My Birth Story, Part II: Labor and Delivery

If you missed part I, go read it first!

The best way I can describe what a natural birth without pain medications felt like to me is a marathon. If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know what a muscle cramp feels like, and that you can’t think “I can’t do this” or overthink about the numbers. You know what “the wall” is and learn to climb it. You know to rest but not to quit. And you get hooked on the finish line. It means much more to you to cross it than to the person who didn’t run the course and feel the hills themselves.

I had run exactly 3 marathons before pregnancy. I knew my body was strong and healthy. I knew the pain of a cramp and I expected that much, even though I prayed for a pain-free birth.

Contractions to me felt like very very strong cramps. Technically that’s what it is, but if you’ve ever had a running leg cramp, that. Over and over, it’d squeeze and release. After a while, I got used to it. I learned not to flinch and to relax as much as possible, and that helped.

What I didn’t expect was for my labor to start on a Sunday and end on a Wednesday. Yep. That’s one whole day, two whole days, three whole days, and some change.

Prodromal labor is the name of the game. It wasn’t false labor, but it was erratic. Contractions weren’t stronger, longer, closer together. More like 7 minutes then 3 then 5 then 2 then 14 minutes apart. Enough to mess with my head but not to get me to the birth center. Sunday night, I called the midwife line and was very gently told that my contractions didn’t sound strong enough yet, aka I’m breathing through it and still able to talk. That was the first day. I tried to sleep and managed to snooze a bit. Contractions didn’t stop.

On day two, Monday afternoon, my doula came over to work with me. We were hopeful that maybe baby just needed to move a little, and then labor would pick up the pace. By evening, we drove to the birth center to see if I was progressing. It had been almost two full days of stop and go, and I was tired.

We arrived and I was 80% effaced and 3 centimeters. Face palm. They walked me next door to get a chiropractic adjustment, just in case my pelvis was being unsportsmanlike. They decided to give me “therapeutic rest” aka a strong sleeping medicine so I could rest for a little while since my uterus was apparently dancing to jazz and techno. I barely made it to the car before passing out hard for about 4 hours.

Woke up while it was still considered Monday, proceeded to get very little sleep into Tuesday, and that’s when the real deal started.

I was IN LABOR.

I’ll tell you what I remember about laboring at home: Buddy looking shook, calling the doula and the midwife line. I was dropping into squat reps when the contractions hit, because it felt good to move down as they tightened. I started getting vocal. Loud noises and bright lights freaked me out. Buddy couldn’t touch me, but at this point our doula Mary still could. Buddy packing snacks and putting our bags in the car. Buddy trying to get me to eat and nothing sounded good at all. Me drinking at least 2 liters of coconut water, and attempting to eat apple slices. Us walking to the car, me with combs in my hands to squeeze during contractions in the car. Me basically forgetting about my phone and that I hadn’t told my Brazilian family the punchline: oh, it’s happening now.

We arrived at Atlanta Birth Center just after 4pm on Tuesday. We got the Water Room, the one I liked the most. I was the only one there in labor.

Then it all went foggy.

I went to another planet with God. I had coherent thoughts but I didn’t verbalize. I lost track of time and what day it was. I had to ask for the birth details because my eyes were shut almost the whole time.

I remember walking the halls through contractions, and it hurt. I remember telling my midwife that I felt like I was peeing but I knew I wasn’t peeing, so that was my water breaking, clear, thank God. I remember the rests between contractions were peaceful for me, there was no pain between contractions.

I remember at one point nobody could touch me. I was offered to labor in a tub but I said no (I wish I had at least tried it). I felt like this primal beast, spooked but in charge somehow. In my mind, I was praying, no longer for no pain, but for God to help me make space for this baby.

At one point, the midwives switched shifts. With this switch came a fresh energy and determination to get this baby out. Also, I’m sure I looked beyond exhausted and they knew the baby needed to come sooner than later so I could push. I was asked to crawl (yep) on all fours and when a contraction hit, to get into child’s pose. So I crawled, and this really was a turning point. I felt like the baby was really moving down. I don’t remember much in between this and starting to push, but pushing was amazing. I don’t know why movies paint it to be the worst part, it was so exciting for me!

One thing to mention before we get to the grand finale is that mentally I did not break. I didn’t say “I can’t do this” or ask for meds. I didn’t cuss out my husband. I said I was tired, and usually that meant to take a break from whatever inversion or crawl I was doing at the time haha. I did not question whether or not it would be possible, nor whether the baby was okay. This whole time her heart rate was perfect. No distress for her, no doubt for me. This, I believe, was not my mental strength but God’s kindness to help guard my thoughts. I firmly believe it was the Holy Spirit filling my mind with scriptures and positive words, like only He could do.

Pushing phase: I did some pushing on the bed, dangling off (innovative haha) and some squatting. My midwife spoke up about tearing being likely in squat position, and I decided I wanted to have the baby in a side-lying position on the bed. My doula and I had talked about this before, and it was the moment of truth: I had the choice of what position I wanted to have my baby. This should be every mother’s choice, and thankfully I chose a birth center that let this be my choice!

I was super tired and could only do about 3 pushes at a time. But I could feel her moving down! Buddy was behind me on the bed, seeing it all. I had my eyes firmly shut.

I pushed for about 2 hours, and with ever increasing cheering by the birth center staff and my doula, the baby’s head came out and… drumroll… her hand came out on her cheek!

Compound presentation baby, no wonder my labor was intense!

To top it off, her cord was around the back of her neck, so her hand kept the cord from squeezing all around. Talk about a blessing in disguise!

In a flash, the whole baby was placed on me, wet and big and mine. 10:40am on the first day of Spring.

The pain ended. There was no tearing, even with her hand making its surprising appearance. I did pray for that during the pushing haha.

The first thing my sweet angel child did was take the hugest dump on me, right on my belly. Nice to meet you too, baby girl.

They showed me my placenta and it was nasty. I could have probably gone without seeing it. My bleeding was normal, baby’s apgar was 9. She weighed 7lbs 10oz and was 20.5 inches long.

After birth, I was able to walk to the bathroom, deal with the hot mess that was all over me, and put on my pretty robe. I had a strong waddle walk and wobbly legs, and I got really wired. It lasted a few days before I could actually come off of the hormonal high that was birth.

I did feel pain but I didn’t feel abandoned by God. I knew He did what was best for me and Emília Grace, every minute of that experience. I felt like many, many parts of this labor and birth were supernatural, especially the way He guarded my mind (I did not have negative thoughts!), kept baby steady throughout the long labor, and then made recovery simple with no stitches. God is faithful!

I am so grateful to the Lord for the safe arrival of our little girl, and for entrusting Buddy and I to be her parents.

There will be a part 3, about postpartum!

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Recommendations:

Doula: Mary Hanks (the best best best) if you want a peaceful, motherly, Godly, knowledgeable doula, she’s it. Best decision we made, she took care of Buddy as well, making sure he ate and didn’t end up too traumatized haha!

Birth Place: Atlanta Birth Center I’m confident I would have had interventions at a hospital. The way the staff at ABC had faith in me and in birth was outstanding. They never gave up on me. I’d have 1000 babies there if I had to have 1000 babies.

Book: Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize- This book changed the way I saw birth altogether.

Affirmations (just have some, read through pregnancy especially!): My Pinterest board

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!

Contempt and Contentment

My thoughts have been circling around the subject of contempt for about a week. What does it mean?

Contempt is a feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval. Contempt that I’ve seen rises up when I feel like someone is not doing their best, especially on purpose. I have a high value for passion and intention, and when those things aren’t present in a lifestyle, I have to fight to respect that person. I struggle to respect people who avoid their problems or cover them. I’ve also felt contempt when I saw dishonesty, denial, and self-destructive patterns. It’s almost natural for people to feel contempt for others who repeatedly make choices we don’t know how to respect and wouldn’t make for ourselves. How can we approve of them when they make terrible choices? I think Contempt is best buddies with Arrogance, too. They hang out on Saturdays. Contempt says “ew” and Arrogance says “you’re better than that” and together they laugh and laugh. You don’t want to hang out with these two, because they’re super obnoxious. Also, they’ll ruin you.

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I think Contempt and Grace have one thing in common: they assume, which means to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true. Contempt assumes the worst of people, and assumes that they’re guilty. Grace assumes the best of people, and assumes that they’re innocent.

This is the classic case of the half-filled cup, whether it is half-full or half-empty. Truth is that we do not know the matters of the heart, only God does. We don’t know if someone is bent for evil or if they’re actually a great person in there, banging on the walls, trying to get out of their mistakes prison.

Contempt is quick to put people on a scale, like Willy Wonka, and call them bad eggs. Contempt wants you to make a judgment, which is really, really, really not our job. We are poorly equipped to make a judgment. We have been judged inadequate to judge, but we have been encouraged to assume the best.

I started a new job in the last 3 months, and let me tell you that there is a certain coworker for whom I was beginning to feel contempt. This person didn’t work very hard and left me hanging. I’d point out an issue and this person would laugh and express how much they did not care. “OH NO YOU DID NOT” I would scream from the inside. Apathy, if you can’t already tell, is my sweet trigger of contempt.

Then I realized that I only care because I have been given the tools and the flame to care. This person did not have the equipment to care. They were trying to hike my rainy mountain of I CARE while barefoot and naked. They didn’t have it, and it was unfair for me to assume the worst of them when they were not equipped.

I felt relief wash over me when I changed my perspective. I began to assume the best for this person. I assumed that they were manifesting on the outside what was going on inside, and it activated me to pray.  I assumed that this person was so tired, that they’d cared for so long and began to burn out. I assumed that they built walls of apathy so that they could keep disappointment out, and how that had failed. I started to pray for their walls of apathy to come down, and for bravery to rise up to forgive whoever disappointed them. I told myself that this person was working as hard as they could, and so that I needed to pray for strength, so that I could keep up. Funny thing that happened was that strength elevated in me and I no longer felt overwhelmed, but worked diligently, quickly, and with more joy than before. I realized that I needed to encourage this person, and to tell them the things they are doing well. I began to do that and saw a change. The next time I worked with that person, they worked much harder.

Had I given up, snitched to the boss, and lost my patience, I would have gotten this person in trouble. I would have been like anybody else. I would have left work feeling like I had done the right thing, but also feeling like a giant jerk. Instead, I chose to assume with grace that this person was doing their very best, and sure, it wasn’t much, but it was all they could do. I honored that. I prayed. I spoke into it.

I became content with someone’s decision that I would have never made. Take that one in. I’m gonna write it one more time: I became content with someone’s decision that I would have never made.

I said to myself “that’s the best they’ve got right now” and I approved, and I moved on with ALL my peace, and I adjusted my circumstances to pray and overcome the hurdle before us. God is and will always be faithful. If we dare to assume the best of people, over and over, and affirm them for what they do well, to appreciate them for even the tiniest of sliver of good they can bring to the table, guess who benefits the most? We do. We become more loving, more pleasant. That helps.

I sigh less. I roll my eyes less. I feel the need to complain less. I feel contempt less. I feel arrogant less. Instead I feel more compassion. More grace. I think you can bring this into your difficult relationships, and into every kind of exchange you have to make with people who you struggle to respect. We put our toy gavels down, and grab hold of Contentment. Peace comes along. Grace shows up and makes it a party. It’s more fun to hang out with those three, any day of the week. They prosper you.

Wretches or Royals?

According to the Word, we are called chosen, royal, holy, His own, and worthy of proclaiming His excellencies. We’ve been called out of darkness, into His marvelous light.

God calls us His children. He’s very much associated with us. He’s crazy about us. He came up with the idea of us!

Why, then, do we approach Him and tell Him that we’re junk?
What do you think it makes Him feel when His kids think they’re worthless, lost, ugly, idiots, poor, and miserable?

He says “no no no no no honey, you’re not! You’re wonderful!”
I have to believe that He’s right. I have to believe it.

He tosses you the keys of His Kingdom. He trusts you. He takes you back. He isn’t even mad, much less surprised. He knew and knows ahead when you’ll stumble along the way. He chooses you. He loves you without condition.

Even if.

Even when.

Even then.

Even more.

And THAT kind of love is the stuff that changes us. That’s the kind of love that makes us fall in love. It’s the stuff that rewires the heart, somehow. The things you thought you’d always be plagued with might even go away in that love, because it’s a love that loves you through it and in it. Unconditional.

Stop thinking that humility means worthlessness. That’s false.
Stop thinking that having a past or a struggle makes you a lower-class child of God. That’s false.
Stop thinking that you can’t trust yourself. That’s false.
Stop thinking that you’re destined to fail. That’s false.

You can make great decisions. The Holy Spirit instructs your heart. You have a great compass. You’re not lost. You’re not broken beyond repair. He is right with you. And He’s singing about you being wonderful and worthy and how much He trusts you.

Line up with His song. Let Him tend to the conditional stuff. Let Him affirm the unconditional stuff.

If you’ve fallen down, congratulations.  You’re alive! Scraped up your heart? Kudos. You’re very alive. If you’ve made a mistake before, okay, join the club! You can taste the sweetness of grace and forgiveness. You get to accept the thing we sing about and get in His arms.

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Living is the most dangerous thing you can ever, ever do. Without grace, living is absolutely lethal, because you will make mistakes. You may someday say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. If you can’t forgive yourself, darling, how will you survive?

Stop tearing yourself apart. Stop agreeing with the lies that say you’re weak when the strength of God is even now rising up inside you. His grace is sufficient to cover you, to make you royal and holy. Indeed, you already are.

Ask yourself why you would doubt your worth. Ask the Lord to reveal the lies along the way that shaped your way of thinking. Ask Him if His grace is enough for you.

That last one is just so you can hear His yes.
Yes, love, yes.

Sleepless in Rio

Yep, it’s one of those nights where I am in evangelist mode and I also cannot stop looking up animal memes. Oh and I can’t sleep.

I found this cat, which I would date if I were a cat.

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I also almost sent an email I would have regretted sending, but thankfully I had a voice of reason come and interrupt me like…

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Crisis averted. Phew.

Now I sit here, smiling, half in and half out of consciousness. I know that God is funny and awesome and perfect. He has the best plan, which sometimes doesn’t include sleep for me. Instead, He lets me speak to the heart of His children, and to tell them that they’re loved beyond measure, and watch such a revelation cause a ripple. Grace always causes a ripple. I am watching it go, go, go. It is SO lovely.

We like to add and subtract. We think the works we do with our hands either add or subtract. Jesus multiplies exponentially. He’s a multiplication God. I don’t think we can ever fathom how far He carries the littlest offerings we bring to Him. We are making impacts that you would not believe. His Kingdom is coming so much faster than we realize. Come, Lord Jesus.

Being here in Brazil has made me stand up into the truth I already knew about myself and about beauty. What makes me beautiful isn’t my hair, or eyes, or anything at all that is seen on the outside. My beauty is the gentle, courageous Flame of Love that burns within me, and makes me glow from the inside. It’s a joy people can’t quite pinpoint, but it’s so evident.

People want my Flame without even knowing what they want. They seriously approach me here on the street and tell me that I’m beautiful. It’s the most bizarre thing. I stand there awkwardly, thanking them, while they say “you are TOO beautiful, you are like a doll, what are these eyes, oh my God” and I just stand there. This has happened a few times already. Apparently I have been upgraded to ‘stop me on the street‘ pretty, and I did not get the memo. Something tells me they’re not seeing the outside of me, and I’m relieved by that revelation.

God is doing something with me that I cannot explain. It’s like the Christmas tree when it is alright in the daytime, but it was MADE to glow in that low light, when the lights get plugged in and they start to twinkle. I AM TWINKLING! He upped it a notch, and I’m not quite sure why or what’s going on, but I PROMISE I haven’t done anything different than I have been doing in a long time, and now I am seeing SO MUCH FRUIT.

Every single day, I have new stories. Jesus has put me on the fast lane, and I’m taking it all in. I’m sleepless in Rio, just in awe of the Lord. I’m gonna train leaders as a priority. God pressed it on my heart again today. I’m gonna commission people to do specific ministry with me. And if you’re reading this and you’ve been patiently waiting for me to train you, THANK YOU FOR BEARING WITH ME.

After this training takes place, I’m gonna start writing my first book. The Lord also confirmed my call to California a few times here during my vacation, so that’s still very much the ultimate plan.

It’s like 5am here, and I must must must try to sleep.

Here’s to a random, unedited blog, and holy insomnia, eh? Mwah.

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I napped too hard

I’ve done somewhat dangerous things. I’ve taken public transport in Africa, and volcano boarded/crashed in Nicaragua. I’ve eaten street food in Cambodia. I’ve couch-surfed in Singapore, and hitchhiked in Thailand.

But last week during Thanksgiving break, all I did was take a nap. A nap, yall….

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I thought I was taking the average food coma break, but when I woke up, I felt a very strange pinch in the back of my neck.

I thought it was just whatever people call it… a crick? Yeah. No!

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Improper nap posture

The crick stretched all the way toward the side of my neck, to my collarbone. If you are a geek like me, you’ll enjoy saying the word of the muscle I strained:: sternocledomastoid. Mm. So I got hurt napping. Yes.

But picture this… me just enduring the thing, not taking any meds, not doing any cold or hot compresses, but instead trying to tough it out. IT STARTED HURTING OVER A WEEK AGO! I finally cracked *ha* and went to the nearby CVS 2 days ago, bought all the goodies and started trying to take care of it.

I had my first REAL massage by a real masseuse and sweet friend Erin. She shed a lot of light into my situation.

So here’s the struggle:: my injury is physical (duh) but also spiritual.

I am an intercessor. I’ve been carrying a lot of pain on me and toughing it out. It’s showing up all over my back, in knots. The pain scurries from one place to another, even during the massage, it would move around.

My neck is a picture of my struggle with myself. There’s a tug-o-war going on. One side of my neck is tense and short, the other is strained and swollen. I’m out of alignment. One side is compensating for the other, and something had to give.

Picture this::

if I am choosing stillness, the lies say “you are lazy”

if I am choosing productivity, the lies say “you are striving”

/////let the tugging begin\\\\\

The enemy attacks my motives, turns me against myself.

if I step up boldly to lead, the lies say “you are proud”

if I delay, the lies say “you are disobedient”

It’s a paralyzing war inside, a war I thought I had understood but that feels so different when it’s attacking my work toward Phylla House. It’s not just attacking me.

Erin asked me what my definition of grace is… my answer?

Grace is the victory that is given to me regardless of whether I succeed or fail.

Somehow my loss is counted as gain.
Grace is the steady hand and love of God in my wavering, my injury, my weakness.
Grace is the hand that grasps me while I’m falling short of the glory of God, and it pulls me to the throne room of the Almighty God, grips me while He works in me.
Grace is the hand that holds mine through the hardest of times, the voice that wakens me in the morning, and the landlord evicting fears out of my heart.
Grace is the retrospective wisdom to know that God wasn’t being mean or holding back His mercy on me in the past, but that it all led to this. THIS.

The more time goes by, the more I see that it was worth it all.

My orphaned heart, yearning to be loved, made a lot of mistakes, yeah. But I’ve been given a new heart, a crown, and a ring. Now I have the privilege of holding women who are grieving, who let me embrace them because they know my story. I can’t ever cheapen the grace in all of that. Ever. Grace dispels what my past would say of me.

Grace is that my neck is healing and will heal, and that the pain I felt was for this very purpose, so that I could share with someone who needed to hear it tonight that this crazy grace is available to them, to have and to hold.

It’s clear now that I’ve been carrying burdens literally on my back and that the conflict I have within myself has to end because it’s paralyzing and painful. God brought it to the light, He made something internal become external. My weakness manifested this week, and it’s a work in progress.

Now it’s time to put on IcyHot on my neck and try to decide if I like the weird tingles or not… still torn. Have you ever put IcyHot on your neck? You should try it and let me know how it goes 🙂