” One week later, I gave them the “good” news. Or ask my husband: This summer he rightly said, “We don’t have the money to get that fig tree removed.” So I sold it instead!

It wasn’t until 5-or-so years ago that I learned, “God helps those who help themselves,” is not a Bible verse. It is an American adage with inherent value, but I tend to live as if it is Scripture. God made me tenacious, but He wants me to doggedly pursue His will and not my own plans.

The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him,
     to those who seek Him wholeheartedly.
It is good to wait quietly
     for the Eternal to make things right again.
It is good to have to deal
     with restraint and burdens when young
(Lamentations 3:25-27, VOICE).

In 586 BC Jerusalem was razed by the Babylonians, and her prominent citizens were exiled to Babylon or other cities within the Empire. The Book of Lamentations was written shortly after the war to the Israelites who remained in Jerusalem; and in this passage, the writer is encouraging his suffering readers to wait patiently but expectantly for God to act.

Verse 27 points out that the burden of suffering is best experienced when one is young. Two things result from suffering in youth: one learns that affliction is temporary while God’s mercy is permanent, and someone who survives suffering at an early age is less likely to be consumed by it when she is older.

So I’m learning. I know that when disaster and loss come, God is faithful and has a will and a plan that supersede my circumstances.

I’m waiting. I’m reading the Bible and praying. I’m asking advice from friends and colleagues, but I’m keeping myself from pursuing a new goal until God makes clear where He intends for me to go next.

And I’m sad that I can’t return to the nurturing community of authors and editors I enjoyed as Barren was published, but I am encouraged that God is somehow preparing me to better work for His Kingdom.

That confidence in Him makes today a good day.

We Can Have It All…but It Won’t Be Cheap

Books, Infertility

[Originally posted on Jenifer Jernigan’s Dive Deeper website.]

If you’re like me, and you’re a Gen X-er or a Millennial, you’ve been told your whole life that you can be anything. Doctor, lawyer, financier, governor—you name it.

For us ladies, the sky’s the limit in the marketplace (if we can bust through that glass ceiling). Woo-hoo!

But motherhood? That wasn’t so popular with the feminists as we were growing up.

I was told in not-so-many words that motherhood was a waste of my talents and abilities. I wasn’t offered Home Economics in high school because they had me busy with college-prep courses. The education machine prepared me for undergraduate university, which prepared me for graduate school, which prepared me to be wildly successful (or so Harvard would tell you as you paid many-thousands of dollars).

It’s not that Harvard and the feminists frown on motherhood. They just don’t want it to get in the way of your work ambitions. They say, “Get your education, and get busy climbing the corporate ladder while you’re young! (Then you’ll have lots of money you can donate to us. Wink, wink.)”

What happens as this need to satisfy social milieus and our personal dreams pushes marriage and pregnancy into our thirties? Our forties? Quite simply, it’s going to be harder to conceive, carry, and deliver a healthy child.

The number of women facing this reality increases every year. The birth rate among American women in their forties has increased by more than 70 percent since 1990, and the birth rate among women between thirty-five and thirty-nine has increased more than 50 percent. Those increases reflect how many women are giving birth—not how many are trying to get pregnant. There is an obvious shift in the demographic of aspiring mothers.

This isn’t ageism; it’s fact. The longer you wait to get pregnant, the harder it will be.

Our bodies were designed to have children when we were in our late teens and twenties. Just ask those Disney princesses. Snow White, Aurora, and Ariel were fourteen, sixteen, and sixteen, respectively, when they married their princes and presumably started producing heirs. By the pre-Industrial Revolution timetable, we’re all dusty old maids before we graduate from high school. And you can forget about higher education.

Thankfully, as women have thrived in the workforce, science has done a pretty good job of keeping up with us. In their day, our Disney princesses might have been beheaded and replaced (à la Anne Boleyn and company) if they couldn’t produce heirs.

Today we have medical options that don’t run the risk of severing our necks. The two most common versions of assisted reproductive therapy (ART) are intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). (Barren 74-75)

The television exploits of Jon and Kate Plus 8 put IUI on the map. Often the first procedure attempted by fertility clinicians, IUI has a 60 percent success rate among qualified couples in the first six treatments; and it costs about $1,000 per cycle (including fertility drugs, hormone injections, and diagnostic ultrasounds which are not always necessary). It is noninvasive (meaning no one encounters a scalpel or an anesthesiologist), and it allows couples to reevaluate their family plans and finances on a month-to-month basis.

Mostly thanks to “Octomom,” IVF has gotten so much press in the last few years that it seems almost common. But the procedure is actually complicated and quite costly, boasting an average success rate of only 22 percent and an average cost (in the United States) of $8,158 per cycle. IVF is surgery. The woman must have general anesthesia when her doctor removes her eggs prior to their fertilization in the lab. The implantation procedure for the embryos is two weeks later and almost identical to that of IUI (they are inserted into the uterus via catheter).

So Harvard can forget about getting those donations as many of their female graduates sink many thousands of dollars into medical treatments designed simply to make our bodies do what God made them to do. But thankfully, most women who enter fertility treatments are eventually able to conceive. They get to have it all—the dream career and the dream family.

That’s a beautiful thing.

BARREN Is Birthed

Books, Infertility

Over the last year or so, a LOT of people have said to me, “This book is like your baby.” I see their point. It certainly was “conceived.” It is part-David and part-me, although I got most of the attention during its “development” (and did most of the work!). I have looked forward to the day–this day–that it would arrive.

The analogy pretty much falls apart after that.

I thought I’d be over-the-moon excited today, but I’ve been gripped by fear. On a selfish surface level, I’m afraid it won’t sell. Not far below that, I’m deeply terrified that I’ve messed something up. And it’s way too late to make any edits.

Every chapter of the book ends with a Scripture passage. In the original outline of the book, I was only going to include Scripture in chapter 4; but as I wrote, God’s Word made its way into my head and onto the pages. So want it or not–fear it or not–I’m officially teaching interpretation of Scripture in Barren among the Fruitful.

The Apostle Paul had a particular disdain for false teachers. Writing to the Galatians, he explained that a fungus-sized untruth from one person can grow and push an entire city of believers away from God:

Who has impeded your progress and kept you from obeying the truth? You were off to such a good start. I know for certain the pressure isn’t coming from God. He keeps calling you to the truth. You know what they say, “Just a little yeast causes all the dough to rise,” so even the slightest detour from the truth will take you to a destination you do not desire. Despite this, I’m confident because the Lord reassures me that you will truly hear and take my message to heart. Besides, I also know that these troublemakers, whoever they are, will answer to God and be judged accordingly. (Galatians 5:7-10, The Voice)

I don’t want to be a “troublemaker.”

A few years before I even thought of writing this book, I found myself praying regularly, “God, please use me, but don’t let me get in Your way.” It’s almost become a mantra. I say those words (or some version of them) every time I talk with Him because I know selfish, sinful me would rather be working to accomplish my own goals instead of His will. I understood that as I was writing, so I prayed every moment I worked. I think it was more like raising a child than growing an embryo.

So today my book isn’t a baby; it’s fully grown and out of the house. I wonder if the fear I feel is akin to what parents experience when their children leave the nest. All I can do now is pray that as Barren encounters the world, God somehow uses it to introduce people to Him.

And hope I didn’t mess it up too much.

Sick Spirit, Barren Body

Books, Infertility

[Originally published on Missional Motherhood.]

When I am sick, I do two things: go to the doctor, and ask my church for prayer support. My church then does two things: pray for me, and bring food to my house. Yes, it’s a stereotypical response, but that’s because it works. Unless you are a doctor, there aren’t many ways to help a hurting friend besides nourishing her body and soul.

Infertility is a kind of sick, but the church was the opposite of nourishing in my experience (and Sheldon’s mom never sang “Soft Kitty” to me). As soon as I was diagnosed as infertile, I asked for prayer—but I became the subject of gossip. I needed spiritual support—but I was indirectly told my pregnancy failures were my own fault.

My elder said it, my best friend said it, and—to her absolute horror today—my mother said it. Before I struggled with infertility, I have no doubt that I cavalierly said it to some of my friends, too: “Sarah was ninety years old before she had Isaac.” That seems to be the reaction you get whenever you tell your Christian friends that you’re having trouble getting pregnant. To be fair, there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better. All your loved ones want to do is bolster your faith by reminding you that you’re in good company, that the heroines of our faith had the same heartache you do. . . .

A few months into your journey, you may take the encouragement as just that. You try to remind yourself that none of the matriarchs knew a successful pregnancy would be the outcome while they were in the midst of their monthly struggles. You think, If I can have enough faith, God will bless me with a child too. (Barren 37, 42)

People compared me to Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and even the Virgin Mary one time. (Yes, that last unwanted conversation—with a male church elder—was exactly as bizarre as you would imagine it to be.) They said, “God answers the prayers of His faithful daughters with miracles, so He’ll do that for you.” But as I suffered multiple miscarriages, I began to hear, “You aren’t faithful enough for God to answer your prayers. Your spirit is too sick, and your body is too broken. God won’t let you be a mother.” The intensifying feeling of spiritual inadequacy was no one’s intention, but it was the result.

We are too quick to “solve” everyone’s problems with a scriptural platitude.

When we learn someone is suffering in any way, we want to fix it. But even in church, we don’t take the time necessary to empathize and learn how we can serve her. Maybe it’s because we love her; more often, I fear, it’s because we don’t want to be bothered for longer than a three-minute chat. Walking through suffering with a friend is a commitment.

So you want to know what to do, what to say when a friend tells you she’s infertile? Listen to her. Hold her. Cry with her. Pray for her. Love her for as long as she’s suffering—be it months or years—and tell her so regularly.

You could even sing “Soft Kitty” to her. (It’s what Sheldon’s mom would do.)