Longing for Home

Eighteen years ago, Christmas was sad. My parents were separated at the time, and I will never forget meeting my dad in a mall food court to give him a present. For various reasons, I was the only family member to see dad that year. I was living in Springfield after college and working in the Assemblies of God youth department, and I considered not going home at all. Even though it was hard, I really wanted to see my dad and let him know I loved him. So I remember bringing him York peppermint patties and a few of his favorite things. I don’t remember much else about that trip home, but by the grace of God, my parents were back together for the next Christmas.

Thirteen years ago, Matt and I were engaged on December 10, 2005. We were only engaged for a few months, so it was a busy and exciting and joyful time in our families.

Six years ago, I had a one month old at Christmas. It was such a gift to nurse and care for an infant while celebrating the birth of Christ as an infant.

Holidays are full of family memories, some wonderful and some heartbreaking. The Christmas season in particular holds so many loved traditions that it is an exhilarating few weeks for some people. It is also a devastating time for others who are reminded yearly of painful events or the loss of someone who will never be here again to make new Christmas memories.

The birth of our Savior was the beginning of a promise fulfilled, of God’s promise to make a way of salvation for His people. It is the beginning of hope realized. The Israelites who watched for their coming King were about to meet Him in a way they never imagined.

You may enter this holiday season with hope realized. You hold a baby in your arms or your belly, you are celebrating new love, a new job, or some good news for which you waited. God is good and He gives good gifts to His children. Rejoice and praise Him for His beautiful gifts.

You may enter this holiday season barely hanging on to hope. Life looks nothing like you expected right now, and it is really hard to see how it could ever be good again. You may feel a huge hole in your heart and the thought of celebrating Christmas without a loved one makes you want to crawl in bed and get up on January 1.

Sweet friend, no matter where you are today, the hope of Christmas is for you. The hope of Christmas is not that Jesus will make life on this earth perfect. The hope of Christmas is that we get Jesus. He is the gift, and He is everything. Hold on to Him, cling to Him when the days are dark and the way forward is unclear. Hold on to Him when joy is abundant and life is full. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17 ESV)

When life is hard, Jesus is the gift, the hope to which we cling in this life and the hope of a life to come where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow.

“Here Comes Heaven” Elevation Worship

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cjdEBdNfCd4

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The Secret to Leaving My Kids

*Photo credit: Shane Long Photography

It was approximately 9 days after we became parents that we left our baby for a couple of hours to celebrate our anniversary with dinner out. We have never hesitated to leave our babies with friends or family for an evening or a few days (if anyone wants to take them longer…let’s talk later). Our firstborn was colicky, and we were happy for any chance to get a break from the crying. We were used to quite a bit of travel before we had kids, so it was an adjustment to not be able to enjoy those trips as frequently or easily as we once did.

This summer, our oldest two kids each spent a few days on their own visiting my parents. I told my mom that once school got started, we would work out a time for Evangeline to stay with them as well. I made the very familiar drive toward my parent’s home, and we met halfway. 5 year old Jack was with us. It was a little different to send Evie off for a weekend. She is my little sidekick. Now that the kids are in school, she’s my buddy at home. By the time you have three kids, the offers to take them all for, well, anything are rare, so I am pretty used to having this one around. I wasn’t worried about missing her, though. I felt that nagging anxiety of watching my child ride away down the interstate and knowing that for the next few days, I could not do a thing to keep her safe or protect her throughout her day. I completely trust my parents with that job, but it doesn’t prevent scenarios from running through my mind of accidents that could happen or situations out of their control.

As the anxiety rose, my mind kicked in to remind me of the only thing that gets me through each day as a parent: I can’t protect Evangeline from everything that could possibly harm her even if she is right next to me. The One who can protect Evangeline from any and everything that threatens to harm her was going with her. He was beside her in the car, and He watches over her life far better than I can. He sees all, He knows all, and I can rest in the confidence that she belongs to Him, anyway. He sees her at all times, when I do and when I don’t.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” Psalms‬ ‭139:1-2‬ ‭ESV

We picked up Evangeline yesterday. She was thrilled to see us. She is currently fond of saying, “I like you, Mom.” I was so happy to hear that sweet voice. I am so grateful that, while she was gone, I had a half day to myself which I enjoyed immensely because I chose not to worry about my baby and trust God to take care of her.

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A Special Place in My Heart

“So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭1:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Yesterday I was talking about a good friend of mine, and the other person said, “That’s wonderful. It is so hard to find a good friend.” I was taken aback by her statement. I honestly have not found this to be true for me. God has overwhelmingly blessed me time and time again with amazing friends. My high school crew from church was rock solid. I still have so much love in my heart for my college roommates from 20 years ago. I worked with some amazing people in Springfield who still hold such a special place in my heart. My first few years in Waverly were hard because I held back. Once I jumped in, I was just floored that so many deep, spiritual, Jesus-loving people were all at this amazing church I was blessed to serve. I have met lifelong friends here, friends who have walked with me for 10-15 years now (much longer than I told God I wanted to live here).

This summer, I feel like God has been giving me songs to soak in. This week’s song is “Defender.” A couple of days ago, I opened my email to see the name of one of the best people I know. She just wanted to share this song with me. Yep, the same song I was already living in. How awesome is God, that from 8 hours away, He puts this song into the heart of my soul sister, and she sends me a message reminding me that God is with me and fighting for me when I feel weak.

This stage of life for over 8 years, staying home with kids, has looked so much different than I ever expected. So much harder, so lonely and isolating. I didn’t realize that, as a pastor on staff at a wonderful church, I was sure used to a lot of encouragement, support, a lot of validation in my ministry and the work to which I had committed myself. I had no idea how stepping away from that into full-time raising kids for a few years would test my faith and foundation more than I had thought possible. At the same time, when I feel woefully inadequate for some of the challenges God has placed before me, I have been gifted some amazing friends to cry, pray, hug, and carry me when I couldn’t walk on my own.

Jesus, You are so good to me, far better than I deserve. I sometimes feel guilty for the abundance of lifelong friends you have placed in my life. Thank You for knowing that life is hard, harder than we expect many times, and we need to lift each other up and allow ourselves to be lifted as well. Thank You for the reminders this week that I am not alone, You have not forgotten me here. Praise Your beautiful Name.

If you are looking for a good friend, send me an email. I don’t have all the answers, but I know the One who does.

I’m sharing this version that I listen to whenever I can. The second song in the medley is another one I have soaked in the past month or so.

Defender + Do It Again

The Finger

The doctor said “fracture,” but I thought, “It’s just a finger. It won’t be a big deal.”

For a week, I have been wearing a splint and bandages on the middle finger on my right (non-dominant) hand due to an unfortunate accident early last week. It turns out that it is a bigger deal than I expected it to be. I have discovered a number of things that become a lot harder with a broken finger:

  • Changing a 14 month old’s clothes
  • Changing a 14 month old’s diaper
  • Hand washing dishes
  • Packaging 40 pounds of chicken for the freezer
  • Tying shoes
  • Playing piano 🙂

I am allowed to take the splint and bandages off to shower, and now it feels weird to have my finger exposed. It is a pain to wear the splint, it limits and impairs what I can do, but it protects my damaged finger until it heals. When the splint is off, I am nervous that I will accidentally do something to hurt it again…or that one of the kids will. 😉

The past year has been very hard. This broken finger is such a great metaphor for my life right now. I am reeling a bit from this hard year, and I am not sure if I should take off the splint yet. I have wonderful friends, and I am so thankful for their friendship and listening ears through these hard months. I am slowly moving forward, but I feel like life this year and even the past few years has changed me a lot, and I am trying to figure out who I am now.

I am thankful that the God who made me knows me better than I know myself. Romans 8:24-25 says, “…Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

I am hanging on to hope. Some days I would prefer to let go. But I keep hanging on. Are you hanging on, too? Let’s hang together. There is something on the other side of this struggle that will be worth the pain. I long for the day it is revealed.

Six.

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Isabella is six years old today. I like numbers, so…she is 1/3 of the way to adulthood. She is entering the middle third of her time in our home. (Yes, she will be out the door at 18. 😉 Unless she decides to graduate early like her mommy, and then she will mess up all my math. Which sounds just like something she would do.

The past few weeks and months on Facebook, my “On This Day” page has featured many status updates that show increasing excitement about meeting our little girl. Every thing was meticulously prepared, all the details were considered. And then she showed up.

From the moment Isabella entered this world at 11:17 p.m. on March 14, 2010, she rocked our world like we had not anticipated. I clearly remember the first time I left her with my mom. Matt and I went to dinner for our anniversary when was about two weeks old. As we drove away from our house, I cried. I cried and told my husband, “I want to drive away and never go back. Please don’t make me go back.” Yes, postpartum emotions are nuts, but I could tell that she was more than I had bargained for when I entered into motherhood.

Six years later…Isabella is so much more than I anticipated in my pregnant, pre-mommy days. She is more intense, more strong-willed, more challenging, more creative, more sassy, smarter, funnier and cuter than I ever knew a little girl could be. Truth be told…I have asked God why He chose to give her to me. Many times. She is very different from me and I don’t understand her in many ways. God has shown me some of the reasons why He picked me, and recently I felt like He revealed one.

Isabella is challenging in many ways, and it is a lot of work to figure her out. She doesn’t like to talk about her feelings or delve below the surface very much. I spend a lot of time praying for God to reveal things to me because I desperately need His help to know how to mother this one. God reminded me that I am not afraid to ask for help. I love to read, and when a problem or a new challenge presents itself, I look for every resource I can get in my hands to educate myself and to determine a course of action to solving that problem or facing that challenge. If you came to my home tonight, you would find shelves full of books, and many were purchased in the search for help and answers to a perplexing or even devastating situation.

There are a lot of books about parenting, and quite a few books about discipline and about parenting strong-willed children. But none of those books has given me a magic key that unlocked a secret to figuring out Isabella. Not one. So I’m still looking and praying and asking for help. And God knew that I would not give up on Isabella, that I would persevere no matter how hard it is and how little progress I can see. My faith is not in what I can see. It is in the God of all creation who created Isabella and knows everything about her. I believe He created her with a great purpose because she has a tenacity that truly amazes me. It is no accident that He created her this way, but it does make it incredibly challenging to mold and shape that personality to understand respect and obedience while still retaining this major part of who she is.

Did I say it’s challenging? Without Jesus, it is fully impossible. Once again, I’ll share my favorite verses because they apply here:

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)

I value my own comfort far too highly. God gave me a child who does not allow me to be comfortable very often. And I thank Him for the gift of Isabella, the child who forces me to get on my knees, get in God’s face, and beg for help every day.

I wish I could see 10, 20, 30 years from now to know what this diamond in the rough will turn out to be. I will keep hanging on and trusting God to do His work in her and in me.

Happy 6th birthday, Isabella. You are an amazing child. You are only 6 and are a great force to be reckoned with. I pray every day that you will use that force for the glory of God so that others will know Him. I have no doubt you will change the world, Bella.

Truth

I have post-partum depression. 

I have not written a blog in 157 days, and I certainly did not want these to be my first words back. But this is real life.

I have not recovered from post-partum depression yet. I am not on the other side of it. I am in the nasty, messy middle of it. When life gets really, really hard, one of my ways of dealing is to shut down all non-essential communication and go to those closest to me. Unfortunately, when you have three small children (one a nursing baby), the amount of time you have to discuss your feelings is almost non-existent. I have tried, I have been aware of my need to get some support and take care of myself. However, I finally admitted that I am not doing that well enough.

I have a plan to take care of myself now. I did not want to write this because I prefer to be the one who takes care of others. I strongly dislike the idea of writing this and others seeing it as a plea for attention. That is not the goal here. I write this for two reasons:

1. I know a lot of women have post-partum depression or have had it in the past. And even more will have it in the future. Can we say it without being afraid of it? When I was pregnant with Evangeline, I was kind of dreading the post-partum period and pretty worried that I might experience this. (I did have some issues after Isabella was born, but it was much easier to find a way to take care of myself and minimize its effects with one child than it has been with three children in my care.) 

I want to be honest in a public way mostly  to open that door for you to be honest as well. I have been honest with some people I love and I know they love me. Please, if you are struggling alone, invite someone in as soon as possible.

2. I would far prefer to wait a few months and then say, “Hi! Guess what? I had post-partum depression, and it was terrible and I felt awful. Now I’m all better! Woohoo!”

That will be a great thing to be able to say, but for some reason I feel that I am supposed to write this instead. ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭34:18-19‬ ‭says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (ESV)

I trust God to deliver me in whatever way He chooses. He allowed this into my life, and I will walk through it until He delivers me. If you are in the middle of an overwhelming obstacle, I leave you with my favorite verses in all of the Bible:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬

Evangeline’s Birth Story

 
Evangeline is here, and our world has changed again. For those of you who like birth stories, here is the story of her arrival.

My contractions started about 3 a.m. on Monday 08/03. They were an average of 6-7 minutes apart for a few hours. It was definitely early labor (they were not really painful or terribly close together), but I was nervous that this one would go quickly since my second baby Jack was born 4 hours from the first contraction. I was too excited to sleep, so I packed a few more things and ate a small breakfast. I finally decided around 6:30 to take a shower. I could easily handle the contractions still at this point, but the thought of hanging out at home with the kids waiting for things to progress did not appeal to me at all, so I figured we would make our way to the hospital and see where I was by the time we arrived there. I woke up Matt and asked him to call his dad and get ready to go, but I said we should have time so that he didn’t need to rush around. 
At about 8, my father-in-law arrived to be there when the kids got up, and we drove to the hospital (about 30 minutes away). Matt stopped and grabbed breakfast, I ate a few crackers, and we were still waiting for labor to kick into high gear.

I checked into the hospital and was taken to triage in the labor and delivery area. The nurse who checked me in said I was 2 cm. She monitored me and the baby for a while, but all I wanted to do was walk around and see if we could get labor moving. She finally had me walk around for about 30-45 minutes. She checked me again, and after being there for 2 hours, I was still 2 cm. She sent me home since I planned to go unmedicated and didn’t want any help with induction. 

We decided not to drive home but to the mall which is closer and walk around there for a little while. As soon as we arrived at 11 a.m., contractions were now 2-3 minutes apart and stayed that way for an hour. It was nearing lunchtime, so Matt got a sandwich and sat down to eat for a few minutes. I ate a bag of baked chips and kept walking. I called my mom, and she thought that walking or shopping would be a good idea to kill some time and keep moving. After I hung up with her, the contractions intensified and I had a couple that stopped me in my tracks. We were going to walk more at Target, but as we drove there, I had a few big contractions and felt we should go back to the hospital. We walked there for about 15 min before checking in at 1 pm. By the time we checked back in, the contractions were pretty intense and I couldn’t walk or talk through them anymore.

When I checked in with the same nurse, I was at 4 cm and they admitted me. The nurse knew I wanted to labor in the water, so she filled the tub and I got in to labor. When I got in the water during Jack’s labor, it really relieved pressure and helped with the pain. This time, I did not feel like it helped as much. I just kept remembering something I read about not tensing up during contractions, so I concentrated on dropping my jaw to remain loose and breathing through them. I was in the tub for about an hour, and the nurse returned. She said that she would like to check me if I felt things were moving along because the midwife was at least 20 minutes away. I said that, in that case, she had better check me now. I was 9 cm (from 4 to 9 in 1.5 hours). She said, “You were right, that did go fast!” At that point, I labored on the birthing ball to 10 cm and waiting for the midwife. I concentrated on breathing and not thinking about how much time was passing or whether or not the midwife was getting close.

When she arrived, I was ready and moved to the bed to push. I always wonder in the moments of transition and pushing what I was thinking going unmedicated. I have never pushed more than 15 minutes with any of my babies, and I think the pain of pushing while experiencing the pain of a contraction is motivating enough for me to hurry up and get this done. The midwife said I was a rock star at pushing, which I will take as a compliment even though I don’t intend to improve on those skills in the future. 

It was over quickly in the grand scheme of things, and Evangeline arrived at 3:03 p.m., two hours after we arrived back at the hospital. I had in mind that I would love for her to be born on the 4th because Isabella’s birthday is the 14th and Jack’s is the 24th, and I just like numbers that match up. However, she showed up at 3:03 on the 3rd and she is our third baby, so I was very happy with those numbers. 

Evangeline was 7 pounds, 6.5 ounces, just about 8 ounces smaller than her brother and almost a pound and a half bigger than Isabella at birth. She still seemed so tiny! I forgot how small they start out. 

Since I am 37 years old, the midwife had said it would be best for me to deliver by my due date, which was August 8, but I could choose not to be induced if I didn’t want to be. I did not like my experience of being induced with Isabella (due to pre-eclampsia), so I said I would rather wait. I am very thankful she came in her own time and, once again, I didn’t have to deal with any medication other than ibuprofen afterwards. 🙂 

Matt was great for the entire labor experience. He did everything I asked, which is all I wanted since you can’t exactly plan ahead how it will go or what you will want or need in the moment. He went with the flow and was very supportive when I needed it. I am so glad to have had the incredible experience of sharing the birth of our three children with my husband by my side every step of the way. I don’t take it for granted that God has greatly blessed us with these three babies. The newborn and postpartum days have so many challenges of their own, but this third time around brings a perspective that it will all soon be a memory. We figured out how to adjust to two kids, and we will make this transition eventually as well. I am doing my best to drink in the sweet moments and survive the hard ones, knowing that children are a blessing from the Lord and the challenges remind me to fix my eyes on Him for the strength I need in each moment.

We love you, sweet Evangeline Grace!