He Who Promised is Faithful (the Story of Ethan David)

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“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

This story has been a long time coming. Some of its chapters were written years ago, tucked away in my heart (and my journals) as I waited to see how it might end. It’s the story of our son, Ethan David, and my journey to motherhood. More than that, though, it’s a story the One who inspires our hope and of His faithfulness, more enduring than the mountains.

“You will be a mother”

The first prophetic word I ever received was about being a mother. I was nineteen years old and gathered with a group of young people at the Boiler Room in Kansas City to debrief the Onething and Urbana conferences. I was still reeling from the emotions of the Onething conference, my heart churning with the changes I was about to make in my life. At one point, I gathered with our campus ministry group for a prayer time with a couple from the Boiler Room. As we huddled close in a circle in one of the offices there, the couple prayed specifically over each one of us. When my turn came, they spoke over me: “You will be a mother to many, both your own children and others.” At the time, children and family were far from my thoughts and plans, but I jotted their words down in my journal and then promptly forgot about them.

Like a seed, though, those words tucked away in my heart began to grow. Over the years I revisited them over and over and that idea that I was made to be a mother began to shape my identity in significant ways. After Derek and I got married, I began to receive more words about being a mother, so many, in fact, that I came to almost expect it whenever a stranger prayed over me, because it happened so often.

But while my longing for children increased, marriage was hard and having children felt like an impossibility for years. We struggled financially, cycling through low-paying job after low-paying job, barely scraping by most months. And we struggled relationally, our individual hurts grating against one another and pushing us further apart. Eventually the hurt and disappointment was too much and I shut away that desire for children and motherhood. For a while I wasn’t even sure I wanted children.

Eventually, though, we both graduated from college and found decent jobs. Thanks to Derek’s job, we finally had health insurance. And gradually we began to work through our relational issues as well, helped along by a counselor, inner healing classes, several older couples, and a whole lot of grace.

In January of last year (2014), I felt a subtle but persistent invitation from the Lord to let myself hope and dream about children again, to reopen my heart to that longing that had been dormant for so long. That February and March I had a series of dreams about being pregnant and expanding our house. At the Boiler Room retreat at the end of March, a stranger came up and asked me if she could pray for me about being a mother. Not five minutes after she finished her prayer, Katie Egli came to the microphone and began praying for those who felt barren. She declared that what felt like barrenness was just God’s timing and that life was going to come out of the river of worship there. I didn’t share these dreams and words (so many in just a few months) with anyone yet, but as I mulled over them in my heart, I felt a sense of expectancy building in my heart. I wondered if perhaps the season was shifting and changing. If perhaps the time was finally coming for me to bear life.

“He who promised is faithful”

By May, Derek and I had finally reached a place where we both felt at peace about getting pregnant. We talked and dreamed together about it, even discussing names and making plans to move into our own space to have room to grow our family. We felt together that it was finally time.

But as spring turned into summer and the months passed, we still didn’t get pregnant. There were a few times that we thought we might be, only to be met by the disappointment of another cycle flowing away without life. We hadn’t exactly been trying for long, but each month felt plenty long enough to bring the sting of grief and disappointment.
Somewhere near the middle of the summer, I began noticing 11:11 fairly often. I would randomly look at the clock and notice it or would find it in the timestamp of e-mails and texts. When I shared it with our housemate Lebeka, she said that, for her, 11:11 always indicated a transition coming.

One morning (August 14), I finally asked the Lord about it, about what it might mean for me. I felt like He said, “Hebrews 11:11,” so I looked it up. This is what it said:

“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” (Hebrews 11:11)

That verse immediately felt like a promise, a reminder that God would be faithful to all those words spoken to me over the years about being a mother. Though I wasn’t past the age of bearing children, I had keenly felt that barrenness, both in the years when having a child seemed impossible because of financial and relational reasons and later, in the months of wanting to get pregnant but not succeeding. But when I read that verse, it pushed deeper the assurance that I would be a mother.

In the following months, I continued to see 11:11 regularly (eventually almost every day) and each time, I would remember and declare, “He who promised is faithful.”

“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”

But despite that word and the hope it brought me, we still didn’t get pregnant. For a variety of reasons, I began to believe that it might be a long journey for us, significantly harder than I expected. In August and into September, I felt myself sinking into a place of deep discouragement, struggling to cope with the thought of months (or even years) of waiting in the pain of unmet expectations.

One Sunday morning (September 7), I was at the Boiler Room, tears running down my face during worship as I felt particularly discouraged about not being pregnant yet and discouraged about life and community in general. Julie Prestige came over to me during a prayer time and told me that when she looked across the room, she had seen me as a star shining clear and heard the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” over me:

“Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are.”

I shared with her a little bit about my deep longing to be pregnant and my disappointment at how hard it seemed to be for us and she prayed for me.

“When God says it, it’s as good as done”

The very next week (September 14 – exactly a month after God spoke Hebrews 11:11 to me), I was scheduled to be with the preschool kids at the Boiler Room. It had been an intensely busy week and I was still feeling emotionally raw on top of that, so I was dreading having to be with the kids, having to lead them in anything. Quite honestly, I headed into the morning with a terrible attitude about it all.

But then I opened up the lesson for the day and it was all about God promising Abraham a family as numerous as the stars. We were supposed to speak over each child, “You are a star in God’s family”. As soon as I read the lesson, I felt overwhelmed by a sense that this was for me, confirmation of Julie’s word the previous week.

I arrived in the prayer room that morning, surrounded by my class of wiggling preschoolers, and Carrie Halim started telling the story of Abraham and Sarah and of God’s promise to them about a baby. She then told her own story of how, ten years before that, God had promised her that she would have another baby in ten years. Her growing belly as she sat in front of us was a visible testament of His faithfulness to that promise. As she rested her hand on her belly, Carrie declared, “When God says it, it’s as good as done.” She invited all the kids to stretch out their hands and pray for anyone in the Boiler Room who was longing for a baby.

And there I sat in the midst of them, struggling to hold my emotions together (after all, I was supposed to be the teacher there), as Champy softly played “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the piano in the background (though I didn’t notice it at the time). A sense of awe washed over me as I felt like those words and promises – the Hebrews 11:11 word, Julie’s word, and all the words about me being a mother – were coming together in that moment. More than ever before, I felt the nearness of God in that journey and understood that He is faithful, not just to His promises but to us in the waiting.

“11:11”

After that, I began to share my journey with a few close friends, sharing the longings and the words and the disappointment and the hope. They joined me in believing that He who promised was faithful and that I would be pregnant.

Kate Bryan was one of those friends and when the Boiler Room scheduled a prayer week to start on November 11 (11-11), she invited me to help her set up for and pray into it. Together we created a prayer space focused on the themes of light and hope. That theme of hope often popped up in my own quiet times as well and even in Sunday mornings at the Boiler Room.

With all those words and the promise of 11:11 everywhere, I had this idea that perhaps I would find out that I was pregnant on November 11, at the start of the prayer week. It seemed like the perfect fulfillment of those words, the perfect timing. My sense of anticipation was palpable as I approached that day.

But when 11-11 arrived, I was most definitely, without a doubt, NOT pregnant. Even in the midst of my disappointment, though, I felt a deep conviction that it was all the more important to declare on that day that “He who promised is faithful”. After all, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). I was also reminded of Isaiah 54 (a passage that had been significant to me for years, since the season when we thought we might be adopting two children and then lost them). It begins with a call for the barren woman to sing and to expand her home, even before she sees her promised children:

“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children
of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,
says the Lord.
Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
Your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.” (Isaiah 54:1-3)

So in the prayer room that day, I wrote out this declaration:

“Your name is Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11). You are the King of Justice. You are faithful to your covenant of love to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9). You are faithful in all you do (Psalm 33:4). You are faithful to all Your promises (Psalm 145:13). You are faithful forever (Psalm 146:6). You are true to your word, your promises, your vows. You are steady in allegiance and affection, loyal and constant. You are reliable. You can be trusted and believed.”

I felt a tug in my heart to renew my hope, to open up my heart again and to dream of the possibilities (even though it had led to heartache in the past). I felt the gentle invitation from the Lord to see each month as a chance to hope again instead of just a fresh wave of grief, and to act on that hope. For us, that meant not only actively trying again to get pregnant but allowing ourselves to talk and dream about how we might announce to our families that we were pregnant.

“A hope fulfilled”

And then on December 6, I woke up in the early hours of the morning and took a pregnancy test, with Derek watching anxiously by my side. Within seconds that second line appeared, loud and clear, confirming the subtle signs that I was already feeling.

We were pregnant!

He who promised is faithful.

And now he’s here, Ethan David, our promised one. Not just a promise anymore, not just an idea or a hope, but a real, live child, full of energy and personality. He delights us with his smiles (and expressive eyebrows!) and fills me with anticipation for the years to come, when I will watch him grow into who he was created to be.

Ethan’s name, which means “constant”, is a declaration of who God is and His nearness to us in that long process of waiting.

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Welcoming Ethan David

(Though I plan to write out the longer story of our wait for Ethan and the Lord’s words and promises in that process of waiting, for now I can at least share the story of his birth)

Ethan David

Born Tuesday, August 18th
2:05 a.m.
7 lbs. 2 oz.
20.5 inches long

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Name Meaning

When we found out that we were having a boy, it took us a while to settle on a name. There were plenty of names that we liked, but we really wanted it to be the right name. As we searched through name books and lists online, I kept coming back to the name Ethan. I liked the simplicity of it and that it was a biblical name. Even more than that, though, I liked the meaning of the name, which fit with the words about faithfulness that God had spoken over Ethan before he was even conceived. When I mentioned it to Derek, though, he said, “Eh, it’s okay…” but wasn’t too excited about it. So I set it aside, but still couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the right name for our son.

Then one night, back in April, Derek had a dream about our son, where the Lord spoke a prophetic word over him. As Derek woke up from the dream, he heard the name “Ethan David.” That was all the convincing that Derek needed and we decided that day that his name would be Ethan David.

Ethan means “Strong, solid, enduring, constant, and ever-flowing”.
David means “Beloved”.

There are several men named Ethan in the bible, but the most well-known of them is the writer of Psalm 89, which is an ode to God’s faithfulness, particularly His faithfulness to David.

(We particularly appreciated this explanation of the entomology of the name Ethan: http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Ethan.html#.VeImdfRkEQ0)

Birth Story

Throughout my pregnancy, when people would ask me when I was due, I would tell them the date, but usually qualified it by saying that I expected that I would probably go past then. I had read enough articles about how first babies are often late that it felt safer to assume that our little guy would be as well. So when I started my maternity leave, just slightly less than two weeks before my due date, I knew that technically Ethan could arrive at any point, but I still felt like it would be a while yet. I hadn’t had any Braxton Hicks or any other signs that my body was preparing for labor. Honestly, though, I wasn’t really in a hurry. I still had a list of things I wanted to do before he arrived (food to prepare, important info to assemble for Derek, things to deep clean, a few nursery decorations to finish, etc.). And after working nearly full-time throughout the summer, I actually hoped for a little time to rest, to perhaps emotionally connect a little more with this huge transition happening in my life. Even by the end of my first two weeks of maternity leave, when I’d crossed off most of the items on my to-do list and felt more ready, I didn’t really feel desperate for him to arrive. I never really reached that “I’m so uncomfortable that I can’t stand to be pregnant another day” sort of ready.

That Saturday, two days past my due date, Derek finally roasted his “birth coffee” (a pound of coffee he had set aside to brew for everyone at the birth in anticipation of a long night of labor). We joked that, with the coffee ready, Ethan could come anytime.

I was up often in the night that night and woke up early Sunday morning (about 5:00 a.m.), feeling crampy. I hadn’t had any sort of cramps since right before we found out we were pregnant, so I immediately wondered if something was starting to happen and spend the next hour and a half googling “what do contractions feel like?” – haha! – before heading back to bed. When I woke up again a couple hours later, the crampy feelings continued to come and go, but were still mild. I casually mentioned them to Derek and decided to stay home from church that morning to relax. I made sure I ate a full, protein-packed breakfast in anticipation that I would need to keep up my strength later. After Derek came home from the Boiler Room, we took a walk together, talking about how we might have a baby that night.

By the time we arrived home from our walk, the crampy feelings were more clearly identifiable as contractions, coming in regular patterns and getting increasingly uncomfortable. I ate some lunch and then texted our midwife, Debbie, and doula, Rachel (as well as Erin, who was going to photograph the birth) to give them a heads up that things seemed to be starting. Then I settled myself in the living room on the birthing ball and started timing contractions (this was about 12:30 p.m.). For the next hour and a half, I timed the contractions as coming every 2-4 minutes, but they were still only 30-40 seconds long and pretty easy to manage. I began losing my mucus plug, though, and felt the contractions getting longer and closer together over the course of just one hour, so I felt excited that things seemed to be progressing forward pretty quickly. After timing the contractions for an hour and a half, I texted Debbie and Rachel again to update them. They encouraged me to stop timing the contractions until they got hard to walk and talk through and to rest as much as possible.

The next chunk of time was focused on trying to rest between contractions. First I tried to lay down to nap, but lying down made the contractions much more painful and harder to relax through, I think because I had less options for moving around during each one. I struggle through them for a couple hours before asking Debbie and Rachel for some suggestions for how to rest with contractions. They both gave a few suggestions and I re-settled myself in the living room, sitting on the birthing ball and resting my head on a tall stack of pillows balanced on the arm of the couch, with a heating pad balanced on my back (Derek napped on the couch next to me). Not entirely comfortable, but enough that I was able to sleep between contractions (which were still coming in 5-6 minute intervals at that point). This was about 5 p.m., 12 hours after those first crampy contractions started. I honestly don’t remember how long I rested like that, but eventually I moved back to the bedroom and tried to rest kneeling on the floor and leaning over the ball. That position helped make the contractions more bearable, but made sleep pretty impossible. It wasn’t long before I moved back to the bed again, bringing the heating pad with me since it had been soothing while resting on the birthing ball. Contractions became more painful again as soon as I lay down, but slowed down to 6-7 minutes apart, which allowed me to actually sleep between them.

Somewhere in there, the “bloody show” arrived, so much so that I checked in to make sure that much blood was okay (Debbie assured me that it was normal and actually a good sign because it meant that my cervix was stretching and thinning).

Around 10:00 p.m., I checked in with Rachel and Debbie again, asking if I should keep trying to rest (which seemed to slow things down) or get up and move around (which seemed to increase contractions again). I talked to Rachel on the phone for a bit and she shared that if lying down slowed things down, it was unfortunately a sign that I was probably still in early labor and that once labor was really progressing, the contractions would stay pretty steady no matter what position I was in. Not exactly what I wanted to hear at that point! Debbie encouraged me to take a warm bath or shower, so after I got off the phone with Rachel, I tried that. The warm water finally helped me relax a bit, which made the contractions more manageable. Then I headed back to bed.

For the next four-ish hours, I continued to try to sleep between contractions, but they were getting increasingly painful and I was feeling pretty discouraged that they were so painful while at the same time didn’t seem to be increasing in frequency. Shortly before 3:00 a.m., I talked on the phone with Rachel again and she encouraged and prayed with me. Then it was back to bed again.

By morning, I was grumpy and more than a little discouraged. When contractions started on Sunday, I had been so sure that by Monday morning at least Ethan would be there. But here it was, more than 24 hours later, and I felt like I had barely progressed. Contractions were still coming regularly (every 5-7 minutes) and lasting for a painful 45-50 seconds, but still weren’t getting any more frequent and my bleeding had slowed down. Around 7:00 a.m., both Rachel and Debbie checked in with me to see how I was doing. I talked on the phone with Debbie for a while and shared how discouraged I was. She encouraged me that while these long early labors are hard, often the later portion of labor goes much quicker once it finally arrives. She also reminded me that even the most painful contraction only lasts about a minute, so I could remind myself of that in the midst of it. She instructed me to really focus on relaxing through the contractions, especially relaxing my shoulders and neck because holding tension there (which I had been) was causing the contractions to be more painful, especially in my back. And once again, she encouraged me to go back to bed and rest as much as I could. She did offer to check me if I wanted to come see her that morning. I wasn’t sure about the idea of a car ride at that point, though, and decided to eat a little breakfast (peanut butter toast and a glass of juice) and try resting before checking back in with her. Although it didn’t change where I was in labor, somehow talking to Debbie was the encouragement I needed in that moment to keep persevering.

So after breakfast, I went back to bed and napped again for the rest of the morning, with Derek applying counter pressure on my back and hips during the contractions for a while to help ease some of the pain. Eventually the contraction slowed down significantly, only coming every 10-15 minutes, which meant that I was able to sleep fairly well between them.

Since things had slowed down so much, I contacted Debbie around noon to see if I could come see her (the 25 minute car ride sounded a little more doable at that point) and we set up an appointment for 2:00 p.m. During the car ride down to Grandview, I only had two contractions. With how much everything had slowed down, I was a little apprehensive that when Debbie checked me, I would discover that I was only dilated to 2 cm. or something similarly early in the process. Much to my surprise – and Debbie’s –she discovered that I was dilated to at least 6 cm., close to 7 cm., was 80% effaced, and that the baby’s head was engaged! (that explained why it was so uncomfortable to sit on Debbie’s couch while I waited!) I was so relieved and encouraged! Hearing that things had progressed that far reassured me that my long day (and even longer night) of labor hadn’t been fruitless after all but had indeed been preparing the way for this baby to come. We all felt hopeful, in light of that, that labor would kick into higher gear that night. After checking that the baby’s heartbeat and my blood pressure were both still looking good (they were), Derek and I headed home.

Contractions began picking up again before I even left Debbie’s and were coming every five minutes or so on the way home. By the time we arrived at home and started timing the contractions again, they were coming 2-4 minutes apart and lasting nearly a minute long. I ate a bowl of granola and raw milk and then, once again, tried to lay down to rest, this time in the sunroom. (I had heard that the biggest reason first-time moms transfer to the hospital is because of sheer exhaustion, so I knew that eating and resting during labor was important, especially if it was going to go on for a while). Derek applied pressure on my back during each contraction again, which helped make them more manageable. I wasn’t able to stay lying down as long this time, though. By around 5 p.m., the contractions were lasting a minute or longer and I was up and moving around again, timing the contractions off and on (though not always consistently because it became a little annoying to carry my phone around with me). Shortly after 6:00 p.m., I told Derek I thought it was time to call Rachel and have her come because the contractions were intensifying and I felt ready for some additional support to help me work through them.

It didn’t take long for Rachel to arrive, along with Sarah (one of Debbie’s apprentices). They encouraged Derek to start inflating the birthing pool, so it would be ready whenever we needed it (it takes a little while to set up). Meanwhile, I moved to the bedroom again. I sat on the birthing ball and chatted with Rachel and Sarah in between contractions, jumping up to lean on the dresser whenever one rolled in (there was too much pressure when I stayed on the ball during the contractions). During each contraction, Rachel pushed on my back and reminded me to breathe deeply, make low sounds, relax my shoulders, and bend my legs a bit. In between contractions, she gave me a foot and back rub with lavender oil (the smell of lavender reminds me of birth now) and applied a heating pad to my back. While she did, Sarah took care of keeping a cool washcloth on my neck. Their support at that point made a huge difference in my ability to focus and cope with the contractions. Even though contractions were getting increasingly longer and harder, I feel like labor actually felt easier at that point.

(I set aside my phone when Rachel and Sarah arrived, so my sense of time kind of disappeared from that point on, which was perhaps just what I needed).

While I was laboring in the bedroom, I suggested that Derek should probably contact Erin and she arrived not long after that to begin photographing the birth process.

After laboring for a little while back in the bedroom, Rachel suggested walking around a bit since the contractions were coming close enough together that I would barely sit back down on the ball before I’d be jumping back up for another one. So I paced up and down in the living room and dining room, stopping to lean on the back of a chair or on the table or against a wall whenever a contraction came (I definitely preferred leaning forward on something during contractions). After a little while of this, as the contractions were clearly getting closer together and more intense, Rachel called Debbie so she could listen to a couple contractions to help gauge how far along I might be. Then they had me sit on the toilet and coached me to reach up to see if I could feel the baby’s head yet. I was entirely sure what I was feeling for, but after a little bit of awkwardly poking around in there thought I could feel something like they were describing.

By that point, Derek and Sarah had gotten the pool mostly filled with water so I got into it and began laboring there for a while. The warm water was relaxing and slowed down the contractions a little, but only briefly. I labored in a variety of positions in the pool – on my knees, kneeling with one leg up, then the other – often sitting back against the side of the pool to rest between each contraction.

Eventually Debbie arrived, along with the other Sarah (another apprentice, nearing the end of her apprenticeship). After checking in, Debbie told me that I needed to get out of the water and reset since I had been laboring in there for a couple hours already. She and Sarah helped me sit backwards on the toilet (which took some adjusting in our little bitty bathroom) with my head resting on a stack of pillows on the back. I continued laboring there for a bit as they coached me to make low noises and exhale slowly. Near the end of my time in that position, I heard a small but distinct popping noise. When I stood up shortly after that, I could feel a bit of fluid trickling down my legs, and commented, “Uh, I think my water may have broken on there…” (Derek tells me that this was around 11:00 p.m.).

When I left the bathroom, I lay down on the bed in the sunroom so Debbie could check my progress. She found that Ethan’s head was caught on a bit of my pelvis and coached me to push while she helped ease it out of the way. It took me a few tries to figure out how to push, because I didn’t necessarily feel the urge to yet.

After that, I got back into the pool and started to push in earnest. I pushed in a variety of positions – kneeling by the side of the pool with one leg propped up, then crouching leaned back against the side of the pool with Derek helping hold me up on one side and Rachel holding me up on the other (the bottom of the tub was a little slippery, so it was hard to keep my balance like that), and then eventually down on all fours, my face so close to the water that I sometimes accidentally blew bubbles as I pushed. As I pushed, Debbie encouraged me to reach down so I could feel his head coming. I did and it felt strange at first, but it soon became encouraging, too, to be able to feel his head come to the surface a bit with each push, even though I could also feel it recede again when I stopped pushing. For a while it was hard to imagine how that head was possibly going to fit through, but at the same time I was aware that each push was stretching things a little more so I didn’t have to rush anything and could just take it one push at a time.

Eventually (after a couple hours of pushing, apparently, though it didn’t feel that long to me), Debbie had me step out of the pool again (Derek told me later that there was some blood in the pool then, which worried him, but I wasn’t aware of it). I pushed standing up for a few minutes, because the urge to push continued (and they had encouraged me to listen to my body). During a brief lull in the pushes, they helped me lay down on the bed on my back (not something they normally do, but Debbie wanted to help my perineum stretch so I wouldn’t tear). I pushed for a while like that, as Debbie helped with the stretching. The plan was for me to go back into the pool to finish pushing, but I ended up staying on the bed because I was (relatively) comfortable there and the idea of moving again at that point wasn’t very appealing.

And so, there on the bed, I pushed through that last burning pain (the “ring of fire” that everyone talks about) and then suddenly he was out and they were lifting him up to my chest. This was 2:05 a.m., 45 hours after contractions started and two and a half hours after I started pushing.

It was such a surreal moment, to clutch this little person close, to acknowledge that he was out, that it was finished, that I was done pushing, and that he was here. I think I managed to say something deeply profound (ha!) like, “You’re here! Wow!” but mostly I just hugged him close and looked at him. Behind my head, I could hear Derek crying (which was the sweetest thing to me).

Apparently Ethan was posterior and came out face up (“sunny side up”), which helped the explain the longer labor process (when I looked into posterior labors later, I discovered that the irregular but strong contractions, long early labor, long active labor, and long pushing stage were all fairly common in posterior labors). Amazingly (and, I imagine, thanks in part to Debbie’s help there at the end), I only had one small tear, small enough that Debbie didn’t even end up needing to stitch it.

In the following hour or so, Ethan latched on to nurse for the first time while Debbie and Sarah worked on the other end to help the placenta come out. Then they measured, weighed, and checked Ethan over. I was aware of all this, but in a giddy happy state that I could have cared less what they did at that point, I think! After they did the newborn check, Debbie and Sarah had to leave to head to a second birth that night (they ended up having at least three in about a day and a half, including ours), but Rachel and the other Sarah stayed to finish up. After helping me use the bathroom, they helped get me, Ethan, and Derek settled back in bed in our room and then cooked us breakfast (pancakes, eggs, and sausage) and cleaned up.

The following several days were some of the sweetest in my life, I think, as Derek and I mostly just rested in bed and marveled at this little person. Debbie encourages skin-to-skin contact for the first 72 hours (to help regulate Ethan’s temperature and heart rate and facilitate breastfeeding), so I spent the first few days in almost constant contact with Ethan. We had very few visitors those first few days, which was actually really nice, and Derek took care of the two of us so well. Since then my recovery has been fairly quick, I feel, with only minor discomfort that has lessened as time goes on. I’m nearing the end of the recommended two weeks at home and looking forward to easing back into a new sense of normal now with Ethan.

(The pictures below are thanks to Erin Rufledt, whose presence that night to capture the birth was such a gift to us).

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(At 37 weeks, Derek and I had put together a fairly extensive playlist for the birth, with a variety of worship songs on it. We had it playing for the later part of labor, but most of the time I wasn’t really aware of the music. Except for when this song played. I remember noticing that very last part, “Baby, you’re almost home now/Please don’t quit now/You’re almost home to Me”, as I was pushing. I laughed when I heard it and said something like, “That song is perfect for right now.” When Derek found it and played it for me a couple days later, I cried. Something about it seemed to capture the birthing process for me, that act of willingly pushing through the pain for the sake of bringing our precious, beloved son “home” to us).

“Come Out of Hiding (the Father’s Song)”
(Steffany Gretzinger)

Come out of hiding
You’re safe here with Me
There’s no need to cover
What I already see

You’ve got your reasons
But I hold your peace
You’ve been on lockdown
And I hold the key

‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love
And I saw it all, still I chose the cross
And you were the one that I was thinking of
When I rose from the grave

Now rid of the shackles, My victory’s yours
I tore the veil for you to come close
There’s no reason to stand at a distance anymore
You’re not far from home

I’ll be your lighthouse
When you’re lost at sea
And I will illuminate
Everything

No need to be frightened
By intimacy
No, just throw off your fear
And come running to Me

‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love
And I saw it all, still I chose the cross
And you were the one that I was thinking of
When I rose from the grave
Now rid of the shackles, My victory’s yours
I tore the veil for you to come close
There’s no reason to stand at a distance anymore
You’re not far from home
Keep on coming

And oh as you run
What hindered love
Will only become
Part of the story
(4X)

Baby, you’re almost home now
Please don’t quit now
You’re almost home to Me
(3X)

Five Years Sailing These Seas

Danny Silk once said something in one of his teachings about how storms, not calm seas, are where we really learn to sail a ship. I later discovered that the idea came from an old English proverb:

“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” – English Proverb.

Regardless of its origins, though, the idea of embracing storms because they force us to learn to navigate deep waters encouraged me at the time (and still does), particularly because the seas of our marriage have been anything but calm.

Yesterday Derek and I celebrated five years of marriage. As I reflect on these five years of sharing home (five different homes, in fact) and life, I feel a deep sense of appreciation for the storms we have encountered (hard though they have been) because of what they have taught us about communication and forgiveness, about addressing our past wounds and walking in more wholeness, about loving unconditionally and giving vulnerably, and about trusting the Lord in every season and process.

Out of that reflection, I wrote this poem for Derek and gave it to him for our anniversary:

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Stormy Seas and Skillful Sailors

To the one who has sailed stormy seas
with me.

We embarked in a burst of champagne
and the resounding cheers of well-wishers,
glided out of safe harbor
and into roiling waters.

We felt the deck roll beneath our feet,
lost our balance,
fell flat on our faces,
our breath knocked out by the gale,
the salt of these seas on our tongues,
our first taste of open waters.
We wondered if we would ever rest
on solid ground again.

But in the churning and tossing
we learned the rhythm of these waves,
tuned our ears to every creak of this ship,
unfurled our sails to harness these tempests.
Our hands learned to grasp at solid wood
or a swinging rope
each time the ship threatened to fling us down.

And we came to trust our Captain
the One who steers this ship
and calms the seas.

Now, side by side,
we gaze boldly into the sunrise,
fiery hope spreading
rosy and golden on the horizon,
Heaven above reflected
in smooth seas below.

And we are not afraid
of the storms yet to come
for we are learning to sail this ship.

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A Heart Adjustment

Yesterday I finished an intensive three-week course at our church called the Life Training School (LTS for short). It covered basic foundational teachings about who God is, how He functions, and what it means to walk with God in every area of our lives, teachings that were both simple and incredibly profound. While it presented good information, the course was more about genuine encounter with God than it was about knowledge. We joked that perhaps it should be called the Life Transformation School instead (which is actually what I originally thought LTS stood for already – oops), after we heard testimony after testimony (around fifty of them) of how God had encountered individuals during those three weeks. Someone aptly compared the course to a three-week chiropractic session for the heart, where every time we met, God shifted something else back into alignment with His ways and character.

Some of the testimonies we heard were incredible and there’s a part of me that still struggles with comparing myself to others, comparing my testimony to theirs. The final night we met, though, as I reflected on what God had done for me during the week, I pictured myself handing God my testimony, small and handwritten, and Him saying “It is enough”. So here it is – not as funny or flashy as some, but uniquely mine and a testimony of a real God working in real ways in my life.

LTS Testimony*

I showed up at LTS, unsure of what exactly to expect. Because I knew I would be coming straight from work most evenings, I was a little afraid that I would be too tired to receive or really engage in the teachings. God met me so faithfully each time we gathered, though, even on the nights when I walked in tired or distracted by the day. I feel like the realization of His faithfulness in meeting me, even when I did little more than get myself into my seat, set the stage for some of the most significant shifts in my heart during the course.

A huge part of LTS for me was learning to embrace the simplicity of choosing God. The teachings about bitterness and about the walls we build around ourselves highlighted the impact of my choices. Although I realized how some of my choices led to years of hurt and wrong-relating, I was deeply encouraged by the realization that just as that hurt came from simple choices, I can just as simply choose forgiveness instead of bitterness. I can choose to believe what God says rather than the lies I have heard. Over and over, I can (and did, during these three weeks) choose life instead of death. Not that this will always be easy, but it is simple. It does not require me to figure it all out (I appreciated Graham’s analogy, comparing our ability to receive from God without understanding exactly how He works with our ability to eat and receive nourishment from food without understanding all the complexities of how digestions works). As someone who tends to overthink and overanalyze, this was a significant realization for me.

LTS also drew out some lies that I still believed about who God is as a Father. In particular, I realized during that first week that I still believed that God plays favorites. Of course, if you had asked me, I would have told you I believed that God loves all His children equally. As I listened to and processed the teachings about God as Father, though, I began to realize that the way I lived and the ways I interacted with certain people revealed a persistent belief that God really does like some people more and that I would always be excluded from a certain measure of His affection. During LTS, I repented of this wrong belief about who God is and chose to believe the truth that God is a good Father and that as a good Father, He loves all of His children. During my one-on-one prayer time, God affirmed His love for me and for the unique ways that He has made me. At one point, He showed me a picture of His hand pulling a rolled up sheet of yellowed sheet music from a box and spoke to me about the beauty of the song that He has is singing through my life, a song that He specifically and very carefully chose for me. That picture drove deep the reality that “God made me the way He likes me and He likes me the way He made me.” I believe that as I learn to walk more securely in that truth, it will not only affect the way I interact with God, but will also impact my marriage and other significant relationships in my life as I continue to let go of striving and other aspects of the persona I have built up to protect myself.

*This is the testimony I wrote and handed in at the end of the course.

Trusted Stewards

This week our friend Maggie arrived back from France to settle into the house for the next month while she works out her visa to return to France.

In the days leading up to her return, I found myself walking through the house, sweeping, organizing, cleaning, arranging. Remembering our experience moving into the house just a few weeks ago and our sense of unwelcome (unintended though it was), I wanted Maggie to feel welcomed into her house when she returned. As I prepared for her, I realized how much I value creating a sense of welcome in a space and as I looked around the room she would use, I asked myself, “How would I feel, coming into this space?” I put fresh sheets on her bed with a bright blanket folded on the end. I dusted and swept the room, added a chair in the corner, and opened the curtains to let in sunlight. On the bedside table, I set up a welcome home note and a small vase of fresh flowers. I hoped that each of these little details would speak “Welcome” to her.

My desire for Maggie to feel welcome motivated most of these actions, but as the morning of her arrival came, I finally put my finger on another emotional pushing me to clean and organize:

Fear.
(Still such as ever-present motivator in so many ways.)

I was afraid of what she would think of the house, her house, of the way we had cared for it, of the way we chose to live here. What if it was not clean enough, organized enough? What if she didn’t like how we arranged things or the colors we chose or the way we hung things on the walls? In the months leading up to our move, Maggie had invited us in, advocated for us, and blessed us in who we are, but as stewards of her house, would we live up to her expectations and her trust? Though I had worked hard over the past few weeks to clean and organize and had carefully chosen each thing we added, would it be enough?

As I put a name to these fears and wrenched them into the light, I wondered how to steward this space well without living out of fear and striving.

I turned to the parable of the talents (found in Matthew 25:14-30) as I waited for Maggie’s arrival, re-reading it with eyes fresh from our current situation and reflecting on what it says about stewardship. I realized that by entrusting his property to the three servants, the master in the story was indicating a level of trust in each one of them already. The parable does not say anything about the master telling the servants what to do with the talents or even that he expected them to invest these talents to produce more. Instead the servants found them selves free to use their own judgment, creativity, and ideas to care for what they had been given. While the first two servants did just that, though, the third servant clearly did not feel that same freedom. Why? Because he falsely viewed the master as a hard mad, exacting and unjust. Perhaps he even resented the responsibility of caring for something that would never be his. So he simply preserved what he had been given, believing that in doing so he had fulfilled his responsibility as steward.

The ability to steward something well, then, seems to come (at least in part) from an awareness of the trust that we have been given already and the freedom we have to function out of that place of trust. Do I feel free to steward this house creatively, to invest what I have been given? My level of uncertainty about whether I measure up to Maggie’s expectations and standards suggests that my day-to-day life is still tinged with more fear than freedom.

But the invitation to step into that freedom is there. I am trusted to steward here, to care for the space, to make decisions, to use it well. Trusted to choose curtains, hang pictures, and plant flowers. More importantly, trusted to help choose who will live here alongside us. I suspect that these coming months will push me closer to the reality of that trust and the freedom that springs from it.

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A House Where I Cannot Hide

On Friday, after a full day of countless trips up and down stairs, plenty of sweat, but thankfully no rain, Derek and I moved out of our apartment and into a nearby house owned by our friend Maggie.

For the past two years, our apartment has been a place of sanctuary for us after the chaos and heartache of the Tracy House. I felt more than a little reluctant to leave this sanctuary and jump into community living again, but as we prayed and considered Maggie’s invitation to move into her house and serve as house parents for the Vision Course students who would live there. I could feel God prodding at those still-raw places of hurt and frustration from our last experience in community. In the past two years of school and busyness, those hurts had lay mostly dormant, but God does not let those things rest indefinitely. He desires wholeness and right relationship for us and does not settle for partial healing. In Maggie’s invitation, I felt the Lord’s invitation as well to walk with Him through that process of healing.

Even recognizing this invitation from the Lord, though, I felt twinges of fear at the thought of living in community. In the weeks leading up to our move, people often asked me if I was excited for the move. I was, in some ways, but truthfully I was (and am) far more afraid than excited.

I am afraid of being annoyed with dirty dishes piling up in the sink.
I am afraid of growing frustrated with unexpected guests.
I am afraid of not being able to rest or enjoy quiet in my home.
I am afraid of overreacting to little things.
I am afraid of feeling pushed aside or disregarded.
I am afraid of miscommunication and conflict.
I am afraid of being rejected.

In short, I am terrified of moving into a place where my brokenness and humanity is laid bare and impossible to hide.

But that is part of the invitation in this season, the point in moving back into community: to learn to embrace those broken places, to expose them, to bring them before the Lord and receive healing, to experience the reality of God’s acceptance of me even in those places.

So even in the face of my fear, I am choosing to unpack and settle into a house where I cannot hide, to lay all of myself before God and learn to walk with him into my broken places.

Jesus Loves Me This I Know (For the Snow Days Tell Me So)

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Life has been exhausting lately.

These days I spend nearly forty hours a week at work with a group of seven to eight one-year-olds. After work I head to another six to ten hours a week of class, depending on the week. When I finally come home, there is always a chapter (or two) to read, a paper (or three) to write, an article (or six) to read and respond to, projects to create, and lesson plans to write. Not to mention dishes to wash, laundry to clean and fold, a menu to plan, groceries to buy, a house to clean….

When Friday afternoon arrives and I step out the door at work, I feel an exhilarating rush of relief that the weekend has finally arrived.

But then the weekends are packed, too – with class or trainings, collective, helping friends move, cleaning the house, birthday parties, homework, concerts, catching up with friends, teaching the Boiler Room kids, preparing lunches for the week, doing the laundry that I never found time for during the week….

And suddenly I realize with dismay that it’s Monday morning again and I never really stopped to rest.

Last Sunday I felt particularly crushed under the weight of this constant activity and said something along the lines of, “I feel like I need at least two weeks off to really feel rested again!”

I think God was listening.

I had Monday off of work for President’s day, followed by a shorter day on Tuesday for our staff in-service, then a second shorter day on Wednesday. And then a blizzard closed both school and work for Thursday and Friday.

I was so starved for rest that when they announced a snow day for Thursday, I felt a little giddy.

I turned off my alarm clock and slept in.
When I finally woke up, I watched the snow out the window, still wrapped in our blankets.

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I drank coffee, then cooked a big breakfast for Derek and I and ate it in our pajamas.

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Later we bundled up in several layers and took a walk, snapping pictures of the still-falling snow.

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We stopped by the house of some nearby friends, joining them for lunch and talking about gardening.

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We walked some more, stopping to swing on some snow-covered swings.

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We dropped in for tea at the house of some more friends. A few more friends joined us there and we walked part way home with them afterwards, our heads and shoulders and coats adorned with the fluffy, thickly-falling snow.

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I cooked a hearty potato and kale soup for dinner.

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That night Derek and I snuggled together on the couch and watched a movie together.

And I didn’t do any homework or housework or anything productive that day. Not a single thing.

It was such a perfect day.

And that perfect snow day was followed by another snow day, during which I cleaned the house, caught up on some homework, shoveled a little, and made homemade pretzels. That snow day was followed by the weekend, with collective, a little more homework, church, lunch with friends, and plenty of time to rest.

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Now it’s Monday again and they closed work early today because of the coming storm. School is already cancelled for tomorrow, gifting me with another day off. Though it has not quite been the two weeks off that I longed for, these unexpected days of rest have refreshed me and energized me to push through the rest of this final semester of school.

I Trust You

This evening I finally visited Bambini Creativi, the Reggio school in south Kansas City that I have heard so much about for the past year. I joined my Learning Environments classmates there as part of our discussion on how the learning environment influences learning. We started the evening sitting in child-sized chairs at child-sized tables in the dining room to listen to Breanne (the owner/founder) share a bit of her story and philosophy. Then we followed her and Annie (a former co-worker of mine who now teaches at Bambini) through the school as they described what they do and why they do it. I can’t even put into words what this school is like because it is so different than anything I have experienced.

At the end of the tour, we were invited to choose an area in the school that we liked and reflect on a list of questions about that space, about what it said to the children and their parents and how that space might influence our teacher. I sat myself down next to the projector, where the children can draw their own transparencies and then use them to tell stories. I looked around at the two block structures – spaceships, we were told – which have grown and evolved in that corner since before Christmas. I looked at the books, the blocks, the umbrella, the solar system, the wire sculpture, the disco ball, at the carefully documented evidence of what the children were doing and saying and learning. And I listened.

What does this space say to children?

That what they have to say, their ideas, their stories, are important. Their work is important enough, serious enough, to let it gradually creep its way across this classroom space, day after day, as they add to it and refine it. That their process matters, the journey of doing, but that their product is significant and beautiful, too.

That their teachers trust them. They give them responsibility, handing their learning back to them, because these teachers believe that these children are capable. They show that they trust the children, so that the children can learn to trust themselves.

It reminded me of a blog that touched me last year from Teacher Tom. This post was named “Be Not Afraid” and in it he described his most memorable Easters as a child, the ones he spent in Greece full of exploding eggs, boiling vinegar, and late-night bonfires. Then he shared about a two year old her dipped her hand in glue and then proceeded to walk all around the room, very careful to keep from touching anything with the glue as he shooed away the other teachers who wanted to clean off the glue for her. Teacher Tom ends the post by writing:

“I would trust Maya to carry an Easter candle; look how responsible she is. I would trust Violet to boil-dye a batch of blood red eggs. Children are as competent as we allow them to be. They step up to the responsibilities in their lives, but only when we leave them enough freedom to assume them on their own. I hear a lot of people this time of year saying things about the “real meaning of Easter.” The part of that real message that I always took home with me as I carried my candle through those dark streets was the part that said: “Be not afraid.”

It’s a good message because it’s only when we can move beyond fear that we can trust. And trust is what our children need from us.” (Teacher Tom, April 04, 2012).

How can my classroom, with my precious group of one year olds, reflect this message of “I trust you”?

The Sun Has Overcome the Night

The Light Will Come
Phil Wickham

To the one with the wounded heart
The years of fighting have left you scarred
Wait, the light will come

To the one with distant eyes
All this crying has left you dry
Wait, the light will come
Wait, the light will come

Lift your eyes, the sun has overcome the night
Come alive as we shine in love’s true light

Here is laughter beyond the tears
Here is courage to face your fears
Look, the light has come

So rise, you daughters, and stand, you sons
Claim the victory that Jesus won
Look, the Light has come
Look, the Light has come

Faith and Politics (or More Questions Than Answers)

On Tuesday Derek and I drove to a small church in a nearby neighborhood to cast our votes, along with millions of other Americans across the country. This was only my third time voting and my first time ever voting for president. On Saturday I spent most of the afternoon and evening and even late into the night researching issues and candidates, wanting to be an informed voter when I put my pen to the ballot. I felt a responsibility to vote this year but agonized over nearly every choice, feeling like neither side really stood for my values.

In the end, when I left the polls with my “I Voted” sticker in hand, I still felt more dissatisfied than anything else. I felt dissatisfied with my political choices. More than that, though, I felt dissatisfied with my own understanding of the issues and of how to mingle my faith with politics.

I hunger for a justice that our political system (and our world) sorely lacks in so many areas. And with justice, there are several things I am sure of:
• That God cares deeply for the poor and expects us to care for them as well (He has some strong words for those who oppress the poor or stand by while they are oppressed).
• That God desired to free all those who are oppressed and invites us to join Him in this
• That God calls us to shelter the alien (read: immigrant) among us and gives pretty explicit commands to do so (seriously, you might be surprised at how much he has to say about this issue…).
• That God is the protector of the vulnerable (of all ages) and calls us to be protectors of the vulnerable as well.
• That we are called to do what is in our power to live at peace with those around us.

These are beliefs that inevitably intertwine with my political position. They have to. But they also bring up complex issues without easy answers. Honestly, I am not sure how to stand for these in our current political system, or even outside of politics oftentimes. No political candidate champions all (or even most) of these ideals. Even if one did, I doubt that our current political system, driven largely by money and a hunger for power, would support such a politician. Voting, then, (no matter who we vote for) cannot absolve us from the need to wrestle through these issues, to seek God’s perspective and plans for justice, life, poverty, freedom, and the world around us. Our responsibility to justice did not end when the polls closed on November 6th.

Wednesday morning, as the country either rejoiced or lamented the newly elected president, I felt surer than ever of one thing: I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to fight for justice in politics. But I want to find out. In fact, I intend to find out.

(Do you have books or resources that have helped you answer some of these questions and clarify your own political position as a Christian? If so, feel free to share them.)