Category: God & Life

A Look Back at 2020

Everyone is hating on 2020 tonight, and for good reason—a lot of people have been suffering this year, and that breaks my heart. Nevertheless, it has actually been a year full of blessings for my family. I am grateful!

In January we went on a cruise to Cabo, where we rode camels, enjoyed mediocre cruise ship food in large quantities, and got to spend time together as a family of four before trying for baby #3. We made quick work of that when we got home—at the end of the month, we found out we were pregnant!

In February we picked our house’s floorplan (to be built) and lot, signed a purchase agreement, and customized the details.

In March we adopted our fourth bunny, Karma, from a friend who couldn’t care for her. We also started marketing our house, but when the pandemic hit, we were convinced it was not going to work out as planned.

In April we found out we were having a baby girl, and announced the name we’d already picked out, Amelia Madeline. That month, we also surrendered our bunnies Ellie and Chester back to the rescue we adopted Ellie from, because it was not a good fit (she was aggressive towards us and towards Karma). Karma and Kit have bonded beautifully, and we are happy with our two buns.

In May our dog Sky passed away suddenly, at the age of nine. We will always remember her happy smile and how she loved everybody—she was the friendliest dog I have ever known. In happier news, we sold our house (for our asking price!), much to our great surprise.

In June we rehomed our dog, Roscoe, who had unique behavioral issues that we did not feel equipped to handle. He went to a wonderful home with another dog, lots of kids, and a dog trainer in the family. We now have just our one dog, Macy, who we adore.

In July we moved to our new home, which we have loved from day one—it’s our dream house! Our pet mouse, Harriet, passed away just a few days after our move at the very old age (for a mouse) of 3. I also turned 28 this year.

In August we started homeschool with Cody in Kindergarten. Cory turned 29.

In September, Abi turned 3 year old. Cory also got a new job—his dream job! This was a huge blessing because contractor work (as a software engineer) was extremely stressful for him. In sadder news, my family dog Missy passed away at the age of nearly 14 years old; she was very loved and part of a legacy of wonderful bully breeds in my family.

In October, Amelia was born! I had an amazing, fast, planned home birth and celebrated my final pregnancy and birth with great joy. Amelia has been welcomed by her adoring siblings and family. That month Cody also turned 6; their birthdays are two days apart!

In November we rehomed our three guinea pigs, knowing that they would be more enjoyed by another family—and we found them a guinea-pig-knowledgeable and very loving home, with a family who already had one guinea pig and wanted more. Their introduction was very sweet, and they bonded instantly with their new herd-mate.  

In December I started horseback riding again, and then quickly bought a horse of my own! Her name is Apple, and the past two weeks with her have been a rollercoaster. As of today, I am not sure what the future holds for us together. She has turned out to be more of a “project horse” than a beginner-friendly horse, and we are considering re-selling her to more experienced owner. We are also considering putting her into a more intensive training program, and seeing if she can work out for us, even if not in the way we originally envisioned. Either way, it has been a valuable learning experience!

As we move into a new year, I am excited to see what is ahead. My word of the year for 2020 was “gifts,” and while there were many unwanted “gifts” this year (like nausea throughout my pregnancy, a worldwide pandemic, and huge division in our nation), there were also crazy huge blessings in my life this year. I am very thankful for the wonderful things God did for my family in 2020. And I pray for there to be less suffering for all of us in the year to come.

My word of the year for 2021 is “balance.” I don’t know exactly what it is going to mean for me yet, but that’s the word I’ve felt God giving me for this coming year. I’m looking forward to a year seeking balance in all areas of my life, and I’m excited to see what God does!

Happy New Year!  

Our Experiences as a Host Family with Safe Families for Children Ministry

Last year, our family started a new adventure by caring for children in need. We became involved in a ministry called Safe Families for Children in late 2018 and continued throughout 2019. In our just-over-a-year time as a Safe Families host family, we took in eight children in total and cared for them for almost four months cumulatively.

What is Safe Families for Children? I’ve had to answer that question a lot this past year! First of all, it is a ministry, meaning it is supported by local churches and it is completely voluntary (unpaid). It is a program administrated through Olive Crest, which is an organization that also does foster care and adoptions. Safe Families for Children, however, is not foster care. It is a program to provide housing and care to children temporarily during times of crisis for families who have no other source of support.

Legally speaking, the organization links families in need with families who are able to help, and acts as a middle-man to set up a temporary caregiver authorization. The parents of the children who are being “hosted” retain full custody and are able to take their children back at any time. The host families are essentially long-term babysitters, and hostings typically last anywhere from a couple of days to a few months.

The most common reasons for parents to have their children hosted in Safe Families for Children are homelessness, health-related issues, and substance abuse. Families usually are referred to this organization through schools, hospitals, police officers, or CPS.

Our family chose to volunteer with Safe Families for Children because we were interested in becoming foster parents, but not sure we were quite ready to commit to such a big endeavor. We also knew we could not meet the qualifications for a foster care license because our children do not have separate bedrooms, and opposite gender kids are required to in foster homes. Up until the summer of 2019, our kids didn’t even have their own bedroom, as we’d chosen to co-sleep (and share our room) with both of them. Co-sleeping, even with your own children, is also not allowed for foster parents, so we knew we weren’t a good fit at that time.

Anyhow, we were happy to be a part of Safe Families and we gained so much from the experience. The children we took in were all between the ages of ten months and five years old, and four of them were babies. Twice we took in a pair of brothers, and we only ever hosted one girl. The parents of the kids we hosted were homeless, recovering from addiction, and/or struggling with mental illness. Not only did we get to help these eight children stay out of foster care by allowing their parents the time they needed to get back on their feet, but we also grew in many ways.

Caring for children who are not your own, especially when you already have young kids at home, is challenging! It was overwhelming at times, exhausting, and just plain hard. We dealt with disciplinary issues, sleep issues, and feeding issues. Many of the kids came to us with very little of their own clothing or belongings, and we spent a lot of money providing things that were needed for them. Our church also helped a ton, and so many people donated clothes and gift cards, brought us dinners, encouraged us, and prayed for us.

What I found most amazing was how even though it was hard, we could do it. We did do it. We kept all of the kids safe, fed, clothed, and cared-for, and we didn’t completely lose our minds in the process. I attribute this to God’s grace more than anything else. He gave us the strength to manage the chaos and he held everything together.

We also received an incredible gift as a result of our service—an increase in our capabilities as a family. Through all of the stretching, we came out on the other side stronger. In terms of how capable I feel to meet all of my responsibilities in life and manage everything well, I have found an increased capacity. I can handle so much more now than I could at the end of 2018!

Every time we sent one of our Safe Families children back to their parents, we had an amazing sense of relief. Going back to just two kids felt almost like going on vacation! Then, after a couple of weeks of rest, we were always ready to go back into the fray and start another hosting.

At this time, however, we have decided not to continue with the program.

 

Here is the story behind that decision…

Our last hosting started in November. That hosting was with two brothers, a 12-month-old and a 22-month-old. For privacy, I will use fake names for them, Tyler and Caiden.

Tyler was 22 months old at the beginning of our hosting, and I believe he is autistic. He is developmentally delayed, and doesn’t walk or talk beyond saying a few words on occasion. He also did not eat solid food at all for us, until the last week we had him, but he did still drink formula. Tyler wanted to be held, but only by me, nearly 24/7 and would cry any time he was put down.

Caiden was a much easier baby. He was born premature so he was also small for his age and not yet walking. He also had severe eczema and cradle cap that had not been treated. Both boys came to us extremely dirty, and did not seem used to being bathed. They did not sleep well at night, so we had to do sleep training. That is not something I typically agree with, but since I didn’t have my usual baby-sleep-encouragement tools—breastfeeding and co-sleeping—it was necessary for us to let them cry it out so that we could all get enough sleep to function.

Because of the boys’ special needs and how close in age they are, it was our most challenging hosting. We ended up asking for Safe Families to find another host family to host Tyler after our first week with him. But after only a few days with his new host family, he ended up in the hospital with signs of abuse. My heart was shattered, knowing that I’d handed him over to an abuser. All I could do at that point was continue caring for Caiden, and bring him to visit his parents in the hospital a couple of times.

After those distressing events, I developed a stronger and closer relationship with the boys’ parents. When he was released from the hospital, they wanted my family to keep both boys for a little while, and we agreed. But for some reason, Safe Families decided to end our hosting of Caiden at that point and even insisted on transferring him back to his parents themselves.

Within a week, we heard from the boys’ parents and they were once again in a bad situation with nowhere to go. We decided to take Tyler and Caiden in again, this time without involving Safe Families for Children. We all signed a temporary caregiver authorization form, which gave us some legal security and the ability to secure medical care for the boys if needed. Then we kept them for another two weeks before their parents were ready to take them back again.

During that time, we considered the possibility of adopting the boys, knowing that their parents were facing so many challenges. But when we gently asked questions about their thoughts on adoption, it was clear that although they appreciated our help very much, they weren’t willing to consider giving up the kids.

With that possibility closed, we decided to move forward with our own plans to have our third baby. Emotionally, we had moved on, especially after we gave the boys back to their parents. Sadly, it was less than a week after that before once again, they called us asking for more help.

We knew that the situation wasn’t sustainable, and we weren’t willing to care for the boys for the months that they were asking for, knowing that we would never be able to adopt them. At that point, we could also see that they weren’t taking the steps they needed to take or making any progress for securing long-term stability. The only option left for them was to allow Child Protective Services to step in and release the boys to foster care. That is the situation as it is now.

 

The reason I share this sad story is in part to explain why we no longer plan to be a part of Safe Families for Children, and in part to explain why we want even more now to become licensed foster parents in the future. While I believe in this ministry and their mission wholeheartedly, and I hope they will continue to help families in need, I also disagree with how the situation with this family was handled. I have deep concerns with how host families are screened, and how the parents they serve are treated.

But those issues aside, I can also see that there is a huge need for good, loving foster parents. There are so many terrible stories out there about abuses in the foster care system, and I want to be a part of the solution. Knowing that those boys who I cared for and came to love are now in foster care, I can only hope and pray that they are with a good family. I have no illusions about how foster children are often treated, and the possibilities of what they could be going through right now are distressing. Truly, all I can do to have peace is to trust God and his plan. He loves those boys, and I know he will use everything for the good.

For the time being, we are not planning on becoming foster parents just yet. We’ve decided that during my pregnancy (hopefully soon!) and postpartum we want to focus on our family of four-soon-to-be-five, especially knowing that there is a possibility I will not have the energy or feel well enough to care for extra children during my first trimester, and especially after the baby is born. It is also very important to us to co-sleep with our next baby, as we did with Cody and Abigail. Knowing that co-sleeping is not allowed for foster families, we will need to wait until we’re ready for baby #3 to sleep on his/her own before becoming foster parents.

We are also planning on adopting our fourth child through the foster care system. Knowing that, we will likely wait until our third child is about three or four years old, so that we can preserve our birth order and child spacing. During those few years, we may become emergency or respite foster parents, since we won’t be ready to adopt yet but we do want to help kids in need in some way.

So anyway! Those were my family’s experiences with Safe Families for Children, and it has been a huge blessing for us to be able to help others and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how God wants to use us to love and care for some of the most vulnerable people in our world—children in need—in the future.

My Mental Health Journey

Back in 2016, I shared for the first time that I’ve struggled with depression. Today, I want to share more about my mental health journey and where I am now. I believe that breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness starts with breaking the silence.

My mental health journey is ongoing. I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness, and I’ve never been medicated for one, but I can still say I’ve struggled and continue to struggle with depression, anxiety, and anger-management issues.

My depression and anxiety began when I was a teenager. I struggled with insecurity, as many teenagers do. I often felt rejected by my peers. I constantly worried about what other people were thinking about me, and I often felt sad and hopeless about life. The normal demands of life and school felt like too much.

I developed a very close, but dysfunctional friendship with another girl my age. We became almost everything to each other. But, she struggled with her own insecurities, and she often took it out on me by tearing me down.

Then I met Cory, who is now my husband. He became my best friend. He was kind, caring, and fun to be around. We were just friends at first.

It was during that time when I started feeling more and more hopeless about life. I started thinking a lot about suicide. I never had an urge to hurt myself, but I did wish that I could go to sleep and not wake up. I just wanted life to be over.

I never made an attempt on my life, and thankfully, with the encouragement of my friends, I came out of that emotionally dark time.

Cory and I fell in love, and I started to see that I had a bright future to look forward to. At the time, I believed in Jesus, but he wasn’t the King of my life. In all honesty, Cory was my everything at that point. Looking back, I can see that God used him to give me hope and joy in my life when I desperately needed it. And after a time, I started to lean into God more and more. Eventually, I was able to lead Cory to Christ, and together we’ve continued to grow in our faiths since then. (Today, God has the rightful place as King in my life—and Cory’s).

In college, I struggled with anxiety more than depression. I would worry about the strangest things, like if I was walking weirdly, or if people thought I looked awkward. I had a very hard time sleeping at night because I became afraid of the dark and being alone. Cory would stay in my dorm room with me until I fell asleep, or I would sleep in his room, almost every night.

I began seeing a therapist for the first time. She helped me with my anxious thoughts, and I enjoyed talking to her. After I got married and then withdrew from the university, I had to stop seeing her, but I felt well enough by that time to be okay with that.

I struggled with depression and anxiety on and off in the years between getting married and having our first child. For me, depression isn’t debilitating, and it’s not all of the time. I have what could probably be described as “low-level” depression, and it comes in relatively short waves. I feel depressed for a few days, or a couple of weeks at most, and then I feel better for a few weeks. Sometimes, the depressed feelings are more frequent, like once a week. But overall, I feel good more often than I feel bad.

My anxiety is usually related to social situations, or occasionally related to fear. It’s not as “obvious” as my depression, which is why I wasn’t even able to label it clearly for myself until just this year.

With both depression and anxiety, I am able to hide it extremely well from others. I have a mask that I can put on, quickly, easily, and completely. Nobody would know unless I let them. And for most of my life, nobody has.

Anger is also very connected to my depression. I’ve struggled with anger management for most of my life, and when I’m feeling depressed, I have an even harder time with it.

After my first child was born, my anger and depression became things that I could no longer ignore. I began losing my temper with my baby. I never hurt him, but I hated that I would raise my voice and feel so frustrated with him. He was a high-need baby (both of my babies have been), and it was really hard.

My depression worsened when my baby was about 10 months old, and I suspected late-onset postpartum depression. I went to see a therapist, once again. I didn’t continue therapy for long, because it wasn’t affordable for us and I wasn’t sure it was helping. Since I was “functional,” I didn’t see it as a necessity.

This year, I finally started seeing a therapist again. Originally, I went in with the goal of evaluating my son for anxiety issues, because at the age of 3 ½ he was still unable to accept separation from us for any amount of time without completely falling apart. After the first couple of sessions, and some suggestions for ways to help him overcome his separation anxiety, I decided that I wanted to continue seeing her for my own struggles.

She was my favorite therapist thus far, and I really enjoyed seeing her. Unfortunately, it became too challenging to take the kids with me and be constantly interrupted by them, and her hours didn’t allow for me to go by myself.

Then I discovered a website called Better Help, which offers online therapy at a more affordable rate than a traditional in-person therapist. I began my message-based therapy with my new therapist, and immediately loved it. I was able to express myself in the best way I know how, through writing, and I could write to her any time I wanted. Her responses were always thoughtful and helpful. I really enjoyed therapy through Better Help.

At the end of November, I decided I was ready to stop therapy, and I cancelled my subscription (after talking to my therapist about it, of course). I’m in a place now where I feel like I understand my depression, anxiety, and anger better, and I have the tools I need to handle those challenges.

Of course, some days are better than others. I’ve learned to recognize when I’m starting a new “depressed” cycle, and remind myself that it’s only temporary. It always passes within a few days, or at most a couple of weeks. I remind myself that I can have some bad days in a really good life. I give myself some extra slack during those times, and wait it out.

My anger is still an active struggle. There are things I can do to help me feel balanced and happy, which enables me to manage my emotions better. Sometimes I do those things, and sometimes I don’t. Depression makes it harder to want to do those things, and that’s probably one reason they are so connected for me. But I can see progress, slowly but surely, in this area. I just have to keep moving forward.

My anxiety is a lot better now than it has been in the past. I’ve learned to embrace who I am. I don’t have to be the social butterfly, or the perfectly put-together mom, or anything else that I’m not. I can be the quiet one, who’s a good listener, and is kind, and helps others, and doesn’t bother putting on makeup. I can be the one who loses her temper a lot, but is always working on becoming better.

I can lean on God, knowing that He says I am enough, and that His Spirit is working in me to change me, slowly but surely, into someone more like Christ.

In the Bible, Paul wrote about a “thorn in the flesh” that he suffered from. We don’t know what it was, exactly, but this is what he said about it:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NIV)

My mental health struggles are my thorn—especially my anger. It’s a part of me that I have asked God to remove, and something I’ve tried to fix myself many times. This Bible verse has become one of my mantras. God’s grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

I am not perfect, and that gives God room to work.

Spiritual Lessons from My Journey into Motherhood

 

Being pregnant was such a special time in my life. Although I didn’t have the most comfortable pregnancies, I did really enjoy the process of bringing new lives into the world.

Currently, I am not planning on becoming pregnant again. Instead, my husband and I plan on adopting a baby. Reflecting on my journey into biological motherhood over the past few years, there are a few important lessons I have learned.

 

Childbirth Doesn’t Have to be Terrifying

Before we were married, I went through a phase of thinking that I would never want to have children. At first, this was mostly due to fears about the birth process, and how horrible and scary and painful it would be. The simple mechanics of it just seemed horrifying. I have a low pain-tolerance, and a phobia of needles and medical environments in general. I didn’t want to have to face any of that. I thought that instead, we should adopt—even knowing deep down that having biological children was part of God’s plan for me.

Counter-intuitive though it may seem, learning about natural childbirth was the thing that started to change my mind about birth. I learned that women’s bodies were made to do it. I learned that birth doesn’t have to be medicalized. I learned about midwifery, homebirth, and using hypnosis for childbirth. I learned about supernatural childbirth, and how my faith in God can be used powerfully to experience a better birth. These things gave me the confidence I needed to overcome my fear of childbirth, and welcome the opportunity to bring babies into the world with the miraculous gifts of pregnancy and birth.

 

The Risk Is Worth It

There’s a saying that becoming a parent is like choosing to have your heart walk around outside of your body. And it’s true! Being a parent is incredibly risky. You love this other person so much that it’s beyond words, and the idea of them ever getting hurt or making a bad decision is terrifying to you. You have everything invested in your children, and yet very little control over what happens to them. That idea scared the living daylights out of me, and it was one of the reasons I was afraid to become a parent.

It took a very painful experience for me to understand that the risk of losing a child, while terrifying, does not outweigh the worth of being a parent. Being a parent has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life, and I couldn’t imagine not having this privilege. I was meant to be a mother. It’s one of God’s callings on my life that I can’t deny, no matter what pain or risks I have to face.

But I had to learn this through the experience of pregnancy loss. My husband and I lost our first baby, Sam, only six weeks into our pregnancy. At first, I was in a place of anger, utter heartbreak, loss of trust, and loss of hope for the future. Other people’s words of comfort often felt like a slap in the face to me. They told me that I should hold on to God, but I was furious at him. They told me to keep trusting him because it was all in his plan, but I felt like my trust in him was broken. Most of all, I despised it when people told me that we could try again. The thought of trying again, of putting myself at risk for heartbreak again, was a terrible thought. I felt that it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was from this place of darkness that God showed us the light. Through the guidance of some godly people in our lives, God showed us the simple truth that he is good. We learned that our miscarriage was not God’s doing or his plan for us, but an attack from the enemy. We also learned that God is bigger and stronger than our enemy. We learned what living victoriously in Jesus really means.

Without those lessons, we wouldn’t have been able to handle the fear, as parents, of “what might happen.” Instead of living in fear, we trust and believe that God has his hand over our family. I don’t have to worry about what might happen to my kids because I know that God’s got them. They are in good hands.

 

The Big Picture

Sometimes, even with strong faith and trust in God, we can experience loss and trials in this world. It is a broken world, after all. We may not be of this world (as Christians), but we are still in it.

I try not to entertain thoughts of what might happen in scenarios of my greatest fears. I believe that we should discipline our thoughts and train ourselves to think about good things, not horrible ones. But I do have an understanding that my faith might not always protect me or my family in this world. Bad things could happen. Christians can lose their children tragically, just like anybody else.

But instead of fearing for this, I focus on the big picture. The big picture is my human approximation of what God sees. He sees things in light of eternity! This life seems so big to us. It seems like everything. But what we often forget to realize is that compared to eternity, this life is just a drop in the bucket. What we also often forget to realize is that compared to an eternity in paradise with God, this life is basically a poop parade.

Now, I know that sounds pretty negative. But it’s not, I promise! Realizing that this life, our bodies, the earthly things we have, and our comfort in this lifetime is all temporary… well, it’s actually so freeing. If we lose our earthly lives, we gain something better– eternal life. As long as you’ve accepted Jesus as your savior, that is!*

So if my faith is not always enough to save my kids or myself from suffering, or even death, then I can have peace and comfort and joy even, knowing that there is something unspeakably wonderful ahead.

As a parent, there is no greater comfort. I know that it’s going to be okay, literally NO. MATTER. WHAT. There might be suffering, but suffering is temporary. An eternity of JOY is ahead, and that is something to celebrate. This is why we praise God! Isn’t he awesome?

 

 

*Have you accepted Jesus as your savior yet? Do you want to? You can, right now!

Just pray this prayer:

God, I know that I am not perfect. I have sinned, and that means I am not worthy of you. But I believe you sent your son Jesus to Earth, and he lived a perfect life and he died on the cross, as a sacrifice for me. Jesus, I invite you into my heart right now. Please come in and forgive me of my sins. Make me right with God. Help me live my life in a way that pleases you.

In Jesus name,

Amen

If you prayed that prayer, then you are now a redeemed child of God! You just made the best decision you could ever make. Your eternity is secured! Go ahead and celebrate that. And please share it with someone. Leave me a comment or send me a message. Go find a church you can be a part of, and continue to grow in your faith.

No Bad People

In church today, I heard a challenging message about honoring authority. By nature, I have a tendency to dislike authority. Outwardly, I have been raised to be respectful toward authority figures. But in my heart, I am often resentful and rebellious. I’ve been exposed to too many authority figures who have abused their power, and it has made me distrustful.

In church, we started with reading a Bible verse, Romans 13:1-2, which says: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Already, I started pumping the brakes. Wait, does this mean that God put Hitler in power? Osama Bin Laden? The Pharoah who enslaved the Israelites? What about the president of North Korea? These rulers have done evil things. Most people would call them evil people. Yet God put them in power?

Apparently, not only did God establish their positions of authority, but I am called to honor them. Honoring evil dictators is not something I can easily do, in my heart, or outwardly. I didn’t even know where to begin.

As a less dramatic example, I struggle with honoring President Trump. I didn’t vote for him, I would not have chosen him as the President, and I disagree with the attitudes he portrays, the words he says, and the actions he takes. I believe his actions are immortal, unloving, and against God. How am I to honor such a person?

Well, as usual, I started by researching. I read article after article about honoring the dishonorable, honoring authority while participating in civil disobedience, and the practical meaning of honoring people in general.

The best explanation I found goes something like this. Yes, God puts authority figures in power. No, God does not desire for those authority figures to do evil things, and he does not accept those evil actions. However, he has purposes and plans that we can’t always see or understand.

For whatever reason beyond me, God chose to put Hitler, and Bin Laden, and yes, Trump (sorry for the extreme juxtaposition), in power. We know that his plans are for the good, and that even when evil things are done, he has an eternal perspective and a plan for the good. All we can do is trust him in these situations.

So fine. I can accept that God arranged (not just allowed) President Trump to be elected, despite the immoral things he has said and done both before becoming president and during his presidency. But still, I struggle with honoring him.

Honoring means to hold in high esteem or to have great respect for someone. Respect means to feel a deep admiration for someone. Am I honestly being commanded to deeply admire and esteem President Trump? (Trump supporters can substitute President Obama).

Yes! And it’s not as impossible as it might sound.

We can do this by finding the fine line between our feelings and our choices. We can distinguish between honor and obedience, friendship, agreement, or enabling.

Let’s break this down.

I can honor a person’s position without submitting to their immorality. If the government passes a law that is contrary to God, I can still respect the government without obeying that immoral law. In fact, I am commanded to disobey that law and instead submit to God’s authority.

I can honor a person without enjoying their personality, or supporting the evil things they do.

I can honor a person without agreeing with them.

I can honor a person without enabling them to continue to do evil. I can honor an authority figure while still working respectfully and calmly to remove them from authority, or pursue justice for their evil actions, or affect change in how their authority is used.

So if I don’t have to blindly obey, enjoy, support, agree with, or enable a person to honor them, what do I have to do?

What does it actually mean, in practical terms, to honor somebody?

We can honor people by looking for things to respect. Even if 99% of the things a person says or does are not worthy of respect, we can look for the 1%. There is good in everybody, because we are all made in God’s image.

Which brings me to the next point. We are all made in God’s image, and we are all his creation. We can honor people by recognizing that they are God’s masterpiece.

We can honor people by remembering that God loves them. God loves them so much that he died for them. And if they have accepted Jesus, whether that shows on the outside or not, then they are also children of God, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are family. We are all loved by God.

We can honor people by viewing them through a lens of compassion. We are all imperfect and flawed. Yet God extends his grace to us, and we can also extend it to others.

We can honor the likelihood that most people are just doing their best. Sometimes, a person’s best falls far, far short of what we expect at a minimum. But still, most people want to be good people and do what they think is right. They are trying. Sometimes, what a person thinks is right is completely distorted and evil, but they don’t see it. They are blind. Whether they deserve it or not (and none of us do, really), we can honor them nonetheless.

My favorite way is this: we can honor people for their potential. Everybody has potential to be used by God. He has taken the dirtiest sinners and turned them around to do great things for his Kingdom. Nobody is too far gone for God to use for good. We can honor that potential in other people, no matter how much we despise the things they have done in the past and perhaps the things they are still doing.

When it comes to authority figures, from our parents to our bosses to police officers to our President, we can also simply honor the position. We may not know the person well (or like, or agree with them), but we do know that God put them in their position of authority, and we are called to honor that. (Of course, we are also called to use our influence to help bring godly people into positions of authority, and remove ungodly ones. We can still do that respectfully. And whether or not we succeed, we are called to pray for those in power, that God would use them for good.)

I think when we fully absorb this attitude of honor, we will reflect that in our hearts and in our words and actions.

Instead of saying that somebody is a bad person, I can say that they have done bad things. I can honor them as a person who God created, loves, and sees potential in. When I label a person as “bad” it leaves no room for change. When I label attitudes, words, and actions as bad, but still honor the person, I leave room for God to work.

I think that is the key to this command to honor those in authority, and those around us. We do our best to see God in each person, and in doing so, we leave room for him to work.

Opposite Day

I love the fruit of the spirit. In the Bible, we are given a list of characteristics that the Holy Spirit is supposed to produce in us. These characteristics are the Fruit of the Spirit. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

I love this part of the Bible because it gives me a clear goal for what I should be working towards as a follower of Christ. I should be living in such a way, and inviting the Holy Spirit into my life on a daily basis, so that these traits are visible in my life.

But sometimes, I think it’s easy to see a list like this and think that it seems too unattainable. I’ll never be a person who embodies all of these traits all of the time. It can be somewhat discouraging.

One thing I like to do to combat that is to look at the opposites of these words. When I frame it in this way, as a list of things I should avoid being and doing, it can actually make it easier to pursue these traits in my life. For example, instead of thinking “I need to love everyone,” I can think “I need to turn away from hate.” It feels so much more attainable when I think of it in that way.

 

Love.
Fight against hate and apathy.

Joy.
Say no to despair and discontent.

Peace.
Reject fear and anxiety.

Patience.
Don’t be easily provoked, or impatient.

Kindness.
Refuse to be rude or inconsiderate.

Goodness.
Be an enemy of evil behavior and cruelty.

Gentleness.
Avoid harshness and violence.

Faithfulness.
Despise disloyalty. Don’t give up.

Self-Control.
Choose not to be impulsive. Do battle against addiction, rage, and laziness.

 

While opposites don’t convey the complete mission we are given with these Fruits of the Spirit, they are a solid place to start. These are the things I am working toward today, with God’s spirit working in me.

Judging Judges

Christians generally love to say that the Bible is a beautiful book, a love story, where Jesus is present throughout. And while I believe that it true in many respects, I also have to challenge the idea that the Bible is always encouraging and refreshing to those who read it. At times, it can be downright horrifying.

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, and I recently finished the book of Judges. Throughout my time reading through this book and all of the previous books in the OT, I’ve struggled a lot with God’s Word. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of horrible things in these books; truthfully, I have found most of it to be either horrific or pointless in terms of applicability to modern life. Trudging through these sections has not been easy.

I’ve read about hundreds of thousands of human lives brutally taken, often in battles over territory, greed, or personal disputes. I’ve read about the slaughter of innocent children, and animals. I’ve read about rape, women being forced into “marriage,” incest, and prostitution. Many of these events were seemingly accepted, condoned, or even ordered by God. Frankly, I find it impossible to swallow.

What am I to make of all of this violence and disgusting human behavior? What am I to make of a God who not only allows, but at times instructs his followers to do such things?

The honest answer is that I don’t know. The honest answer is that I don’t understand.

And yet, I have chosen to continue to have faith in my God. I choose to trust in Jesus, who lived a life of love, and who died for love of me. I choose to trust in a God who has protected, guided, and provided for me all my life.

Sometimes, it seems that the God I know and the God of the Bible are two different people. But I know that the harder truth is that they are the same God; He is just a God that I do not fully understand, because I am human, and he is so far beyond me.

A God that cannot be put into simple terms actually makes perfect sense. If God was a human construct, he would be understandable, easy to put in a box. But God is not created by humans on our terms, we are created by Him on His terms. Sometimes (often), that means we don’t understand him.

My prayer today is that God can work in my heart and mind to help me surrender to the not-understanding. As a logical, thoughtful, reasoning type of person, I find this incredibly challenging. I am challenged to be humble, to accept that I can’t control God, or force him into my parameters of understanding. I must learn to surrender to him fully, to let go of my pride, to let go of my control.

Perhaps, for me, this is the whole purpose of these books in the Bible. They bring me to a place of surrender to God, a place where I must admit that I don’t have the answers. This is the place where I have to simply close my eyes and trust him. When I do, I know that I will find peace in my savior’s love. This is exactly where he wants me to be.

 

What’s Your Golden Cow?

What is the most important thing in your life? What do you spend your time, energy, thoughts, and money on? If you’re a Christian, is your answer Jesus? I think all of us have room to grow in this area, me included.

As believers, we are called to put God first in our lives. But what does that mean, in practical terms? This is a question I have wrestled with for a long time.

I believe that God places us where we are in life for a purpose, and that we are called to serve him right where we’re at. We don’t all need to be missionaries, preachers, worship leaders, or charity presidents to serve Jesus. We each have ministry opportunities all around!

Putting God first means that we are intentional about noticing our ministry opportunities. It means that we treat our roles in life as ministries, doing them to the best of our ability to honor God. We can serve God in any role: as a significant other, spouse, parent, family member, friend, co-worker, boss, employee, customer, neighbor, volunteer, and so on. All we have to do is treat others with love and kindness, putting others before ourselves, and we are automatically pleasing God.

Putting God first means that we strive to see all of the people around us the way God sees them; with love, and with the desire to draw them closer to Him.

Putting God first also means that we take time to nurture our relationship with Him. There should be nothing more valuable to a Christian than our relationship with Christ. How we treat that relationship is a reflection of our spiritual health.

Am I taking time to plant seeds of truth, wisdom, and understanding– from God’s word– in my heart and mind? Am I taking time to talk to God and listen– to pray? Am I taking time to learn about the ways of God from those called to teach? Am I taking time to worship him, both through music and through service? Am I taking time to develop and strengthen relationships with other believers, so we can support each other spiritually?

It breaks my heart when I see people who call themselves Christians but don’t have any daily interactions with God through the Bible and prayer, who don’t go to church, or who have no spiritual support system. They may or may not be believers in their hearts, but they certainly aren’t living the God-centered life that they have been called to. That is the life where the most blessings are experienced, both in this lifetime and for eternity. That is the life God wants for all of us! One that is deeply connected to Him.

Putting God first in our lives also means we cast aside any idols, or things that we may be tempted to make more important than Him. In our modern world, it may seem like idols don’t exist. But just because we aren’t making golden cows or statues to bow down to doesn’t mean we aren’t worshipping idols.

Many things can become idols in our lives. Even well-intentioned things can become more important to us than God, if we let them. Our significant others or spouses, our children, our families, our friends; we are called to love others deeply, but never more than God. Our education, our jobs, our success, our money; we are encouraged and enabled to do our best work and to prosper vocationally, but never to the detriment of loving and serving our God, and loving others. Our bodies, our fitness, our outward beauty; we are called to treat our bodies as a temple, but never to replace our pursuit of the eternal God with pursuits of this temporary world. All of these things and more can become idols. So what’s your golden cow? Perhaps it’s time to put that cow in its rightful place.

Is it time for a spiritual checkup? How are you doing in your walk with God?

I’d love to be a part of your spiritual support system. I know I certainly need more people in mine! If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, send me an email to let me know. Let’s share prayer requests, pray for each other, share our questions and insights into God and his word, and share each other’s burdens as brothers and sisters in Christ. I am here for you!

Let’s support each other in putting God first.

Looking Back at 2017

This post is coming a little bit late, but such is the life of a mom. Writing and posting happen in stolen snippets of time! 😉

This year has been a big one for our family!

In January, we sold our travel trailer, which we had discovered was more work than it was worth for us. We also sold our truck later, and bought a small car for Cory to drive to work. I am still a proud minivan driver.

In February, Cory and I celebrated our ninth anniversary of being a couple. We have grown so much in the time we have been together! Since we were so young when we met, it really does seem like a lifetime ago. Becoming adults together has been a great adventure.

In March, we bought our first house and moved. In the process of moving, we had a terrible accident in which two of our dogs killed our three guinea pigs, Penelope, Clementine, and Amelia. While moving into our new house was exciting, this loss was a heavy shadow over that time.

In April, I completed my Hypnobabies Instructor training. Later that month, we adopted our cat, Luna.

In May, I graduated from the Christian Coach Institute as a Professional Christian Life Coach. This was a major goal of mine since before Cody was born, and I was very excited to reach it.

In July, I received my Hypnobabies Instructor Certification, and turned 25 years old. In August, Cory and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, and Cory turned 26 years old.

In September, our daughter Abigail was born. We had a wonderful planned home birth. We have decided that she will be our last biological child, and we will wait at least three years but possibly longer until we pursue adoption.

In October, Cody turned three years old, and we celebrated with a small family gathering. At three, Cody is much more independent. He was weaned this year, and has started to eat more food slowly but surely. He can do many things on his own and doesn’t need constant direct supervision. He talks non-stop and is very active. He is small for his age, which makes sense because I am also quite small and Cory is thin. He is not yet potty trained, but we will get there when he’s ready.

In December, we adopted our puppy, Macy, who is now just under three months old. She is our fourth dog, and our last for now. Marley is approaching 13 years old, but in great health overall with the exception of his heart murmur. Sky is now seven years old, and Lila is going to be two soon, and both of them are in excellent health.
Anyway, financially this year has been tough. Buying and improving our home, our pregnancy and baby expenses, my career trainings, and the increasing healthcare expenses of an older dog (Marley) have all been expensive. Nevertheless, we have been incredibly blessed by God’s miraculous provision. As this year comes to a close, we have now paid off about half of our debt and we have a comfortable monthly budget.

Overall, this year has been wonderful. In 2018, my main task will be to continue to live this beautiful life I have been blessed with, serving the Lord as best I can in my daily life. I am excited to see what’s ahead for me and my family in the coming year!

Abigail’s Birth Story

Disclaimer: This is a birth story. It contains details about the birth process and my personal experience, which some people may not be comfortable reading. If this is you, please don’t read it! Otherwise, continue. 🙂

My birthing with Abigail was quite a journey. I expected to have her early, but ended up giving birth at exactly 41 weeks of pregnancy, longer than I went with Cody. The time I spent waiting at the end was very difficult emotionally, and as irrational as it was, I truly felt at times that I’d never have her. Of course, I did have her in God’s timing. Now that she’s here I am overjoyed!

Abigail MarlyAnne Westropp was born on Labor Day, Monday, September 4th, 2017 at 3:16 PM. She was born at home, completely unmedicated. She weighed 7 lbs and 12 oz and was 20 ¼ inches long at birth. Here is how it all happened.

When I was 36 weeks pregnant, I began to experience more frequent warm up pressure waves than I’d previously been having. I also passed a small amount of blood, which seemed to be the beginning of my bloody show. Over the next several weeks, I continued to experience more warm up waves, with some periods of prodromal waves. There were many times I thought my birthing time was beginning, but they all were false alarms. At 38 weeks, I began trying many natural methods of encouraging birthing to begin. I tried walking, sex, certain foods, and hypnosis. At 40 weeks, I began trying some more aggressive natural methods of induction, including nipple stimulation and acupressure.

Finally at 40 weeks and 5 days, on September 2nd, I tried the most aggressive option so far and had my midwife sweep my membranes, which led to my full bloody show. That night, I had a good pressure wave pattern for several hours, and was very hopeful, but then it faded. The next afternoon, I had an appointment with my doula to try more natural induction techniques. I was optimistic, since she’s never had a client who this appointment didn’t work for. We tried many things, but after over 5 hours, we still had not established a good pressure wave pattern, and we decided to call it a night. My doula, Lynsey, left my house around 10:30 PM, and I went to bed with my hypnosis track playing as usual. I felt discouraged and resigned when I went to bed.

At about 1 AM that night, on September 4th, I woke up because of strong waves I was feeling. I began timing them, while listening to a hypnosis track. They continued to be strong, about 40 seconds to a minute long, and between 3 to 7 minutes apart. After an hour, I called my midwife, Alicia, and we decided it was time for her to come over. She arrived around 3 AM, and I continued to listen to my hypnosis tracks and mellow worship music while using my hypnosis tools.

I’d already woken up Cory around 2 to tell him what was going on, and encouraged him to get more sleep. By 4, I was ready for him to start actively supporting me, so I woke him up. I also called Lynsey at this time. Shortly after, I decided that I wanted to move to the bedroom and start using my birth pool, so we tried to move our sleeping son Cody to the guest bedroom. He woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep, so we called Cory’s mom, Marsha, to come take care of him. While she drove out, we set up the birth pool and I had some time with Cody in the pool. He helped me decorate the pool with submersible orange lights, which I’d chosen to help me envision my Hypnobabies’ orange hypno-anesthesia.

Around 6 AM, Marsha arrived. Although the timing is a blur, I know I spent this active birthing time moving between my pool, the bed, and my chair, while remaining in hypnosis and listening to my tracks out loud, and hearing birth prompts from Cory. At some point, my midwife’s assistant arrived, another midwife I’d met years ago named Jennifer. The midwives offered gentle support and otherwise rested and stayed unobtrusive. Cody was happy and busy with Marsha, and Cory stayed with me almost constantly. I started to have more bloody show during that time.

Around 10 AM, Alicia offered to check my dilation, and I agreed. Lynsey arrived while that was happening. To my great surprise and joy, Alicia said she couldn’t feel any cervix– meaning, I was completely dilated and effaced. I cried happy tears and hugged Cory and Lynsey, because I knew then that Abigail would be coming soon.

Alicia was able to feel that baby was asynclitic, and not quite fully engaged as a result, so we tried some belly sifting. From that point on, I spent time resting between waves on the couch or bed, and trying different positions in the pool. My support team kept me constantly hydrated, nourished me with light snacks, and reminded me to use the bathroom. Of course, they also kept hypnosis tracks playing for me and read birth prompts.

My pressure waves throughout this entire time were strong, and close together. I began to feel some exhaustion after the first few hours, and then began feeling a lot of back discomfort. Hours after being completely dilated, I still had not started to feel any pushing urges, and my emotional state started to struggle to remain peaceful. I began thinking that I couldn’t go on much longer.

Finally at about 2 PM, I broke down. Sitting in my pool, I told my team I couldn’t do it anymore, in tears. They rallied around me. They told me I was doing it, and they were going to help me. They told me it was time to start pushing and get the baby out. I said it hurt too much, and they told me I could do it, and to use my hypnosis. Finally, their encouragement broke through and I felt a sense of resolve, that I could do it and I would. I told Jesus that I needed his help.

On the next wave, I started pushing. At first, it increased the discomfort to be almost unbearable, but after just a second, it lifted. I took as deep of breaths as I could and then pushed while making loud, low, opening sounds. Sometimes I became very loud! Then I tried pushing after taking a deep breath, using the breath to bear down, and pushing several times during each wave. My lower back was in pain during my waves now, so Lynsey massaged it while I pushed. In between waves, I rested and took deep breaths, breathing oxygen to baby while my midwives monitored her heart rate. I moved between several different positions for pushing. Sometimes I squatted and leaned back against the wall of the pool. Other times I leaned forward on the pool wall, or simply went on hands and knees. I also tried Lynsey’s suggestion of squatting and pulling hard on a rebozo (scarf) that Cory held. I stayed in the pool the whole time. Cody and Marsha came in at some point to witness the process.

I pushed for a little over an hour, before I started crowning. I reached down and felt baby’s soft head and her silky hair. My midwives guided me to push more gently at this point, to allow myself to stretch naturally, and I did. I felt some burning, but it didn’t hurt. I told myself to stretch, and I did. Baby’s head came out into my hand, and I held her head, waiting for the rest of her to slip out. After what felt like only a few moments, but was apparently six minutes, suddenly there was some urgency I was vaguely aware of.

Everything snapped into motion as Alicia said she wanted me out of the pool, now, and my team basically lifted and dragged me out, straight to the bed on my hands and knees. Cory told me everything was fine. I was told to stop pushing. In my head, I had one thought, that Abigail needed to be okay. I was maneuvered into a runner’s squat position, and my midwives were doing things I wasn’t aware of, trying to ease baby out. There was no pain, just waiting, until finally they told me to push as hard as I could. I did and Abigail was born, finally, and I flipped onto my back and held her on my chest. She didn’t cry right away, and I rubbed her gently and talked to her until finally, she let out her first tiny cry. Her cord was short, so I couldn’t move her much, but I held her and kissed her warm wet head. She started looking for the breast quickly, and with just a little guidance she latched on like a pro.

Later, I learned that Abigail was having a hard time coming out because she had her hands up under her chin. The midwives had to reach in and push her hands down to allow her to come out. Although that may sound painful, I didn’t feel it. Through all of that, I only had a small tear that barely required two stitches. Although her birth was somewhat traumatic, both she and I came through it easily, thanks to my incredible and competent birth team.

After Abigail was born, we waited a short time for my placenta to be born. Unfortunately, I started to hemorrhage both before and after birthing the placenta, meaning I was bleeding too much. My midwives gave me a shot of pitocin and massaged my uterus, all with me still in hypnosis and using my tools for comfort. I continued to nurse Abigail, which is helpful for controlling bleeding after birth. After a few minutes, my bleeding had slowed but not completely stopped, so I was given another shot of pitocin. Finally, the bleeding stopped, and we rested.

After that final drama, things were calm. Abigail had her newborn exam next to me while Jennifer cleaned me up. Then we nursed some more, and Cory and I were left alone to bond with baby while the house was cleaned up a bit. Cody met his baby sister, a fascinating and strange creature to him. I cried happy tears again, thanking God for our daughter and sitting in awe of how lucky we are to have two beautiful children. Cory held Abigail and we took some photos.

After a little while, we decided it was time to cut the cord. It was still attaching Abigail to the placenta, which was lying wrapped up nearby. We were happy that we’d allowed every possible drop of blood to flow into baby before cutting the cord, but we were ready to have more mobility for Cory to hold her. He clamped and cut the cord himself. Later, I was stitched up while happily nursing Abby, and she got her vitamin K shot while still nursing. She let go to cry a two-second protest before going back to the breast.

After all was settled, my birth team said goodbye and left. I nestled happily in my bed with my baby girl, and my husband and son close by. Could there be anything better?

There are so many things I’m thankful for, looking back at this experience. First and foremost, a happy and healthy baby and mama, which is always the main goal. I’m also thankful for my midwives, who knew exactly what to do in a potentially scary situation. They saved our lives, really. I’m thankful for my doula, who supported me so well both physically and emotionally. She also managed to take photos and videos throughout my entire birthing process, which I can now treasure forever. My amazing husband and birth partner, Cory, was a superhero. He pushed himself physically to support me through his own exhaustion. He stayed calm always, told me frequently how I was doing such a great job, gave me hypnosis cues, and stayed by my side throughout the birth of our child. All together, my team was a formidable force. They held me up in so many ways when I was sure I could not do it. With them, I could. I’m thankful for Hypnobabies, without which I can only imagine the difficulty I would have had giving birth. Some women have easy births, but I apparently do not. And I did not have a painless birth, either, but with Hypnobabies, I was able to have a more easy and comfortable experience, and succeed in my dream of having a natural birth at home.

Most of all, I’m thankful to God. He kept me and Abigail safe. Jesus held me during the hardest parts of my birthing, and without his presence I can’t imagine how I would have coped. He is my savior, not only for eternity, but for my life right now. He enabled me with strength I would not have had on my own. And he blessed me and Cory with such an unbelievable gift, our precious baby girl, not to mention our son almost three years ago. We are so very blessed, for God is good.

I am so very relieved, proud, and satisfied with my birth experience. Knowing that I did this makes me feel empowered to do anything. I feel very lucky to have experienced both a happy hospital birth with Cody and now a completely natural home birth with Abigail. It’s wonderful experience to have as a birth educator as well! How very blessed I’ve been. <3

Welcome to the world, little Abigail. You are so very precious.