Secret Greatness

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Pretty are the leaves you can see from afar, but strong is the trunk on which the leaves get their start.

I had a friend in college with red hair and freckles who avoided the spotlight, rarely offered an opinion, had a serious, somewhat-obsessive crush on an American Idol contestant, and wouldn’t go rollerblading with us because she feared getting hurt. She lived in the dorm next door, and we all thought she was cute and shy and all things introverted.  We laughed at the way she would blush at the slightest off-colored comment or sexual innuendo, and we teased her about acting looking twelve.

And then one day I saw her on the front page of the campus newspaper in a tennis uniform with a fierce look on her face as she took a mighty swing.

I had known her for almost an entire school year, and somehow the fact that she was the star player on the women’s tennis team had never come up. After a little digging, I learned that she had won state championships in high school.  I learned that she had taken on the entire men’s tennis team one day, “for fun,” and dominated the match. I learned that she was not able to go rollerblading because an injury would cost her A LOT in terms of her tennis career, not because she was a chicken.

I learned she was really great at something, REALLY great, and she had never felt the need to bring it up around her new friends at college.

This is just one of many examples I could give you of a time I unexpectedly learned someone was exceptional at something.  There was the time I opened my high school yearbook and discovered my brother’s dorky friend had won the National High School Rodeo Championship the year before — I didn’t even know such a competition existed! Or another time I discovered my friend had a foosball table and after several questions learned he had been competing at the national level for years. Did you know skilled foosball players can do incredible tricks with those little bar-side tables? Neither did I.

It’s amazing how often we think we have a person sized-up and later discover we were missing a huge part of their identity puzzle.  The above examples are all related to a competition or sport of some sort, but more often this happens when we “size-up” our brothers and sisters in Christ based on what we see on the surface. We can fall into the sinful habit of evaluating another Christian’s worth in the kingdom or their spiritual maturity by the ways we see them publicly serving in the church or the things we hear them talk about, or even based on their public activity on social media websites.  We can sadly conclude that someone isn’t serving the Lord faithfully with their life simply because we do not SEE the things they are doing for the Lord and His Kingdom.

Today I was reading in Matthew and came to chapter 6:1-4:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Now, there are many righteous acts that one practices before an “audience” of people — preaching and congregational song leading, just to name a couple of the most obvious, or even blogging — and as long as those acts are motivated by the Lord and not the desire to be seen and praised by others we should not hold back from serving the Lord in such ways. There are also many ways we serve the Lord that are just more visible to the body, often because we are serving WITH others in the body. In no way do I believe these verses discount the value of our righteous acts that are seen.

I tend to think, however, that the Lord does much of His most important kingdom work through the things we do in secret or in the presence of very few people. If I believe that, and I do, I think it should have an impact on how I value the work I do in secret and the satisfaction I get from serving the Lord in secret.

It also should have an impact on how we evaluate other believers — or dare I say convince us we need to STOP evaluating other believers.  While there is a call for mentorship and accountability among God’s people, we need to be careful about requiring other Christians to give a report of their righteous acts before we affirm them as “good Christians” in our minds.

We also need to be careful to never assume another believer is not serving the Lord and God’s people faithfully and sacrificially simply because we have not seen it with our own eyes or heard a report of what they are doing in secret.  

We all live in a world in which we learn at a very early age that praise and approval from other people is a confirmation of what we have done well.  We are required to compete with others, perform before others, and report our accomplishments in order to advance in education, land a job, receive a promotion, and earn a plethora of praises and desirable rewards.  We are engulfed in a well-respected merit system in nearly every aspect of our lives.

We internalize this “merit system” as we mature, we fail to reject it in favor of God’s merit system, and it has a depressing impact on the body of Christ. 

When I come to the beginning of Matthew 6, I am reminded that I do not need to earn the praise and approval of other people to know that I have done well.  I am reminded that I am under no obligation to inform my left hand of the things my right hand has been doing.  I am reminded that the righteous things I do in secret are seen by a my Father, and they will be rewarded with heavenly “prizes” that this world can not understand or recognize.

When I come to the beginning of Matthew 6, I am also reminded that I should not dismiss my meek, red-headed friend, because she could likely be a fierce, disciplined, strong competitor who does not feel the need to boast in her gifts in exchange for my pathetic praises.  Who am I to assume anything about anyone based on what I see? If I am someone who expects others to sound a trumpet, there is a good chance I am one who likes to sound my own trumpet and I am just like the hypocrites in the synagogues and the streets.

I’ve attempted to sound the trumpet in the past, and I’ve learned it’s a lot of effort for a miserable reward.  I do not care to exchange heavenly rewards for worldly praise, and I do not care to pressure others to make such an exchange.

And so I fold…again.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” – Titus 2:11-14

I’ll be honest. There have been many times in my Christian life when I have sought godliness for the sake of appearing godly. There have been decisions I have made — to clean up my foul language, to volunteer at a church event, to give away something I had in excess — in an effort to show others I was “more Christian” than I used to be, or maybe “more Christian” than someone who did not do those things, or maybe more accurately “more Christian” than I really was.cards

It does not take long in our churchy sub-groups to figure out the game.  The best approach is to sit quietly and observe, watching those who are held in high regard, listening to well-disguised-as-holy gossip and slander, assembling a rule book in your mind of what is acceptable, what is commendable, and what is disgraceful.

And then you play your cards.

This is a game, as with most card games, in which the cards in your hand are varied in their value and power. While some are quite impressive, others we wish had been dealt to another player, and yet others simply come in handy when we are not looking to draw any attention to ourselves.  No matter the game plan, the most satisfying part of this game is that you get to control who sees which cards and when, and there is always opportunity to bluff.

As “Christian” as this game can appear sometimes, it is a perfect demonstration of worldly passions. As long as our grip is firm on the hand, our minds are wrapped around winning strategy and our fears are of how and when and if we must reveal our weakest cards, we are only “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great” selves.

I am guilty of playing this game. I am guilty of absorbing the Christian culture in such a way that empowers self-glorification wrapped in Bible-ish words and running in the direction of an ungodly prize. I know too well what will earn the praises of people.  I also know what will earn their scoffing. And we all know which one feeds our passion for self-glory.

I also know that no matter how much the rules of this game align with the commands in God’s word, I can never win. Still, the game can give me just enough pleasure to keep my heart engaged and my mind spinning, riding a roller coaster of emotions between every hand played, every crisis averted, every careful revealing of my less desirable cards and every prideful stomping with my precious aces.

And yet the more it may seem like I am winning, the more I lose — and the more I can mislead others to pursue deeper loss for themselves . I might find myself beheld, adored, commended, and respected by the people of this earth — by every Christian I know, even — but God does not play these silly games.  In fact, these games only mock him and all he has done to redeem us from such foolishness.

For the sake of this game analogy, I am tempted to tell you that God provided us with a trump card in Jesus Christ. The danger of that would be moving forward with the impression that I am still the one holding my hand and I can continue to maintain control and use Jesus as needed to win the same kind of game.

When the grace of God appears, however, we are saved from the burden of playing this game at all. We get to sit down at the table with a new game plan, per se, one in which we wave our white flags of surrender in the games of men and still claim a great victory.  In this new game, the last will be first, and their only boast is in the miracle of a great God forcing them to fold their hand and retreat into His abounding grace.

We get to retreat into his abounding grace, and in our NOTHINGNESS we are overcome with gratitude and a need to worship He who rescued us from the exhausting games of this world.

It is a sobering thing to find yourself absorbed in a game in which you know you do not belong. Having laid down my hand long ago and retreated into that amazing grace, I can recall many times in which I attempted to join these games for the sake of my own glory, for the appearance of godliness, for the pleasure of gaining approval from other people.

There have also been many times I’ve encountered someone who has such little tolerance for these games that I am reminded there is no obligation for me to play, and I am so refreshed by the presence of these people. I long to be surrounded by those who have folded their hand and surrendered — who have no interest in sneaking in a card by their own strength from time to time.

Through these people, by Christ’s strength alone, God’s kingdom will be built. I want to be a part of THAT, not the silly games of ambitious men and women.

Pale Legs and Priorities

One hot morning, about a month ago, I put on my swimming suit and ran through the sprinkler with my son.  It was brief, and I didn’t at all feel like exposing my pale white legs and excess weight for all the neighbors to see, but I laughed and frolicked and attempted all good things child-like.

And then I dried off, covered up, and went about our usual daily grind. Laundry, lunch, errands, dinner prep, and putting out all the little fires that come with keeping a three-year-old and a baby alive under the same roof.

When my husband came home that evening, my mind was spinning with the smoke from those little fires. The relief of his presence was just enough to allow me to blissfully focus on cooking dinner (because these days “focus” and “bliss” are the same for me), and the rest of the day would be down hill. Food, play time, and the oh-so-precious bedtime — a typical, beautiful end to just another typical day.

I had kept them alive. I had cooked something for dinner. My house didn’t look like a war zone and no one had a killer rash or wound.  This was an above average day, in fact.

I put our baby girl to bed, and I sat to await one of my favorite moments of every day — the one in which my husband whisks our son up into his arms and carries him to the stairs, where he will turn and say, “Tell Mommy ‘night-night. I love you’,” and our son turns his face to me with tired eyes and says just that, “Night-night, Mommy, I love you.”

“I love you, too, buddy. Night-night!” I echo. And they turn to trek up the stairs for bed.

I was tired — something I say too often lately — and I was relieved to be at the end of another day.  Just as I exhaled the pressures of that day’s to-do list, my son unexpectedly spoke up, “Thank you for playing in the sprinkler with me, Mommy.” 

What had become a distant memory to me, buried in dirty diapers and discipline, was still stirring up gratitude in the heart of a little boy who rarely expressed such sentiments.

And once again, I was humbled by my child. He will never remember what he had for dinner that day. He will not look back at all the times I picked up his toys or swept up his crumbs or wiped his bottom that day and say, “Wow, Mom, you worked HARD for us on that hot day in June!” No, all of those things that make me feel worn and tired will not be stirring up a heart-felt “thanks” any time soon.

Instead he remembers that for a brief moment, his mommy said “yes” to one of his favorite things in the whole world, and she smiled and laughed and didn’t say anything about “so much to do today” or “you are being too [loud, rough, messy, etc.].” That’s the mommy he will remember and for whom he will be thankful, or at least I hope it is.

I can’t always drop everything to embrace his little-boy world, but I know I can often drop everything to embrace his little-boy world and I choose to say, “no,” because everything else feels more important in that moment — or more comfortable, less messy, more convenient.

As much as I love my children, I am still a selfish fool. While much of my daily work is for them, most days my determination to accomplish each task is for me, for MY pride and MY sense of worth — and all of that vain determination is making me tired and showing my children that being a mom (a CHRISTIAN mom, at that) is a pretty lame gig.

But it’s NOT a lame gig. It’s like throwing on a too-tight bathing suit and not caring what your neighbors think about your pale, chubby legs while you laugh at nonsense, get sprayed in the eye, hold in your pee, stub your toe, and just keep smiling because everyone is so darn happy to be together.  It’s that, and it’s awesome.

I can be that and still have time to be lame for a good part of the day. I’m so glad my son took the time to say “Thank-you” and remind me of that.

Thanks, buddy, for playing in the sprinkler with me.

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Closing a Chapter

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This is it. We have arrived at the weekend in which we will finish packing up our belongings and load them onto a truck to travel on to our next home. I am not ready, but I am trusting this is God’s plan for our lives.

As with all endings, I find myself reflecting on where this chapter began, my expectations, my hopes, the blessings, the disappointments, my accomplishments, and my failures.  What did we do well here? How could we have done better? How has God used us, but also how have we missed the mark? Where did we fall short? (Because we always fall short…). It is a sobering assessment — a reminder that there is much work to be done in me.

More than any other sentiment, I will leave here feeling thankful. This has been our first journey in full-time pastoral ministry, and God has used it to squash some of our sinful pride and build our faith in His power rather than our own.

As I look back at who we were when we came here, childless and overly confident in our own knowledge and abilities, I smile at the God who knew exactly how to whittle and carve us into people more in love with Him than ourselves. We were qualified and capable for the tasks before us, but oh how we needed to be humbled! I smile at the God who guided our path to the place He knew we needed to be at just the right time, and who is continuing to guide our path as we venture onward.

It is hard to say good-bye. We love this place and we love these people. It is hard to say goodbye as I recognize my shortcomings (that darn 20/20 hindsight) and will leave without the opportunity to “do better” for the sake of my own pride, for the sake of proving something to someone.

In the end, my greatest lesson has possibly been to forget about proving anything to anyone, but to run with reckless abandon for God in the things he has called me to do. To be cautious of who it is I am trying to please in all circumstances, in every task, big or small.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10

I have let the fear of other people’s disapproval hold me back from many good, god-honoring things. If I am trying to please people, I am not a servant of Christ. A lesson I learned in my head a long time ago, but had some growing up to do while it made its way to my heart.

As this beautiful chapter comes to a close this weekend, I am not ready, but I am excited. I am excited to see the unexpected ways God’s plan will unfold in our next chapter. I am excited to see how he will use the lessons he has been teaching us to better build up the body of Christ and to serve His people. I am not ready, but my confidence is now in the right place and therefore I am more ready than I have ever been.

A Big Announcement

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For several months, my husband and I have been prayerfully considering a new opportunity for our family and trying to discern God’s will for us. About a week ago, we made the final decision to move on from our current church in Ohio and accept the call to a church in Minnesota. This move will bring us close to both my family and my husband’s family, a blessing we have not experienced since before we were married.

Yesterday, we had the difficult experience of breaking this news to our loving church family here, as well as the rest of our friends and family. I am relieved to finally be sharing this with everyone, and I am looking forward to sharing more about our new ministry opportunity soon.

Among my racing thoughts in the past week are visions of my children knowing, REALLY knowing, their grandparents and other family members we have missed so much over the last six years, but also grief over the hard goodbyes in the coming weeks. Our church here has become our adoptive family, and we love these brothers and sisters in Christ who have treated us as their own through the many holidays, pregnancies, births, joys and challenges we have had here without the support of real family nearby. Words can not express the special impact this church has had on our lives, and we will always look back on our time here with fondness. It is a blessing in itself for a goodbye to feel this difficult – an confirmation of the love and care we have experienced here.

We are confident that God is directing our path in this new journey, and we have seen him affirm our steps again and again throughout this process. The church where we are being called to serve next is a great fit for my husband and we believe God will continue to use his gifts and passions to build up the kingdom and make disciples in this new role.

I want to invite you all to pray for us through this transition. Pray for our family, our church, and the church we are soon joining. I hope to be able to write more about this process as we go, and I will try to keep you updated. Moving will take place the last weekend in July! Pray we will end our time here well and be a blessing to this church even as we say goodbye.

An Alternative to Boxed Macaroni & Cheese

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I confess: I am a wannabe crunchy mom, but I struggle to commit in the kitchen. I have read a zillion (slight exaggeration) articles and watched several documentaries on the value of eating whole foods as well as the consequences of a diet high in processed foods.  I see the posts floating around on social media about specific additives and chemicals in our foods that should really not be in there, and my stomach turns a little as I wonder how threatening last night’s dinner really was.

Unfortunately, I can also be a wannabe lazy mom who enjoys quick and easy cooking a lot more than she should. Look, last week’s poor dinner choices haven’t given us tumors yet, right?! So we must be fine?

I am a lazy fool.

Anyway, on the days my crunchy side wins over, I experiment with ways I can replace the “big offenders” on our processed food grocery list with a tasty alternative.  One of those is boxed macaroni & cheese.

Now, I am aware there are plenty of recipes online that will tell you how to make a beautiful dish of macaroni and cheese from scratch, but let’s be real: the appeal of that blue box is that it is inexpensive, quick, easy, and the kids will eat it, right?

So when I am wanting an alternative in 10 minutes or less, this is what I use:

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 cups dry, whole grain pasta (I use elbow macaroni or penne)
  • Butter (I use 3 tablespoons)
  • Sea Salt
  • Dill Weed
  • Garlic powder
  • Parmesan Cheese

Instructions: 

  • Cook pasta to desired tenderness. 
  • Stir in butter until melted.
  • Sprinkle in the remaining ingredients according to your own taste. (I lightly coat the top with each and stir.)

It is definitely not bright orange, but we like it just as much.  The dill weed & parmesan together provide the tangy cheese flavor without the high sodium content, food coloring, and preservatives.  In the past I have used a little lemon juice in place of dill, and that would work well if you have a child who would scoff at the little green flecks.

What about you? Do you do anything similar to reduce your processed food intake?

I’d love to hear your favorite tricks in a comment!

Amelia’s Birth: A Natural Childbirth Story (Part II)

This is part II of the long overdue story of the birth of my second child last September. To read the part I follow this link!

It was a Wednesday night. Five days earlier, I had been told I was already dilated to 4 centimeters and was expected to be in full-blown labor by the end of that day. As usual, my plans did not quite line up with God’s plan. As usual, his timing turned out to be better than mine.

I posted this on my Facebook page the day I went into labor with the caption: "She just loves it in there. I'm gonna need some bigger shirts."

From my Facebook page on the last day of my pregnancy, captioned: “She just loves it in there. I’m gonna need some bigger shirts.”

My contractions had been coming and going in waves for nearly two weeks and finally kicked into high gear that evening while my husband was at church for Wednesday night services. My mother-in-law was staying with us during this time to care for our son, so when Ryan arrived home we would be ready to hop in the car at whatever point I felt it was time. Although my patience had been wearing thin up until this point, I did not want to check into the hospital until I was sure active labor was well underway.

While my husband was still at church, I put our son to bed and retreated to our bedroom to watch YouTube videos on natural birthing techniques and pace the floor. I was determined to remain relaxed throughout the birthing process this time, and to do so I wanted to be prepared with a variety of breathing techniques fresh in my mind.  One of these techniques involved vocalizing through each contraction with a long “Ohhhhh” while visualizing everything opening up for the baby to pass through the birth canal.  (I’m sorry if this is too much information! I just want to be helpful to those who are preparing for a similar birthing experience.)

I quickly found that vocalizing and visualizing were my new best friends in the child birthing business! As the contractions became more and more powerful, it was as though my mind was completely focused on the purpose and productivity of the contraction rather than the pain it was causing.  When the contractions were consistently within five minutes of each other and difficult to talk through, I called my midwife and let her know we were on our way.  It was shortly after 11PM.

We arrived at the hospital around 11:30PM and were settled into the holistic birthing suite by 12:15AM. I was already amazed by God’s provision. Here are just some of the ways His timing blew my mind:

  • Though the labor & delivery floor at the hospital had been overflowing the previous weekend when I had WANTED to be in labor, it was now quite empty and I was the only patient in active labor.
  • The holistic birthing suite was vacant and ready for me!
  • The midwife on call that night was the one who knew me best and had seen me most throughout the pregnancy.
  • The nurse assigned to my care was INCREDIBLE. From the time she checked me in to the point she grabbed our camera to take pictures after the birth — absolutely incredible.
  • As we were being admitted to the hospital, the nurse was shocked to find that I was already dilated to SEVEN centimeters.  I wish I could show you all the look on her face when she made that call.
  • Active labor was well underway, but my water had not broken.  This was a hope and prayer from the beginning!

When my midwife arrived at the hospital, she estimated that the baby would be born within a few hours.  After some discussion, I agreed to allow her to rupture my water — though I admit I was unprepared to make that decision and still I am unaware of any risks associated with it. She assured me it was safe, and I chose to trust her.  She advised my nurse to let me continue laboring as I had been and allow me to get into the birthing tub at whatever point I felt ready.

So I continued to labor, chatting with my husband in between contractions, and then getting into my “comfort position” to ride through each wave of pain.  I found my ideal position during this time was kneeling beside the bed, hands folded in prayer position, and legs shoulder width apart.  I would close my eyes, vocalize, and rock my hips from side to side.  Around 2AM, the intensity of the contractions began to wear on me, and I requested to get into the tub for some relief.

It was so comforting to feel as though my care providers trusted my instincts and were willing to follow my lead.  This was such a welcome change from my first birthing experience.  My midwife simply wanted to know when I felt ready to push, and other than that she let me make the calls and did not question my decisions in the process.

The "Am I dying?" part...

The “Am I dying?” part…

It did not take long in the water before I reached the “Oh, Lord, I think I might be ready to die,” phase of labor, otherwise known as “transition.”  Up until that point, I had not felt myself well up with fear. This was the hard part for me, though, and somewhere in the midst of my most intense contractions I felt the fear roll through my body and tell me I could not handle one more surge of pain.  For the first time since labor had begun, I knew I needed the women in the room to help me calm down.

In the 60 seconds I had between contractions, I started to whine.  Just like a small child looking for her mother’s sympathy, I told my midwife I didn’t think I could do it anymore.  I told her I was scared, and I just wanted it to end. “Soon,” she told me, “your baby will be here very soon.”

“You’re doing great,” my nurse kept repeating.

Before I could start in on my next whining session, I felt my hands begin to tingle intensely and chills run through my body.  I had only felt that sensation once before in my life, and I remembered it well: five minutes before I pushed my son into this world.

This realization renewed my drive to continue.  I told the nurse it was time to push, and she hurried to help my midwife prepare for delivery. I fully expected the midwife to take control at this point.  During my last birth, this was the part when my previous midwife told me exactly how to position my body, held me in that position, and told me when to push.  She reached down, guided the baby out, and lifted him out of the water.

Do you know what my midwife did this time? None of that! She sat back in her chair and calmly told me how to reach down and deliver my own baby. No one tried to hold my legs or force me into an unnatural position, no one screamed at me to push, and no one even tried to touch me! I followed my midwife’s instructions, slightly shocked that she wasn’t helping me, and I delivered my baby with my own hands and pulled her up onto my chest.

At 3:33 AM, I held my baby girl for the first time.

At 3:33 AM, I held my baby girl for the first time.

After only three hours of laboring in that birthing room, I had the unique honor of being the first person to hold my newborn baby. At this point, do you know what my awesome nurse did? She grabbed the camera from my husband so he could come meet his baby girl, and she took some awesome pictures for us.  She seemed just about as excited as we were to be a part of this process and didn’t put that camera down until she absolutely had to do so.

Birth Collage

“This was a text-book perfect birth,” my midwife told us, “the kind that should be video recorded!” I don’t know how I feel about a video of me giving birth, but she was right: it could not have possibly gone any better than it did.  Everything progressed quickly, I coped with most of my contractions calmly and without fear, and not a single complication arose.

Amelia nursed well from the beginning, another specific answer to prayer, and she even let me get some sleep the next day during my brief stay at the hospital.  I am one who prefers to get home as soon as possible with my babies, so we checked out first thing Friday morning. I stand amazed at the beautiful birthing experience we were able to have, knowing that this is not the norm, knowing that it is something many women dream of having but are never able to have. I don’t know what to make of that, except that I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.  This experience was the gift of a lifetime, and I am thankful to God alone for that gift.

Amelia is now over eight months old! The word that always comes to mind to describe her is “delightful.” Purely delightful. If I never have another birth or baby as easy on me as Amelia, I will tease her siblings in adulthood that she will always be my favorite. (Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they know I am only joking!)

DSC_0871If you are reading this story and you have any questions regarding your own birthing plan, don’t hesitate to send me an email or comment on this post.  While sometimes there are medical reasons that make a birth like this impossible, most times that is not the case.  I believe the first steps toward a healthy birthing experience are prayer and education — I am happy to encourage you in either of these steps!

Amelia’s Birth: A Natural Childbirth Story (Part I)

This is part I of the long overdue story of the birth of my second child last September. To read the [much longer] story of the water birth of my son in 2011 and to learn more about my choice to give birth naturally in water, follow this link!

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This is my sweet baby girl, Amelia, just moments after I delivered her with my own hands in a holistic birthing suite at a local hospital.  She was about five days “overdue,” yet right on time and as healthy as she could be.  We had prayed for months that God would give us a safe, smooth birthing experience and that I would endure it without fear, and I stand amazed to report He did all of that and more.

Pregnancy & Preparation

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the two lines on that pregnancy test in late December I immediately thought, “What if I can’t handle another natural birth?” I had nine months to prepare, and yet I was already fearful of the pain that comes during childbirth.  I remembered all too well how shocked I was after the birth of my son — shocked by how much it hurt, shocked by how much I wanted to give up and DIE, shocked that I actually survived it and he was finally in my arms.

I have often avoided talking about my son’s birth because, although it was healthy and beautiful on the surface, I remember feeling overwhelmed with fear the entire time.  It is a strange feeling to be praised by others for the strength and endurance it takes to give birth in such a way, yet know inside that I was a tired, weak coward the entire time and any “success” I may have had should certainly not be credited to my own strength.  Still, I have fielded some, “Wow, you are like Xena, Warrior Princess or something! I could NEVER do that!” comments.

Trust me, I am NOT Xena, Warrior Princess.  Is there a lesser character that whines and complains a lot and constantly needs other people to rescue her? That’s more like me, but I digress.

I am crazy committed to giving birth with as few medical interventions as possible, fearful or not. This is not to prove my own strength or to exalt anything at all human within me, but rather a decision my husband and I came to together by researching our options and finding the one that best fit our convictions and ideals. (You can read more about that here.) Amelia

Though my first birthing experience was not the peaceful, euphoric experience I had hoped to have, I could at least approach my second birth confidently saying, “Well, I did it last time (somehow), so I can do it again.” So I started there — scared to do it again, but knowing I was capable provided no unexpected complications arose.

From there, I started praying for very specific aspects of the pregnancy and birth. I asked that He would provide the right midwife at the right hospital.  I asked that the nurses attending to the birth would be diligent, compassionate, and supportive of my desires to avoid medical interventions.  I asked that I would not be overcome with fear. I asked that labor would be well underway before I arrived at the hospital and that my water would not break until close to the final stage.  I asked for endurance and strength.

The more I prayed for these things, the less I feared.

Days of Early Labor

As I came to the final days of my pregnancy, I experienced an incredible peace. God had given me a healthy pregnancy and provided a midwifery team I loved at a hospital where I felt very comfortable. The room where I planned to give birth, referred to as a “holistic birthing suite,” was located on the Labor & Delivery floor, but tucked away at the quiet end of a hallway.  It had everything I could have wanted for my stay, including a large birthing tub with a shower head and plenty of handles. As long as the room was available when I went into labor, it was all mine — so I prayed for that, too.

38 Weeks!

38 Weeks!

The day before Amelia’s due date, I had my final prenatal appointment.  I had been nauseous all day and — TMI warning — constantly running to the bathroom.  I had also been having steady contractions for days, at some points enough that I needed to time them to consider whether labor was really getting started.  I learned at my appointment that I was already dilated to 4 centimeters, which is wide enough that most women would check into the hospital and start a Pitocin drip.  My midwife told me I was in early labor, sent me home, and estimated I would be back to check into the hospital by the end of the night.

So we went home, and nothing happened! This was a Friday, so we anticipated our baby would surely arrive by the end of the weekend. We took some long walks and I did stretches and exercises to prompt my contractions to pick up, but still nothing more than a few false alarms.  Each morning I woke up thinking, “This has GOT to be the day.” And every night I went to sleep thinking, “I sure hope I get woken up by contractions tonight!”

By Monday, I had decided to just stay pregnant forever, which happened to be a good decision for that day.  While I was getting ready for bed that night, my son woke up to a horrible coughing fit.  He had been fighting a mild cold, which turned into croup.  Because he was really struggling to breathe and throwing up in the midst of it, we ended up rushing him to the closest ER that night.

So there I stood in the wrong hospital, 40+ weeks pregnant and dilated enough to be considered “in labor,” praying for the first time that the baby would STAY PUT. I couldn’t help but picture myself checking in to that hospital to birth a baby alone while my husband was with my son downstairs in the ER.  Thankfully, that did not happen! The ER staff was wonderful with my son, and we made it home sometime after midnight.  Exhausted, I prayed again that the baby would stay put until I could get some rest.

And stay put she did! Though my contractions mildly came and went each day, they did not become consistent enough for me to say, “This is it, grab the bags” until Wednesday night. I followed my plan to labor at home for as long as possible, and when the contractions became strong enough to take my breath away I put the call in to my midwife.

I was ready to have a baby!

Read Part II (The Finale!) of Amelia’s Birth Story Here!

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Book Review: 101 Bible Stories from Creation to Revelation

Zondervan provided me with a free copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

101+Bible+Stories+from+Creation+to+RevelationSummary

This Bible story book contains 101 briefly summarized stories written in basic sentences that are accessible for young readers. Each “story” is contained within one page and includes a typical heading, for example “The Fiery Furnace” or “Jesus is Baptized,” and a scripture reference from which the story has been adapted. On each spread of pages, one page is fully illustrated to complement the content.

Impressions

This is a Bible storybook that is going to simply provide the nuts and bolts of what happens in each story throughout the Bible.  Unlike many of the other popular Bible story books of recent years, this is not one to provide additional insight or draw theological conclusions from the original text.  Rather, each story and image works to answer the “who, what, when, where, and how” questions and leaves the “why” up to the reader to ponder and seek answers elsewhere.

While I love the additional insight provided in books like the The Jesus Storybook Bible and others, I fully appreciate the simplicity of a storybook like this one and believe it will be very well used and loved by my children — especially as they learn to read themselves.  I see great value in leading my children through these stories without providing any insight or interpretation FOR them, but instead helping them to draw conclusions themselves through discussion and further reading in other biblical texts.

My favorite part of this book is that the illustrations are well done and more biblically and historically accurate than any of the other Bible story books we own.  On the cover, for example, you can see that Jonah is facing a giant fish, not a whale as is often depicted.  Other examples where the illustrator’s work should be similarly praised:

  • The nail holes in Jesus’ hands are placed on his wrists.
  • The arc resembles what biblical historians believe it actually looked like — there are no giraffes and elephants overflowing on deck!
  • The size proportions between David and Goliath depict a realistic size difference rather than a man who resembles a mythological man-like creature.
  • The tiniest details have been illustrated with care and intention for accuracy — right down to things like David’s harp, the kind of fish being caught and eaten, and even the look of the coins.

Fun fact: For those of my readers who (like me) are living in the Cleveland area, the illustrator of this book is Dan Andreasen and he resides in Medina, Ohio.

Recommendations

I recommend this book as a great addition to any family’s collection of biblical children’s literature. The brief stories can be used in a number of ways by parents to engage a child in the events of the Bible and stage opportunities to discuss the theological implications about the God who orchestrated those events.  Though this is a very simple collection of Bible stories, I believe you will find it quite practical in teaching your children the ways of the Lord.