There are a few quotes that really struck me in the last couple of weeks. Maybe you have heard them, or others similar, before and maybe they’re new to you. Maybe the knowledge that we are embarking on another adventure as we enter the third trimester with our third son is evoking different emotions in me. I’m not sure.
“The grass is greener where you water it.”
“The miracle aint the life you missed. It’s the life you got.” (The Shunning)
Sometimes we get so caught up in looking behind us. We start to think about choices we have made that we wish we could do over…do differently. In The Shunning, an Amish girl, Katie, learns that she was born “English,” not Amish. She starts to question “who am I?” She begins to wonder if there was a life that she was meant to live outside of the one she had. It isn’t that she doesn’t love her parents who raised her…but she begins to feel confused…deceived. I believe we all feel that way at some point.
“How might my life have been different if…” Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had my parents not divorced. I wonder if things would have ever improved between them. i wonder if it could have worked. Or would they have been miserable? I wonder if they had stayed together how much less complicated things might have been for my brother and me as we grew up. We could go a step further. I’m not sure my parents ever should have gotten married in the first place. They were young and immature. I don’t think they were ready and I don’t think they would disagree with me. Now, of course, had they never gotten married I wouldn’t exist. But I wonder how their lives might have been different had they not been married. I wonder how much heartache they could have missed.
And what about choices I have made? What if I had just never dated in high school. How might things be different now? What heartache I could have avoided! What drama I could have lived without! Who would I be? What if I had chosen to go to a different college or waited until I had more money to pay for it? What if I had gone into the military instead? What life might I have lived?
Sometimes we can take so many of the decisions we have made and turn them into a “good” vs “bad” decision instead of two comparable options and we had to make a choice. For example, I don’t think it really would have been a “bad” decision had I gone to UW-Eau Claire or UW-Green Bay instead of going to UW-Stevens Point. All of those schools offered my major and so each would have been a good option. But I had to make a choice, live with it, and water it.
We often sit and think of how much better our lives might be if we had x, y, or z. Maybe if we had a different job life would be better. Maybe I would be happier if I lived in a different city, state, country…(guilty of this one…a lot). I’m sure life would be better if I was married to him/her instead. This kind of thinking is dangerous. “The grass is greener where you water it.” Your job can be a great job if you want it to be. Your marriage can be a great marriage if you work on it. Your home can be a home you love if you invest your heart into it. We can get so caught up believing that the “seaweed is…greener in somebody else’s lake” but in reality, it could be greener in our own if we would just take care of and nurture it. We can lose so much joy in our discontentment with our circumstances.
I am guilty of this so often…especially when it comes to living far from my family. I miss them. I always feel like I’d be happier if I lived back home…closer to my roots in Wisconsin. But my grass can be greener here if I would just water it. So I’ve been watering it. I’ve been doing what I can to invest in relationships, my church, our home…trying to think more long-term instead of “I hope this isn’t permanent.” And it helps. My grass has fewer dry patches. My life feels more full. My joy is more complete because I’ve lessened my time looking over the fence at other yards and allowed room for contentment.
What about the life I want to have? Who will I be in ten years? Well, hopefully I will be the mother of three amazing boys ages 14, 11, and 9. Hopefully these amazing boys will be doing well in school, staying out of trouble, actively involved in our church and community, and loving God and others. Hopefully Josh and I will have jobs we love and a home we have made our own. Hopefully. It is good to hope. It is good to have goals. It is good to work toward those goals. It can be good to think about the future.
But what about when that turns into worry? What if I spend so much of my time and energy trying to force my future to look a certain way that I ruin my present? What if I spend so much time trying to shape every little detail about my children’s lives that I don’t allow them to find out who they are…that I leave them asking all kinds of questions like “who am I?” or “what if…?” I can’t be content in my present if I am so worked up worrying about my future. Instead of finding the miracle in the life I have, I will be forcing a life I want and losing the miracle all together.
Again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with trying to make plans for the future. But we can get derailed in the details. We can get so stuck in our plans that we don’t know how to respond when we are thrown a curve-ball.
In the End
Let’s face it. I can’t change my past. I can’t go back and make my parents stay together. I can’t go back and choose to focus more of my attention and time on school, work, and friends instead of boys. I can’t go back and see what my life would look like if I had gone to a different school. There is no way of knowing what might have been. But I can say with confidence that, even had I made those choices, I would still have the opportunity to ask, “what if…?” I can also say with certainty that I can learn from my choices. I can learn from my mistakes. What if I had been more positive about this move to CA from the beginning? Or I can pass it off to someone else and ask, “what if I had more support when we moved here instead of being so isolated?” Either way…the way I responded was my choice. Now I get to learn from it.
In the end, I am thankful with the life I have. I know that divorce is far less than ideal. But I am thankful for the amazing family I have gained through the divorces. I would not be who I am today without the influences of all of those people in my life. Good things can come from less than perfect circumstances…especially when you put them in God’s hands. I am thankful for my experiences at UWSP and believe that the people I met there were central to my growing up into an adult. I am thankful that we had Emery even though the timing was less than ideal. I wouldn’t give him up for anything in the world…
And, in the end, that’s what is boils down to. Would I be willing to give up everything I have now to be given an opportunity to change the circumstances in my life as a child, teen, or young adult? Would I be willing to risk everything that I love about my life now? Am I willing to say that my life would absolutely, for certain, without any doubt or reservation be better had x, y, or z been different? NO WAY! I am thankful for my life. I am thankful for my kids. I’m thankful for my husband. I am thankful for my home and know, whether permanent or temporary, that living in CA is going to shape me in ways that I could never know! I am going to continue to water my own grass instead of worrying about how much greener everyone else’s is. Besides…their grass may not even be real. It might be spray painted green so everyone else believes it is alive. I’m going to embrace the miracle of the life that I live instead of wondering about the life I might have had.
It was just getting dark outside. I was sitting on the porch with my friend, Amber, and our two guy-friends, Mike and Danny, when I heard the phone ring inside. I joked and said, “I bet it’s my dad calling to say goodnight.” Moments later Cheryl came to the screen door and said, “Kristin, it’s your dad.” I laughed, “What’d I tell ya?” as I walked into the house to get the phone. ”Hi, dad.” The conversation that ensued changed my life forever.
“How are you?”
“Fine.” I said, worrying that I was about to get in trouble for something…
“Good. So…do you remember Keith *____?”
“Uh…yeah?” I responded. Of course I remembered Keith! I grew up right next door to him and his family until they divorced. Of course I knew who he was. What the heck is this about???
“Well…there was an accident today…on his motorcycle.”
“Oh my gosh! Is he OK?” I was so worried about him! Stephanie adored her father and I knew she would be crushed if something was to happen to him.
“Well…he is in the hospital and it isn’t looking too good…”
“Oh no! How is Stephanie?”
“Well…that’s the thing, honey. I’m so sorry. She didn’t make it.”
I felt the room spinning and the ground suddenly was no longer under my feet. I was certain that I didn’t hear him right. He had to be kidding. My dad was such a joker…all the time. But this? Would he really joke about this?
“Dad! This isn’t funny! This isn’t a funny joke! You have to be kidding!” I said through my tears…barely able to breathe.
“I’m sorry. I’m not. Do you need to come home?”
I couldn’t contain myself and collapsed on the couch in Amber’s front room as I uncontrollably burst into tears. A million things were going through my mind…but mostly that this just could not be real. There had to be some mistake. She was a beautiful, smart, talented 13 year old girl. This just doesn’t happen to 13-year old girls with bright futures! This could not be real. I knew that we would continue to create memories. I would arrive at school on Monday and this would all be a big mistake. Some big misunderstanding. We would walk down to Ben Franklin with our change and buy candy during the summers for the rest of our lives. We would make spiral macaroni and spaghetti o’s for lunches for our families someday and laugh over memories of tornado warnings, playing school in her garage, and trying to get transparencies to work with a flashlight. We would laugh over the memories of dancing on the bed and pretending to be the Spice Girls. Our memories were not over. This was not over.
Cheryl knew something was terribly wrong. ”Amber, I think you’d better come inside.”
Amber came in and, without knowing what happened, burst right into tears with me. Whatever it was, it was bad. Very bad. She hugged me and pressed, “What happened?” until I could finally get it out.
Amber and I decided we really needed to take a walk. We needed some fresh air. We walked around the block several times and talked about memories with Stephanie. We talked about basketball and softball and all the funny things Stephanie used to do. Her laugh was so fresh in my mind. What were her parents going to do? What was her sister going to do? How would we move on? Could we ever truly move on?
That night I had the most peaceful sleep of my life. I dreamt that I was at a playground and I saw Stephanie. I ran to her and told her, “Stephanie! Everyone is saying that you’re dead! They said there was an accident and that you’re gone! You need to go tell them that it isn’t true.” Stephanie was so calm. All she said was, “I’m OK, Kristin.” I repeated what I had said before urging her to go straighten everyone out. She just kept telling me, “I’m OK, Kristin. I’m OK.”
I woke up feeling such a peace that I could not express. Now, I don’t know that every dream has some kind of deep, spiritual meaning. I do, however, believe that God gave me this dream to put my heart at rest. I needed that peace. She was OK. Maybe not here on Earth. But she was OK and enjoying Heaven way more than I could ever imagine.
Amber and I got up and went downstairs. Everything felt so surreal. Life just seemed different. It reminds me of that feeling after a positive pregnancy test. Odd. I know. But that knowledge that hits you like a ton of bricks that your life is never going to be the same. And suddenly, you see the word through completely different eyes. Life seems so delicate and fragile. So simple. And yet so completely complex.
Cheryl brought in the newspaper from the porch and Steph had made the news. There it was. Confirmation that one of our worst nightmares was, indeed, a reality. She really was gone. This wasn’t some sick joke or misunderstanding. We burst into tears, again, as we saw her beautiful face and read the wonderful words the reporter had said about her and her family.
It wasn’t long before my parents pulled up to pick me up and we drove over to Brenda and Greg’s house. What do you say to a mother and step-father who are grieving the loss of their daughter? Even if I could speak, there would have been no words to offer to make them feel better. Greg greeted me with a big smile and a big hug as he lifted me off the ground. ”How ya doin’, doll?” How am I doing? I can’t believe you’re asking me this. I should be asking you! My heart is breaking in more ways than I ever knew possible…and even that was just a taste of what they were going through in that moment. We hugged and cried.
I went inside the house through the garage. I remembered how we would go out to the garage and ride bikes. I still get on my bike the same way Stephanie did…one foot on one pedal as you get a jumping start and swing the other leg over. I stepped into the kitchen and remembered all the cans of Spaghetti O’s that Steph had so carefully portioned out to each of us…one O at a time. I walked through the living room and remembered how we frantically searched for her dog, Skittles, in the middle of a tornado warning until she burst into laughter, “Skittles is at Nana and Papa’s house today!” I walked toward the hall and looked into the front room remembering all the toys that Stephanie had set up in there. I walked down the hallway and saw Greg and Brenda’s room…better known as our stage when we would sing Spice Girls songs (Brenda and Greg weren’t home…so this may or may not come as news to them…). As I made it to her room I saw my name and phone number up on her marker board and I was so honored that it was there. She had so many Beanie Babies. Lisa was in there picking out clothes for Stephanie to wear. She was so strong. So composed, somehow. She had been such a cool big sister…one that we always looked up to and wanted to be just like her. I knew that whatever she picked that Stephanie would look beautiful.
We made our way home and I spent the rest of the day crying and sleeping on the couch. Monday morning was about to come and I just wasn’t sure if I could face it.
Whether or not I wanted it to, Monday morning came. I arrived at school and it felt empty. I mean, it was full of students…but so much joy was missing. It was a dark and gloomy place filled with sad people and sad announcements. It was so incredibly hard to focus. Who cares about the presidents of the United States? Who cares about science projects? Who cares about anything else at a time like this? How could my mind possibly focus??
A couple days later we got ready for the visitation. Even though we couldn’t all go together, the whole basketball team decided to wear our jerseys to the funeral home to show our love and support for her family. Greg, once again, greeted me with a hug and a lift. I saw Stephanie’s step-mom outside and offered my respects and wishes that Keith would get better soon. I don’t think I had ever met her before that time. I couldn’t imagine what she was feeling.
The funeral at the First Baptist Church was packed. Standing room only. Her beautiful, white casket adorned the front of the church. Death could not hold her beauty in a closed box. It was a beautiful ceremony for a beautiful little girl. I remember someone reading a letter Steph had written about her future. I think it was one of Steph’s cousins. We all laughed as she said that the only thing she would change about herself was her unibrow. I still laugh about that because I don’t ever remember noticing it. She looked forward to being a marine biologist. She had so many plans for her life and I think we all cried as we realized that her plans were not going to come to fruition the way that we would have all hoped. Her cousin closed her segment with quotes from the song, “I Hope You Dance.” I don’t like that song anymore. Her piano teacher, Carma, played Pachelbel Canon in D, the last song Stephanie had been learning. Every time I’m at a wedding I remember this moment. We closed the funeral with the song, “Jesus Loves Me.” That song had never sounded more beautiful than it did on that day.
After the funeral we all went out to the cemetery for the burial. We were given an opportunity to take a flower from the arrangement on top of the casket. As they lowered the casket into the ground I could not contain my tears. I wanted to scream and say, “NO! STOP! You can’t do this to her! You can’t do this! What if she isn’t gone!? Don’t do this!” I wanted to jump in and grab her and rescue her from this dark place! ”You can’t take her forever!” But instead I just cried in my mom’s arms with my muscles aching to reach out to Stephanie. I had to remember that it was just her body. Her soul was gone. Her soul was not in a dark place. She was in a bright, beautiful place without tears or mourning. She was in a better place than the rest of us.
This time of year I am keenly aware that her birthday is fast approaching. I remember waking up on her birthday in 2004. It was a Saturday and I had a non-conference softball game that morning against Milwaukee King. I didn’t want to go. Softball was such a huge part of my life but it seemed so pale in comparison to how my heart was feeling knowing that she should have been there playing with us. The morning felt odd and eerie. I just couldn’t get into the game no matter how I tried. I knew it would be a bad day to play softball. In the first inning, I broke my nose. Yeah…not a good day for softball. Just a month later we were going to play the same team on her death-day anniversary. I thought it seemed a little too coincidental. I, again, believed it was a bad day for a game. Well, it rained and was cancelled. She would be 26 years old in just a couple weeks. She would probably be living in Florida fulfilling her dream of working as a marine biologist. She would be so beautiful. I often see women that I think she might have looked like. There is one that I see every week at church. I’ve never spoken to her and I can hardly even look her in the eye because all I see is Stephanie…what she may have looked like. I hope she doesn’t think that I don’t like her. I’m sure she is very nice and sweet. She is incredibly beautiful…just like I believe Steph would have been.
Around this time of year I spend extra moments thinking about her family and praying for them. I imagine the greatest pain a family can go through after the loss of their child or sister is the worry that people will forget about her. I know she is not forgotten because I think about her all the time. My mom still reminds me that she can still hear Steph’s giggle. I think about Steph at least once a week at church…and much more often than that. I remember her birthday and her Entrance-into-Heaven Day. And I remember how her life and death changed my life. Had it not been for her it may have taken me a lot longer to consider the fragility of life. So many teens feel that they are invincible. I, instead, was always very keenly aware that life could end at any moment and, with the death of several other classmates through high school and since, I have never forgotten that. Life is precious. It is a gift that we are given for however long we have. Some of us get 100 years of life. Others just moments. Had it not been for her, I may have learned to take myself too seriously. Steph was never afraid to enjoy life or to laugh at herself. She was so open to everything the world had to offer her and let nothing hold her back. She was full of life and joy until the very end. And I am eternally grateful for the time I had with her on earth and look forward to our eventual reunion in Heaven.
I cannot believe it has been almost 13 years. I am thankful for the 13 years I had with her and have not forgotten her the 13 years since.
Exactly one week after her death I wrote this poem for her in my notebook:
My Sweet Butterfly
You fly around without a care
and dance a waltz in mid-air.
You’ve always been happy-go-lucky
and you sat on a flower whether fair or yucky.
You showed your happiness and all of your grace
And I saw the smile upon your face.
I still see it now when you’re up in the sky
but I must admit I really did cry.
I still know you fly around
showing happiness to ugly bugs on the ground.
Your butterfly beauty and your dancing grace
You created a smile on everyone’s face.
(May 27, 2000)
*I left last names blank to protect privacy.
Last year I had the privilege of running the LA Half Marathon to raise money to build clean water wells in Africa. This year, being pregnant, I just didn’t feel it was the best idea to be running 13.1 miles. I was so sick for those first months that I don’t know that it would have even been possible.
The World Vision Clean Water Fund is an amazing cause. Every day more than 4,000 children die due to preventable diseases related to their dirty water and other sanitation problems. We are so overwhelmed by a number like “4,000″ that we are almost numb to it. 4,000 just seems like a number. But there are actual people attached to those numbers. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers are all devastated to look on as their loved ones die. If you were that mother or father, what would you give to get clean water to your child?? What would it mean to you if someone on the other side of the planet, whom you would likely never meet, cared enough to use a small portion of their resources to get clean water to your family? I cannot even begin to imagine the lengths I would go to ensure the health of my children, nieces, nephews, friends… What would you give?
Every night these families go to bed just to get up the next day and walk many miles to a dirty, disease ridden hole of water. They walk that far to get water to live. We all know that water is necessary for survival. But the water they’re getting to live, is the very same water that will probably kill them. It reminds me of what it would be like to be stranded at sea. You need to drink water to live…but the only water you have access to will kill you. What a nightmare!
There is something you can do, though! We can all take part and give what we can to get clean water to these villages! While I know I cannot run a half marathon right now, there is something I CAN do. If we can, as a community, raise $1,000 toward the World Vision Clean Water Fund, then I will shave my head. (If it is enough hair, I will donate it). Also, my brother will grow out his hair long enough to donate it in that honor as well.
Please consider making a donation of any amount. There are two ways you can donate for this cause:
1. Go to the World Vision website and make a donation of any amount. Then, send me a screen capture confirming your donation amount. You can email me at CleanWaterShave@gmail.com
2. Mail a check written out to World Vision to me and I will send them all in a lump to World Vision toward the Clean Water Fund.
Your donations are tax deductible. The easiest way would likely be to go online and make a donation, but if you’re not comfortable with that, then I am happy to mail the checks. If you know you want to donate, but cannot do it right away, send me an email, note, or Facebook post with your pledge and I will remind you about it in April, or once the $1,000 in donations/pledges is reached…whichever comes sooner!
DEADLINE WILL BE APRIL 15, 2013.
Thank you for considering a donation toward this worthy cause! (See the image below for my current hair length and an image of my oldest for my estimated new length…yikes!)
There is a song by Gungor called “Beautiful Things.” The first phrase is, “All this pain. I wonder if I’ll ever find my way. I wonder if my life could really change at all.” Just take a second to really ponder this phrase. There are so many hurting people in this world. ”All this pain. I wonder if I’ll ever find my way. I wonder if my life could really change at all.” Was there ever a time when you felt that way? Maybe you’re feeling that way right now. I can think of so many dark times in my life when I have wondered this exact thing. I’ve so often wondered if things could really ever turn around…if I could ever really be happy again. Could it really be possible to forget the hurt?
Maybe it is a miscarriage. Maybe it is infertility. Maybe it is sexual abuse. Maybe it is the death of a child or other loved one. Maybe it is a divorce. Maybe an unhappy marriage. Maybe it is a breakup from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it is the death of a dream. Maybe it is an illness. Maybe it is chemical or clinical. Whatever it is, I’m convinced that everyone has felt this way at one point or another. ”Will it ever really get better? How can something good possibly come out of this?”
The song continues with, “All this earth. Could all that is lost ever be found? Could a garden come up from this ground at all?” Similarly, I think we all feel that way about our own souls…our own hearts. Sometimes we feel so useless…ugly…empty on our own. Is there really any good thing that I can do? Can something beautiful really be created out of my life?
I love the comparison of our lives to a garden. I love that something as plain and ugly as dirt and mud is the very thing needed to create a beautiful garden full of flowers, plants, fruit… I love that something as small as a seed can turn into something as great as the ancient trees of the Redwood Forest.
Pain is an awful part of life. A lot of people actually question the existence of God because of the existence of pain. They wonder, “how could a loving God allow…” We all go through painful times in life. There are certain painful experiences in my life that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. Some of those were things I chose and brought on myself. Others are experiences that were chosen for me and I just got to reap many of the consequences. I can very distinctly remember times in my pre-teen/early teen years when I thought about ending it all. Life seemed so incredibly chaotic and I felt as if I had absolutely no control over how my life would turn out. I remember feeling like the dirt and dust…something that is always there, but often a nuisance. I definitely thought, “I wonder if I’ll ever find my way. I wonder if my life could really change at all.” I remember thinking that if things continued the way they were and if life could not ever get better than what it was, then there was no use going on.
“You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us”
I love the promise of new life. I love the hope that Spring brings with green life rising up from the ground after a long winter filled with icy death. At times, life seems hopeless and winter feels so long. Sometimes it feels like our entire lives have been one long winter. One terrible thing after another…constant storms of bad news and heartache and death. Sometimes it takes so much concentration to find any beauty in our lives at all…especially here in America.
Now, I know that it sounds odd to say that beauty is hard to find here because we are a nation filled with wealth and abundance. We have more than so many people on this planet have. But our abundance almost makes it more difficult to see the great blessings that we have. We are so distracted with the things we don’t have or things we wish we had that we miss out on some of the most precious gifts…like clean water, indoor plumbing (I don’t know if I could live without that…), food, electricity, vaccinations from fatal diseases, hospitals, a police force… We have so much to be thankful for even in an icy winter.
Did you know that there are so many examples of pain becoming beautiful in nature? My favorite example is that of a butterfly. Of course a butterfly is often considered a symbol of new life. It starts off life as an ugly little squirmy worm-like creature, turns into a caterpillar, covers itself in a chrysalis, and emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Before a butterfly can take off and spread her wings, she needs to experience pain. She has to struggle to emerge from the chrysalis she created on her own. Without that struggle, her wings will never be strong enough to fly. She will be helplessly trapped on a branch of a tree and die from a predator, starvation…something. But she will never survive.
I think of the pain that I had to endure to be able to hold Emery and Levi in my arms. Not just the pains of labor, but also the pains during pregnancy. Pregnancy, while a blessing, is quite uncomfortable for many. Labor is indescribably painful. Now, I know that there is an option of an epidural and not feeling pain during labor, but there is still pain after the baby is born. Your body still contracts as it goes back to its normal size. Your body still hurts as it recovers from its amazing adventure. There is no such thing as getting a child without pain. Even if that child comes through adoption rather than through your own body…it is painful to watch your child go through pain. It is exhausting to be up into the night with your sick child…or worrying about your grown children. Pain is a part of parenthood…but you cannot get parenthood without pain. But I would take that pain any day for the moments of holding my kids in my arms.
I am so thankful for 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come.” What a great promise of new life. What a great chance I am given for change! I am not bound to life’s circumstances. I’m not bound to the bad choices I’ve made. That is gone now. I don’t have to dwell on those things. I get to relish in the thought that I am made new from the inside out. I get to start over.
Then there are pains that still make me wonder, “Why did I have to go through that? What good thing can possibly come from this?” While I would love to go into detail about exactly what I’m talking about, I won’t…and I think that it is best for now. I know that those things will somehow produce endurance in me. They will somehow build character in me. Am I glad to have gone through these events? No. If I had a choice to go back, would I allow them to happen again? I don’t think so. But I also know that I lack the big picture here. I know that there is going to be some way that I am going to be able to use the strength I developed to get me through some of life’s difficult experiences. I can say, though, that some of these experiences have already begun a good work. I have, somehow, learned the value of forgiveness. I have learned the beauty of redemption. I have learned that the phrases like, “Once a…always a…” (fill in the blank) are not true! There’s no such thing as being trapped in whatever choice you’re making in life. I know that there is an ability to change and to be redeemed. I’ve seen it in some of the worst of circumstances. That pain and struggle has, in its own way, brought me hope. It has reminded me that there’s no being stuck. There’s choosing stuck.
I am so thankful that beautiful things have been made from the pain in my life. I am anxious to see how many more beautiful things there are to come. I hope that you’re able to see the beauty in your life today. I’m convinced that no matter how dark things seem or how hopeless you may feel that there is something good waiting for you. I’m convinced that you will find your way and your life really can change. I’m convinced that God desires to grow a garden in your life. Does it make the pain go away? No. Does it make it less painful? I’m not sure. But it might bring you some hope. God makes beautiful things out of the dust. We are made of dust.
living with surviving life with a pregnant woman? First, let me tell you that you are really in for a wonderful adventure. Whether this is your 1st, 2nd, 7th or 10th baby…it doesn’t matter. Each baby is a wonderful gift…and a true miracle. So many things had to take place at just the right moments for this pregnancy to occur! You are so privileged to witness the growth of new life! You may be the daddy of the new baby to come, or you may be the grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister or friend. But either way, if you’re reading this, you’re likely to know a pregnant lady right now. So, I thought I’d give you some tips to surviving the next several months with this pregnant woman!
*I will refer to the pregnant lady in your life as your wife, just for ease of writing this blog. If she isn’t your wife, insert your relationship to her in those areas…*
1. Nausea, vomiting, gas OH MY! Depending on how far along your wife is, you may have already noticed one or all of these things. The moment your wife got pregnant a surge of hormones took place in her body. This surge of hormones is believed to be the cause of her nausea, increased sense of smell (contributes to the nausea) vomiting, and gas. These hormones can wreak havoc on your wife’s body, but these hormones are a really good thing. If your wife is sick and gassy, it is a good sign that her hormones are at a high enough level to keep this baby going. So, as fun as it isn’t, the nausea, vomiting, and gas are a good sign. Due to her nausea and vomiting it is unlikely that she feels like doing a whole lot with you or for you. She may seem lazy, but trust me, her body is doing a lot more work on the inside. If your household was like many in the world, your wife was probably responsible for making dinner or other meals, grocery shopping, and other errands. Do your wife a favor and take over these tasks without complaint. Your wife doesn’t want to feel sick. She just does. If there were more she could do about it, then she would.
The gas is also due to hormones. It is believed that the hormone, Progesterone, that is racing through your wife’s body slows down digestion. The longer the food sits in her digestive tract, the longer the healthy bacteria that lines all of our digestive tracts has to feed on that and create gas. So your wife may be burping and farting a lot more often than she used to. Now, some husbands are really really grossed out by this. And some may take it as a duel to see who can burp or fart the loudest. Neither of these would be good things to think or express. Just like the nausea and vomiting, your wife doesn’t want to feel like this. The gas likely makes her feel really uncomfortable and can make her nausea worse. And as far as turning it into a contest?? Refer, again, to nausea. Your smelly farts just may cause her another trip to the bathroom. Take heart! This often ends as the first trimester comes to a close and the second trimester begins. And if you’re one of the lucky ones whose wife falls into the 20%-25% of women who eek out of the nausea, vomiting, gas…etc…let me just speak for the rest of the world as we all say, “I hate you.”
2. Headaches You can blame hormones for just about every annoying thing that happens during pregnancy. Headaches are no exception. It is believed that the surge in first trimester hormones and the increase in blood volume in your wife’s body are the main culprits of the torturous headaches she experiences. I remember the headaches being so awful when I was pregnant with my first son that I thought stabbing myself in the head would feel better than my headache. Obviously I didn’t test it to be certain, but it really was torturous. As her hubby, there are just a few things that you can do to help. One thing you can do is try to keep the noise, lights, activity…etc to a minimum. Let her relax and closer her eyes or take a nap if she needs to in order to escape the headache. Massaging her temples may be really helpful and offering her an ice pack or cool washcloth may be helpful as well. Try to take your cues from her…but certainly offer to do what you can to help. Like the nausea, the headaches should subside by the second trimester.
3. Weight Gain Most women don’t gain a whole lot of weight during their first trimester (refer to nausea and vomiting) and do not begin showing much until the middle of their second trimester…especially if this is the first pregnancy. Weight gain is different for all women and varies from pregnancy to pregnancy even in the same woman (with my first, I gained 35 lbs and gained 25 with my 2nd). Generally, though, women who were at a healthy weight before pregnancy ideally gain between 25 and 35 pounds by the end of the 42 weeks. This varies greatly if your wife was under-weight, over-weight, or obese before pregnancy. You can visit the American Pregnancy Association for more information about how much weight you can expect your wife to gain and for a breakdown of just where all of that weight is going.
The second and third trimesters are when your wife will put on the bulk of her weight with weight gain averaging at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week. As your wife starts seeing the numbers go up on the scale, she will probably feel very uncomfortable and self conscious. And, while most men tend to be attracted to their wive’s new curves, she may not feel very attractive. It is really important that you don’t talk to your wife a whole lot about her weight gain unless it is to tell her how beautiful she looks when she is pregnant. It is also helpful to her if you don’t eat out a lot…especially at fast food restaurants. If your wife is eating healthy foods during her pregnancy in healthy portion sizes, she will still gain weight, but it will be just what she needs to make sure she and your baby are healthy and ready for the big day. So just remember that your wife isn’t “getting fat” and isn’t “unhealthy” if she is gaining weight. The appropriate weight gain is a very very good thing during pregnancy.
4. Emotions Those pesky hormones are at it again. One minute your wife is fine. The next minute she’s crying over a Hallmark commercial. Then, when you laugh at how ridiculous you think that is, she practically comes at you with a knife. Yeah…Emotional roller coaster is an understatement. You may be thinking, “What on earth was I thinking? I should have had a vasectomy! I am never having children again!” Well, trust me, unless you end up dead via emotional wife, the baby is totally worth it! If your wife has not quite started having these crazy emotions yet, just wait…they’ll come. If your wife suffered from crazy emotions during PMS, depression before pregnancy, or any other emotional disorder, then it will likely only be worse when the hormones go wacky during pregnancy.
The emotions can often be unpredictable and seem to be unreasonable. Chances are, they are unreasonable…and chances are your wife is overreacting to whatever dumb thing she thinks you just did. Now, this can be really really frustrating for you and everyone else in her path. Do try to be understanding. She doesn’t want to feel this way any more than you want her to act this way. In reality, there isn’t anything she can do to control her emotions. She feels the way she feels and cannot control her feelings. However, she CAN control her reaction…or at least can learn to. Well, maybe not the crying so much, but the anger or fits of rage. I did say up above to be understanding, but also don’t let her walk all over you either. Just as you need to learn to control your anger if you have a testosterone or adrenaline surge when someone cuts you off on the road, flips you the bird, or disrespects you out at a club or restaurant…etc., she needs to learn to control her anger as well. No one would ever excuse your outburst if you punched someone in the face because you just couldn’t handle your emotions. The same should be expected from your wife. She can’t use her hormones as an excuse to hit you, throw your phone, scream in your face, break your computer…etc. This may be really really difficult at first because most pregnant women are used to getting a get-out-of-trouble “I’m pregnant” free pass. If you notice that her fits of emotions are getting out of control, then you need to find an appropriate time (maybe a public place so you have witnesses if she murders or assaults you…;-) ) to bring it up. If you do find that this step is necessary, try to express that you understand that she doesn’t want to feel this way and that she isn’t trying to hurt you or be a jerk (or other word…), but that acting out like that is unacceptable. If she needs to take a walk to cool down or be by herself, then that’s OK. But help her to find a different outlet for those crazy emotions.
With that said, don’t push her buttons. If she isn’t feeling well, don’t get all whiny and crabby that she didn’t make your dinner or clean the bathroom or want to sleep with you. Try to remember how difficult it is for her to control the emotions and attempt to avoid doing things that may encourage her to have outbursts. But remember, don’t pour gas on the flames to try to put out the fire. If she starts screaming at you, don’t respond by screaming back. If you need to just stand there and put up with it or just calmly walk away, then do that. But don’t fuel the fire by trying to prove who is right or who is wrong. The more you respond in kindness, the more likely she is to come to her own conclusion that she has over reacted.
**A note to wives: You know darn well that you can control the majority of your reactions if you would just take the moment to think about it and take a deep breath. If you can control your emotions with your co-worker, boss, friends, pastor, parents, teacher, or stranger on the street…then you can control your reaction with your husband. Just because he might put up with it, doesn’t mean you have a right to dish it out. It is no more fair for you to have an emotional outburst and scream in his face than it would be for him to do the same thing to you if he was having a hormonal surge. Keep yourself in check. If you need to take a walk–do it. If you need to walk away–do it. If you need to take a drive–do it. But come back together at the end of it. You know as well as I do that the grand majority of these outbursts are caused by something small and accidental. I used to get so mad at Josh for making eggs when I was pregnant. Oh my gosh. The smell of eggs made me so ridiculously nauseous. Once I told Josh about it, it made it a lot easier for him to avoid making eggs when I was around. Yay, problem solved. Maybe it’s leaving dirty laundry on the ground. Maybe it’s leaving dirty dishes laying around. Chances are, the things he is doing are things that he was doing before you were pregnant and may bother you more now than they did. It is unlikely that he’s trying to get on your last nerve. Communicate more effectively by not yelling, screaming, or throwing a tantrum.**
5. Sex/Intimacy Now, this might be a really uncomfortable topic for some, so feel free to move on if you’d rather not read this. But, if you are the husband of the pregnant woman or the pregnant woman herself, or trying to conceive, I would not skip over this. Let me start off by saying that every woman and every pregnancy is different when it comes to being intimate. With that said, I will go into what the majority of women and men experience during pregnancy.
If you’re trying to conceive, and have been for a while, you may already feel like the intimacy in your marriage is starting to dwindle and sex has become a means to an end. I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many women who have had just this situation. Try hard to find time to be intimate when you’re not necessarily “trying” to get pregnant.
If you are in the first trimester, then sex probably feels like a thing of the past. With the nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, gas, bloating, headaches…need I go on? Your wife probably doesn’t feel a whole lot like having sex. A lot of women also fear sex, especially during the first trimester, because they are worried that it will somehow hurt the baby or cause a miscarriage. Now, if your wife has been spotting in the first trimester, it is probably best to not have sex and to visit your doctor or midwife. In most healthy pregnancies, though, it is safe to have sex. It shouldn’t hurt the baby at all. However, it is important that you don’t push the topic. If your wife isn’t feeling well or isn’t feeling up to it, be understanding of how she feels and find different ways to be intimate together or just wait until she is feeling better. Try not to view these first several weeks as a trial that is so hard to get through. Instead, view it as a practice run for how you can handle not being intimate for 6+ weeks after the baby is born.
If you are in the second trimester, congratulations! Chances are that you’re baby is healthy and going to be OK if you’ve made it this far. The chances of miscarriage, while possible, are much lower once you’ve entered the second trimester. Also, most women start to feel a lot better and begin regaining energy by this point. She may be getting those lovely curves, too, that you may find so attractive. Now, if you’re one of the small percentage of men who aren’t exactly attracted to your pregnant wife’s new body–GET OVER IT. Your wife wants to feel secure in your love and companionship and that your love for her is unconditional. So, by all means, figure it out. This is your best chance at being able to be intimate for a long time, so you’d better take advantage of that while you can.
If you are finding yourself in the third trimester, your wife is probably showing more now. Sex is probably getting uncomfortable for both of you. The baby hasn’t even been born yet, and he/she is already coming between the two of you…literally. Try not to be discouraged…and don’t be afraid to get creative. If it just isn’t working out…well, you’re not alone. Many couples experience this. Find new ways to be intimate with one another. Try to get as much alone time as possible in together during this last trimester. Soon enough you’ll have a little one who is in your bedroom…and that can complicate things as well. If you’re late in the third trimester, your wife may be getting antsy. There are a lot of women who believe that having sex causes labor to begin. This really isn’t entirely true. Doctors aren’t quite sure what exactly sparks labor, but they do know that it is connected to the hormone oxytocin. While oxytocin is released during sex (as well as during labor and nursing), it is unlikely that it is going to shove her full speed into labor. Some also believe that it has something to do with sperm causing contractions…anyway, it isn’t likely that your wife is going to go into labor because of sex. However, take her up on it if she’s offering. Again, this may be the last chance you get for a long time. Please, though, don’t attempt to have intercourse if your wife is in labor and the water broke. You would think that this would go without saying…but apparently it’s been done before because EVERY BOOK about pregnancy that I’ve read emphasizes this point. You may be wondering why? It could introduce bacteria into your wife’s body and to the baby as well. It’s just better safe than sorry.
So, what can you expect after the baby is born? Not much. For a non-complicated vaginal delivery doctors ask a minimum of six weeks before resuming sexual intercourse. Your wife’s doctor will likely wait until after her 6-week postpartum check up and then either give her the go-ahead or tell her to wait longer. Now, just because your doctor said that your wife looks all healed up, it doesn’t mean that she is going to feel like sleeping with you. I know. Shocking. A human being just emerged from her body 6 weeks ago and she bled for a few weeks after that…may have required stitches and walking may have been difficult for weeks and she doesn’t want to sleep with you. Unbelievable, right? On top of that, you probably have a baby who isn’t sleeping through the night and may be sleeping near your bed or even in your bed. If you’re wife is nursing, she is probably extra tired. Either way, your wife is still recovering. And remember all those hormones that she experienced during pregnancy? Well a whole new set has made itself at home and has likely lowered her sex-drive. My best advice is DON’T PUSH IT. Just because the doctor said, “you’re safe” doesn’t mean that she is ready. Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. If you push, whine, complain…etc…Chances are it will backfire on you. Try to gently suggest other ways to be intimate and let her know how much you love her no matter what.
**A special word to wives on this post-partum sex matter. Once you are feeling better physically, and your doctor has given you the go ahead, try to be understanding of your husband’s needs. Chances are the last 9+ months have been really rough on him too. He may have been so understanding and so patient with you from your very first headache until now. But do try to be fair. You may not feel like it emotionally and you may be exhausted. But you are your husband’s only healthy outlet for this particular need. Treat your husband with love, respect, and understanding that you so desire before, during, and after pregnancy.**
6. Stretch Marks, extra skin, losing weight…After Pregnancy So, you probably noticed sometime near the end of the 2nd trimester or in the 3rd trimester that your wife has some fun new stripes on her body. They may be on her stomach, hips, legs, butt, breasts…You name it. If it got bigger, it may have stretch marks. Stretch marks are scars that develop when the skin stretches apart. Simple, right? Well, they’re not so simple to prevent. There are a lot of companies that claim to prevent stretch marks, but mostly it is in her genes and there isn’t much you can do to avoid getting them. Some women get very few stretch marks…and others look like a zebra by the end of their pregnancy. Chances are, if your wife has developed stretch marks, she is very self-consious about them. You may not be super thrilled about them either. Keep in mind, this isn’t something she has much control over. Chances are that the marks will lighten up over time and will become less noticeable. There are also procedures that can be done to help lessen the appearance of stretch marks (not really any over-the-counter creams…sorry) after you’re all done having babies. If you meat with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon he/she can give you some tips about what would be good for your wife. However, I would not recommend doing this on your on volition. If you suggest surgery or some other procedure to your wife, it may make her feel even more self-consious. Again, it is likely that these marks will fade significantly over time. And there’s no use trying to do anything about them until you’re completely done having children…and procedures are never guaranteed to be a complete fix.
Extra skin often comes after pregnancy. Oh man, it is no fun. Your wife’s stomach may look like a sad, deflated balloon for a few weeks or months after the baby is born. It is not fun for her to look at and may not be exciting for you either. Over time, her stomach muscles and skin will start to tighten up. Every woman’s body is different and the amount of weight she gained and the size of the baby can greatly impact how much extra skin she has lying around. This is another one of those things that is best for you to not bring up. Unless she is blind, this is something your wife may spend hours staring at in a mirror. With healthy weight loss, a lot of the skin will tighten up. But, for most women, her tummy isn’t likely to look like a model again. Some, however, are very lucky and have been able to achieve amazing results with diet and exercise. Genetics plays an important role in this as well.
Lastly, losing weight after pregnancy. Well, she will probably lose a good portion of weight during labor and delivery and in the couple of weeks following as she sheds some pounds that are no longer necessary. Most doctors do not recommend exercise for at least 6 weeks postpartum, so don’t expect her to get out and jog as soon as you leave the hospital. With healthy diet and exercise your wife is likely to get back to a more reasonable size. Now, this is where genetics come to play a role again. Some women never get back to their pre-pregnancy weight. For some, it takes years. For some, nursing helps a great deal to shed the pounds as your body burns a lot of calories to create that milk. For others, the body holds onto fat stores until they’re done nursing. Keep in mind that it took 9 months to get to this weight. It could take that long or more for your wife to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight…if ever.
Your wife’s body shape will likely be permanently altered. The bones in your wife’s body started to soften up a little when she was pregnant to make room for the baby…so her hips may have grown out and may not go back down…etc. So her pre-pregnancy jeans really might not fit ever again either. It really depends from woman to woman. Again, with healthy diet and exercise, her body should become a bit more normal.
Having a baby is a huge decision and will change your lives forever. This is such a blessing. Pregnancy can be a blessing too…but it can also be really stressful. No matter how you look at, pregnancy brings on many changes. I hope that this helps you to sort through some of those changes and learn how to be a good husband, friend, parent, or sibling to the pregnant lady in your life.
Back in September I went out to Wisconsin for the wedding of one of my closest friends. The morning after the wedding I went to church with my cousin and her husband. By the time we arrived the music had already started and we quietly snuck in and sat in one of the last rows. As the congregation sung out beautiful songs of worship I could not help but be distracted by a voice behind me. Was it a man or a woman? Was this person young or old? The voice was SO LOUD and I could not hear myself or the people next to me. Between his voice and the sounds of the instruments I just could not hear anything.
(On a side note, it may sound selfish to not be able to hear yourself, but in music it is important to hear yourself. If you ever notice a singer cupping his/her ear it is because they are trying to make sure he/she is singing the correct notes. This is also one of the many reasons that musicians have amps that face them and the pros wear buds in their ears. If you can’t hear yourself then you can’t really tell if you’re singing in the right key. Remember Fergie and how awful she sounded at the Superbowl Halftime Show?? Yeah. Supposedly she couldn’t hear herself…)
Anyway, my cousin and I were laughing so hard because this guy (yes, it ended up being a young, high-school-ish aged guy) was singing so loudly and really struggling to hit the notes. We joked back and forth as she said, “Everyone wants to be a tenor.” I laughed and said, “Soprano.” No joke. This guy was singing way up at high notes rather than falling back to the notes of the tenor (which is what he probably was). He was also belting it all. No falsetto. Just this yelling in my ear! I could not focus. I didn’t hear the words we were singing…just the noise. (disclaimer: we did not say these things out loud for him to hear…He probably had no clue that we were thinking any of this)
After the service was over my cousin and I felt a little bit guilty for how we had laughed and made fun of this situation. Jocelyn pointed out that compared to the voices of prideful people, his voice probably sounded amazing in the ears of God. It was so true. Now, I can’t know that his heart was in the music. Maybe he was singing loudly for everyone to hear. But maybe he was enthusiastically lifting his voice in praise to God with a true heart. Maybe I didn’t know what his heart looked like. But I know what mine looked like. Mine was irritated, frustrated and prideful.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I don’t have an amazing voice. I’m OK. I know how to match pitch and have had a lot of choral and music experience in High School and College. I LOVE choir and I LOVE singing. But I love it enough to know that there are people in this world that sing so so so much better than I do. The only reason I got the lead in our school musical my senior year is because the other girl would have been the love-interest’s sister and it would have been awkward. I had also been in every show each year, so I suppose I had some seniority. I would have been better at a lesser role. I spent enough time visiting other schools and listening to other students sing that I knew I was only OK and as long as I could match pitch, it wouldn’t be a complete and utter disaster. I knew that I had a tendency to go sharp on higher notes. I HATE singing soprano solos. There’s so much pressure so I tighten up and go sharp… But, I digress…
Either way, my prideful heart was in the way of the beautiful time to sing to God. I’ve never really understood how God could appreciate music sung by a not-so-great-singer. I always thought, “God created music! He knows music better than I do. It isn’t that he can’t hear it…” But I figured it out that day.
Emery is the sweetest little 3-year old I know. He knows a few songs but ones that he really loves to sing are “Jesus Loves Me” and the “ABC” song. When Emery sings to me it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. He is totally not in key. He is not matching pitch. He barely even goes up and down when he is supposed to in the song. But it is so beautiful. I love him so much and I love how he is singing to please me…because he knows I want him to and knows that it makes me so happy. I believe, now, that this is how God is. It isn’t that he can’t hear that the notes are sharp or flat or just completely off. He can totally hear it. It sounds beautiful to him, though, because he loves us so much. He can see our heart behind what we’re singing.
Contrast that with someone who has a beautiful voice who is singing to impress everyone. The person who sings just because he/she knows that his/her voice sounds amazing. The one who just can’t wait for someone to say, “That sounded so wonderful! You have such a great voice!”
1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Essentially, “If I say the best things and sound the most eloquent and have the most beautiful voice, but am not doing it in a heart of love, then I am just making noise.”
Isn’t that so true? Don’t you know someone like that? Don’t we all know someone like that? Not just in the church and not just Christians. But people all over. If someone comes to you and says, “I think what you are doing is wrong. You’d better stop,” but doesn’t say it in a heart of love, but rather a heart of pride and condemnation, doesn’t it just rub you the wrong way?? And don’t you all know that person who sometimes says things that hurt, but you just can’t be mad at him/her because you know they’re telling you because they love you??
It makes me think of how people who are NOT believers feel by what Christians say. When we say something or point out something that we find to be wrong in the eyes of God, are we saying it in a heart of love and respect? Are we saying it in hopes that it will benefit the other person? Or are we saying it because we want to sound right…sound righteous and holy? When we look at the life of Jesus it is clear that he interacted more with people who would have been considered sinners. He interacted with prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, the greedy…He interacted lovingly for 3 years of ministry with a man whom he knew would betray him and ultimately send him to his torturous death. He showed them miracles. He fed them. He taught them. He asked them to follow him. (In that day it was a very high honor for a rabbi to ask someone to follow him…) He washed their dirty feet…something a servant would normally do. This is in complete contrast to how he interacted with the religious and holy men of the day. Those who believed they were perfect. He called them “whitewashed tombs.” In other words, they may have looked wonderful and clean on the outside, but in the inside they were full of everything dirty and dying.
Peoples’ lives were forever changed when they encountered Jesus. Whether he healed them physically or set them free from a life that they thought they were bound to forever…a life of lies and cheating or oppression…everyone who encountered Jesus knew that he was different. Jesus never turned someone away from being healed. Whether the person claimed to be his follower or not. He was willing to help all who asked. Jesus was a voice of love. Jesus’ voice was not prideful or arrogant. He did not walk around and only associate with the great and wonderful…but the lowly and poor…anyone who was willing to see him. He truly loved.
I think back to that day and how my voice was just noise. My heart was just noise. I was just making loud noises in God’s ear…noises He probably wanted to drown out because my noise was getting in the way of the true music: The people who were praising God in their hearts. I walked around without love in my heart that day. That day I was no better than a pharisee who made others feel like they could never reach God. When, in reality, on the outside, my voice may have been OK, but on the inside it was dead.