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!

Fighting For Peace

There’s a fine, dotted line between letting something go and standing up for oneself. It feels like a seesaw, where it’s not any fun when you’re always letting things go and becoming a bitter pushover, and it’s no fun at all to make a fuss over every bump on the road. A wise man once told me to pick my battles, and that’s still a challenge for me. In poker, it’s the difference between knowing when to fold versus staying in the game to win with the bluff. It’s a skill I haven’t acquired yet, but I’m learning. I’m learning how to fight for peace.

If it sounds like an oxymoron, that’s because it is. Jesus sometimes turned the other cheek and preached on forgiving 70 times 7, but He’s the same guy who walked into the temple and turned tables over with a whip. He’s the same guy who wasn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of the religious leaders and call them white-washed tombs, and goats, and all these pretty harsh terms. He defended the adulterous woman from the stoners (haha see what I did there). He fought for our peace by laying down His life on the cross, and then rising again. That’s pretty tough and bloody.

I used to think the higher road was the quiet road. I used to think that the stronger person was the one who was able to bottle up their feelings and donate them to Ariel’s thingamabob shelves in the bottom of the ocean, never to be brought up again. I thought that people who stood up for themselves picked fights, and were labeled emotional and ill-tempered. And who would want to do life with those people?

Thinking like that, unfortunately, caused me a lot of harm. I tried to control situations that were never mine to control. I internalized frustrations, which grew to hurt me over years and years. I made up rules in my head of what to say and what not to say, and I believed lies about myself and others. I judged people on the inside and tried to do life with them on the outside. I began to expect failure out of several friendships and relationships, and by golly, I was right. Failures galore. All because I didn’t speak up when I should have. I let problems grow.

When I didn’t have health insurance, I only went to the doctor when I really needed to. Now that I have insurance, there’s this lovely thing called a well visit. I can go to the doctor on a sunshiny day, on a somewhat regular basis, and see just how well I am. It’s maintenance, not repair. Speaking up is a lot like maintenance. Good communication shouldn’t be procrastinated for the crises. It may feel like a confrontation, but it’s normal. Conflict is actually normal, but how we view it is what makes it grow exponentially into a negative experience.

We’re technically supposed to consider conflict a joyous thing, if you want to get Biblical about it. Conflict comes into the picture carrying a little silver tray, to serve you with maturity and depth of character. Your character shows. Do you get scared? Do you yell and say horrible things? Do you hide? Do you get defensive? Do you listen? Do you speak with kindness? Do you look for exits of grace, ways to move forward? Conflict reveals what’s in your heart, because it usually flies out of your mouth and circles your thoughts. It can turn into a well visit with God, or a surgery down the road, if we keep ignoring the problem.

dac738fc0d99f3fd891635167f44f0cdMy latest heart check revealed that I am a scaredy-cat. I have also grown a bit into a pessimist. Maybe I’ve been watching the news more than letting my mind dwell on what heaven is doing? With every layer, I find myself having to forgive people from my past, over and over. I never realized how much of an influence their actions and those events still have over me. The fear of those things happening again? Ridiculous. Wanna know what I learned from it, though? Every time we increase in trust, we also have to increase in courage.

Courage and trust are besties, inseparable. When we get moved up a notch with the Lord, and He asks us to surrender bigger pieces of our hearts and dreams, we have to ante up with courage. Match the bet. Cough up those chips to play the round. We have to remind ourselves that we have been given a Spirit of courage, not of timidity. We weren’t made shy, but confident. It’s not a bluff play. If you’re suddenly feeling more fearful, you might be swimming in a deeper pool. It might be a good thing. You might have gotten upgraded in faith, and you may have to accept the fact that yes, you will need to grow, and yes, you will need to get braver.

The Lord is within her, she will not fall. He is with you wherever you go. He has your right hand. He doesn’t let your ankles turn. He hears your voice. He speaks to guide you. He strengthens you. He gives you rest. He takes those heavy burdens from you and carries it like a total pro. It’s easy to Him. He can reach it. He overcomes it.

I pray you know how and when to speak up, that you don’t let yourself wilt inside. I pray you don’t let problems grow because you’re scared to rock the boat. I pray you know that God is not trying to torture you or hurt you in any way, because He delights in you. If anything is trying to steal, kill, and destroy you, it’s not Jesus. He’s the fullness of life Guy. He’s the complete joy Guy.

That’s all I have for now… I pray God multiplies it and applies it where you need it.

DAILY DEVOS RETURN…

As you all know, the #ATLdevo began back in September of 2014, and ran until about August 2015. Every single day, I made it a discipline to write what I was learning with Jesus, and posted it ONLINE, and not only that, but delivered every morning to the inboxes of 80+ people. NO PRESSURE!

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The feedback was incredible. Just incredible. Let me quote some of the emails/texts/messages I’ve gotten throughout this year of writing…

“We, your devo followers, are so thankful you said yes. I know you’re growing from it and it’s a big encouragement.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for your obedience in doing this devotional. This devotional continues to raise me out of so many heart-heavy situations.”

“I look forward to these devotions every day! Thank you for your heart! It is making a difference in my life! Thank you for your obedience!”

“Oh my goodness, you don’t know how your messages speak to me. The last couple of ones I find myself crying and asking God for more of Him!”

“Very thankful for your ministry here. It’s been too long since I journaled about the goodness of the Father and too long since I’ve been still and quiet early in the day. Love the prompts as well! Keep serving faithfully as you are!”

“Thank you for your inspiration and interaction with daily verses and uplifting words. Your obedience to God is one of the many gifts He’s given. You are a treasure to those of us receiving them.”

“Thank you for your daily devotionals. Really great stuff and God inspired.”

“I have been going back and reading the Phylla House devos: SO GOOD! I might use them next year for my class :D”

“Thank you Helena, for allowing God to use you in our lives! Today’s devo… it was exactly what I needed.”

“Your devos are amazing and I can hear your voice as I read them! So great! Thank you for blessing me and so many others with them already!!!”

These are quotes in reaction to the devos I wrote in 2014 to 2015. I picked 100 of those devotionals and published them in a book! You can buy that book here!

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Why am I charging for this book? Well… I have 80+ people who got it for free, one page at a time, via email and reading the Phylla House blog where the devos were originally hosted. The subscribers actually got more than that, because some of the devotionals didn’t make it into the book. After that, I prayed hard and pulled the devos from the blog, edited them fiercely, and published them in tangible form.

The cool announcement is that I’M DOING IT AGAIN!!! Fresh devos, page by page, delivered to your inbox, free as birds, imperfect  probably, full of late-night/early-morning Love.  You can subscribe to the Phylla House blog and see it unveil one page at a time, as God teaches me over the next year. How does that sound?

And then, God willing, at the end of 2016, I’ll revise the devos and publish them in book form once more, in time for you to gift them to your friends and family, having “already read it” if you know what I mean 😉

I hope you’ll come along with me.

The journey starts again on January 6th, 2016.

Much love,

Helena

Change of Plans

Today was a stressful day. It shouldn’t have been. I like to say that when life bumps you, what’s inside spills over. Today, I got a reality check, and what spilled wasn’t pretty. It was worry, anxiety, and frustration. I was able to hand more of that over to God, and the hand-off was not super graceful, but it’s in His hands now.

My boyfriend and I have been in conversation for about 2 months about going to Brazil to visit my family. The trip was going to be in the last week of December/start of January. That was the original plan.

Then, my job declined my vacation request. We had sort of decided to go the following week, but he just started a new job and has no idea what that schedule holds.

We hit another roadblock in planning, and you know how I love those? I love those. Yeah no, this is the most frustrating thing.

The airfare prices went up while we waited to hear back, and then they went up again. The window of visiting while my brother was there is over. I can no longer afford the airfare to go visit my family as per planned. The trip is loosely postponed until our availability at work matches, and the airfare prices are reasonable. My brother will just have to visit me when he’s on spring break next year. This is what life is like living away from everybody you’re related to, and trying to bring a significant other over. It’s not easy, or glamorous. There are a lot of tears and dropped calls, and savings tapped out, and conversations about mileage. There are plans laid down, and delays that hurt, and one very chubby baby I can’t wait to hold again, and one super wonderful aunt to laugh with, and one beautifully comforting grandma, and tall cousins, and the mountains I grew up with, and pounds to gain from the best food in the world. I’ve never brought a significant other with me to Brazil, so you could say I look forward to giving him that honor someday. Just a little bit. Okay, it means SO much.

Today was the day I accepted that this trip wasn’t going to be when I wanted it to be. It may not even be in January at all, God only knows. I’m one tired girl with a heavy heart, but I know that God’s timing is perfect. What’s a few more weeks or months, right?

I thank God that everyone is healthy and that there’s no rush, but I also plead with God to not delay this too much. He sees my heart and He loves them infinitely more than I ever could. He’s the One who chose them to be my family, and who led me all the way to another continent at such an early age. He had a grand purpose for all of this, and He will continue to redeem every difficulty.

I lay my plans down, along with my hopes, heart desires, and expectations. God’s will is better. I will wait for that. Please be in prayer for peace, clarity, and rest. Grace for changes. And then more grace for changes.

Love,

Helena

Don’t Lose the Fire

Fireball over here has a confession: my Fire started to wane.

Blame it on Ministry School being done for now. Blame it on life transitions eating up my time. Blame it on me not getting any new leaders for Phylla House and feeling like a plastic bag about that… I understood the Katy Perry song lyric for the first time.

Do you ever feel… like a plastic bag… ?

Yep.

Fireball felt like a plastic bag. It doesn’t take long to drift. And I praise God, it doesn’t take long to anchor, either.

Today I woke up determined to be a super productive adult who follows through. Follows through with people, emails, banks, and laundry. And in it, I prayed. I got excited. I had setbacks but it all got done today. And then I had one phone call scheduled for 6pm, with an OUTSTANDING woman of God.

Charity is her name. And today she sharpened me. She reminded me of what Phylla House is about, as I heard her little kids’ voices in the background, as she raises them bravely as a widow, and as she reminds me that we need people who have been through the fire, and we need structure. Structure! Ahh. The thing I’ve been fighting. The thing that I always think would hinder the spontaneous growth of Holy Spirit work. But it’s needed. We set deadlines. She brought her fire over to mine and it sparked brighter.

Sometimes it’s easier to go where the fruit is, and I’ve been taught this, too. Go where the fruit is! But sometimes we have to stick it out, and fast, and endure. We have to hold tight to dormant dreams, to the ideas that don’t seem to be catching as quickly as we’d hoped. And we hold them, even then. Even still. We take them to the Lord, sometimes in our frustration, and He passes by in a quiet whisper to remind us He is still very much Sovereign.

Multiply the crumbs, Lord. Nourish the sparks into a mighty flame for You. Don’t let us give up on dreams that You put in our hearts.

All in all to say, the #ATLdevo is coming back. It might be a little different, too. I get to dream again, and ask the Lord just how He wants His fire disbursed.

Fight to keep your fire. What’s the dream in your heart that tends to wane in times of hardship? That. I pray a blessing over what that is for you. All to Jesus we surrender, and yes, that includes our doubts, our timing, our expectations, our judgments, and our past frustrations. And we exchange those for a fresh fire and a fresh hope, with a double scoop of unrealistic, and sprinkles of the impossible.

This song says it all: You’re unrelenting, with passion and mercy. Unstoppable love that never ends.

If Love is for us, who can be against us?

Crying, Birthing, & Dating

I found myself on the floor, weeping. I hadn’t cried that hard in a long, long time. I dare say it’s been years since I’ve cried so hard, for so long. My body shook with sobs. Snot was everywhere.

As the tears rolled, because of how I was kneeling, they went up to my eyebrows and then rolled down my forehead into my hairline. Upward tears.

I’ve never had such a thing happen to me before. Apparently, if you angle it just right with your face on the floor and cry hard enough to generate that many tears, they go UP your face.

God reminded me that the impact He is making through us is revolutionary. He’s flowing and blasting glory everywhere He is, which is in us. I was crying because I felt the presence of His glory. I was crying because I could feel the need for restoration of broken hearts. Most of all, I was crying because He showed me the impact I was making and it was unbelievable. All to His glory, but wow, there were so many people affected.

Phylla House is being birthed this year, its third year. It’s been real, it’s been a thing, but this year it’s being launched like never before. I’m excited and thankful that God gave me this calling.

Now, I’d like to confess that I was struggling with fear of what you might think. I’ve blogged about having the courage to start over, and yet I silenced myself from talking about dating and what’s happening in my life, thinking that you wouldn’t be happy for me or maybe equal me to some kind of Taylor Swift serial dater. Nah!

If you know my standards, you know this is just God having a sense of humor.

It’s actually going well. He’s been coming with me to church and loves Bethel. I’ve hung out with his family a few times. We’ve hiked, gotten food lots of times, watched movies, and we laugh. He’s so goofy and patient, steady. He loves routine like I do. He is a pro at affirmation. He’s thoughtful, smart, determined. He leaves surprises and “just because” flowers on my porch. I can’t not mention it. I can’t help but be vulnerable and say I am surprised. I am so surprised. My heart is genuinely dancing.

Sometimes we try to defend things that don’t need defending, ya know? Maybe it’s life and we learn as we go. Sometimes we try to date our friends to try to lower the risk of failure, and it still doesn’t work. Sometimes we meet someone brand new and have no choice but to sit next to him for hours. And even though he’s way too handsome and it’s horribly intimidating, you end up laughing and skipping out. And he chases after you and pursues you, and loves Jesus, and brings you flowers… and you wonder what the heck you did right?

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Welcome to my life at the moment. Crying upward tears, birthing a ministry, and dating. No shame in my game.

Yolo, Dating, and Starting Over

I’ve blogged before about 5 dating tips. I’ve given you a blog about how a man should pursue a woman. I’ve talked about how I sorta believe there is a “one” out there. And here I find myself single at 27, not like that’s a problem.

You see, I am a scientist, through and through. It’s my degree, my full-time job. I try to analyze and understand the data I have, the experiences, people, behaviors, and compatibilities. I’ve tried my best in the past to set myself up into relationships I thought would be successful, and even safe for my heart. I’ve told my girls to wait for someone who is worth a shot, not to date just anybody. I compared it to fast food versus gourmet. I’ve compared it to a limo versus a crazy taxi. “Don’t just jump into something out of impatience.” Part of those words, however true, were jaded with my past regrets.

There are pros and cons to being a girl who gets asked out. On the PRO side, “NO” is a word I’ve learned well. On the CON, some girls kinda hate me/envy the attention from the opposite sex. On the PRO, I have had the opportunity to root my worth in Christ versus affirmation from men because I’ve had a choice. On the CON, I’ve dated 4 people in the last 2 years, and they sometimes find themselves in the same room because God has a hilarious sense of humor and I dated 4 World Racers, that’s my bad. Hindsight is 20/20, babies.

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I vowed (oops) that I never wanted to start dating someone from scratch, that I wanted to “miraculously fall for a friend I already knew well” and that, my friends, is a vow that ended up hurting me quite a bit. I dated my best friend, my teacher, myself in a man’s body, and someone who dreams like me. All were just lessons for me. You see, the formula I was trying to apply just didn’t work. Why and how? No idea. No idea at all. But it made me think even more.

I realized that I still had shame, guilt, and fear buried underneath for all these years, because I still blamed myself for my divorce, that we didn’t know each other well enough. I blamed myself for choosing someone who didn’t choose me back. That’s ridiculous. So I wanted to completely avoid dating a stranger by investing my trust in ‘christian brothers’ and then hoping that out of those scattered seeds, perhaps God would work a miracle. Every girl has done this. Every. Single. Girl.

After my divorce, I didn’t really get into any relationships. I sorta tried, but the most that happened was being a wedding date, being someone’s designated driver, going on just one date, etc. Not glamorous. I had crushes, but I think it was my heart’s way of realigning and recalculating what I really admired. That process took 2 years. That’s a long time, for all you “single vow” makers, you try 2 years and let me know how that goes for you. Been there, done that. Check!

I have been single, I have dated, I’ve been engaged, I’ve been married, I’ve been in the in-between of it all. I’ve been the secret girlfriend, the one who waits, the counselor, the listening ear, the one who finally has enough, the one who is just a friend, the one who didn’t see the end coming, and the one who saw it months prior. I’ve been the one who keeps the secrets, the one who bottles up feelings, the one who pays, the one who prays, and the one who plans. I’ve heard the words “I love you” and known when they were true or false. I’ve been the one who was ready, and the one who wasn’t. I’ve been the one who fell apart when a relationship ended, and the one who miraculously didn’t. All this to say: I am choosing to be brave.

The easy thing for me would be to hide out for six months, to not talk about any of this, and to isolate myself from the community I’ve built through my vulnerability in this blog. That would be easy, but costly. I’d rather keep you all. I’d rather keep moving forward.

I am making the choice to be lighthearted, slow-paced, unassuming, and honest. I am choosing to wear my #PRAISEPONCHO and run out in the rain to dance. I renounced my vow to never start over from scratch.

There was one seat left at my new job’s orientation, and I ended up sitting next to a stranger, whose full name I didn’t know at the time, but on whom I made an impression. I waved goodbye and skipped out the door. He searched for me like Cinderella, and I think that’s worth some dates, yeah? I won’t be blogging about him any further than this, sorry to disappoint! But I will tell you that he’s pushing me into territory I haven’t had to be in, and that I’m finding new walls in my heart to bring down. Here’s to going on dates with a stunner who is a local believer, who has a higher degree than me, and who hasn’t been on the World Race. I’m tossing my formulas out of the window, and admiring how pretty they look in my rearview mirror.

Here’s to 2015, to all its plot twists, and to the courage to start over.