My Birth Story, Part I: Pregnancy and War

You wouldn’t think the two would go together, pregnancy and war, but oh, they do. From the minute I started even thinking my body might be hosting a new life in the near future, I started preparing. I started taking prenatal vitamins 4 months (yes, pretty much right when we got engaged) before the wedding, because I knew we’d talked about babies and I wanted all that folic acid and all the iron and all the goodies because I’m a scientist and a planner.

Each day a tiny reminder that I hoped it would happen, months before trying.

Then the wedding came and those long conversations took place that were so exciting: we were on board for a baby, so help us God.

Even though I’d never tried for a baby before, and never had the experience of something going wrong, a part of me was still afraid. Maybe because so many close to me had struggled with their fertility, waited months or years, I was trying to be logical and excuse any possible delays. But God answered on our first plea with the faintest pink line. I was pregnant!

And then immediately, I was a secret-keeper! Boo!

They forget to tell you this part, it’s the unwritten instruction after “two lines means positive” on the pregnancy test, it goes “tell only the people who will be your support system in case of the M word.”

The M word. Literally the first grenade chunked at a mama who just learned there’s a tiny, tiny human in her womb.

Everything can just end, Helena. Those first weeks. We don’t schedule appointments til you’re 8 to 10 weeks. Oh okay.

Let’s do math: baby count starts at first day of last period aka 2 weeks before conception ish, then you have to wait till about 4 days before the next period is due to get a positive with those overpromising fancy sticks, so that’s “3.5 weeks” when I knew I was pregnant.

You mean to tell me that the next 4.5 to 6.5 weeks are just a blind waiting game? Bring in Google, what can I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? Is it okay to exercise? No rollercoasters. No hot tubs. Just be very careful in general, there’s no recipe for how to keep a baby in there, just know all their organs are forming so be the healthiest you can be, ever. Good God, okay. God help me.

Meanwhile, there are negative symptoms everyone says will happen, like a one-size-fits-all misery poncho I was supposed to wear. But I felt okay. I was extra sleepy but not nauseous. I was picky with what sounded good to eat, but I could eat smaller meals and I felt fine. I was excited in my secret, giggling with family and my best friends. I decided I wasn’t going to believe everything they told me, because I was already experiencing something different, answered prayers for no nausea, no sickness.

I began at this point to stop thinking of the M word and just to pray. I was referred by two Godly mamas to a book called Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’ve seen God do miracles in front of your eyes, you can handle this book. Basically if you’re been scuba diving with Jesus and you’ve read the book of Acts and thought “I believe it,” then Supernatural Childbirth won’t sound crazy.

I began to pray for a pain free childbirth with no complications, no tearing, no prematurity, no hemorrhage. I prayed for 100%. Not 90, or 85, but the full birth miracle package. Why not, right?! It’s Jesus, for Christ’s sake. By the time we announced the pregnancy, both Buddy and I were sold out on a supernatural birth. I got really quiet about this, because it sounded crazy banana sandwich. Also, I didn’t want people who didn’t have that experience to feel like I thought I deserved something they didn’t have. I didn’t want to invalidate their trauma, especially if part of their healing was to share their story. Even if it was a terrifying, unique story that would clearly cause fear to a first time mom! I learned to listen with a filter.

Every time I got “advice” about pain or complications, I rebuked it in my head haha, like someone had just spoken death over me. I thought “that’s not my story.” My thoughts stayed the course, believe it or not. I trained my mind for war. Birth was gonna be my victory, my Jericho, my Valley of Berakah. I recited and memorized birth affirmations. I told my body it knew how to birth, and that birth was a normal thing, a common rite of passage designed by God, who is kind. He designed sex and birth. I signed up for both and thanked Him.

We decided that the birth would be very private, and chose a Godly, wonderful doula to be with us (Buddy and I only, aside from birth staff). We chose Atlanta Birth Center as our birth location and prenatal care provider. We chose a midwifery model of care. We did minimal testing, aside from gender DNA (I was way too curious). We only had one ultrasound at 20 weeks, and no cervical checks before labor began. No family in the waiting room, no immediate visits. We safeguarded that space for rest and recovery.

I can say now that pregnancy was wonderful. I was healthy. I had a virus that made me achy for 4 days, but that was it. I had to learn how to SLOW DOWN in the end, lest I’d hurt myself trying to get up too fast. I didn’t swell, nor had back pain. I slept well, even with the frequent bathroom trips. I wore my rings until it was the day to have the baby. I gained about 17 pounds, no diabetes. Baby was head down when she needed to be, my placenta was not in the way. All those answered prayers!

I prayed for supernatural birth. God’s answer, though not exactly as I asked, was even better. Here comes part 2!

The Best Year

Chalk it up to God’s perfect timing, love, and kindness, but I have had the best year of my entire life thus far. I thought my best years might have been behind me, but how wrong was I to entertain that thought!

I looked back and thought maybe my junior year of high school was my best year. I was like Mario with a shining star, for you who played Nintendo. The music was faster and I probably glowed. I think I could have ran through walls at 17, and I ran so fast back then. Everything was in front of me, the whole world was my oyster. Everything was fun. Free time was not a thing, because I filled every minute with people and activity. But that wasn’t my best year!

Maybe my freshman year of college was my best, I thought. I was in band in college and that’s one of the most treasured memories. The feeling of belonging and being good at something, all at once. My grades were great, I was figuring out a new city, and I had made some big changes in my life. In all that, my relationship with God had grown. Yet that wasn’t my best year.

I’d have to fast forward quite a bit because my next stab at my best year wouldn’t be til 2012. The World Race. It was the most mind-blowing experience, traveling around the entire globe, literally, we went around the whole world on my route. Preaching, teaching, building, and exploring. I realized that God had that “glory to glory” thing for me to receive, and I did.

The next year was big. Huge. I moved to Georgia and realized it was okay to root down. I kept saying yes to God’s leading and I experienced fulfilled promises over and over. I met wonderful people. I went back to Uganda for a month. I moved like 57 times within the same city. I changed adult diapers until God finally opened a place for me to work in a hospital again. I had cried a lot of tears about my debt and in 2013 I began my journey to be debt free. You’d think that year is hard to beat, but 2014 got even better.

2014… I spent it working really, really hard. I did ministry and juggled my hot mess personal life, and worked night shift. I went back to Thailand, which was one of the most healing and rewarding nods from heaven I’ve ever received. I was able to lead with a broken heart, God’s strength in my weakness, and that propelled me forward to go to ministry school. I moved south, to Atlanta. I applied for a new job, and got it. I was supposed to start in December 2014. Due to delays for HR, I found out that December day that they needed to move my start date to January 5th, 2015. I was deeply relieved. That year ended and I got blindsided with hard news first thing in 2015, but I somehow knew it was gonna be okay.

2015… on that 5th day of January, I met Buddy. It was the coolest, most God-appointed situation. Did I mention I wasn’t supposed to be at orientation that day? I was supposed to start 2 weeks prior, but HR delayed. It was insane, you-have-lost-your-marbles kind of stuff. One chair left. And off we went. That year wasn’t easy, but it was very, very happy. I worked at two different hospitals at night, and I knew debt-free was coming.

Honestly we can probably skip right over 2016 because I did not think that was in the running for my best year yet haha. It was pretty brutal. Aside from getting debt free, 2016 was really, really hard emotionally, physically, and mentally. Let’s just say my body decided it was done with night shift and would no longer sleep during the day for longer than about 4 hours, and yet I worked 8 months of night shift, falling apart, hunting for literally anything in the day shift and finding nothing until August. Bye Felicia.

2017 started and I had no clue, just no clue how much blessing it had in store. That first weekend we had a winter storm named after me come through Atlanta. Two weeks later, Buddy proposed. On June 5th, we got married and it was THE BEST ceremony I could have ever dreamed of. I bawled my face off, and laughed, and it was just insanely beautiful.

We honeymooned in Miami and talked about how we didn’t want to wait at all for babies, and we started praying for God to bless us in this. And boy, did He! I saw those pink lines on July 4th, and it was unreal!!!

Now I sit here, with this baby bump, getting my heart ready for Christmas, and I can’t help but think… God did it again. He gave me the best year. This one will be hard to beat, but something tells me meeting my daughter in 2018 and seeing Buddy be her daddy will just be the best, yet again. I get to read the Word to her and sing praises while she’s trapped in here ūüėČ and it’s such an honor to impart what I can and be entrusted with this precious gift. I couldn’t dream of complaining about any little thing, and I am looking forward to the love and sacrifice this next year will require, because I know Someone who modeled it perfectly. He’s guiding us on, from glory to glory.

Early Spring

Hello, old friend.

Here I am, thinking of all the clich√©s applicable to this comeback moment. I might as well skip trying to state the obvious and move on to what’s churning in my soul.

I’m sitting at a banquet table, and the Host will not stop putting delicious, much-too-large portions before me. Just when I feel like I couldn’t have another bite, my being somehow makes space to accept another serving. It’s overwhelming in the best way.

I always thought my happiest times, my dreams-come-true seasons would be my loudest. I thought I’d be shouting from every mountaintop, while simultaneously breaking my keyboard with voracious, overjoyed typing. Funny thing that happens when these hopeful planes actually landed: utter, awe-stricken silence.

Here’s a truth that silences the soul: prophecies come true.

I had a dream in 2012 and I told people and even asked them to attempt interpretation of it. I was arriving at a very specific-looking house. In 2015, I arrived at that exact house, which happened to belong to my (now) fiance’s grandparents’. I tried not to freak out, but my spirit was in awe. God’s promises are laid out ahead of time, they just are. You shouldn’t lay awake worrying you’ll mess it all up, because God is so kind. He hides things for us to find. He does it so far in advance to prove a point. He really is God, and He really does reign.

The prophetic hasn’t been a crutch for a weak faith, not for me. I’ve been getting to know a real Person, who is very much alive. He’s more than thin pages, He’s not bound in any way. He loves to communicate and teach. He’s a giddy gift-giver. I get that from Him.

I’m learning to receive in joy the different ways He delivers His goodness. Some of His kindest gifts to me were during tough times. Looking back, my attitude could have been better, since He was right there with me. I could have trusted better, and cruised it with more peace. I could have been easier on myself, and given people less power to rattle me. I could have actually listened when I heard that “it’s gonna be okay” whisper in my heart.

Alas, imperfect reactions and all, here I am. Happy as a freaking clam. Best time of my life thus far, and it’s easy to dwell in the present for the first time in a long time. Hallelujah.

I’m slowly edging back into teaching/writing/pastoral things.

S L O W L Y.

I don’t want to rush this.

I’ve been watching trees half-bloom this spring. They thought it was time, since we had such a warm winter. Then the frost came and they lost their blooms. The cautious ones waited, though it must have been difficult.

I’m gonna edge back in. I’m gonna worship and ponder. I’m gonna finish writing book 2. I’m gonna host groups in my home and make it a place that is safe to worship, to weep, to laugh, to bloom in the heart.

If you’re waiting with me, you’re not alone. The time will surely come.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. [Psalm 27:14]

Why I’ve Been Silent

I used to write about once a week, sometimes twice. I also used to write a devotional every single day. All these things went out to a set list of readers, straight to their email inbox.

Then life got a bit more complicated for me on the emotional zone. I began to feel that this would spill into my writing and change my voice. I didn’t want anxiety or any root of bitterness to seep into a single word, so… well… I stopped writing. I asked God to prune away what needed to go and help me to heal, so that when it’s time, I can step back in and be more effective and fruitful in ministry.

Taking time to pray hasn’t been wasteful yet. Reading the Word after prayer has proven to be both helpful and hilarious, if you’re into that sort of thing. Just yesterday, I was praying for the Lord to help me, and afterwards I found myself in Isaiah¬† 41 reading these very words, like a direct answer:

I took you from the ends of the earth,
    from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‚ÄėYou are my servant‚Äô;
    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

When these “coincidences” happen, I laugh and cry.

I’ve been silent, also, because I’m praying about beliefs and actions. You don’t have to ask someone what they believe when they open their home and heart for a foster child, or adopt a child, or spend their time volunteering at a community pregnancy center, encouraging and loving others through some of the most difficult parts of their lives. There are people serving in the most dangerous parts of the city, selling their nice homes and moving in to where NO ONE wants to live, to change the damaging culture created by absent fathers, substance addiction, and violent gangs. That’s a lived-out belief, not a hashtag trend. I want to live out beliefs, and that requires sacrifice. Also known as dying to self.

Once upon a time, I sold all my things and jet off around the world and “did that” and I came home all messed up, but with great intentions. I thought I could “do that” here, and I think I somewhat did. I reached out into people’s lives and did a lot of praying with them, and a lot of writing. I planned things, but then I said yes to things I shouldn’t have said yes to, like OTHER STUFF that wasn’t the original “that” I was gonna do. I put my effort and energy in other cookie jars of different causes and I burned out. I mean, I really burned out.

IMG_20131105_020141
Even in this, I can feel God’s love and pray, but I can also sense a humming frustration inside me that longs to DO things. The “yes” versus the “I can’t right now.” It’s like an injured athlete on the sidelines, watching the game. I want to, but I also know this is a time to heal and a time to be silent. It’s a time to listen and inhale, and wait. God’s truth and love for me are the same now as when I was living in a tent in a foreign country. When I get the green lights from Him, I will gladly spring forward again.

In all of this, I ask for prayer. Prayer to discern WHAT God is asking ME to do, and not do the “holy scramble” that is driven by guilt and fear. Prayer to boldly step into the lives HE is asking me to step into, via friendship or fellowship or service. Prayer to be patient and listen to God’s leading, so that I can know I obeyed HIM and not any external or cultural pressure. Prayer that God will help me “reset” and that 2017 will be a fruitful year after this time of pruning, waiting, and silence.

God will be glorified through this time, and in time, I will see the purpose of it all. I can trust He is working all things for the good, and sustaining me in the silence.

I Accept

The love of God.

The forgiveness of Jesus.

The counsel of the Holy Spirit.

I took the quickest moment, in the midst of the anxiety I felt in my stomach, and I whispered a prayer that messed me up. I’m talking snot and tears everywhere.

I said “I accept Your forgiveness, Jesus.”

Apparently that’s all it takes for the chills to hit, and the tears to pour, and the hands to shake, and the fear to flee. A small acceptance, that meant I admitted I needed to yield my burden over. How often do we try to carry it all ourselves, when none of it is our load? The littlest headache and¬†my reaction is to take a small little pill, instead of asking Him to wipe it. The twist in the stomach, the furrow in the brow. And I keep it? Oh, I keep it. I hide it, and keep it, and name it “my problem” and I own it and feed it. I’m a mother to my burdens, a depleted, defeated, diligent mother. All my little fears are ducklings, following me. The lies about my worth, my future, my redemption story, just quack quack quack. The noise is obnoxious, but what do ya do? Well, I’ve been keeping it at home with me. Yes, the same home I share with Holy Spirit, the mind and the heart.

Yet that little prayer… it shook my body. It vacated my being. I felt waves over me, like when you’re standing on a windy beach and you feel the wind rolling over you. His wind blew, and I bet it was just a small breath of heaven. I was freed by the tiniest breeze of holy.

rsbg

In the last few months, I struggled with my health and my sleep. I started to hope for different hours, but met a lot of slammed doors. Almost doesn’t quite count in the real world. Four almost jobs, no joke.¬†That’s a lot of time and effort, and I was getting bitter. Then that fifth opportunity popped up, and by grace, it’s mine. I’m going to day hours in August. I will be sleeping at night like other humans, and for the first time in¬†years I won’t feel like a zombie anymore.

I got the call, and I should have jumped out of my skin, like old me. You know, all “yay” and 15 exclamation points. I would have posted some kind of selfie with a maniacal giant grin and told the planet about my “finally” and my “breakthrough” and gotten a stupid amount of likes on said post about God’s goodness and timing. But nah. There was a part of me, the defeated mother of my burdens, surely, that felt hurt by God. I refused to yield my pain, then I blamed Him for keeping me under for too long. I felt drowned. I remember thinking “sorry I can’t get excited, I’m still coughing up water” and that… is how bad it got.

I finally broke. I had to choose. Hard heart or tender? Stone or flesh? Did I remember what it was like to sheepishly tiptoe into His presence like a child? I needed to do that. In my head I knew Christ’s forgiveness, but I had to say it. And it wasn’t a matter of asking for it, because I knew it was mine to have.

“I accept Your forgiveness, Jesus.”

Done. I asked for His help. Done. I asked to feel His love. Done. I asked to be covered by His name. Done. I asked for the Holy Spirit’s counsel, even when life feels out of my control. Done. The knot in my stomach is gone. Instead, there’s a calm, like when you hold a sleeping child. I feel like I’m that child, so cherished.

We are all prone to wonder, yes, even the believers that “know better.” The “you know better” guilt and shame can rot a person’s faith. The “if you trusted Him, you wouldn’t be so scared” shame and the “if you were closer to Him, you’d know prophetically” shame and the “a believer doesn’t do this or that so you must not be a believer” shame. Thomas had to touch Christ to believe He rose again. Peter sank in the waves and denied Him three times. Believers have the capacity to royally suck. Don’t let that be the end of the story, if you find yourself sinking in waves. Don’t let it replay wrong in your thoughts. Accept His forgiveness, and try to move forward. If you know the storm is coming again tomorrow, and you know you’re going under again, well… accept His forgiveness and try to move forward.

The worst thing isn’t to be unfit, it’s to purposefully hide from the Lord out of shame and to mother the pain and keep it. If it hurts every single day, cry out. Wear Him out with your repetitive prayers. He will move on your behalf. He will move on my behalf. He will continue to soften my heart. He will restore and revive. He will restore my voice. He will remove the shame, every little bit, real or perceived. He’s already done it, but for our sake, He will do it again and again, as we accept His love, forgiveness, and counsel.

Jesus, we accept Your help.

God Isn’t Willy Wonka

Have you ever found yourself greatly discouraged and flipped through your own notes/pictures/prayers with God, and those scribbles ministered to you? Yep.

I’m discovering through a really rough season that my faith in God¬†is a foundation. You can’t tear down a wall without running into your foundation. It’s incredibly important to solidify your faith, to spend continuous time with God, to read the Word on a day-to-day basis. Take notes. Take pictures. Highlight and underline. Make your ebenezers, your celebratory mile markers. Build your history with God, so that when the storms come (and oh, they don’t stop), you’ll have a deep understanding of God’s nature.

20131209_174020Many times, I’m sad to say, I have doubted His goodness and His presence. It’s the most obvious thing about Him, His goodness, yet we don’t quite know how to reconcile suffering with the goodness of God. We can’t exactly explain slammed doors, and fear, and the long, silent wait. In time, sure, yeah. You can explain anything in time. It’s like saying “I sat at a traffic jam for 17 years, but then I got ice-cream, so it’s all good.” And one thing is completely unrelated to the other, and honestly, disproportional.

We confuse¬†privilege and prosperity¬†with God’s love. When I go to Six Flags to ride the rollercoasters, I buy the gold flashy passes and waltz through the park skipping every line. It’s not like that with God. We don’t get Favor passes, unfortunately. When we’re preached “Favor” gospel, we set ourselves up for pain. You’re not guaranteed your whole dream jar, and that really stinks and it’s really sad.¬†It’s okay to grieve that. The gospel is that struggle is SO real that we NEED a Savior, and we have Him. Jesus!¬†He’s the reason for joy, not answers¬†or gifts¬†or temporary things, even if they’re good things. We need saving because life is really hard. He’s not Willy Wonka, He’s more like Liam Neeson. Welcome to the reason I’ve been silent.

I’ve challenged a friend in the past with the question “why is it better to go through THIS right now versus your best-case scenario?” She met me with a long pause. She started to think about her weakness and how her patience was getting tested. She was on the edge of herself, really. And it made her look at God and point, and have a heated conversation… which is much better than a rushed “thank You” prayer, if you think about that for a minute. I’ve been having those staring, silent prayers with God, where I just get my forehead all crinkled up and pout, and stare like He’s holding out on me, like I’m skeptical of what He’s up¬† to. And He stares back, I’m sure of it. He stares back with the “OH REALLY?!” face. Like “Really, as if I would hold out on you, to what? Torture you? To tease you? Don’t¬†you think I have better things¬†to do than put you through misery?¬†Really?”

And so we stare at each other. And if I stare long enough, I can see the fire in His eyes, and it eventually, slowly, looks familiar again. Not like some distant jerk or anything, but like my Best Friend. The One who was there when I was all alone. The One who led me through places I never knew I wanted to go. That Guy. He’s pretty good. I remember Him.

Turns out that staring fights are okay with God. He’s not mad about it. Turns out we’ve got history together. That history is worth something.

His ways are higher than mine, period. I won’t get it, and also… I can’t. I wasn’t meant to understand it all. It’s a scientist’s biggest nightmare, the mysteries of God. Why are certain things so easy and why¬†are some¬†so darn difficult? Why do some things happen quickly while others take forever? Why are transitions always so uncertain? And why does pain flash like a camera, in your happiest days? Why is trauma a thing? Why can’t healing happen faster? Why are there so few guarantees in life? Why do we go through times of particular, intentional¬†deprivation? How are we able to be brave in the Spirit when there are so many very logical reasons to be afraid? Why does life so often feel like a gamble instead of a plan?

I don’t get it. I don’t get any of it. Give me some kind of medal for arriving at this particular milestone of ignorance/bliss. I don’t have answers. I know Him, and He purposefully maintains answers from us, probably because they’re just too complicated. It’s like explaining this upcoming election to a 4-year-old. No, thanks! Maybe this is the best way: to not know, to not understand. It was the original way in the garden, before we disobeyed to try to know more.¬†Not knowing¬†makes us reliant on Him, even when that reliance is somewhat forced since we literally cannot understand things with these brains and hearts. At least love isn’t forced.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
-1 Corinthians 13:12

I look forward to that full knowledge and vision, and every day I’m closer. Until then, you’ll find me trying my best to stay the course, reading old journals, and anchoring deep on the truth of the scriptures. I pray you build your foundation with God, so that you know the way to His arms by heart when you can’t see the steps in front of you.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
(Ps. 126:5)

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
(Ps. 27:13)

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.
(Ps. 71:20)

Even Now

I’ve been quiet because I’ve been waiting. And while you wait and there are no news, why speak up? There are several parts of my life that have been in transition, unanswered. I’ve been praying and waiting. I’ve tried not to complain, or get my hopes up, or become pessimistic.

I am writing this right now from the unknown. Holla if you’ve been there. It feels like there’s a veil or a curtain, and it is keeping the future hidden until the last minute, til I’m to the curtain and past it. I know, from having been in this situation before, that this is for my good. It’s for my protection. God knows how having this information prematurely would affect me. I’d worry about it for way too long, or get way too excited. And He knows what He’s building inside me through this time… yeah… trust.

6If you look at any great story of faith in the Bible, you find that pesky trust thing. Sometimes it takes waiting to build it. Sometimes, you see a war or conflict. God takes the underdog and elevates them to display that He alone can do whatever, and empower whoever, whenever, wherever.

I’m trusting God for exactly this. Not that I will be empowered, but that He is able to do whatever He wants and He will follow through in His will. I get to trust His heart, and blindly lean on His understanding when I’m clueless about what’s coming next.

Whether I’m about to¬†be in the valley¬†or a mountaintop, I want the record to show that I trust Him. He’s taking care of me in so many ways, and I trust that even a closed door will lead me down a path of righteousness. His grace is never lost or late, and I find comfort even in the silence of uncertainty. If I listen closely, I can hear my beating heart, and I know that His Spirit is dwelling within. Just to know He’s present is enough. I appreciate your prayers in this transition. Stay tuned for an update.