Thursday, October 30, 2014

what I want you to know about giving birth

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I feel like I went into my first birth super naive. I mean, don't most of us? We've never done it before. And sadly we live in a culture where birth has become a bit shrouded and there's a lot of fear surrounding it. Ya, we see it in movies but we all know how inaccurate those portrayals are (at least I hope we know that). Seriously, almost no one's water breaks at the grocery store. In fact, most women's water doesn't break until well into labor (was that even grammatically correct?). And we read birth stories on every blog. But we all know everything isn't shared and it's not like we are sitting right there in the room to experience birth live, in the moment.

If there is one thing that I have learned through giving birth to babies, it's this:

have absolutely no expectations, except trust in the Lord.

Now, I'm not saying don't get educated. Please be educated. Please prepared! Read every birthing book you can get a hold of (and while you're at it, skip What to Expect While Expecting, Pregnancy Week by Week and anything published by Baby Center). Take a birthing class (not at the hospital) from a birth professional - Bradley Method, Lamaze, Hypnobirthing, Christian Childbirth, anything taught by a Doula or Midwife. Hire a doula and talk to her a lot. Ask a zillion questions of your care provider. And if anyone you know will let you, attend a birth. Seriously, do it.

Because here's the thing-
Every mother is different.
Every pregnancy is different.
Every baby is different.
Every circumstance and situation is different.
Every labor is different.
Every delivery is different.

I've now given birth 4 times [IsabellaIsaacEliStella]. And they were 4 very different births. Each one was so incredibly unique. And unexpected.

To enter into labor expecting anything in particular will only rob you of the unique experience you are going to have and any lesson or growth you are purposed to learn and endure.

Can we just talk for a minute about the difference between plans and expectations?

Am I saying don't have a birth plan? No. Obviously there are things you want. That's a given. Please have a plan. You should know what you want. But don't expect everything to go exactly how you want. Instead, be as prepared as you can, surrounded by people who support the things that you want, ready to follow what your body is telling you as labor progresses.

There is a difference between expecting things to happen that are completely out of your control and being prepared for what is going to happen. Your birth plan should be focused on the things you can control: the environment you want to be in (home, hospital, dark, light, aroma, music, water, etc), the way you'd like to labor (moving around, in a tub, lying down, squatting etc), how you'd like to proceed if something does arise and your care provider wants or needs to intervene, and what you want and don't want for your baby when he or she is born. Absolutely have that in place.

But you can't go into labor expecting it to be x-number of hours, thinking your water is going to break at this exact point (say, while I'm in the shower), expecting your body to give you plenty of time for rest in between contractions, hoping you'll only have to push for 15 minutes. Those are unreasonable expectations. Believe me. Been there, done that.

I have a rule - read or watch absolutely no birth stories within 6 months of my due date.

None. No exceptions. Not even just "the good ones". None.

You know why? When I say have no expectations, I mean I don't want any good ones or bad ones. If I hear a really "good" birth story, I'm likely to start thinking, "hey maybe that will happen to me!" and then when it doesn't, I get discouraged. If I hear a "bad" birth story, I start thinking, "oh jeez, what if that happens to me?!" and then if it does I'm totally discouraged.

If I'm going to stay encouraged during labor, it's not going to be because I read a really good birth story. It's going to be because my focus is on the task at hand. And because I'm trusting in the One who designed my body with the ability to endure the task at hand.

Instead of reading birth stories, I spend all of my time preparing for labor and birth in prayer and in the word. Lots and lots of prayer. Lots and lots of reading scripture. Lots and lots of journaling. Lots and lots of recognizing sin in my life, repenting of it and growing closer to the Lord. Lots and lots of simply trusting God.

I desire to get out of my labor exactly what God intends for me- nothing more, nothing less. I don't want to walk away from my baby's birth disappointed because it didn't happen the way I had expected. But I also don't want to walk away from birth prideful because I did everything right. Because I didn't. God did.

So if there's any piece of advice I would give to a mother-in-waiting, whether this is your first or seventh birth, it would be, have absolutely no expectations. Instead simply trust God. Because you can expect Him to strengthen you, help you, uphold you and give you peace.

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God uses words, so keep writing

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Sometimes I find myself believing this nonsense that writing is a saturated market. Do you ever think that too?

There's just so many blogs.
There's just so many books.

Certainly there is no room for my voice, for my story, for my thoughts, for my words.

Do you ever catch yourself thinking that? And believing it?

I've been fairly quiet in this space for a while. Partially because I have a very young brood of children to attend to at all hours of the day. Partially because I started to convince myself that my voice didn't need to be heard.

A lot of people write about the same things I write about. Why do my words matter?

But there is one thing that has continued to ring true in my mind lately and that is this: God uses words. God works through writers. Just take a look at the bible. He used 40 different authors, over the span of 2000 years, across 3 continents, who wrote in 3 different languages. He used all of them, unique and different, yet serving one unified purpose, to speak to His people.

Of course this is not to say that my words are as significant as scripture. Certainly not. After all, the bible is the word. The truth. Nothing is as important or crucial to our lives as the living word, our daily bread. There is no substitute for it and nothing can come close in significance and necessity to the living, breathing word of God.

My point is simply that God uses words, written by all kinds of different people.

I am not the same as the next blogger. Yes, we may have some similarities, you and me, but I assure you that we are more different than we are alike. We've walked different paths, experienced different difficulties, different joys, learned different lessons, sought out Jesus in different ways and at different times. What we write about may be similar but our words are going to be different. And I believe that there will always be room for more words.

Words have power and validity and there is always room for more words. But not flippant words, not mindless chatter. Words with meaning. Intentional words. Words that exhort, counsel, encourage, educate, train up, advise, rebuke. Words that matter rather than words just for the sake of words.

So write. Take out a piece of paper and scribble those thoughts that are bouncing around in your head. Open the laptop and start typing. Push the record button on your device and start talking. However you record your words, simply do it. Get them down because God can use them. Share them with others because God wants to use you.

He has called us all to encourage, build up, and exhort one another daily. Sometimes that means picking up the phone and calling a friend (words), sometimes that means writing a quick email or text to someone who needs to hear from you (words), sometimes that means posting on Instagram what the Holy Spirit revealed to you this morning (words) and sometimes that means writing an entire book on a subject that others need to hear about (lots of words).

Whatever the method, as long as we are obedient to Him, I believe that God uses our words.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

dear Stella - a letter to my daughter about embracing femininity

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My Dearest Stella-

I am sorry that this is the world in which you are growing up. It's a world that tells us as women that our bodies are broken, that there is something wrong with them and that we need intervention in order to fix them.

They offer birth control pills to put off pregnancy because "it's just not fair that men don't have to carry babies but we do." Abortion to rid ourselves of that burden in case the pills fail and we accidentally get pregnant. Egg freezing so that we can have babies later when we do decide that it's time. And all for what? So we can "be like men" and have a career? Daughter, the truth is that keeping a home and raising children is an admirable and respectable career. It's a career that carries with it far more influence and power than it receives credit for.

All of these "solutions" imply that the very nature of how our bodies work as a woman needs correction, assistance and help. Supposedly we're broken and we need to be fixed. Nuh uh. You are not broken. You were made in the image of your Creator. He designed you with perfection and skill. You do not need to change the way you were made to function. Sweet girl, what you do need to do is embrace your femininity. Own it. Live it. And don't ever support efforts to change it because they all carry with them the same message- you're broken and you need to be fixed. What a big fat lie.

When you find yourself believing that lie, when you start to think that being a woman is hard, my prayer for you is that you'll remember who God made you to be, and how much He cherishes you as that person. You are distinctly female. You carry within your heart and soul feminine qualities- qualities that no man can possess. Press into those things. Embrace those things.

Daughter, you are the crown of creation. Over the course of six glorious, incredible days, God made the earth and the expanses of the sky, the universe, the sun and the moon. He filled the earth with water and land and everything that walks and swims and crawls and flies. He planted seeds and trees and made them grow. And he made a man. And He said that it was good. It was all so, so good. But do you know what was not good? For man to be alone. And do you know how He solved that? He made a woman. Woman, the very last created being in the entire creation story. And with her, it was all complete. Finished. Done. Because, after that, He rested from His work. It was complete.

He crowned creation with the beauty and femininity of woman. And He adores you sweet girl. He loves you and dotes on you. You bless Him and He delights in you Just the way He made you.

Do you see why there is no change that needs to be made? Do you see why I can so confidently tell you that you are not broken, you are not in need of help, you don't need a solution for your femininity? Because, you never were broken. There never was anything wrong. There is nothing you need to change or apologize for in being distinctly female.

Stella, I thank God every day for who He made you to be. You are a daughter of the Most High King. You are the beautiful and wonderful and delightful work of His hands. What a glorious and incredible gift you are to me, to your family, and to those around you. Don't you ever think of yourself as anything less than that. Because you are actually so much more, worth so much more. You have within you a divine dignity.

I love you sweet girl and so does Jesus. I pray that you will never ever forget that Jesus loves you and that the truth of that knowledge will penetrate your heart and cause you to live for His glory, chasing after Him with total abandon all the days of your life.

And I cannot wait to watch as that happens.

With all the love a mother can give,

Your mommy

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

you are secure in Christ // a lesson I learned during pregnancy

I am in them and You are in me, that they may become perfectly one -Jesus praying about His followers (you and me) to the Father, shortly before He was crucified (John 17:23).

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I mentioned a few weeks back on Instagram that I'm working on a book about preparing spiritually, emotionally and mentally for labor and birth. Well, it's less of a book and more of a pregnancy companion, but either way, I'm working on it.

And by "working" I mean, slowly, very slowly, organizing all of my thoughts on how what I did during my pregnancy with Stella to prepare for labor changed everything about my labor. 

One of the truths that I clung to for those 9 months and particularly during those 8 hours of labor was this:

All I need is Jesus. In Jesus I have all that I need.

I had been reading and journaling through Colossians. It's a book written entirely about Jesus (as most of the epistles are), but it's also about who we are in Jesus and what we have in Jesus all because of Jesus. In chapter 2, Paul is talking about the importance of being rooted and built up in Christ. And then he warns us to not be deceived by other philosophies, religions or traditions that are not of Christ. Then in verse 9 and 10 he says, "For in [Jesus], the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him who is the head of all rule and authority."

Basically he's saying, don't get sucked into that stuff, you know why?? Because of who Jesus is. All of that junk is worthless. Don't buy into the garbage. You don't need it! All you need is Jesus! In Him dwells the fullness of deity. He is God. You need nothing aside from Him. And guess what, if you are saved by the grace of God, you have already been filled in Him, by Him, with Him. And He has all authority. So don't sweat it. He's got it. All you need is Him and in Him, you have all that you need.

Now, this could easily turn into a theology lesson but I won't do that to you. Instead, can we just talk a little bit about what "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" actually means? Because it sounds so fancy and that in itself could be an entire book. It's so rich and loaded with beautiful and incredible truth. Let's just rest in that verse for a moment because I think if we can actually wrap our brain around it (or at least try), it would completely change how we see Jesus and ultimately, how we see ourselves. 

For in Jesus, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. In Jesus, the whole fullness of deity dwells. That means the Godhead- 3 in 1, the trinity, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, all reside in Jesus. That last word "bodily" is talking about how Jesus is the visual, incarnate Christ. Jesus is God who put on flesh. He partook of flesh and blood and became the image of God for us to see. The writer of Hebrews says it this way, "The Son is the express image of [God's] person" (Hebrews 1:3). And John writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became flesh" (John 1:1, 14). Jesus, fully God, came to earth and became fully man. And in Him resides all of God and all power, rule, authority, and dominion forever and ever.

And "you have been filled in Him." Several other versions (I'm quoting from ESV) use language like, "you have been brought to fullness" and "you have been made complete" and "you are complete in Him."

Why would that be? Because, if you have Jesus, if you believe in Him and have accepted His sacrifice for your sins, then Jesus is in you. Galations 2:20 says it better than I can (duh): "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." And if that doesn't convince you, maybe Jesus' own words will. Shortly before He was arrested and sent to be crucified, Jesus prayed to the Father and we get to read His prayer in John 17. From verse 20 on, Jesus is praying for "those who will believe in me through their word." In other words, He's praying for you and me. And He says this in verse 26, "I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them." If you have given your life to Him, Jesus is in you.

So let's take that a step further, because we can't just stop there. Christian, if Jesus is in you (which He is) and the fullness of deity is in Jesus (which it is), then guess what? You have the fullness of deity living in you. If Jesus is in me, then all that is in Jesus is in me. That is why the author of Colossians can say that you have been brought to fullness, that you have been made complete and that you are complete. Because, in Jesus you are complete. You have been filled. The end.

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Should we take it a little bit further? Because I really think we should. I mean, there's a whole lot of security in that truth alone. But it truly doesn't end there. Here's why: not only is Jesus in you (John 17:26), but you are in Jesus (John 17:21) and Jesus is in the Father (John 17:21) and the Father is in Jesus (John 17:21,23) and the Holy Spirit is in you (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19) and you are in the Father (John 17:21). 

Does your brain hurt yet? Mine sure does.

And what all of that means is that there is incredible unity and oneness to be had. It already exists and we are invited to partake in it! There is unity and security and oneness in Christ. And it is our's because of Jesus.

Ultimately the truth that we can glean from this is: you are secure in Christ. Not because of who you are or what you have done. Can we be honest here, you and me? We are nothing and have done nothing. We can do nothing. But in Jesus, through Jesus, because of Jesus, because of who He is and what He has done, you are secure. 

And that is why I clung so tightly to this truth during pregnancy and into labor. Because, if I am secure in the Lord, then there is nothing to fear. I can trust totally and completely in His plan for me, no matter what that looks like. Everything can fall apart and yet, I'm taken care of. I'm secure. Or everything can go perfectly and still, I'm taken care of. I'm secure. The circumstances have no bearing if you are rooted and secure in Jesus. All that matters is Him in you and you in Him. 

All I need is Jesus. In Jesus I have all that I need.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

one year in our house // an update part 1

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One year ago, on September 30, 2013, we closed escrow on our very first house. I cannot even believe we have been in this house for a year and I am still amazed at how much the Lord has provided for us in that time. If you want to go back, you can read here about how I was pretty sure we'd never buy a house, even though our offer had been accepted. There was still so much more to go through in order for this beauty (I say that with all sarcasm), was to be ours.

And yet, against all odds, this couple who thought they'd be renters forever, became home owners one year ago.

Obviously I still remember signing the mountain of paperwork. I remember when our realtor dropped off the keys. And I remember using those keys to enter this place for the first time as the proud (or possibly regretful) owners of this house. But seriously, this post will fill you in on the condition of the house when we first bought it.

So just for fun, I thought I'd post some photos of the befores, the in the processes and the afters, of a ton of projects we've done around the house. The work we have put into this place still amazes me. And when I say "we" I really mean Ben. He has become an electrician, a carpenter, a plumber, a mason, an even better gardener and landscaper, and a chicken wrangler, just to name a few.

In one year, so much has happened in this house (aside from all the work we've done). We found out shortly after moving in that I was pregnant with Stella. There was a whole lot of zombie-morning-sickness-Jessi during the move-in process which made things a bit challenging. We celebrated Eli's 1st birthday, his 2nd Christmas and Isaac's 3rd birthday. In June Stella was born, in this house, in our bed. And in the midst of all of that, this house has truly become our home. We've worked hard to make it a comfortable, cozy place in which to make many, many memories.

And without further ado, the pictures!

Floors. One of the major projects we decided to do ourselves (and again, by "we" I mean Ben) was the floors. house before and afters
We had carpet installed before we moved in (the entire house was originally that orange-y laminate you see in the photo on the left). These floors desperately needed replacing.
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A few other things of note in these photos. The kitchen, we've barely touched it. It's one of the last projects on our list (along with blinds in all the windows). We've added new-to-us appliances, replaced the lighting, took down a gross dirty ceiling fan and replaced it with a very awesome light, and put in new floors. But that's all. The plan is to paint the cabinets, add knobs, and replace the counters, sink and faucet. I can't wait to get going on it! I think now that the weather has cooled off we can get going on the cabinet painting.

And here is a look at the hallway as it went through the renovation process:
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The master bedroom door. That's the door at the end of the hallway. This was one of the first projects where Ben had to teach himself how to do something brand new: install a door. He didn't just take one door off the hinges and replace it with another one. He pulled out the door frame and all to replace the entire thing. I'll share more of that project in the next post.

The living room. The first room that we tackled was the living room, for obvious reasons. 
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First we painted, marshmallow white. Then we added carpet, furniture, replaced the window, decorated and added a ceiling fan (and by "added" I mean Ben installed the entire thing, dropped a wire down the wall and added a switch. He got electrocuted- not because of a mistake he made, but because of some very shoddy work done by a previous resident that was highly dangerous and against code- and almost devoured by a giant spider in the attic during the process. My hero). We also decorated the entryway, and you can see more about that here (keep in mind that post was before we replaced the floors).

I'll share the other side of this room in my next post along with the backyard transformation and a few other little projects.