Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A New Dinner Tradition

When days are busy and nights are long, it's easy for a family to get into a flow of negativity. In our family, I've noticed this most at supper time when we all sit down together and ask each other about our day. Brandon says, "How was your day, Honey?" and I respond by throwing up all the frustration in me.

There was spilled milk and bickering and someone didn't take their nap and the baby cried all the way to such-and-such and we really need to clean the bathrooms.

"And how was your day, Baby?"

He tells me how long the to-do list was and how short the time was and our children are listening and learning how to live their lives with a critical eye. 

I'm afraid my rants will be especially damaging as my children are growing older and they understand that I am talking about them and pointing out their weakest moments to their Dad--the moments they were clumsy, angry, or hurt and it made my day difficult.

A new tradition is changing all that though.

We have started taking turns going around the table first and mentioning when we saw someone exhibit a Fruit of the Spirit that day.

It's the simplest change, but it's breaking the cycle.

Now instead of unleashing the complaint beast, we are seeing and speaking about how God is daily growing our family in love. 

The conversation sounds like me boasting, "Today Rebekah needed to nurse and have her diaper changed right at lunchtime, but Kai showed patience by finding something fun to do while he waited instead of complaining about being hungry."

Then Kai says, "Yes, and Caleb showed kindness today when he let me have a turn with his new yo-yo!"

Daddy points out how mommy showed love by cooking a healthy dinner and I point out how Daddy shows love by getting up to his alarm clock every morning and going into work.

Caleb noticed Joe show gentleness when Joe stopped to hug him after a scooter tumble.

After just two days I also saw these conversations help us open up our eyes more to the moments that we need the Holy Spirit's help. For example, every evening for a couple of months Joe and Caleb have been having a fight about their pull-ups. The pull-ups come in two different patterns--monster trucks and skate boards. Caleb always wants his pull-up to match Kai's and Kai does not want to match. There was an argument about it every single night until we said, "We need the Holy Spirit to help us here. He brings peace. I think we need someone to show love. We either need Caleb to be okay with not matching or we need Kai to be okay with matching." Caleb stepped up to the plate and said, "I can do it. Kai, you can wear whatever pull-up you want. I don't have to match you." Not to be outdone, Kai quickly changed his pull-up to match Caleb's and they both went to bed happy and proud of themselves.

So simple and so powerful.

Once this tradition is really solidified I think it will be a great way to also move other scripture from memory into intentional practice.

If you want to try it out with your family, a great way to help your kiddos learn the Fruits of the Spirit is with song. We love the 90's blast from the past song from Steve Green's CD "Hide 'Em In Your Heart Volume 2".There are a couple great videos on youtube also. This one cracks my kids up. There's also a coloring page here and a pretty printable here.

Have you found any simple habits or traditions that create a more  positive atmosphere in your home? I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What You Really Need to Uncover About Modesty, Beauty, and the Bible

My Dear Sisters, the world has been trying to tell us for a while that there's something fishy about our obsession with high necklines and one piece bathing suits. 

When I read blog posts by Christian wives asking Non-Christian women to cover up so that they will not be a temptation to the author's husband or sons, something seems off to me. I read, "Hey! I know you're not in my club, but could you please follow my club's rules so that you won't tempt my husband or sons into leaving this club to join yours instead?" It's just not the right message. Why do we feel like we have to compete?

On the other hand, the church has been trying for ages to point out that there's something wrong with the over sexualization of our culture and the bikinis and midriff and skin tight jeans.

For years, I've been standing in front of dressing room mirrors trying to make the call "Do I look beautiful in this?"; "Do I look too beautiful in this; is it immodest?"; and sometimes postpartum "Do I look beautiful at all?".

I remember the first time I looked in the mirror after the birth of my first child. There was a great sense of loss and defeat. My figure was gone. The things that the magazine racks said that I needed to be beautiful--a flat stomach, tight skin, and tiny waist--were gone and I had no idea if they could ever return.

I've come a long way since that day. This is me looking in the mirror the day after my fourth child, Rebekah, was born. I think the smile says it all.

As with most things, freedom came in the pages of the bible and in real conversation with real friends.

I grew up in the church and I was taught to value modesty. The general modesty message I heard was this: "Ladies, your bodies are beautiful. When you are uncovered it is difficult for men to avoid lusting after you. You want to spur your brothers on towards holiness in thought and deed so please dress modestly so that your body will not be a stumbling block."

Though it wasn't the point of the sermon I think what many of us heard was this: a woman's body is beautiful. A woman's body attracts the attention of man. It's a very powerful, influential part of a woman--a dangerous part at that. 

I also grew up in the world. I saw the magazine racks and the music videos and I heard a message there too. A woman's body is beautiful, attractive, and powerful if it looks a certain way. If you're size 2, twenty something years old with large, perky breasts and hips that sway just right--then you're beautiful. If you happen to have wrinkles or stretch-marks or a little extra weight, then--have no fear--there's a product to "fix" you. If you've got it, flaunt it. If you don't have it, buy it or move on over.

These two message have created a world of trouble for me as a woman, a mother, a human earning wrinkles and stretch marks, and a soul longing to be lovely.

I'm not the only one who has been hurt by this fascination on externals.

I've seen that when we tell a 16 year old that a woman's body is powerful and then ask her to go to her school dance covered up while all her peers are showing off their bodies then she will feel overlooked.

If we tell a married woman that an uncovered body is a stumbling block and then ask her to go to the beach in a one piece with her husband, then she is going to fight jealousy.  How can she expect her husband to love her in a one piece when she is surrounded by "stumbling blocks" in bikinis who are younger and thinner than her?

The message of modesty that many of us have heard has birthed jealousy and that, my friends, is not a fruit of the spirit.

Yet, when I opened my ears and my Bible, I found a message of modesty that is a breath of fresh air in this stifling body debate. If we look at the one bible verse that commands women to dress modestly found in 1 Timothy 2:9 we find a message that is not focused on externals.

"I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,
but with good deeds,appropriate for women who profess to worship God."

Adorn yourself with good deeds.  In other words, dress modestly so that your beauty may be seen through your actions, not your skin. It's what you do that is attractive, not what you look like. This is further emphasized in 1 Peter 3:3 and 4.

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."

Peter doesn't say, "Hey! You're too beautiful--cover it up." He says, "Your personality, your mind, your spirit is so beautiful to God. Let what is truly lovely about you shine. Don't distract from it with lesser things."

Paul writes in 1 Cor 6;19, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?"

My dear sisters, do you not know? Do you not know that you are more than simple canvases to be displayed and looked upon? We are temples of the living God. Your wrapping may or may not conform to society's ever-changing beauty trends, but your treasure--your beauty, your power, your influence--is found within. You are designed to carry the Holy Spirit of God within you.

If you want to be attractive, carry the presence of God.When you possess the fruits of the Spirit, people will
 see unfading beauty and want more of it--not more of you, but more of the God in you. You will be attractive because the gospel that you live is attractive. You will be powerful because the gospel that you speak is powerful unto salvation.

Of course, there is this outer stuff--this skin that we live in. At the end of the day, I still have stretch marks that I must be reconciled with. This outward beauty honestly just doesn't matter as much as Satan would have you think it does. 

Proverbs 31:30 tells us that  "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Notice, please, it doesn't say that a beautiful woman is vain. Beauty is vain. This entire obsession with women and their bodies is vain. This idea of beauty begs us to pay it more attention than it's worth. When we are single, it begs us to think that we must possess a certain kind of beauty to attract a man. When we are married, it begs us to think that we must possess it to keep a man. Yet, it is so deceitful. When you look at history, has skin deep beauty ever kept a man? If it did, celebrity marriages wouldn't be known for failure. What keeps a man loving a woman is not her unchanging skin, but his unchanging character. Likewise, a woman's character keeps her loving her husband and two people set on loving each other is what keeps a relationship beautiful. 

Sisters, we need to turn off the ramblings of the world for a minute and draw close to the God that created us and hear from Him just what makes us beautiful. We need to hear Him tell us the way He knit us together in our mother's womb--skillfully and wonderfully. We need to hear Jesus whisper the way He saw our sin-stained souls and thought we were worth redeeming even at the price of His life. We need to hear the hard words that beauty is available to us all, but it will cost us everything. We need to hear that a beautiful bride follows her Love--and He leads us to a cross. Beauty is love and love is sacrifice.

You need to hear that great beauty is not defined by the shape of your body, but by the way you bear hardship in your body for the building up of others.

Beauty is not wrinkle-free hands with manicured nails, but a hand stretched out offering a generous gift to a stranger in need.

Beauty is not hips that move low to the rhythm of the dance floor, but a heart that is moved with compassion for the lowly.

Beauty is not that we are seen, but that we have encountered the Beautiful One and we carry His likeness to the ugliest places.

Dress simply and modestly so that you don't find yourself distracted from the pursuit of love and falling into a competition of vanity. 

If you must compete, outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).

 Know what a real treasure God says you are and then go carry real beauty into the lives of your family, your friends, and the world.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Livin' La Vida Loca

6. We are a family of 6 now. Wowza! We chose the crazy life and it's beautiful.

This is our girl we've been getting to know the last few weeks.

Kai calls her Becky. Caleb calls her Rebekah. Joe calls her Buhkaw and it sounds like the noise a chicken makes and makes me laugh every time. Brandon and I call her Bekah, Bekahboo, and Bekahburrito. 

Rebekah means "captivating". Jane is her great-grandmother's name. It means "God is gracious", as does my name and my mom's middle name.

 Her three brothers are definitely captivated by her. Kai always wants to hold her and is constantly saying sweet things like....

"She's so cute."
"I think she loves me."
"I don't want to run errands with you, Dad. I just want hold Bekah alllll day."
"I thought it wouldn't be fun to have a baby sister, but I i really like it."
"I love my little sister so much, I already kissed her 5 times today!"

Caleb loves her, but has kept his distance a bit. I think he realizes that he must be careful with her and he isn't sure how to be. He tells her that she's adorable and told her, "You're just so cute I want to wrestle you!"

Joe is in her face ALL the time. He's very gentle, but absolutely obsessed with her. I have to keep her locked away in a room or wrapped on me to give her a break from Joe's constant pampering and petting. 

Apparently she likes the attention from Joe because he was the lucky recipient of her first smile at two weeks old. ;) 

Miss Lady has been getting along well. She eats and poops like a champ. She sleeps like a champ in the afternoons and not so much at night. She will only sleep in our arms which is a big adjustment for me. Co sleeping is just not my thing, but we're making it work for now. 

Maybe I'll start reading Babywise to her as her bedtime story until she gets the hint. Until then, I'm eternally grateful for the help that my mom and Brandon's mom have given us these last few weeks and also for the meals friends have brought. We have had so much help!
It's really made a difference in navigating through the postpartum roller coaster. There have been some tears and plenty of overwhelmed moments. There have been moments where Brandon may or may not have said to me...

"Woah! Our house smells like dirty diapers when you walk in the front door.."

"Yeah, I could tell you had a rough day when I walked in the door. You had that I-hate-my-life look going on..."

"Are you ok?? You look like a zombie..."

The zombie comment was speedily pardoned as it was followed by an offer to watch all four kids while I took a nap. Brandon could probably write the postpartum Father's guide by this point: "How to Win at Being A New Dad in 3 Simple Steps". He has the formula down pat. 
Step 1: Offer to help with the baby at night.
Step 2: Assume responsibility of all the other kids on evenings and weekends while mom focuses on herself and baby.
Step 3: Tell your wife she's beautiful. She's the most beautiful zombie you've ever seen. 

You get bonus husband points if you let her go to Target all by herself. Brandon let me leave the house on my own last night and it was heaven. Of course, there was that inevitable moment where someone asked me when my baby was due. This time it was priceless because the poor woman was so embarrassed that she couldn't recover. When I told her I had the baby 3 weeks ago she just turned red, fumbled an "Oh", and walked away.  The woman who asked me today if I was expecting another baby WHILE we had Bekah with us recovered just fine by telling me what lovely children we had.

Anyways, I forget where I'm going with this post. Must be the sleep deprivation. I will leave you with some baby pictures because at the end of the night (or day? They're jumbled together.) all of the difficult moments are eclipsed by the sweetness of holding this new little person and getting to love and take care of her. I can't believe she'll be 4 weeks old on Friday. She's already growing out of the NB clothes. My heart! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rebekah's Birth Story

Apparently my last post was only half true. I told you that I make water bags of steel that don't break...

....and then my water broke. That's just how labor goes, right?!

I also told you that I am a 42-weeker. That part IS true because even though I was 3 days past my due date and my water broke, I was not in labor yet.

Bekah was kicking and wiggling a lot Wednesday night. As Brandon and I were getting ready for bed, I felt a small spurt of fluid, followed a few minutes later by another. It was such a small amount that I wasn't sure what to make of it. I gave Brandon a heads up that my water MIGHT have broken and then as we crawled into bed the floodgates let loose.

Instantly all of the calm and confidence I had about this labor vanished. "My water broke. My water BROKE! This could change the entire labor! Do I need to rush to the hospital? Is this going to be fast?" I pondered as I waited for some crushing contraction to come upon me.

I called my midwife and she recommended that we come on in to the hospital. She explained to me that once your water breaks, you and the baby are at more risk for infection. I test GBS positive during all my pregnancies, which puts baby at an even greater risk for infection. She suggested that I come into the hospital to make sure baby was head down and to start IV antibiotics while we wait for labor to begin.

We called Brandon's parents to watch the kids, texted friends, and packed bags. I started having a couple contractions right before Brandon's parents arrived. I had a couple painful ones on the way to the hospital. "Alright, I think we're in business!" I told Brandon as we checked into the hospital. We talked to the midwife about our labor plan.

I preferred to have a natural labor, but I wanted to go with the flow. I had no interventions with my labor with Joseph and it was amazing. I labored at home for 12 hours, checked into the hospital, and quickly pushed Joe out two hours later.You can read the whole story here if you want. My labors with Kai and Caleb were less than ideal. I had to be induced. I had an epidural. I pushed for 2 hours because I couldn't feel what I was doing. They had to use the vacuum to pull Kai out and I had 3rd degree tears that took months to heal. At this point, my natural labor was a much better experience than my labors with interventions. My water didn't break until I was pushing with my natural labor though. I didn't know what to expect with this twist.

Brandon and I tried to rest before the action started. I fell asleep for an hour or two, only waking up at the peak of a few contractions here and there. When I got up in the morning the contractions were gone. Nada. Zip. Gone.

We spent all morning walking around trying to kick start things.I had the most contractions during the car ride to the hospital so we decided to try taking a drive too. Brandon had been wanting to test drive a car at a dealership nearby so we actually popped over there and took it for a spin while we had the free time. Are we crazy? Yes. Did our nurse have any idea we left the hospital grounds? Nope. ;)

The walking and the car ride didn't get us anywhere so by the afternoon we had some decisions to make. What I LOVE about the group of midwives I see is that they inform us about the choices in front of us and then let us decide. They're never pushy or make labor sound black and white. My midwife recommended that we have labor going by midnight to reduce the chance of infection. She let us know that, of course, it was our choice and if we really wanted to wait and let labor happen naturally then we could. It could be a few days though. As much as I wanted a natural labor experience again, the baby's health is top priority. Also, I didn't want to get worn out waiting and then not have any energy for the labor. We decided to take the afternoon to nap and then start pitocin after dinner.

By 7:00 I started having contractions on my own, but only 10 minutes apart. Pitocin was started by 9:00 and the smallest amount put us in action. Within an hour I was having contractions 1.5 minutes apart and they had to turn the pitocin down to the lowest dose to slow the contractions down to 3 minute spacing.

It was intense. Judging just by the pain, I thought I might be pushing before midnight. My labor with Joe was natural and by the time I had contractions that painful and close together during his labor, I was 2 hours away from delivering. I requested that the midwife check me for dilation. I hadn't been checked yet because we were trying to avoid introducing any bacteria to the area after my water broke. Bad plan. The midwife announced that I was 4 cm dilated.

"Shut up! There is no way. Not just 4! Ugh. I hate the number 4!"

I was 4 cm dilated with Kai for a month before I even went into labor with him. I was sure I had to AT LEAST be a 6 with that kind of pain going on.

I felt defeated, but tried to get it back together. Just take it one hour at a time. The numbers don't mean that much. I might dilate really fast from here.

My labor coaches, Brandon and my mom, were both by my side and doing a great job keeping the atmosphere positive for me.

We rocked the birthing ball for a while.  I don't know how people had babies before these squishy things of bouncy bliss were invented.

We moved to the bed as the pain worsened and I needed to rest more between contractions. I focused on deep breaths and used the same imagery that I used during Joseph's birth. I heard it from Ann Voskamp's blog, "See yourself as a bag of sand. And there's a hole rent in your toe. Let all the pain run through the broken and rent places."

I made it to midnight and started to run out of patience. I got into the bathtub (nothing fancy, just a regular low down tub) to try something new. I made it another hour in there. The contractions remained 3 minutes apart, but the pain was getting worse and I could no longer relax between the contractions. My legs would not stop shaking and they were driving me crazy. At 1:00 I requested that the midwife check me again to see where we were at. 6 cm now. We made some progress. I guessed that meant I had 2 or 3 more hours to go before pushing. I ran the numbers in my head--that would be about 40-60 more contractions to get through before pushing.  Was it worth it to keep going?

Nope. It just wasn't worth it to me anymore. I wanted the natural labor that I had with Joseph, but this labor was already a different beast. With pitocin and without the cushion of having my water intact, the experience had already turned from ideal to torture. If this is what 6 cm felt like, I didn't want to know what transition and pushing felt like this time. When it came down to the wire, I wanted a good experience more than I wanted a natural experience.

The epidural was in by 2:30 and it took beautifully. I had one small spot where the epidural did not take with Kai and Caleb's labors, but this time the epidural knocked all the feeling out of my lower half. It was amazing. In fact, I fell asleep right away and woke up an hour later ready to push.

I didn't get anywhere with the first couple pushes, but everything was peaceful and I didn't mind. The contractions spaced back out to 5 minutes apart now for whatever reason. There was a long rest in between each push. Looking at the contractions spacing out, the midwife smiled and said, "Your uterus was just not ready to let go of this baby yet!" Yep. 42-weeker. Bekah was ready to get out though and kicked her way into the world. It's good. She'll need that kind of attitude with 3 older brothers at home. ;)

The midwife brought in a mirror so that I could see what I was doing with the pushing. I had never watched myself push before and it was incredible. "Look! She's right there! Look at that hair!" the midwife said with the next contraction. Was that MY baby with long, dark hair?! No way! With the mirror, I could figure out just how to push. It felt more like I was watching a movie than living real life as I saw that little head full of hair slowly come into the world. She didn't cry, but I did! 

She was calm and curious as they cleaned her off. When they brought her back to me, I tried to nurse her and she latched on perfectly with the first try and guzzled furiously. Now that I think about it, I think the girl knew just what she was doing. She decided one night that she was hungry and kicked her way right out to the milk station.

I looked up at the chart on the wall to see the numbers the nurses were recording. 4:40 am. My 4th child was born on 4/10 and 4:40 am. Maybe I do love the number 4 after all.

 Now I understand why some women who have natural labors rave about it and why others say "I don't think I ever want to put myself through that kind of pain again". I treasured the natural experience with Joseph, but with Rebekah's  labor I was thanking God for that epidural. Joseph's birth was beautifully intense and powerful. Calm, peaceful, and surreal--that is how I will always remember Bekah's entrance to the world.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Final Stretch

Today is three days past my due date, but--hey, who's counting?

I hated it when I was late with Kai, but at least by baby number four I knew to expect it. I create water bags made of steel that don't break until I'm pushing and my body is in no hurry to evacuate tiny residents. I'm a 42-weeker and I am content with that. I can't wait to meet my daughter, but in the meantime I'm enjoying the extra time to knock things off the to-do list, bond with Kai over his spring break, and let this baby soak up his last few days of being THE baby:

It's also nice to have a chance to pop out another blog post. I wanted a chance to write about the second half of this pregnancy. When I last wrote I was picking life back up from months of morning sickness and Brandon and I were burnt out--charred and crispy burnt right out. I remember sitting on the couch with him in November and discussing how we NEEDED a vacation, but we had no idea how to make one happen with no money set aside for it and no plan. We prayed about it and then kept on trucking. Since then, we have had not one, but two vacations! Our friends and family really gathered around us, spoiled us, and helped us along. Thanks to that I feel like we've spent the second half of this pregnancy just drinking in life and joy. Here are a couple of the highlights. :)

The Big Vacation

As a Christmas gift, Brandon's parents and my parents collaborated to watch the boys for us while we took a week long vacation. Best Christmas gift ever, right!? We drove down to Jupiter, FL to stay with Brandon's grandparents. They have a sweet home within walking distance of the beach. We treasured the time with them and with each other. A free, week-long, kid-free vacation to the beach in December---yeah, it was as awesome as it sounds. It was healing to our souls, just the fresh start we needed.

Baby Showers

I had such a grand time at my baby showers that I hardly took a minute to get pictures. In fact, I don't think I took a single photo at my first shower! Oops! Well, I'm sure I'll remember it forever even without the photos. The ladies at Brandon's office invited me to come over one day during their lunch break for a special shower. They are Brandon's coworkers, but I've known most of them for years and love and respect them to pieces. If I had a photo you would see a warm dining room with a long walnut table. Around the table are women of all ages exchanging birth stories, God stories, and laughs while feasting on Thai food and made-from-scratch cake-- all underneath a sweet, pink, baby girl banner. I can't wait to make many more memories around that table with Rebekah and her Renew Family.

My friends Susan and Jennifer hosted a friends and family shower. Another photography fail---I didn't get a single picture with the two of them! I did grab a couple with my family though and some quick photos of the decor. My pictures don't do it justice! Susan went all out with the decorations and she created them all to double as decor for Bekah's nursery. I couldn't hold back the tears when they all gathered around to pray over me and Rebekah. It's humbling to be surrounded by people that have loved me so well through all sorts of challenges--- childbirth, emergency surgeries, sickness, and the highs and lows of marriage and motherhood. Good friends and family are a treasure and I am the richest girl in the world. 

The Drama

My pregnancies wouldn't be complete without a little medical drama thrown in there! We had our first broken bone in February and in March we found out that Caleb needs another surgery! Um, yeah, I freaked out the first time I heard the word surgery again. Thankfully, it's just a hernia surgery and should be easy-peasy compared to Caleb's previous two surgeries. We're talking outpatient surgery--where you get to go home the same day you have surgery! It's scheduled for the end of May. Caleb is excited because he will get "magic stitches" that disappear on their own after a week or two. 

Kai was also quite excited about his cast. The itching the first couple days was intense, but it wasn't so bad once we made it past that. It's off now just in time to hold his baby sister. 

The Babymoon

As if one vacation wasn't enough.....

I told you I've been spoiled! Brandon had to go to Charleston for a weekend in mid-March for a work trip. Once again, our parents took the kids on for us so that I could go with him. I loved getting a glimpse into Brandon's life at work. Brandon's company has recently been working on a partnership with Water Missions International--a great non-profit that seeks to make clean drinking water accessible to developing countries and disaster areas. Water Missions is based in Charleston and we spent the weekend with them and some of their strategic partners. I was touched by their hearts and impressed by the quality of work they are doing. Check them out if you are looking for a great mission to support.

The Little Things

I've loved the big, fun happenings, but I just treasure the every day bits of joy that make up my life too. We've been doing a little more of what we love and a little less of what we "should" do these past few months. Here are a few tidbits and photos that I want to remember.

-Making homemade bread and warm soup on rainy days. Tossing a frozen pizza in the oven on busy days and choosing to be thankful instead of guilty. Throwing PB&J in a bag and spending the day at the park on the rare warm, sunny days we've had.

-Warm baths and naps. I shoot for a nap almost everyday while Joe is napping. It's so worth it right now. 

-Soaking up those moments of daddy time before bed. Brandon is an amazing father. 

-Taking good care of our animals and our imaginations. 

-Celebrating simply. We have 5 family birthdays in March! March Madness! We just let birthdays be simple this year and it was great. Joe's second birthday was perfect--sunshine, bubbles, ice cream, and people he loves.

Here's to one more birthday coming up soon!