Notes from the Delivery Room: Pain Is Not the Enemy

Today, I start a series of (one-handed) posts. 

Yesterday marked one week since Liam was born.  As I glanced at the clock throughout the day, it was hard not to draw the parallels: Last week at this time, I was at this point, etc.  It offered me a chance to step back and think through the process a bit.  While I feel a bit funny posting a full birth story, this series is born from the process.  These posts are essentially thoughts on how we deal with pain and difficulty from the lens of labour. Having just walked through it, my perspective may differ from most.  Forgive me if I am too much in my little newborn world and the connections are trite or contrived. 

In my first two labours, both long and drawn out, it was easy to see pain as the enemy.  As things progressed and intensified, my response to the beginning of a contraction became, “Oh no, here’s another one.”  I began to dread them.

The more time passed, the more I wanted the pain to end.  It was wearing me down with its relentlessness.

I wanted the baby here and I wanted the pain to stop.  Obviously the pain needed to continue for the baby to arrive but I wanted to separate the two.  Baby, yes.  Pain, no.

Many good things in our lives are born of pain.  Yet, we despise the pain.  We dread and reject it.  We tense against it, medicate ourselves in a million ways to numb its sting.

This time, I thought it through carefully before.  Pain is not the enemy.  Pain is precisely the vehicle that gets me to where I want to be.  This time, I needed to welcome pain as an integral part of the process.  I needed to cooperate and let the pain accomplish its work.

Curtis was such an encourager.  Having done this twice before, we both knew what I needed to hear.  One step closer.  That one is done.  Instead of viewing it as an obstacle we renamed each contraction progress, another step on the journey.  I didn’t reach a breaking point where I thought that I couldn’t do it without medication.  My mind was made up.  I wanted to be present.  I wanted to be clear-minded.  I wanted to feel the process.  I only needed to do it one contraction at a time.

This is easier with labour than with life.  Labour is finite pain.  Labour will end even though there are moments when it feels like it never will.  The trouble with the rest of life is that there are no guarantees.  There are no promises of emergency C-sections if things get too stuck or stalled or scary.

So pain becomes the obstacle, keeping us from a comfortable life.  Hurt discourages us because it stands in the way of what we desire.  We see pain as an interruption.  Its agony wears us down.  So we stop counting steps.  We stop marking progress.  Neither are easy to measure.  We find something that numbs us, distracts us.  The pain around us keeps on going but we don’t feel it so much.  But what if God is working in our pain? What if He can use it, redeem it, rework it so that it isn’t wasted?  Would that change anything?

I am not saying we should like pain or even desire it, but when it comes, and it will come, what would happen if we welcomed it as a step on our journey?  What if we worked with the difficulties instead of bracing against them so they form us and shape us?  Just maybe, they’ll birth something new.

Welcome Little One

As you may have guessed, the sudden silence in the month of near-daily posts has been a result of the most welcome type of interruption.  Late Monday night, October 21, we welcomed our third son into the world.  Liam Daniel was born at 10:47 weighing 7lbs 11.5 oz.

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After the fiasco with the spinal and my knee surgery, I didn’t even want to entertain the idea of an epidural.  Morphine makes me loopy even thinking about it.  So I told the nurses not to offer me anything, even if I begged and pleaded.  There was no begging or pleading and with the consistent encouragement of my wonderful husband, I had the natural delivery I wanted.  Though it was long (22 hours!) and obviously intense (they don’t call it labour for nothing), I was very thankful for God’s peace in the midst of it.

Liam is feeding and sleeping well.  He loves to be snuggled and swaddled and is a very calm, peaceful baby so far.  We are more than thrilled with our new little blessing.

My older sons, Lucas and Micah are thrilled with their new baby brother and love to hold him.  We can’t believe how they have adapted so well.

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We came home from the hospital on Wednesday to a turkey dinner my dear mom cooked.  The table was full as my sister and brother in law had come to visit.  It felt like a Thanksgiving celebration.  And it was.  One week late.  Every day, in fact, finds our hearts full of thanksgiving for this new and precious gift.  Welcome to the world little Liam.  We love you.

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Practice Makes Perfect: Why Is Gratitude So Hard?

Yesterday we talked about naming.  Today we continue on that theme but in a very different way.

1000GIFTSI’ve been slowly reading through Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.  Slowly because there is a lot to digest.

Voskamp suggests that the downfall of humanity is our ingratitude; a failure to give thanks is the root of all sin and brokenness.  She challenges us to begin to name the blessings around us in order that we may be remade by gratitude.

She quotes Alexander Schmemann who says:

Now in the Bible a name…reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God’s gift.  To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.  To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it and in it.

So then, the challenge is to see all of life as grace, all as a gift.  The challenge is to view struggle as birthing beauty and to name the beauty.  Generally I focus on the empty, on the pain, on the struggle.  I want my tongue to learn the langue of gratitude.  I want to teach my children the view from the lens of grace.  I desire my gratitude to be not trite but true and holy.

I am slow to gratitude.  It is as though my eyes can see and take in all that is good around me but my tongue is slow to speak it.  Honestly, I’m kind of rotten at it.

Do you practice gratitude?  How?

The Chai Conversations Day 3: What’s in a Name?

A good name is to be desired more than many riches says the proverbs.  Just ask Pilot Inspektor, Fifi Trixibell or North West.  Some of the celebrity children will have riches to spare but can’t get away from the unique names their parents have given them.

Yet, says Shakespeare, famously,

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose


By any other name would smell as sweet.

Now I would argue that Shakespeare is speaking more of titles than of names but some, literature aside, may disagree with me.  They take his words at face value: a name is just a name; it doesn’t change who a person is.

In our naming journey for the three boys we have, two here and one set to make his appearance in a week’s time, we have carefully deliberated sound, pronunciation in foreign tongues, initials, meaning.  The last one—meaning or significance—has far outweighed them all in our decision making.

A few names that didn’t make the cut but were good for laughs…

Tank…

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Pooky…

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Welsh Origins aside…

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We have desired a name that is indicative of who they are, essentially a prayer of blessing over God’s call on their lives and middle names that are markers of what they represent in the life of our family.  More or less…it is hard to articulate the journey that it is to arrive at the name for each child!

But I am curious—how have others done it?  How have you or will you name your children?

 

The Chai Conversations: On the Best and the Good

While it feels highly unrealistic to commit to a blog post a day when I have a baby due any day now, I’m at least giving it a shot, linking up with a 31 day challenge.  

When I think of tea, I think of sharing a pot with someone and having a good heart to heart talk.  My goal this month is to brew a few cups of Chai…to open my heart a bit and invite response.  I’d love to begin a few conversations.  So draw up a chair and muse a bit with me.

 

When you work in the profession I do, living overseas working with people with great needs, people assume you are in it for the love of it.  Living the dream.  The height of fulfillment on a daily basis.  Yes, it may be hard but there’s nothing you’d rather do.

And that’s the way we all want to live, isn’t it.  For passion.  Fulfillment. We want to live the way children run, free, fast, unexhausted.  Where the blood coursing through your veins propels you to live, fully,  sprinting, heart beat pounding in your ears, face wide open to the sky, arms swinging.

People assume I love my work.  Love my life.

And I do.  Some days.  And then some days I want to run away from it, blood coursing, arms swinging, sprinting face first into the wide world of predictable and comfortable and 9-5 and job descriptions and anonymity and English.

Most days I’m just there.  Neither loving it nor hating it but trying to be faithful.

Sometimes we do the right thing because it is the right thing and we train our hearts to follow.  I wish it were the reverse—our hearts know best and if we follow our hearts we will do the right and rewarding and beautiful things.  But sometimes our hearts are lazy.  Sometimes our hearts have good intentions but are weary.  Sometimes our hearts don’t know what to think because they were designed to feel and not think!

So we go back to what is good.  We go back to what is true.  We go back to the things that are pure and noble and worthy of doing them.  And we do them for those reasons, not because we desperately need to feel something in order to be alive.

Parenting is like this.  By our facebook posts, you’d think our children were always smiling in our organized living rooms with combed hair and wiped noses.  But we don’t have our cameras on the ready in the mornings when they’ve put clean undies on top of the dirty ones and won’t hurry up.  When we need to walk out the door in two minutes—or should have walked out the door two minutes ago—we aren’t camera ready, aren’t even really loving it, this parenting of rush and fluster.

Of course we have those good moments too, moments where our kids stand at the school yard fence, too small to be embarrassed by blowing kisses and kisses and still more kisses and catching ours and stuffing their pockets full for later.  We have those early morning snuggles or those mid-day giggles that fill the pockets of our hearts.  We love that.  We can live for it.  But when our pockets get turned inside out by the day and all we have emotionally left is lint for the hungry child, the dawdling child, the defiant child, we keep on being parents.  We keep on acting in love.  We act in love not because we always feel it but because it is right.  It is good.  We calm ourselves by reacting calmly.  We remind ourselves to love by acting lovingly.

I had a conversation with a friend a few weekends ago.  She shared with me a thought a co-worker presented speaking to a group of new college students.  “Sometimes,” this lady said, “we get so focused on doing the best.  On being the best.  Whatever happened to just settling for good and expecting good.  God looked at his creation and declared it good.  Why can’t good be good enough?”

So, I find myself, wondering about good, wondering about right.  I find more peace there than when I strive for all dreams and all fulfillment all the time.

But my question is:  Is that healthy, whole realism or settling for less than the best?  What do you think?

Barf, Balloons and All

You know how you have these images in your mind of how certain events will turn out?  Birthday parties, family photos, airplane trips, doctor visits, music recitals, visits with those “put-together” families?  These events usually involve a public component and if you are a parent, a component where your children are “on display” to some extent.  Rarely do we spend the same amount of time planning and formulating images and expectations if it isn’t intended for public consumption somehow.

In our society with so much reality TV, Facebooking and Twittering where what used to be private is on display and is often doctored by clever cropping, flattering filters or at least redeemed by a witty caption, we often get confused.  We think that life is about posing, performing and presenting these great, apparently candid moments.

Often with two little ones, even posed, things don’t come out so well.  Exhibit A: attempted birthday photo of Mommy and her two boys.  That’s a framer.

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The problem is that we somehow equate our children being on display with our inner selves being on display.  Kids misbehaving = mommy fail.  Messy house = lazy parents.  Image = success.

This past Sunday, my sister and brother-in-law were dedicating my cute little nephew at church.  In the middle of an already busy morning, preparing breakfast for overnight guests and getting ready for hosting the post-church party, their older son succumbed to the stomach flu that was going around day care the week before.   This, of course, initiated a flurry of cleaning and a whole new level of stress.

So here she is, on Mother’s day, kneeling by the tub to scrub off her sick kid, preparing to host all these people and hardly having time to get herself dressed.  Not exactly the moment you want to scrapbook.

And I thought, “Oh boy, what a shame that she has to deal with this on baby dedication day.  And Mother’s Day of all days!”  And then the realistic side of me kicked in.  Of course, I feel bad for my sick little nephew, for the added stress of the day.  Of course it is too bad that my sister can’t sleep in and have everyone serve her breakfast on Mother’s Day.  Of course.

And yet, it struck me that these are the real moments.  These are precisely the moments in which we need to dedicate our children to God, whether kneeling in front of a church or kneeling in front of a bathtub.   We need His provision whether we are serving a citrusy quinoa salad to a crowd or spooning scrambled eggs on plastic plates and eating the leftovers out of the pan, standing over the sink.  We need to be clothed in grace on days when our hair gets done and on days we can’t find time to get out of pyjamas (And we want to get dressed, we really do… Sometimes.)  We need His healing when we are up to our elbows in barf and we were really planning on doing something else.  And we need healing just as much when our own hearts tell us it all depends on us and maybe we are messing it up really, really badly. We need extra grace for the moments that are full of fits and tears—our children’s and ours.

We don’t dedicate our children because we have it all together.  We say, in front of family and community that we are committed to being dependent on the God who lends us these wee ones in the first place.  We may look coiffed and pressed and certain, but really we aren’t.

See, this dedication thing and this parenting this is all about releasing.  All about letting go.  Dedications.  It is Abraham, weeping inwardly I imagine, as he ties his son on the altar.  It is Noah, praying the boat’s construction is trustworthy as his sons march on board.  It is Hanna, pouring out her heart to God, looking like a drunken fool.  And it is her following through and actually weaning him, and bringing him to the temple, coming back every year with a handmade robe, a little bigger than last year’s.  (I probably would have waited to wean the poor child until he was 12 to keep him close to me.  She was a brave soul.)   And in these cases, the ram appeared.  The boat stayed afloat.  Samuel grew up to be a powerful leader.  But those assurances don’t come right away, nor are we guaranteed them.  Scripture and our lives are full of other examples of times when things don’t work out so well.

See, we release our children and we simultaneously release our expectations of how God has to work. When we lay aside our expectations that we need to be perfect and that our kids need to be perfect and that God needs to fit into our perfect boxes, we allow room to grow and be changed.  We leave lots of room for, “I’m sorry.”  Lots of room for adventure.  We allow room to be challenged.

We choose to nurture our kids into who they can be instead of stifling them and cramming them into a proper little mould to feed our own ego.  And when we release these expectations, we remind ourselves also of our real audience is, and how much He really cares, mess and all.  In doing so, we invite room for real life and real grace.  Barf, balloons and all.

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Character, Schmaracter… Oh wait…

My words on waiting are coming back to haunt me.

I said I wanted challenge to change me, reshape me, rename me.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

I was serious, yes indeed, but I thought I had an understanding of the rules of the game, the parameters of waiting in this case.

I didn’t anticipate recovery being far worse than what led me to surgery in the first place.  And maybe that is the whole point.  I can trust and try to press in when things seem out of hand.  But what about when they are really out of hand?  What about those days where despair and discouragement spread a sticky layer over everything.  Do I still value character then or do I just want relief?

It has been one month since my surgery.  One month in bed.  One enduring headache of Guinness Record proportions.  Two failed blood patches.  No solution other than lay down as much as you can and pray it gets better.

If you had told me I was going to spend a month in bed, I would have come up with a plan.  A reading list.  A writing list.  A stocked freezer and piles of clean sheets and podcasts and a “Deep Things of the Soul That I Never Quite Get To” List.  Boy, I would have made this time count if I had known.

But I didn’t know.  And my brain isn’t very clear.  Reading hurts my eyes.  My sentences come out tangled.  The only things in my freezer now are pizza and chicken nuggets.  I keep diving below the surface and coming up empty.

The month has felt like a waste.  All the things I could have done and I have just lain here.  The best moments of productivity have involved drawing renditions of Lego creations or squeezing as many smiley fire trucks on one 8 ½ x 11 sheet as possible, reading stories, singing some toddler songs with feeble actions.

But maybe, between the sheets and on the couch as dust collects around me, I am discovering some things.  Worth isn’t in productivity perhaps.  Sometimes it is okay to need help.  God isn’t impressed with our efforts.  Maybe these things will shape my character once I can get up and walk away from this.  Perhaps they are shaping me even now.

Maybe once my head is clear and my eyes are open I’ll catch things that have been simmering unnoticed.

And just maybe I won’t walk away with life lessons neatly packaged.  This may never make sense.  And that is okay too.

On Facebook the other day, someone posted this image and it as silly as it sounds, it has stayed with me.

You never know how close you are.. Never give up on your dreams!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So today I wait and slowly digest the words: “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.”  And I press on, in a lying down sort of way.  I won’t give up one day too soon.