Monday, April 30, 2018

Manna for each day


What will the anatomy scan reveal? Will this baby be healthy? What if I experience preterm labor again? What if I miss the warning signs--again? What if the worst happens?

I was 17 weeks pregnant with Andrew when the worries began to swirl through my mind, threatening to squelch the hope that continued to rise up with each encouraging OB visit, each reassuring test result and each passing week. As I began to feel our little boy’s first tiny moments, I thought about the five babies we had lost before him and battled the fear that I would have to say goodbye to him too.

As I battled against these fears, my dear friend and fellow sister-in-loss Caroline reminded me of how God provided manna for the Israelites each morning--a fact she reminded herself of every day during her pregnancy with her second daughter.  

In Exodus 16, we see the story of how God provided food for the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. The Israelites had recently been miraculously set free from a life of bondage in Egypt. Despite all the merciful things God had done for them, the Israelites grumbled over their hunger and yearned for the days they had been slaves (but with full bellies) in a foreign land. Hearing their complaint, God graciously said he would rain bread, later named “manna”, down from heaven for them to eat. He gave special instructions for each person to gather exactly what they needed for each day, to take a double portion in preparation for the Sabbath, and to never store an abundance to keep overnight. Each morning, the Israelites set out to gather the manna God faithfully provided each day. If they gathered more than they needed, the manna would spoil and become infested with maggots overnight. They were only to gather what was sufficient for that day, trusting that God would remain faithful tomorrow.

Just like the Israelites, we often find ourselves grumbling about our current circumstances (despite God’s proven faithfulness to us) and trying to store up more than we need, rather than trusting that God will provide what is sufficient for each day. Just as the Israelites grumbled after being delivered from a life of slavery, I found myself crying out in fear after receiving the miraculous gift of an unexpected yet long-desired pregnancy. After years of pleading with God for a healthy child, God generously gave us Andrew--a baby God never “owed” me, but in His mercy entrusted to us. Yet despite him miraculously parting the metaphorical “Red Sea” of infertility, recurrent miscarriage, and PCOS, I found myself desperately trying to store up all of the answers I thought I needed to carry me through the next five months. But the truth is, the striving, collecting, and the best-laid plans for the future can spoil. We are called to rest in that daily sufficient grace God continues to provide to us fresh each  morning.

Throughout my pregnancy with Andrew, I often reminded myself of the story of God’s provision for the Israelites and his never-ending sufficiency. It would do me no good to worry about the anatomy scan, preterm labor, or the details of my delivery. Sure, I could make healthy choices, educate myself on signs of preterm labor, and research ways to prepare for a successful VBAC, but I needed to hold those plans loosely and trust in God to give me the perfect amount of what I would need for each day that would come my way.

I am not at all claiming that I was a pro at this, because I wasn’t. Just as God provided the “manna” I needed for each day, I needed to make a choice to gather His truth and comfort each morning. Each day, I needed to resist the urge to frantically store up fears for tomorrow--some days I was successful and other days my frenzied plans and gnawing worries weighed me down and spoiled.

I was reminded of God’s sufficiency once again as I was admitted to the hospital with preterm labor and an insufficient cervix when I was only 22 weeks pregnant. (Yep, it’s really called “insufficient cervix”--talk about a lesson in trusting God for His sufficiency.) My cervix had begun to open and the contractions seemed to keep coming. “Each day is a victory,” doctors and nurses continued to say as I was pumped with medications and confined to hospital bedrest in an attempt to stall my labor. For the next 10 weeks, I went to sleep each night not knowing if I would wake up pregnant the next day. Each morning, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for another day pregnant. The concept of “manna for each day” became even more real during that 10-week hospital stay (which sometimes felt like 40 years in the desert, but with a little more than manna and quail on the hospital menu). As my labor continued to have multiple starts and stops, I was reminded that God is sufficient for each day--trying to store up more for tomorrow by worrying would only spoil.

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus emphasized sufficiency when taught his disciples to how to pray. He said, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “Give us an abundance” or “Give us enough to fill our storehouses for the next nine months”. Jesus tells us to ask for our daily bread--for what is sufficient. And in John 6:33, we see that the true bread from heaven is Jesus--he who came down from heaven and gives life to the world. Jesus is enough.

As we continue to trust God for our daily bread (“manna” if you will), we learn to trust in Him rather than in our circumstances. We learn to fix our eyes on Him rather than our fear. It is in this posture that we practice true surrender and learn the necessity of our full reliance on Christ, rather than ourselves.

Proverbs 30:7-9 “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

Sunday, April 29, 2018

10 Things I Learned During 10 Weeks of Hospital Bedrest

was only 22-weeks into my pregnancy with our son Andrew when a routine appointment showed that my cervix was beginning to thin and open. My perinatologist immediately sent me to Labor and Delivery for evaluation, where it was confirmed that I was having contractions. After months of a seemingly textbook pregnancy, I was immediately admitted to the hospital on bedrest. For the next 10 weeks, I was carefully monitored, pumped with various medications and injections, and went to bed each night not knowing if I’d still be pregnant the next day. Miraculously, Andrew continued to grow for 10 additional weeks as I laid in bed with an open cervix. 
The weeks I spent as a resident of the antepartum unit were incredibly difficult, but certainly worth it. During my time on the unit, I learned several valuable lessons that helped make the experience more bearable and, at times, even enjoyable. 
1. Think positive. Okay, I’ll admit that I hate this phrase, mainly because it often feels uneffective and unhelpful. “Thinking positive” never cured my ovarian cysts, helped me get pregnant, or took away the grief I felt after experiencing previous losses, though many people often suggested it could. *Insert eyeroll here.* But in the case of preterm labor, thinking positive can be effective. My doctor explained that there is actual research supporting a connection between stress and preterm labor, and that her own experience with patients has seemed to back that up (though not always--see #2). So how do we “think positive” in such a terrifying situation? For me, thinking positive meant listening to soothing music, keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, and trying my best to find simple joys in each day. 
2. Let go. While “thinking positive” can certainly be helpful, the health of your baby is not entirely contingent on your ability to relax. It’s normal to feel a wide spectrum of emotions, including stress and fear. (As my doctor said, “I’d be more concerned if you didn’t feel this way.”) Your body was created to do amazing things and women in high-stress situations give birth to healthy babies all the time. While relaxation was highly encouraged, my doctor also explained that no amount of medication, bedrest, or “positive thinking” would be able to keep baby from coming when my body or my baby was ready.  Let go of guilt and remember that preterm labor is not your fault. 
3. Keep a routine. It’s easy to lose your sense of time when you’re in the hospital. Setting a routine helped me feel more “normal” and even made the days pass faster than expected. Try to wake up, go to bed, and eat meals at the same time each day. Keep a morning and night time routine just as you would at home. Sure, there may be nights when you’re kept awake by contractions, the nasty side effects of a magnesium drip, and constant beeping, followed by days when you need to sleep, but do your best to keep a routine whenever possible. 
4. Get to know your nurses. They will become your second family and can have such a positive impact on your extended stay. Take the time to chat with them, remember their names, and thank them for all they do. (As someone who didn’t always have bathroom privileges, believe me when I say they put up with a lot with very little recognition!) My nurses were not only my caretakers, but were also advocates, listening ears, and friends to me. While I missed home, they made my stay feel much less lonely! 
5. Wear your own clothes. I wore a hospital gown for the first three weeks of my stay before a nurse told me that I could wear my own clothes if I preferred. Talk about a game changer! I felt much more human once I had leggings, loose tops, and comfortable socks to wear. (Be sure to ask a doctor or a nurse about this--I occasionally had to switch back to hospital gowns for exams or each time labor seemed to pick up again). 
6. Make yourself at home. You’d be amazed at how much photos of your family, a fluffy blanket, your own toiletries, and simple decorations can make a sterile hospital room feel like home. One of my nurses brought me tape, scrapbook frames, and glue so that I could decorate my ultrasound photos and tape them to a cabinet. My husband hung hearts for Valentine’s Day. A friend sent me a house plant and another made me a room spray from essential oils. Before long, my space felt more like a dorm room than a hospital room. 
7. Stock up on snacks. I often munch on snacks throughout the day, especially during pregnancy. It helped me to keep a few of my favorite snacks on hand. Nuts, RX Bars, trail mix, nutrition shakes, and chocolate were my favorite go-tos. I expected to put on a lot of weight on bedrest, but actually lost a few pounds during the first month due to nerves, loss of muscle tone, and the monotony of hospital food--not the result I was hoping for as I tried to help my baby grow bigger! If you find you aren’t gaining enough weight, ask your doctor for tips (mine recommended supplementing with a nutrition shake). 
8. Go outside if you can. Once my labor calmed down, my doctor recommended that I spend an hour outside in a wheelchair. I cannot adequately describe what a difference this made for me, especially after a whole month of being cooped up inside. I went outside about 1-2 times a week and the fresh air and the proof of life outside my hospital room completely brightened my mood each time. (Be sure to check with your doctor first.)
9. Give yourself a task (preferably one you enjoy). While I certainly spent a significant amount of time watching Hulu and reading books, it also helped me to feel productive. Assign yourself bedrest-appropriate tasks such as researching baby gear and setting up a baby registry, redesigning your website or blog, working on a craft for the nursery, or reading a parenting book. One of my favorite bedrest activities was continuing to prepare episode outlines, record, and plan social media posts for Through the Lens, a podcast I cohost with my friend Holly. The key is to find something that feels productive, without adding any stress to your life. Create a “job” that doesn’t feel like “work”. If you’re an overachiever, don’t forget to add “REST” to your task list. 
10. Take time to be still. Before a doctor prescribed me bedrest, I was always on-the-go. Setting aside time to rest, pray, listen, and meditate on God’s word were difficult disciplines for me. As challenging as it was, I’m so grateful that I was forced to be still during the months leading up to Andrew’s birth. I’m grateful for the time I had to reflect, bond with my growing baby, and pray over him and over our family. Lean into this time of rest. Take advantage of this opportunity to slow down, unplug from the demands of your day-to-day routine, and take comfort that God’s mercies are new each morning. May we trust in Him to be our sufficiency for each and every day, bedrest and beyond.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Things too wonderful for me to know

Shortly after we lost the twins, I dove deep into the book of Job through slowly reading the text in multiple translations, studying supporting scriptures from both the old and new testaments, and following along with Proverbs 31 Ministries' “Suffering and Sovereigntyexperience guide . After saying goodbye to our fourth and fifth babies all at once, the study immediately caught the attention of my broken heart. I was hurt and confused, but I knew I needed to lean into God and cover myself in His word. He had met me there before and I knew He had never left.

I had read the story of Job multiple times, but it had never truly left an impression on me until then. (I encourage you to dive into the book of Job for yourself, but I’ll paraphrase to catch you up to speed.) Job was a righteous man who, although not perfect, was living a righteous life in line with God’s will. His righteousness both pleased God and caught the eye of the evil one, Satan. One day, Satan approaches God and says, “Job only praises you because his life is so good. He has riches, land, children, good health. If you take those things away, Job would surely turn his back on you” (paraphrased). God responds to this challenge by giving Satan permission to harass Job and take everything from him, except for his life. (It’s so interesting to me that Satan had access to approach God in heaven and also that Satan had no power without God’s permission--but that’s a whole other topic for another time.) Almost immediately, Job loses nearly everything including his children, his livestock, and his health. Chapters 4-37 contain a dialogue between Job and the friends who come to “comfort” him. His friends are convinced that Job’s misfortune is a result of hidden sin and repeatedly tell Job to turn from his wicked ways and repent. Meanwhile, poor Job is at a complete loss. He curses his own life and wishes he were never born. “I’ve searched my heart! If you know something I don’t know, please tell me so I can repent,” Job basically pleads (again, paraphrasing). All the while, Job cries out for a Redeemer--he cries out for the coming Christ. “If only there were an advocate to stand in my place and argue my righteousness before the Father,” he cries.

After chapters and chapters of Job suffering, pleading with God to put him out of his misery, and receiving misplaced advice from well-meaning supporters (can anyone else relate?), God finally speaks to Job in chapter 39. Rather than answer all of Job’s questions or give a thorough explanation for his suffering, God simply tells Job of who HE is. He asks Job, “Were you there when I created the earth and set the sun in its place?” He continues to list the magnificent, unimaginable things He has accomplished and asserts his sovereignty. He simply tells Job of His character, and who Job is in light of that--his mortality and humanness in light of God’s grandeur.

Job’s response in chapter 42 left a deep imprint on my broken heart, as I wrestled and dove into this study.

Job 42:1-6 ESV
Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
But now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
And repent in dust and ashes.”

Like Job, I was experiencing God’s sovereignty and majesty, as well as my smallness in comparison. He was continuing to deepen my understanding of just how big He is, how small I am, and how amazing it is that we now had an advocate (Jesus) to stand in the gap and allow us to have a relationship with such a great, great Father. Like Job, I had spoken of things I did not understand. I had confidently asserted that I knew what God was up to in our lives. I had confidently asserted that I would never bear children again. I had confidently assumed that I was in control of my life, when in fact God was the one in the driver’s seat. Like Job, my ears had heard of God and I knew who He was--I truly knew Him, yet in our suffering I was seeing Him for all He was. And what I was seeing wasn’t awful--sure, it was big and untamed, yet it was wonderful and comforting. Like Job, I felt repentant and reverent.

Who am I assume I knew what God is up to? Who am I to confidently declare that I know what my future holds? Who am I to put God in such a small, safe box? God can do all things --even things that feel impossible--in our lives. And when our circumstances seem bleak, He remains powerful, loving, and good. He gives good gifts to His children--even when the "good" is painful or uncomfortable. I want to be like Job--I want to rest in the answer of WHO God is, even when I do not have the answer to the "why" questions.

Several months ago, I wrote this passage onto a notecard and have carried it around since, regularly meditating on God’s sovereignty, Christ’s atonement, and my identity in light of both. May the reality of WHO God is be enough for me in all circumstances.

*Photo courtesy of Austin Prock via Unsplash.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

For better or for worse: Love after loss (Forever Footprints)

The following story is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Forever Footprints, a nonprofit providing support for those who have faced pregnancy and infant loss. The complete post can be found on Forever Footprints

For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

As I spoke those words back in 2011, I truly meant them from the bottom of my heart. Sure, I knew marriage wouldn’t always be easy and I knew there would be hard days, but this wide-eyed, innocent 20-something had no idea of the depth of what those words would truly mean until years later when stood beside a tiny cemetery plot and buried our infant son.

For worse, for poorer, and in the wake of devastating sickness, our innocence was stripped away and things were suddenly so much harder.

On the evening our son died, a kind nurse took my hand and warned us that things were about to get hard. She encouraged us to dig our heels down deep, to remember the vows we had meant so fervently those years before, and to fight for one another when things would become difficult–and difficult they did.


To my husband, Chris: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for seeing me at my best and worst, in seasons that felt rich and seasons that felt poor, and in seasons of sickness and health, and still loving me so well through it all. I love you so much.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Comfort and Joy Advent: Days 21-25

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 21: The new year//
Letting go of 2015 was hard. To be honest, I really didn’t see it coming. For weeks I had been bracing myself for Christmas and, much to my relief, the day had passed and I was still breathing. Suddenly New Year’s Eve arrived and completely blindsided me. All around me, people celebrated moving on from 2015 and entering a year of new possibilities. They celebrated moving on. Moving on from the year our first born son was born and died. Moving on from a year I didn’t want to let go of.
Moving from 2016 into 2017 was bittersweet. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to move forward--it was simply that I didn’t know which way was forward. Facing 2017 made me realize how out of control I’ve always been and I was forced to decide whether I’d panic or choose to surrender control (control that I never had, I should add) to God and find peace in Him.
Things feel different this year in many ways, but the same in others. 2018 holds exciting possibilities, laced with unknowns. It is still strange to add years between now and the day we last held Ethan in our arms. It is strange to begin Ethan’s story with the words “three years ago…”. Three can it possibly be? Surrendering control is still hard (again, control that I’ve never had--funny how hard it is to surrender something that is an illusion).
When I remember that God holds us in his hand and each of our days have been written in his book, my anxious heart is filled with peace. I’ve never been in the driver seat of my life. There have been seasons when I felt in control, but the reality is I never have been. And I’m glad. I’m grateful that I don’t need to have it all figured out. I’m grateful I can rest in the assurance of an all-knowing God who loves us and knows each detail 2018 holds.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 22: Comfort//
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
When I think of comfort, I think of a hot beverage, a crackling fireplace, and a cozy blanket. I think of a hug from my husband when I’m down or a note from a friend.
While those things are certainly comforting, I’m learning that comfort doesn’t always look how we expect it to. Sometimes comfort comes in the form of God’s rod--the trials, suffering, and discipline he allows into our lives to sanctify us and to guide us like a shepherd. I’ve heard it said that shepherds used rods to break the legs of sheep that were particularly prone to wander, not because they wanted to cause pain to them, but because they wanted to protect the sheep from the greater evils they would face on their own. The shepherd would then carry the sheep until they were healed. The rod brought pain, along with protection and comfort.
Comfort came in the form of a baby, who grew into a man--Jesus Christ. It comes in the form of God sending his son to earth to die in our place and offer redemption to a broken world. Comfort comes through his death and suffering, as well as his life and the life we have in him.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 23: The gift//
“God gives God. That is the gift God always ultimately gives. Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need, God gives God. God gives God, and we only need to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest Gift with our time: time in His Word, time in His presence, time at His feet.” ― Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 24: Peace on earth//
Sometimes this time of year feels anything but peaceful. Busy schedules, shopping lists, family tension, and mile-long to-do lists seem like the antithesis of peace. Beyond that, it can often seem as if there is little peace in the world in general. When we look around, we are constantly surrounded with images of death, tragedy, suffering, injustice, war, and hatred--things that feel so much heavier than our simply holiday stress.
There is no denying the brokenness in the world.
Yet Jesus came to earth to bring true peace to his children--included those who have been adopted into his family. Peace for all who call upon his name. Peace between us and God. Peace and assurance of a future with Him. Peace we can cling to when things seem so broken. Peace in knowing that he not only came to die in our place and conquer death, but that he is also coming back again to restore all things.
Because of Jesus’ birth, death, and life, we can come to God the Father with confidence. Because of Jesus, we have peace with him.

Peace on earth.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 25: Praise//

Jesus, thank you for Christmas. I reflect on who you are and what you did for us, my heart is filled with such comfort and joy. Thank you for coming to this earth. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for the resurrection. Thank you for your love.

“All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee, 

Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”