Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fighting For...

The other day I was shopping for the perfect gift for this amazing girl I know that is headed off to college. She is moving into her dorm tomorrow, and this is the culmination of almost two years of her fighting for something different than she grew up in. Yearning for something more. Except she, unlike many people, had the courage to turn that yearning into action. She took all of the difficult steps to shed the dysfunction, the dead, the poison, and to seek and to search after life, love and for what she knew had to exist outside of the life she had known. I met this girl when she was 17. It happened to be at the darkest time of her life. I helped her start the ball rolling, walked with her through the darkness. At the same time, someone else also came into my life. Someone else who was hurting and alone. Someone I felt God had called me to show grace to...tangibly. So for a time, I did life with these young women.
So back to yesterday... I was in search of that perfect gift. And I found it. But in the process...I also stumbled upon this sign. And like most people who come to my town (tourists), I pulled my camera out and snapped a picture. Not because I am a tourist, but because these words are the fabric of who God made me to be. They are the motto by which I chose to live, for as far back as I can remember. These words are what drove me to get involved with these women in the first place. To take chances. To show grace. To offer hope. The one...has had her entire life change before her very eyes. It has been a grueling and difficult process...not easy by any means. But she starts her sophomore year of college at Calvin tomorrow and I could not be more proud of her. If you knew what this girl has overcome, you would feel the same. She made so many difficult decisions, overcame so many obstacles, and has come SO far. The story of redemption is just beginning, but her story is to the point that you can't wait to turn the next page to see what happens.
The other story did not end that way. It did not end well. At all. In fact, (using the words of the sign I saw yesterday), my risks were not "safe", and the care I offered hurt me a thousand times more than any help it gave her, and the dreams were not real, and my expectations for this girl which everyone told me were crazy...really were. What I thought I saw and hoped and offered came back to bite me full circle. Now when I read the words of that sign, all sorts of memories come crashing back like angry waves in a hurricane until I am knocked flat and the last thing I ever want to do, is live those words.
Since then, I have so often wondered what we ARE called to. I have believed my entire life that we are called to love tangibly, to give grace freely, to get our hands dirty, to give more than we think we have. But in small ways over the past two years, and then in a huge way a year ago, this belief became my demise. I am a therapist. I preach boundaries. And I have them. But with these people I literally felt God calling me to go further. To love radically. To get my hands dirty. And I did. And I risked a lot. One story is beautiful. The other a mess. And the mess was so damaging to my heart that it has largely caused me to back pedal away from the beautiful. For fear. That binding awful fear. So many times I have fallen prey to the idea that if we do what is right...what we are called to do...that everything will work out and the story will end beautifully. And when it doesn't, then what? The few people I was able to let in on the details had a miriad of responses. Most were the threads that wove together to help catch me as I fell. But a few said things I had heard other times in my life that are very damaging. Things like, "Well its such a mess, you must have heard wrong or you must have rushed ahead and done your own thing...this can't be God." These messages threw me back to my core beliefs on God. And you know what I found? I found that most often in the Bible, when God asked something of someone, it did NOT end well. In fact, many times the person ended up dead, or suffering in some way. Which in an earthly sense, we look upon and ask what kind of God rewards His people like that? But we fail to see beyond this life. We don't realize that the greatest grace ever extended to us...is heaven. So what we view as so awful (death), is in fact the very entrance gate we must walk through to get to the greatest victory.
But here is the thing. I still feel stupid. And weak. And vulnerable. And while I want to be true to the person God made me to be, I am so much thicker skinned. So much more cynical and jaded. So much less trusting. So much. And terrified of getting involved or getting my hands dirty with anyone else's life. I know the right response to all of this is to go forward, smarter. To be who God created me to be, but with better boundaries and more wisdom. But I haven't yet found the practical landing spot for that. I am at war within myself. I gave so much, and it could have cost me everything. In fact, my last time speaking to this person, I told her that I wished she "had stolen every dime in my bank account, because what she had taken from me was far, far more valuable." I knew that then...even in those early days.
A few months later I was pregnant. And lots happened the months before that, and even more the months after that. And I spent the last year feeling weak and vulnerable and insecure and depressed and utterly alone. And sick, both physically and at heart. At one point I remember laying alone in my room and feeling lost on so many levels. This was a year of deep loss....friendships, relationships, ideals, faith, and lots more that I can't share. And as labor neared, I viewed it as an opportunity to start something new. That if I could just have my physical health, perhaps the rest would start to fall into place. And here is where the natural labor thing fell. I know for many women it makes NO sense. Why would I ever put myself in a position to feel such pain when I could dull it? Why dip my toes into more hell, when I could avoid it? But I FOUGHT this entire pregnancy. I fought on so many levels. And I felt so weak by the end. For so long I had let people make me feel weak and I desperately needed to feel strong again. I wanted to FEEL and to fight back. So many people dull their emotions...its the American way...easy and fast fixes. I don't want to dull.To grow, we must feel. I don't want a bandaid. I want to heal. I am fine with the scars left behind, but I want new flesh to grow. I want something new.
And that something new started August 3, when I labored to bring my youngest son into this world. The labor was a picture to me of how I had been fighting for a long time. A couple of weeks ago, my sister stayed up ridiculously late one night to finish this amazing slide show (link to follow at bottom of post). She sent it to me and I loved every.single.second of it. I cried as I relived it all. But no one really knows all I was fighting for the past ten months, or those three hours in that hospital room. But I see it in these pictures. And it reminds me to keep fighting. I hesitated to share this with the world because it felt too personal. There is nothing inappropriate in the pictures...but the emotions captured are raw. However, it tells a beautiful story. Child birth...new life...is a redemptive story.  We go through the worst pain to gain the best gift. And its so easy to get lost in the pain. While my redemptive story is still being written...my hope is that by sharing this slide show, you will see your own redemption story. The things you have fought so hard to let go of. The things you  have fought so hard to keep. The memories that haunt you that you fight so hard against. The lost dreams, relationships, failures, and hurts that you fight against every day in the hopes that one day it will make some measure of sense. I hope you see that story. Your story...and that you find hope in the midst of it to lead you out of the darkness and into the Light.

Labor...a Redemptive Story
Courtesy of Brennigan Gilson-Burnett of BgPhotography

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Birth Story

Women in my circles love a good birth story. I think we all live vicariously through each other, remembering the times that we first met eyes with our own precious children. So I promised to write it out, and here it is. If your a guy, or aren't interested in this sort of thing, I encourage you to close this link right now and go play Words with Friends or something much less emotional and personal then the words I am about to put to paper (or screen) ;-)

My entire pregnancy was an exercise in releasing control. It always is to a great degree, as I am never weaker than when I am pregnant. And I hate to be weak. I hate to need, to have to ask, to not be able to keep up, but apparently God knows that because He has allowed me to learn the hard way four times now, that in our weakness we can be made strong. But this pregnancy was different. The ten months I carried this baby were different. Person after person, thing after thing, circumstance after circumstance was a continuos releasing. By the time the baby was full term I was holding very loosely to this final birth experience being what I wanted it to be. I wanted to do it naturally again. Not for any truly great, selfless reason other than I wanted to be in control. I felt so out of control of so many areas of my life, that this was one I could hold. And so many people had succeeded at making me feel weak (and I had let them) that this was my chance to prove to myself that I was strong. I know it doesn't make any logical sense...but psychologically and emotionally, it made sense to me. But as delivery neared, a few problems began to arise and it appeared that I was going to have to be medically induced. I hadn't had pitocin with Noah or Ev, but I did with Landon. And I remember it well. Pitocin puts labor on steroids and I knew I wouldn't be able to do it naturally if it did to me what it did with Landon. But again, I had learned to hold things loosely and mostly, I just wanted a healthy baby. So the induction was set for Friday Aug 2. Initially it was supposed to be a morning induction, then it got moved to an evening induction. I changed child care options around a bit and rearranged my expectations (when you are knowingly facing labor, a 12 hour change is no small thing). I spent the morning chasing my kids around and purposely tried to savor nap time. I read Everett his story and rocked him for an extra few moments knowing it was the last day he would be my baby. Then I went to Noah's room and tried to read with him, but the nausea crept up and he kept asking me if I was going to throw up on his bed, so eventually I just kissed him and let him go to sleep. I tried to sleep for an hour, but knowing what lay ahead I was too anxious and excited, so I just laid there. Another crazy control aspect that I know came from my psychological/emotional deficit, was for things to be in order at home. I could control that. I had steam cleaned the carpets and furniture, deep cleaned the bathrooms and our bedrooms. I had swept ceilings and wiped baseboards and cupboards. I knew a baby didn't care about any of that. But I did. It made me feel like I was doing something to prepare, something tangible. So fast forward to Friday Aug 2, when I was trying to take that nap, I remembered the van wasn't clean. So I pulled the steam cleaner out and steam cleaned our vehicle. I was on my hands and knees doing that for a couple hours. Then I ran Noah to a birthday party and my mom and Jon met the rest of us at a restaurant for dinner. The hospital called and told me my induction may be bumped, and that they would let me know by 7:30-8. Enter anxiety. I was so ready to give birth at this point. But the call never came. So I jumped in the shower by 8 and was ready to kiss my kiddos goodbye at quarter to 9.

Then we began that monumental trek to the hospital. I was quickly checked in and in a gown. When they did the initial check I had progressed to a 3, with some other progress, AND I was contracting on my own. I knew that, but the contractions didn't feel much different than I had been feeling all week. Anyway, since my body was doing something on its own, we decided to wait until Sat morning before doing anything medical to bring on labor. At 6am Saturday morning they checked me and I had progressed to a 5-6, all on my own. No need for pitocin, I was in active labor. Thank you, Lord. My doctor broke my water at 6am and by 7, the contractions were very intense and very regular. Jonathan and my sister Brenn were there with me the whole time. I remember at one point they were conversing and I was alternating between sitting on a ball and leaning on the bed, thinking my body may rip in two, when I couldn't take listening to them talk anymore and asked them to please (I am not sure I said please) stop talking. At any rate, the room went silent ;-). By 9, I was convinced I was dying. I was still in good control but was wearing down. I asked the nurse to check me and she said I was an 8, and entering transition. Sure enough, it started. That whole awful transition thing. And the baby was sunny side up, so she had me lay on my side (excruciating) during the contractions in an effort to get the baby to turn. It took 6 or 7 contractions but he flipped and it was most certainly time to push. This is the part I lost control at with Everett, because no one had ever prepared me for the feeling that happens when the baby crowns. Let me tell you now, in case you don't know: it is as though a pressure bomb goes off. It absolutely panicked me with Everett, and I lost a lot of my "control." This time,  I knew what to expect but the agony was still ever present. When you are in that much pain all you can think is that if you push hard enough, it will all be over. You can make it end. So push I did. With all of me. And Everything. And it didn't take long. Three hours after breaking my water, I was holding my beautiful boy.

At our 20 week ultrasound I saw big, huge hands and feet, which tipped me off to this baby being a boy. And I had imagined him with hair the entire pregnancy. Most people I told that he would have hair laughed at me bc Everett is still practically bald at 2.5 years. But I knew this boy would have hair. And while I don't remember much that was said while I was pushing him out, I do remember the doctor saying she could see his hair. And I knew I was right. He was exactly as I imagined him. I gave one last push for all I was worth and she lifted my baby boy to my chest. He didn't cry at first, but I knew he was going to be ok. They eventually got him to cry a little on my chest and then took him to the warmer to look him over. The doctor got him riled up and crying and that helped to pink him up. He weighed in at 8 pounds, 7 ounces which was one ounce shy of his older brother (Ev was 8.8, but seemed MUCH bigger than Silas).

So in the end, I had my unmedicated, natural birth experience that I had very much wanted. Perhaps it was the steam cleaning on my hands and knees or maybe the raspberry leaf tea or evening primrose, or the extra 12 hours that I saw as a bad thing, but may have been the best thing. Or perhaps God just decided to give me this one. I am just grateful. Grateful it is over. Grateful to have a healthy baby. Grateful to eat food and have it taste good and not have to wonder what it will taste like after I eat it. Grateful to have my strength back. Grateful to shed the nausea that had become a way of life. Grateful to, at the very least, not feel physically weak any longer. In the days since having Silas, I can't help but stare at his every perfect feature and marvel at the miracle he is. That each baby who becomes a child who becomes an adult, is. The worth and value and intricate details that make each one of us precious miracles. The process of creating a life and sustaining it, and then birthing it into this world and watching as that life becomes independent of the mother testifies to God in undeniable ways. Knowing how my body changed to sustain life for my son, and then watching as my body shed those very things necessary for his life and he and I became independent of one another, and his own little body took over, is like witnessing a miracle.

I am just so grateful. Blessed. Four healthy sons. Silas is exactly who he was meant to be. Now we have the privelege of watching that unfold, that story be told. Welcome to the family, Silas Avery...you are so loved.