What My Wild Child Has Taught Me About Peace

Christmas. It’s a time of giving. It’s a time of remembering just how much has been given to us. A time for peace on earth, silent nights and joy to the world. It’s also a time for shopping sprees and Christmas parties. For cookies and candy canes and bright lights and noisy toys. Peace and chaos. Joy filled silent wonder and sugar induced tantrum hysteria. Not only is it the most wonderful time of the year, it is the most contradictory time of year. It is also a great metaphor for our current stage of life.

There are moments in our family of four when both girls are quietly playing and my husband and I can cuddle on the couch for a bit and watch the lights on our tiny Christmas tree (placed high on a shelf out of reach of busy hands). There are also times when we are making a craft together or looking at a book and my heart feels like a Norman Rockwell painting. But these are few and far between. More often than not, I am chasing after the toddler who has grabbed a sticker off the floor and is making a mad dash to her room so she can eat it before I get to her or trying to calm my three year old down because I accidently gave her the pink fork (green is apparantly the only acceptible color for eating utensils).

Peace and chaos. Joy and tears. A little circus with Christmas spirit! When we first found out we were expecting, we chose a circus theme for the nursery as a cheeky acknowledgement to what our life would become. Little did we know just how much of a circus our household would actually come to resemble. We have a three year old who could earn an academy award for her skills in the dramatic arts. And now we have a toddler who I believe is actually a cross between a monkey and a feral cat.

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My time is now spent handling meltdowns like a lion tamer, being entertained by a clown and a monkey (and making sure they don’t burn down the big top), cleaning up after each act, and managing the entire show as the ringmaster. And I can’t forget to feed those hungry performers.

While things may be wild, and our days are far from peaceful, we have finally settled into a chaotic routine of sorts. And we laugh a lot! I am finding out that chaos can be fun and peace looks quite a bit different than I originally thought. But it has taken a while to reach that point, and there are still many days when I feel like joining a real circus. The initial days of transitioning to a family of four were very difficult for all of us, even traumatic at some points.

After the we went through with our oldest’s birth and early days, we were looking forward to an easier newborn experience. The actual delivery and hospital stay exceeded those expectations and we were even able to take our bundle of joy home a day early. But as days went by, it became clear that our bundle of joy was more like a sack full of rabid squirrels. She was wiggly and uncooperative and fussy. And then the screaming started. We had entered the nightmare of colic and would camp out there for five very long, very loud months. My soul was desperate for one thing and one thing only; peace.

I prayed for it. I cried for it. I demanded it. And during one moment of particular desperation, while I was walking around the house with a screaming, arching infant, I received a verse of Scripture. It was whispered to my soul. “Peace I leave you. My peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives.” (John 14:27) There is something about the power of God’s Word that becomes something almost tangible at times. In that moment, I did feel peace, even though my baby continued to cry no matter what I did.

Time after time, this verse came back to me during moments of chaos and desperation. I’ll be honest. There were many times that I was tempted to throw those words back at God and tell Him I wanted the kind of peace that comes with a quiet and calm household. There was even a time when I cried in anger and told God that I was a better mother than Him because if I had the power to heal my baby’s discomfort I would do it in a heartbeat. But, through it all, God, in His mercy, showed me a deeper peace. A greater peace.

For five months we dealt with the desperation of having a baby with colic and reflux. Those were some of the longest and darkest days of my life. My heart hurt after we had tried EVERYTHING and realized we would simply have to wait it out. Every time she would burp and scream. Every time she would arch her back and cry. Every time she grew hoarse from a combination of screaming and acid buildup in her esophagus. This verse played in my head and touched my heart on repeat.

And at five months, things started to get better. The screaming turned to crying and then the crying turned to fussing and things grew much more bearable. And then she got mobile and we quickly realized that our days of quiet calm and order were over for the foreseeable future. Our screaming, colicky baby is now a very happy, VERY busy toddler. She is our wild child and fills our days with the kind of chaos that can only come from a baby who wants to do everything her big sister does…and more.

I have often referred to her as a feral cat and now she more reminds me of a baby orangutan, complete with the red hair! If there is trouble to make or mischief to be had, she will find it. I am constantly running from one crash to the next. And her older sister has decided to get in on the fun so now I am double teamed with messes and “incidents”. Now we have twice the laundry (sometimes more than that depending on just what kind of trouble they get into), twice the meltdowns, and twice the trouble. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I finally got around to looking up my verse in it’s full context and what I found brought an entirely new perspective to my idea of peace. You see, Jesus’ words in John 14 are given to His disciples just hours before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. Jesus offers His closest friends peace just moments before they are launched into the most traumatic and chaotic experience of their lives. He knew what was coming. He knew how much the coming hours would lack peace. On the contrary, the battle for every human soul ever in existence would be taking place in the ultimate War against the evil one. If anything screams chaotic desperation, it’s war. And this war was aimed directly at peace, peace between God and mankind.

I’m sure the disciples wondered what Jesus meant when He spoke peace to them in the Upper Room. Just as I did during those dark moments of motherhood. But Jesus added to these words later on when He said, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We aren’t promised a life free of trouble, or free from trouble causing children. We aren’t promised quiet, easy babies (they are called unicorn babies for a reason!). We aren’t promised an exciting and fulfilling career. We aren’t promised a life on our terms. As a matter of fact, we are guaranteed trials and disappointments. But we are promised victory. Victory over a fearful spirit. Victory over an anxious heart. Victory over death itself. Jesus has the authority to grant us peace because He defeated the very thing that brings chaos; death. Through Jesus, we have hope. And it is because of this hope that we can live in peace. Even in the midst of double, epic meltdowns!

*All photographs taken by S&A Photography

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My Husband, Our Hero

Fathers and daughters have a very special relationship. A daughter is her Daddy’s princess and he is her hero. In many cases this hero/princess relationship is a beautiful metaphor illustrating the love a father has for his daughter and her for him. But in our family, this relationship can be understood in a completely literal sense. You see, our little girl’s Daddy saved her life.
I first noticed my husband’s daddy superpower when I was hospitalized during my pregnancy. He was so attentive to my needs and yet still had time finish the nursery and prepare for her early arrival. And when I had an emergency c-section, he was right there to make sure she was being taken care of. His were the very first set of eyes she saw. During her stay in the NICU, he was at her side when I couldn’t be and he swaddled her and held her and whispered to her and loved her. I didn’t think I could love him more.

 And then, we brought her home and his daddy superpower kicked in during the everyday tasks of taking care of a high needs newborn. He sat up with her in the middle of the night when she was too uncomfortable to sleep. He fed her bottles while I was struggling with my milk supply. He sang to her and read to her and loved her even more.

 And then, he saved her life. She wasn’t even a month old yet and had been fussy and uncomfortable all afternoon. I handed her to him and went to take a much needed bathroom break. When I returned, I heard him saying soothingly, “Come on, baby. It’s okay. Breathe, baby.” And I knew something was wrong. I ran to them and watched in horror as my baby struggled to get a breathe. 

 “Get the bulb syringe,” he said. She had experienced a massive spit up riddled with thick mucus and it was stuck in her nose and throat. I grabbed the syringe and tried siphoning it out. It didn’t work and she started to turn blue. I ran to get my cellphone and called 911, praying the entire time, “Oh, God! Don’t let my baby die in his arms!”

 When I came out he was giving her CPR. She was so tiny and he was so gentle and it broke my heart. I had the dispatcher on speaker and he was beginning to ask my husband what steps he was taking. He wanted to make sure he was doing everything appropriately. Then, she whimpered. Oh, that sound filled me with such joy and sorrow at the same time! She was ashen and scared and too weak to actually cry, but she was breathing! 

 By this time, the emergency crew had arrived and started her on oxygen. She was too tiny for a mask, so we held a little tube up to her nose. She started regaining her color and became more active. I held her in the ambulance while SuperDad packed a bag and drove to the emergency room. 

 Once she was admitted, we settled in for a long night of tests and anxiety. She looked so small in that hospital bed! We were back to the familiar sounds of the heart monitor and other hospital equipment we had experienced in the NICU. And her daddy never left her side. He watched over her and held her and whispered to her and loved her even more, grateful for her life, thankful for each breath she took.


 After 24 hours, the doctors diagnosed her with severe reflux. They explained that she had experienced an Acute Life Threatening Event (ALTE for short) caused by a massive reflux episode. they sent us home with a refresher course on infant CPR and instructions to follow up with our pediatrician. 

 I’d like to say that she never had another episode and that her reflux was easily managed after that initial scare. But that night was the beginning of a unique nightmare filled with anxiety, tears, and many sleepless nights. She did experience more ALTEs, although none were ever as terrifying as that first one and she was able to catch her breath with minimal stimulation. And she is still on medicine for her reflux and she will be two at the end of this month. But she is growing and healthy and doesn’t let it stand in her way one bit.


 Seeing my husband take care of her then and interact with her now, I can’t help but see a reflection of our Heavenly Father. He swaddles us in His never-ending love. He holds us close with His grace. He whispers to our hearts through His Holy Spirit. He even sings over us! (Zephaniah 3:17) He was there that night, during one of our darkest times. And He’s been there every night after. Through every reflux episode and doctor’s visit. Through all of our tears and panic. Even through our daughter’s obvious pain and discomfort. He was there. 

 And that is the secret to the daddy superpower. My husband was able to be our daughter’s hero, because he is filled with the mighty power of our Heavenly Father, the Hero of heroes. So, to all the other daddy heroes out there, Happy Father’s Day!

Mixed Blessings

 It has been quite some time since my last post, and I must say that it is quite ironic that my last post was about weariness. The past several months have been such a test of endurance. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more exhausted, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised (understatement of the decade) to discover we were expecting again. I believe my exact words were, “Are you kidding me?” I now find myself 29 weeks pregnant with a toddler entering the terrible twos who has already figured out how to sass and has a glorious temper to match her glorious red hair. In an effort to remain completely open and honest, I must confess that this has been a challenge for me. I am simultaneously filled with gratitude for this unexpected blessing as well as guilt for finding this stage of life so difficult.

 I want to be one of those moms that float through pregnancy and radiate joy and peace. I want to engage my toddler in stimulating activities that encourage her free spirit and love of learning. I want to greet my husband with a clean house and a full plate when he arrives home from work.

 But the reality is that I have spent many days discouraged by a difficult pregnancy, alternating between despair and even more guilt. And my toddler gets to exercise her free spirit by entertaining herself while Mommy lays down or learn something new on her own while playing outside or looking at her books. And my husband has taking to cleaning up the house on his own time and fixing hot pockets or soup while I choke down a cracker or lay down again.

 This pregnancy has been filled with sickness, fatigue and emotions. My morning sickness hit around 8 weeks in and has decided to stick around. The first few times I got sick in front of my daughter, she would pat my back and say, “Ohhh, Mommy.” Now, she just laughs and says, “Again?” At least she is being entertained. I’ve also begun calling it baby sickness because it has become a constant state of being. I wake up sick. I go through out my day sick. I go to bed sick. It has become my new normal.

 I’m also getting used to simply being tired all the time. It isn’t unusual for me to go to bed after I put my toddler down at 7:00. And I’m pretty sure I could sleep at any given moment of the day. I’ve just never been able to try it. I have discovered that children have a sixth sense that enables them to tell whenever someone is relaxed and comfortable and they believe it is their duty to make sure that relaxation and comfort do not last. I lay down on the couch and hear her stomping down the hallway with a book, “Read it?” I sit down to eat something while she is entertaining herself on the floor and barely get the fork to my mouth when she says, “Help you?” I close my eyes for a brief rest and hear, “Wake up!” 

 So between the constant nausea and unbearable fatigue, I have found myself emotionally drained. And these raging hormones take all of that and turn it into a recipe for disaster. I get irritable. I get discouraged. I cry because I’m tired. I cry because I’m sick. I cry because there is a booger in my toddler’s nose that will not come out.

 But, throughout all this misery, I have discovered something beautiful. God meets me where I am. He blesses me with an amazing husband who can pick up where I leave off. He blesses me with a darling girl who can always make me laugh. And, while she may be high maintenance, she most always has a smile. He blesses me with messages of grace placed in unlikely places. And that is what has carried me through. 

 I love my unborn child. I am excited that my little girl will have a sister to grow up with. I am looking forward to being a family of four. But I have also seen that joy can coincide with discouragement. Blessings can be a challenge. And peace can hide in the chaos. God has chosen to use this time in my life to show me bigger things. And while I would love to have a marriage or a pregnancy or even a life filled with happiness and rest, I have learned that growing with God brings a much deeper joy, even when things get uncomfortable.

  

Rest for the Weary

 I am tired. Bone deep tired. Mind numbingly weary. Body aching exhausted. I wake up and force my body to move. I push myself beyond endurance just to perform routine tasks. I long for the days when I was simply tired, with brief spurts of energy. Now I am completely exhausted, with brief spurts of simple tiredness. Am I sick? Do I have a physical condition? Do I have a deficiency of some sort? No. I am a mom. Motherhood is so much more tiring than I expected. I realized the newborn stage would come with sleepless nights and days spent in a foggy haze. I looked forward to the days when my sweet girl would sleep through the night. I foolishly thought that more sleep led to more energy. And it does, to some extent. But what stamina I gain by sleeping better is drained by the energy sucking parasite that is my red headed toddler. Her laughs warm my heart. Her hugs make my day. But her liveliness wears me out. Seriously. If my daughter were a fruit, she would be a lemon, with the biggest zest for life (see what I did there?) and the brightest spirit, but her sour moments (I did it again) can catch me off guard.

 Puns aside, I realize that my weariness is not unique. And, especially around this time of year, rest is in short supply. But aren’t God’s children promised rest? Isaiah 40:31 promises that ,”Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” David knew that his soul could find rest in God (Psalm 62:5) Jesus himself says, in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

 It is clear that rest is available, even promised. But how do we access it? What does God’s promised rest look like? I have images of laying beside a sparkling stream or snuggling next to loved ones by a fire. Or even something as simple as sleeping in uninterrupted by toddler squeals and the pitter patter of her feet (as much as I love them). God’s promises are always bigger than our expectations. Could his rest be deeper and more meaningful than my desires?

 Matthew Henry’s commentary offers some wise insight and some perspective. He points out that the rest we are promised is a rest from the terror and power of sin and a rest in God and in His love, a rest that was “begun in grace and perfected in glory.” This last phrase resonates with me. How often does my own weariness result from my own rejection of God’s grace. I strive to be the best mom and the best wife and the best friend and the best Christian and I can point out all the ways I fall short. I am exhausted in my shortcomings.

 I cringe as I remember hiding my daughter’s favorite book because I was tired of reading it. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) I think of the sharp words I expressed to my husband out of my wearied irritation. And God reminds me, “grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love”. (Ephesians 6:24) I am ashamed by each thank you card that remains unsent and each phone call that remains uncalled. God offers, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philippians 4:23) I am aware that I should volunteer more, encourage more, witness more. And as the shame builds, God whispers, “for it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:8)

 I wonder how much energy I waste with the expectations I place upon myself. Guilt is meant to be constructive. Allowing it to fester into shame makes it become destructive. And it destroys my own zest for life. It causes me to miss out on the praiseworthy moments, forgetting to live a life of thanksgiving. 

 When Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” I don’t think he is saying the Christian life is an easy one. The fact that there is a yoke involved implies work. And no burden is easy to carry. Rather, Jesus is “gentle and humble in spirit.” Because of pride and stubbornness, I am a lot harder on myself than Jesus is. He doesn’t expect perfection because he is focused on perfecting. 

 I will embrace the strength of grace. 2 Timothy 2:1 encourages us to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. Physical exhaustion is an inevitable part of life in this fallen world. But I don’t have to add to it by holding onto shame. By accepting grace, I can be motivated by conviction rather than being crippled by guilt. And that, dear friends, puts my mind and my heart at rest.

Two Men Stood Before a Door

Two men stood before a door,
An invitation in each hand.
Inside a feast was being held
For the Host was a generous man.

Each guest sat in a golden chair
At a table filled with dishes.
Upon each head sat a glowing crown
Sparkling with jewels and riches.

The first man stepped up eagerly
Grasping the card to his chest.
His entrance met with open arms
As the Host made way for His guest.

The second man turned away,
“I have many things to do.
The meal will take up too much time.
I’ll return before they’re through.”

When he returned, the line was long.
The Host, greeting every guest.
“I’ll see if there’s another way.
I’ll search around to see what’s best.”

When he returned the door was closed
The meal well under way.
He knocked, then yelled and pleaded,
“Please, tell me it isn’t too late!”

The door was locked, the party loud,
His voice small among the den.
He began to search around the place,
Seeking another way in.

He failed to find another door.
The windows were all too high.
He made his way back to the front
And sat down with a sigh.

With tears he thought of what he’d done.
Why had he waited so long?
He wished he’d entered earlier.
Now the opportunity was gone.

But inside the feast was wonderful,
The first man thought with bliss.
An invitation from this benevolent Host
Was much too good to miss.

A Mother’s Expectations

This post is in honor of my daughter and all the other preemie survivors out there. You are strong and have inspired us all! Happy World Prematurity Day

Every mom has expectations for their journey through pregnancy and delivery. We read books with pictures of well rested mothers on the cover gazing into their newborn’s smiling face. We are handed pamphlets about how “breast is best” and how “vaccines cause autism” and every where we go, well meaning strangers and acquaintances offer us “advice” and experiences of their own. We’ve been told things like, “you’ll forget the labor pain” and “morning sickness goes away after the first trimester” and then in the same breath, we hear horror stories about their mother’s second cousin’s step daughter who gave birth on the toilet because she didn’t know she was pregnant or how their own newborn never slept and ate every two hours for the first six months.

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As a first time mom with all this information fueling my own expectations, my mind was whirling with fears and wonder and hope. I feared the unknown. Does labor really hurt as bad as they say? What if I poop during delivery in front of all those people? What if I tear? The fear itself was upstaged by the miracle happening in my body. I glowed with wonder every time I felt my baby move. I marveled as my body completely changed shape to accommodate a living, growing person inside me. I felt proud to be a woman. To bring life. And I hoped. I hoped that, somehow, by the time my little one was born world peace would be realized and the world wouldn’t be such a scary place. I hoped that she would be healthy and happy and well developed and maybe slightly ahead of the curve. I hoped that she would inherit the best qualities of both of us and somehow escape the genetic curses dragged down from family to family.

My husband and I were told to make a birth plan. We tried to prepare for every alternative. But in our hearts, the worst case scenarios always seemed so distant. We’d been to the baby classes. We’d talked with other moms and dads. We knew, a little bit, what to expect.

I had visions of myself as a well rested mother cradling my newborn to my chest for skin to skin bonding time. I researched breast pumps and breast feeding gear so I could choose the best fit for our family. He budgeted and saved for a “worst case scenario” involving bed rest and a “best case scenario” involving a lengthened maternity leave. We even planned our summer vacation around doctor visits.

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One way or another all of our expectations fall short, mine did in a drastic way. I did’t get immediate skin to skin time with my baby. A nurse placed her next to my face for a few seconds before she was escorted to the NICU with tubes and cords creating a barrier between us. I didn’t get to experience the bonding of breastfeeding. After three weeks of pumping every two hours while watching my husband bottle feed her, and getting less than an ounce for an entire days worth, I realized I wasn’t going to lactate. My husband realized how quickly medical bills stack up after our stay in the hospital was accompanied by a slew of pre and post natal tests. His budgeted “worst case scenario” plan was left in the dust. Even our carefully planned vacation turned into a two and a half week stay in the hospital on bedrest.

I didn’t expect a routine ultrasound to become the catalyst for my immediate hospitalization. I didn’t expect a trip to the doctor to turn into a lengthy hospital stay. I didn’t expect to hear the words “emergency c-section” as we listened to our daughter’s heart rate drop dramatically. I didn’t expect to see my daughter 7 weeks before her due date.

But I also didn’t expect the quiet peace I received from the Holy Spirit as we prayed our baby into God’s hands. For two and a half weeks, I spent every eight hours listening to my baby’s heart rate rise and fall, wondering if this would be the time it didn’t come back up on its own. I was uncomfortable. I was nervous. I was even anxious at times. But I was never terrified. God blessed us with very capable nurses and a wise team of specialists making sure our baby was safe. I trusted them. Whether they knew it or not, I knew they were a part of God’s plan for our delivery and I trusted Him.

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I didn’t expect the loving support of my husband, who finished the nursery and most of the to do list during the day and curled up on the vinyl pull out chair at nights to be near us.  I didn’t expect the outpouring of generosity from friends and family. I had company in some form every day so I never grew lonely or bored. We missed all of our scheduled baby showers, so people brought gifts to the hospital. And later, after things settled down and our sweet girl was home, we had people bring gifts and meals to our home. My friends from work even threw a “post baby” shower for both of us!

I didn’t expect how strong my preemie baby was. At 33 weeks and 6 days she became too impatient to wait any longer and the specialist on call informed us, “we’re going to have a birthday today.” I wasn’t dilated at all and her heart rate was starting to drop dramatically again. They were going to have to take her via c-section. Seven weeks early, she came out wailing. She was tiny, just over 4.5 lbs. But she was mighty. She only needed oxygen for 24 hours and ripped her feeding tube out after only 48. After only a week and a half, we got to take her home. My prayer for her was that she would “grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and people.” She listened and God blessed.

It is impossible to avoid expectations upon entering a new stage in life. Expectations are a part of preparation and planning. Even God has expectations for us. Jeremiah 29:11 says he has plans for us. And what are plans but carefully thought out expectations? Noah would not have built the ark if he didn’t expect rain. Moses would not have led the Israelites if he did not expect deliverance. Jesus would not have endured the cross if he did not expect victory over death. Don’t feel guilty about having expectations. God welcomes them. In fact, God delights in our expectations. That way, He can exceed them.

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