God Has Answered with Joy

One year ago today I found out I was unexpectedly expecting a baby.  I was shocked, panicked, full of fear.  I remember looking at that pregnancy test and feeling like the room was spinning.  My mind felt fuzzy. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry.  We were over at my in-law’s house because that’s our Sunday “thing.”  So, like any responsible adult, I called my husband to come to the bedroom upstairs.  I sat on the futon in the bedroom we shared while we lived in that house and I told him I was pregnant.  Both of us just sat there for a minute…minds racing.  I kept hoping that the test was wrong.  I kept thinking that there was no way this could possibly be true, and for the next month or so that’s how I felt all the time.

The next day I scheduled an appointment with the doctor’s office to confirm pregnancy and get set up for prenatal care.  My pregnancy was confirmed a week later and my first OB appointment would not be until right after I got home from a trip to Washington DC, 1 month and 1 day after I found out I was pregnant.

That next week was so full of emotions.  I spent a lot of time avoiding the idea that I was pregnant.  Every time it would pop into my head I would feel panic and I would try to push it back. I wasn’t ready to face this.  I looked at my boys and imagined how much my life was about to change and I couldn’t help but cry.  There were so many logistics to figure out.  Where would we fit another baby?  How could we afford another human being?  What about my health?  We had finally hit a stage of independence with a 4, 6, and 8 year old.  No more diapers.  No more bags full of stuff just to go somewhere for the day.  We had even gone to the zoo weeks before and I had forgotten a stroller and it was NO BIG DEAL!  No more breastfeeding or packing special baby foods and changes of clothes.  No more nap time to work around. Miles was only a year from starting Kindergarten and I was a year from being able to work full-time.  Another baby meant diapers, spit up, more doctor visits, more illness, more years of juggling mealtimes with a baby/toddler, more gear, more STUFF.

As I sat and worried and panicked, panicked and worried, I felt guilty.  Why was I so worried?  Why was I so stressed out? Every baby is a blessing.  Every child is a gift.  God has always provided for our needs.  I knew He wasn’t going to stop now.  I knew that one way or another we’d figure it out.  As I sat rocking back and forth crying on my bed one afternoon I said to Josh, “I know that a year from now I’m going to be OK.  I know that I’m going to have this baby in my arms and I am going to love him or her, but right now I just can’t get there.”  It took all of 3 days for us to schedule a meeting with our pastor and his wife.  I needed to come to terms with this sooner rather than later. I couldn’t live like this for long.  The pastor and his wife were so understanding and helpful and reminded me that we, as believers, don’t just advocate seeing a doctor for our bodies from the neck down.  It’s OK to see a doctor for the mind…the anxiety, fear.  So they got me in touch with a wonderful Christian counselor in our church.  (seriously…it has helped me so much to have someone to process all of life’s “stuff” with).

The month between finding out I was pregnant and my first OB appointment seemed like an eternity.  But I remember sitting in the waiting room feeling like I didn’t belong there. I felt like a fraud.  Could I walk into that office and face my doctor and pretend like I was excited?  Did I dare tell her I wasn’t?  Did I risk telling her the truth…that a part of me hoped that my pregnancy failed so I didn’t have to go through this again?  What if I told her that and she recommended someone to take my kids away?  Or what if she didn’t let me keep my baby (that I didn’t want at this point anyway…)?  So I told her that we were just totally shocked and that this was an unplanned pregnancy but that we would figure it out.  I still felt like my mind was in a fog.  Everything felt so surreal.  I felt like this was someone else’s life.  Someone else’s body.

So I prayed.  A lot.  And I processed with my counselor.  A lot.  All of the things that were stressing me out about having a baby came up and I was able to sift through it.  It really makes a difference when you go through the “What ifs” and “how will I’s”. I was able to see that so many of my fears and worries were things that could be figured out and once I checked one box, I could move onto the next and figure that one out too.  Slowly but surely everything began to come together and I became truly excited to have another baby.

As I began to enjoy the thoughts and ideas that came with having another baby, I imagined lots of baby names…and the prospect of having a girl.  Now, we truly would have been happy with a boy or a girl.  We even sat down and debated it determining that a boy would be easier since we have a 3 bedroom house and 3 boys already.  If we had 4 boys then they could just share rooms forever.  We’ve already been through the boy thing and felt like a “boy family” so another boy would be the most practical.  But then there was the possibility of having a girl…something new and different.  Levi and Miles were definitely in favor of having a girl and I think Emery was just still confused as to why we were having another baby when we said we were done after Miles.  When I considered the boys, I wanted a girl.  They wanted a baby sister so badly and I wanted desperately for them to love this new baby.  I wanted as easy of a transition for them as possible.  So a baby girl seemed like the best option.  Thankfully it wasn’t our choice since I never would have been able to choose. And the magical moment we found out we were having a baby girl was one I will never forget.

Names…names names. As soon as we found out we were having a girl everyone wanted to know what we were going to name her and we truly just didn’t know.  I think when we told people we didn’t know and that we weren’t sharing that they thought we had it all figured out but we didn’t.  Literally up to the time she was born we were going back and forth about names.  But one morning in late November I was working in the nursery in church and we were discussing the pregnancy and baby names.  I told them how I had taken the class and signed all the papers to get my tubes tied in March and never got the call to have it done.  We were truly finished in our minds.  One of my friends has spent a bit of time in Greece and shared about some Greek names and traditions.  She talked about a name of a baby she knew “Anastasia Zoe” which means “The resurrection and the life” and I loved that idea but I didn’t think it sounded like us.  We decided to look at a calendar that celebrates baby names for the month of March. One of the names was Eliana which means, “God has answered.”  That name moved my heart.  God has answered.

When I took the tubal ligation class and signed those papers I said a prayer that if this was not what was best for me and my family that God would close the door.  I didn’t really have a baby in mind…I was coming from more of a health and hormone standpoint.  But here we were.  Door closed and a precious baby girl on the way.  God had indeed answered that prayer.  I shared that name with Josh and we added it to the list.

Then something weird happened.  One morning that winter Josh and I discovered that the night before we BOTH had a dream that our little girl’s name was Eliana.  In my heart I felt like this was a sign, but I didn’t want to be Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs so we just kept it on the list…but I kept that name in mind as I talked to her and prayed over her.

The weeks came and went and it was the weirdest pregnancy ever.  I was sick all the time, overjoyed to be having this sweet girl, exhausted, thrilled, and scared to death that I’d lose her.  I was in the doctor’s office twice a week in that last month and a half for Non-Stress Tests to make sure she was growing the way she was supposed to, had a good heart rate…etc.

Finally, on the morning of April 4, 2018 she was born.  My beautiful baby girl.  I was so relieved when I held her for the first time and as Josh and I looked at her, and at each other, we knew her name was Eliana Joy.  “God has answered with Joy.” My heart was, indeed, full of joy as I looked at her.  I cried every time I considered how thankful I was to have her.  The love.

And now, one year after finding out I was pregnant with her God has answered in another way.  I am OK.  We are OK.  Everything is fine and we are so thankful and so in love with this baby girl…just like I knew I would be.

 

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Unexpectedly Expecting

This story is being published ONE YEAR AFTER it was written…

About six months ago or so I took a two hour class at our local hospital so I could get on the waiting list to get my tubes tied.  After Miles was born we were sure we were done having children but had put off any surgeries.  Once I found out that I have an auto-immune disease, we decided that having more children was even more an absolute no.  We have three boys–plenty.  I look at our family picture and it feels so perfect and complete.  Not to say that things aren’t difficult some days, but I didn’t feel like we were missing anything.

Then this last Sunday I was feeling a little bit concerned and decided to take a pregnancy test.  And boy did those two lines turn dark INSTANTLY.  As I watched those lines appear I thought, “Am I seeing things?”  I had totally expected it to come back negative because we’ve been careful…more careful than ever before and have been able to prevent pregnancy for the last 4 years, after all.  But here I was staring at the two pink lines from the Dollar Store in total shock.

A mix of emotions came over my body.  Fear.  Doubt.  Excitement.  Anger.  I mean, like I said I have been on a waiting list for 6 months to get my tubes tied.  This was NOT in my plans.  So we decided to go and seek out prayer and counsel.  First we spoke with Josh’s parents because we were at their house for the entire day. There was no way I was going to be able to hold it in.  We asked a couple people for prayer and met with our pastor and his wife to get some encouragement.

You can only imagine the guilt you feel when you’re expecting but not fully expecting.  When you think it must be a dream.  The Dollar Store test MUST be broken.  This makes absolutely no sense.  I know so many families who have a deep desire to have a child and here I am terrified about how I’m going to handle a 4th.  I have moments when I know and feel everything is going to be OK–GREAT even!  And then moments when I feel so overwhelmed that I’m dizzy.  I have moments when I look around our tiny house and think, “We can figure out one more person in here…I just have to move this around and that around…we can do it.” And moments when I’m like, “There is no way that 6 people can fit in an 1,100 sqft house.”  There are moments when I wonder what this will mean for my disease and other moments when I remember stories I’ve heard of people going into remission after pregnancy. (not many, I’ll admit…but there’s hope!).

So today I went in to see the doctor about some pain I’ve been experiencing and wanted to rule out an ectopic pregnancy.  We are only 5 weeks along, barely, so there’s really not much to see at this point, but everything was where it was supposed to be…no tubal pregnancy.  Phew.  So in about a month I’ll be going back and maybe we will be able to find a heartbeat.

A heartbeat.

Wow, guys.  There’s a human being forming inside me at this very moment.  This human being may not have been expected by me, but he/she(!??!??!?) was fully expected by God. This is not taking Him by surprise.  In fact, when we told Emery he said, “But I thought you said we were done having babies…”  Yeah.  I was thinking that too, buddy.  But I said to him, “You know what Emery? The Bible says that people make all kinds of plans for their lives, but God is the one who actually creates the journey.”  (very loosely translated from Proverbs 16:9).  Emery’s response was a simple, “oh.”

So here we are on an unexpected journey (just like Bilbo Baggins) and we will no doubt, like Bilbo, come out on the other side better for it.

I spoke to my grandma tonight and she came from a big family and has a big family (she has 18 grandkids and now more than 18 great grandkids).  She was so happy.  She said that, while it’s hard to raise kids…that it is difficult at times and you can feel exhausted, that there are so many countless blessings in store.  Children are a blessing.  And it made me think, I am adding to the heritage of my grandparents.

My grandparents on all sides have been so important to me.  They’ve loved us, cared for us, been patient with us, and have always always ALWAYS been there for us.  And now I get to add to their legacy.  I get to bring a smile to their faces with more pictures of another sweetie.  I told one of my grandmas that I apparently wanted to be just like her and have a baby way after all the others.  The surprise baby.  And her surprise baby, my uncle Bill, has been nothing but a joy to her.  He is kind, smart, compassionate, loving.  And I just very well could be carrying another child just like that.

While I’m overwhelmed and terrified, I know that this child is planned by and loved by God.  This child is “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [he/she] should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10).  I cannot wait to see what amazing things God has in mind for this child.

Are we there yet?

Today I promised my boys that we would go get donuts and some new school supplies if they were perfectly well-behaved while I was at the chiropractor.  Thanks to some amazing office staff, Pokemon on Netflix, and devices, the boys were well-rewarded with donuts, new backpacks, new shoes, and new lunch boxes for school this year.

Of course, we did have a 15-20 minute drive from the donut shop to the department store where I intended to find all of their new school gear.  As we hopped on the freeway my 7 year old asked, “Mommy, where are we going?”  I said, “We are going to Burlington Coat Factory.”  I should have anticipated his next question of how long it would take us to get there.  “I don’t know.  About 15 minutes or so.”  Periodically as we were en route to our destination he would question me, “how much longer,” or, “are we there yet?”  As we got off the freeway and into the shopping center he would ask, “Are we almost there?  Are you sure this is the right parking lot?”

Admittedly I got pretty frustrated as I was pulling into the lot.  “Yes.  I am positive that we are in the right place.  I know where we are going.  You don’t.  Can you please just trust me? You’re driving me bananas.”

In that very moment I thought about how God must feel day in and day out.  Life often goes in a different direction than what we expected.  Our plans are postponed or even altogether canceled.  The delay of a suitable partner.  The house we want to buy.  A job.  A baby.  Sometimes we eventually get what we were seeking…and sometimes the longing is never fulfilled.  At times we get what we wanted, but it is nothing like what we expected.  Along the journey we can be heard asking the Lord, “Are we there yet,” or, “are you sure this is the right spot?”

I remember early on in our marriage my husband and I were having a lot of challenges.  We were married young (22) and within the first year and a half we had a baby, finished college, and moved across the country twice.  Life wasn’t going how either of us expected.  We had no money, no house, and struggled to communicate.  I remember once in a heated argument over dinner Josh said to me, “This isn’t how I thought marriage was going to be.”  The feeling was mutual.  I knew it was going to be hard.  I really did.  I promise I didn’t go into it delusional.  I had seen plenty of marital turmoil growing up that I knew it could be bad.  And, while I knew in my head that divorce wasn’t going to solve our issues, there were times when the idea seemed pretty enticing.

Many times during that period I asked God, “Are you sure we’re in the right place???”  I expected that if Josh and I both loved the Lord and sought after him, that we would grow closer and closer to one another.  I anticipated bumps in the road, but instead, I felt like the roads were either completely closed or constantly under construction…and we were going NOWHERE.

During that season I had to fall back on what I knew to be true.  I KNEW that Josh and I got married and made a vow to stick together for life…and murder wasn’t a viable option.  I KNEW that it was best for our child(ren) that we stayed together.  I KNEW that God loved us and wanted us to be closer to Him and to each other.  I KNEW that the “grass is greener where you water it” so I started watering the grass…we both did.  We still hit road blocks, detours, and are always under construction, but we are now more focused on the destination and trusting the One who’s behind the wheel than being backseat drivers arguing about how to get there.

But how do we do that in practicality?  How do we get from asking, “are we there yet?  Are you sure you know where we are going?  This doesn’t look right…,” to sitting back and trusting God even when it doesn’t seem like things are making sense, because, let’s face it, life is hard.  It’s easy to sit here and write about solving marital frustrations, unplanned pregnancy, unexpected illness, or miscarriage.  It’s a whole different story when you’re actually in the middle of it…living it.  It’s one thing to talk about roadblocks and detours after you’ve already gotten past them and seem to be heading more clearly toward your destination.  It’s much harder when you’re sitting at a standstill and wondering, “where do we go from here?”

Thankfully, we are not alone in this.  The Bible is packed with stories that look exactly like this from Adam to John.  All of them hit road blocks and detours.  Every single one had to have asked, “Are you sure this is where we are headed?” Think about Abraham and Sarah.  God promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations.  As he and Sarah tried year after year to have children they indeed thought, “This can’t be right.  I must have understood wrong…” so they took matters into their own hands.  We can look at that and say, “Abraham, you moron.  God promised you!  It’s coming in just a little while!!”  Or what about the disciples who went back to work after Jesus was crucified?  “Well, boys, it was fun while it lasted.  We had a great 3 years.  But it’s over now…let’s get back to work.”  We know what’s coming so we want to say, “Guys!  He’s coming back! You have much more important work to accomplish!”  Knowing the end of the story makes the problems seem small.  But they could have all avoided so many unnecessary struggles if they had just BELIEVED God.

When things get difficult in my marriage, I need to remind myself of what God says about marriage and BELIEVE Him.  When I get frustrated with my health I need to look at what God says about our bodies, lives, finding joy, not worrying, and BELIEVE Him.  When I find struggles of all kinds each and every day I can look in advance at the end of the story:  God wins.  I don’t know exactly how we are going to get there in detail, but I KNOW that is the final word.  Whatever happens here and now doesn’t change the destination.

I know that as I walk through each and every day it is a constant exercise in trusting and believing in God and what he has promised.  I need to spend more time focusing on what I can be thankful for and less time focusing on things that are going wrong.  I need to spend more time focusing on what I KNOW so I can navigate through what I don’t know with more peace.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t feel pain, frustration, hurt… But if I can remember to trust God on this trek through life I will find more joy along the journey.

Health Update 2018

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done an update on my health.  For the most part I try to keep my health off of social media because I find that it is typically not very helpful or encouraging.  Other times I find that talking about it can help me process and get it off of my chest.

So this year I have lots of good news and some frustrating news as well.  I’ll start with the frustrating news and end on a high note with the good news!

 

For the bad news, I continue to discover new foods all the time that my body does not like.  For those of you who don’t already know, autoimmune disease sufferers are pretty sensitive to foods that many other people may not be.  It’s not a true allergy in the sense that one will swell up and stop breathing…etc. But it will damage our intestinal walls and leave us with a slew of other symptoms.

So far, my running “Kristin can’t eat” list goes something like this…

-Coffee (this is one I’m just discovering now.  I used to be able to handle a cup or two a week…now I’m learning that I can’t unless I want to feel miserable for a few days)

-Peanut butter

-Carrots

-Potatoes

-Yogurt, Ice Cream, Milk (up to now I’ve allowed myself some cheese but I’m starting to question this…)

-Turkey

-Any food high in fat

-Hot dogs

-Roast Beef (I don’t know why roast specifically…)

-Anything caffeinated (which is awesome when you’re a new mom…)

-Simple Sugars

-Zucchini

-Gluten

Some of these foods are really easy to avoid and some are less easy to avoid.  They all have different responses, all digestive, but some are worse than others and some have additional side effects like migraine, itchy skin, dizziness…etc.

Why so many food intolerances?  There are a lot of theories out there about how autoimmune disease starts in the digestive tract.  One article my rheumatologist gave me was about the micro biome in patients with various autoimmune diseases and how this information could seriously change the way we treat people.  Many autoimmune sufferers have something called “leaky gut.”  I really hate this term because it just sounds so disgusting, but what it is, essentially, are tiny little holes throughout your intestines causing the many toxins living in your digestive tract to escape into the body/blood stream.  This can make you even more sick and more sensitive to the foods you eat.

I always laugh, in an annoyed way, when people are skeptical of the various food challenges of someone with autoimmune disease.  Why?  First and foremost, who knows their own body better than the person living in it except God himself?  Only I can tell you how different foods make me feel.  Only you can tell me how different foods make you feel.  Is it really fair to look at another person and judge how they are feeling when you have no ability to do so?  Secondly, the body’s immune system is already on hyperactive overdrive.  So much so that it is attacking its own self.  Did you read that??  The BODY IS ATTACKING ITSELF as if it is the enemy.  The immune system has gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.  So why is it so far fetched to believe that, if the body is attacking itself as a foreign enemy and destroying it, the body would attack otherwise harmless foods that enter it?  What could be more safe to the body than the tissues already living inside of it.  If someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis is suffering because the body is attacking the joint lining.  What’s so dangerous about joint lining that the body should attack it??  Nothing!  We need our joint lining!  So what’s so dangerous about a piece of zucchini?  Nothing!  Again, the body has gone cuckoo…so trying to reason with it won’t help.  It just is what it is.

The issue with all of this is that it’s really discouraging.  I used to really enjoy food and now I really don’t. I don’t like going on vacation because I’m concerned about what I can/can’t eat.  I am missing out on foods I really love and the consequences of eating these foods sucks so much that it’s not even worth it to cheat a little.  And I’ve found that the longer I avoid the foods that trigger such a response, the more sensitive to them I become.  For example, I didn’t drink coffee right after Ellie was born.  I didn’t really have any until she was almost 2 months old.  The first latte I had made me feel miserable for 3 days.  The insomnia was ridiculous.  So I have avoided it for the last month.  Finally, I had a cup and am paying for it again.  I didn’t know that it was the culprit last time. I figured I had accidentally gotten real milk or there was some other contamination issue.  This time I made my own and know exactly what was in it.  It’s the caffeine.  Dang it!!

The other issue is that I never know what new food will pop up and cause a problem for me.  This heightens my anxiety about food big time.  I just wish that there was some magic way for me to know every single food out there that is bad for my personal system so I could avoid those and move on. I hate giving so much energy and thought to this aspect of my life.  When I’m not nursing I at least have a medication I can take to ease the symptoms if I do have a problem.  But I can’t take it or anything like it, apparently, while I’m nursing.  So there’s really no relief.

 

The Good News

Not all is black rain clouds and storms (though I do love a good storm).  There is some good news!  My doctor says that I’m doing quite well and was able to lower my medication dosage.  My numbers according to my blood tests are doing really well and my eyes haven’t shown any signs of problems from my medication.  The rash I’ve been having on my chest that I wasn’t sure if it was pregnancy related or Scleroderma related is likely just pregnancy related and should disappear over time.  This is all good news.  My skin has stayed mostly unaffected to this point.  My symptoms are just internal right now.

 

One of the things I sit and wonder from time to time is “WHY ME?” That sounds selfish, right?  Why ME??  Why ANYONE??  It’s not like I wish someone else would have this instead of me.  I don’t want to pass it along to the next guy.  And I spend so much time in prayer that I don’t pass it along to my children.  My heart would break if they would get sick as well.  But there’s really nothing I can do about it.  Asking “why me” doesn’t solve anything.  And if I was to be given an answer, would it be good enough?  Would I just say, “Oh. That makes sense.  OK.  Now that you’ve told me why, I’m fine with it.” Probably not.  I’d probably argue about finding another way.

Sometimes I wonder if this is the thorn in my side sent to keep me from pride.  I had always been so self-sufficient, independent.  Now I really can’t do everything on my own.  I don’t have the energy.  And when I’m having a really bad day, I’m a total baby wimp and cry and need hugs and encouragement.  So much worse than man flu.

I wonder if God is trying to teach me more compassion.  I had never really understood the autoimmune world, especially for those who LOOK fine on the outside.  I wasn’t trying to be mean or cruel but it just didn’t make sense to me.  The points I made above about food, for instance, were the same things that puzzled me prior to this.  I admittedly was one who would have said, “OK.  All of that food stuff is just you being stressed out about food…it’s not real.”  Without intending to be, I was a total jerk.  I was ignorant to what could be happening in the body and the frustrations of being the owner of a body that is just falling apart no matter what you do. I was uneducated about the digestive system and the many hormones living inside of it as well as the majority of the immune system hanging out in there as well!  I had no clue about how food impacted health aside from the obvious that we all know: don’t eat a lot of sweets, fats, oils… You know.  Food pyramid from 3rd grade stuff.  But there is so much more to it than that.

I’ve also looked at Josh from time to time and think, “Thank God this didn’t happen to you.”  And I mean it wholeheartedly.  If the shoes had been on the other foot we would be living in a lot more miserable home. And it has absolutely nothing to do with Josh and his tolerance for illness and has everything to do with how differently we would respond in being the caretaker.  I wasn’t cut out to be the caretaker.  I’m not cut out from the same cloth as a nurse.  I’m just not.  If Josh acted the same way I do I would be annoyed, frustrated, impatient.  When I’m not well Josh is so patient, caring, gentle.  He never complains.  He doesn’t view me as a nuisance or inconvenience.  He feels bad.  He wants to help.  He shows concern.  Most importantly, he believes me.  He doesn’t act like I’m a nut job.  He doesn’t question what I’m going through.  He supports me beyond that even.  He believes me so much so that he will give up eating different foods to make it easier on me.  For example, when we eat pasta, we all eat gluten free pasta.  He doesn’t expect me to make a separate one for him.  When I make homemade pizza, we all eat gluten free pizza.  Instead of mashed potatoes, he’s fine with the mashed cauliflower…and it’s not the same.  He doesn’t say, “well, just because you can’t have it doesn’t mean I can’t have it.”  If he buys a special snack at the store that he knows I can’t have, he will buy something that I can have that is similar.  He is much more kind than most.

When someone mentioned this to him recently, pointing out all that he does to accommodate me, he said that this is just what you do when you love someone.

Well, I really lucked out on that front.  And I suppose that’s probably the best news of this whole thing.

Wait for Me

Today at school I passed out a pile of math packets to a group of energetic and eager second graders.  I told each of them to put their names on the top and that we would be doing the first two pages together.  No sooner had I sat down at the document camera did a student frantically raise her hand and ask, “do we have to do the back page?!”  I simply replied, “We aren’t there yet. Just follow along with me on the first page.”  “But it says we need calculators,” she said, “We don’t have calculators!”  Again, I replied, “We aren’t there yet. Don’t worry about it.  We will get there when we get there.  Turn back to the first page and follow along.”  

For the next 15 minutes or so as we worked on each problem together, explaining a few methods for adding two large numbers, I would see students raise their hands like popcorn.  Always frantic.  Always concerned.  Never trusting.  “Do we have to do the last page!?  We don’t have calculators!”  Each time I would try to redirect them to where we actually were, reminding them that I would explain when we got there.

Finally, we got to the back page and I read the instructions which included, “Use a calculator…”  I looked at the group of nervous students, “Do you have calculators?”  “No,” they all said with great concern.  I then asked them, “Who do you think has calculators?” They looked around at each other, then looked up at me smiling behind the desk holding a basket of blue calculators, “yooooouuuu,” they all chimed together, relieved and a little bit sheepish. “Why would you think I would give you an assignment and not give you what you need to complete it?  Do you think I would tell you to do something that was impossible?”

As much as I asked this question in earnest, it felt convicting all at the same time.  How often I jump ahead in my own life to circumstances that may or may not even occur and say desperately, “I can’t do it.  I don’t have what I need to do that.”  How often I imagine the worst that is ahead and think, “That is impossible!”  I’ve imagined the extreme possibilities of my disease and have looked at photographs and read articles and have said, “How could I do it?  How could I live like that?”  I’ve looked ahead to the inevitable and have feared doctor visits, first days of school, new jobs, sleepless nights and have said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.  Am I really going to have to turn to that page??”  Yes.  The answer is, “Yes!” 

And as often as I ask that question, and each and every time I finally find myself turning to the last page of my packet and look up at God and say, “See??  It says I need a calculator!  I don’t have a calculator,” He always replies with, “You don’t.  But I do.”  

Back on August 6th I found out we were expecting our daughter.  I had taken a pregnancy test simply to ease my own mind.  I just wanted to confirm that we were not pregnant so I could go on with my day relaxed.  I expected the pregnancy test to come back negative and to start my cycle that night or the next day and then laugh at myself, “Why did you even worry about that?”  But that’s not what happened.  It didn’t come back negative.  It came back positive. Full. Dark. Instant. ||  Those two pink lines appeared and I began to shake and sweat.  “I’m not reading this right, ”  I thought to myself.  “Serves me right for buying this at the dollar store.  It must have been exposed to extreme temperatures or something.  It must be broken.”  But I knew in my heart that wasn’t true.  I knew in my heart that there was a new life beginning to form inside my body. 

I instantly felt a combination of guilt and fear.  Fear, because we weren’t planning on having another baby.  I was planning to get my tubes tied.  I was planning to go back to work more next year.  We were done with diapers.  Done with nursing.  Done with sleepless nights.  Our house is too small.  Our income is too small.  My faith is too small.  My disease is too big.  My stress is too big.  My boys are too big.  My problems are all too big.  And guilty because of all of my fears and excuses and lack of intense gratitude.  

My fear was all-consuming.  For a week I felt like I was in a daze.  The world seemed foggy, cloudy.  It seemed like I was walking in 4 feet of water and it was rising every moment and I was surely going to drown. I would have a complete meltdown every evening when the bottled up fears of the day would finally overflow.  I would rock back and forth on my bed sobbing saying, “I don’t want this!  I can’t do this!  I’m such a horrible person for even thinking this!”  I was surrounding myself with fear, anxiety, and the problems that were (maybe) going to come in my future.  “I know that in a year from now when I’m holding our baby that I’m going to look back and say that everything is OK, but right now I just can’t imagine that!  What if I can’t handle having this baby!?  I can hardly handle life as it is right now!  Now I’ll have to add an entire additional person to take care of!  How am I going to do it!?  I’m such a horrible mother for even thinking these things…”  I was spiraling out of control, completely and totally drenched in my own unbelief.  I was staring at the last page of my packet focused only on the tools I DID NOT POSSESS to do the task that would be set before me instead of focusing on the ONE who gave this child to me. 

I decided I needed help.  I couldn’t live like that.  I could not live the next 8 months or more in a state of anxiety and depression I couldn’t put my kids through that, my husband through that, or myself through that.  I had a picture of my future self, tightly wound up, a nervous wreck, total basket case, shaking on my bed as I rocked back and forth regularly for the rest of my life. I saw a picture of myself pulling out my own hair, heart pounding, hands shaking, mind racing…for the rest. of. my. life.  And I refused to live like that.  

I started meeting with a psychologist and processed all the things I was thinking and feeling.  I started to identify my fears and problems, and then began to come up with reasonable solutions.  I started to dissect my fears and troubles and separate them into things I could control and things I could not control.  The increase in the already intense amount of housework that we have in our house was something I could not control.  I can, however, control divvying up the chores and teaching my kids to be more responsible and help out so I’m not spread so thin.  My disease and its progression is something I cannot control. But I can control my diet, stress management, and how proactive I am with symptom management.  My disease was something I wouldn’t be able to control with or without a pregnancy.  My small house is something I cannot control.  I can, however, control how much stuff is in my small house and simplify.  I can organize and plan who will sleep where and what we will do with all the toys.  I started to break down my problems and come up with possible answers.

But there was still the very real problem that I had very ardently NOT WANTED another baby.  The guilt associated with this feeling was horrible.  I believe wholeheartedly that the little 4 week old embryo living inside of my body at that moment was a human.  That tiny baby was a life with a soul.  That baby was desired by God and put inside of me with a purpose and a plan, and here I was saying, “I don’t want it.”  I considered the broken heart of God as I looked on a being He loved and created and said, “All of these problems I have are more important than the life you have put inside me.”  No amount of reasoning and problem solving would change the fact that I was DONE with the baby phase. I could not convince myself that this was what I wanted.  I couldn’t talk myself into it because I knew it wasn’t true.

It took probably 10 weeks of prayer, prayer, and more prayer to finally hit the point of being EXCITED to have this baby.  I went through the various stages of grief.  What was I grieving?  The loss of the life I had come to accept and love–and the life I had planned ahead for myself.  The loss of a dream of working as a sub full-time, being able to take flights without a toddler or infant, the ability to soon go to a restaurant without screaming children at my table, meals without constant tears and negotiation…Life was about to get easier in so many ways as all my children were about to be school-aged!  And all of that disappeared. I denied the pregnancy to myself by refusing to think about it.  I didn’t even want to look at pregnant women.  Seeing a pregnant belly would make me feel sick to my stomach.  It would just churn with anxiety.  I was angry that God would change my life so dramatically without talking to me about it first.  I would try to talk God into taking it all from me so I could just go on with my life thinking I’d dodged a bullet (horrible to think…I know.  I don’t even like admitting it to myself).  I would become depressed and cry and want to just lay on the couch all day.  It was difficult to enjoy even the things I loved.  But eventually, I accepted what was happening.

One of the most beautiful things that came through this time of prayer and focus was the realization that God had been working this out in me for a really long time.  Back in March I went to a two hour class about different forms of birth control so that I could sign some papers agreeing to get my tubes tied.  As I signed the paperwork I prayed in my mind, “God, if this is not what you want for me, please close the door in some way.  If this is not what’s best for me and my family, then prevent it.  I want to do the right thing.  I think this is the right thing.  But I could be wrong.  And if I’m wrong, I want you to stop me.  I’m giving you permission to hijack this plan of mine to make sure I’m in line with what you want for me.”  I really didn’t have another baby in mind when I was praying this.  I was thinking a little more selfishly like, “If this surgery would cause major problems to my body, then stop this.”  But six months later when I still hadn’t heard from the doctors to schedule my surgery, and I got those two pink lines on a stick, God was answering that prayer that I had completely forgotten I had prayed.

Now, 18 weeks after finding out about being pregnant, I’m so ridiculously excited about this baby girl we are going to be welcoming into the world.  I am already realizing that God was right all along.  I still don’t have my calculator in hand, but I’m pretty convinced that, when I need it, God is going to hand me one.  I know that God is not going to give me a task without the tools I need to accomplish it.  I know that, while on my own, what lies ahead seems impossible, especially to the outside world, that all things are possible with God.  I still, occasionally, look ahead and think, “What if I need a c-section?  What if she’s born a premie?  What if I don’t recover well?  What if my milk never comes in right?  What if she doesn’t sleep well?  What if she isn’t healthy?  What if…”  And I keep telling myself to stop jumping ahead.  Stop flipping to the last page and expecting to already be equipped with what I need to work through the problems when I don’t yet have those problems to solve.  Quit focusing so much on what lies in the future that I cannot control and start focusing on what I am dealing with today, right now, in this moment.  Remember the times that God has brought me through the “impossible” and trust that He will bring me through the “impossible” if and when it comes.  Pray for peace, joy, love, hope, faith.  Pray for a happy, healthy, good sleeper (amen and amen!) instead of worrying about what it will be like if she isn’t.  Be EXCITED!  Be WILLING!  TRUST.

Will my students probably still ask questions and worry about how they’ll finish their homework in the future?  Probably.  Will they continue to flip to the back of the packet, jump ahead, and then panic when they don’t know what they’re doing?  Yes.  They will.  But maybe, over time, they’ll worry less and less.  Maybe they’ll eventually learn to trust me in the same way I’ve been learning to trust God.

 

When I Want to Tell the Truth

When I was a kid (probably around 5 years old?) I remember my neighbors were going somewhere to get ice cream. (I always thought it was much cooler like seeing horses…but it was just ice cream…)  I don’t remember most of the evening, but what I remember is that I really wanted to go with them.  They told me I had to ask my parents.  When I did, they said “no.”  I think I remember they had to go somewhere that evening and we had a sitter coming over.  But I really really wanted to go.  So I ran back to my neighbor’s house and said, “They said yes!”  We hopped into the car and all left!

Now, this was before cell phones so it isn’t like my parents could call up and ask Brenda if I was with them.  I imagine they were reeling praying that I was with them and not with some crazy person who somehow nabbed be in the 20 feet between our two homes. When I got home I was in SO MUCH TROUBLE.  I had completely ruined my parents’ plans for the evening and they had been worried sick.  I’m sure I also lost the trust of my neighbors.

Like most children, I had a tendency to lie about stupid stuff.  Never about anything that was really important or consequential, but silly things.  I told all my friends in 3rd grade that I had “Michael Jackson Disease” and that I was really black and related to Michael Jordan. For some reason I always wanted to be black.  That was my way of making it true for myself.  Silly and inconsequential, but a lie nonetheless.

As I got older and had others lie to me about things I realized how much it stinks to be lied to and I felt like I really wanted to be honest with people.  But the pull to lie about silly things was so difficult.  If someone asked me why I didn’t call the night before I’d feel compelled to say, “oh I got really busy and didn’t have a chance,” instead of just being honest and saying, “I was too tired,” or “I completely forgot.”  If I arrived to work a few minutes late it was easier to say, “I hit every red light” than it was to say, “I’m sorry.  I lost track of time.”

But why do we even lie about those things in the first place?  Lying disconnects us from the responsibility of our actions, or so we like to think.  Instead of admitting truth and taking ownership for our thoughts, feelings, actions, and how they impact others, we would rather bend the truth or explain away what we’ve done to make ourselves look better.

At some point I decided that I was tired of being lied to and lied about and if I wanted to be in the right, I needed to not lie to others.  It was so difficult.  So I asked God to do what He had to do to make me not lie.  Let me be caught.  Make me feel convicted to the point of admitting my wrongdoing and rectifying the situation.  I don’t want to lie anymore.

That. Was. Hard.

My junior year in high school I went to hang out with some friends on New Years Eve and got totally trashed.  I was so angry with myself.  I had completely destroyed my witness as a Christian to people I cared deeply about.  I made myself look totally foolish and let my emotions get the best of me.  I had been so saddened by people around me for years who were wasting their lives in a drunken stupor and felt like I had been such a hypocrite.  I felt so convicted that I finally went to my dad and step mom and told them I had something to confess.  I told them what I had done and they forgave me completely.  I wasn’t in trouble.  They knew I had punished myself enough over the situation.  That was just one of several times I had to go to them and confess something I had done.  They almost always knew the truth already and they always forgave me.

Shortly after Josh and I were married we became pregnant with our first child.  It was a whirlwind.  I was still a full-time student, working two jobs, and Josh didn’t have a job.  I didn’t know what I was going to do. I felt sick all the time.  I had to go to classes.  I was almost done.  This was my final semester before student teaching.  One day I realized I had forgotten to do an online assignment for a History class.  It was due the day before and I thought I’d go online to see if the discussion was still open so I could post.  It had closed.  For whatever stupid reason I decided to email the professor and tell him that the site had not been working for me and that’s why I didn’t do the assignment.  Guess what.  I got caught.  He had his assistant turn the discussion back on and check my account and lo and behold, it was working just fine.  He called me out on it.  He said he had to come to the conclusion that I “was lying.”  Those words cut me like a knife.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Why had I even said anything in the first place?!  Why didn’t I just leave it alone.  Students forget assignments all the time.  Now my character was tarnished with this professor, whom I actually really liked.  I felt totally and completely convicted…just like I had asked for.

Did you know that going back to a superior and admitting you’ve lied and asking for their forgiveness sucks?  I emailed that professor back and apologized for lying.  I explained that we had been going through so many things and I don’t know why I did it.  I explained that I guess the pressure had just gotten to me.  I told him I was wrong and I felt horrible and asked him to please forgive me.  I never heard back from him.  It was so hard.  And going back into the classroom to see him face to face was even harder.  I never knew whether or not he had forgiven me for what I had done or not…and still don’t. He has probably long since forgotten me, but I haven’t forgotten him.

Over the years I’ve had similar things happen when I have said something ridiculous to get out of responsibility for something and had to call back and apologize.  But the older I get the more sensitive I’ve become to lies.  I find myself being brutally honest with my kids.  When they ask me excitedly, “What would happen if I jumped into the water!?”  I respond, “you would die.”  I don’t say, “you might get hurt,” or “that would make me so sad” because the reality is that they would drown and die if they jumped off the pier into the ocean.  They can’t swim and I’m not so good at it myself.  I find myself sensitive when people lie to my kids about silly things or ask me to do the same.  If I lie or others lie to my children and it seems OK, then why is it NOT OK for them to lie?

This doesn’t mean that I have to speak my mind about everything.  I don’t go out of my way to tell someone what I think just for the sake of being honest.  It isn’t like The Invention of Lying.  Being truthful does not mean you always have to say anything at all.  It’s often OK to say nothing.  In this day and age of Facebook posts and comments, I feel we go out of our way to comment our opinions just for the sake of doing it rather than just scrolling past and ignoring something we don’t want to see.  So there is a balance.

As a parent I’ve prayed over and over and over again that my boys would grow to be men of conviction.  They would know right from wrong and have the urge to act upon it. I have prayed that they would have strong character and values.  I’ve prayed that when they do something wrong, that they would get CAUGHT!  Why?  Because they may tell little, inconsequential white lies today.  But in the future lying may be so second nature that they can’t even discern the truth from the lie anymore.  They may lie so much that they’ve convinced themselves they’re being honest.  I want them to learn to be honest, take responsibility for their actions, and accept the consequences.  I want them to WANT to tell the truth.

The day one of my boys comes to me, admits he did something wrong, and asks for forgiveness will be a proud day for me because I know just how difficult that is.

 

This afternoon I had the joy of hanging out with one of my close friends.  We took our children (4 in all) to a local arboretum and watched on happily as our children soaked in the sunshine, fresh air, and each other.

On the way home we had a great conversation about parenting.  We talked about how we have all had our horrible days when we just hate ourselves because we feel like we totally blew this whole mom thing.  And other days (like today) that went great!  We talked about how we all have different methods of discipline and instruction, but all in all, we have the same goals in mind and a loving heart.  We laughed about how it is so different being a teacher, auntie, or babysitter than it is to actually being the parent!  We talked about how it’s so hard to look into someone else’s situation when we can’t truly understand what they’re going through.

And that thought has stuck with me all afternoon.

As a young adult I imagined myself being an incredible mom.  I would be totally engaged.  I’d be a cool mom. But not too cool. I was going to raise strong, independent, hard working, respectful kids because I watched other peoples’ kids throw temper tantrums in the store, yell at their parents, and cheat on their homework.  That wasn’t going to be my kid. was going to do a better job.

Then I became a mom.  As a mom of one child I had it all together.  My kid was a great sleeper because let him cry it out.  Sleep wouldn’t be an issue if everyone did that.  My kid ate all fresh, homemade pureed food and was going to be a healthy kid.  No sugar until his first birthday.  I wasn’t going to be like the moms who give their kids canned pasta and chocolate milk.  No way.  Not me.

Then I became a mom of two…and suffered with PPD.  My new angel wouldn’t sleep…no matter what I did.  He just cried all the time.  I tried to let him cry but it didn’t work!  What the heck?!  And my totally freshly fed older child now only wanted peanut butter and jelly and pancakes!  All that work wasted!  I felt awful inside and out.  I wanted to scream and cry and lose my temper.  But I didn’t want to ask for help.  could do it.  I didn’t need help.  I suffered.

As a mom of three boys I totally screw up all the time.  I get mad over stupid things.  I feel tired most of the time.  I should probably be playing more and working less.  Maybe I should focus less on getting chores done and let them get a little dirty.  But I know all of these things about myself.  I know that I’m far from perfect…and I think most of us moms are aware of this.

The problem is when we think we have the right to tell someone else all they need to do better. Because we know better…even when we don’t.

Before I had stepped onto the parenting boat I would sit on the shore and watch the ships out on the sea.  I would stare in shock as they tossed and turned in the water…sometimes nearly tipping over.  I would watch in amazement wondering why people didn’t just follow the simple instructions that came with this whole parenting thing.  Just have boundaries.  Just say no.  Just don’t let your toddler rule your life. Just…JustJust…  It seemed so simple.  But it wasn’t until I stepped into my own boat and made my way out to sea that I realized how deep, how murky, and how treacherous the waters really are.  Once you think you’ve dodged one wave, another has come from a completely different direction to threaten the stability of the boat.  Wave after wave until you feel like you’re drowning.  It’s not until you endure the storms, the torrential rains, the massive swells that you realize that only so much of this is in your control and realize you never should have judged those crazy parents…because now you are one. And there are ignorant people out on the tranquil beaches watching as you struggle with condemning faces just like you used to do.

I remember as a little girl reading a story about not judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  Somewhere along the way in life we have forgotten this old proverb.  Of course we are all naturally going to make judgements about the rightness or wrongness of a situation: Yes it is wrong to be impolite.  It is wrong to steal.  It is wrong to murder.  It is wrong to lie. It is right to be generous.  It is right to be kind.  It is right to be patient…etc.  But we go a step further and make judgements with comparisons such as, “They are bad parents.”  Or worse yet, “I’m a better parent.”

 

I’ve been a stay at home mom now for 8.5 years.  I have 3 kids. I’ve worked part time for the last year and have gotten a taste for what it feels like to work and parent and it’s hard. I’ve gotten to do the dedicated stay at home mom thing.  It’s hard and I’m no closer to knowing everything than I was 9 years ago!  NOTHING in life (for me) has been harder than being a mom.  I cannot imagine anything being harder except maybe dreaming of being a parent and never having it fulfilled.  Being a parent is a constant test of your character.  Your kids will continuously attempt to push the boundaries.  They will stretch you to your limits and then force you to stretch a little further.  They will bring you joy, laughter, tears, guilt, embarrassment, and a whole heap of judgement.  (but they’re so worth it…)

So, to my friends who are watching from the shore… Please show generosity in your thoughts and actions toward those who are tossing on the choppy seas.  Instead of offering your criticism, offer a hand.  Instead of judgement, show kindness.  Try to be understanding and patient just as you would hope someone would do for you.

And, to my mommy and daddy friends out there.  Keep on keeping on.  The waves will come and go.  You’ll have massive successes and epic failures.  You will recover.  You will not be perfect.  You will show your kids how to be imperfect and how to get back up again.