Thursday, October 23, 2014

James and the Great Pumpkin

Last weekend we took James to his first pumpkin patch.  Unfortunately he didn't get a good nap in before we left so he was rather grouchy the whole time.  It was still a fun afternoon with our community group, and the weather was perfect.

James and his buddy Pax

Our fabulous community group

He was reluctant to crawl through the grass at first but he got used to it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Remembering My Anchor

Sometimes the greatest epiphanies come while listening to music in the car.  The other day I was listening to "Anchor of my Soul" by Josh Garrels and was struck by these lyrics:

Oh Lord of the wind and the waves
If you're with us we will not be afraid
No storm can ever separate us 
From Jesus, you're mighty to save
All those who would call on your name

When it comes to thinking about our future as missionaries serving overseas there is still a lot of fear that I'm working through.  It's a fear of not being able to be a good wife and mother when I'm not surrounded by friends and family.  A fear that I won't have the strength to carry on day after day.  The thing is, I will fail when I try to do anything on my own.  Listening to Josh the other day I was reminded that God has indeed promised to be with me wherever I go and will give me everything I need.  My problem is, while I believe it in my head, I don't think this truth has totally sunk into my heart.  

Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."  We've all heard that one a million times and I tend to glide right past this verse.  But do I really believe this?  Do I live in light of this reality? 

Yesterday during my quiet time I started making a list of the things that I could do only with God's help.  My list started with big picture things like "doing missions", but as I went along I started writing things like, "being a patient mom," "teaching SojournKids" and "showing grace to other people."  God graciously pointed out to me that all the things I'm already doing are only possible in His strength, not my own.  God has been so faithful to be working in my life, why would he give up right as we step out in faith and obedience to go to the mission field?

In my imaginings of life in SE Asia I honestly haven't left a lot of room for God.  I've spent plenty of time thinking about the nitty gritty details of life and whether or not I'll be able to hack it over there, but I seem to have forgotten that God isn't going to forget me.  (Ironic huh?)  He'll continue to be at work in my life and will keep providing everything I need to do the things He's called me to do.  This thought has been so comforting the past few days and I'm sure it's a truth I'll keep leaning on over the next few years before we go.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Giving up the Fish

This morning I read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.  It's one I've read many times, but something about it struck me differently today.  I imagined the scene: Jesus had been teaching the crowds in a rather remote location for most of the day.  It's getting late and everyone is hungry.  There were probably kids running around all over the place pulling on their moms' clothes asking for their dinner.  The disciples told Jesus to send the crowds away so they could go get food for themselves.  Who knows, they might have been a bit tired of all these people milling around and were looking forward to some peace and quiet with Jesus.  But Jesus comes back with this, "They do not need to go away.  You give them something to eat."  Talk about a tall order!  They told him the only food they had was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Not enough for thousands of people to chow down on for sure.  Jesus then says, "Bring them here to me."  He has all the people sit down in the grass, he gave thanks to God, and gave the food back to the disciples to pass out to everyone.  Miraculously, there was plenty for everyone, and even 12 baskets of leftovers. (Patrick would have loved that!)  Once again, Jesus provided what the disciples could not.

This story illustrates more than just how Jesus denies the whole "no such thing as a free lunch" thing. Sure, we could take away from this passage that God will provide for us, but I'm pretty sure there's a deeper meaning here.  When the disciples brought their meager bit of food to Jesus they had to trust that he was going to do something incredible with it.  Doesn't that apply to our very lives as well?  I might not have much talent, wisdom, or skill, but when I give what I do have to Jesus, he's able to do remarkable things with it.

Perhaps the hardest part in this is the handover.  It's hard for me to want to totally submit myself to Jesus.  What if he wants to do something I don't like?  What if he asks me to do hard things?  That's a possibility, and it's certainly happened to me before so I'm sure it will happen again.  But here's where we learn to trust God.  We can trust that even when he asks us to do hard or even impossible things, he will ultimately use it for his glory.  And what's cool is that it's not really up to us to do the incredible things anyway.  All we have to do is be willing to let Jesus use our lives.  The rest is up to him.

So that's my prayer for today, that I could keep learning how to give up my bread and fish to Jesus and trust that he will do miraculous things with my life.  (Not a bad way to start the day really...;) )

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Upside Down Kingdom

Jesus is truly the king of turning the world upside down.  Have you ever noticed that?  As soon as people thought they had him figured out, he would say something that would be completely contrary to everything they thought they knew.  And he's still doing it today.  I read Matthew 5 this morning.  It's the passage where Jesus teaches that even if you've been angry with someone or lusted after someone, you've basically committed murder or adultery in your heart.  Love your enemies and cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.  At first glance this passage seems to be all bad news.  Jesus basically raises the standard of holiness to an unattainable level.  One thing is abundantly clear: we've all sinned.  There's no way around it.  Yes, the bad news is pretty bad, but there's good news ahead.

I tried to put myself in the place of his first listeners.  What must they have been thinking?  Probably pretty discouraged.  Maybe they felt like they had been doing alright.  After all, certainly not everyone was going around killing people or sleeping around.  But here comes Jesus throwing a wrench in everything.  He does that a lot.  

  Then I asked another question.  What if he'd said the opposite of everything he taught in this chapter?  What if he'd said, "Oh you know what, sure, go ahead and hate your enemies.  That's definitely the easier route, and hey, it's what everyone is already doing anyway."  What if he'd said, "Congratulations for not being a murderer or in general a wretched human being!  Well done!"  It'd be easy to come away from this passage feeling pretty good about ourselves.  I don't think we'd be convicted of our sin and we certainly wouldn't be convinced of our need for a Savior.  We'd think we were doing alright without God's help.  I'm sure we'd be proud of ourselves for not murdering and committing adultery, but I bet we'd judge pretty harshly those who do.  In fact, we wouldn't look any different from the rest of the world at all.  Thankfully, that's not what Jesus came to do, and that's not the kind of Kingdom he came to usher in.  

Being part of the Kingdom of God doesn't mean blending in with the rest of the world, quite the opposite.  It means living in such a way that we are set apart in holiness, but always with the hope of drawing others nearer to Jesus.  I think maybe we have this view of God's Kingdom as one with high, impenetrable walls and barred doors.  Honestly I don't think it has either.  I think the only thing keeping people out is their own refusal to submit to the King.      

What I see too much of (and I know I'm guilty of myself) is Christians thinking the Kingdom is super exclusive.  We act like we have some claim on Jesus and we try to stuff him into a religious box.  The thing is, he just won't fit.  We always want to load people down with burdens that Jesus himself was trying to remove.  We get it into our heads that in order to be fit for the Kingdom you need Jesus and _____ (fill in the blank with church attendance, Bible study, good works, etc.)  Thankfully that's not how Jesus actually operates.  He never required people to have it all figured out before they fell at his feet.  He didn't say to the woman at the well, "Lady, sorry, but your theology is whacked and your past is shoddy so you might as well just go back to living with that guy who isn't your husband because I can't do anything for you."  It's quite mysterious really, the way Jesus transforms people from the inside out.  We can't always see that transformation from day to day but it's happening.  When I submitted my life to Jesus I certainly didn't have all the right theology.  That would come later.  What I had was an awareness of my sin and my need for Jesus to do something about it.    

I'll confess that its sometimes tempting to think I have Jesus figured out.  In truth I might have about a billionth of a percent of Jesus that I even somewhat understand.  I'll be honest, I'm trying to follow him, but most days I'm not very good at it.  Because of that I'm continually thankful for the gift of grace and faith itself.  It's clear to me that without God's intervention, I couldn't come to him even if I wanted to.  That's why Ephesians 2:8 rings so true.  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not of yourselves it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast."  There's a humbling verse for you.  We have no reason to congratulate ourselves for our faith because it's all a gift from God in the first place.  Jesus begins, continues, and finishes the process of our salvation completely without our help.  That's a truth worth praising God for!     

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The New Mommy Taboo

When you're pregnant with your first child most people are really excited with you and are eager to share their ideas on child rearing from how to make your own baby food to what kind of teething rings are best.  Advice flows in from all sides and it's easy to be swept away by the excitement of decorating the nursery and picking out baby names.  But there is a side to new-motherhood that no one seems to want to talk about.  As if it's a deep dark secret that no one wants to admit to.  And that is the shadowy cloud of postpartum depression that so many women silently struggle with.

I was fortunate, and oh-so-grateful to have a friend who shared her experience with PPD with me.  I heard how she had plodded through years of her kids' lives before she was able to get help and how she felt that she finally had her life back after all that time.  I'm thankful for her transparency because it prepared me for what was to come.

The first few weeks after we brought James home from the hospital were tough but not overwhelming.  It took us a few nights to get into a routine of being up every few hours, but thankfully we had a lot of help from our parents.  In fact, I'm not sure I would have survived without my mom and mother in law.  They were truly instrumental in keeping me sane during an otherwise crazy time.  I figured since I had made it several weeks and feeling pretty good, I was in the clear from PPD.  I was so wrong.

When James was 7 weeks old I started a new job.  I was only working 3 days a week for a few hours, but something about having to be away from him triggered what seemed like a total emotional breakdown.  And I'm not an overly emotional person.  I felt like I'd been hit with a train and was suddenly overwhelmed easily by simple tasks around the house.  When James would cry, waves of anxiety would wash over me and I felt paralyzed.  It seemed as if the world was caving in around me, and it was truly terrifying.  I would go to bed at night praying to not wake up the next morning.

I'm fortunate to have the most amazing husband on the planet and he would swoop in and save me from these frightening panic attacks.  I don't know what I would have done without him.  Patrick encouraged me to call my doctor, which I resisted for a long time, because I didn't want to have to be on medication to feel normal.  I was afraid of becoming dependent on pills and forever feeling like the "real" me just couldn't hack it anymore.  But I realized I was doing a disservice to my baby and husband.  I hadn't been myself in a long time and wanted so badly to feel normal again.

Let me offer this bit of encouragement to anyone reading this who's going through something similar:  this is normal.  I've heard a lot of women say they felt guilty for having feelings of depression or sadness because they should be happy with their new baby.  Let me tell you, I love James with a fierceness that scares me sometimes, but what I was experiencing was completely outside of my control.  When your brain takes a hormone bath like the one after childbirth it's a wonder any of us stay sane during our kids' first years of life.  Sometimes you just need a little help getting back in sync.  And that's ok.  I was on meds for a few months, and have successfully weaned myself off of them, and I feel completely like my old self again.  Anti-depressants don't have to be for life.  And just because someone suffers from PPD doesn't mean they'll have to go on medication.  There are certainly other ways to get help, and it might look different for different people.

I went back and forth for months about whether or not to blog about this because it's hard to publicly admit my own weaknesses.  I like to be the person that has everything together and who doesn't have to ask anyone for help.  From a Biblical standpoint that's nothing but pride, and a sin I've had to repent of time and time again.  I felt compelled to write because as I talked with more and more women I realized that most people aren't talking about this issue.  That means there are new moms out there who are suffering alone, and it doesn't have to be this way.  It's ok to need help.  It's ok to not have it all together when you have a baby.  The sooner you can admit your need, the sooner you'll see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Trust me, you don't have to suffer in silence!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What I Thought I'd Think

I'm now 5 months in to this new mom gig, and in a lot of ways it's nothing like I expected.  Before James was born I had this caricature in my mind of the frazzled, sleep deprived mom with unwashed hair, piles of laundry mounting up everywhere, and a screaming baby on her hip.  Everyone was telling me to enjoy my life and freedom while I still could as if all fun and joy would come to a screeching halt as soon as my son was born.  I assumed I would live in this constant state of longing for the days gone by of when I was free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  From what I was hearing it seemed to me that a lot of people resent their kids for encroaching on their lives.  Yikes!

Well now James is here and I know that the vast majority of my preconceived notions were all wrong.      Sure I've been sleep deprived and sometimes the laundry just has to wait, but I don't find myself pining away for the pre-James days.  Quite the opposite actually.  I can't begin to imagine life without him.  He has brought so much joy and laughter to our lives, and I'm so thankful that God gave him to us.  I don't find myself cringing when he wakes up from his nap because I'm not finished with whatever I was doing.  Truthfully, half the time I can't wait for him to wake up so we can play!

I don't claim to believe that motherhood will always been sunshine and rainbows, and I've already experienced plenty of difficulty.  Some days will definitely be harder than others (as will the nights.)  But being a mom is awesome, especially being James' mom.  :)  We've started on such a cool adventure as parents, and I wouldn't trade that for the world, much less being able to sleep late and get the laundry done.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Being a Pilgrim People

The Christian faith seems rife with paradoxes.  We are to flee from evil yet love our enemies; it's not by works that we're saved yet our works point to our faith in Christ; we serve one God yet He is manifested in the three persons of the trinity.  The list goes on.  One of the most compelling paradoxes is the idea that believers are to be in the world but not of it.  We are to be pilgrims of sorts, on a journey toward something greater than the here and now.  We live in this world, yet it is not our home.  I'm actually often comforted by this fact.  I look around the world and see the pain and suffering and I long for something better.  The good news is that Jesus gives us hope for eternal life in which all suffering will vanish.

One thing that sets apart believers from nonbelievers is this hope of something yet to come.  We believe that the words of Revelation 21:4 will ring true when it says of Jesus, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  A day is coming when we will never again be downtrodden or depressed, persecuted or in pain.  Jesus will triumph over evil and will once and for all defeat Satan.

I love the Narnia series.  At the end of the last book C.S. Lewis captures the wonder and hope of eternal life when he writes,  "All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and that title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before."  I love to think that my life now is only the cover and title page and that the story itself is better than anything I can dream of now.

Every good thing that we experience on earth is merely a rehearsal for heaven.  A glimpse of what we will experience when we see Jesus face to face.  Sometimes I long for that day with every fiber of my being.   But until that day arrives we will be like pilgrims traveling the road of this life as we wait expectantly upon the Lord.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Washing of Feet

A couple of weeks ago at Sojourn we heard a sermon on John 13, the passage in which Jesus washes the disciples' feet.  This passage can be a tough one for us since the details are so culturally distant.  In America it's not a social custom for servants to wash the feet of dinner guests so the absence of such an act aren't missed.  Yet there is still so much for us to gain from this passage, and if we consider the implications of Jesus' actions we can learn a lot about the nature of God.

Obviously the act of washing someone else's feet is incredibly humbling.  To get a taste of this, last week in our community group we actually washed each other's feet.  I know that the cultural context is much different, but it was still a powerful lesson in humility.  Our feet were relatively clean, but in Jesus' everyone wore sandals and their feet would be covered in dirt, dust, and who knows what else.  Needless to say, those were some feet that truly needed washing.  The craziest part of our foot-washing experience was imagining that it was Jesus himself washing our feet.  We serve a God who kneels.  A God who serves.  A God who loves with an unconditional, unimaginable kind of love.  With his act of foot washing Jesus demonstrated a sacrificial love that asks for nothing in return.  I had never given much thought to the fact that Jesus washed Judas' feet mere hours before he would betray him.  If anyone didn't deserve to have their feet washed by God himself it was Judas, yet Jesus did it anyway.  And I know that the same is true for me.  I don't deserve to be made clean by Jesus.  I can't do enough good on my own to merit his love, but thankfully I don't have to.  I rejoice in the fact that I serve a God who comes to me and offers me everything even though I have nothing to give in return.  Talk about scandalous love!

In his sermon Kevin said that the greatest battle for the Christian isn't against sin but is to believe that God really loves him or her.  I'll admit that lately I've struggled with this myself.  Maybe it's because it's just so staggering to think that the God of the universe would really want to be personally involved in my life.  Maybe it's because when I'm honest with myself I know that I tend to run away from God in a lot of ways.  I know deep down that I'm unloveable because of the sin in my life, but the beauty of Jesus is that he loves the unloveable.  Titus 3:5-7 reminds me that, "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." 

I'm at a point in my life where I just need to soak in God's grace and continually remember that it's not because of anything I've done or will do that has earned me his love.  It has always been (and always will be) about what he's done for me.  He's washed my feet and made my clean not because I deserved it but because he is good.  Praise God! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Navigating New-Mommyhood

I got a lot of parenting advice while I was pregnant.  Advice is great...when solicited, but more often than not I had seasoned mothers piling on a bunch of things that I absolutely must do or my child would fail at life.  I'm learning that an important part of parenthood is learning to take advice with an added measure of grace.  I'm glad I had so many people who cared enough to try to prepare me for what was coming, but let's be honest, there's no way to be completely prepare to be a mommy for the first time.

The day we left the hospital with James was ever so slightly terrifying.  It's kind of a wonder that they let clueless people leave the hospital at all with teensy helpless babies.  We got home and I had this moment of panicked what now?  All my life I'd heard that your maternal instinct kicks in when you have a baby and you automatically know what to do.  Apparently my maternal instinct decided to take a raincheck, because I had (and still have) plenty of moments where I was holding a screaming infant without the slightest clue what the heck was wrong with him.  Perhaps the maternal instinct is something you acquire over time.

I can't believe how fast he's growing!
And then there's the breastfeeding.  I would like to personally punch in the face whoever said that breastfeeding comes naturally and the baby just magically knows what to do on his own.  I've had plenty of friends struggle with this aspect of caring for their baby, and the first three weeks were tough for me too.  All the lactation consultants told me, "If it hurts, something is wrong."  Well we worked at it for days and sometimes it just hurts even though you're doing everything you're supposed to.  I think it's one of those things that you have to give your body time to adjust to and toughen up for.  Things in the nursing department aren't smooth sailing for us yet, but we're certainly getting there.

He's cute even when he's angry.
The hardest part by far was dealing with the emotional tangle aptly called the "baby blues."  I'd been warned about this so I at least knew what I might be in for.  I assumed that since I had such a vast support network of family and friends the random bouts of crying might be kept at bay.  Boy was I wrong.  The emotional roller coaster you're on after having a baby isn't just about being sleep deprived and overwhelmed by this new responsibility, though that's certainly part of it.  For me it was a feeling of loneliness like I'd never experienced.  This is weird to me since most of the time I'm surrounded by other people.  It was especially rough there in the beginning, but over the last week things are settling out and I've been feeling more like my old self.

This is how we spend most of our time.
Becoming a new mommy has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  During my pregnancy I kept thinking that I wouldn't want a lot of people around when we brought James home and that we should bond as a family of three for those first few days.  After our first horrible, sleepless night at home however, I was singing a very different tune.  Since then we've had one of our moms stay with us every few nights to help out with him at night, and it's been a huge blessing.  I believe my initial issue was one of pride.  I don't like asking for help with things that I know I should be able to do.  Recovering from surgery showed me how much I help I really need and how blessed we are with family and friends willing to give it.

Lest you think my experience as a new mom has only been negative, think again!  It's amazing to me that God chose us to be James' parents, and I love every minute I spend with him.  It's so cool to see how he grows and changes each day, and we seriously spend hours just staring at him.  It's no wonder I don't get much done around the house.  I love the silly expressions he makes when he's falling asleep and the way he holds onto my finger so tightly.  I love that he's such a snuggly baby and wants to be held a lot.  I love how tiny he is, though I'm sure he's almost to 8 pounds by now!  I love watching his big eyes take in everything around him and know that he's learning so much already.  I can't wait to see the little person he grows into!  I'm ecstatic that I get to be his mommy and watch him grow everyday!  What better blessing could I ask for?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Waiting for James

It's still a bit surreal that our son James is finally here.  After patiently waiting for his arrival for 9 months we now have a baby to show for it.  Incredible.  I continue to be thankful that I had a pretty easy pregnancy, but I think it might have been due in part to the ease of the 9 months of waiting that I wasn't prepared for what turned out to be a rather difficult and scary delivery.

My official due date was December 21, but I ended up going into labor on the 15th.  I had been hoping that James would show up a bit early so we would be able to spend Christmas at home with our families.  My contractions weren't too bad at first so I decided to wait it out as long as possible at home.  I figured I could deal with contractions from the comfort of my own couch while watching "Community" with Patrick or I could go to the hospital and deal with them while hooked up to IVs and monitors.  When contractions were painful enough to elicit tears Patrick made the final call that it was time to head to Baptist East.  Suddenly it all felt so real and that was a bit overwhelming.  It occurred to me that we were leaving our house for the last time before becoming parents.  The next time we would cross our own threshold everything would be completely different.
Shortly after being checked into the hospital
The first few hours in the hospital were not too bad.  Contractions were rough of course, but once I got an epidural it was relatively smooth sailing.  We'd had this plan of Patrick finding fun shows for us to watch on the laptop while I was in labor, and since I'd planned all along to get an epidural we figured it would be a relatively relaxing time.  I had no idea how wrong we'd turn out to be.  The nurses were monitoring my contractions and James' heart rate, and they began to notice that with every contraction, his heart rate would drop, sometimes significantly.  For a period of several minutes his heart rate was in the 60's (it should be between 120-160.)  Contractions, though I couldn't feel them at this point, became truly scary moments where we would pray for James' heart rate to remain stable until they passed.  I couldn't relax at all, and then my doctor started talking about potentially needing to do a C-section.  This was news I was not at all prepared for.  My whole pregnancy had been a healthy one.  Not once did we have any indication that there would be any problems, so I hadn't mentally prepared myself for the possibility of having to have surgery.  To be honest, it was terrifying.

Shortly it became clear that a C-section was our only safe option for bringing James into the world since we couldn't be sure that he would recover if his heart rate dropped again.  I don't typically have issues with anxiety, but something about being prepped for surgery reduced me to panicky mess.  Patrick, on the other hand, was the epitome of having it all together.  He was by my side through the whole thing.  As soon as James was delivered I was able to relax a bit, in large part due to the anti-anxiety meds they gave me.  One of the hardest parts about having an emergency C-section was that I didn't get to see James or hold him right away.  In fact, it was necessary for the nurses to take him to the NICU for an hour to be on oxygen shortly after he was delivered.
Family of three
We were finally able to be reunited with James and it was incredible!  There really aren't words to describe what it feels like to hold your baby for the first time.  He was absolutely perfect and so tiny.  He weighed only 6 pounds, 7 ounces at birth.  I was so grateful that he was healthy, so even though I didn't get to follow my birth plan, it turned out to be a blessing.  After spending 5 days recovering in the hospital we were able to bring James home.  And just like I predicted, nothing has been the same since!