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Angie Smith’s book is free, now (digital)

14 May

Recently, I blogged about Angie Smith’s book. I’ve given it a 5 star review. Right now, it’s free from Barnes and Noble in digital form for the Nook and other compatible e-readers. Go get your copy now. I’m not sure how long it will be free.

Update: I guess you can download software that would let you read the book on your computer, too.

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Book Review: Adoption as a Ministry, Adoption as a Blessing

25 May

My reading interest has shifted slightly, from infertility readings to adoption-related readings (though I still have a few IF books on my list). Adoption As A Ministry, Adoption As A Blessing, by Michelle Gardener, is the first adoption title I finished.

I was intrigued by the title of this book. For so long I’ve campaigned that adoption be viewed and treated as more than just a solution to infertility, but as a rightful ministry, to be considered by Christians of varying degrees of biological cooperation. When I saw her title, I thought “can it be that someone else thinks that way too?” and I eagerly scooped it up.

I was not disappointed! Ms. Gardener presents a thoughtful, complex, honest picture of adoption, including her family’s story of their three children who were adopted. Infertility is never even mentioned. The Gardeners chose to adopt as an outpouring of the love and resources they had—perfect for a child with neither. Through that passion, they chose to adopt 3 older, special needs children from 3 different countries. Children who were, by the world’s standards, hopeless, unlovable and thoroughly unadoptable. As of the book’s writing, they were also pursuing foster care licensing.

I was so encouraged by Ms. Gardener’s bold convictions and proclamations. I was blessed and inspired by her courage and touched by her honesty as they shared very real questions they asked as they considered expanding their already established family of 5.

The book makes a solid case for adoption, both biblically and practically. At the same time, it withholds judgment on those who do not consider or choose it, and makes no value distinctions on domestic or international, infant or older child, “healthy” or special needs adoptions. The author is (rightly) convinced that all are equally good and that we are all equipped and called differently. To people who do not feel called to adoption, she exhorts shorter term or more indirect support, such as foster care, child sponsorship, financial support of adoption programs and families, and the gift of tangible assistance to families who do take children in to their home. She maintains that is the church’s biblical responsibility to care for orphans in need, and we can all help in some way.

She also offers practical advice for the church in meeting the needs of adoptive families in their churches. The advice is not extensive, but it is sound.

My one critique of the book is that it is mainly “Adoption as a Ministry,” with less focus on “Adoption as a Blessing.” Recently, we were counseled by friends who adopted 4 children many years ago, to resist the thinking that adopting is a social campaign. While I differ somewhat—my opinion is that your heart can be equally full for growing your own family and for ministering to a chlld in need—his basic premise was to make sure the child is always treated as a loved son or daughter, and not as a solution to a problem (ours or or the world’s). I appreciated the input and so I try to be mindful of that when thinking, talking and praying about adoption. I would have wished that the author had taken a little more time to focus on the beauty of their children in their own right, and how much their lives were enriched and hearts expanded by their addition to their family, for the reason of communicating that these are children loved as their own, and not just part of a crusade. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a second doubt her authentic love for her kids, I just would have liked to read more about it.

However, each of the children (biological and adopted) writes a brief passage about their thoughts (past and present) and none seem to convey that they feel like anything less than beloved children on their parents. So while the author may not have focused on her love as a parent as strongly as I would have perhaps appreciated, the writings from her kids solidify its undeniable existence- it’s just that it’s not the subject of this book.

I would love to read an updated postscript with current info on the kids. (The existing passage is 5 years old).

Overall, I would encourage this book for a wide audience. Adoptive and prospective adoptive parents will find themselves encouraged, and perhaps have their own passions about this process expanded. Prospective parents will find useful, practical information about the adoption process. Curious readers may find their own hearts soon challenged with the question of how to help the world’s needy. Family and friends of adoptive families will get a special glimpse in to the hearts of an adoptive family, from the infancy of their considerations of it. Church leaders and members will receive insight in to how they can better minister to adoptive families, and better expand their own ministry to God’s littlest children.

Book Review: Embryo Donation and Embryo Adoption, Loving Choices for Christians

6 Mar

Embryo Donation and Embryo Adoption, Loving Choices for Christians, by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter, is a book with a noble purpose. It aspires to educate readers on both sides of the Embryo Adoption process–the processes involved for both the Genetic and Adopting Parents. I was excited to discover such a recently written book on the subject, and purchased it earlier this year.

However, as a tool for anyone who has more than a cursory knowledge of the process, this book is unhelpful.

First, the book is not at all scholarly. While the conversational tone and simplistic writing make it easy to read, it results in underdeveloped logic and assertions. Almost nothing is cited, and they offer strong opinion statements about about anonymous donation and about the level of openness in adoptions without any depth, substantiation or development. It is irresponsible to make blanket statements about the morality or Christian-ness (or lack thereof) of certain choices if one is not going to take the time to logically outline and support those statements. Where they do offer explanation, I found the logical arguments to be weak. For example, in their case for open adoption, they offer that it will be satisfying to the adoptive parents to know “Maybe that explains why he enjoys hunting while I have never owned a gun.” I have never met anyone who thought gun ownership was hereditary and frankly, that example doesn’t even make logical sense. There may be good reasons for open adoption, and there may be good comforts to the adoptive parents, but this is not one of them. And since they only presented two examples for how open adoption benefits the adoptive parents, and the other example was almost as weak, I would have preferred they leave the subject closed altogether because it was wholly insufficient to offer any useful examination of the topic.

Further reinforcing my impression of the nonacademic nature of this book was the casual, inconsistent, and almost lazy way sources in their “research” list were offered. I try hard not to fault a book for not being something it wasn’t intended to be, and I realize this was not designed to be a lengthy treatise (the book is only 50 pages), but in this case, a more responsible, researched and detailed explanation was the only way to properly handle this subject from the beginning.

Second, it is very evident that the authors have very little personal knowledge of or experience with Embryo Adoption. I found their summation of why couples might choose Embryo Adoption (over traditional adoption) to be superficial at best, which indicated to me that they spent little time trying to understand the hearts of Embryo Adoption Parents. It is true that I have some of the reasons they mentioned as my own reasons for pursuing Embryo Adoption, but as soon as I read their explanation of those reasons, I was frustrated with their obviously underdeveloped or non-existent understanding of the actual thoughts of people who have truly been there. This was solidified by the fact that there are virtually no interviews with or references to real families who have adopted embryos. The only reference to real people is a short anecdote about a Genetic family and even that is too brief to be useful. This book would have been stronger if written by someone with first hand knowledge of the process, be it a donating parent, adoptive parent or employee/volunteer specifically of an organization’s Embryo program.

Third, the book focuses almost exclusively on Bethany Christian Services. While I think what Bethany does is admirable, they have only been publicly active in the Embryo Adoption world since 2005, and so are most definitely not the experts, nor do they have the historical foundation to offer much depth of perspective. If one endeavors to write a “primer” on something, one should consult the experts, or at the very least, multiple sources. This wouldn’t have even troubled me as much as it does were it not for the glaring evidence that they did not even attempt to understand the programs of other organizations, including the pioneer of Embryo Adoption, Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency. This was communicated through subtle nuances such as referring to the “Snowflakes Organization” (no such entity exists), their claim that some organizations such as Nightlight, “will accept a traditional-adoption homestudy for their embryo adoption program,” (which is contrasted with the fact that Nightlight requires a traditional homestudy), the fact that their outline of the Embryo Adoption Process for Adoptive Parents describes only Bethany’s process and the fact that their index in the back describes Bethany in depth and Nightlight in just 5 sentences, three of which are exact duplicates of Nightlight’s own description of its statistics, easily available on their website and with no direct interpersonal contact with Nightlight required. I really doubt that these authors communicated at all with anyone from Nightlight, which I think is a gross oversight considering the fact that not only did Nightlight pioneer the concept of Embryo Adoption, they have been facilitating these adoptions for 11 years, and have had hundreds of successful placements and births in that time wherein Bethany’s number can realistically be no higher than the dozens, given the youth of their program.

Toward the end of the book, they even admit their bias for Bethany (page 42) which in my opinion is completely inappropriate in a book presented as a neutral primer. I would really not have purchased the book had I known it was a case for Bethany in disguise, not because I dislike Bethany, but because we have already decided on Nightlight and in fact, Bethany does not even exist in my state.

However, even AS a case for Bethany’s Embryo Adoption Program, I still find the book to be largely useless. Bethany’s own website has a much more thorough explanation of their process, and consulting it is free, whereas this book is $13.

Additionally, this book is written exclusively for the adult members of the adoption triad. Thus, the book is also not terribly useful as a primer for third parties such as friends, family or pastors of donating or adopting families or even activists wishing to educate themselves on the options available in their area of interest be it science, adoption awareness or pro-life campaigning.

It should also be noted that this book promotes Embryo Adoption (Homestudy, Court Certification, Matching, etc) exclusively. The reference to “Embryo Donation” in the title refers exclusively to the act of donating done by the Genetic parents, and not to the anonymous/semi-anonymous Embryo Donation process that is offered by many fertility clinics.

My suggestion for anyone considering Embryo Adoption or Donation would be to consult resources such as google searches, the Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign, ASRM and Hannah’s Prayer Infertility Ministries. Consult facilitation programs directly (the big three are Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency in California, Bethany Christian Services based in Michigan, and the National Embryo Donation Center) and request information about their specific processes and requirements. From that information, choose a program and proceed with contact with them. This book is neither generic enough to be a useful introduction or primer for the completely uninformed, or detailed enough to offer new or robust information to anyone who has done even a little bit of research already.

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

22 Feb

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!

Book Review: Inconceivable-Finding Peace in the Midst of Infertility

11 Jan

I’ve just finished reading Inconceivable: Finding Peace in the Midst of Infertility. Inconceivable is a 200 page autobiography of one Christian woman’s journey through infertility and failed adoptions.

I’m rather at a loss for words when deciding what to say about this book. My overall impression is that it’s pretty benign.

My first critique of the book is the cover. They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but the cover illustration is so dark and brooding that I initially held off opening the book, thinking it was going to be depressing. The cover is really a minor issue but contributes to my overall ambivalence about this book.

One perplexing thing is that she says in her forward that her book is designed for people who have reached the end of their IF journey. However, I didn’t really find anything she said to be audience-specific. Even if we were at the end of our IF journey, I’m not sure that I would have read anything differently and at no point did I feel she was addressing something that I couldn’t understand or relate to.

The title of the book gave me hope that the author was going to give some practical, biblical insights in to finding peace. However, the book is so largely introspective and autobiographical that there is little room for actual instruction. This may not have been her intent, but it’s certainly what the title communicates to me.

The author is a skilled wordsmith. Her prose is very conversational and easy to read. I read the entire book in the spans of several hours.

But at the end of it, I was left wondering “what’s the point?” The book was almost like a blog. It was one woman’s personal story with her own experiences, long narratives full of details about doctors, adoptions and church, and recordings of internal dialogues. When reading someone’s blog (this one included, I know 😉 ), sometimes the author’s thinking helps you learn something about yourself or a new way of thinking about things, and sometimes you’re invited in for discussion, but generally their (blogs) overall usefulness stops at helping you get to know the author on a personal level. Interesting, but not really helpful for much else beyond the author’s life. And that’s ok. That’s what they’re designed for. I guess I expect more from a book I purchased.

There’s nothing wrong with the book, I just found myself pretty unaffected by it. As I said, she writes well. Her story is touching and she definitely knows the pain of this journey. Anything she said related to God or scripture was sound so I don’t think this book is a negative contribution to the IF world. I just think it’s pretty neutral on the usefulness scale.

I did find one particular passage beautiful and I wanted to share it. Toward the end of the book, the author is trying to reassure women that their purpose on earth is not confined to their genetic reproduction and she writes:

The truth is, you were created to sing. God has placed music within yo uthat is unlike the music of anyone else. No one else your particular view of life–your unique blend of character and experience. You were created for a purpose–you were meant to release your music as a gift to the world.

pg 200

I didn’t find that particularly revelatory, but I thought it was very poetic.

I know my reviews are usually pretty lengthy and detailed but honestly, I just don’t have much to say about this book. The bottom line is that if you’re looking to walk through an IF journey with someone who has been there, then this would be a good choice. But if you’re looking for any more than that, especially anything heavy on the teaching or personal challenge level, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

Book Review: The Infertility Companion

8 Jan

I’ve been so excited about reviewing this book but have made it a policy to refrain from reviewing or recommending a book until I have completed it so I’ve had to wait. I finished it last night.

The Infertility Companion: Hope and Help for Couples Facing Infertility (Christian Medical Association) is a book that is part almanac, part dictionary, part personal testimony and part Bible teaching and study. It’s written by an Infertility Doctor and an Infertility Patient.

I’ll start with my critiques because they’re pretty minor. My biggest complaint about the book is that for some reason I’ve not quite put my finger on, DH and I both found it visually hard to read. I can’t decide if the text is smaller, the leading is smaller, the characters are closer together, the lines are longer or if it’s because the pages are gray and not white, but I found it hard to read more than 20 pages in one sitting before my eyes were too tired. I’ve never experienced that with a book before and I’m quite confident it wasn’t the content that made it hard to read so I’m quite befuddled. At times I was frustrated because I wanted to continue reading but couldn’t comfortably do so. So, I know I’ve been talking about this book for weeks-don’t be dismayed by how long it took me to complete it. It’s not much longer or more difficult than any of the others–it’s just typeset in an odd fashion.

My other critique is that the book is littered with one paragraph personal anecdotes from various people that I found distracting on almost every occasion. I struggle to see their purpose and at times, was frustrated by the incongruence that occurred when the anecdotes interrupted the primary authors’ train of thought, with little explanation as to why they were offered in the first place. The primary text is stronger when one skips the interruptions (though for thoroughness’ sake, I did read them all).

However, those two, minor things encompass the totality of my complaints about this book.

What I love about this book is how straightforward it is. This is not to be confused with authors who are insensitive. This book just lacks the emotional aspect of a lot of the other books, which my DH especially appreciated. He felt much more comfortable reading this book than reading some of the others I speak highly of, including ones I’ve recommended here. The book reads largely like a textbook on infertility, if such a thing could exist given the diverse nature of individual experiences. However, it is very conversational and approachable in tone-not at all dry and difficult to read like the mention of a “text book” would suggest.

The authors write with one voice and do an excellent job at it, which I think lends itself to the “neutrality” of this book. It’s not a book by women for women, or men for men. It’s a book for a general audience, which I think is rare in this particular genre of texts.

The book spends some time on the interpersonal aspects of infertility, including the patients’ relationships with themselves, with each other, with God, with their friends and family, with Christendom and with the general public. It also address such things as parenting after infertility, secondary infertility, childlessness by choice, and responding to well meaning advice.

Perhaps one of the most instrumental things I’ve read in any book on the subject was in the authors’ chapter on myths of infertility. In response to the myth “If you adopt, the pain will go away,” the authors cited another author who identified six key losses that are rooted in infertility:

1. Loss of control
2. Loss of individual genetic continuity
3. Loss of a jointly conceived child
4. Loss of the pregnancy and birth experiences
5. Loss of emotional gratification surrounding pregnancy and birth
6. Loss of an opportunity to nurture and parent a new generation

pg 29

How freeing it was for me to read that it is perfectly normal to mourn the loss of pregnancy–a need that will never be met through born-child adoption! I’ve already shared this with a few other people because it was so instrumental to me to identify the various types and sources of grief and loss. I wish I could put it on a flyer and distribute it to the world and maybe then people would cease looking for trite things to say or ways to help their infertile friends “get over” this loss!

The rest of the book, however, is what I found most useful. It’s an explanation and bioethical exploration of the tests and procedures common in the treatment of infertility. It covers everything ranging from sample collection to examinations to medications to surgical procedures. The authors are quick to confess their own limits and biases, but even with the procedures with which they don’t agree, they highlight the benefits along with the risks. I appreciated this neutrality. They are also careful and responsible to state that their opinions on anything that falls outside the bounds of clear scriptural teaching and/or does not jeopardize innocent life is their own opinion and not gospel truth. On the other hand, where something does violate clear scripture or the sanctity of life, they are firm in stating its inappropriateness for the committed Christian (examples would be fornicating to produce fluid samples or children, selective reduction abortion, etc). In some cases (IVF for example), they are very helpful in helping the reader understand the limits they should place in order to keep the procedure one that honors God and human life. Where Catholics and Protestants might differ, they offer information and resources for both worldviews.

I appreciated how respectful the authors are of opinions that differ from theirs when it comes to matters of interpretation. There is no condemnation-only simple, undecorated statement of their opinion and where applicable, medical and scientific facts. They do not pressure the reader to come to the same conclusions and as I mentioned, are generous in even offering the benefits of procedures that they would not choose for themselves.

They offer a very useful grid for evaluating the ethics of reproductive technology. They have borrowed the framework from a secular textbook and offer it as being both useful and consistent with a biblical worldview.

The four principles are:

Beneficence-to do good. Thus, we ask, “Does it do good?”

Nonmaleficece-to do no harm. We ask, “Does it avoid doing harm?”

Autonomy-the patient has the right to make decisions about care rendered to him or her. We ask, “Does it respect self-determination, the patient’s right to decide for him- or herself?”

Justice-fair, equitable, and appropriate distribution of social benefits and burdens. Our own definition of justice goes beyond this definition to ask whether something seeks what is right or due the patient in a given instance. So we ask, “Does it give what is right, due and equitable?”

pg 171

So long as the reader retains honesty careful grounding in scripture when answering the questions posed in this construct, I found this to be a very useful and practical framework.

The book also has quite a few extra curricular resources. The end of each chapter has discussion questions for the reader. I suppose with some moderation, they could be good prompts for a group discussion as well. The appendices of the book include a scripture-based workbook of questions and exercises for each chapter, an infertility medical workup worksheet, the Christian Medical Association Statement on Reproductive Technology, an IF glossary with common vernacular explanations, a list of resources and complete citations for all of the studies, interviews and writings cited in the book.

The book is very well cited. Each time the authors mentioned a clinical study, a public statement by a group or committee, a medical fact, and even in some cases a hermeneutic explanation, there was a corresponding citation. This set me at ease that the things that I was reading were true, or at least easily verifiable. It also gave me a place to go if anything piqued my interest to the point of wanting to seek out further information. I appreciated this responsible treatment of a lot of things that are offered as “fact” in a world full of questions and controversy.

I will confess that I did not complete the workbook or discussion questions yet, and am not sure if I plan to. However, I did read through them and found them relevant and thought provoking.

The book is like an encyclopedia insofar as there may be portions (even large ones) that are not relevant to you if you are not considering a certain procedure or class of procedures. I did read the entire book so as to have a firm understanding of it, but I admit to times when I had trouble staying interested in subjects that are not a part of our journey. I will say that the book can easily be read in sections or chapters. If you skip a section that is not relevant to your journey, I do not think it will make the rest of the book unreadable and I think you would still benefit. Each chapter can stand on its own and be contextually accurate and understandable. However, the book also feels unified enough to be read through as a traditional chapter book.

There is a ton of clinical information in this book, which distinguishes it from other books in this genre. For that reason, it’s a lot more difficult to retain all of the information in the book than it is with other books that are more narrow in subject. For that reason I think this book is most useful when consulted many times, especially the subjects of particular relevance to the reader. I know I shall have to read through the details of some of the Reproductive Technologies several times before I feel I have a firm grasp on them but again, that selective reading is very possible in a book structured this way.

This book is an excellent resource for infertility patients. I’m not sure it’s useful for pastors, friends and family or doctors, but I suspect it was never intended to be. This is not your typical infertility Bible or personal enrichment study, so I would not add it to my library in lieu of books that are more personally challenging, but it is an excellent academic reference resource, which is especially useful in a world where the sheer volume of facts and anecdotes can be overwhelming.

Book Review: Water from the Rock

18 Dec

I’ve just finished reading Water From The Rock: Finding God’s Comfort in the Midst of Infertility and I am quite impressed.

The best way to succinctly describe this book is as a “How-To” manual for dealing with the grief of infertility. Each of the three authors have walked this journey and they combine their experiences and expertise (they are professional ministers and a professional counselor) to walk along side the reader through the ins and outs of grief.

The book is divided into 2 sections. The first section deals with identifying the stages of grief and how it manifests specifically in infertility grief. Each chapter identifies a new stage and offers constructive, biblically sound suggestions on navigating it.

The second section focuses more specifically on overall coping and healing, rather than stage specific exercises. It concentrates on the wounded woman’s possible necessity to reconcile with herself and her identity in Christ, with God, with her spouse, her family and/or her friends. The authors challenge the reader to reach beyond her grief out to others around her and encourage the reader to really internalize that God’s plan for her life is not limited by infertility. My favorite line in the book is at the very end and states in a prayer,

[God,] help me to realize that the purpose of my suffering far exceeds the pain of my suffering.

I know it’s not grammatically correct to put that in a block quote but it was so important to me, I wanted to set it apart. While I don’t agree with the authors that infertility is a “special calling” (a minor part of the book so don’t dismay if you also disagree), I do know that God can redeem any pain by making His glory known through it. There is great purpose in evidencing God’s glory throughout the earth, and this specific challenge from the authors stirred my heart to search beyond, rather than dwell in my pain.

At the end of each chapter, the authors offer challenging questions designed to nudge the reader to introspection. These questions would make excellent prompts for journaling, or, with some modifications for privacy, a spring board for a small group discussion. The authors also offer a specific action challenge at the end of each chapter.

What I love the most about this book is how constructive and tangible the tools are. They are very prescriptive with “do this,” and “think about that.” As I said, it’s almost like a “How-To” manual and at this stage in my grief, I found that very helpful because I find myself almost being afraid that I’m doing things out of order, or too quickly or too slowly, and it’s helpful for me to just have an outside reference as sort of a guide of what to expect, what to be on my guard for, etc. Of course, it goes without saying that everyone’s process is different, but even in my limited interactions with other IF women, there are lots of commonalities too, and this book draws on that. The solutions they offer are physical, emotional and spiritual changes. I appreciated this holistic approach and at this point in my journey, it’s just so helpful to have someone say “Do this.” “Expect that.” “Guard your heart from this.”

This book is very brief. They offer scriptural support for their claims, especially any about the nature and character of God and His will for one’s life. However they are very matter-of-fact and do not dwell long on their point or on the exegesis of any scriptural support. The book is very simplistically written, making it easy to read and process.

My reason for pointing this out is that I think it is important that any potential reader identify where she is at and what she is ready to handle before picking up this book. The frank, matter of fact approach can come across as “rushing” you through the grief process if you’re not ready to move on. It can almost come across as judgmental because an issue is so black and white and already resolved to these women, while you may be fresh and wrestling in your grief.

However, on the other hand, this might serve to equip you as sort of a road map of what to expect in the future, or as a good review of where God has already taken you. In my particular case, I was wishing that I had read it earlier so that I could have the book to accompany me through the various stages, but I can see easily how someone of another temperament might want to read this with a little more emotional distance from the situation.

I will say that I personally detected no hint of insensitivity or judgment from the authors, but I’ve also already digested and processed a lot of my emotions to date. If I were still reeling, I might respond differently. On the other hand again, this might have been doubly “useful” were I still reeling.

All of that to say, search your heart for the kind of tool that you need right now. If you need an empathetic, heartfelt, gentle encouragement, try something like Hannah’s Hope. If you need something a little more clinical, or more of a kick in the bloomers, this is an excellent resource. The two books are not at all similar or interchangeable but are appropriate for different places in someone’s IF journey.

I will say that I did not do the written exercises. I may find the book even more challenging if I go back and do them, but I also recognize what is realistic for my lifestyle and know that it is unlikely that I will prioritize time to complete them. However, I appreciate that I was able to learn from and be challenged by the book without the exercises. I can only imagine how much more I would be challenged if I were to complete the written questions.

This book is unlike any other IF book I’ve read or have in my ever-growing pile to read. I appreciate the fresh approach and the practical tools. Now knowing what to expect from the book, and preparing your heart accordingly for where you are at in your grief process, I would encourage you to trust the authors’ virtuous intentions and their submission to God’s leading as they wrote this and when you are ready, pick up this book and read it. Whether this will serve as a GPS for your yet to be arrived at destination or a chronicle of where God has already faithfully taken you, I assure you that you will be edified, equipped and challenged by this book.

Recommended: Enthusiastically

Note: This book is not available on Amazon, nor was I able to find it on the shelves of any of my local bookstores. I’m not sure if it’s out of print or just widely unknown. Clicking here will take you to Amazon’s marketplace, where you can purchase the book from an individual seller, though you complete the process through Amazon, ensuring billing information safety. Alternately, I found a few listings for it on ebay. Lastly, Stepping Stones also offers it through their bookstore. Download their bookstore form here (pdf reader required). It includes instructions to fax or phone in your order.

A word of caution: there are a few other Christian books entitled “Water from the Rock” and even another on grief. When you’re shopping, look for the complete title, which is “Water from the Rock: Finding God’s Comfort in the Midst of Infertility” and it is written by Donna Gibbs, Becky Garrett, and Phyllis Rabon. The ISBN number is 0-8024-2931-9.

Article Review: Blessed are the Barren

14 Dec

After much anticipation, I found last night that Christianity Today had finally uploaded the cover article of its December 2007 Print edition, entitled Blessed are the Barren. Straight away I set down to read it.

I was so disappointed!

The article is perhaps one of the most disorganized, poorly supported articles I’ve read on any topic.

The author makes a very strong case for adoption by Christians. She offers solid biblical support for our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God and for the gift adoption can be for both parent and child.

But she perpetuates the same myth that so many others do: that adoption is for the biologically childless and that is a logical substitute for natural childbirth. Her basic thesis (I think) is that though the blessing of barrenness is “apocalyptic,” the barren are blessed now because they adopt and understand the richness of God’s adoption of us. I think she would even argue that there ought not be a distinction between adopted and natural, especially since the adoptive families more closely resemble the family of God anyway. As noble a goal as this might be, I don’t know anyone who is cured of the pain of infertility because they can “just adopt.” Sometimes I even felt like she was saying “get over it.” I don’t think God intends for our hearts to be healed by treating adoption as a substitute for the natural desires He has placed in us. Adoption is not a substitute for anything or a lesser good.

The reality of it is that adoption should have very little to do with barrenness. The scriptures do not command “ye who are barren care for the widows and orphans.” Additionally, Jesus does not say “Blessed are the barren because they adopt the orphans.” Barrenness has little to do with the truth of the author’s conclusions about adoption and I think that constantly associating the two only perpetuates the problem of indifference on the part of so many who are able to have (or think they are able to have) biological children.

I could go on, but that is the most significant of my objections to this article.

This is a very excellent article on why adoption should be practiced in the church. But I have very little appreciation for it as an article that appropriately handles barrenness.

Book Review: Empty Womb, Aching Heart

13 Dec

Empty Womb, Aching Heart: Hope and Help for Those Struggling With Infertility is not what I expected it to be and is unlike any of the other books I’ve read or perused on this topic.

Because the IF world, especially the Christian, online IF world is such a small, tight knit community, I find it difficult to be critical of anyone’s love offering, for fear of hurting feelings. However, I don’t think empty reviews, or false positive reviews really help anyone, and don’t accomplish my goal of broadening conversation on and knowledge of the resources available. So with that in mind, I will attempt to tread lightly.

Empty Womb, Aching Heart can best be described as “Chicken Soup for the Infertile.” It is a collection of stories gathered from women (and a few men) in their thirties and forties, detailing their personal experiences with various points in their infertility. This is not a teaching book.

I will say that it is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to get a broad exposure to an “insider’s view” of various IF related heartaches. This would be great for a pastor or a friend who wanted to glean a smattering of different reactions and experiences, many of which are very typical of many IF journeys.

However, because the book is just a collection of other people’s stories, I found little helpful in it on a cosmic, capital T Truth level.

My first critique is that only two passages in the entire book came from anyone in their twenties. Most passages were from people in their upper thirties and in to their forties, with a few from people in their young thirties. This made me, a late twenty something, feel particularly isolated. So many times in this journey people say “oh you’re still young!” as though the only people allowed to truly wrestle with this issue are those who are nearing the end of their childbearing years. In truth, my youth makes this harder because if my body doesn’t function right now with time on its side, I have little hope as time marches on. It also made me feel that I am years and years away from being able to really identify with a lot of things shared in the book, or that it will take me that long to come to the same kind of peace that some of the authors exude. So I found that element of the book to be particularly discouraging, especially because in one or two stories was the author’s age even relevant, so this isolating factor could have been avoided altogether by the omission of ages.

Second because this is just a collection of stories, the only significant value is the comfort of the knowledge that others have been there too. But because God works in every life differently, there is no universality to any of the lessons. While I can marvel at God’s work in another for the sake of His goodness and power, that does little to teach me about His plan for my life. Perhaps that was never the point of the book but I have to hope that if it was published for worldwide consumption, there was some goal of enhancing the reader’s own picture of God.

Also, it was hard for me to really accept any of the assorted “truths” that were offered because we know absolutely nothing about the various authors, save for their name (real or pen) and an age, and in some cases, a location. This is not always relevant, but when someone is making assertions about God, I know it’s at least easier for me to process when I know the bias of the person making the assertion. No scripture referenced was exegeted nor was the article author’s interpretation substantiated. I realize that criticizing anonymity is an ironic statement coming from anyone in the world of the internet blogosphere, and I all realize that everyone has something offer, regardless of their “credentials” but for that very reason, I try to be very upfront with my biases and convictions and with the fact that anything I offer is opinion.

I try to be careful for not faulting something for not being what it was never intended to be. I realize this book was never intended to be a treatise on God’s truth for infertile couples. But in recognizing that, I found a lack of a convincing purpose for the book, again aside from the end result of getting exposure to other people’s emotion and knowing that one is not alone.

I can never fault anyone for trying to address this issue. I feel like a broken record when I say again that I appreciate that Ms. Schalesky (I think a better title for her is editor, not author) was willing to break the silence. And I am confident that her vision for this book was borne out of a sincere desire to equip, encourage and validate. All of those things are noble and good and as I said, this book is very good for exposing someone to a lot of feelings and experiences with IF. And if someone is at the point in their IF journey that they’re just looking to hear from other people who have “been there, done that” this book is perfect. I will applaud Ms. Schalesky for her wisdom in including many stories that do not have “happy” endings of successful pregnancy or adoption, which would lead I think to a lot of false hope. The point of all the stories is that God’s goodness is not confined to fixing biological problems. This is a very significant Truth that this book does tackle well. So for all of those things, I appreciate Ms. Schalesky and all those who submitted their stories.

The question of whether or not I would recommend this book I guess depends on what your intended purpose in reading it is. If it’s to glean exposure to “our” world, such as would be appropriate for a pastor or friend of an IF couple, this is an excellent book. However, if you’re an IF person at the point in your journey where you’re hungering for solid, biblical teaching and encouragement, this may not be the tool for you at this time. I can’t say that I would refuse to recommend it because there is nothing “wrong” with this book, morally or spiritually and I don’t think it does any harm or disrespect. However, it has a very specific purpose and I think intended audience, so falling outside those bounds may make this book little more than a time passer for you.

Complete List of Media Reviews

13 Dec

I’m posting a list here of all of my media reviews because the originally intended list is now much longer than I thought and will eventually be too long for the sidebar. So I’ll post some in the sidebar with a link to this post for the complete list.

When I was searching for media on the subject, I was surprised at how little was known about the small selection of ambiguous titles. I couldn’t really find much to guide me in the way of what the various titles offered me, how one was different than another, and how reliable they were as a source of solid, scriptural truth.

So my goal is to at least offer one perspective on the various resources out there, in the hopes that it might be at least a little helpful for others looking to enhance their own understanding, whether for their own benefit and comfort or to equip themselves to minister to others.

I try to be honest and constructive with all of my reviews, both positive and critical. These are just my opinions and I am no authority on the subject. But in any case, I offer my thoughts and insights–I hope you enjoy reading. And I also welcome healthy discussion and disagreement with any of my thoughts! Anyone can leave a comment to any post. Let us hope that we are all enriched by the experience!

So without further ado, my ever growing list.

Books
Adoption as a Ministry, Adoption as a Blessing by Michelle Gardner
A Grief Observed by CS Lewis
Embryo Donation and Embryo Adoption: Loving Choices for Christians by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter
Empty Womb, Aching Heart by Marlo Schalesky
Hannah’s Hope by Jennifer Saake
Inconceivable: Finding Peace in the Midst of Infertility by Shannon Woodward
Infertility: Finding God’s Peace in the Journey by Lois Flowers
The Infertility Companion by Sandra Glahn and William Cutrer
Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize
Water from the Rock by Gibbs, Garret and Rabon

Newspaper, Newsletter and Magazine Articles
Coping With the Holidays, RESOLVE December 2007
Blessed are the Barren, Christianity Today December 2007

Movies
Facing the Giants

Music
I Would Die for That by Kellie Coffey

Last updated: Tuesday, July 15, 2008