Saturday, November 23, 2013

Deliver

 Earlier this week, the Lord brought a very clear, succinct thought to my mind while I was getting ready for the day. It was this:

"Babies can't deliver, but moms can. Try to deliver patience when your baby doesn't deliver on your expectations. They can't intentionally deliver one way or the other."

I am one of the few women you may ever meet who actually enjoyed being in labor and delivering my child. I look back at that approximately 8 hours of active labor and 25 minutes of pushing as a very peaceful, wonderful, beautiful time and have fond memories of it. I know this sounds crazy, but that was my birth experience with my son. I'm not into eastern religion, but if I've ever had anything close to "Zen," I think it was during labor.

However, delivering emotionally can sometimes be quite challenging for me, right along with keeping everything in perspective. Especially patience, when I'm tired. Not a great track record on that one. But I've been working on this with the Lord over the last year especially, and God has been actively working in my heart and mind to grow me.

This little lesson would have come in handy the other night when I was tired and things weren't really going my way. My little boy fell asleep before having dinner and then woke up 3 hours later and was up until nearly midnight. I had tried to fall asleep when he did, but couldn't unwind and wasn't able to. And my husband was gone at school for the night. I totally forgot about this quote, literally written on the bathroom mirror, until I saw it the following morning. I felt so badly that I hadn't relied on this simple truth that I believe was a little lesson from the Lord, and I certainly did not respond with patience nor grace, unfortunately. I literally cried while feeding my son his late night dinner and hanging out with him (off and on) while I waited for help to arrive (my husband)... all because my little guy who is not even 2 was having an "off night" with regard to sleep, which is completely out of his and my control.

I'm thankful that His mercies are new every morning and that I can start over, so I will. And I'll keep in mind that when things aren't going my way, it's ok to acknowledge that I'm frustrated about the situation, but I don't need to come so unglued when it's completely out of my control (except for my response).

Guest Blog Post on The Ruth Experience

At the end of September, I was honored to be a guest blog contributor on a friend from college's blog with some of her family.

The post is called, "Where is everything going and who am I without it?" And it talks about some challenges I had a few months ago with my identity regarding my changing responsibilities at work.

Check it out: http://theruthexperience.blogspot.com/2013/09/guest-post-where-is-everything-going.html

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Softened Heart in the Making


When I sit down to write, or even think about it sometimes, it's almost like falling in love, because I get swept up in the process of getting my thoughts out on paper, it's sort of a romance at times. It fills me up, while allowing me to empty the things that have weighed me down, and it's quite spiritual, even when the contents aren't particularly so (because my faith is very integral to the way I try to process things). It's pretty great. But I don't do it enough, if I'm honest.

Here's something that's been on my mind lately about our parenting journey so far (which you can probably gather from prior posts has been uniquely challenging). When I fearfully, but honestly shared with my husband several years ago, early in our marriage, that God had given me a special spot in my heart for people who have special needs or are "different," I also shared that I'd be open to parenting someone like that, if God called us to that.

It was scary, because I had never said anything like that out loud, and most people can't even imagine that reality, unless it becomes a reality that they have to learn to navigate. The special place in my heart is something that God planted in me at some point during high school or college, I think. I've seen such beauty in the uniqueness of those who are visibly or otherwise different, that points to how uniquely beautiful it is to be created by God, and I've seen such joy radiate from those individuals who have come to learn (as I strive to learn) that their value is in belonging to the Lord and having been created by Him. It often, in fact, brings me to tears with the worshipful response my heart has to God, when I get the joy of interacting with someone. They delight in what they are able to do, even when the list of things that they cannot do in the traditional way may be a long (or short) list. The world focuses on what that person may be missing due to their differences, and often responds with pity and/or ignorance, but I see the beauty of not being distracted by trying to keep up with the world, and walking in step with the leading of the Lord (whether walking itself is literal or only spiritual).

Fast-forward to the journey that we've been on these last 19 months or so, and over the last few weeks, through a couple of God-lead conversations, He reminded me of that conversation with my husband those years ago. He also revealed to me that the special place in my heart for the beauty of being "different" or having "special needs" was in fact Him preparing me to parent our sweet little guy. While there are no diagnoses at this point, beyond some (non-life-threatening) food allergies, his small stature and developmental delays remain a cause of concern and the need for regular therapy from occupational, physical and other therapists (who focus on sensory, gross and fine motors, and cognitive play) and some on going tests and follow up with a handful of specialists to see if a diagnosis can be found. His small stature has always been a topic of conversation, but if you met our respective families and looked at the size of our extended families' statures, you would not be surprised that he is small. However, he is now so small that he is no longer on the graph paper that the growth curve is on, so they are quite concerned at that. Their concern is fine, but can be exhausting, expensive and time-consuming at times to cross those things off the list of things to do.

When I thought about people who have special needs and those who parent them, I thought of beautiful communities of support and guidance from other parents who were navigating similar, related courses, even though none are identical from what I understand. Because we don't have a diagnosis, we don't really fit into one of those communities that I once imagined. God has been reminding me over the last few weeks that He wants to be in communion with me, with us, as we journey together to learn how to parent and care for our son. Perhaps the community that I imagined would have kept me from running to the Lord in our times of frustration, confusion and times that we wanted to quit this stuff of "eliminating major concerns," perhaps it wouldn't have. I don't know. What I do desire is to walk closely with God through this journey and to remember that we aren't supposed to have the strength, perseverance, unity in our marriage without His power, His Spirit at work in us, His leading.

Now what? I've scheduled the skin-testing for allergies and will be calling to schedule an MRI of his brain and a visit with the pediatric nutritionist at Children's. Sometime before the end of the year, we will likely meet with the geneticists at the U of M. The list goes on, but that's not the point. God's reminding me and teaching me to delight in my son and the joy that he brings to our lives. The other things are details that God has entrusted to my husband and I to do, as we're able. I'm also learning it's ok to take breaks from the testing and doctor visits, as long as we get to them within a reasonable period of time. It's ok to be done for a while, as long as I'm resting in the One who created all of us. And as long as I do get up and keep going after I've had a bit of rest.

The Lord has been teaching me a lot the last few weeks, but these are just a few of the things that He has been teaching me and He has really been softening my heart again towards all of the challenges we face, so that I'm able to enjoy the non-challenges so much more.

He is faithful. He has never left me to fend for myself. He has never left me unequipped to do what He has called me to do. Why should I think any of those things would be different now? I shouldn't, but sometimes in the middle of the most tiring days or scary tests, I forget for a moment. God has been so kind and consistent in reminding me of who He has created me to be and what He has equipped me to do (and will continue doing so). I also know it probably pales in comparison with the challenges and frustrations of families who parent or care for children with known diagnoses, because a diagnosis doesn't put an end to the doctors visits, medical bills, or pure exhaustion beyond "the norm" of parenting in general. My prayers have been increasing for those families I know who have challenges so much more extreme than ours, some even life-threatening, as God has brought this reality to me as well.

This has been a very refreshing couple of days indeed, and I needed it very much. On to the next adventures, appointments and beyond that - enjoying my family and giving them my full attention, love and joy that is from walking with the Lord. And I want to figure out how to better love and support people who are parenting kids who are "different," whether diagnosed with something, or still journeying to discovering if there's even a diagnosis to be found. And I hope that what God is teaching me might be an encouragement to them as well.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

You're not alone...

We received a little book of bedtime prayers to read to our little guy when we were pregnant, and one of the prayers is titled, "You're never, ever alone." It is a little cheesy and even rhymes, but it teaches that no matter what, no matter where, God is with you. It is so basic, but it's a reminder that I've needed a lot, and so have many of my friends.

In the last several months, God has brought me conversations with other women, where God has used me to assure them that they are not alone in various circumstances. One friend was dealing with family and friends who kept telling her "how small" she was in her pregnancy, and some family members even told her to her face that they didn't think she could accomplish a natural childbirth as she desired (for those who did not get comments about being "so small," it often made me feel as though people thought I wasn't eating enough or doing pregnancy well, which this momma was feeling too). For privacy of my sweet friends who have shared various hardships, I will just say that I could list at least 5 separate conversations, where I heard God speaking through me with these kind words, "Know that you're not alone." 

I have circled round and round the "I'm-alone-in-the-stuff-I'm-trying-to-deal-with-TREE." I have learned that I struggle with anxiety sometimes and that often launches me into the depths of feeling very alone and very inadequate. God has had to remind me many, many times this year especially that I am not alone, especially when it feels like it. 

In various lessons recently, God has been working on the anxiety challenge that I face, reminding me that it is a spiritual battle wherein Satan attacks my desire to be a great mom/wife/family member/friend/worker and tells me that I will never measure up, and plants the seed of "why even bother," which yields doubt in my mind that sometimes even creeps into my heart. When I arm my mind with the helmet of Salvation, which says to those lies, "I don't have to measure up, God, the Creator of heaven and earth has adopted me into His family and I belong to Him. Nothing you (Satan) matters compared to that, so don't waste your efforts on me, I don't care what you say." God is teaching me to stand guard with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, ready to defend myself against these attacks, which often and unfortunately come masked in concerns or off-handed comments from well-meaning people in our lives (or even strangers).

There is nothing that Satan would rather us think than that we are alone, for if we are alone, we are not focusing on experiencing God's presence, relying on His strength, walking with His Spirit and enjoying the fruit He produces in us (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control) and getting to know our God and Savior more by walking with Him through our challenges. When we feel like we're alone, then we're easy targets for all sorts of attacks to make us feel even further from God, but that's another post for another day.

I had no idea when we begun reading the bedtime prayer book that a simple, rhyming prayer about God's nearness (no matter what) would be a part of the theme of this season of my life. Being gently reminded by God that I'm not alone in the challenges I'm facing, and neither, friend, are you alone in your challenges (no matter how large they may seem).

My prayer for you is that you'll remember and learn in a new way that you're never, ever alone, because God is with you and He is faithful.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Must.Be.Nice.

Have you ever thought that when you see someone post on social media about how amazing things are going for them with work, kid(s), relationships, etc., with an edge of sarcasm in your thought/words? I unfortunately feel as though it's possible that my struggle with NOT thinking that from time-to-time has increased since becoming a mom.

For instance, recently, a friend posted how their son, who is less than 2 months old, is in 9 month clothing... my son is 16 months old and is in 9 month clothing, too.

Another friend whose child is slightly older than mine has quite the vocabulary and is very mobile; my son has Mama and Dada down, says "Ma" on occasion when he wants more of something and just this week has started saying things that sounds pretty close to "towel" and "bubble," respectively, and now we are working on making associations with what those words mean. And at 16 months, he is finally learning to crawl forward and can cruise the furniture, if we stand him up next to it.

Let me pause here to share some background information: my son is notably smaller in size than every one of his peers and has had a life of low weight gain to date. He was nursed exclusively until about 8 months (we tried food at 6, but he wasn't very interested) and I'm still nursing on demand when I'm home now that he is 16 months old (he is eating quite a bit more at this point, thankfully). We have undergone many visits with the Family Practitioner and various specialists, to determine if there's a reason, besides our genetics of both being from small families on every side, to point to why his weight (and height for that matter) haven't yet hit a stride of steady and consistent gain over time.

While we continue to seek answers (although our guts have always been that we don't suspect that there is anything besides a possible food and/or environmental allergy that we have not yet discovered), we have learned that our experience of parenting is so much different than most parents that we know. Because of this, we have kind of been "hermits" and only shared some of these struggles with a few trusted friends. My sweet and wonderful son also receives free in-home early intervention therapy to work on the developmental delays that correlate with his small size (gross and fine motor, primarily) and we have taken him a number of times to clinic-based physical/sensory therapy (challenges with self-feeding and tactile defensiveness) and occasional speech therapy since January (again, the self-feeding delay, now more on speech and overall communication). He is truly such a joy and blessing, these challenges included.

Back to my original line of thinking, I do have off-days, and on those days I often find that my reaction of "Must.Be.Nice." is in higher frequency. I have learned to realize that this response points me to what the real issues are. Not the least of these are my pride, my unnecessary defensiveness, lack of focus on gratitude and the "anxiety hot-spot" that triggers anxious thoughts and unrealistic responses/expectations and difficulty recognizing reality, to things I would otherwise not be bothered by (thank you to my therapist for helping me realize this connection, so I don't feel like such a crazy person).

I have sometimes struggled with jealousy of how nice it must be not to have to drive your kid all over town trying to uncover clues that may possibly point to some underlying cause. Or it may not. Or bitterness regarding how the medical field works, no offense intended to care providers at all, I just wish I understood how to navigate better. I also know that there are parents who have to see many more specialists and make many more visits and spend many more thousands of dollars caring for their children - it's just that I don't really know any of those people, so the reality seems hard to grasp. What ends up happening is I feel that I can't really talk about it, because it's not serious enough for a diagnosis (yet) and it's not small enough to ignore. And there's also the part where most people have no clue how to respond to such things and often say things that (although well-meaning) are hurtful and perpetuate rather than provide a moment of relief or support in our challenges. I also struggle with many other components, wondering if we should have or could have done things differently at such-and-such a time and be somewhere with more answers, and have to remind myself that I can't go back and change that now. I can use those thoughts to help navigate going forward, but there is no point in dwelling on what could have been.

There are lots of lessons I am learning, some thanks (again) to my wonderful therapist, with whom I have talked a handful of times, and many through prayer and being willing to ask God what He thinks about all of this (and my reactions and responses to our challenges). Here are a few of the things I'm learning and looking to God to help me with, maybe they can be a source of encouragement to you...

I have learned that I struggle with anxiety. Anxiety means there are triggers that cause a reaction in my brain that is very black or white, often extreme and/or sharp and it is the lack of the ability to think logically if a trigger takes over, before you can change your thought pattern. I am learning to re-map my thought path, so that my behavior can change (namely my sarcastic, extreme remarks, short temper and other not-so-lovely and otherwise uncharacteristic traits that appear when anxiety strikes). I have also learned that my unnecessarily defensive responses are because I am worried that underneath what people say, they are thinking that I'm not a good mom or doing the right thing for my son. I want to defend myself, to prove how much we do for him, but there is no need. God sees everything we do for our sweet boy, and He entrusted him to us, because He knew the care and love we would give our son. The Bible warns "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done," in Philippians 4:6. Why this is such a challenge to remember in the heat of the moment is beyond me, but I'm working to memorize this and practice this response when I feel anxious. This verse also touches on my struggle to be grateful when I feel like "Nothing is going right and why do I even bother?" I've learned that thinking is a bi-product of my anxiety when I let it have full-reign. I don't like when that happens, so I'm getting more into the Word and am prayerful about the Holy Spirit being in control, so the anxiety can't be. When I realize I'm lacking gratitude, I pause to remember the reality of those to whom I'm comparing myself.

The friend with the two month old in 9 month clothing, has another child who just turned one, and the 2 month old was in the NICU for 10 days. And their family had just moved to another state. I can't imagine the stress and questioning God's plan she may have gone through herself.

Or my other friend whose child has learned many words and is very mobile, has had a year of extreme challenges in other regards. I can't imagine the challenge of trying to balance the things she has had to in addition to a child who was anything other than "in great health and on a great track."

What was I thinking when I thought, "Must.Be.Nice." to either of these women and their statements of gratitude?
Pride, jealousy, anxiety, doubt, defensive, that's what.

To the challenge with the occasional bout of jealousy, in Mark 7:21-23, the Bible says, "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Yep I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that coveting covers the "ideal" child, spouse, job, health, house, dog or whatever that any one else has and you don't. Let me go one step further... Wishing you didn't have the challenges you do or that your child did the things so-and-so does or was the same size as so-and-so = coveting your neighbor/friend's kid. That's ugly no matter how you say it, and it's sinful, lumped in with all of those other yucky things like lying and killing people. I do not want any of that junk in my heart or on my tongue. Ick. Pride of wanting to be seen as "good enough" to other people is also in this camp... Pride and jealousy, you are evicted from my heart, I want no remnant of either of you in me.

This isn't to say that I'm right or wrong or to ask for sympathy, it's part of how I process what is going on inside myself, but maybe it's also to share that you're not crazy. If you're facing a unique challenge in any way, maybe you can relate to some of the feelings I've shared. Or maybe you have a friend like me, who has confided some of his or her own challenges with a certain season of life, and you haven't quite understood or known how to respond, maybe this will help.

My prayer is that the Lord would continue to refine me and remove from me the pride, jealousy, unnecessary defensiveness, struggle with being grateful when anxiety strikes, anxiety itself and the other "junk" that I have not yet uncovered. I want to be the mom that God created me to be, and be confident in who I am in Him, so I can handle it and respond better when people say hurtful things. I am finding I have a lot of rough edges that need to be smoothed out, and what I am so thankful for is the heart God has given me that desires His continued work on me. What is your challenge? How can I pray for you?