This World is Not My Home…And That Changes Everything

IMG_7707As I wrote recently in my 2015 recap, I did a lot of wrestling over the past year. Much of that wrestling continues as we are one month into 2016. It’s not necessarily a negative thing; wrestling is a necessary part of the Christian life. There was a time when I didn’t really wrestle the way I do now, and I know that I had nowhere near the relationship with Christ or the desire to make my life count for Him that I do now. With growth and sanctification has come more intense internal spiritual battle.

In reading Letters to Pastors’ Wives (which is SO good so far, by the way), I stumbled upon a quote that absolutely hit the nail on the head in articulating one of my biggest struggles. This quote is written of two godly Christian wives from years ago…

“They knew this world was not their home, and this knowledge gave them stability to enjoy good times without needing them and to endure hardship without despair.”

When I read that, my world was rocked. That is precisely where I so want my heart to land. I’m a pendulum, constantly swinging between being so caught up in not holding onto my gifts that then I don’t even enjoy them, to being crippled by fear that I might lose them because I’m idolizing them. But that simple sentence encapsulates the balance that I long to strike: applying the truth that this world is not my home by enjoying the good times, with a precious, healthy family and all my material needs met, while still having a heart that is prepared to see those blessings removed without sinking into despair.

This concept boiled down into one simple sentence hit me in such a profound way that I felt compelled to share it in case anyone out there wrestles with the same issue.

Believing by faith that this world is a fleeting journey taking me toward my eternal home with Christ has massive practical implications for how I live my life. I’m constantly begging the Lord to give me the discipline and vision to set my “mind on the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:2).

Because doing so changes everything.

{Mommy Journal} Where’s the Chocolate?

DSC_1763It’s been one of those long stay-at-home mom weeks, as my baby has had a drawn-out flu bug leading to restless nights and fussy days. My “tired” this week pales in comparison to most mothers’ tired, but I struggled with it nonetheless.

In many little moments of feeling emotionally and physically spent, I noticed thoughts like this skip across my head.

I need a few minutes to put my feet up and watch a grown-up show. Chocolate would make everything better right now. I really need a nap. I need a washing machine in my apartment. I need my mom. I need a husband who isn’t buried in homework. I need a break. 

But guess what? I didn’t need any of those things. We’re a little over halfway through Whole30 right now (a restrictive 30 day nutritional reset diet), and if nothing else, it has shown me how quickly when I’m feeling sad or at the end of my rope, I turn to food or something else for the comfort I’m craving, without even thinking about it! I didn’t eat any chocolate this week, and I said no to a lot of other desires as I realized that these small trials are meant to push me not to comfort food, a nap, or a break, but to Jesus Christ Himself. On good days and on bad days, Jesus and Jesus alone is what I need.

I long for my first impulse in the difficult moments not to be “Where’s the chocolate?” but a humble cry to my Savior. When life’s hard circumstances, big or small, have me down, I want to instinctively run to sit at His feet, by meditating on memorized Scripture, singing hymns in my head, or poring over an open Bible.

This week, as I’ve recognized my sinful tendency to skip Jesus and seek joy from material gifts, I have experienced the lasting benefits of instead denying my flesh and “seeking the things above, where Christ is” (Col 3:1b).

It takes surprising discipline to do this–to meditate on the gospel while I’m cleaning a sick little one, or praise God for Who He is when I’m getting up for the 10th time at night–but the reward of real peace and contentment is well worth the struggle to think heavenward.

One specific thought that has encouraged me this week came from a chapter I read from Here is Our God along with Revelation 4-5 a few days ago. I’ll leave you with this quote.

“Let’s never forget that this heavenly scene, with God’s throne at the center, is the center of the universe NOW, with this ongoing worship of our Creator God. There is a throne in heaven now, awesome and sovereign. Don’t doubt it. It’s right there right now as if just through a door. Let’s think of this throne when we wake up tomorrow morning… Let’s never think of our sufferings or our joys–or others’ sufferings and joys–without letting live in our imaginations the picture of this sovereign throne and our awesome holy God and this worship of Him ringing right now at the center of the universe.”

(Kathleen Nielson)

Clarification: Chocolate, washing machines, naps…they are all gifts from God that can be used and enjoyed. This post simply seeks to point out my tendency to start (and often end) with those things, rather than running to God with my troubles. 

 

{My Photography} Jon, Jessica, & Baby Matthew

It’s been far too long since I’ve blogged, I know. I’ve got about five different posts bouncing around in my brain, but life has been really crazy! For now I just wanted to quickly share a few photos I was privileged to capture of this sweet couple last weekend. Jon and Jessica are expecting Matthew, a sweet baby boy who has Trisomy 18. I would like to encourage you to read their story on Jessica’s blog and lift them up in prayer as they approach their due date!

http://giftofyahweh.blogspot.com/

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{Mommy Journal} Facing My Fear (Pt 2)

DSC_0034It seems a terrible oversight that I did not specifically share any of the Scripture verses that have become precious to me in my recent battle with fear and anxiety. Many of these are becoming treasured old friends and I am beginning to memorize them without effort. It is a wonderful gift to have rich passages of truth hidden in my heart! I have found it amazing how God has spoken directly to my situation through HIs Word whenever I have opened it, so I won’t be able to list even close to all the verses He has blessed me with, but here are just a few.

Matthew 6:25, 27

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”

John 14:27

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

1 Peter 1:3-9

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

Psalm 46:1-2

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.”

Psalm 37:1-3

“Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”

James 1:12

“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

Psalm 61:2

“From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

Philippians 4:6-7

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 34:4-8

I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

To Make You More Like Christ

DSC_0603It was 11 PM and I was in bed but far from asleep.

I had just finished complaining to Andrew about some apartment management frustration and worries over how the following day would go in terms of coordinating my responsibilities with Caleb’s schedule.

After about five minutes of silence, I blurted out, “I’m really mad and it’s making me mad that I’m mad!” (Two-year-old reasoning, anyone?)

We talked some more and I said, “But why do these things always happen on the days when you’re gone?”

Andrew’s answer: “To make you more like Christ.”

Ouch. I knew he was right, and as I sat there trying to surrender my heart to God’s sovereign provision of irritating circumstances, I replied in a humorous tone, “Congratulations. You’ve successfully shut me up.”

We have a running joke about one time when I was upset about another situation and Andrew gave me wise advice. My response in the moment had been, “I don’t need to be Biblical counseled right now, I just need you to listen!” (Excuse the poor grammar. I know the nerds out there are dying to add an “ly” to the end of “Biblical”.) Now, when these sorts of conversations start, Andrew likes to mimic me in an annoying, squeaky voice, “I don’t need to be biblical counseled!” I don’t know about you, but in our experience, humor is often a great way to diffuse tension.

But I digress.

Andrew’s answer was spot on, and I knew it.

This small frustration was just one of many tools that God uses to refine me and transform me more and more into His image. As Andrew also pointed out, I could either have a bad attitude about it, or I could choose to let it drive me to the cross and make me more like Christ. Either way, I wasn’t getting out of it, so I might as well grow through it!

Are you dealing with something difficult, big or small, today? God wants to use that situation to make you more like His Son. Don’t waste that opportunity. Don’t fight God’s hand.

{Mommy Journal} The Day a Miracle Happened

Birth stories are not for everyone, and that is totally okay. However, many of you have asked for details about how labor and delivery happened for me, Andrew, and our little Caleb, and I thought I would share our story here. It is truly a miracle, as every single birth story is. All glory to God for His incredible design. Please be warned that some of this may be medically graphic; read with caution. =)

One more note: I want to make it clear that I do not think epidurals are sinful, foolish, selfish, or any other such thing. It is quite possible that I will opt for one in future deliveries. Please do not read into any of my decisions as being convictions I think other people should maintain. 

On Friday morning, November 14, I went to a routine doctor’s appointment. I was excited to be 3cm dilated and 70% effaced already! But I also learned that my blood pressure was high for the second appointment in a row, and this time it was worse and it wasn’t coming down with repeated tests. My doctor sent me to labor and delivery so they could monitor it over a few hours. Andrew left work immediately and stopped by the house to get our bags in case I went into labor before heading my way.

After a few hours of having my blood pressure taken every 10 minutes, the doctor came in and gave us news we did not expect: she was concerned about my levels and wanted to induce me. I was really nervous at this point. I knew that induced labors usually meant stronger contractions, and I was so wanting to have a natural birth. But I was also excited–we were going to meet our baby! Naively I thought it would probably be that night, especially given the progress I had already made without any real labor!

We were moved to our delivery room around 4:30. Andrew brought us take out and we enjoyed the incredible view of the Hollywood sign and LA hills before they started pitocin at about 5:15. My wonderful doula, Rachel, had also joined us by this time. For a few hours, we all chatted between my mild contractions. At about 9:00 PM, in the middle of visiting, I heard and felt an intense “pop” inside me.

“Wow,” I said to Rachel and Andrew, “Something just popped inside me!”

“It was probably your water!” Rachel said optimistically.

Next thing I knew, water was literally gushing onto the bed. We’re talking what felt and looked like gallons. I’m not kidding. I started laughing uncontrollably as the nurses came and began cleaning up while the water continued to spill out in heavy bursts. I was crying, I was laughing so hard!

And then it hit me. The first real contraction. And that was the last time I laughed or smiled until 4:06 PM the next day. My doula later told me that she had never in almost 200 births seen such dramatic water breakage and such a sudden onset of hard contractions.

What ensued was hours and hours and hours of intense back labor. Yes, the dreaded back labor I had read about and wanted so much to avoid was unfortunately my lot. Caleb was in a posterior position, meaning his back was against my back, and thus, the greatest intensity of the contractions was in my back and not my abdomen.

This meant that the comfort measures we had learned did not work because they were based on counter pressure. Andrew had planned to rub my back and put pressure on my hips and back to counter my abdominal pain, but since my contractions were in my back, trying these techniques just increased the already excruciating pain.

One of the worst things about back labor for me was the insanely intense pressure on my tailbone and rectum, which gave me the strong urge to push from 5cm on and also made it entirely impossible to sit down. I can’t describe how hard it was to labor with the constant urge to push but know that my body was nowhere near being ready to do so.

I spent hours upon hours in the shower, on all fours over my exercise ball, while Andrew ran alternating hot and cold water over my back. With every contraction, I took a sip of water when it was over from a straw he always had ready right in front of me. I dozed off in 60ish second intervals between the contractions. (Getting awoken by a new wave of a contraction is the worst thing in the world.)

If I had to guess, I would say that I had my eyes closed for about 90% of labor. I also had zero sense of time. All I knew for sure is that I was in misery, that I was going to meet our baby eventually, and that Andrew never left me.

After what felt like forever in excruciating pain, the nurse midwife on call (who was horrible) checked me and reported that I was 4cm. I was devastated. After my first round of throwing up, I had been sure that I was in transition and must be at least 8cm. I can’t even describe how discouraging it was to know I had gone through all that for one stinking centimeter and no change in the baby’s station (position). Andrew and Rachel were incredibly positive, insisting that I was amazing and that my progress was wonderful! So I kept going.

Slowly, one centimeter at a time, I progressed. The snail-pace progress brought me down every time I was checked. But each time Andrew kept telling me how amazing I was and that he knew I could do it. And he stayed by me, holding me, comforting me, coaching me, and soothing me every second. I threw up only four times during labor, and each time I literally enjoyed it because it was such an incredible break from the back pain. I looked forward to the heaves. But each time I also thought surely I must be in transition.

Andrew and I prayed out loud throughout labor and I tried to hold onto knowing that God was in control of my baby’s well being and my body’s ability to bring the baby into the world. During some contractions, I transported my thoughts to holding my baby or being at the beach with Andrew. For a few seconds I could sometimes feel a little removed from the pain.

Sometime in the morning on Saturday, my doctor came in. She explained that I had been 8cm for several hours, that I wasn’t progressing, and that my contractions were starting to get more spaced apart. She told me that she was concerned that the baby was big and I wouldn’t be able to deliver him vaginally without an epidural, and she also said that I needed to restart the pitocin to get my contractions to pick up again. She said that if I didn’t do the epidrual, I would likely end up with a C-section. (Also, with back labor, babies’ heads are not positioned ideally for the birth canal, making the fit bad and vaginal delivery less successful.)

I began bawling and pieced something like the following together between sobs. “I am already in so much pain, I literally cannot imagine how these contractions could be any more intense. I just don’t think I can take any more pain and I don’t see how pitocin is going to work.”

Andrew held my hand. “I think we need to do the pitocin,” he said gently. “It’s going to help the baby get here. You can get the epidural if you want to, and then you could rest. There is no wrong decision here. It is totally up to you and I will support you no matter what you decide. But I know you can do it without if that’s what you want to do!”

An epidural sounded beyond amazing at this point. The thought of being able to rest while my body worked to fully dilate and then having energy to push was so appealing. Instant relief was within my reach. All I had to do was say the word.

But somehow the words that came out were, “I don’t want the epidural. I know I can do this. Let’s start the pitocin.”

During the next several hours, my delivery team helped me get into positions on the bed to try to make the baby turn and get me out of back labor. Somehow these positions made the contractions I already thought were unbearable even worse. I tried to squelch my writhing to keep from getting out of position, but it didn’t’ always work.

At some point during this time, I called my mom and whispered between contractions that I was doing okay and that I was going to be able to have the baby. I felt so bad that she was waiting out in the waiting room all these hours. She encouraged me and said she knew I could do it and that she was praying.

Around noon, the doctor returned and checked me. “You’re 10cm!” she announced.

No words had ever sounded so amazing. I began sobbing tears of joy and relief. I had made it to 10cm! It was time to start pushing! We were almost there!

For the next three hours and 45ish minutes (I can’t remember the exact total my doula recorded), I pushed with every contraction. I’m sure the entire hospital could hear me yelling/groaning/grunting with every push, and I couldn’t have cared less. It was utterly exhausting and really painful, but I felt more in control than I had when I just had to wait out the contractions.

Eventually, I got the exciting news that the doctor could see our baby’s head. And guess what…he had hair!

With each contraction, I always gave one more push than I thought I could. I would push until I thought I surely couldn’t give one more, and then I would muster everything in me and push one more time. In my head, I thought, “This will get me there a little bit faster.”

After each contraction, I would groan, “I can’t do this anymore,” and Andrew would respond, “Yes you can! He’s almost here!” Andrew held my hand and was my biggest cheerleader the entire time I pushed. He was so thrilled to see the baby’s head and all the hair. He kept telling me Caleb was almost here.

Added later: I forgot to mention that at the last minute, while in the birth canal, the baby turned so that he was not born sunny side up! This is a miracle in my mind!

photo (1) And then it happened. I felt the ring of fire. An intense, crazy, burning sensation and tightness and pain. And I knew, “My baby is coming out!” It felt like it lasted maybe about 30 seconds. Then I felt a sudden relief as his head slipped through and my doctor said, “He’s here, take him!” and I reached down and pulled my squirming, gray, slippery baby the rest of the way out and drew him onto my chest.

Sphoto (2)obs. Joy. Relief. Love. The strongest emotions I have ever felt in my entire life. Andrew standing over me crying and looking at our baby’s face. Nineteen hours of active back labor over. The pain I was feeling faded into the background as I clung to my baby boy. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel him snuggled against my skin and I knew he was mine.

photo (4)That day, a miracle happened. A new little life came into the world and I got to be a part of making it happen. I know I never could have survived labor without God’s amazing grace, Andrew’s constant, undying support and encouragement, and the prayers of so many friends and family. The prize I got after all the pain was worth every second of it, 100 times over.

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Captive Thoughts

Lately it seems like I’ve had more opportunity to dwell on the wrong things and to let my thinking get out of line with the truth. For one thing, feeling nauseous constantly makes it really easy to slip into self-pity and ungratefulness. I’ve realized in fresh ways that it takes hard work and conscious effort to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). This is always true, but the issue of selfish thinking is more glaring when I’m faced with something difficult. 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been loving 1 John and 1 Peter for my quiet times. I like being able to grab one verse or passage that I try to take with me throughoutshoes the day. It’s what I go back to when I catch my thoughts drifting in a direction that does not bring glory to God.

I’ve also appreciated solid Christian music to fill my mind with truth. For a year or so now, I’ve listened to far less secular music because I find the uplifting, Scripture-filled quality of worship music to be so much more beneficial. (I haven’t gone cold turkey. I still enjoy Taylor Swift and others, but in moderation.) Earlier this morning I was struggling with a situation I am currently working through, and I was so thankful that the Lord brought Fernando Ortega’s musical rendition of Psalm 19:14 to my mind, which I sang as a prayer while I worked in the kitchen.

Let the words of my mouth
Be pleasing to You, pleasing to You
The meditation of my heart
Be pleasing to you, pleasing to You
Oh Lord, my strength
And my Redeemer

Right thinking does not come naturally to me, but it is so worth the effort to drag myself back to the Lord for the mind-makeover I need at every moment. When I draw near to Him, He is faithful to use His Word to encourage my heart and correct my thinking.

“I have inherited Your testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart.” (Ps. 119:11)