Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Dads You'll Be

This post originally appeared in Do South Magazine.

My Dearest Sons,  
You are worlds away from knowing fatherhood, but I’m already praying about the
fathers you will be. I have already contemplated the day you look into the eyes of
your children. I’ve Imagined that moment, when you hold your baby for the first time
and you are suddenly awed at the intricacy of life.  
It is a life-changing moment, but it’s the years that follow that really matter. Each time I was told I was having a son, my mind raced far beyond nursery d├ęcor and little league. As I have watched each of you grow, I have imagined how you will be as men. Your strengths grow faster than your shoe size, and that’s saying something. I love to see who you are becoming. I love to daydream about you being fathers and husbands, kingdom warriors and world changers. 

Jackson, when you came into the world, you took a twenty-year-old kid and turned him into a father. He had no idea what he was doing, except for the fact that he was determined to give you better than he had. He called you “Little Champion” while he shushed you to sleep and when we faced divorce, he swore that we would always parent you and Asher together. A few days ago, I watched you lay your hands on your dad and pray for him. You are nine, Jackson, and you already love so fiercely. You care for people beyond what would ever be expected of you. I pray that when you become a father, you try as hard as your dad tries for you. I pray you freely give forgiveness as you do now. And I pray that you PLAY! You are so serious! Be a dad that plays with his babies. Laugh. Be light hearted. It’s good medicine. And continue craving wisdom. Wise men are made wise by simply seeking wisdom. Just ask God for it. I am so proud of you. Keep praying. Keep seeking Him. 

Asher, you are eight, and for years now, whenever asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you have responded, “A dad.” You are tender, my love. I can just imagine you as a grown man, marveling at the tiny perfection of a baby. You have a special heart, Asher. You know, the moment I fell in love with Jeremiah was because I saw his love for you. He and I had been friends for a while and one summer afternoon, we took you and Jackson swimming at Grandma Jana’s house. You were having a three-year-old tantrum so he took you in the house for a snack. After you didn’t come back out, I went to check on you and I found him in a rocking chair with you asleep on his chest. He had tears running down his face and he said, “I always imagined that Christian would have been like him.” You see, Jeremiah became a dad and had to say goodbye to his son the very next day. And in you, in your sweet laugh and how easily you loved him, he found restoration. I pray that you remember when you are raising children that deep love heals deep wounds. God can do so much with a man who will love people without reserve. Show your sons how real men love. Show your daughters how they deserve to be cared for and adored. You melt my heart. Keep loving. 

Tobias, my little firecracker. I have been told a thousand times in the last three years that you are exactly like your daddy was. As you grow, I have enjoyed watching him find himself in you. My brilliant boy. You notice people. I don’t think a person could shed a tear within the same room as you without feeling your hand on their arm and hearing your sweet voice say, “Hey, it’s ok.” You are uniquely compassionate, Toby. One day you will have a little handful of a toddler. I hope he looks just like you. And I hope that your compassion holds. I hope you teach him that he is exactly who he is supposed to be. I pray that you look into his eyes every day and tell him that God has a plan for him. And when he pretends to be a dinosaur, I hope you pretend with him. Be compassionate, honey. Even when it hurts. Your children will be watching. They will know the patience you have had with them and with others around you and they will trust you when they mess up. Be a soft place for them to land. You inspire me to kindness. Keep comforting. 

Ezra, my funny boy. You remind me so much of my dad. You are funny and entirely intense in everything you do. You play hard, love hard, cry hard. You are the most helpful child I have ever known. All I have to do is mention needing help with something within earshot of you and there you are, two years old, making a real effort to complete whatever task you overheard my need for. It breaks my heart to see you upset when you are not strong enough, fast enough, or tall enough to help. I hope that as you grow stronger, faster, and taller, that you will learn that there are always tasks beyond our capabilities. Thankfully, we have a source of great strength. Jesus gave up His life for us and left us the Holy Spirit when He went home. He is always enough. Lean into Him when you fall short. I am so thankful for your heart. Keep helping. 

Benjamin, baby boy. You have only been with us a few short months. It’s been long enough for you to change our family for the better. But I do not know who you will be. I don’t know if you will be hungry for knowledge like Jackson or a lover like Asher. You may be like Toby, feeling for everyone you come across, or like Ezra, ready to help. Most likely, you will be a man all of your own. And most likely, you will spend the coming years striving to follow your brothers. You may even feel frustrated at the inability to keep up. Baby, I hope you remember that the best leaders are the ones that know what it’s like to follow. Keep your eyes on Jesus, Ben. He will point you down a way that is hard but completely worthwhile. There may be frustration on this path, but there is abounding grace. Carry it into your family. And remember, even when they are leading, true men of God are still following Him. I am cheering you on. Keep following.
My boys. 
I watch your dads and your grandfathers strive to be good men for you. You are fortunate to have these men. Look at their lives. Learn the lessons they teach and learn the lessons their mistakes teach. Forgive them when they fail you. They will fail you. It will break their hearts to do it, but they will do it just the same. Because at the end of the day, all of your earthly fathers are only men. Fallible, breakable sinners. But they are not your ultimate father. 
God is. 
I hope you take the things I speak to heart, but even more than that, I hope you understand how completely and perfectly loved you are by our Daddy God. Because when you find yourself in manhood and you find that you have fallen short, He will still love you. When you have stopped seeking and praying, stopped loving, stopped comforting, stopped helping and stopped following, He will still love you. 
He will still be there, waiting to be sought. He will still be there, showing you how to love. He will still be filling you up with His Spirit, the Comforter and Helper. And He will always be willing to stop and reach out a hand so you can get back on track and follow. 
My loves, my five sons, I can only imagine the fathers you will be.
I can only pray that we successfully build you up and point you in the right direction.
But I can be sure of one thing.
We all have a good, good Father. And we are so greatly loved by Him. 
Teaching you, that is my greatest calling. 
With all my love,

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Natural Mom and The O.R.

This post has taken me a few months to compose. I had to sort everything out, in the way you have to do when plans change, and gather the words to put it together. I would like to say a special thank-you to my dear friend Katie Opris who is, hands down, the best birth photographer I know. Her photos make this story easy to tell, because really, she told it better than words could.

This is Benjamin's birth story. But it's my story as well. 
This is the account of a natural mother meeting her son on an operating table. 
I pray those of you who have felt your birth plan ripped from your grasp find some comfort here. I hope those of you living in fear of the unknown find some peace. And I hope those of you standing with lofty judgements (and I was once one of you, so don't stop reading here) find some perspective. 

Thank you all. 

In Him, 


One of the most read posts I've ever written was about my natural birth with Ezra. 
See, I love birth. I believe in it. I even made a business out of it, taking my camera into the birth room and documenting the event for families. 

We live on a mountain, half an hour from the closest hospital. When I was first pregnant with Ben, knowing he was my last, I sought out any way I could possibly make a home birth work. Because I really believe in birth. I believe in the power of a woman's body and the perfection of God's plan. 
And I wanted to experience having a baby in my own bed. But I couldn't do it. 

Oh, I wanted to. But my peace told me no. I couldn't settle into it. 

He was born the day after a snow storm. 
When the storm was forecasted to hit, Jeremiah insisted we drive into town and stay with my dad to be near the hospital and to have access to a 4-wheel drive. I protested at first. I even said "So what if he has to be born at home. He's my 5th baby, I think we know what we are doing."
But Jeremiah would't hear it. So to Sherwood we went. 

The contractions had been coming and going for two weeks. We knew he hadn't engaged and dropped yet, and I was doing long inversions in attempts to position him correctly. I had reached that miserable place of pregnancy that tests the patience and the false labor was enough to even fool me a time or two.  

But on Thursday, March 5, I woke up just knowing things were different. 

Of course, I'd planned another natural birth. At this point it was a given. I didn't say "Well, I'll do it if I can." There were no contingencies. When talking with other like-minded moms, the term "Natural-birther" would get thrown around. 

I mean, after all, it's something to be proud of. 

Looking back, my level of confidence was even a little ironic. I didn't read my usual digest of Ina May and all the other natural birth sources. I didn't watch The Business of Being Born. I didn't feel like I needed to prepare, because truly, I didn't. 

One of my favorite things about knowing God is reaching the place that you can inspect your life and find His fingerprints. It's like the amazing by-product of faith, seeing Him in everything. 

God prepared me for my birth with Ben. There was nothing I could have read or watched or be told to get me ready for what happened. Because since I had my first son, I have been terrified at the prospect of a Cesarean. 

And please, do not underestimate what I mean when I say terrified. I mean truly horrified and frightened by the thought. I would even go as far to say that the idea of being pushed or coerced into a C-Section was equivalent, in my mind, to rape or some other awful thing that strips a woman's rights and makes her hurt and helpless. 

But then, God.  


When I was 10 weeks pregnant with Ben, one of my friends and birth photography clients ended up in the O.R. after 23 hours and a stalled labor. I remember crying while we scrubbed in. I remember the way my hands shook and the prayers reeling through my head that she would be ok, that I wouldn't break down. The same adrenaline rush that one might experience before stepping into a haunted house pulsed through me. I remember sitting in the hall with her husband, watching them wheel her back, watching tears roll down his face. 

I remember the smell of burnt skin that turned my pregnant stomach. I remember the absolute chill of the place and the fearfully pristine white tile walls. I remember thinking what a strange setting it was for a life to begin in comparison to the sweaty, sticky mess that is natural birth. And I remember feeling so much pity and sadness for her. Until the baby cried. 

It was a girl. And when she cried and her mother let out a relieved sob mingled with a laugh, and then her father followed her over to the warmer and watched them wipe her little pink body down, calling out high APGARs and a 9 lb birth weight. My finger was a blur over the shutter button, snapping and refocusing on every emotion in the room. 

And in that moment, I realized. The emotions were joy and this was really just a birth. 

Ben was born in that same O.R. 
When they rolled me through the door, I thought of Krista and I thanked God for how much He loved me.
Because I wasn't at all afraid of the cold or the white tile walls or the smell. 
He had prepared me for it. 

When we left my dad's house for the hospital, him driving Jeremiah and me over the icy roads in his cramped, little truck, we almost opted to go to Springhill hospital instead. My hospital, where my doctor practices, was an extra 20 miles and the roads were bad. As we neared the exit for Springhill though, my dad said he thought we could make it if it really mattered to me. It did. So we drove on. 

He was footling breech. We didn't figure it out until I was 6 cm. dilated. I'd laughed my way through contractions, rebuking the fear that would try to swell up at the memory of pain. But when I got checked that morning and they told me I was stalling, I knew something was wrong. 
My labors have never stalled. 
Then my doctor came in and checked me and immediately called for the ultrasound machine. He could feel Ben's foot. 

We tried the turning him by doing versions, but he was too big to move. 
I can't really describe the emotions of all of this. Surreal maybe? Divine? I don't know. 
All I know was the peace of God came over me in that labor room. 

Because I was a natural mom. Proud to face labor bravely. Proud to turn down pain medication birth after birth. Proud to be so strong. 
Then I heard the word breach. And I could not be proud. I had to be humble instead, and that takes a whole different kind of bravery.

I wish I could take credit for it, the peace I had. I can't. I'm thankful that I was in the hands of a doctor I trusted inexplicably. I'm thankful I had been given the opportunity to witness a beautiful birth by cesarean and that I'd had the chance to lay my fear to rest. Mostly I'm glad for perspective. I'm thankful that after watching my closest friend bury her kids and still praise God, I could face a C-Section without fear. 

Don't get me wrong, I've had to process it. The night following Ben's birth, when they turned the epidural off and I accidentally let my pain medication lapse, I felt the full extent of my physical pain and nearly hyperventilated. When the nurse wheeled me out to the car, I braced myself against the bumps in the concrete and remembered all the other births that I wanted to just walk to the car. I felt, back then, that the wheelchair was a nuisance policy. Then after Ben, I could barely stand up to take the 4 steps to the van. 

One of my sweet friends messaged me recently about her C-Section and said "I'd made all my plans for my birth but I never asked God what His plan was."

I keep thinking about that. Because I didn't really ask Him either. The only thing I did that saved that experience was remind myself over and over when plans changed that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God is good. 

He really is. He loves me. He loves my son and my husband. 
I really, really, truly do NOT understand how God does things sometimes. I have no idea why. 
But I really, really, truly do trust Him. You can say you trust God, but when everything is going the opposite of what you'd hoped for, you find out the truth of the matter. You find out where your heart is. 

Benjamin Peter was born at 11:30 a.m. 9 lbs. 2 oz. He had a 15 inch head. 
He is laughing now and rolling over. 
The scar on my belly looks a little like a thin smile. 
Sometimes I stand in the mirror after a shower and run my finger across it. It's almost completely smooth, except for one small spot where the skin didn't heal just right. 

It reminds me that sometimes only the end goal matters. 
It reminds me that God works out the details and prepares our hearts. 
It reminds me of perspective. 
It reminds me that my plans are only just that. 
It reminds that my identity is not in being a natural mom.
There's only one place my identity is safe, and that's in following Jesus. 

And sometimes He leads me places I don't really want to go. 

But He carries me through it just fine. And for that I am thankful.