When Advent Arrived

Brad's wallet had been missing for almost a week.  With all of the feeding, working, diaper changing, toddler rearing, and family gatherings, we'd hardly had time to give looking a good focused effort.  We were sharing a debit card, and trying to rack our brain for days about where the wallet could be.  After exhausting all of the typical locations, Brad began to tear the house apart and check every nook and cranny for clues to the the wallet's whereabouts.  No luck.  It was time to move on to the next phase of searching...retracing his steps and calling any place where he might have left it.  A phone call to Fazoli's, the library, and the police station left us with no other option than to declare it officially, lost.

Finally, when it seemed like there was no stone unturned and no step untraced, Brad knelt down with Lewis to do what probably should have been done from the beginning...together they prayed and asked God to please reveal where the wallet was or for some confirmation that it was truly lost.  The next moment, when he and Lewis finished the short prayer, Brad opened his eyes from the prayer only to look over at a nearby car seat and see his wallet sitting right there.

When Brad called to tell me what had happened, I was pulling into the mall parking lot on one of the last shopping Saturdays before Christmas.  Crazy?  Maybe...but this was the first time I had been out of the house for more than a few minutes in almost six weeks.  I was on cloud nine to have an hour and fifteen minutes where I wasn't running urgent errands, and wasn't worrying about pumping or needing to feed a crying baby.  Brad face-timed me (we are new at the iphone thing) so I picked up.  Note: face time and driving do not mix - don't try it.  As I was juggling watching both the parking lot and the video on my phone, I picked up an image of Lewis standing there playing with Brad's wallet while Brad praised God and shared the incredible story of answered prayer.

I walked through the mall and wasn't even frustrated that there were so many people, lines, and craziness.  Tears were welling in my eyes because for the first time in so long, I felt that God was near.  My hour and fifteen minutes felt like three hours...I found a cute sweater, picked up some bigger pajamas for Lewis, and finished some Christmas shopping.  I grabbed dinner without waiting in any lines and even swiped a movie from Redbox for Brad and I to watch later.  It was so refreshing.

Driving home I uttered a silent, "thank you" to God in my heart for the events of that afternoon.

This advent season has been full of my trying...
trying to be strong while my babies were in the NICU
trying to get through the day without having a bad attitude amidst sleep deprivation and hormones
trying to be a good parent to Lewis
trying to remember that I'm also a wife to a husband who needs my love and attention
trying to stop eating so many sweets when I'm worn down and feeling hungry
trying to not stress out about things like sleeping and milk supply
trying to be obedient to God...a God I haven't talked to very much lately.

And I felt truly grateful...that the gospel, the reason that Jesus came down to earth was to save me from my trying.  He is faithful and pursues me even when I'm not faithful and I don't pursue him.  Because He took all of the punishment for my sin in my place, I don't have to worry that God is angry with me when I'm out of fellowship with him.  He is holding on to me and is near, even when I am far.

As I sang Christmas carols to Lewis before bed that night, for the first time this advent season, I sang them IN WORSHIP about a real Jesus who really came, really lived, really died, really rose again and really saved.

"Then let us all with one accord,
sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
and with His blood mankind has bought."

Dear Second-time Mom, here are some things to remember...

[photo snapped a couple of weeks ago in the NICU]
Dear Emily,

It's your second time to do this "mom" thing, and although you've been through this before, there are a few things in particular that are worth remembering during this season...

Currently, you feel like you've been hit by a freight train.  Praise the Lord for hormones and adrenaline, because it's the only thing keeping you running between feedings and short two hour stretches of sleep. I know it's hard.  These may be the most difficult weeks of the whole first year but know they will come to an end.  Hang on and believe that a full-night's sleep IS in your future.  Not only will you sleep through the night, but you will again go to the shopping mall, the coffee shop, and the grocery store without meticulously planning around feedings.  You will go on dates with your husband, and feel like a normal person soon.

Speaking of being "normal", your stomach looks less than normal, in fact, you still look pregnant.  This is distressing, because you were fairly confident that slipping into something that isn't labeled "maternity" was going to happen soon.  You're still wearing those maternity jeans and hanging around in oversized sweatshirts that hide your belly, and it's okay.  Even though you came back from the hospital significantly lighter, it will take months to lose the rest of the weight.  This will be a difficult task because producing breast milk will make you just as hungry as you were in your third trimester.  Hang in there, try to eat healthy, and when you feel up to it, start exercising again.  With a little bit of patience, your old jeans have hope of making it back into your closet.

Although the infant stage takes a lot from you physically, there are rewards too (and you know exactly what I'm referring to).  In the midst of sleepless nights and a flabby belly, you get to hold a miracle in your arms and it's wonderful.  There is nothing like cuddling your very own bundle of joy and being intricately involved with the details of a little person's life.  Your nurturing instincts are kicking into high gear right now...this might feel like crazy person hormones sometimes though, so make sure that you remember to be reasonable.  When you feel super crabby and start snapping at people (especially your husband), excuse yourself and take a nap.

Incase you are too tired and delirious to remember at the moment, I will let you know that this stage goes by so quickly.  One minute you are rocking a swaddled infant to sleep, and the next you are locking your cabinets and chasing a toddler around the house.  Your baby will grow up.  It happens so fast.

Each little season will hold different treasures and different challenges.  Embrace them.  Don't always wish you were on to the next thing, assuming it's easier.  In some ways it will be, and in other ways you will wish you had an immobile little infant again (even with the added crying).  Be content where your child is right now, and soak up every minute.

Eventually you will forget what it felt like to be pregnant.  The memories of nausea and aching hips will wear off.  You will feel like yourself.  Eventually you will forget what it felt like to labor all day and deliver.  Eventually you will look back on those first 12 weeks and have blurry memories of how you got through it.  It won't seem that bad, and it will feel totally worth it.

Second-time mommy, hang in there...this too shall pass.

Your less-sleep deprived self

Our Journey to Parenthood - Laura from "Oakland Avenue"

As part of my blogging hiatus, please enjoy this post by my amazing sister-in-law and friend, Laura.  Check out her blog, because she's kind of a mommy blogger rockstar ;-).  If you missed the first post in the series, read about Abby's journey to parenthood and the story of God's grace in the midst of miscarriage.  

I aways wanted to have children later in life. While "later in life" is quite the subjective term, for me, that meant early thirties. I thought I'd get married in my late twenties, enjoy a few years of just being a couple with my husband, then ease into parenthood like gently releasing a canoe into a placid lake. Instead, my canoe flipped of the roof of my car, landed hard on the shore and bounced into the lake in the middle of a hurricane.

married a Hugh Grant look-alike at 23, soon after graduating college. We both wanted 4.5 children - he wanted three, I wanted five or six, so we compromised when sharing our "public number" at 4.5. We also knew we wanted to wait a bit, he felt he just wasn't ready and wanted to be more "financially prepared," but for me it was a different reason. While I wanted a lot of children, I didn't really want any babies. I was never a baby-person growing up, I just wasn't interested in them and didn't know what to do when interacting with them. I never volunteered to hold a friend's baby and I definitely never babysat unless I had to. I was the type that wished children came out as thirteen-year-olds, picking out their own clothes, feeding themselves dinner, communicating their emotions in plain English - minus the hormones of course.

All throughout our first few years of marriage, my husband and I talked about having kids "sooner rather than later" but each time "sooner" came, we pushed it out another year, maybe two. In 2011 our friends and family were just starting to get pregnant and have children which helped move our needle a little closer to the "ready" side, but it still moved pretty slowly. I had a fulfilling career in public relations at a local agency and knowing that we'd like me to stay home with the kids, I wasn't quite ready to give it up, plus the DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) lifestyle is pretty fun - we were content to play the doting aunt and uncle. 

In June 2012 my husband and I took a two-week vacation. It was never meant to be our babymoon, but God had other plans. In August of that same year, we found out I was pregnant. As I walked downstairs with the positive test to show my husband, I couldn't stop the tears. I didn't feel I was ready to have a baby, be a mom, or give up our current life, but deep down, all of that just masked my true reasons - I was scared. Scared that I wouldn't know what to do with a baby at 2 a.m., scared that my baby wouldn't love me back, scared that I wouldn't be as good of a mother as my friends or sister-in-laws, scared of everything and anything that had to do with me being a mother to a baby. 

Throughout the months waiting for our son, I cried a lot. I struggled with anxiety, fears and worry over how I would ever manage to take care of a baby. I avoided putting together a nursery, purchasing baby gear or doing anything really related to becoming a parent until I was at least 25 weeks along. I didn't even purchase an outfit for the baby until I was 30 weeks for fear of it making things too "real."

By the end of the pregnancy, I was ready to have our baby, but I think the reason might have been an even toss up between getting to meet him in "real life" and shedding the 20 plus pounds I had gained. After a pretty difficult 32 hour labor, I finally met my baby, Eli, face-to-face. Our introduction wasn't what movies are made of or what you hear about in the baby books. Meeting my son that first time didn't make me forget the pain or fill me with love and joy - instead I remembered every ounce of pain and was filled with fear and skepticism. Even after nine months of getting to know my baby and preparing to be his mother, I was still scared. 

But God granted me grace with my newborn and six weeks into motherhood, I realized everything had changed. I believe it was partly because I needed trial by fire to prove to myself that mother-instinct is a real thing and I could in fact take care of a baby, but moreover because God, in his mercy, changed my heart and softened it towards my son and towards myself as a mother. I realized I had been putting God in a box, not allowing him to work in my life and show me that He is my source of strength and he provides all I need at every stage of life, especially in mothering a baby. I kept wanting to wait to have children until I was "ready" - I'm not sure what I was looking for, a baby not to cry in my arms I suppose - but what I needed to realize was that I would never truly be ready, and that's okay, because I would be the best mother for my baby boy - simply because of God's grace in my life. 

Today, I'm so grateful parenthood came unexpectedly to my husband and I. I've found that life as a parent is more fun and more fulfilling than life as a DINK, and I believe Eli came with the absolute perfect timing. God had a plan for our family, one that was so very different from mine, but also much better. While our canoe took quite a few scratches and dents getting into the lake, it's staying afloat and moving through the waters better than I ever expected.

Our Journey to Parenthood - Abby from "A Cheerful Heart"

It's official...I'm holding twin boys in the hospital.  Because blogging isn't something I have too much time for right now, I have a a series of posts for you called, "Our Journey to Parenthood".  First up is an unlikely journey shared by a super intelligent and wise friend, Abby.  Enjoy :-) 

Hi there -- I’m Abby, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about my journey to parenthood. In case you’re wondering, I like: drinking french-press coffee alone and with friends; knitting recycled yarn; teaching piano lessons; studying the Bible, theology, politics, philosophy, and history; reading; writing; bonfires; DIY projects; and living in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Somewhat reluctantly, I have also gained a bit of expertise about hunting, the U.S. Military, higher education, and miscarriage. This story is hard to tell, but it’s important, and every step of this journey displays God’s tender care. Thanks for reading!

Sitting in a coffee shop wIth this blank screen in front of me, it's impossible not to eavesdrop on the conversation at my back -- a young woman in her senior year of college, gushing joy about her upcoming wedding and eventual plans to have three kids and adopt two after taking a few years to "grow up first." I’ve said all those things, too, and I wish I could share with her what I’m learning the hard way about the journey to parenthood.

The beginning:
I grew up in a loving Christian family, and always imagined myself becoming a mom. At 16, my doctor treated some painful medical problems and indicated I should not procrastinate in starting a family after I got married. I dated Aaron in college and naively expected the year he deployed to Iraq was the hardest thing we would weather together. He came home safely, though many guys he went with did not, and proposed later that year. I was 21 and excited to have kids soon, but we disagreed about the timeline to expanding our family. Our engagement was so hectic that the discussion slipped through the cracks.
Unsurprisingly, my five-year marriage has included sharp disagreements about when to have kids. I was uneasy about postponing pregnancy without scriptural justification, especially with my medical history, but I don’t know what compromise should have looked like -- you can't have half a baby or be half a parent!

What I would change:
I wish we had studied the Bible with respected mentors instead of rushing through our evangelical pre-marital counseling with conventional secular values about family planning, like, "Get ‘settled’ first.” We received that advice from Christian family members, too!  
The biggest fundamental attitude shift we both needed was about money and stay-home moms -- we believed we had to rely only on Aaron’s income before we could start having kids so I could stay home with them. He started a PhD program when we got married, which meant I’d be working for at least five years. While it's worth sacrificing to have a parent staying home, I don’t think preventing pregnancy until that’s possible needs to be one of those sacrifices. This is just one way my view of motherhood was far too narrow!

Parenthood, past and present:
We’ve covered a lot of ground: successfully preventing pregnancy, unexpectedly conceiving, unsuccessfully “trying” before getting pregnant, several miscarriages… Just not completing a pregnancy with a live baby or adopting! Now the roles have switched and Aaron has baby fever while I’m apprehensive (read: terrified) about getting pregnant.

Because I’ve had three miscarriages, parenthood seems to be only morning sickness, scary mini-labors to deliver tiny babies, and grief. I don’t always know how to answer people who ask if I have kids, but I am a mom, and I’m learning that God is using the ministry coming from my losses as the way I live out that motherhood. I don’t get to kiss “owwie”s, but I extend immediate comfort to many women for their miscarriages. I don’t pack lunches, but I mail care packages. I don’t get to teach my children about the gospel, but it is always something I share with other grieving families. While it is not what I would have chosen, taking care of those who mourn is my physical expression of mothering, and it is just as significant as anything I could be doing with diapers or playgrounds or homework if the babies had lived.

Parenthood in the future:
God designed marriage, intimacy, and reproduction with purposeful wisdom. It seems to me that “family planning” should cooperate with this, welcoming what God might send instead of mostly preventing a good gift. While postponing pregnancy is sometimes prudent, the
Bible indicates children are a blessing without caveat!

So right now instead of calculating possible due dates, I dread the possibility of wasting weeks feeling like crap, falling in love, and crashing with grief in another miscarriage. And yet, we leave this in the Lord’s hands. Is it hard to be open to a new life right now?
YES. But I’m confident this is what God is asking of me. This is sometimes exciting, but mostly obedience worked in fear and trembling.

My journey to parenthood has taken a twisted road at best, and the destination is not going to look like I expected. Most days I wonder if I’ve reached my final destination already. I don’t know! But, “My comfort in my affliction is this: your promise preserves my life.” (Psalm 119:50) That promise does not necessarily include having a child. Instead, as a Christian this promise guarantees something infinitely more satisfying: beholding what great love the Father has given to me, that I am his child, and as such I will share in the perfect, unending joy of God the Father, my good shepherd.  
This is hard to say, but it is true: the journey to parenthood may not make me a parent, but it is making me a child.

Children of the Heavenly Father, safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in heaven such a Refuge e’er was given…
(hymn text by Karolina Sandell-Berg)

A simple system for controlling paper

Back in the newlywed days, our idea of a fun outing together was attending a Franklin Covey seminar about organization.  At the time, this presentation about reducing clutter and making a system for paper just went in one ear and out the other.  For the next couple of years, we still allowed all of our mail to grow in piles, only to be sorted through when it was embarrassingly bad.  Our desk area was generally overflowing with piles, and our file system was nonexistent.  Thankfully, we somehow managed to keep on top of our bills and important paperwork.

After Lewis was born and the bustle of having a newborn settled down, I started to look at the house from the eyes of a full-time homemaker.  I was really excited by the prospect of using all of my skills, gifts, and talents to make our home and family blossom.  Unfortunately, organization wasn't one of my natural "gifts".  Eventually, even though I didn't have the natural tendency to organize, the clutter got to me.  I was determined to act.  No more paper piles!

What really put me over the edge was a particular ledge in our family room.  When we would come in from garage, this clean ledge became a dumping ground for mail, among other odds and ends.  It looked terrible.  This cluttered ledge would make our whole house look messy, even if everything else was picked up.  The other thing that really motivated me was a desire to have a clean desk when we had company over.  Our desk is right next to our kitchen table, so we would have people over for meals and they got to look at an overflowing mess of bills and magazines while enjoying enchiladas.

One day I just sat down, went through all of the papers, and developed a system that made sense for our lifestyle.  Here is what we do now:

1 - Deal with paper everyday.
We used to bring in the mail and stack it in piles until they got big enough to spark a two hour session of organizing our stuff.  This didn't exactly motivate anyone to stay on top of bills and filing.  Now we bring in mail everyday, open it immediately (which is generally only one or two envelopes), and put it in it's designated location.  I love this system because it keeps papers from piling up and I can get to important documents when I have more time.

2 -  Put paper in it's designated location.
I have 5 locations or categories for paper items that enter our home.  Almost everything fits into one of these categories...

  • Bills or action items - These items go into a file on our desk.  I pay them once a week or once every two weeks.  When they have been paid (which I do online so there is nothing to mail), they are moved to the "to file" section.  Other examples of action items might be invitations, appointment reminder cards, or checks to deposit.
  • To file - These items which also go into a file on our desk might include paid bills, health insurance statements, special notes someone has written us, ultrasound pictures, and other papers that we don't want to throw away.  I only file about once every 3-4 weeks. *of course, this requires that you have a filing cabinet or another long-term storage solution 
  • To read - These items go on our bedroom  nightstand or on the refrigerator.  I found that we needed to take magazines, news articles, ministry updates, or other things we wanted to look at in more detail and store them in a place we would actually see them.  When they were just dropped on our desk, we would lose track of them for weeks or months.  Now if either of us has something on our nightstand like a Pottery Barn catalog or the latest issue of "This Old House", we just read it before bed and I throw it away within 1-2 days.  Brad has a harder time letting go of magazines than I do, so we don't have a perfect system for disposal yet.  :-)
  • Trash - This is pretty self explanatory.  One thing that helps us decide what to save versus what to throw in the trash is a "rule of thumb" we learned at that Franklin Covey seminar.  The question is..."how easily can I find this information again if I need it?" For instance, maybe you got an ad from Target or a flyer about a neighborhood 5K you are interested in.  That ad or flyer could clutter your desk for weeks while you have good intentions to do something with it, or you could just toss it and look it up online later if you need the information again.  This applies to almost everything...there is little need to keep a bunch of paper.
  • Coupons - Anything that is a coupon goes into a basket on our desk.  I try to clean out the basket once every couple of months and throw away coupons that are expired.  Having our coupons in one place allows us to do quick searches when we want to go out to eat because we are only looking in one location.
3 - Clean the desk once a week.
Inevitably, no matter how good we are at dealing with paper, random clutter still builds up on our desk.  Generally our bibles, books, pacifiers, and other commonly used household items end up making it look messy.  As long as I take everything off the desk and put things back where they belong about once a week, this mess doesn't get too out of control.

There you go...3 steps.  Easy!  If we didn't have a super simple system, we wouldn't keep up with it.  Everyone is different, and I wish I was savvy enough to have a brilliant and gorgeous system for organizing our papers, but I really don't.  It's just functional and keeps things under control enough to prevent major piles.  Of course, it's imperfect and from time to time we get lazy and let it build up until I re-instate all rules and we go back to a relatively clean desk.

I don't know what would work best for your family, but I can tell you it feels awesome to keep paper clutter to a minimum and know where important documents are...and that's coming from someone who isn't really into organization!

What I'm Packing in my "Hospital Bag"

This post was drafted about one day before I was recently admitted to the hospital for pre-term labor.  So I got to use my hospital bag a little sooner than I expected.  I was very pleased with everything we had stashed away, and didn't need Brad to go home and get me a bunch of other random items.  So I still stand by this list and hope that by our 3rd visit, we have bag packing down to a science.
I wasn't exactly prepared when my water broke with Lewis at 36 weeks.  While I'd done some google searches about what to bring in my bag to the hospital, I had no list and no bag ready to go.  When the time came to leave, packing for the hospital meant rambling off random items for Brad to shove in our bag as I thew on some sweatpants.  After our stay, I realized that while we definitely got by just fine, I had a lot of things I didn't need and didn't have a lot of things I would have liked.

Subsequently, this time I've made an extensive list of things to pack in our hospital bag.  I hope the list will prove helpful if for some reason I'm not able to pack my own bag and someone else has to go to our house to pick up what we need.

Here are a few things I'm packing this time around:

Nursing bras and nursing tank tops - I totally spaced this off with my first delivery and it would have been nice to wear some nursing friendly undergarments (besides just my hospital gown) after the delivery.
Comfortable pants and a nursing friendly shirt - Again, it didn't really occur to me that I might want to be dressed in something other than a hospital gown beyond day one when I started seeing a lot of visitors.
Warm socks or slippers - Okay, so basically unless you want to be tucked under your blanket in your bed the whole time, pack your own socks...and slippers would be a great way to walk around the room without having to put on real shoes or slip around in your socks.
A decent "going home" outfit - It feels just AWESOME to put on your clothes after giving birth because you are comparatively back to your normal self.  I had to go home in the same outfit I arrived in with Lewis, but it would have felt much better to slip into some non-maternity clothes (although stretchy pants and a loose top are still a must).
Toiletries and makeup - This time around, I'm determined to take a real shower with my own toiletries and maybe even put on some makeup.  If I'm feeling really ambitious, I might dry my hair with a blow dryer and feel completely refreshed.  I've visited a lot of moms in the hospital in the last year, and I have been encouraged by how many seem to be in better spirits because they are showered and somewhat pulled themselves together (even though inside I'm sure they are dog tired).
My pillow from home and an eye mask - I brought my own pillow to the hospital last time, and I will definitely do it again.  There are enough obstacles to getting good sleep in the hospital, so there is great advantage to having a comfort from home to help you get some much needed rest.  Also, the eye mask will block out the ambient light from the equipment in the room so the hours (or minutes) spent sleeping are quality.
My pump and a nursing cover - So, I couldn't have had this with Lewis because I didn't get my pump until a couple of weeks after he was born.  BUT, this time I'm coming armed and ready.  If by some miracle these babies are born at 36 weeks or later, I'm doubting I'll have to use it.  However, chances are that they will have some problems nursing due to prematurity and I'll be relying on my pump more heavily.  I know the hospital will have a pump available for me to use, but I'd almost be just as happy to use my own...so I'm bringing it.

Here are some things I'm going to skip this time around:

A "focus object" - In our birthing class they told us to have a "focus object" for use during contractions.  I was not distracted by this so called "focus object".  For me, breathing, thinking about relaxing, counting in my head, and taking a hot bath were much more helpful than the "focus object" I had with me.
Lots of newborn clothes - It's fun to take the baby home in a new outfit, but other than that, I didn't really find it to be that fun to put a sleeper on my newborn at the hospital.  They provide gowns, and the newborns are messed with so frequently, they really don't need to wear very much anyway.  I think I'll bring a couple options for the trip home, but not as much as I packed last time.
Diapers, or other baby care items -  Once again, the hospital had everything Lewis needed in those early days...plus, you pay lots of money to be there so it's nice to just take advantage of the "free" diapers while you can.
Things to do - I think with Lewis we had Downton Abbey on our iPad ready to go in case we needed "something to do".  The reality is that there was no down time...I was either having contractions, birthing a baby, nursing a baby, seeing guests, or sleeping the entire time I was at the hospital.  I don't remember feeling bored.  However, I think Brad appreciated having the iPad available :-).

Other things I'm planning to do / bring:
  • Take pictures with our camera (maybe even a video!)
  • Have a list of people we can call to watch Lewis when we need to go to the hospital
  • Have a list of people to text / email updates to along the way
  • Create a to-go bag for Lewis so he is prepared to stay a couple days with someone without much warning
  • Be more comfortable turning away guests if I am completely exhausted
  • Not feel afraid to buzz the nurses because I'm worried I might be bothering them
  • Spend more time consulting with the lactation specialists while their services are available to me in the hospital
Of course, I know that all of these plans to make my hospital stay more comfortable could all be in vain and thrown out the window with one unexpected event.  Sooo...I'm trying to find some balance between being more prepared this time, and also knowing that ultimately God is the one who will take care of me and provide my every need.  

If you've had a baby, what was the best thing you brought to the hospital?  OR what is something you won't bring again?


While I would like to give an update of our last days and week at some point, today I'm reflecting on how grateful I am for all of the the ways I've seen God working lately.  The short update is that while we are not holding twins in our arms (or looking at them in incubators), we came close to meeting them a little earlier than we were expecting.  

Sometimes when things appear to take a turn for what we consider to be "the worst", what we need isn't for the situation to just go away so we can be in control again, but it is to shift our perspective.  God is completely good, completely sovereign, and completely wise about what and when to give us (what we would consider) difficult life circumstances.  When we lean on Him in those moments and trust in His plans, it doesn't mean our circumstances will turn out the way we expected, but it does mean that we can find peace in our trials.  He might even offer us glimpses of himself, deepening our relationship with Him and growing our faith when we can't see the whole picture.

This week I'm reflecting on God's perfect timing, will, and control in the midst of unexpected circumstances:
  • He gave Brad and I the wisdom we prayed for when we weren't sure whether or not to go to the hospital for my pre-term labor symptoms.  It turned out to be great timing because it was early enough for the doctors to act.
  • He provided excellent health care to us through medications, monitoring, and well-trained nurses and doctors. 
  • He provided trustworthy and perfectly timed childcare for Lewis when we and he needed it.
  • He provided lots nurses that were all veterans of their profession ( (25+ years of experience) who were extremely skilled, caring, and gracious.
  • He provided peace and trust in the outcome of our circumstances when we thought we might be transferred to a hospital in Des Moines.
  • He provided a good friend to come help give Brad an afternoon to go home and relax and give me some rest too.
  • He (in his perfect timing) allowed us to be here on a night when my personal doctor "just so happened" to be on call.  We were able to work directly with the person we've built a trusting relationship throughout the pregnancy.
  • He provided coverage for Brad at work.
  • He has already provided care for myself and Lewis for the coming week through available friends and family members while I'm on bed rest.
  • He answered our prayers to keep these babies in the womb just a little bit longer so they can continue to develop, a prayer that he didn't have to answer "yes" to.
Most of all, I've seen over the last few days that God's ways are higher than our ways.  Sometimes when circumstances don't look the way I think they should, I tend to wonder if God knows what He is doing.  Why go to all the trouble to bring us into the hospital for 2 days when I could have just stayed at home?  Why add those unnecessary complications to the story?  These are thoughts from the perspective of my flesh.  

I won't ever have the answers to the question of "why" but I can trust that God had a good purpose that is more complex and far reaching than I could ever imagine.  During our stay, we had lots of wonderful conversations with our doctor (even completely unrelated to babies), we got to know many nurses who we will hopefully see again soon, we hopefully provided a good witness and breath of fresh air to those coming to our room to interact with us.  God grew our personal faith and trust in Him when we were reminded again that we are not in control, and God's timing for the birth and outcome of this pregnancy is perfect.

Our situation so far seems like an easy one to look back and find things to be grateful for, because it kind of turned out the way we hoped it would in the first place.  It is easy for me to be feeling overwhelmed with joy.  I know that it is much harder for those who experience trials and circumstances where God's answer is not what was hoped for.  I know that we could go home tomorrow, and still have pre-term babies in Des Moines.  I know that nothing is sure.  But I also know that the bible says,

"Count it all JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4, ESV)

Thank you to those of you who have prayed for us during this pregnancy, God IS working in our hearts and lives.  

Slow to Speak

If you are a wife, chances are at some point in your marriage you've felt the bubbling up of emotions over something your husband should or shouldn't have done.  Your expectations weren't met, and suddenly your knowledge of a man's responsibility for biblical leadership becomes as sharp as a tack.  In the heat of the moment, your mind rapidly fires off reasons why your are justified to offer immediate correction, pointing out your husband's missteps.  The hot water inside you continues bubbling, and for a moment you sense that this might not be a productive time to have a conversation.  Instead of being slow to speak, the heat of your passion pushes your right past the quiet warning.  Your tongue lashes words that you would claim are spoken in the name of truth, but instead come out intending to inflict damage.  After you have already spoken, you wait for your words to do their work...to sink in, convict,  rebuke, and make your husband see the error of his ways.  But, something surprising happens... he shuts down or maybe, he even lashes back. What you originally meant as a correction hasn't resolved anything, and you might even be left wondering if things could have gone better had you controlled the bubbling passion, holding off for the right timing.

Now, imagine a different situation where your husband has not met your expectations.  Maybe he really is doing something which requires your rebuke and correction and you know it's ultimately good for him to be confronted about the issue.  You feel the temptation to let your blood boil and to resolve this misstep immediately through the use of your words.  You are convinced that you are justified by so many biblical principles, but instead of speaking, you pause and wait.  You choose to let time pass and to show mercy in the moment, trusting that if God wants you to say something, he will show you when and how to say it.  It feels like moments and days and maybe even months pass as you pray for your husband about this issue and how God might have you approach it.  You listen carefully for opportunities to talk to him about it, and selectively pass when the holy spirit whispers, "not now."  Then one day, in your waiting, the right moment presents itself because God has worked behind the scenes in your husband's heart to receive a hard word of truth.  Now, in the RIGHT timing, God gives you the words, tone of voice, and heart attitude to share what your husband has been prepared to hear... and something miraculous happens.  Your husband doesn't respond in anger or shut down, but instead he acknowledges and considers your words, and even allows himself to be changed by them.  And the best thing is, you know that it was by God's work that he was changed and your faith grows as you give Him the glory.


I did a lot of the first example until someone challenged me to stop letting myself be controlled by my emotions and start being controlled by the spirit.  This person challenged me to view God as the one who changes my husband and to view myself as simply a tool in that work to be used at His direction (not my own).  They challenged me to consider that my words, unfiltered by God's grace, could cause piercing damage to my husband and my marriage.  With God's help, I made a choice to stop speaking in the heat of the moment and start listening for God's leading.

Yes, this means that I don't always get the last word and I don't always speak the same day an offense is committed.  Sometimes even months go by without any sign of change before I see evidence of God's work and feel led by the holy spirit to share. This type of waiting and faith and giving up control can be difficult.

But by God's help and strength, I can choose to wait for the RIGHT timing instead of my own (and it's had some fairly good results)...
  • I have earned my husbands listening ear.  When I correct, which isn't very often, I know that he actually hears me.
  • I have seen my husband's heart change in big ways as I've offered to be his help and support instead of his mini holy spirit.
  • I have seen my husband connect more with our marriage and our family because he feels safe with me when I don't seek to belittle him or start arguments.
  • My heart has softened towards my husband as I further realize we are on the same team and my job is to love him freely with no contingencies or agenda to make him into a different person.
Just as someone once challenged me to make this massive shift in the way I approach my husband, I want to challenge you.  Next time you feel the bubbles of anger, pride, and justification rise in you...STOP and PRAY.  You can always come back and say something later, but you can never unsay what is spoken in a moment of passion.

[image credit]

4 Ways to Serve a Mommy-to-Be

I've been completely amazed at the outpouring of love and support from those around us during this unexpected and challenging season of life.  When Brad and I found out we were having twins, we did what we could to prepare, but to a large degree we knew that having these twins would be a lesson in trusting God to meet our practical needs.  I especially felt unsure of how I would make it to the end of this pregnancy with a one year old and a huge belly.  Growing these two babies has been an amazing experience, but it has left me more physically exhausted than I could have ever imagined.  My body is working double overtime to grow two little ones, and most days I'm running an energy deficit.  On one hand, this could be very discouraging after a while, but it has been an amazing opportunity to learn about God's faithfulness and his ability to love us personally.

Our friends and family have allowed themselves to be used by God to support, encourage, help, and provide for our needs.  Here are a few examples of things people have done so far for me during the later part of this pregnancy that I'm confident would be an encouragement to other women in their 3rd trimester (with or without twins on the way)!

1.  Provide food
  • Bring over a hot and ready meal to take the load off of dinner time
  • Bring over quick breakfast items to lessen the rush in the morning
  • Do a grocery run of some essential items
  • Bring over a frozen meal to be used whenever is convenient
2.  Provide rest
  • Offer to provide childcare so mom-to-be can take a nap or put her feet up
  • Offer to run any errands that might be difficult or physically taxing
  • Come over and help with household duties or chores, giving a chance to get off those feet
  • Encourage spending time in God's word
3.  Provide fun
  • Plan a coffee date or outing that doesn't require much walking or standing (but lots of social time)
  • Come visit the mom-to-be at her home, bringing a treat and good conversation
  • Plan a play date to occupy and uplift her children (who might be feeling like mommy is a little boring right now)
4.  Provide prayers
  • Pray for the health of the baby(ies) and pregnancy
  • Pray for God to meet specific needs of the family
  • Pray for the mom-to-be to lean on God and have strength during the last weeks
The last thing to remember is that many of us prideful women (myself included) find it hard to accept help, especially from other women who we might perceive as "having it all together".  Some days I don't understand what makes me different from other moms in their 3rd trimester with other kids at home...why do I need so much help when other people seem to be getting by just fine?  It can be easy to compare two things that are in fact different, and expect my pregnancy to look just like everyone else's.  I can get down on myself and really feel guilty for not just working harder or being stronger.  It has also been extremely helpful for my friends and family to almost nag me about resting and accepting support.  They constantly remind me that I am facing higher risks with weightier consequences, and that my body is feeling the pressure of doing double duty, using energy to grow two babies.  But all women in their 3rd trimester probably need to be resting more, enjoying the last bit of calm before months of night waking and constantly caring for a newborn.

Can you think of someone in the later stages of pregnancy who would be blessed by your help?

Encouragement Worth Sharing

Side note:  I've never called fall my favorite season, this is simply because it precedes winter (and winter feels like the longest season of the year).  But this year, I'm finding myself kind of wishing it would cool down so the leaves would change and I can finally pull out sweaters and slippers.  Maybe I'm tired of my summer maternity clothes, maybe I'm tired of constantly feeling hot and on the verge of sweating, or maybe I'm frustrated because I haven't been able to enjoy walks outside, but this warm weather really needs to break.  Don't remind of this post in February though when I will be eating my words and wishing that I would have savored every hot minute before we were buried in snow. 

Okay...on to some good posts...

Right now, I am really struggling with Lewis during the hour between 4 and 5 p.m. (or whenever daddy gets home) which can feel like a constant string of whining, even after he has taken good nap.  I've tried TV, snacks, new toys, playing outside; all bad tricks and all to no avail.  This post gives some good and practical ideas for making it through this difficult part of the day, which is a common time of struggle for most children.  I particularly liked her idea about adjusting expectations and making a choice to engage in parenting during this hour versus trying to cook a complicated meal or check facebook.  Recently, I sat down next to Lewis while he was playing instead of prepping dinner (because I fixed something simple for dinner) and he hardly whined the whole hour.  Just having my attention helped tremendously!

This blog post really struck a chord with me about being a woman who is mission-minded.  I think the author hit the nail right on the head when they mentioned the reality that, "Sometimes we try so hard to be mission-minded, we neglect our primary mission; our own family."  In this particular season of life, I've had to really scale back "outside" activities in order to continue serving my family well.  Sometimes it can be hard to watch others who seem to be out in the world doing mission and evangelism, but I have to trust in the truth that my most important mission field right now is the little non-christian growing up in my house.

Although we are still several years away from having to decide if we are sending Lewis to public school, private school, home school, or some other alternative, we're already thinking and praying about what to do.  I try to read articles on both sides of the fence, when I run across them, to help as we sort through some of the pros and cons of different types of education.  This recent article by Dr. Albert Mohler had an interesting look at the background of public school and how it has changed dramatically in recent decades.  He also touches on the question of whether or not it's still an option for Evangelical Christians to educate their children through this changing system.  Interesting read!

Finally, I have really been enjoying the blog, Loving My Lot.  Her writing is not only relatable, but it is biblical, relevant, and easy to digest...definitely worth adding to the blog subscription list :-).

I hope at least one of these reads was interesting and helpful for you today!

Breaks from Lewis and True Rest

my busy boy :-) 
I wrote this post a while back, not really knowing the right time to share it...but today, I need to hear this.  It's one of those weary kind of days where I need to be reminded that God is my strength and he will provide grace to get through every moment, even when I feel like I have no energy left.  I hope this thought blesses you today as well...

As a pregnant mommy, "break time" is something I'm always looking forward to.  Whether it's the simple moments during naps, the long sigh after bedtime, the afternoon walk around Target by myself, or the full night's sleep without a jabbering alarm clock - I don't play favorites.  These breaks can be built-up in my mind as something magical...
"I just need to make it to 10am...then he goes down for a nap!"
"Tuesday.  Tuesday he will be with Grandma and then I can get a break."

Let me tell you, breaks ARE important.  Practically speaking, right now I need a few minutes to just sit and not over-exert my body by picking up a 22 pound weight over and over.  My feet get swollen, and it's nice to put them up.  But recently, I've realized some interesting truths about my breaks that have me putting them into perspective.

Breaks do not equate REST.
Have you ever heard your child waking up from a nap and found yourself completely un-rejuvenated?  You've looked forward to that precious time all day, and yet, you don't feel refreshed when it's over (not to mention, you checked pretty much nothing off of your to-do list).  For me, this feeling gets very discouraging.  I think, "He just slept for 2 hours...why do I not feel jazzed up and ready to go again?  Wasn't this nap time my break?"  That's just it.  Just because I get a break; for hours or even days, it doesn't necessarily mean that I experience REST.  

Rest is something that comes from one person - Jesus.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Matthew 11:28-29
Jesus fulfilled the requirement of the Sabbath in its literal form by becoming rest for our souls.  When we put our faith and trust in his work of salvation, we don't have to strive anymore.  Our time doesn't have to be spent creating an identity, being a "good" person, or pushing harder to do a better job at life.  Instead, we can just be accepted.  Forgiven.  Loved unconditionally.  When we look to Jesus, spend time with him, and believe his promises, we do feel rest deep in our souls.

When I'm not feeling rested, I need more Jesus...not more breaks.
This cycle for me has been hard to stop.  I get exhausted, so I want a "break" (nap time, free time, me time, etc.).  I take a break and I don't feel any more rested (frustrating).  The me time, extra iced coffees, and time to walk around at Target frankly wasn't that fulfilling after all.  I find myself feeling more deprived.  I need more breaks.  This cycle continues, until I eventually wonder, "why isn't this working?" and I turn back to Jesus...my true rest.  This means repenting.  Confessing that I try so hard to be my own rest.  Confessing that I believe our culture's lies about having more time to myself.  Confessing that I don't come on my knees to him moment by moment, asking for his grace and help to have energy for the day.

I don't want to put my hope in comfort or the amount of breaks I can get during this sometimes exhausting season of life.  Having the opportunity for breaks will come and go, and being a nice, happy, rested wife and mommy with a good attitude can't be contingent upon whether or not I've had enough time to myself.  It isn't the breaks that will sustain me, but the strength that only God can provide as I further lean on him for grace in each moment.  

For each of us, this can look different.  It might mean a quiet hour spent reading the bible, or ten minutes alone in prayer.  It might include solitude or engaging in one of the many means of grace provided to us as believers (such as fellowship, worship, reading, prayer, etc.).  It might mean fasting from something that distracts you from your true rest, Jesus.  It doesn't matter what it looks like, but that it happens.

Moms, wives, women...we need more REST, not more breaks.

Also, this blog post about cultivating a more restful home really has a lot of amazing points which I didn't necessarily touch on here.  It's worth the read!

On becoming a better baker (and almost burning banana bread)...

I admire great bakers.  Baking requires attention to detail, lots of patience, and practice.  The great bakers I've come across have spent hours upon hours in the kitchen, meticulously working on their measuring skills and slightly tweaking recipes to perfection.  They didn't just happen to be awesome at throwing flour and sugar together, they developed their technique and learned the "right way" to bake.

This skill has never come naturally for me, especially because following detailed directions and caring about the difference between whisking and whipping aren't my strengths.  So when I started to dabble in baking early in my marriage, I was a mess.  Our kitchen was a mess.  The outcomes were a mess.  I could barely make a chocolate chip cookie that didn't come out too burnt on the bottom and too spread out on my dark non-stick cookie sheet.  

These days (after lots of practice), I'm doing a little better.  I'm still a long way from making a cake fit for a bakery display or a flaky pastry, but my cookies have shape and I don't bake peaked muffins anymore!  Over the years I've had a few (very basic) realizations that have helped me become a better baker. 

1.  Have baking ingredients on hand (and keep them stored in the same place).
I used to crave oatmeal cookies or desire to spend an afternoon baking, only to check my pantry and realize it was going to require a trip to the grocery store.  Bummer.  I find that for me, the desire to bake or the need to have a dessert prepared for an event, comes up somewhat unexpectedly.  Having all of the baking staples on hand makes baking much more enjoyable and much less of a chore.  These might include things like flour, sugar, vanilla, butter, eggs, oatmeal, cocoa, shortening, baking soda, and baking powder (to name a few).  I also designated an area of the pantry for my baking ingredients, so I don't have to go searching for what I need.  When I'm running low on a staple, I always buy it before I need it and have extra on hand.

2.  Have the correct tools and utensils.
When we registered for bakeware, it never occurred to me that all pans were not created equal.  Why wouldn't I want all dark non-stick bakeware?  Less mess, right?  Some thoughtful women had mercy on me, and provided a few aluminum items to start my collection and I realized quickly there was a difference.  I've gotten to where I use almost all aluminum bakeware because my results come out more evenly cooked.  When I do need to use non-stick, I turn the oven temperature down 15-25 degrees lower to compensate.  If the recipe requires a special tool, I try to use that item specifically.  I think using the right whisk, wooden spoon, baking sheet, and sifter can really impact your baking.

3.  Carefully read and follow the nuances of each recipe.
The devil is here in the details, folks.  I used to ignore the little sentences in my recipes that said things such as, "be careful to not over mix...let boil for 1 minute...fold in gently".  Who needs "folding" when you can just whip your spoon and beat the batter to death?  Yikes.  When a recipe says something suspicious, instead of wondering why they included that seemingly meaningless detail, I follow it closely.  This by itself has made a HUGE difference in the outcome of my baking.  If it says butter softened, you will get the best result when you butter has actually been out on the counter softening all day (versus being nuked in the microwave).  Instead of heavy-handedly scooping my flour out of the container, I take care to spoon it into my measuring cup and level it off.  Yes, you can still get tasty treats the other way around, but the intended results are much more consistent when you follow the directions to a T.

4.  Watch someone more experienced and take mental notes.
There isn't much of a substitute for just watching and helping an experienced baker.  Before trying to make cinnamon rolls on my own, I went and helped a good friend who is a cinnamon roll expert.  She told me so many secret tips that I never would have picked up from just following the recipe.  When I went to do the recipe on my own later, the results were leaps and bounds beyond what they would have been had I attempted them without help to start with.  Sometimes, I'll also help my mom bake or ask for her to show me how to do a recipe.  I try to notice how she stirs or what speed she puts her mixer on.  Those experienced bakers know a thing or two!

5.  Practice.
At the end of the day, becoming a good baker is a learned skill.  Sometimes you have to make the same recipe over and over again before you get it right.  Sometimes you have to experiment with your bakeware, oven temperature, cooking time, or technique before you have an end result you are proud of.  This isn't an instant gratification homemaking skill, but one that improves with more hours in the kitchen.  

P.S.  As I was writing this, I slightly overcooked some banana bread.  What is that proverb?....oh...pride comes before a fall.  :-)  Beware of baking and blogging.

The treat pictured is Classic, No-Fuss Banana Bread, a recipe from Espresso and Cream.  Madison is a wonderful writer and you will love her blog!

4 Things I've Learned in 4 Years

Brad and I's 4th wedding anniversary is this week.  It's amazing to look back and see how much has changed!  I'm not an expert on marriage, but here are a few things I've gleaned by the grace of God in the years we've been married...

Being on the same page before marriage makes a difference.
At the end of the day, staying married is about valuing a commitment and a covenant above all else no matter how your spouse changes.  However, now that we are in the midst of busy daily life, I'm SO grateful that we talked through a lot of our core values before we tied the knot.  It's paying off... big time.  Our personalities and the "how" of our approach is different, but we both want the same end goal.  When two people are on the same page about the "big stuff", it's easier to sort through the small stuff. Brad and I largely agree on faith, kids, finances, family, roles in marriage, and other core issues that can cause a lot of conflict in marriage.  That's not to say we haven't had our share of conflicts or unexpected "hey, wait...I thought you wanted something different" conversations, but overall, those things haven't provoked major hurt in our lives.  I'm thankful for this, and I attribute it to God's protection and conversing about those issues before we got married.

It's essential to be a good forgiver.
Want to know a skill that we've exercised a lot in the last 4 years?  Forgiveness.  I classify it as a skill, because it's something that doesn't always come easy or naturally...it takes practice.  We started out early in our marriage saying to each other, "would you forgive me for...(and then naming the specific sin)" and then the other person says, "yes, I forgive you for... (naming specific sin)."  This way, we don't minimize or act like it doesn't matter to reconcile about specific offenses.  It's hard to look the person you love in the eye and name your sin, and it's equally hard to name the sin and be the forgiver.  Setting this pattern was difficult, but 4 years later, it's paying off.  Although we've had lots of hurts and conflicts, those things have been reconciled and put away, not to harm our relationship for years to come.  We make it a practice to resolve things and then refuse to continue punishing or holding it over the other persons head.  Wow...marriage changer right there.

Make time for each other and live life together.
Sometimes people have teased us about being homebodies or overly reliant on each other.  It's true that often times you'll find us doing things as a couple when we could be doing our own thing.  Partly, this is because we genuinely like doing things together and we feel like best friends.  When I have a choice, Brad is the first person I want to share activities and experiences with.  Doing things as a couple, even mundane daily things like talking about business goals, going for walks, and eating meals together every night, has helped us grow as friends and companions.

Grow and change with your spouse's interests.
Although we had many conversations about our core values before we were married, that's not to say that things haven't changed over the years.  I sometimes hear the expression, "we just grew in different directions and became different people," when referring to the end of a relationship.  Growing in the same direction is a choice, and you can choose to follow your spouse in his or her interests instead of fighting them.  Brad is a dreamer and has lots of frequently changing ideas and interests.  At first, I fought this and wanted to get practical, bringing his dreams down to earth.  By God's grace, early in our marriage I realized that if I wanted to keep going with Brad, I needed to keep growing with Brad.  These days I try to embrace, participate in, and support his interests in whatever way I can.  Yes, there is still need for the occasional, "let's get real about this" conversation, but not as often as you would think.

I'm so thankful for Brad and I am in AWE that God put me with someone who is exactly right for me in so many ways.
(circa 2008) I wonder what we would have thought if someone told us that 5 years later we would live in Iowa and have 3 boys...
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