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My Son

When words can't capture the love I have for my son, pictures will have to do. 

Seasons- An Intimate Look at Our Lives from Autumn to Spring

Autumn

I haven't written much these past several months. That's mostly because my brain is so full that I can hardly get a thought in edgewise, much less get words out on paper (or in this case, on screen). Looking back over our time here in The Netherlands I can see a pattern repeated over and over: waiting, wondering, despairing, hoping, and rejoicing. This school year started with waiting and wondering; we called out to God and asked him to make his plans for us clear. We asked him to be our compass and help us find the path ahead. He showed up. We were hopeful and ready to rely on Him to lead us forward. We had a few months of leaning heavily on God's provision, and he came through in miraculous ways. He provided and we praised him. 

We found out in November that we were expecting another little one, and we rejoiced! He had given us another life to love and nurture! The pregnancy was difficult. I could hardly leave the house, hardly move from the couch, due to intense motion sickness. I also suffer from prenatal depression (while many women have postpartum depression after the delivery, I've had it on the front-end of both pregnancies). This coupled with living far North during the winter (where the days are very dark, cold, short, and wet) made enjoying our many visitors throughout December and early January extremely difficult. 


Side note: Depression is an extremely dark beast. It attacks your enjoyment of life, your ability to see things rationally, your understanding of your identity, and even your will to live. In the case of prenatal depression it can be very confusing- there's excitement about the little life that's growing, yet depression clouds every thought and feeling, making it very hard to feel positive emotions. If you are struggling with prenatal or postpartum depression, talk about it with someone. I know it doesn't sound like it would help, but I promise that it does. It helps to let people in on your thoughts, and it helps bring rationality and truth to some of the more persistent thoughts. 


Winter

In late December the sicknesses began. Viruses of every shape and size, from the stomach bug to the flu to ear infections to sinus infections; we had it all. It started the week before Christmas with throwing up- first little Kev, then big Kev, then on Christmas morning, me. Weeks of viruses and sicknesses came one after the other- for months we were (and still have been) hit over and over with new variations of similar sicknesses. 

In early January I received extremely shocking, heavy, sad news about a very close friend who we learned had been living a double life, unbeknownst to everyone surrounding them. Living so far away meant that we were unable to lend any support. We couldn't be shoulders to cry on and we couldn't offer meals or our presence to the hurting family. We were separated by an ocean and weren't able to be there for our friends.

The next day I was driven to my ultrasound appointment by our friend Miss Patty. Kevin stayed home with Kev during nap time- we didn't suspect anything was wrong. I had called Kevin on FaceTime so he could see the baby moving on the screen; we were excited to see her again! When the ultrasound tech put the wand on my low belly I immediately knew something wasn't right. The baby looked no bigger than she had looked at the last ultrasound. The tech slowly confirmed my fears by saying 'I can't find a heartbeat...lets try one more time'. Kevin asked quickly for me to repeat what she had said, and through tears I repeated the words. They sounded hollow. It felt too impossible. I laid on the table, my cheeks wet, Miss Patty's hand clutched in mine, as the tech repeated 'There is no heartbeat- I'm sorry, your baby has died'. My friend Karin, the midwife who was with me through my labor of little Kev and who we had asked to be with us through this pregnancy, happened to be the midwife taking appointments that day and was in the next room on a break. She immediately came into the room and hugged me. God was there. He immediately surrounded me with women who knew me and cared for me from the moment I heard those devastating words. 

I wanted to wait and try to let the baby come naturally. Through the next few weeks I could feel the baby and the sac that housed her moving around within my belly- I felt her body press against my side as if she were alive and moving. I still had the symptoms of pregnancy- the nausea, the exhaustion, and the depression. My stomach still continued to grow and I looked more and more pregnant. I still had the cravings and heartburn and mood swings, only now there was nothing to show for it. I asked for two more ultrasounds during the next four weeks to just confirm in my heart that she truly was gone. I felt like a walking tomb. My daughter wasn't with me any longer but my body thought she was. It continued to prepare for an event that would never come to be. As the weeks progressed and nothing happened, I decided that it would be best to have a D&C procedure to allow me to move on physically as well as mentally. I was 14 weeks along when they removed my daughter from my body. I could finally move through the grief and begin to heal. 

How do you deal with the loss of a child? One that you never knew but that you had loved and longed to meet? I still feel the weight of that sadness within me, although through the last few months it's become more of a longing than an overwhelming grief. One day I'll meet her, and until that day the knowledge that she had life for 9 short weeks is enough. 

In mid-March our world was rocked again for the third time in three short months when we received the news that Kevin's uncle had suffered a stroke. The next few days were filled with questions and a dwindling hope for survival. A few days later he passed away. Kevin decided to go back to Pennsylvania for the funeral and to offer support to his family, but the difficulty of distance was highlighted once again in this tragic time. Facetime is a poor substitute when, instead of talking, a long hug or a shoulder to cry on is needed. 

Spring

We are closing in on our last month here at Tyndale Theological Seminary. Through the struggles of the Winter we have been upheld by this community. We've been served so graciously and without any need for returned favors. So many people have offered practical help and encouragement. People have brought us meals, given us flowers, sent us boxes filled with love and encouragement, driven us to the hospital/midwife for the many various appointments, babysat little Kev, allowed Kevin and I to go out and talk, bought groceries for us, prayed and cried with us, and so much more. We are tired- emotionally and physically drained. Yet we are hopeful. We are at rest. We have been loved. We are filled with gratefulness. God has not left us. The community of believers around the world has reminded us of his constant love and compassion for us.

As Kevin finishes his last weeks of classes and we begin the process of moving to the next stop in our journey (more on that in another post next week), we are hopeful. We are rejoicing. God has brought us through darkness and He didn't forget us. We are in the last few weeks of a long, hard, incredibly growth-filled, difficult, wonderful three years and we are filled with wonder and hope at the prospects of our future. Even as we approach the end of our time here we still don't know what our future holds. Nothing about our life has gone as planned though, and because of that we can trust that our next move will be just as unexpected and just as growth-filled as the last.

Spring has brought joy and expectancy. We're ready for Summer, whatever it brings. We're confident that God is here, and he is leading us onward.

Callings and Momhood

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Reading mothering books while trying to be a mother is, regrettably, not very high on my list of priorities. The book The High Calling of Motherhood, written by Chimene Shipley Dupler happens to be one of only a small handful of books I've read on being a mom. It was encouraging, then, to find that within 36 pages of her book a common idea was being unfolded in a was that truly struck me for the first time. Instead of paraphrasing, I'll just quote her directly:

You have been handpicked by God Almighty to be the mother of your children. You were chosen to be the mother to the very children that you call your own, whether biological or through adoption. It has been known and planned by God from the foundations of the earth. Our God is an intentional God. The gift of motherhood is not an accident. There has been no mistake. You have been chosen and called to be the mother of your sons and daughters. 
There is so much detail in the intricacy of cells coming together to become a human life as each child is knit together with such care and attention in our wombs. With that same precision, God gave you the exact children He planned for you from the foundations of the world. Being chosen adds an extreme soberness to the responsibility we have as mothers. God is entrusting us with the care and training of our children. When we stop long enough to let that marinate, we can understand more fully the honor and responsibility we have been given by God Himself ...

If God chose me to be the mother of my three daughters, then He is going to provide me with the resources that I need to fully care for them as unique individuals. (pg 36). 

Psalm 139 says: 

 15  My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
 intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 16  Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
 the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

I'd read and heard those verses countless times, but I'd never thought of them from a mother's perspective. God intricately wove my two children together in my womb. Before he even started that process, he knew the days of my children's lives and how each day would be spent. He saw every precious second tick by and knew what the futures of my children would hold before they had even begun being formed inside my belly.

God knew that at 17 months little Kev would be cutting four molars, battling the flu, suffering from an ear infection and taking over our bed every night due to that winning combination. He knew that our little daughter, barely nine weeks into her life, would be experiencing the final flutters of her heart, experiencing the last seconds of being inside her mother, and opening her new, perfect eyes to see the face of Jesus at about that same time.

God knew her entire, short life's story before she came into existence. He know's little Kev's story, from beginning to end. He knows our future children's names and personalities, their very DNA, and they aren't even part of our family portrait yet. 

He knows them and chose me to be their mother. He knows both little Kev's strengths and mine, both his weaknesses and mine, and he chose me to raise little Kev to manhood. Dupley states in the last paragraph that because of all of this, "[God will] provide me with the resources that I need to fully care for [my daughters] as unique individuals." 

God's choosing to put these children into my care and under my authority means that I am the best person for the job of being the mother of my children, and he makes sure I can handle this calling by giving me all the equipment I need within the person of Jesus. 

I'm not good at reading books on momming. I'm not good at reading any books in the nonfiction realm, actually. I get bored quickly, and I blame it on having to have a mind that is constantly trying to keep up with my son, manage a home, and maintain business, family, and friend relationships. Due to these things it was an encouragement to pick up this book (extremely hesitantly, I might add), reach page 36, and be so beautifully reminded of the highness of my calling to motherhood, the weightiness of responsibility on my shoulders, and the One who offers to carry all my burdens if I will only give them over. Being a mother is the toughest, most heart-breaking, most joy-filled, most satisfying, most exhausting job in the world, and I've never been happier or more honored to call a job MINE. 


1st Birthday Party on a Tight Budget

On August 1, 2016, my sweet little boy turned one. Today, as you may have noticed, is January 31, 2017. Almost exactly a full six months after his birthday. The last six months have felt more like eighteen which is one reason I haven't done this sooner, but I won't get into that now. 

I planned and executed Kev's First Birthday Party with the help of my sisters and mom who had graciously allowed us to host the event at their house (as we were living there during the summer months while we worked back in the US). As this is a picture-heavy post, I'll let them do most of the talking.

My budget was $50 and I kept it almost exactly to that amount. I bought colored paper, washi tape, felt for the crown, and the decorative posters from Hobby Lobby. I printed the photos at Walgreens and bought helium balloons from the Dollar General. I made a 'healthy cake' from this recipe (which he was way too overwhelmed to eat at the time, of course) and used kebab sticks and twine for the tiny cake topper. The 'blocks' were made by painting 1'x1' cardboard boxes. On the front I painted the letters of his name, on the right I painted his birth date and place, and on the left I painted some birth stats and extras. Lastly, we bought a journal to set out and asked all of the guests to write a note to Kev for him to read when he turns 18. The goal is to set the journal out at each birthday party for the next 18 years, but lets be honest, that's super unlikely to happen...I can dream though.

Life as it Pertains to Pipe Tobacco (Pt.2)

One of my favorite things is pipe tobacco.

I have vivid memories of my great Grandaddy rolling cigarettes on his knee; wrapping the paper into tight cylinders as I sat on the hardwood living room floor of his Georgia farmhouse. I remember the screen door being propped open, letting the air from the fields slowly make its way into the room. I remember the porch swing creaking and the katydids chirping in lazy summer afternoon.

And Grandaddy would smoke his freshly rolled cigarette.

I remember Mr. Joe. He was an old man who lived across the street from my family when we were still living near the coast of South Carolina. He was in his sixties or seventies-- I never knew his age. When you're little you think old is old and young is young. All I knew is that he was old. And he had soft, downy white hair and a fluffy white mustache and that he smelled like old pipe tobacco. It was an oddly homey and comforting smell. I used to throw my tiny arms around his midsection and breath in deeply, inhaling the heady, rich aroma. He bought me and my sister teddy bears one Christmas- mine brown, hers white. I loved that little bear. He kept a pipe in his pocket and would light it on our front porch. Mom never let him smoke inside, but the smell traveled. Mr. Joe was a painter. He let me my mother take some of his odd jobs to help us out. I remember playing around the huge oil drums in the local airfield as my mother painted them a brilliant blue.

He died a couple years back. My dad and I stopped by to see his old house on our way through town the summer that we heard the news. My heart ached to see the shabby mill house, paint curling off the wooden boards from too many days in the hot sun, no one there to touch up the crackles with fresh white paint.

I remember holidays spent around a table, bellies full of dinner and hearts full of laughter. Dessert dishes scattered with half-eaten pies staining the china. Men gathered on one end of the table in the small dining room where a huge, ancient upright piano stood in the corner, silently observing as it had for generations. Music drifted down the hall, children waiting for gifts squealed around the Christmas tree, and women laughed as they washed dishes in the kitchen. The men would smoke their pipes, smoke lazily wafting into the cool night air through the open, screen-less window. 

I remember two weeks ago. My husband sitting in the corner of our tiny apartment facing the giant window, white Christmas lights twinkling as they framed the glass, our little boy sleeping behind the closed door of our bedroom, the world outside our cozy home quiet in the brisk night air. He was surrounded by books and notes scribbled on bits of paper, typing away on his computer keyboard, thoughts almost visibly forming as he wrote and remembered. Standing in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner I could see the smoke curling slowly, like a dancer undulating, like an invisible painter making slow, curling strokes through the thick air.  I could smell it:  sweet, heavy, woody. 

I smiled at the memories brought by pipe tobacco and the man who sat in the corner and the boy who slept in the room next door.

And my husband smoked his pipe.

Dating, Marriage, and Forever

If you're planning a wedding or have ever helped plan a wedding, you probably know that the bride and everyone connected with her is totally consumed with the planning: the perfect cake, the perfect dress(es), the perfect wedding party, the perfect venue, photographer, videographer, flowers, food, music, dance, etc. etc. The list is endless. 

For many people, life in the dating realm is spent searching for the person who completes them, the person most compatible with their life, the person who will encourage them in their endeavors and be the handsome/beautiful face smiling back at them in front of their friends and family as they say their vows. Most people are looking for a completion of sorts- someone to fill out what they lack in all the ways that make them most happy. Someone to be there for them when others leave, and someone who will always have their back no matter what. 

Most of the time, the idea of extreme hardship doesn't enter the picture. The thought 'could I be this person's sole support system if all fails and they can't support me or themselves?' or 'could I forgive this person if they fail me and injure my heart deeply?' never crosses the mind. It's not something even on the radar, especially with all that tulle and lace and cloud of romantic attachment floating around the brain.

Planning a wedding can be one of the most stressful times of a person's life. I lost twenty pounds in the months before my wedding and had multiple panic attacks, then ended up with a terrible case of the flu on my wedding day/honeymoon. The planning of an event that large was way too much for my non-planner, organizationally-challenged brain to handle, and my body responded in kind.

Looking back I can now say this with certainty: the wedding was a nice day and we had a lot of fun, but it was only the beginning of the most important day of my life. It wasn't THE most important day of my life. 

The wedding was just the outward act of the covenant being created over the past months, and the expression of the vows that would be striven for over the next decades. The wedding was just a blip on the radar of our marriage. It was only the first of thousands of days in which our vows were stated and promises were made and broken.

When you're planning for a wedding (or looking for someone to eventually call your spouse), you need to look past your wedding day. Look down the road to financial burdens that are too heavy for your shoulders. To the first month of being parents and the incredibly emotionally draining, exhausting, medically-challenging time that is. To the trips you take together only to realize you didn't communicate and expectations become disappointments. To the times you disagree and still have to live together. To the times when your pre-kid bodies leave and you have to trust that your spouse still wants you over the other women and men with better, leaner, more attractive bodies. To the time when physical intimacy isn't option and the fears that accompany that- will they cheat? do they still want/love me? 

Marriage is forever. To be able to have a successful marriage, you must be willing to be the trustworthy, faithful, steadfast spouse. Looking to your partner to be those things without expecting that same dedication in yourself is a recipe for a sad, broken, disappointing marriage.

Marriage is for the long-haul, and our generation needs to be better at realizing that it's OUR job, not our spouse's job, to be dedicated to its success. We need to be preparing to be the spouse who becomes the sole breadwinner when our other half can no longer function. To be the strong one- the one who runs after our spouse in the night because their mind is failing and they've forgotten where they are. The one who is content to sit next to the other, loving them in simple, childlike ways because it's the only way we can show it to their fogged, uncomprehensive mind. The one ready to serve the other with grace and forgiveness when it's needed, and to not bring up past failures.

If you're planning a wedding, try to remember that what you're actually planning for is a lifetime.

 

 

Autumn in Amsterdam

Autumn is my favorite time of year.

Summer warmth starts giving way to a crispness that lingers in the air. It gradually wraps around each day dissipating after the early morning hours and returning in the early evening hours, like a blanket slowly being pulled around slight shoulders. The trees begin to give up their young, vibrant summer greens for their refined, middle-aged golds. The sun begins setting earlier and earlier, retreating for the long winter under feather blankets dressed as clouds. Warm breath hangs in chilly air like the mist that clings to the canals and fields at dawn.

Unlike the dazzling, new beauty of Winter, the striking, bright beauty of Spring, or the vibrant, loud beauty of Summer, Autumn's beauty comes quietly and heralds the end of things that were. It gathers its breath through months of increasing beauty and, when the heart is completely full of its wonder and warmth, all at once releases in a long exhale that signals fin. It is over. 

I was in Amsterdam last week with a friend, and decided it was time to share the beauties of this city in Autumn with my friends. The last two photos were shot while walking home from the bus in our very own sleepy little Badhoevedorp. Here are some of my favorites from the day:

Am I The Only One?

Sometimes I'm the master of dinner. Anthony Bourdain could make a surprise visit to my kitchen and I would welcome him with open arms and a pot of the best Thai Green Curry Chicken you've ever tasted. 

Then there are those other times. Times where my cupboards are bare, my refrigerator is filled with old condiments and a few small containers of leftovers from my Anthony Bourdain hosting days (that have, quite honestly, probably molded by now). 

Times where I can't seem to get my crap together to put a semi-decent grocery list on paper, or think of anything better for my toddler to eat at lunch than pb&j.

Today is one of those days, and unfortunately it's coinciding with weekly meal-planning-and-shopping-day. 

My family is doomed. Someone will probably look for us one day this weekend after we haven't shown up places all week and find us all dead of spaghetti overdose, Kevin writing 'send help' in the marinara. 

 

 

Wonder

Wonder. The word invokes emotions of delight, enthusiasm, excitement, and delicate curiosity. It is awe, enjoyment, amazement, and laughter. 

I see it in my thirteen-month-old son's eyes as I load laundry into our front-load machine. With one hand in mine (and eyes that look a little unsure) and one hand on the thick, clear, circular door, he watches the wet, sudsy clothes spin round and round and round, feeling the machine's whirring, hearing its whooshing, absorbed in the colorful undulations of clothes, water, and bubbles. 

I saw it in his eyes when he rode in an airplane at eight months old, watching the ground melt away, rising to meet the sun, feeling the heavy force that comes from an upward thrust at an incredibly high speed. He had been in airplanes before, but this time was different- this time he wondered at this miracle of flight.

I see it when we bike to the grocery store together- his face a transparent sea of emotion as he takes in the world we cycle through, noticing every detail.

Moving from an area of the US where owning a car by the time you can apply for a license was standard, it was difficult to come to terms with not having an easily-accessible vehicle to use to run errands or to visit friends. It quickly turned from novelty to mundane to irritation. We live in a beautiful place where the majority of people bike to and from their daily activities, but as an American it was a difficult cultural standard to adjust to. I began to dread each trip to the grocery store. Each errand that popped into my head was followed by an internal groan. Whether or not I'd go into the city to explore or relax was decided by whether or not I actually felt like bundling up (from late September through late June/ mid July it's rainy and chilly), dragging my bike out of the storage unit, and peddling either one mile to the nearest tram or bus stop or four miles into the center of Amsterdam. It became a drudgery for me; it was something I came to hate.

Then baby Kev arrived. 

Having a child saturates a world previously unknown to be dull with an explosion of color. Everything is fuller. Everything becomes new. Things that used to be mundane or standard suddenly become bright and interesting. With a baby there's an intimate understanding that everything they're seeing and doing is being seen and done for the very first time. The way the sun hits a diamond ring and throws sparkles across the ceiling, the way a grinder sounds when grinding the beans for morning coffee, the sweet taste of a juicy watermelon, the feel of warm water flowing out of a faucet through tiny fingers, the feeling of water splashing beneath tiny palms, the contrast of dark tunnels lit by warm electric lights versus the bright sky as we drive down a highway, and the curious non-tactile experience of the discovery of a shadow. Seemingly insignificant experiences hold infinite wonder. Being the parent of a new baby is an incredible gift. As parents, we get the pleasure of introducing a brand new human to the curiosities and delights of this world. 

Baby Kev loves riding in his seat on the back on our bikes. We put him in the cushioned seat, buckle the harness around his body, and strap his feet into the stirrups. He gives us toothy, squinty-eyed grins as he watches us mount the bike seat. We push off and he squeals and babbles, assuming we can understand his delighted outburst of conversation. We pass canals, rowhouses, cars, ducks, dogs, neighbors, and other bikers during our rides, and he smiles and waves at everyone and everything. He calls out 'Bir!' when he sees any form of flying fowl, and points insistently until I acknowledge his observation. When he rides behind his daddy and I ride beside, he holds his hand out for me to grab. This is hard to resist and dangerous to attempt, but his sweetness steals my fears and steels my resolve. We hold hands for a few seconds before he spots another feathered friend and lets go to point, and the cycle resumes: point, wave, reach, point, wave, reach.  

Through being mommy to Kev, God has opened my eyes again to the small wonders of my daily life. What fun it is to be in the open air, seeing ducks in the canal and trees swaying in the breeze, waving to neighbors and calling out greetings. 

Yesterday we took the bus to church after first biking a mile to the bus stop. When we left it was crisp, bright, and sunny. When we returned to the bus stop that afternoon however, clouds had rolled in and rain started pouring. The crisp air was replaced by a definite chill as the icy rain pelted our faces. Ordinarily this ordeal would be extremely irritating, but with 14 month old Kev in the ergo on my back something shifted. Hearing his delighted laughter and seeing his tiny hand reaching for the drops as we sped down the road warmed my heart and the discomfort was quickly forgotten. It was hard to wish the rain away when my boy was loving every drop of rain and savoring every new sensation.

Wonder. It changes everything. 

Baby Kev's Birth Story

I've wondered for years what this story would look like, especially after becoming a Birth Photographer. There are so many possible scenarios for each birth, and while I wasn't particularly anxious about the labor and delivery experience, I was curious to know how mine would play out. After seeing many successful births and weighing the pros and cons of the medical system here in Holland, Kevin and I opted to try for a home birth experience. We'd planned for a home birth since the beginning of this year and, while we knew there was a possibility of needing to go to a hospital for an emergency situation, we didn't really take the preparation for an emergency too seriously.


Hint for the non-interested or non-readers: If you want to skip the details but want the gist of the day, just scroll to the bottom of the page and check out the slideshow from our birth photographer!


I had a relatively easy pregnancy, gained an average to low amount of weight, had no complications, and felt pretty good for the majority of the nine months. I was fairly comfortable until around 36 weeks when the weather here in the Netherlands became unusually warm and humid. Even then my only complaint was personal temperature- I felt like I could have warmed our entire apartment with my body heat alone. It wasn't until I hit 40 weeks that I became truly restless and VERY ready for our little man to arrive.

My mom flew over to begin her three week visit on the 21st- two days before my due date. Due to my (small) size and the perceived (large) size of our son, we were thinking he may come early. We realized the error of our thinking as we easily (though not comfortably) breezed through the 40 week mark. At an appointment with our midwife on Tuesday the 28th (at 40 weeks and 5 days) we decided that if I hadn't gone into labor by the 31st we would try a membrane sweep to see if we could naturally induce labor. The 41 week mark rolled by without any changes, so the next day at 12:15pm we went to the midwifes office for the procedure.

Dilation and effacement were checked and I was 3cm dilated and 25% effaced. When only one minute after the sweep I started experiencing contractions, we were hopeful that the combo of all three things would mean that active labor was soon to follow. As the day progressed and I changed activities though (from sitting to walking to laying), the contractions slowed almost to a halt. Frustrated by the lack of progress, I asked my mom and Kevin to go to the store and find the ingredients for a 'labor inducing cocktail' that many women I knew swore by. When they returned I filled the biggest glass I could find with this concoction and Kevin and I set out on a long walk. We walked from around 6:45-8pm and I tried my very best to finish the drink (but was only able to get about half of it down). As we walked, the contractions that had faded during the day slowly and gradually returned. By the time we returned to the apartment I could no longer walk comfortably through the contractions. We timed the contractions for two more hours after we returned from our walk and decided to call the midwife. She came by at 10:50pm, checked me to see if I had progressed, and to our dismay announced that nothing had changed.

Discouraged, I decided to try and go to bed knowing that if this was truly labor I would be woken up by increasing contractions. Around 1am I woke up with very uncomfortable contractions and was unable to sleep any longer. I got up and walked around the house, got a hot shower, and sat on an exercise ball. By 2am I woke Kevin.

(Side note: I didn't realize until pregnancy how much I relied on him. Even just having him present with me is a comfort and I'm so, so thankful for his constant servant-heartedness and support through my entire pregnancy+labor). 

He dozed lightly for about an hour then we called the midwife again. She came by to check my progress and found that things were still the same, but declared me to be in active labor. She decided to come back at 5am to break my water if the contractions continued at the same frequency but I still hadn't dilated. Neither of us could sleep at this point so we both caught up on our Netflix shows for the next hour and a half.


Shameless endorsement time for pregnant mammas: I also decided to buy the cd Hidden In My Heart during this time of waiting to listen to while in labor. This turned out to be the best labor prep-decision I made during my entire pregnancy. We played the CD on shuffle the entire day, and while I wasn't lucid for most of the labor, the songs I Will Never Leave You and I Can Do All Things seemed to come on just when I was most in need of the encouragement to keep going. Confession: I have a very hard time listening to those song now without crying. Dang post-partum hormones.


When the midwife returned and checked me at 5am, she felt what seemed like it may be the umbilical cord between my cervix and the baby's head. She felt that it was too dangerous to break my water as, if it was the umbilical cord, the baby's oxygen would be cut off during each contraction. The best course of action was to move to the hospital. Around this time our Birth Photographer arrived (thankfully, as I completely forgot about telling her we were going to move!). We hadn't prepared a hospital bag so Kevin and my mom made a mad dash around the house collecting anything they could think of that we may need, and we headed to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital they hooked me up to lots of monitors and make sure the baby wasn't in distress. They monitored him and me through 2.5 hours of contractions, then decided that it was safe to break my water. At this point I was still only 4 cm dilated.

Everything past that point is a blur. I have random intense moments that I remember acutely but the majority of the day I felt like I was in a dream or deep under water. Kevin, ever the note-taker, kept a timeline of events in his notebook and I'm referencing those for timing and details of the rest of the day.

By 10:30am I was 8cm dilated and in the throws of intense back labor. I tried to shift positions many times to relieve the pain but nothing seemed to help. Kevin used what he learned in our birthing class by applying counter-pressure to pressure points in my lower back. I noticed how helpful it actually was when he had to shift positions in the middle of a contraction- I half cried/half yelled at him 'DO NOT MOVE AGAIN!' It was as if a giant vice grip was clamping onto my lower back and squeezing to the point of crushing. The counter pressure helped keep the very worst pain at bay. 

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Around 12:00pm I had the intense urge to push. For the next hour and a half I tried to push through each contraction. Around that time I started begging for anything to help with the pain, and subconsciously I knew that when women got to that point they were usually hitting transition. I was, in a very weird and not actually helpful way, encouraged. At this point I was completely passing out between contractions. It was as if I had taken a drug that put me into a coma. I could hear things around me, but I was unable to open my eyes, move, or speak until the next contractions started to rise. Around 1pm they checked me again and discovered that the baby was facing up and I still hadn't dilated past an 8. This was the cause of the intense back labor and needing to push so early. I begged for them to just knock me out and do a c-section, but the midwives kept encouraging me that I was close to delivering and to push through.

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Through the whole labor, my mom and Kevin were by my side encouraging me, giving me water or ice, rubbing my head, feet, and back, and putting cold washcloths on my forehead. My mom's presence was such a calming influence and her ability to read each situation and know what I needed at any given moment was an incredible relief. I'm so, SO thankful she was able to be here during my labor.

Finally around 2:00pm, after many shifts in position, the baby turned. Thirty minutes later I was given a port in my right wrist and they started a Pitocin drip to try and encourage me to complete the last two centimeters and to carry the contraction's frequency through pushing. When the back labor stopped my mental and physical demeanor changed noticeably. Everyone in the room could see that things had shifted for the better. I felt like I had finally come through 'The Valley of Death'. I was able to continue into the last stage of labor without the intense panic that I had been feeling with each contraction before.  

At 3:08pm they checked me again and discovered I was fully dilated and was ready to start pushing effectively. They attached a monitor to the baby's head, and I discovered later that Kevin and my mom were using that as a guide to tell how far the baby was moving during each push. Being in labor is a very strange thing to describe. I felt like I was both unable to think or communicate and also very alert in my subconscious mind. Each time I pushed my subconscious mind was thinking 'My poor mother. I'm going to break her hand. I just know I'm going to break her fingers. Kevin can take this because he's a man and his hands are huge but my moms hands aren't any bigger than mine!' I NEEDED her to stay and hold my hand, but I felt really sorry for her at the same time. I had many very clear thoughts but was unable to fully process or express them.

At 4:30pm Kevin was able to see the baby's head with each contraction. Even though the baby was getting closer to being born, they started saying that if he wasn't born within the next 15-30 minutes they would need to call for a vacuum to assist in the delivery. That was the only phrase I heard with complete clarity during the entire pushing phase, and I was absolutely determined not to have the vacuum as part of the delivery. For each of the contractions during the next 15 minutes I pushed even harder and more intensely than I thought I was even capable of. I begged and begged the Holy Spirit to lend me extra strength. 

At 4:45pm I finally heard the words 'One more contraction and he'll be born!' I was both relieved and determined and so, so thankful that the end was so close. With the next contraction I pushed three times, breathing in short panting breaths as the midwife guided the baby slowly into the world. Kevin helped her catch our little boy and bring him immediately to my chest. The cord was wrapped around his neck so he didn't breath for his first couple of seconds earthside, but after a little bit of rubbing and encouragement he let out some very heart-hurting, incredibly relieving cries. 

I felt so many emotions. Most of them were bathed in an incredible and profound sense of relief that everything was over. I didn't feel the rush of motherly emotions, and I'm learning now that for some women it takes time and getting to know their new little one for those feelings to grow. That afternoon though holding our son, watching his father cry and love this little boy that he was finally able to connect with for the first time, watching his grandmother hold her newest legacy, my heart was full. I was tired, so tired, but so full and so profoundly at peace. 

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I held the baby and slept intermittently for the next 5 hours. We decided to try the name Wilder David out on our new son for the next day to see if it fit him. I was feeling pretty nauseous after the delivery but I tried to drink some broth, tried to eat some bread and butter, and was told that I could go home as soon as I could shower without fainting. I attempted once to shower at 8pm but almost fainted when I stood so we decided to wait a couple of hours and try again. Determined to not have to spend the night at the hospital, I worked up to showering by 10:00pm, was able to successfully sit in the shower and not faint, and was finally headed home by 11:00pm.

Crawling into my own bed was a type of relief I can't even describe. Knowing I was home, knowing my son was healthy and our life together was beginning, and knowing I had the support of my mom for the next week allowed me to forgo the normal terrified 'what are we going to do with this new human' stage. Kevin couldn't stand to put him in his crib so instead let him sleep on his chest that first night. We were all finally together.

The next morning, after studying his little features and tracing his lips and nose and eyes thousands of times, the three of us (Kevin, my mom, and I) decided that our son was most definitely a Kevin. We named him Kevin David Lowe III after his father and grandfather, and the name fits him like a glove.

As the days and weeks have progressed, the 'horrors' of labor have faded rapidly and the joy and love for my son have overshadowed its intensity. Our little boy is a joy to us. The tiredness, the constant feedings, and the confusion of new-parenthood become a non-issue with one look at our baby Kev. Even in the frustration of 'what does this cry mean?!' we can't help but love this amazing little gift that God has entrusted to us. We are so, so thankful for him and looking forward to what God has in store for his life!

7 Months of Updates...

I've realized that it's been a long time since I wrote an update about our lives here in The Netherlands, and it's probably about time to do that. The past 7 months have been full. Full of everything. The mundane of each day, the excitement of travels, the drudgery of studies, the ending of winter, the arrival of spring continuing into the heat of summer, my expanding belly and our growing boy, projects and deadlines, and new friends and old. Our life has changed and moved faster in the last 7 months than it ever has before. I'd like to recap as much as possible in as little time as possible (you're welcome!), and then share a few blurry iPhone photos with you to sum up our last few months. 

In January we announced to the Facebook community that we were expecting a little one. 

We had discovered this exciting news in November and told our parents and families over the Christmas holiday. I wrote a blog post in January detailing more about the emotional roller coaster I went through with all of that surprising news (you can read that here if you're interested).

In February Kevin had a long weekend holiday, so we went to Scotland to visit our friends the Meekins. We love this family. We love their kids as if they were our nieces and nephew. We love Jesse and Catherine as if they were our siblings. Being able to spend time with them for a few days was a refreshing boost during mid-winter dullness. Scotland is a beautiful country and we never want to take our ability to travel {so cheaply} for granted, yet the highlights of our trip were definitely the late night hysterical laughter, the long car rides, the crazy-flavored McFlurries, the horrible fried fish, the long in-depth conversations about life and marriage, and the solid relationship-ground that we continued forming with the Meekins. 

When we returned we decided to have our own little Valentines Day party (since we were away for Valentines Day), so we spent an evening eating a homemade meal and painting pictures for each other (when all financial moves are meticulously calculated, you become very creative on a Seminary student's budget ;) ).

Sometime in the months of February and March I began helping around Tyndale by taking photos for the website, brochures, and various printed resources, and by putting together the Annual Report. This year's report was almost 30 pages long. I enjoyed the challenge of putting it together and building a skill for myself in the process, as well as the fulfillment of being productive and benefiting a group of people. I was also able to audit two classes, Marriage and Family and Global Christianity, with Kevin during the Winter and Spring semesters and am truly thankful for the school's allowance of spouses to audit classes for free. During the month of March we were able to spend time with my friend Rachel as she returned from the US to visit her family and boyfriend here at Tyndale for a week, and our friend Molly who came the last weekend in March and stayed with me and Kevin. With Rachel and her boyfriend Julian we took the train into Brussels for a day trip and enjoyed the cobblestone streets, the fresh baked waffles (only from Mason Dandoy, of course!), the beautiful glass-domed shopping gallery, and the huge and completely packed Delirium Cafe in Delirium Village. We were able to introduce Molly to our favorite shops and pubs in Amsterdam, as well as enjoy old and new favorites throughout Haarlem. 

March was a fun month pregnancy wise as we began to feel our little one move around! It was also the month that we discovered that 'it' was a 'he'! I really started bonding emotionally with him as I could feel him respond to outside influences. Even in his tininess he still seemed to have opinions about how I moved, what I allowed to press on my stomach, and what I ate. From the time I could first distinguish his movements, he made it very clear that leaning on the counter while putting on make-up was a no-go (the moment I leaned against anything he would press back against it firmly until I moved). He also was very distressed by my consumption of Sriracha (as he so clearly stated through insane acrobatics and rolling). As he's grown he's maintained his opinionatedness and just become stronger and more able to show them off to us.  

In April our friend Gia came to visit for 10 days during Kevin's spring break. After a few hilarities and adjustments, Gia learned to fit into our little corner of the world very nicely. We showed him around our city and Kevin took him to some favorite pubs. We also took a train down to Paris for a few days. Learning how to travel frugally is a necessity when living on a tiny budget in Europe, but once we learned a few tricks we have been able to enjoy amazing places at fractions of the normal cost. Paris has become a favorite of ours and, now that we know more about how to get around the city cheaply, we have been able to enjoy finding local hangouts and favorite must-do experiences.

During the month of April we had a quick fly-through visit from our friend Kaylin and her friend and colleague Ginny (both work for the Starfish Project in China). Even though they were only able to be here for one short day, we enjoyed catching up with our old friend and getting to know our new one. We also had the opportunity visit my cousins the Davis's in Bicester, UK (about an hour outside of London). This was the last trip Kevin and I could take together before the baby, so we tried to spend our time slowing down and enjoying the beauty of the areas we saw and the conversations we were able to have. We spent a couple of days exploring London and Oxford before coming back to the Netherlands for Kevin's last month of school.

May was crazy. Mostly crazy because Kevin was finishing school which meant completing projects and studying for exams. He took eight classes this semester in order to give him more free time in Fall semester when the baby is here. The workload was tremendous, however he finished the semester out with an outstanding GPA and even received an unprecedented grade from one professor (as far as I know this high of a grade has not been given to any other student). Needless to say I am very proud of his hard work and dedication. 

 June brought the heat. On so many levels. Kevin took (and completely beasted) his exams, deadlines rolled in and out for projects and volunteer work, and Graduation Day came and went. I was able to be the photographer for the Graduation and realized that that would be the last event I would photograph before our little man arrives (mostly due to the amount of Braxton Hicks, the soreness, and the swelling the event produced). Once school was over we immediately got to work on organizing our tiny apartment for our newest member. This included Kevin's ingenuity in closet de-and-re-construction and hours and days (and YEARS) of baby laundry (which I just finished. Today.). Kevin's sister Karey came to visit us for the last two weeks in June. Although I've gotten much bigger and it's become harder to move around, I was able to do a couple of things (namely sit in the shade of a tree by the lake) with them both while she was here. She and Kevin were able to do some sightseeing in Amsterdam and Paris, and one of the days they rented a paddle boat and we (well they...I just sat back and laughed at them) peddled through the canals of Amsterdam. We went on walks around our neighborhood, played at the park, and had family dinners with long conversations. During her stay the Meekins arrived for Jesse to begin teaching 6 weeks of the summer Greek class, so we were able to spend some days with them as well.

July began with heat. So. Much. Heat. Almost unbearable heat. In the Netherlands it's rare to reach temperatures upwards of 90 degrees, so no one has air conditioning. Coupled with pregnancy and high humidity, every moment of that heat wave was a nightmare. Thankfully it only last 5 (or so) days before settling back down to a more bearable 65-80 (depending on the day). We did purchase on overpriced (but TOTALLY WORTH IT) fan with a power cool setting (???) which helped a little in the sleep and air-movement department. I spent the majority of those days either sitting by/standing in the lake or sitting on the couch in front of the fan with a cool washcloth on my belly. The 4th of July was spent with several American families eating burgers and hot dogs and delicious patriotically-decorated cakes. The last couple of weeks Kevin and I have continued our apartment preparations and spent a lot of time talking and being together. This weekend we went to the Van Gogh museum, our favorite pub, and a small gelato festival. We discovered that museums are very wheelchair friendly and, as I can't walk three floors of galleries at this point in my pregnancy, we grabbed a wheel chair and perused to our hearts content. These last few weeks to be alone have been so good for us. We've been able to connect each day and really gear up mentally for the changes that are coming any day now. We have thoroughly enjoyed our last few weeks as 'singles' and spent a lot of time reminiscing, talking about the future, preparing our home, and enjoying life's slow pace together.

Yesterday we took a bus into Amsterdam to sit in a cafe and read together. This month has been such a huge blessing for us to have been able to have. The absence of school, work-related responsibilities, and even the distance from family (as sad and hard as that has been) has allowed us to really focus on our relationship and be able to reconnect before our son arrives.

Today I'm 39 weeks pregnant and having many many Braxton Hicks each day. My mom will be arriving in 5 days and (as long as he doesn't arrive before then) we will be doing our best to evict little man from his current residence from the moment her plane touches down.

This month has propelled us into a state of peaceful readiness for our newest member, and we couldn't be happier or more content with the idea of him entering our lives. 

Growing Up

When I was young I dreamt of living in foreign countries. Of experiencing exotic cultures. Of exploring, adventuring, wandering, and discovering. Of being free from ties and able to float on my own. 

What I didn't know when I dreamt those big dreams was that they would become a reality. An amazing, breathtaking, exhilarating, heart-wrenching reality. That distance does make the heart grow fonder, and it hurts like hell. That living in foreign countries is like everything I imagined and nothing I imagined. That as easy as travel blogs and inspiring photos on Pinterest make it seem, it is hard, dirty, tiring work.

What I didn't know was that exploring, adventuring, wandering, and discovering meant making new friends along the way. Not just any friends, but friends of the life-long variety. And that the wandering part of my dream meant that no matter where I lived, I would live apart from them. 

What I didn't know was that life around the globe keeps going whether you're a part of it or not. That family is precious, friends are treasures, and relationships are priceless. That the depth of emotion that comes from the realization of a life-long bond being formed is unfathomable. 

What I didn't know was that growing up means more than getting older. It means more than degrees or marriage or kids or mortgages. Growing up means life will change. And you will change. And your heart will expand. And your views will be challenged. And your capacity for experiencing intensity in joy and pain becomes bigger and bigger and bigger. And it's painful. And wonderful. And incredible. And hard. 

And worth every minute.

Today

The post I feel like writing today holds words like grey, cold, weary, sore, sad, sleep deprived, nauseas, lonely, and blegh. The post I can write today is full of words like blue, warm, content, joyful, thankful, and grace-filled. 

Last night was no fun.

After returning from a late walk, I began what would turn into 6 solid hours of hard contractions (3 hours of which I was able to sleep through) and then a fitful 5 hours of diminishing contractions. This morning I got up grumpy. And nervous (because those lasted entirely too long for only being 31 weeks). Also irritable. And wishing I were back in Greenville (not that being back there would change anything about last night). But I then remembered something that had happened and I couldn't help but be thankful too. And amazed. And reminded that I'm not alone. 

Around 3am I was awoken by a more severe set of contractions than the ones I went to sleep with. Anytime you wake up in the night because of pain, it tends to be more scary than if you were dealing with that same pain during the day (I think it must have something to do with the fact that you aren't quite capable of rational thinking until after 6am). Regardless, being awoken by contractions I was hoping would go away as I slept made me very fearful.

'Its too soon! He's not ready! We're not ready! It's too early! Something's wrong!' Repeated on an endless loop in my mind. 

Then out of the dark, like a whisper from the recesses of my heart, the song 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus' started to play.

I don't know about you, but I haven't sung that song in years. It was never particularly special to me, and to be honest I've never really enjoyed singing it. In the light of day I really don't think I could even accurately recall the lyrics.

But there in the dark, in that pain-and-fear-filled moment, those words were the only thing that could comfort my heart. The first verse kept repeating in my head (that I had to look up this morning because I don't actually know it) over and over every time the fear would threaten me: 

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Over and over that verse softly repeated in my mind for the next hour and a half.  

Thinking about that sweet moment when I woke up this morning, even through my grumpiness and tiredness, I was reminded of how full of love the Father is for us. For me! Even though I massively fail him. Even though I forget about him. Even though I act sometimes like I don't even know him. He doesn't forget. He doesn't give the cold shoulder. He doesn't stop comforting. He doesn't give up!   

So today I get to write about thankfulness and how blue the sky is. How warm the sun is. How beautiful our city is. How I'm wearing shorts even though it's probably still too cold. How Little Man is still kicking and active. How the contractions stopped and im not actually in early labor. How I have a husband who will pull down the scary-possibly-full-of-spiders-and-maybe-mice vines from our porch, and how he still hugs me close and kisses my cheeks even when I'm irritable and not-fun.

I have a lot to be thankful for today and the amazing thing is, I actually am thankful. 

The Mundane

Life. It's so mundane isn't it? Every person deals with the drudgery of life at some point, regardless of where you live, what your job is, or your financial or marital or children status. Generally it feels mundane more frequently than we would like to admit. 

About two years ago I wrote a post about how social media skews people's views of other's lives, and how its siren-like songs lull us into this deadly cycle of desiring everyone else's jobs, spouses, and very existence. It can suck the joy out of our days and the freedom out of our lives. I wrote about how it was affecting me and my ability to enjoy my own life and spouse and job. It was tempting me to be severely discontent with who I was as a person- discontent with my unorganized, non-self-motivating, uncreative, lazy, less-artistic-than-you-cool-people, undecorated, un-pinteresty personality. I felt like a grey piece of flimsy printer paper among the rainbow colors of strong construction paper. It took some radical changes, but God finally opened my eyes to how wrong I was in viewing myself and my life in that way.

Being so far from friends and family and the familiarities and comforts of my former life has caused the discontent to creep back in. I find myself feeling sad while looking at my family's photos, going through my friends' Instagram feeds, or reading a person's status about moving to the heart of the Blue Ridge. Sad I can't do those things. Sad I can't see those people. Sad I'm missing out on family parties and events. Sad I can't be a part of the blossoming art community in Greenville. Sad I can't walk with my sisters or friends down Main Street on a Friday night and hear the jazz band playing or see flickering lights over the river and families cuddled on picnic blankets at the Movie Night in the Park. Sad I can't work the job I love in a market I understand with people who know me well.

I think as humans we'll always be afflicted with this desire for someone else's life. Social media increases these desires abundantly. There's a level of transparency that we need to have with one another, even on social media, in order to help remove the idea that our lives are perfect. That being said, I'd like to share a few things. 

As you well know (or maybe you don't pay attention at all...in which case this will be a newsflash), I don't write often. The reason is because our life is too mundane to be of interest. Yup. That's the real reason. Imagine trying to write about your daily life. For those of you who don't have a job (like me!), it all looks pretty much the same. Waking up, having my tea, cleaning my house (or not...), taking a walk, making dinner, watching Netflix, then going to bed are pretty much the routine (this will change with Little Man's presence of course). It's easy to get swallowed up in routine and the mundane. After coming out of a few months of depression (back in October/November/December), I've realized that it's important for me to create newness in my routine. In light of this, I've started auditing a class at the school, volunteering here and there with office work, shooting for school events, and being intentional about spending time with people in our community. I also try and be outside daily, even if it's for a short amount of time. 

It's hard to post Instagram pictures or Facebook posts with that kind of information (what do I even take a picture of? my crumb-filled table top? my dirty kitchen? the cloudy sky over the car-filled parking lot outside our window?), but maybe that's what needs to happen in order to be more transparent with others.

Don't misunderstand, we have had some amazing opportunities to travel and we've been able to see some incredibly beautiful places. We've been called to live in a village on the outskirts of a gorgeous, old city that happens to be very unique and hold many lovely charms. We've been blessed to have a group of friends from all over the world with whom we can talk and laugh and go to the park and eat and play games. I love my husband dearly and he is most certainly my best friend and favorite person to spend time with. We love our life here and are realizing how fortunate we are to be in such a place. But lest you be deceived, know that our life has settled into a routine just as it would if we lived back in a tiny town in Southern USA. We have our irritable days, our lazy days, our lets-not-clean days (or weeks...), our ramen-or-cereal-for-every-meal days, our boring days (more often than not), and our what-the-heck-did-we-do-in-moving-so-far-away days. 

Life is never romantic or Hollywoodesque, though it may seem so to those on the outside. The key to a peaceful existence right where you are is to see the beauty in what you've been given. Don't long for another life- it only comes with a different set of difficulties to overcome. Be encouraged- the life you've been called to live is full of beauty and the possibility of joy and satisfaction. The job you have (or don't have) is allowing for new ways to spend your time and be creative with your routine. The friends (or friend) you've made are a beautiful way to connect and pour out and love and laugh. The quiet you experience (be it 5 minutes or 5 hours) is a perfect way to settle your mind, clear your heart, and center your thoughts on what is pure, lovely, true, right, and noble. 

Our lives are each beautiful even in the mundane. Take the time to look for that beauty in your own mundane- you may be surprised at how much you can find.
 

 

When I Feel Tired

Some days I wake up refreshed. Ready to start something new. Full of exciting ideas. Looking for ways to do better, to be better, to think differently.

Those days are rare.

Some days I wake up tired. Night is spent tossing and turning, back aching, breathing labored, senses fully alert, with deep sleep only settling in after dawn. I start the day easily frustrated by alarms, early morning light, or the jubilant bird singing outside the window. 

Those days are common.

In fact, those days have always been common. I've always struggled with sleep due to an extreme sensitivity to movement, sound, and light. Even as an infant (or so my mother tells me) I could hardly sleep for any length of time. The struggle comes with my inability to nap during the day yet my complete inability to function effectively on little sleep. 

When I was young I would cry. Waking up for the 10th time around 3am, I would cry hot tears of rage and frustration knowing there would be little relief in the remainder of the night. I would cry going to bed, knowing that even though I was exhausted, sleep wasn't on the agenda. As I grew into an older teen I tried to learn ways to help my mind shut down, to help my body drift into a sleep cycle, and to be able to stay asleep for longer periods of time. Eventually I came to accept the fact the my 'normal' was waking up many times throughout the night.

For someone who can't function well on little sleep, this can be a debilitating struggle.

The nights where I wake up only 4 or 5 times produce wonderfully stimulating days full of energy and drive. The nights where I wake up every half hour produce days of discouragement, frustration, and apathy.

Those are the days I struggle with self-worth. With wondering how I can be of help to anyone. With feeling like a failure in my career. With feeling like a I just can't push through another night like the one before. With fearing the future and my ability to be even remotely good at being a mother AND wife. 

The point of this post isn't to garner sympathy or to find most recommended sleep aids. The point is that we all have something that can debilitate us. We all have something that we feel could or has completely handicapped our ability to function or move forward in life. Some days are worse than others. Some days we'd rather not even attempt, because we know that our attempt will probably result in a failure. Failure in itself becomes a new way to prove our handicap's presence and our inability to overcome it alone. 

I've learned through my personal struggle that no amount of 'pushing through' or 'pulling myself up by the bootstraps' can get me through a week of little sleep. At some point, even this tried-and-true way of thinking crashes and burns when my body cries 'Enough!'. The only way I can get through those extremely trying weeks is to be honest with myself about my shortcomings, honest with God about my need of Him, and honest with my husband about how my body is wired. 

I've learned to understand that 'this week the house may need to just stay dirty- and that's ok'. I've learned to find relief in 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest' (Matt. 11:28). I've learned to say 'I can't make dinner. I love you, but we're going to do cereal tonight'. I've learned that my strength of body isn't strong enough and my strength of mind has a limit. I'm (still) learning to be ok with knowing that failure is a regular part life and that depression or self-deprecation shouldn't be the immediate follow-up to each failure. 

I've come to see that although sleep is beautiful and wonderful and satisfying (and incredibly illusive), it's not the source of ultimate happiness and joy. I've realized that my source of daily joy and inspiration only comes when I choose to start my day with thanksgiving. When, even though I may be exhausted, I choose to serve my husband by engaging with him in a conversation about his day instead of letting my mind wander. When I choose to think of ways to serve or encourage the people around me (sometimes even just through texts or emails) instead of wallowing in my feelings of tiredness. When I choose to have a cup of tea and read or write (yes, handwrite!) a letter instead of binging on Netflix.

Most days I wake up exhausted, but I've found that I can still be joyful because I know the Sustainer of joy and the One who can give my soul rest. I know the Author of grace and mercy and the Peace that I can't even fathom. 

I can be exhausted yet have rest knowing that there is One who can fill me with heart-strength and deep, new joy day after day, even in the midst of weeks of dark, sleepless nights.