Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Perpetual Kinship - My Mom


Proverbs 1:8-9
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction
And do not forsake your mother’s teaching;
Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head
And ornaments about your neck.

MY Mom and I are very different. She's extroverted, I'm introverted. She's Type B, and I'm more Type A. She's a raincoat - letting insults roll right off of her like drops of rain. I'm a sponge - soaking in every word said to me and hurt by the smallest of offenses.

Because of our many difference, I have not always listened to the wise advice given in the verse above. I haven't always thought of my mother's teachings as a "graceful wreath" or "ornaments about my neck." I haven't considered them beautiful and priceless.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

How We Survived Hurricane Harvey - Part 2 of 2

This post is a continuation of How We Survived Hurricane Harvey. Read Part 1 here.

Matthew 8:26-27
He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” 

Sunday, August 27th
11:30 AM
The firefighters dropped us off on the main street in front of our neighborhood. We were greeted by dozens of other people who had also been rescued. Instead of getting out of the rain to the shelter up the road, these people stayed behind to help others, like us, get out of the boats so that the firefighters could move as quickly as possible to keep on rescuing.

How We Survived Hurricane Harvey (Pictures & Video Included) - Part 1 of 2

Job 37:9-13
Out of the south comes the storm,
And out of the north the cold.
From the breath of God ice is made,
And the expanse of the waters is frozen.
Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud;
He disperses the cloud of His lightning.
It changes direction, turning around by His guidance,
That it may do whatever He commands it
On the face of the inhabited earth.
Whether for correction, or for His world,
Or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.


Exactly 8 months ago yesterday, Hurricane Harvey hit our city and forced my family and me to evacuate our home. It was by far one of the most emotional, adrenaline filled days of my life. I've recorded the events of that stormy experience to the best of my knowledge in this post. All of the times are approximate and to be honest, some might be inaccurate because much of that day is blurry in my memory.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sometimes I Yell At My Kids When I Blog

I'm not proud of it. In fact I'm quite ashamed of it. My mind will be 100% focused on writing a blogpost, building my Pinterest page or watching a webinar about blogging. Then my toddler is whining for something he doesn't need and my baby is crying for attention. I get frustrated at my children for distracting me from work.

God is generally pretty quick to remind me that my children are a major reason why I work, and if anything is a distraction, it's my work distracting me from my kids. So I'm convicted.

But I think the enemy tries to use this conviction to make me think the my work is worthless. Well I got angry at my kid while I was writing that blogpost, so now it would be totally hypocritical of me to publish that post. Gotta throw it all out and wait until the timing is perfect before I write it again.

First - the timing is NEVER going to be perfect. Life is always

Thursday, April 19, 2018

34 Bible Verses About Storms


Recently I've wanted to compile a list of Bible verses about storms simply because life is filled with storms. As tempting as it was to just google "Bible verses on storms" and pull a bunch of verses from various lists, I felt like I would be cheating myself out of quality Bible study by doing it that way. So instead, I conducted my own research using The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance and various commentaries to compile this list.

A lot of these verses have great applications for facing storms in life, and offer hope despite doubt and fear, even in today's world, thousands of years after the divinely inspired authors wrote these verses. However, sometimes it's difficult to understand how it's applicable when you don't fully understand the context of the verse. So in parentheses next to several of the references, I've included little blurbs that attempt to give at least enough context to glean more value from the passage in regards to its real life application. (Some of the blurbs are taken from the headings of the NASB).

Saturday, April 7, 2018

I Stink At Styling My Hair


Everyone who sees me is going to think I'm an idiot because I stink at styling my hair. It may sound ridiculous, but for a good 20 minutes this morning, thoughts like this consumed my mind. I didn't have much time to get ready, and I honestly don't have the patience to spend an hour styling my hair.

I had my heart set on pigtails. After about 7 tries, I gave up. I sat there for a long time contemplating how many different people thought so little of me because my hair looks so bad. It sounds kind of funny now, but in that bad moment I truly felt like every woman in my life looked down me because I couldn't even do the basic feminine task of styling my hair. Even my best hair days feel like everyone else's "meh" days. I felt my self-worth plummeting as these thoughts continued to spiral downward.

Monday, April 2, 2018

God's Romance is Better Than Any Romantic Fantasy

I had to completely erase my first draft of this post because I neglected to include my own struggles in it. I tried to use modern day love stories, books and movies alike, to contrast with God's pursuit of us. But then I realized I wasn't really doing justice to the truth God has been illuminating to me recently. To accurately convey how He's been working on my heart, I had to be real and raw. And so, I'm sharing some embarrassing struggles of mine so you can see how I believe God's romance is so much better than any fantasy that the world, or our own minds, try to feed us.

Embarrassing Truth

Ever since I was a preteen, I have struggled with entertaining sexual fantasies. I believe it started with watching kissing and make out scenes in movies and TV shows, and then my mind wandered from there. I was drawn in by the thrill and excitement. To be touched, held and caressed by a strong, handsome man seemed like the dream. Of course, as a female, my fantasies

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Grace for the Descpicable

There are many days I look back over my day and think about how little I accomplished. Or at least it feels like very little. Having young children, it's amazing the amount of time it takes to do just the basic daily actions. I got them fed, kept them clean, and guided them through basic daily activities and interactions (lots of "no, no, don't do that!" and "be nice" and "thank you for listening!"). The many little things I never used to have to think about, I now have to constantly be aware of as I'm caring for helpless kiddos.

Basically, it just feels like all I accomplished throughout day was just basic functioning. It's funny how time consuming it is to just maintain status quo. But you know it's gotta be done, otherwise the little children would wreak havoc!

And then my mind starts to wander toward other children... The ones whose parents that don't seem to care about helping them understand basic functioning. The ones who've been neglected on being taught the absolute basics. Their parents or guardians have failed them. We look at those situations or read those stories and are appalled at the suffering of those children due to an adult's selfishness. To neglect children of these basic needs is despicable.

It can get easy to feel puffed up about our own "goodness" when hearing of such stories. We start to forget about our own sinfulness and get blissfully and self-righteously ignorant of our own short-comings. We forget about the One who makes it possible for us to be good in the first place.

Galatians 6:3-5
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.

Extending Grace

Keeping up with the highly demanding job of raising young children is hard. So very hard. And some parents fail. Some parents have never healed from their own messed up childhood, and I only imagine that they start to feel like they're drowning when they have their own kids requiring so much more of them. They feel like more is required of them than what they have to offer. They can't keep up, feeling crushed under the mental and emotional toll.  I imagine they feel like they amount to nothing, so they think "why bother?"

I'm not saying any of this to make excuses for neglectful parents. And in no way am I saying that people shouldn't be held responsible when children suffer at the hands of those who are supposed to take care of them (check out Matthew 18:6).

But I am saying let us not forget Who gives us every good thing in life. I know the only reason I'm able to be consistently there for my children is because of the One Who is consistently there for me. In and of myself, I'm not any better than other parents. My sinful nature renders me incapable of any holy or righteous act. Any goodness that comes from me is simply an extension of God's work through me. Every diaper change. Every meal prep. Every tedious correction (even the 100th time!).  It's all Him.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

So whenever we are tempted to think of how much better we are than others (be it other parents, peers, siblings, coworkers, family members, friends or acquaintances), let us first remember the depths of our own depravity. Let us not forget the terribly selfish things we ourselves are capable of when left to our devices, apart from the Holy Spirit. When we remember just how dark our own hearts are, it becomes easier to have grace for the despicable.

1 Peter 1:17-23
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 

1 Peter 3:8-9
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Our Tithing Journey


When I Was Younger...

I started working as a lifeguard at the YMCA when I was 16. Unfortunately my bank won't let me do a digital search of my transactions from so long ago, but to the best of my knowledge I did start giving to my church regularly once I started earning money (growing up, I was taught that it's important to tithe). But then I used almost every other dollar earned to buy new clothes and eat out at restaurants with my friends (I thought I was pleasing God by being "generous" by paying for their food too! haha oh my naivety).

...Then I Was Older

When Cameron and I got married, we had similar habits. We were giving to our church, but we didn't manage our money well. We struggled with living paycheck to paycheck for most of our marriage. Thanks to a friend's generosity, we attended Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University hosted by our church.

In the beginning, as we were learning to manage our money, we made it a point to tithe. But as time went on and we didn't see immediate rewards for it, we started to make excuses. We started giving less and less. Here and there we might have given the full 10%, but for the long-haul we weren't committed.

Making Excuses

"God understands," we told ourselves. "He knows we can't even afford insurance, let alone giving away more money. I think we're being obedient just by giving SOME money every month. Heck, many people don't give anything!" In reality, we weren't being obedient because we didn't trust God with our money.

Getting Convicted

A job loss and two kids later, we REALLY felt like we had good reason not to tithe. We were often reluctant to give our usual monthly giving. But then our pastor gave a series of messages on money. (He does one every year, so I don't know why we didn't see this coming!) Of course, one Sunday morning was all about tithing. He said something that struck Cameron and me to the core, "It is better to trust God with your 90% than yourself with 100%." Ouch!

Malachi 3:10
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the Lord of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows."

Biblical thinking often feels so backwards. Wordly thinking told us that we needed to cling to every dollar we had if we were going to have any hope of building wealth. But God told us to let go. Hold onto money loosely. Don't put faith in money, but in Him.

We were both deeply convicted that Sunday. It's a pretty cool thing when the Holy Spirit convicts both of us at the same time. This rare occurrence spoke volumes of God's powerful grace working on our hard hearts.

So in June of 2017, we started tithing the full 10%. Boy was that hard. We were doubtful. But we also had a strange, underlying feeling of confidence, knowing that we were completely in God's hands. That also happened to be the first month in a long time that our budget (we unashamedly use Mint.com) reflected positive cash flow. Around this same time, God provided a prosperous blessing to some of our close family members, which relates to our own story just a couple paragraphs down.

Doubt Creeps In

July came and went. And then came August 27th, 2018. We got flooded out by Hurricane Harvey. (I mean fleeing our home on foot, both babies held tighter than ever, trecking through feet of water to get to higher ground). We got over 3 feet of nasty creek and sewage laden water in our home, which then sat in that water for 3 full days before the water started receding. We lost easily 90% of our possessions.

For 8 days we stayed with family as we processed what just happened to us. We faced a whirlwind of emotions. In our best moments, we knew God was taking care of us and using this event for His purpose. In our worst moments, we thought, "Seriously God? We started truly tithing in faith. We thought you were supposed to reward obedience...where are You now?"

The Blessing Comes

But like I said, it was only for 8 days. During that time of processing and barely functioning, God and family were hard at work on our behalf (more details on that in our next post). But because of the financial blessing our family had received just a couple months earlier, they were able to help us quickly secure a new house to rent. A better house. A bigger house. A house closer to family, friends, church, work, and basically everything else in our lives.

All of our furniture, kitchen appliances and other basic home needs were replaced at almost no cost to us thanks to generosity from family and friends, money raised through our GoFundMe page, and a grant from FEMA.

Since we started tithing, God has essentially replaced most of our possessions with newer, updated versions. We have also been able to pay off a large chunk of credit card debt and put some money in savings. Financial goals that once seemed lightyears away are now within reach. God has taught us to be disciplined with our money (though I hate to admit that we still struggle with eating out more than we should) and helped us understand that He is so much more reliable than any earthly wealth. A natural disaster that should have caused us months and even years of devastation turned into an incredible blessing. 

Now it's not like we suddenly become super wealthy since tithing. God didn't make us millionaires driving our dream cars, living life without a care in the world. But He never promised that either. In the Old Testament, the purpose of the tithe was to build up the storehouse for times of famine. So He basically promises us that hard times will still come. But He will see us through.

We still have to make sacrifices (big shoutout to Cameron who sacrifices himself everyday for driving around a small Chevy Cobalt that feels like a go-cart compared to his old truck!). And it's tough not to get materialistic. But through all the craziness of the past 10 months since we've been tithing, we lean on God so confidently now.

Tithing Is Worth It When Given From a Grateful Heart

I'm not writing this post to brag and boast, "Look at me! I'm such a righteous person because I give so much money!" Instead, I hope this can serve as an encouragement to others that obedience is rewarding, especially when it's completely opposite of what you feel like doing. Trust in the Lord with your money by tithing and sticking to a practical budget, and in time you'll see how rewarding it is. It may not happen overnight, but stick with it and you will not regret it!

Proverbs 3:9
Honor the Lord from your wealth,
And from the first of all your produce

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Birth Stories: My Second Born

My youngest son is almost a year old. It's true when they say that the days are long but the years are short. Through all the chaos and mental breakdowns, I wouldn't change a single thing.

I previously wrote about the birth story of my first baby boy. And now I'm finally getting to the story of my second son's birth. Not for any special reason other than that I simply felt like it. 😃

My Second Born 

Quick Back Story

Ever since the birth of my first-born, I strongly believed that the ONLY reason I had a C-section was because I had an epidural. When I found out I was pregnant...surprised yet again...I desperately did not want another C-section. Besides wanting to avoid the long recovery time, I simply didn't like the idea of one of my internal organs being cut open for a second time. And I have heard that women who have multiple C-sections can pretty much say good-bye to ever having a flat tummy. So protecting my body and a little bit of vanity, among other reasons, played a part in my eventual decision to have a natural birth outside of a hospital.

Prenatal Care

(This section is mostly about what led me to choosing natural delivery with the help of a midwife rather than going to a hospital. If you just want to read about my birth story, skip down to the section labeled "The Labor").

At first, I chose to stay with my original OB (obstetrician), mainly because I was comfortable with her and scared to try anything new. My primary doctor said she would definitely help me try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), but that it is their policy to schedule a C-sections on the due dates for any women who have previously had one. When I told her I would really like a normal birth, she said that I would probably change my mind near the end of the pregnancy and just want the baby out in anyway possible...(seriously?). Another doctor in the practice asked me why I didn't want another C-section (again...seriously?!). I simply responded that I hope to have several children, but do not want several C-sections.

So after several appointments with the doctors at the practice, I was getting very discouraged and had a strong feeling that if I stuck with them, I would end up having another C-section.

Well into my second trimester, I spoke with a friend at church who was pregnant with her first child. She explained how she had chosen to deliver her child  with a midwife at a birthing center close by. She gave me the number and told me just to call and look into it. I figured it couldn't hurt, but since I was so far along, they probably wouldn't accept me.

So I went on a tour of the facility led by the midwife. In that short, half hour tour, I learned more about labor and delivery than I ever had from my OB. And they said they take patients who are close to their due date, and getting me in would be no problem. I went home and pondered it for a couple days. Asked my husband what he thought. He said he would support me in whatever I believed was best for my health and the health of our baby. (This is a blessing I've learned can be kind of rare as many fathers have very strong opinions about how the mother of their children should give birth). And so the more I thought and prayed, the more I was convinced that I needed to switch to the midwife.

It took a couple of weeks to deal with insurance issues (which were beyond stressful, causing this hormonal, overly-emotionally preggo to cry a few times) but I finally got switched over.

The Labor

Early that Saturday morning, sometime between 6 and 7, I thought I was maybe feeling contractions, but not completely sure. So I got out of bed and made pancakes for me and my family. And I scarfed them down.

By 9 AM, I knew without a doubt I was having serious contractions. By 9:30, they were strong and 2-3 minutes apart. So I thought to myself, "hopefully by noon, maybe 1PM, I'll be holding my baby Axel." I was very wrong.

I read that having a natural labor and birth meant having a clear mind throughout. Some materials even said that it didn't necessarily have to be painful, just really "intense." That was definitely not true for me!!! The pain was so bad that I could not hold down any food. I had thrown up my pancakes not long after active labor started, and I certainly didn't have a clear mind.

I made contact with my midwife by 10 AM, labored at home for a little while longer  (I went back and forth between kneeling, sitting on my exercise ball, and laying down), and then Cameron took me to the birthing center around noon. Both of our moms were with us, and my sister-in-law joined us a little bit later to take pictures and video. I also had my primary midwife and a student midwife there (the student midwife had actually practiced midwifery for a while in England, and was just working on getting certified in the States).

Almost immediately upon arriving at the center, my midwife had me in the birthing tub. I've heard many women say the warm water helps make contraction just a little more bearable...but I didn't really notice any difference. I spent somewhere between 5 and 6 hours total laboring in the tub.


The Delivery

I believe it was around 5PM that my midwife told me it was time to push. For an hour, I kept pushing but made no progress. (One of my favorite memories of my labor was the student midwife gently encouraging me, with her British accent saying, "Push through your bum!!"). During that time of pushing, my water broke, but I had no idea. I later learned that meconium was visible with the "water". I think this put the medical professionals in the room (the midwives and my mom) on high alert.

At almost 6:10PM, they moved me from the tub to the bed. I pushed for what felt like forever. Everyone in the room was encouraging me. I so wanted to give up. So I just took it one contraction at a time. Cameron was holding my head, having me sip water through a straw between contractions. I was so overwhelmed and I did NOT expect to have to push for so long.

We were nearing the end when Axel's head was born. At this point, my midwife immediately began suctioning him. I could see what she was doing, but I couldn't fully process what was going on. The contractions kept coming, but I wasn't allowed to push (just pant). I asked several times if he was okay, and she assured me that he was, and that I just needed to keep my focus on panting and relaxing as much as possible.

It turns out that Axel had inhaled some of his meconium. The moment his head was born, my midwife quickly and vigorously suctioned the meconium from his mouth and throat using an instrument that looked similar to a NoseFrida.

Finally, I was told to push again. A few minutes later, at exactly 8PM, Axel Wayne made his way into the world. He was purple and his cry was weak, but he was healthy. The midwife wiped him down real fast and handed him to me.

Post-Natal

I didn't care that I was buck naked in a room full of people. I was just happy to be holding my baby after nearly 12, painfully long hours of labor. In fact, I was eager to nurse him. But he rested on my chest as they stitched me up.

I was thankful to get bathed and clothed shortly after delivery (neither of which happened the same day with my first son). We stayed at the birth center a few more hours to monitor Axel's breathing and oxygen levels, making sure most of the meconium had left his system. We ate Chic-fil-a (thanks to my father-in-law for picking it up!), talked with family and cuddled with our sweet baby boy during this time.

At 1AM, we left the birth center and went home. It was nice to sleep in our own bed that night without nurses checking in on me and baby all the time. (Little did I know that it would be nearly 4 months before I would get 6 straight hours of sleep again!).

My recovery from Axel's birth was different than my recovery from JT's birth, but was just as difficult. It was very tough to walk around for about a week, but after two weeks I was walking fairly normal again (versus taking quite a bit longer to walk normally after my C-section). And (heads up on TMI) it took me several weeks to get control of my bladder (unlike the last time, where I had virtually no problems with bladder control). And just like my C-section recovery, it was a solid 3 months before I had the energy to really get out of the house. Although, there were 3 major circumstantial differences in my two recoveries:

  1. I had to chase around a toddler all day
  2. It took my second baby close to 4 months to stop waking up every 2-3 hours to breastfeed, and nearly 6 months to start sleeping 8-10 hours/night (unlike my first, who was about 10 weeks old by the time we was sleeping a solid 12 hours/night)
  3. I started working a new job (although from home, it was still mentally taxing to start new job so soon post-partum)
So the combination of pushing 3 hours prior to delivery and the very demanding season of my life made recovery rather slow.

Reflection

Throughout the pains of labor, I didn't think about much besides just getting through the pain. Between contractions, I simply focused on breathing and resting (often drifting to sleep before the next contraction woke me up again). I wish I could say I prayed, that through the pain I cried out to Jesus in anticipation of the beautiful boy he was giving me. But I didn't. I just desperately wanted it all to be over.

Looking back, I know full well that He got me through it. Even though I didn't see Him or hardly thought about Him, He was thinking of me. He kept me going, and He made sure Axel didn't suffer any long-term damage from the complications.

After having two babies, I have learned a lot about how my body works - its strengths and weaknesses. For example, after my first son was born, I was completely convinced that the only reason I had a C-section was because of having an epidural. While it is true that I was very unsuccessful in pushing JT because I couldn't feel a darn thing, I also believe I would've made little to no progress even without the epidural. I had in no way prepared myself physically or mentally for labor with my first born. With my second born, I constantly prepared myself mentally and took much better care of myself physically, yet I still struggled for 3 hours to push that baby out. Looking back, I definitely believe I would've had a C-section with my first even had I opted out of the epidural.

Giving birth and taking care of young children is very demanding on mind, body and spirit. I am constantly reminded of God's sustaining grace through all of it.

I often doubt that my experiences, failures and victories, trials and successes, don't matter much in the big picture of eternity. I mean, billions of women have given birth throughout the course of history, so what does my story matter to the mighty God who has seen it all?
Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. - Luke 12:6-7
One of the coolest things about our God is that He is infinite, not limited by time like we are. Thus, He has the amazing ability to not only care about everything we experience, but to be present in it. Even when we are unaware.

And so I remember that just as I was unaware at the time of how much God was present during my labor and delivery, I am often unaware of how present He is in my daily circumstances. But despite how much I forget, He never does.