Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Reflections, 2014 Anticipations

One of the healthiest practices I have started in the past few years has been to reflect and plan at the end of each year.  I've never been a big one for New Year's resolutions, but I do think that it is important for Christians to take time of reflection and goal making on a regular basis, and the end of the year is a great time to do this.  Doing this yearly is probably a minimum, and some women I know do this more like quarterly or even monthly.
'Even when you can't see what we're holding, our body language tells you that we're talking on a cellphone' photo (c) 2009, Ed Yourdon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Motherhood can be busy, and sometimes we as mothers can run around wasting our time because we haven't thought through how to use it best.  I encourage you to find a babysitter and get away to a coffee shop or some other place you enjoy to think through these questions.  At the minimum, take a whole nap time (if you are still fortunate enough to have all of your kiddos napping every day!) and sit down in a comfy chair with a hot beverage.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you think through the past year (I like to write out my answers in a journal), focusing on strengths and weaknesses...

1.  What was the best thing that happened to you in 2013?
2.  What was the hardest thing that happened to you in 2013?
3.  In what ways did you see the hand of God in your life this past year?
4.  What are you thankful for from this past year? (Go ahead- make an exhaustive list.  You should be able to come up with 1-2 pages... God is good, even in the hardest years.)
5.  What aspect of your work did you enjoy most this past year?
6.  What spiritual discipline did you grow in this past year?  How did it affect your walk with God?
7.  What were the best books you read this past year?
8.  How did you grow this past year emotionally, physically and spiritually?

And after you think/write through those things, ask yourself these questions to help to be intentional about your time in 2014....

1. What is one thing you could do you to be more satisfied in God this year?
2. What domestic skills do you want to learn or grow in more this year?
3. What books would you like to make it a point to read this year?  Which one will you start with?
4.  What distracted you from God this past year and how will you change that (by God's grace) this upcoming year?
5. Whose salvation do you want to pray for most fervently this year?
6. How can you best love and serve your church this year?
7. What is the biggest step of faith you want to take this year?  How will you trust God with this?
8. What relationship(s) do you want to grow in this year?  How will you invest in them?
9. In what ways would you like to grow as a wife this year?  As a mother?
10. What single thing do you plan to do this year that will matter most in 10 years?  In eternity?

[Thanks to Justin Taylor and Tsh Oxenrider for influencing my personal year end reflection (and contributing to some of the questions above)].

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our First Full Week in Indiana

Yesterday marked our first full week as residents of Indiana.  As most of our life has been the past few years (especially the past few months!) it has been hard but good.

God has provided in so many ways, its hard to even list.  The other day, I made a list of all the people who helped us in a major way with this move, and I came up with a full page of names.  That is God's grace to us, an undeserved present from Him for which I am grateful.  This move could not have happened without the love and support of many friends and family members.  I am humbled by it all, but also reminded of how much God is in this move, by his provision (several major things he even provided before we knew we needed it!)

This move has been such a sweet reminder to us of how good it is to be in fellowship with God's people.  Our church in California helped us majorly with the move: friends put in many, many long hours to help us pack up and clear out and clean up our house.  And our church here has welcomed us with open arms from the first day we got here, feeding us, helping us find a place to live, even loaning us folding chairs right now while we don't yet have furniture.  Our Christian brothers and sisters are truly family in every sense of the word.

Thank you for all of your prayers for us.  So much of this move was a step of faith: moving here without a place to live or a job for Alex or even health insurance for my pregnancy.  But we knew that God, who is a loving Father, is more eager to provide for us than even we are to provide for Esther.  And he has shown much kindness to us.

Please continue to pray for us, as we are still trusting God to provide in some big ways in the next few weeks.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Its all gonna burn...

One of the things that I try to live by daily is the fact that only three things in life are eternal: God, God's Word and the souls of people.

Along with that is the idea that one day, its all gonna burn.  What I mean by that is that one day, all of our material possessions will be gone.  Nada.  No more.  And I make it my goal daily to live for those things that will be eternal, not temporary.

As as side note, I don't believe that all physical items are necessarily bad.  The new earth, too will be physical, and I believe that the physical things we experience here prepare us for that future joy.  Just to be clear.

But, as I mentioned before, I do believe that everything here will burn one day.  And we should live in light of that.  I have really experienced this reality through our move so far.  As we downsize, we are giving away items that we use daily, and selling other items for pennies on what we originally paid for them.  Other items are being placed in our back ally and taken by people who will just sell them for scrap metal.  One example is our chicken coop, which we spent hundreds of dollars to pay for the material and Alex spent hours upon hours building.  We hoped to sell it for a few hundred, but ended up giving it away to someone who disassembled it to use for the parts.  We didn't get any money for it and it wont even be used as a chicken coop any more.

And sometimes its really hard to see stuff like this happen.  Things that we had hope for, things that we saw being a part of our future.

But it has taken one important reality deeper: one day, its all gonna burn.  ALL of our stuff will be gone.  Even the small (comparatively) amount of stuff that we love and use enough to actually move with us is going to burn one day; it will all be gone.  And I want to live in light of that really, truly, tangibly being true.

And on the other end of that is another important reality:  all of our stuff is a gift from God.  As each item goes, I think about how it came to us: some items were gifts, some (actually many!) were hand-me-downs (we like hand-me-downs!), some were garbage picked :), some were paid for from our hard-earned money, some were long sought after and hunted and finally found at garage sales and thrift stores.  Everything has a story and a purpose in our household.  And all these things are gifts, just for the time being, to point us to the loving hand of the Father, who provided them.

Do we need stuff?  No.  We are realizing that more and more as we downsize.  But stuff isn't bad.  We are hopeful and prayerful that God replaces a lot of it after we move.

But as with most things in life, I am sure he'll do it in a much different way than we are hoping or expecting.  And that is a bit scary, but also a bit exciting.  Its always an adventure to follow Jesus by faith.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Short Update

Its been a while since I've posted but we're still alive over here.

Five days from now I will be getting in a car and leaving the place we have called home the majority of our marriage.  In a way I am very, very excited, but in another way it barely seems real.

Moving is a lot of work.  We are making progress daily, but we are working from sun up to sun down. I will be really, REALLY happy when this is all done.

God has been good to us.  My cousin is here right now to help with the move, which is a huge blessing.   We would not have gotten nearly as far with things at this point if it wasn't for her!  Our garage sale was a big success.  Our chickens *finally* sold, the exact day that we needed them gone.

Please continue to pray for us.  We don't yet have a place to live, and we expect to be in Bloomington in just over a week (eek!  but God can and will provide!).  Pray for the final logistics of the move to work out, especially in getting rid of the last of our stuff, cleaning up the house and garage and for a safe trip.

Thank you!

Monday, December 2, 2013

November in Our Home

Its hard to believe that November is over.  Every day of November seemed like ten days packed into one, for how much we had going on.

A week into November, much of our waiting was over.  We knew that Baby Boy R was going to live with his cousin, Alex's job came to an end and we settled on a plan that had been in the works for a while: moving to Indiana.  Since making that decision, it has been a whirlwind.

A few days after deciding to move, we also found out the gender of our baby: we're going to have a boy!  We would have been happy with a boy or a girl, but its fun to pray for and look forward to James Hudson Taylor Costa joining our family in just 4 months.

The ultrasound that revealed Hudson's gender also brought some grave news: doctors are seeing something in his chest/diaphragm area that they are unsure about.  After several follow-up ultrasounds, it looks like best case scenario is that its nothing (its really hard to discern what it what on a fuzzy ultrasound) worse case is that it might be a lung cyst, which has a good prognosis.  So, while its a bit concerning, overall we are not too worried.  But please keep our baby Hudson in prayer, that he will be healthy and moreover that he will love and serve God with his life.

The middle of the month was full of logistical matters relating to our move, including starting to pack and downsize, and Alex flying to Indiana to look for housing and a job.  I've barely had any downtime since our decision to move, because there is so much to pack into a few short weeks (except for Sabbaths... I always Sabbath and am thankful for that gift from God.)

The last week of the month, a couple days before Thanksgiving, Baby Boy R went to live with his cousin and we once again became parents of an only child.  We are happy for the time the God had him with us, and prayerful that his new living situation will be good for him.

Last Bootcamp! (see all the sweat?)
The day before Thanksgiving was our last bootcamp.  I made it one of the hardest workouts in a while, haha.  It was also bittersweet for me.  I will miss my mommy friends, and Esther will miss her kiddo friends.  And what will working out look like after we move?  Will I be motivated to workout by myself indoors all winter?  Many things will change when we move.  I will have to wait and see how these areas of life play out.

Thanksgiving was exactly how I'd hoped: we spent the day as a family and with a few friends from church.  The food was delicious, the day was relaxing and we all laughed a lot (especially while playing scattergories :) ).

And now the countdown begins.  We are less than two weeks away from our big move, and I expect that the days are going to fly by.  This week we will continue to sort through our stuff, deciding what will be packed and what we will sell or give away.  Later this week, my sweet, godly cousin will be flying out to help us pack and move.  Next week (our last week in Cali) will be lots of packing boxes and cleaning our house before we go.  I can't believe how close that is.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Introverted Motherhood

Motherhood is hard.  Maybe thats why lots of mothers pay other people to do the grunt work.

And I have heard it said that for introverts, all the difficulties of motherhood are compounded, making it much harder for the introverted mother than the extroverted mother.  The first time I heard this, I knew that it was true, but it also slightly depressed me.  It was discouraging to hear that my main calling for the majority of my life is going to be much harder for me than for the average mother (it is estimated that 60-75% of people in the US are extroverted).

But it was refreshing for me to look at this "problem" from a Biblical perspective with a gospel focus.  Jesus himself said "My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).  That means that I have a greater opportunity to experience Christ's grace and power exactly because of this weakness in my life.

This is a painful but glorious realization.  It is hard to come to terms with the idea that a weakness is good.  We want to feel strong, we want to feel like we can handle life on our own.  We want to think that we are equipped with all the skills needed to be a good mother.

But deep down we know that we aren't strong and that we can't do it on our own.  And thats why it is glorious to know that Jesus' power is made perfect in our weakness, that God not only works despite our weakness, but that he works better because of our weakness.  And that is the introvert's strength in motherhood.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Faith and Stuff

One of the most sanctifying parts of our move so far has been our downsizing.  We are getting rid of the vast majority of our stuff, including all but a few pieces of our furniture, the majority of Esther's toys, almost all of our baby stuff (even as we expect another one in 5 months), about half of our clothes, some of our books, any kitchen item that isn't used regularly and tons (TONS) of little odds and ends.

Some of the items we are selling, and we will use the money towards establishing our household once we move and replacing the items we have sold.  Most of our stuff isn't worth a lot, and we are just giving it away to good homes.

This has been quite an exercise of faith in a number of ways.  As I mentioned before, though sometimes  getting rid of stuff has felt freeing, more often I have feelings of, "How are we going to replace this?  How will we live without ___?  What if God doesn't provide another _____ after we move?"

But in the midst of my doubt, my anxiety, even my idolatrous love of things, God has been so gracious to me.  When I am tempted to want to grasp on to our stuff, he has been faithful to keep me open handed.  He has been very faithful to help me remember that ALL of our stuff is a gift from him... whether someone gave it to us or we bought it, He has been the provider.  And reminding me that He can provide again once we move.  Its been good to remember the example of so many missionaries that I respect, including Hudson Taylor (the namesake for our son due in April) and George Mueller who owned so little (and were eager to give away what little they owned when necessary) and didn't even ask for financial support, but just prayed to God to provide all of their finances.  This is true of us too (even though sometimes we are tempted to feel like we are providing for ourselves).  God is just as much our Father, and we need to depend on him and look to him and trust in him as though that is true. Just like I hope that Esther trusts us to provide her with all she needs (even though her definition of "need" doesn't always match our definition), so too I want to trust God.

And the cool thing is, the more stuff we give away, the less I feel attached to our stuff.  Stuff can be like a ball and chain some times and the problem is that we have lived so long with the ball and chain, we feel like we need it locked around our ankle in order to stay attached to the ground.  When I am tempted to think that I need a certain item, giving it away is so freeing, to realize that our stuff doesn't control me and that yes, we can still live and thrive without that certain item.

It has also been eye opening to see how easily our children can become idols (and how its easy to justify our idolatry of them).  The hardest thing to get rid of haven't been our books or our clothes or even kitchen items, as much as I love to cook.  The hardest things to get rid of have been some of Esther's toys (we are keeping a fair number of toys, but getting rid of many of them, especially the big ones).  I know that she loves her toys.  And I love seeing her play with her toys.  And (selfishly) I love that her toys keep her occupied when I am trying to get something else done.  And its more easy for me to justify keeping her toys than any of my own stuff, because I so strongly want the best for her.  Its hard for me to remember that getting rid of some of her toys is even beneficial for her, helping her to learn to live simply and not feel a need to own lots of stuff.  I have to remember that contentment for Esther will never come from the amount of stuff she owns, but only from God.

Another truth that God keeps reinforcing is that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).  There are many items that I have wanted to keep for us, but realized that there is another person who could benefit from them more.  In each of these cases, God has reminded me that giving is the better option, and that blessedness comes from giving.  And when I take the step of faith to just give things away, it is so fun to feel the joy that comes from being a blessing to another person.

I feel grateful to God that this has been a rather easy lesson in the grand scheme of things.  Often sanctification is very painful, but God has been good to not let me dwell in anxiety over saying goodbye to stuff, and redirect my focus to prayer and actively seeking to trust Him.  The trust and peace he has given me is truly supernatural, nothing I could produce within myself on my own.

Its been fun to see the random ways that God has provided for us in the past few years (often times in the least expected way) and I look forward to seeing how he continues to provide in the next few weeks and months.  This past summer, we have a friend who moved to the same town in Indiana that we are moving to.  He moved with absolutely no furniture, and within a week or two had his apartment almost completely furnished from items that were just given to him.  I remember his faith and how he praised God for each piece of furniture that God gave him.  I look forward to getting to experience God in the same way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ten Things I am Looking Forward to About Indiana

In the midst of mourning what we are leaving behind, I am also looking ahead to many good things once we move to Indiana.  Since I grew up in the midwest, many of these things are close to my heart. Some of them I took for granted until we moved to California and left them behind.

1.  Land - One of our dreams for a while has been to have more space to do things like have a large veggie and herb garden, get more chickens (we currently have five but could easily use the eggs from 10 or more chickens) and maybe even a couple goats or a cow (fresh, abundant, raw milk... would be amazing!!).  And even just land to spread out and not feel so confined, like it feels like some times in SoCal.

2.  No Street Sweeping - Ok, I totally get why the city does street sweeping, and understand that I benefit from it because our streets look much nicer than they would without it... but regardless street sweeping is such a hassle.  Most of the time that Alex and I have lived at this house we have given our only prime parking spot away... first to our roommate Katy, and later to my Mom.  That leaves us with three cars (because we house our church's van) parked on the street to move for street sweeping twice a week.  And that one time you forget, they pounce on you with a $50 ticket, which we inevitably get  3-5 times per year. Or you are out at a friends house and don't think to look at the street sweeping sign and bam- before you know it they nail you.  Its also slightly heart-attack inducing every time you hear the street sweeper come down the street, especially when you can't remember for sure where the car is parked.

I look forward to no longer having this twice a week stress in my life!

3. No Black and Brown Widow Spiders - Ugh.  Black widows have been my arch nemesis since we have moved here.  I'm constantly spider-checking Esther's toys, checking under plant leaves in the garden and going on night spider hunts (widow spiders are nocturnal, so the best time to hunt and kill them is at night when they are out on their web.  During the day they find a crack or crevice to hide in).  I have had several close calls with them (mostly when I bring in garden produce that they are somehow hidden in) but God (truly in his grace) has prevented me (or anyone else in the family) from getting bitten.  But I will breathe a bit easier when I no longer have to wonder if they are hiding somewhere nearby.  Yuck.

4.  Fall.  And rain (especially thunderstorms).  And maybe even snow (a little bit).  As much as I love having perfect weather 80% of the year, I also miss seasonal changes and the smell of rain.  I wish that I didn't have to water my garden 1-3x times per week, every week, as long as I want it to produce.  I'm even looking forward to snow a little bit (mostly for Esther's sake, I think she is going to love it!).  And SoCal thunderstorms are sooooo lame.  They happen once or twice a year, and involve a couple cracks of thunder, tops.  Laaaaaame.

5.  More pouring in, less pouring out - Ever since we have been married, Alex and I have been doing ministry and constantly pouring out to others.  There are things I love about doing ministry, but it can also be very draining at times.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think ministry is optional; all believers should be doing ministry, should be serving others in some capacity.  And we will continue to do so after the move.  But in Bloomington, we will be some of the less spiritually mature people at our church, and I really like that idea.  We will also not be doing foster care for at least a year or so, which will be a nice break.  Both Alex and I see this move as an opportunity to grow in our faith in a way that will make us much better parents, more prepared for the mission field, and much stronger Christians in general.  It reminds me of one of my most favorite verses: "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10).  After several difficult years of tearing us down in many ways, I think God is going to use the next few years to build us up again.  And I'm really looking forward to it.

6.  More normal cost of living. - Cost of living in Southern California is completely insane.  Taxes alone on a small house run about $500/month!  In the midwest you can rent a small house for that price (the first place Alex and I lived was a one bedroom house for $550/month).  When we are no longer putting 75% of our monthly budget towards rent and basic bills (not even including groceries), life will seem more normal and sane.

7. No traffic.  Even if we were moving back to a smaller city, like Columbus or Indianapolis, the traffic would be nothing compared to here, but we are moving to a town where it will be almost non-existent. In the LA/OC area random traffic on Saturdays, at 11pm at night, and at noon are all things we have experienced (and don't even get surprised about any more).  There are some places on some highways pretty much always have traffic no matter what time of day you travel.  Don't even get me started on "traffic hour" which is really like half the day around here.  I have never liked driving, but I like it much less since living here.  The thought of congestion free roads and predictable travel times is very, very appealing.

8.  Friendly People - Let's be honest, Californians are not the most friendly people.  Especially on the road, where everyone is trying to kill everyone else to get to their destination one minute faster.  Even in neighborhoods, people aren't that friendly with each other.  We have had to work hard to get to know our neighbors, and still feel like we're hitting a brick wall at times.  The culture in the Midwest is different... people generally trust each other, and there is less competition and people generally want the best for one another.  I look forward to being back in this kind of environment.

9.  Green grass.  And trees. - Any green grass in Southern California is only green by artificial means (chemicals and/or lawn sprinklers).  I miss naturally green grass. Real grass.  And as much as I thought I would love palm trees, I miss "regular" trees.  Especially forests.  I can't wait to go hiking in a forest again, and not the desert landscapes that are typical of So Cal hikes.

'Green tree path' photo (c) 2010, Heather Paul - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
10. Local farms - Farmer's markets in Southern California abound, but most of the farms that source the markets are 2 or more hours away.  And the prices really aren't that great as the farmer's markets generally cater to a more upscale audience.  I am looking forward to being able to drive to local farms, and pick up quality produce, meat, milk and eggs.  Raw, grass-fed milk is $15 per gallon here, but in Indiana we will be able to pick it up straight from a farm (in a glass jar even!) for $6 per gallon!  We will also be able to buy a grass-fed cow portion, and get loads of quality meat for a fraction of what we pay here.  I'm looking forward to picking my own apples in the fall for a fraction of the store-bought price. I think that produce prices will be higher in the winter in Indiana, but other than that I expect that the local, farm fresh food to be unmatched by our experiences in California.

Indiana, here we come!  Less than three weeks until we leave!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Update on Our Move

We are just three weeks and one day away from our big back-across-country move.  Somehow this move seems a bit harder than last time.  Oh yeah, thats probably because last time we didn't have little people running around unpacking boxes after we just packed them. :)  Also, last time we didn't downsize very much, and moved in a 24' truck.  This time, we are hoping to fit the majority of our stuff in the back of two cars.
'Welcome to Indiana' photo (c) 2007, Vicki Timman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Things are moving forward, sometimes slowly, but steadily.  Our big focus now is selling and giving away a LOT of stuff... we are majorly downsizing for the move because 3,000 miles of gas in a big truck loaded with stuff is expensive, and much of our stuff was used/hand-me-down when we got it, so its not worth moving across the country.  We've posted tons of stuff on craigslist, and had many people come this week to buy, but there is still SO much to get rid of.

Last week, Alex flew to Indiana for six days.  The purpose of his visit was to secure housing for us and find a job.  He made steps forward in both of those areas, but we were both hoping that something would be more set in stone than it currently is.  He has two possible job leads (neither are very firm yet) and we have two possible housing leads.  At the moment, neither housing option seems like it would be open by mid to late December.

But God has been good to me.  Though I often struggle with anxiety about things of this magnitude (especially considering all the loose ends that still need to be tied up), I generally feel a lot of peace right now, even though we don't have a place to live or health insurance once we move lined up yet.  But I know that if God wants us to move (which we firmly believe He does) then he has to provide these things to make it happen.  Its a good thing that I recently read the autobiography of George Mueller and the biography of Hudson Taylor, because both of these men were missionaries who lived by faith- they never asked anyone for financial support, they would just pray that God would provide.  And He always did.  I am reminded that we are in the same position- we are dependent on our Heavenly Father to provide everything we need, and he is faithful and trustworthy, and I know he will provide, I just don't know yet how he will do so.

And God has been dealing a lot with my heart, and showing me some idolatry.  I feel like I generally do pretty well with not loving "stuff" especially in comparison to most Americans.  But in the midst of getting rid of so many things (even items we use on a daily basis) I sometimes get a bit anxious.  "How will we live without ___?" or "Will God provide us with another ____ after we move?".  But I have to remind myself, God provided us with all of this stuff in the first place, and he can easily replace it all (and even with better stuff, if he so chooses).  Or maybe he wants us to live more simply for a while.  I don't know what his will is, but I do know that all we have is from God, and we can only look to him to continue to provide, and that is a comforting thought.

We do need lots of prayer at this time.  Would you take a couple minutes to pray for us?

*Pray for God to provide Alex with a job.  He has two possible job leads so far, as well as an idea for a business he may start.  The good news is that he will be getting unemployment from his layoff, but if we want to buy a house (which we are hoping tp do) he will need a job in the mortgage industry (one of his two possible job leads is in the mortgage industry).

*Pray for us to have peaceful hearts and trust in God, especially for his provision in all of it.

*Pray for God to provide us with a place to live when we move- preferably something long term (meaning something we could rent to own or buy right off the bat).

Thank you!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Eight Things I Will Miss About Southern California

As our last few weeks in Long Beach come quickly to a close, I have been reflecting on things that I will miss about living here.  Here is a list of some of the things, in no particular order.

'Avocado' photo (c) 2009, Jaanus Silla - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
1. Avocados - I was introduced to the yummy goodness of avocados about a year before moving to California.  Since we have moved, we definitely eat them even more because they are cheaper here and sometimes we are even fortunate enough to have people share them from their backyard trees (if we were going to live here long term, I would most definitely get a backyard avocado tree!) Unfortunately, even here, at 50 cents to $1 per small avocado (and more for large) they feel like a bit of a splurge, and it will be more so when we move.  So, I know we aren't saying good bye to all avocados, but most likely goodbye to eating them on a regular basis.

2. Anchor Community Church - As I mentioned before, our four years in Long Beach have been some of the hardest years of our lives.  It seems like just as one trial is being resolved, we are blind sided by another.  The one bright spot of our time here has been our church.  I love the theological discussions amongst the members of our community group.  I love talking about God and his majesty and our desires to see others know him.  I love all the fun hangouts and parties that are always happening, that everyone in church is invited to (our church is small enough that for most parties and hang outs, pretty much the whole church is invited).  I love that I know everyone at church and significant things about their lives.  I love that I have seen people grow in significant ways in our past four years here.  I love how our church has really come around all six of our foster children and loved on them like their own.  I love that whenever we have had a need (a ride to/from the airport, help with moving, babysitting) we have had no problems finding someone from Anchor to help out.  I love our church.

Thank you, Anchor.  We really appreciate you and will miss you!

3. Trader Joe's - My first encounter with Trader Joe's was in Ohio.  A friend of mine went on and on about how great the store was and how great their prices were.  I checked it out, but found the drive too far and the prices not that great.  Fast forward three years to living in California.  I didn't go to TJ's much at first, but after we moved so close to one (15 minute walk away, 5 minute drive) I go at least 1-2x per week.  I have discovered that at Trader Joe's their specialty foods are not a great price, but a lot of their staples (things like pasta, cheese, milk, some meats, some produce) are really good prices, especially because all of their products are GMO free and artificial flavoring/coloring/preservative free. At other stores you usually have to pay a premium for these type of products (added benefit is that I don't have to read labels to figure out if the products have these things in them).  Even the weeks that I am most on top of my meal planning, I often forget an item or two that I need for a certain meal until last minute.  I love that I can walk to TJ's, pick it up, stop by the park with the kiddos for a bit and be home again within an hour and a half.

Right after we decided to move, one of the first things I looked up was whether Bloomington has a TJ's (I thought there might be somewhat of a chance, because of the university in town), but alas the closest one is in Indianapolis.  I am already mentally anticipating monthly or so one hour drives to get to my beloved TJ's.  Oh how I will miss it being around the corner.

4. Walking - Trader Joe's and the park aren't the only place we walk to.  We are fortunate to live stratiegically placed around tons of useful places to walk.  There are six grocery stores within walking distance of our house, three parks, a library, a Target, a Big Lots, a post office, and our church.  Not only is walking healthy, it also saves on gas and is easier than wrestling kiddos into carseats.  Its also a great way for an introvert like me to sort of feel like I'm getting some alone time, as I walk and pray and think.  In addition to having things so close, the good weather here makes it easy to walk almost any time of year.
'Walk' photo (c) 2009, Peter Blanchard - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

5.  Year round good weather - The good weather here was one of the reasons that Alex always wanted to live in Cali before we moved. I love that I have been to outdoor weddings and birthday parties in November, December, January.  I love that you rarely have to worry about the weather when you plan some sort of activity.   And I do think that we have gotten a bit spoiled.  I almost take it for granted that I can take the kiddos to the park in the middle of January.  And that we only turn on our AC for maybe a week or two all summer.

Ironically, this is also something I wont miss about Southern California... as a gardener, I really would like it to rain more.  I also often miss the seasonal changes, especially fall.  And occasionally, I even get bored of the fact that the majority of the days during the year are sunny and in the 70's.  But I also know that I will miss it when I'm gone.  Especially when I can't work out outside any more!

6.  Bootcamp - The good weather also lends itself to another one of my favorite things about living here... bootcamp.  Bootcamp has been going on since before Esther was born.  Basically, twice a week I get together with other moms from the area for a workout/playdate.  They come to our house, and us moms work out for about an hour on our back patio while our kiddos play in the yard (or often running around us on the patio while we work out, despite our best efforts to convince them that the yard is more fun :) ).  I love that it keeps me on track with working out regularly, and that I don't feel like working out is taking time away that I should be spending with the kiddos, because they get to play with their friends.  I love seeing other moms on a regular basis and getting to chat about life and mommyhood.

7.  Natural minded Mamas - Being healthy and naturally minded is really trendy in Southern California, but its something that I have always valued deeply even since before moving here.  So it is convenient and helpful that since living here I have found many like-minded people, especially other Mamas.  I love that I have never felt out of place for breastfeeding, and that most of my friends, like me, have breast fed their children into toddlerhood.  I love that I have friends who also cure everything with essential oils, seek out the best deals on organic foods, spend hours in the kitchen in order to serve nutrient dense homemade meals, have babies without medicine (and sometimes even - gasp - at home!) and question the CDC childhood vaccination schedule.

8.  Year round growing season and backyard fruit - I love that when I am making hummus, or guacamole, or any other recipe calling for lemon juice, I just walk to my back yard and grab a lemon.  Its actually pretty amazing to me, and we've had a lemon tree for over three years now.  There is a really high percentage of people in Southern California who have backyard fruit trees.  I'm guessing that its because of the weather that the trees do especially well here.  Most fruit trees produce way more than the owners can eat, so we have benefitted by receive other people's extra pomegranates (in fact, I'd never even had a pomegranate until we moved here!), grapefruit, oranges, avocados, lemons, limes, apples and peaches (and have given away a number of our lemons, even from our small tree).

Relatedly, I will also miss the year round growing season.  I have only gotten into gardening the past two years or so, and haven't even fully taken advantage of growing each season.  But last winter, we were getting tomatoes well into February until I finally just tore out our plants (by that time, they were taking for-ev-er to ripen because of the colder weather).  Fresh homegrown tomatoes in February!

There is much to look forward to, but also much to mourn as we say goodbye.  These things will all be missed greatly when we move on to our next stage of life!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Faithful Families and their Extraordinary God

[First of all, I have to give credit for the title of this post to Noel Piper's great book].

For anyone who has considered adoption (especially foster care adoption) this is a great article from the New York Times: God Called Them to Adopt.  And Adopt.  And Adopt.

I read this article last week and have been thinking about about it a lot ever since then.

On one hand, I find it really encouraging.  I am so spurred on to hear about these families willing to adopt one, two, three (or more!) special needs kiddos from the foster care system.  When most people adopt, they just want the typical kids, the ones with the least amount of problems as possible.  But these families have intentionally sought out the ones that no one else wanted (which is exactly what God has done with believers... sought us out and saved us and adopted us when no one else wanted us, in the midst of our mess and problems).

On the other hand, I found it eye-opening, sobering and a bit discouraging.  Somehow, I believe that things with foster kids get easier after an adoption is finalized, or at least after they are in a healthy/typical family for a few years.  Its a reality check to realize that it might be hard for years to come (though certainly not always).

And for a few days after reading it, I felt really discouraged.  I wondered, "How could I ever do that? Should we even pursue foster care adoption if these things are a possibility?".  I think this hit especially hard right now because of how high needs baby boy R is.  And with him, we know that he is leaving in a couple weeks, but could I commit to a child who might be this high needs for years to come?

And then God helped me to realize something.  These families aren't special.  Sure, God may have created them in certain ways to make their life situation more doable (for example one of the moms mentioned not needing much sleep at night).  But ultimately, there is nothing in these families that no other believer has access to.  They adopt because God first adopted them.  They adopt because God gives them the love and the strength to care for their children.  God has adopted all believers, and can give any one of us the strength to do the most difficult ministry, including adopting a high needs child.

And that was a little bit of a relief.  And also a bit scary.  Because to get us to the point where we could do something that difficult, God would need to do a lot of work.  And I don't know if I want to be stretched that far.  But only God knows if we will ever adopt, and if we do, what it will be like when that happens.  And whatever he does, it will be for our good and the good our children.  And I can base my hope on that truth.

[If you haven't yet, I encourage you to read the article God Called Them to Adopt.  And Adopt.  And Adopt. whether or not you have considered adoption or foster care.]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Beans, Beans, Beans

We've been eating a lot of beans recently.

'Bean.' photo (c) 2007, Linus Bohman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For two reasons.  First of all, because I am trying to keep my protein intake high every day, due to my pregnancy.  Secondly, in light of our move, I am trying to use up what we have in our pantry, so that we don't have to move or giveaway too much food.  And what do we have a lot of in our pantry?  Twenty five pound bags of dry beans, because they are so inexpensive to buy in bulk (and last just about forever).

Of course there are the normal bean recipes, like anything mexican, black bean soup, chili, beans and rice etc.  And I have been making these things a lot.  But finding recipes that involve beans can be a bit limiting, so I have been branching out and trying to be creative.  I have found some unusual bean recipes (you wouldn't guess that they call for beans!) and found ways to incorporate beans into things that I usually make without them.

Here are some recipes I have discovered, and other ways to incorporate beans into every (yes, every!) meal of the day:

White bean sauce- You HAVE to try this one!  It tastes pretty much like alfredo sauce, but has a lot more protein.  Definitely blend the sauce so that it is smooth (recipe says blending is optional).  Mozzarella gives the most Italian like flavor to this sauce (I made it this way the other day and served it with shrimp and pasta, topped with parsley and parmesan), but experiment with different cheeses depending on how you are serving it (for example, sometimes I make it with cheddar and serve it with chicken and rice).

Egg burrito- Scramble an egg or two with a handful of pinto or black beans.  Serve on a tortilla with salsa and avocado.

Beans in your smoothie- Add a small handful of beans to any smoothie.  You wont taste it at all after you blend it.  I recommend using a soft bean for this, such as pinto or white beans.

Chocolate pumpkin white bean muffins - I made the second of the two recipes in this blog, so I can only vouch for that one, but Esther and I gobbled them down (Alex thought they were ok, but he doesn't really like any muffins.)  It called for a full 4 cups of beans- yes!!  Bonus (for us) is that the recipe also called for oats, another items we have a ton of right now.

Bean burgers/meatloaf- Add 1/2 to 1 cup of beans to your burger or meat loaf recipe (I usually do them in place of bread crumbs).  Make sure to chop the beans in a food processor first (I usually chop the veggies that I use for burgers or meatloaf first, and then add the beans and process for a bit longer before adding the spices and meat).  Another idea that a friend suggested was trying to make a homemade veggie burger (I don't have a recipe but I'm sure there are many online).  I haven't tried it, but if you know a good one, please link in the comments!

Hummus - Most bean haters still love hummus and don't realize that it is basically bean paste.  Hummus is a great snacky item to keep on hand.  I usually ferment it for the added benefit of probiotics.

As I mentioned in my protein blog, two dessert recipes that we like that use beans are Silky Smooth Bean Fudge and Black Bean Brownies.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Two Big Announcements (and the Story of our Time in California)

First big piece of news to share:  I had an ultrasound yesterday and it looks like we're having a boy!!  We didn't have a strong preference either way, but its fun to know.  But Alex joked on the way out, "Good!  Now we can stop having kids!".

[Inside joke.  He's definitely not our last, Lord willing.  Its a reference to the time that I was out with the three brothers and baby girl A and someone saw her and told me that now that I have a girl I can stop having children.]

Second big announcement: We are moving to Indiana in mid-December!!

This second announcement may seem very out-of-the blue to some of you, but its been in the works for a while.  We didn't know exactly when it would happen, but the pieces are coming together and we now know the timing is right.

The story really starts five years ago, before we even moved to California.  When we got married, we expected to work on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru) for a year, then Alex would go to seminary.  We knew that seminary was the vital step towards going overseas for mission work, which has always been our main plan.  Alex applied to two different seminaries, both of which seemed great.  He was accepted to one, and wait-listed (and later accepted) to the other.  But for reasons we can't quite explain, we really felt like God wasn't leading us to either option.  We were confused and floundering a bit for a few weeks, until we were offered the opportunity to move to California and lead a Destino team here (the Latino ministry of Cru).  Everything about this seemed perfect, and we jumped on the opportunity.

And then our world came crashing down.  A few weeks after moving here, we found out some major differences we had with the ministry (that we didn't know about in our combined 10+ years experience with the ministry) and a couple months later Alex stepped down as the Destino team leader, and left staff.

This was three months after we had packed up our entire life and moved across country to a place where we had no family and no friends.  We had only just settled on a church a few weeks before leaving Cru.  The day after we left Cru, we flew back to Ohio for Christmas, a bit beaten up and dejected.

And we loved our time in the Midwest with family, friends, and the familiar.  It left us asking, should we move back?  Why are we in California?  There is nothing for us there.

But there was something for us in California.  You see, in mid-November we had applied to be foster parents, and were scheduled to start classes at the beginning of January to be certified.  And we knew that the need for foster parents in southern California was huge, and that our chances of getting an adoptable child was pretty good.

So we decided to stay in Cali.  Just long enough to finalize an adoption.  Then we would proceed with Alex's seminary education (by then we had settled on one of the original two seminaries he had applied to).  We were looking at a year or two tops, and then we could move back.

Well, it took us longer than we thought to get certified.  But soon afterward our certification we got our first placement, two (then four, when their older siblings joined us) beautiful kiddos.  And we were head over heels.  We thought they would be ours forever.  But it was not to be, they were soon on a path towards reunification with their birth mom.  But in the midst of that, God was gracious and chose that as the timing for me to become pregnant with Esther.  When the four kids left, we were once again faced with a decision to move back to the Midwest.  But we decided to stay, because we were told that we could try for adoption again when Esther was six months old.

And once again, it took longer than we thought.  Esther was actually close to a year old when everything worked out to get another foster baby.  Baby girl J came to us at three days old and under 6 pounds of weight.  She quickly grew big, strong, and beautiful.  And she too was soon on a path to reunification with her mother.

This August, after spending almost her first full year of life with us, baby girl J was reunited with her mom.  Once again, we were faced with the choice: move or try again for adoption?  We had already decided months before that if we tried again, it would be our last shot.  We couldn't keep chasing the dream of adoption and putting off our next major life steps.  And when we found out that I was pregnant, we thought the decision had been made for us: we didn't think our agency would place while I was pregnant.  But it turned out that they would, and so we decided to give it one last try.

But we didn't think it would go this quickly.  When baby boy R was with us for just a week we found out that he had a family member who might take custody of him.  It took weeks, then months, for the paperwork to go through, but eventually we found out that the replacement was all but certain.

Esther and baby boy R at the park a few weeks ago
And around that same time, we found out that Alex would likely be laid off at work (and a few weeks later it happened).  Also around the same time, it became clear that we would need to move to a place with cheaper rent.

So, many different factors came together to make it clear that we should move.  But more than anything, moving finally just felt right.  All the other times, it felt like God wanted us to continue to live by faith and stay in California.  Now it seems clear that the best thing for our lives and our walk with God is to move.

So how am I feeling? Happy.  Sad.  Relieved.  Overwhelmed.  There are many emotions.

Please pray for us.  Pray for the logistics of moving to come together in the next five weeks.  Pray that we would finish out our time here in California well.  Pray that God will grow and bless us through our move and time in Indiana.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Waiting in the Life of a Believer

In this season of waiting, I have been reflecting on the purpose of waiting in the life of a believer.

You see, in 21st century America, we are taught that we should not have to wait, that we don't deserve to wait, that waiting is uncomfortable and therefore bad.  And if you have enough money or power, you don't have to wait for a lot of things.

But God says, "No, things will happen in My time".  And I think He (in love) brings seasons of waiting into the lives of believers to bring about many good things.

Here is a list (certainly not exhaustive) of the benefits of waiting in the life of a believer.

Waiting gives us an eternal perspective.  When we get exactly what we want when we want it, it is easy to keep our focus on earthly matters.  But waiting causes us to lift our eyes to God, and in so doing he reminds us of eternity.  Our time on earth is very, very short.  Our time in eternity is very, very long. It is far better to live for eternity than to live for now (especially when you have no idea how many more years or days you have left on Earth).

"According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead... in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials" 1 Peter 1:3, 6

Waiting for temporal things reminds us that we are really waiting for the return of Christ.  Just as the hunger we feel while fasting is a reminder of our deeper hunger for Christ, the pain of waiting for earthly things reminds us of our deeper pain of waiting for Christ to return.  Life is hard because Jesus hasn't returned yet.

"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" Romans 8:23

Waiting renews our strength.  When things are going as we want them to, we can easily start to rely on our own strength (which is actually weakness).  Waiting reminds us of how powerless we are, and how powerful God is, and helps us to depend on Him.

"They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up on wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31

Waiting is humbling.  Waiting is a humbling reminder of how little we can do and accomplish on our own.  Being humbled is not fun.  But it is by far the best place for us to be, and much better than the opposite.

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" James 4:6

So, let us wait well in seasons of waiting.  Let us wait with joy, knowing that God is working so much good through our wait.

Monday, November 4, 2013

High Protein Breakfasts and Snacks

All three of my favorite natural health pregnancy books (Real Food for Mother and Baby, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way) recommend eating 80-100 grams of protein per day for a healthy pregnancy.

Not only is 80-100 grams of protein about double what I normally eat, during both of my pregnancies I have had aversions to eggs and meat, two of the best sources of protein (and especially superior to plant sources because they are complete proteins).  To top it off, clean meat is expensive (even when you know how to get deals like I do), making it cost-prohibitive for me to double my intake.  And right now our chickens aren't producing a lot of eggs as two of them are molting (crossing my fingers that they are almost done!)  So, I have to be a bit creative, as well as very intentional to get my protein intake to where it should be. Every meal and snack has to contain some protein, and optimally, a lot of it.

If you like eggs, they are a great high-protein breakfast option (I like them scrambled with veggies mixed in, fried in grass-fed butter and served in an english muffin or scrambled with beans served in a tortilla with salsa for a breakfast burrito).  When I was really nauseous, I couldn't even touch them, and now that I'm less nauseous, I can still only do them 1-2x per week (before pregnancy I ate them almost daily).  This means I have had to be more creative to figure out ways to incorporate protein into my breakfasts (and snacks), since eating 80-100 gm/day means every meal needs to pack a protein punch.

Higher Protein Breakfast and Snack Recipes

(I say "higher" because I am comparing it to what Americans generally eat for breakfast, such as muffins or bagels, or for a snack, such as chips.  I haven't done the math to figure out how many grams of protein are in each serving, you will want to do that yourself if you need to know.)

Bean Fudge It sounds strange, but I have made this many times and I actually really like it.  You would never guess in a million years that it contains beans.  I recommend using pinto beans over black beans, as they have a smoother texture.  I have served these to guests with tons of compliments.

Grain Free Coffee Cake - Make this with the almond flour (over arrowroot starch) for the highest protein factor.  I actually like the texture better when made with arrowroot, but the almond flour style is delish as well.

Coconut Flour Pancakes - Almost any coconut flour recipe will be high in protein, as coconut flour needs lots of eggs in baked goods to work.

Soaked Dutch Babies/German Pankcakes - Another breakfast recipe that isn't "eggy" but calls for lots of eggs, and therefore is higher in protein.  I have been making this with homemade strawberry sauce recently and we have been loving it!

Add a scoop of protein powder to any smoothie recipe, such as this one (depending on the protein powder and what other ingredients you put in the smoothie, you could get an easy 20-30 grams of protein per serving!)

Black Bean Brownies - The thing I love about these is that they are much easier than regular brownies because you just throw all the ingredients into a blender and turn it on and they are mixed up.  Easy peasy!

Grain Free Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars - I love everything pumpkin in the fall!  I tried these for the first time this week and they were a hit in the house.  Bonus is that they also contain a vegetable!

Do you have any other high protein snack and breakfast recipes to share?

Friday, November 1, 2013

October in our Home

The month started similar to how last month ended: overwhelmed and nauseous. But by about mid-month, my nausea was almost gone, and by the end of the month, my extreme tiredness and need for 10 hours of sleep per night was almost gone too.  Baby boy's nighttime sleep got better to the point of him sleeping through the night by the end of the month, but his daytime fussiness has only slightly decreased. Fortunately, as I was progressively feeling better through the month, it became much easier to work through.

Things seem to be going well with my pregnancy.  The baby is very active for every ultrasound that I have had so far.  Next week is the big anatomy ultrasound, where they check that s/he is developing correctly and we can find out the gender if we choose (though we haven't decided yet if we are going to find out).  Just as my nausea was ending, a baby belly has been starting to appear.  No need for pregnancy clothes quite yet but I'm not sure how much longer I will fit into my jeans! I'm 17 weeks along this week, so just about 23 to go!

This month was a month of waiting, in many ways: waiting to feel better, and waiting to hear about baby boy's future (as I mentioned last month, we had been told about a cousin who might take him), waiting for baby boy to sleep better and be less fussy and a few other things.  Waiting is hard.  But it builds faithfulness when you have to wake up each day, and continue to put one foot in front of the other, even when you don't feel like it.  There is so much Biblical encouragement about waiting.  Here are some of my favorite verses (that I have been reading over and over as good reminders in this season of life):

"The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord" Lamentations 3:25-26

"From of old no one has head or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God beside you, who acts for those who wait for him." Isaiah 64:4

"Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off" Psalm 37:34

"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8:23

This month ended on a fun note with several Halloween celebrations (actually, three in one day!).  This is the first time we've done anything for Halloween.  No trick or treating, just a few different parties and events.  Esther dressed up as a lady bug (a really super cute one, but I am biased :) ) and baby boy was a candy corn (well, we put him in a onesie that was orange, white and grey striped... so he kinda looked like a candy corn).  I think my mom may have gotten a pic, I will post it if I can soon.

Not much else to report from this month.  Like I said, its just been a lot of waiting and practicing faithfulness.  But we hope that this month will bring some conclusion and answers to the things we are waiting for.

::Sermons I listened to this month::
(Between doing child care and being sick, I only attended a half sermon the whole month of October.  Hence all the sermons I listened to online from our own church.)

The Man Who Stores Up Treasures for Himself by Tim Bayly

Philippians 4:1-9 by Mike Gunn

Philippians- Lose your Religion by Mike Gunn

Philippians - Christian Maturity by Mike Gunn

::Books I read this month::

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kahling

End the Fed by Ron Paul (still in progress!)

And after watching parts I and II of the trilogy, I really want to read Atlas Shrugged, though I am pretty intimidated by its size.  I wish I would have picked it up in my pre-kiddo days, although back then I knew very little about politics or economics (even though in college I was one class from an econ minor, ha.  But I'm glad I didn't drink more of the keynesian economics kool-aid than I already did, because then I really wouldn't know much about econ.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"My Back Porch, Moonlight Birth": An Inspiring Birth Story

This is the birth story of my friend Allison's most recent baby, her second.  You can see her blog here.  This story was originally posted on her blog here, where you can also see pictures of her beautiful baby and birthing process (nothing graphic of course!).  Too many women see giving birth as a scary, painful, dreaded thing.  Allison's story sheds light on the other side of the story.  I love this story and it makes me look forward to hopefully having a home birth one day, if God allows!
It's true. Under the clear night sky on a warm spring night, I did a glorious thing - I gave birth to our sweet baby girl. My husband, smelling of patchouli (one of my fav scents on him), sipped a beer and with the other hand held my hand tight, kissing the top of my head and speaking encouragement when it seemed right. My other hand was held by my doula (I always recommend a doula!), massaging my lower back during those last contractions and coaching me how to breath when it came time to push.

My view was a half moon and a backdrop of stars.  It was beautiful.

Also present was my legendary midwife, her apprentice, my aunt who is more like my big sister, taking pictures and video, and another friend of mine who has had four homebirths and equally ecstatic about childbirth as I am (she also brought a table full of food - fruits and veggies, homemade pizza, soup, all kinds of gluten free treats, lettuce wraps, a bowl of m&ms, and of course birthday cake!).

They all arrived for the last couple hours of my labor and delivery, and all hung out for the after party as well.

My labor was about 24 hours total. The first 22 hours it was just me and my husband mostly. We took walks, got it on (cause hey, it's gonna be awhile!), watched a couple shows of Parks and Recreation (our current Netflix season at the time), ate some of the table-full of food my girlfriend brought, and just hungout. It felt like a really long day.

My doula had come the night before when I started to have contractions to be my friend while my husband worked (he works nights). While I slept, she wrote a song for me which she played/sang for me the hour after baby girl was born. My doula was and is awesome.

Having amazing womanly support around me was just as it should be, at least for me. The month prior to my birth, these gals came over to my home and prayed with me/for me and over my home, my family and birth to be. It was so special. I was so looking forward to having these strong women at my birth to cheer me on and support me during this treasured time.

My labor was slow for the first 18 hours. My contractions were 30-45 minutes for most of that time then down to 20 minutes apart mid afternoon of baby's birthday.

I was having an emotional afternoon. I missed my firstborn who was with my mother and I felt like I was disappointing people (like family, my birth attendants, even my husband) with my slow progression and I was also bummed that things were moving slowly - I had presumed I'd have a shorter labor this time around, but that was not the case.

I talked to my four-homebirths-girlfriend on the phone and told her how I was feeling.  She encouraged me to speak out (after I got off the phone with her) all that was bothering me, all that was making me emotional, and let it go. She also spoke to my heart and mind to embrace this labor for what it is because it is beautiful and special. She reminded me that this little babe I was carrying was so much different than babe #1, so this labor will be different as well - to not compare them. She encouraged me to let it remind me how unique and special this little girl is, and be joyful about her coming at her own pace with my body. Revel in this labor for what it is (special! unique!), and bond with my little babe.

It was just what I needed to hear and after I hung-up with my girlfriend, I spoke out all that was getting me down and asked Jesus to fill me with truth and peace and joy. He did! :)

My mom and sister came over with my niece and my daughter to give us some company, make me laugh and I needed kisses and hugs from my little girl. They hung out an hour and upon their leaving, my contractions jumped up to seven minutes apart!

I called the midwife and things started moving.  My husband aired up the birth tub on the back porch and began filling it with water.  My doula and aunt showed up, then my midwife and her apprentice.

At that point my contractions were just a few minutes apart. I could feel baby coming down.

I absolutely cannot sit down nor lay down during a contraction. I think the pain turns times two! I've gotta be standing up.  It just makes sense too with a baby coming down through your body, right? I gripped the bricks on our fireplace those last couple hours of labor. My doula was so good to me, rubbing my lower back (I have hefty back labor) and she just being beside me was a comfort to me.

My husband was busy filling up the tub. The hot water did run out so they were boiling water on the stove and pouring it in the tub, ha! It was a funny sight to see the gals and my husband back and forth from the kitchen, carrying pots of water to the tub.

There was a chance I'd be delivering baby girl inside, but at just the right time the tub was filled and the water at just the right temperature for me and baby girl.

I got in the birth tub in-between a contraction. I was complete, transition closed, my body rested before pushing stage, then it was upon me - time to push!

This is the hardest part for me. I can do contractions fine because there is that gracious time in between contractions to rest, feel normal, have a laugh, eat a cookie (I have a friend who calls it Christmas morning, ha!). And really during contractions your body is doing most of the actual physical work. As the woman in labor your job is mostly mental - focusing, breathing, letting your body do what it has been instructed to do. It's actually a bit enjoyable for me, the feeling of baby coming down is incredible. I am in awe of the process as I'm experiencing it.

But now pushing is the hard work.  It's where I grunt and yell and feel like I am having the most gigantic poo of my life. Fortunately, we live on eight acres in fine country land and our neighbors' homes are far enough away to hopefully not hear my primal sounds, or perhaps they thought it was a deer delivering triplets in the woods. :)

My midwife and doula instructed me in pushing and breathing.  At one point, I let baby girl's head sit there to stretch my perineum - this was my midwife's instruction, of course. She was trying to prevent me from tearing down there and allowing baby to come out steady and not quickly.  I had to breathe quick breaths during that time, and my midwife said "You're basically breathing her out right now...". I wasn't sure whether to believe her or not, at the time.

My midwife encouraged me to feel her head which I wasn't inclined to do, but she asked me a second time and so I did. I'm glad I did, I still remember that squishy feeling of her exiting head. So amazing.

I remember during delivery thinking "I'm too old for this." You may hear from others and in my experience twice now it's been true, just when you think you can't go any further, your baby is almost in your arms. Just keep on for a bit longer, and you will receive your reward.

Before that final push after my midwife checked for the umbilical cord, Ryan left my side to "catch" baby girl. I gave that final push and baby girl was caught in her Daddy's embrace and given to me.

Her warm wet body on mine, I can recall the feeling like it was minutes ago.  The endorphins and happy hormones flew through my body in that moment. I remember the rush of what I could say was physical joy moving through my body.

I did it. We did it.  Baby girl and I worked hard together. We conquered labor and delivery, and received our prize - each other. It is an incredible moment.

I so wish for every pregnant woman to have such an experience, though I know for some they physically can't and I'm so thankful for hospitals and doctors trained for those specific situations when the body is not doing as it should.

After baby girl was born, we enjoyed her. I delivered the placenta maybe 15 minutes after. The placenta was put in a bowl I bought just for the placenta at Target (how many bowls do they have bought for placentas, I wonder?). With baby in arms, I got out of the birth tub with support of my husband and the women.  We walked indoors to my recovery room.  We let the placenta drain completely (about an hour) so baby girl received all of those wonderful stem cells and nutrients.

She nursed on her own about 45 minutes after birth.  It was so funny.  She was rooting around, so I gave her a little help by bringing her up to my breast.  She then lifted her head back (strong newborn!) and with a mouth wide open planted herself perfectly on the nipple. I laughed. She nursed.

Now if you know me, you know I love a good party. And that is exactly what this was.  The gals, my husband and I, talked, ate, laughed, celebrated.  My husband made coffee for him and the gals, and we all shared in our little girl's first birthday cake.  Delicious! My doula sang the song she wrote for me the night before on her guitar.  And we drank in this glorious night of our baby's birth.

All was precious, and remains so very close to me now.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Should Every Christian Couple Consider Adoption?

[This was an email I sent to a friend, slightly edited from the original, in answer to her question "Do you think the question for Christian couples is not 'Should we adopt' but rather 'Should we not adopt?'" Note that the conversational tone of the writing is precisely because it was originally an email.]

Your question is a hard one and one that I have thought about some.  To be clear, since God has given us a desire to adopt, I would say that its hard to give an unbiased opinion to this question.  When God gives you a passion for something, its easy to wonder why everyone else doesn't share the same passion... but that is because we are the body of Christ with unique giftings and callings.  I think that adoption is great and I wish more Christian couples would consider it.  Adoption is on the rise in the past few years in Christian circles, but I can't help but to think about the 200,000 kids in the US alone who are still without a permanent home and ready to be adopted today if a couple would step up.

To start out, one question every Christian couple definitely should ask is, how does God want us to be relationally involved in caring for orphans?  Giving money to organizations that support orphans is good, but the wording of James 1:27 ("visit orphans and widows") has me convinced that God wants us to be in the lives of widows and orphans. In fact, it was a result of meditating on the word "visit" and praying about what it meant for us that lead Alex and I to pursue adoption so early on in our marriage.    

I think a good second question to ask after that is to ask does God want us to adopt as part of our relational care of orphans?  There are lots of programs and organizations that care for orphans.  But no volunteer work or ministry, nothing will ever come close to type of whole life blessing a family can give to an orphan through welcoming him or her into their home.

In light of this, I wish that more people would realize how easy it is to adopt.  I really think that we are in a unique time in history where many factors have come together to make this easier than at other times.  There are so many myths about adoption and I think people shy away because they think its hard.  And on one hand, admittedly, it IS hard (the emotional side). But logistically, its easy (though you have to be patient because it takes a while... but growing a baby in your womb also takes a while!).  Because of airplanes, its easy to fly to another country that is a half a world away and get connected with a child in need, and bring him/her back to your house.  Because of the abundance of orphans in the US, the government has made it easy to adopt by paying all of the expenses for an adoption through the foster care system.  There are 3 different types of adoption available to couples in the US (international, domestic private, and foster care) and numerous adoption agencies that can connect you to any one of these types, and advise you and help you in the process.  There are also a myriad of books and resources about adoption, from every topic ranging from the biblical basis for adoption, to how to attach to an adopted child to how to care for child with a different ethnic hair type than your own.

This is also an unprecedented time in the history of the church because couples also have control of their  fertility through various birth control methods (but not the pill).  Now, I hesitate to say this because I think birth control is over used in many Christian families and that many couples are limiting their family size for ungodly, worldly reasons (like the desire for money, comfort, ease of life).  But at the same time, I see birth control as making it possible for couples to plan when to have children, allowing the space in their lives to allow for adoption (whether before, after or in between bio kids).  

To be clear, I don't want to sound like its more important or more godly to adopt than to have bio kids, because bio kids are a blessing even if you have 20 of them (though some people will try to tell you that you are overpopulating the world and glare at you and tell you that you can "stop already now"... and I know this because it happened to me when we only had four kids).  But the difference is now, couples can pray and ask God if he wants them to limit bio kids for the sake of adoption, where in the past that wasn't even an option.  And I don't see why he wouldn't want some Christians to do this, in light of the fact that there are millions of orphans worldwide.  I hope that he changes the hearts of many Christian couples who are thinking about following the typical American "two and done" route with kids to expand their willingness to sacrifice and lay down their lives to increase their family to four, five, six, seven, for the sake of giving every orphan a home.  For us personally, we don't see bio kids and adopted kids as mutually exclusive, and hope to have lots of both, by God's grace and with the measure of strength he grants us to do so!

So maybe the right questions for Christian couples are "How does God want us to relationally care for orphans?" and "Is adoption part of that?" and thirdly, "Because of the unique ways that God is making it easier at this point in history to adopt, is there any reason why we should not pursue adoption?"  Any couple asking these types of questions is on the right track.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Visiting Orphans and Widows

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

What does it mean to visit orphans and widows?  While the Bible does command Christians to care for the physical needs widows and orphans, this verse commands us to take this to the next step: God wants Christians to be relationally involved in the lives of widows and orphans.

Coming from a Western mindset, most of us see poverty in terms of material things: poor people don't have stuff (clothes, food, etc) so the solution to the problem is to give them stuff.  This belief is the basis for welfare, medicaid, food stamps, food banks, health clinics and many non-profit organizations in America to help the poor.

The problem is that many poor people suffer not just from physical/material poverty, but also relational and spiritual poverty as well.  The later two are often the cause of the former, and addressing relational and spiritual poverty often results in resolution of material poverty.  God wants Christians to minister to the whole person: relationally, materially, and spiritually.  This is the basis for his command to visit widows and orphans.  Its one thing to give money to a homeless person or a poverty-relief organization, but its a completely different thing to be relationally involved in the life of someone in need.

1. Invest into kids without a Dad (or a Mom). 
When the Bible often refers to orphans as the "fatherless".  This is because a child without a father is missing a significant part of his or her life.  Furthermore, a child without a father is likely to grow up in poverty (that was definitely true in Biblical times, but studies show that is still true, even in when fatherlessness is caused by divorce and not just death).  In our day, missing fathers are epidemic, and missing mothers are becoming an increasing problem as well.

Children (of both genders) growing up with a single parent still need the influence of the absent opposite sex parent.  The Church has an important duty to provide that influence and close adult relationship in the lives of children with a missing parent.  Being regularly involved in the life of a child without a mother or father is a blessing beyond measure to them (and to their single parent!).

It is important to note too, that consistent, long-term investment is what is needed in the lives of fatherless (or motherless) children.  Making up for the deficit of a parent is not a task that can be done with a spare few hours per year.

2. Come alongside a foster family, love on their children.
Being a foster family is hard.  Foster families are faced with a litany of uncertainties and injustices in the foster care system.  Foster children often need more time and attention than typical kids, and parents can use all the help they can get in order to make this happen.  Coming along side a foster family, whether by babysitting, making them meals, helping with housework or even just being a listening ear when things get hard is a blessing to both the foster parents and the children in need in their care.

3. Help regularly at an orphanage.
I say regularly, because like I noted above orphans need relationships, not just handouts.  There is a group of people from our church who visit several orphanages in Mexico on a monthly basis.  I have heard of other people who "adopt" an overseas orphanage and make it a point to visit once or twice a year for an extended period.  When doing short-term missions trips like these, it is important that you make sure you are helping without hurting.

4. Adopt or do foster care.
This is becoming a popular avenue for orphan care in the US, and I thank God for that.  Many orphans have found life long homes and families through adoption, and many foster children find great second families in their foster families (or, if things go that direction, they could eventually be adopted by their foster family).  

Foster children are an invisible, hurting population in our country.  Currently, there are a half million foster children in the US, most of whom have already experienced more pain than you or I could imagine.  Legally, they might have parents, but unless they are in a good foster home, in all practical senses of the word they probably don't have parents. These children are faced with instability (often changing homes several times per year) and a litany of injustices inflicted on them in a system that sometimes does more harm than good.  While changing the system is hard, you can change lives by being a stable, loving home in the midst of the chaos of their world.

Adoption is bar-none the best and deepest way to care for the whole orphan (physical, relational and spiritual needs).  In this sense, it far outshines all the other types of orphan care.