Photographs

Lately Harbor has been going around with different objects (a toy rolling pin ?) held up to his eye and pretending to take our photo. “Smile, Mommy!” click. “No Mommy, smile like this!” *makes ridiculous face* click. Click. Click.

I started thinking a little on the crazy side. Bear with me, I’m a little sleep deprived and have a rabidly wild imagination which mostly gets the best of me. I can’t do scary movies. I also rabbit trail. Anyway here it is:

What if he really developed all of these “photos”? (If you’re trying to remember “developed” and “photos” please stop reading this).

Would I be smiling? Fake smiling? Would I even be looking? Would there be (ouch this one hurts a little) a phone in between the lens and my face? I love to look at people in the backgrounds of photos– the ones who are obviously not the subject– who most likely didn’t know (poor them) a photo was being taken. You can really see what they’re feeling, thinking even, more than you can decipher anything beyond the person saying “cheese.” Well, they look offended; must be some party. He looks so annoyed. She looks tired but look how adoringly she’s smiling at him.

What if our kids had all of these snapshots of us, to save and scan through like an old photo album, years later? What was so important? Could they even tell?

I spend so much time trying to teach Harbor. It’s so physically and emotionally demanding. Trying to mold this tiny ever moving little person into a polite, caring, chivalrous young man. What do you say, bud? Please go to your room if you’re going to whine. Can you throw this away for Mommy? No, baby brother doesn’t want a bite. Sometimes I get that wickedly freeing realization (admit it, you think about this too) that he’s two years old and won’t remember this far back in his life and oh my gosh I COULD DO WHATEVER I WANT RIGHT NOW.

You know what? It’s true. My mom always says, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” (See, I retained that.) They’re not going to remember most of what you say (not just when they’re toddlers. Ask me how I know.). What they are going to remember is your face. The sincerity of your apology. The way you spoke to Daddy. The level of respect you showed to friends, to strangers. What you did with your free time. That’s the stuff that’s going to stick with them. That’s the stuff we all remember.

So be kind. Extend grace when they really don’t deserve it. And then extend grace again. And again. Our pastor likes to say that our perception of our earthly father (and I like to think this could apply a little bit to both parent figures) shapes the way we view our Heavenly Father. Oh, that I would live like that; parent like that.

Our kids will always be able to see the real us. They know when we’re pretending to be interested, or asking for behavior out of them that we don’t exude ourselves. Let’s be real– and not just to them. Show them with your actions that they mean the world to you. Put down the phone and build a Duplo car you’d be proud to drive. And for goodness sake, SMILE.

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Gâteau au Yaourt

Gentleness and patience.

Did you know that to inspire these fruits you must instill them in yourself first? I don’t know which is harder: gentleness, patience, or being gentle as you pray for patience. There aren’t many examples that I can think of where it was FUN to learn/teach these two practices at the same time, but this morning was definitely one of them.

We baked a cake.

Or should I say, Harbor baked a cake. I’ve been reading Bringing Up Bébé (about French parenting), and adapted the recipe from there. The French consider patience to be one of the highest values, and are careful to instill it in their children from birth (did you know most French babies sleep though the night between 2 and 4 months?). An activity that encourages and develops this skill is baking; they do it several times a week, usually with their child. Yeah, I could probably survive there.

This recipe begins with small containers of yogurt, then uses the empty containers to measure the other ingredients. Harbor is almost 16 months and absolutely loved this. I lean a little too far into obsessive-compulsive, please-don’t-spill-anything behavior so it was mostly a lesson for me. I said “gentle!” almost as many times as he said “mmm!” (he uses that word as a sort of hint-hint to get a taste of whatever he’s looking at). H adds and stirs everything himself. I crack the eggs and give it one last stir. There is flour everywhere, mostly on H. The cake goes in the oven, H goes down for a nap. It smells heavenly. We will wait (patiently) until later to eat it, but I have a good feeling. Crispy golden-brown on the outside and spongey on the inside, dotted with fat blueberries. Go ahead, try it!

“Gâteau au Yaourt” (Yogurt Cake)

[adapted from Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman]

2 six-ounce containers vanilla whole-milk yogurt (recipe says plain) Save containers.

2 eggs

1 container sugar (recipe says two)

1 teaspoon vanilla (I did not add, since yogurt was vanilla)

Just under 1 container coconut oil (recipe says vegetable oil)

4 containers flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

Grease bread loaf (or round cake) pan. Gently combine ingredients. Make sure to mix well and eliminate clumps, but don’t overmix. You can add 2 containers blueberries (we did), 1 container chocolate chips, or anything else you like. Bake for 35-45 minutes, based on clean knife-check. Original recipe says it is delicious served with Crème Fraîche (whipped cream) and tea.

Holes

We do not have a void that needs filling; we are the void. Jesus does not offer Himself as some sort of patch that will fill our hole, for we are the hole. Christ, in His omnipotence, did not come to complete us, He came to compel us– to recreate us into something completely new and changed and foreign. This doesn’t happen through a search or realization that He is what we’re missing, it is a repentance for what we are. He breaks, He reconciles, He becomes our void; and rises to welcome us, whole.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  – 1 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Disappointed With God: The Consequence of Context

I recently joined a ladies’ Bible study at my church. We’re going through Beth Moore’s “Believing God” video/workbook. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge follower of Moore, and joined the group mainly for the fellowship with so many sweet, god-seeking women from all stages of life. I hope this post doesn’t offend anyone; it’s just my way of working out what I hear and learn, and lining it up with the Truth.

Session One: Believing God for Your Promised Land. Hmm. I’ll get to that in a second. In this lesson, Moore paints a simple picture that beautifully illustrates the idea of living out your faith. The Promised Land here and now, her idea says, is where theology merges with reality– through our faith. In other words, faith is the string that ties the reality of our life to the truth of what we believe. I love that.

However, Moore walks a fine line as she details what she believes to be the opportunity we have during our Christian life to live in our own little “promised land.” She uses John 15 as the foundation for how we can abide in this land (Jesus speaks of being the True Vine, how we can abide in Him, and how the world we live in will hate us as it hated Him) and how this land is a place of victory, conquest, blessing.

So far so good? Sort of. God makes many wonderful promises in His Word to all of His children. He always keeps His promises, never lies, and always loves. He does want us to abide in Him and gain victory over our sin through His blood. But I think Moore can be a little heady when she outlines her theology-based reality in such a “name it claim it” way. The point that I had the hardest time with read like this: “Our promised land is a place of possession. In John 15 we are called to possess: Christ’s words, much affirmitively answered prayer, and the joy of Jesus. Our promised lands are places of God’s unapologetic blessing to the obedient.”

Affirmitively answered prayer? This promised land state of mind seems like quite the place to be. But it doesn’t sound very biblical.

Now before you trample me down and call me a skeptic, doubting Thomas, or whatever you so choose, hear me out. Please. Yes, I believe that God answers our prayers in miraculous, supernatural ways. He even says “yes” sometimes. I am daily overwhelmed by His goodness in my life, His mercy in dealing with me, and His sweet love as He listens to my needs. But I don’t believe, as Moore does, that by living and abiding in Christ’s love (our present-day promised land) we should expect Him to answer our petitions with a YES. We live in a sin-corroded world, where people get sick, hearts get broken, and peace is hard to find. Under Moore’s direction, we take that reality and expect that, through our faith and based on what we believe, God should grant us the things we pray for– affirmitively.

So what happens when we live in Moore’s picture of a promised land? I’ll tell you. We expect things we should not expect. We demand things we have no right to have. And our lives, built up high on the hope of affirmation, fester with disappointment. Not disappointment in ourselves, but disappointment with God. Under this false expectation that through our strong faith God will heal, and God will allow, and whatever else we fill in the blanks of our desires with, we focus too much on our reality and forget the quiet reminders of the rest of our theology.

You see, God does make promises in His Word (our theology), and He does work through our faith to intervene in our sometimes harsh realities. But sometimes instead of fixing our realities, He strengthens that thin cord of our faith by letting us fall upon His promises– not promises of questions answered, but promises of grace to reassure us when we lose, compassion to comfort us when they die, and justice to teach us when we sin. Small promises.

Promises that kept Job unwavering in his trust in his Father when everything he had was ripped away from him. Promises that turned confusion and anger into forgiveness and reconciliation when beloved husbands and fathers were speared to death by the tribe they were trying to reach with the gospel. Promises that get us out of bed in the morning when everything isn’t victory, and blessing, and yes.

Instead of focusing on our prayers being answered in the way that we want them to be, why can’t we focus on the way our hearts are changed when God does something different than what we were hoping for; different than what we were expecting? Instead of praying for provision, I should be asking for a deeper dependence on Him in my need. Instead of praying for healing, I should be asking for more trust in His plan and more thankfulness for the time that we had. For when He wounds, He also binds up; when He shatters, He also heals (Job 5:18). If we truly know His character, as outlined in His Love Letter to us, we would never be disappointed in the way that He chooses to work. My deepest desire is not to have more confidence in my prayers being affirmitively answered, but that I would have more confidence in the always good character of my God, who heals our hearts. He moves in mysterious ways, and oh how I love a good mystery.

 

 

Note: I am in no way suggesting that prayer is unnecessary, irrelevant, or a waste of time. It is powerful, and even commanded in the Bible that we do so. But prayer is an expression of our dependence on God, and should not be used or thought of as a sort of guarantee. It is no one’s spiritual gift, and everyone’s spiritual promise: draw near to Him and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Someone may be called a “prayer warrior” (I know a few of these beautiful souls and am so thankful for their intercession), but that does not mean God hears them any louder than He hears another, or answers them more often and with more of what they pray for. He loves when we pray, like a father loves to hear his child’s heart. But we must do so reverently, biblically, and humbly.

Battles, bright sides, & a baby boy

image“Choose your battles.”

My parents used to say this to me a lot when I was younger & more headstrong (read: more). Take a moment to step back and think about what you’re getting worked up over. As I try to keep this in the front of my mind on a daily basis, I realize more & more that choosing your battles doesn’t just mean battles with other people, but the battles within yourself. This is perhaps my greatest struggle– the one I fight every day in my own mind.

How can I choose what I think about? I can’t. I can’t stop the inflow of thoughts that bring me down– whispers of discontentment, hints of “what if”, & the ever constant drip of depression. Our brains weren’t meant to fight off, only to open wide. Our mind, however, was made to fight. Armored by the Spirit, it was created to choose. I have the control to allow what I think about to continue down a path that leads to death; or I can transform my mind into a filter that turns self-focused darkness into thankfulness, depression into realization, & regret into joy.

My most recent struggle of intentionally choosing how I let my thoughts control me has been through the birth of my son & my subsequent (& ongoing) recovery.

This is going to be a long post.

I think I’ll just start at the beginning– in the early hours of August 24th– the day Harbor was born. We arrived at the hospital at around 2:00 AM, & I was immediately admitted “for observation.” I remember thinking that this had BETTER be the real thing because I sure as heck wasn’t going to sit around for nothing, & I was so ready to meet our baby. And it was the 24th! An even number. How perfect. Yes, really.

My contractions (at home) had been 5-7 minutes apart for almost two hours, & continued to progress while I was in the delivery room. The doctor would be in around 6:00, they said, so we took the time to rest & walk. Drew slept on the couch (yes, I find that necessary to record). Somewhere between 4:00 & 5:00 my water broke with a bang. Not really. I mean it really surprised me, I don’t know why, considering it happens in almost 100% of natural births. Anyway, the nurse called the doctor, & she came in to check my progress. Everything was progressing normally, but the baby was getting a little sluggish in his response to the contractions, so they encouraged me to allow them to give me IV fluids. To back up a little: prior to my delivery, I had written a full and detailed Birth Plan listing my preferences and desires for the delivery process and afterward. I’ll spare you the details, but I basically wanted (& very much expected) a birth that was as natural as possible. No unnecessary added “help” from modern medicine & technology, no drugs, no persuading me to change my mind. Please & thank you. I’m healthy, right? I’ve had a completely uneventful pregnancy, with zero complications. My doctor calls me “textbook” at every appointment. Surely this will all go as planned.

I wasn’t very happy with the fact that they were even asking me to take an IV. I think I even told the nurse no, & the doctor had to persuade me. Another hour, stronger labor, no change. They gave me an oxygen mask to try to deepen my breathing & supplement the baby’s airflow. Things were starting to quickly go downhill, & I was starting to give up on my strong convictions of an all natural birth. Up to this point, I had the fetal monitors strapped to my belly the entire time, & I had repeatedly asked to have them taken off. “Stay mobile!” women had told me, “Don’t let them keep you in bed with IV’s & monitors– it will slow you down!” Spoiler warning: every delivery is unique in its own way & cannot be boxed into a certain mold, no matter what your desires may be. Don’t let people form your expectations for you; but that’s a lesson for another day.

At this point, my doctor had not left my room for several hours, & had spent most of the time frowning at the fetal monitor screen. She was not happy. She began to suggest to me that something may be wrong, the baby’s heartbeat was very slow & he was responding less & less to my contractions & their added help, & that other means may be necessary. Other birthing means. Means that I never even allowed into my mind because it was so unthinkable that I would ever need it: delivery by Cesarian-section. “I’m going to let you try one more thing,” she said. They supplemented the baby’s fluids directly, a virtually painless but pretty uncomfortable procedure of which I will spare you the details. I had reached (and been stuck at) the very last stage of labor, & my body was no longer able to resist the urge to push, as they were directing me not to do. All I remember was the doctor leaning down right next to my face & saying that they had to get the baby out. Now.

Everything was a blur from then on. My last thoughts before my mind gave way to complete panic were thoughts of disbelief. It’s that feeling you get when you don’t prepare yourself for something, but it’s always in the back of your mind. The part of your mind that you don’t pay attention to because it’s just a waste of time because it’ll never actually happen. My bed was flying down the hall. We were in an elevator. Between contractions I was sobbing for Drew, who was changing into scrubs & wasn’t allowed in the OR until later. Everyone had tense looks on their faces, pretending not to rush, but still giving the operating room a sense of chaos. Drew was finally next to me. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t hear anything. No crying for so long, just shuffling nurses; finally a tiny wail which elicited sobs from both Drew and me. Drew brought me the baby (I was pretty jealous), & we were amazed at his HAIR. Of course it’s a boy, we said! You 98% were correct with your gender guesses.

We couldn’t hold him for long, though, & soon I was in a recovery room & he was with his doctors. His umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck three times, which was why labor had stopped at the last stage, why his vital signs had plummeted, and why he was born with anemia due to all the blood/fluid loss during the 13 hour labor process. When I finally held him again, every mother’s nightmare became our reality. My sweet sleeping baby felt so light in my arms; I lifted him up & his whole body was completely limp, icy white, with purple lips. He wasn’t breathing. I was silent with fear as someone ran to get a nurse, & I rubbed his back as hard as I could. He let out a little gasp, & then nothing. The nurse came, & took him away, & he was revived. He stayed under constant monitoring in the nursery from then on, where he stopped breathing once more under their watch, & was decorated with IV’s & sticky monitors for days. But my son is a fighter, & my God is faithful.

We both stayed in the hospital for five days. It was the longest five days of my life, learning how to walk again, hallucinating from the narcotics, & watching Harbor’s daily recovery. It was when we finally came home that our new life seemed to start. Our bed became more than just a bed, & I moved from there to the couch, then later was able to sit at the table to eat, and now I’m sitting here writing this. Every day seems like I’m still the same as yesterday, but every week I see my progress from the week before. And God is still faithful.

But the bright new world with our new baby boy also has its dark corners, where my thoughts become shadows that cloud my mind. This is my battle that I have to fight; my challenge to remember what is true. You see, our God is not a Being in the sky who simply created us & our world & then stood back to let us live. He is a God of specificity, a God of details, & a God of absolute sovereignty. Yes, we have free will, & there are consequences for sin as well as unpleasant results of living in a fallen world, but CHRIST is our Hope: our great intervention Who reconciled us to God’s care, love, & protection. But we are not promised to be protected from everything, & we cannot expect to have our desires always granted. As sinful creatures by nature, we aren’t always capable of deciphering whether our desires are Spirit-given, or whether they are selfish (see James 4 for a better perspective on name-it-claim-it). A lot of people prayed that I wouldn’t have complications. That everything would go smoothly & naturally. That I wouldn’t have to have a C-section. I prayed for these things. But God’s ways are almost never our ways, & His thoughts are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8). Our thoughts must mold themselves to His thoughts in order for us to accept His ways. And this is what I pray for now.

-I made it through almost an entire labor with no drugs or epidural, and it ended up as a waste because he wasn’t born naturally; but he was born, & if he came naturally it could’ve had critical results because of the strain of the cord around his neck.

-Our son was born with anemia because of this strain, & will take iron & vitamin supplement drops for up to 9 months– maybe it was my fault as well, for not eating well enough during my pregnancy; but he is healthy nonetheless, & we live in a country where these supplements are available for those who need them.

-I have been & will continue to be unable to do very much with my baby while my body heals, & must depend on the help of other people; but I have a baby to hold, & I have sweet family members all around me to do what I can’t.

-All my life I’ve wanted to have a big family, with several kids, & now my chances of that being a feasible goal have slimmed; but I have one beautiful son, & a determination to fight for what may be more challenging.

I think everyone can relate to this kind of mental battle. How do I know? Because bad things happen to everyone, & no one is above defeat. But what we are capable of doing is choosing the battles we fight– for we must fight– and filling our minds with what we know is true about ourselves and our Savior: our Victory. He promises for those of us who love Him & are called by Him, that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). Not for our plans, or desires, or even what we think is our good, but for what He in his omnipotence knows is the best for our growth. Sometimes it hurts, often we resist it, but always it is beautiful.

So are there going to be days when it won’t be easy to see the bright side, & when I will feel defeated by the darkness that whispers into my mind? Yeah, there will be. There will be a lot of those days. We all fall, but He lifts us up with His mighty hand & reminds us that His way is perfect. All we have to do is choose to listen.