Monday, April 20, 2015

when you're having a baby and you're scared

When I was ten, my family and I went to Six Flags in St. Louis, and we decided to ride the Screamin’ Eagle, a.k.a. Satan’s roller coaster. It was at the top of the first hill that I first realized (too late) – I am terrified of heights. TERRIFIED beyond reason. I was so afraid, I couldn’t speak. I just sat there in my hot pink denim shorts, wide eyed, petrified, in full knowledge that there was nothing I could do to escape it. My brother sensed my fear immediately, and he spent the rest of the ride screaming at my mom, “Caroline’s upset! Caroline’s upset!” But Mom couldn’t do anything. No one could do anything. I had to ride it out.

At the end of the ride, I got up slowly, shakily, unable to speak for a few minutes. “Are you okay?” they all asked. “Did you cry?”

“I couldn’t,” I stuttered. My fear had quite literally left me without a voice. I needed therapy and a funnel cake. I also needed someone to tell me that the clay parrot necklace I had on was a huge mistake.

Interestingly enough, the devil roller coaster scenario was the one that popped into my head when labor started to get difficult. I was scared, and though there were people around me, there was nothing they could do to help except get me a funnel cake when it was over. (Really, I highly recommend post-labor pancakes.) But until then, I had to ride it out. I wanted to labor at home as long as possible so that I would have the best possible chance to have the natural delivery I sensed was best. My contractions lasted for days, and they were strong and irregular. It was confusing – when should I go to the hospital? What did these contractions mean? Why wasn’t my body going by the book? Was my baby okay?

I sought wisdom from people I trusted, did a lot of emotional eating, and endured it day by day – about three days of uncomfortable contractions and then two days of nearly unbearable ones. I couldn’t get relief between them, I couldn’t sleep, and it took all my energy to keep panic attacks at bay. I was afraid.

Five days of contractions behind me, we finally went to the hospital, where labor continued for another 18 hours. I had my incredible doula Jamie and my awesome husband Luke there, and from what I can remember, though I soaked up their counsel, I barely spoke to them. The fear was palpable, and it had taken my voice. The pain was overwhelming, and there was no way to stop the ride.

Having a baby is scary business. Sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan or by the book. Sometimes you are faced with scenarios that hadn’t even occurred to you. Sometimes the sudden clarity of the value and significance of that new life is terrifying.

Some have found themselves unexpectedly pregnant, and the thought of the ride ahead is crushing.

Some have found themselves faced with a complicated pregnancy or an emergency delivery, and the whirlwind threatens to consume. 

Some have found themselves face to face with unspeakable loss.

All of us have found ourselves completely without control. We may have carefully planned and registered, meticulously written thank you notes and bought diapers, but at the end of the day, the reins are not in our hands.

A thousand times to be afraid.

What do you do when fear is winning, when hope feels grim, when the thunder crashes and the darkness is oppressive?

“When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Silence! Be still!’ Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm” Mark 4:39.

“He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” Psalm 107:29.

The one who holds the reins is bigger than the circumstances, more powerful than the contractions, capable of quieting any storm. Unspeakably great yet speaks in a whisper.

Yes, He can quiet the storm, but often He does not. I still felt it. He let it continue to swirl around me, and I clung to him with all I had, repeating in my mind a precious promise: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” Isaiah 26:3.

“A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” 1 Kings 19:11-12.

Sometimes the great calm is not around us but within us. Sometimes His promises do not come in fierce winds but in gentle whispers.

I’m 24 weeks pregnant now. Sometimes I’ll have labor flashbacks, remembering what it was like to weather the storm alone, to endure the intensity when all my reserves were depleted. I’ll get panicky and teary and wonder if I can do this. But God in his goodness reminds me of the smell of a newborn baby, the first time my daughter looked at me, the love that was so intense it might have well slapped me in the face. He reminds me that He was there in the night even when it was too dark to see, that "even the darkness is not dark" to Him (Psalm 139:2), that He is there in gentle whispers, that He promises the dawn. That even when the night stretches on immeasurably, there is always dawn.

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy…your joy will be complete” John 16:21-24.

The spiritual parallels are unavoidable. Hellish agony finally conquered by the redemption, the restoration, the glory of heaven. Dawn slicing through a black sky. The internal stillness that sustains us while we wait for morning. All of it so worth it because of the beauty of the daylight.

Oh that daylight! I dream about meeting my baby boy all the time. The way it’ll feel to see his face for the first time, to see Light cut through the darkness again, to hold in my arms the whispered promise. 

Because no matter what I will hold in my arms the whispered promise, even if it is not on this side of heaven. This I need to remember as pregnancy fears assault. I have heard enough stories to know that even though I am 24 weeks pregnant, that is no guarantee. I am not holding the reins, but I choose to trust the one who is. I pray I always choose to trust the one who is. Someday, whenever that may be, sweet baby, that I get to hold you in my arms, it will make the darkness worth it. I do not know your face, but I love you more than I can say, and you are worth enduring the darkness.

Dear friend, do not be afraid. He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. May you keep your mind stayed on Him, the quieter of storms, the promise whisperer. May he keep you in perfect peace.

Friday, April 10, 2015

big sister

Hi, Sweet Baby!

Have I ever told you that having you as my baby has been the coolest thing ever? You have rocked my world. In fact, after we had you, your dad and I thought, “Yeah, kids are pretty awesome,” as we decided to have another baby! We think you are that amazing.

So your little brother is coming soon, and we are so excited. He’s already a wild man, flipping around in Mama’s tummy and doing tricks for the lady at the doctor’s office. I think he’ll be lots of entertainment for us both.

Soon you’ll see me decorating his room, setting up his crib, and adding that second seat to your yellow stroller. Soon you’ll see me holding him, kissing him, and letting him sit right next to me.

Soon you won’t be my only baby. I know that might be hard for you. It’s hard to share, it’s hard to see things change. But you’re my bundle of wonderful, and you will be an awesome big sister. See, being a big sister is a big deal. It’s one of the highest compliments God can give a little girl! Your brother will look up to you and will learn from you, so you have a very important job—to protect, to play, to laugh, to encourage, to love.

But here’s something you need to know: Loving is hard work sometimes. 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The Bible says that love is patient and kind – will you be a patient, kind big sister? Sometimes little brothers and sisters can be loud or frustrating or mean. Will you be patient and kind anyway?

The Bible says that love does not envy, doesn’t brag, and isn’t proud. Sometimes it’s easy to be jealous when it feels like a brother is more successful or well-liked, or when it feels like a sister is more beautiful or talented. Will you be a loving big sister anyway, rooting for your little brother or sister no matter what?

The Bible says that love does not dishonor others. When your brother is being silly, don’t be mean. Smile at him, say nice things, let him hang around for a bit. Never forget how much he matters. Protect his heart as much as you can—it may not seem like his feelings can get hurt, but they can. Someday he’ll protect your heart right back, and you’ll be so glad you have him.

If God gives you a little sister someday, and she wants to hang around with you and your friends a little bit, try to include her. Try to make her feel welcome and wanted. There will be times when you need to play alone with your friends, and that’s fine, too. Just let me know, and I’ll help you. My job is to help, and your job is to be kind.

There’s lots of other times when you won’t feel like loving your siblings, but will you do it anyway? Will you help me and Daddy show them what love really means?

It’ll be hard work, but it’s good work. It’s worth it. You can take it from me – I’m a big sister, too. Did you know that your Uncle Phillip is my little brother and Aunt Adeline is my little sister? 

I know you love them a lot. When they’re around, you know it’s party time, and you giggle so much that I end up laughing until I cry. They make you really happy, and they make me really happy, too. 

I wish I knew more words so that I could really explain how much I love them, how glad I am that God let me be their big sister because then you might know how blessed you are to be Greer’s big sister. Being a big sister is one of the nicest things that God has ever done for me, and I am so glad he decided to do it for you, too.

Did I ever tell you about the time when we were little, and I cried and cried because Uncle Phillip hit his head on the fireplace and needed stitches? He was hurt, and it hurt me to know that. I like him to be okay because being his big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you how when I was 15 and Aunt Adeline was 10, we were in The Nutcracker together? She wore the cutest lamb costume, and I couldn’t stop hugging her and showing her to all my friends. Being her big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about the time Uncle Phillip and I duct-taped Aunt Adeline’s legs together and then left her in the front yard for no reason? I don’t know why we did that, but when I remember it, I think, being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about how Uncle Phillip and I would drive to high school together and choreograph dances to Maroon 5 songs? We still remember them, and it’s pretty weird. Being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about the day I married Daddy? Aunt Adeline was my sidekick all day long. When your daddy and I finally were standing in front of the pastor next to a beautiful lake ready to get married, she was right next to me, my sister and best friend, shedding a few happy tears. We think Uncle Phillip cried a little too, but later said he had been bitten by a goose. At the reception, he surprised me and sang “Sweet Caroline” with the band. When I think about all that I remember—being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I really wanted a Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich, but Daddy and I were on a really strict budget? Uncle Phillip, Aunt Adeline, and I searched the whole house and the Chick-fil-a parking lot for change, and we bought three chicken sandwiches in quarters. I probably could have given up the idea of a chicken sandwich or asked one of them to spot me the money, but our way was better because we laughed the whole time. Being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about the time when we found out Uncle Phillip was sick? The way it felt to hear that, to think that my little brother was in danger? He had cancer, and I from the second Poppy told me the news, I realized that my little brother is a part of who I am, knit into my very soul, just like Greer will be a part of you. Uncle Phillip is fine now, but it was a sad and scary time, and when I think back on it, I know that I love that guy more than I can say, and I am so glad God lets me be his big sister. It’s the best.

Did I ever tell you that when Uncle Phillip was recovering from surgery, he got really bossy and forced me to do whatever he wanted? He would yell, “CAROLINE, GET ME A DR. PEPPER BECAUSE I HAVE CANCER” and we would both laugh because his humor was so weird and dark and inappropriate. And then obviously I would get him a Dr. Pepper. He makes me laugh even when things are really hard for him, and when I think about it, I remember—being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about that one time when Aunt Adeline and I got in a fight, a time when I was mean and didn’t love her the way God wants me to? We didn’t talk for two weeks, and it was one of the saddest times of my life. I don’t even like to think about it. But then we saw each other and hugged and hugged because we remembered that love is not self-seeking and love keeps no record of wrongs. I had missed her so much because being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I told Uncle Phillip and Aunt Adeline that we were pregnant with you? They both cried and hugged me really tight. They loved you in a big way from the second they heard about you, and it made me remember—being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about the time at your baby shower when Uncle Phillip drove in from out of town and surprised me? I was so happy to see him, so happy he was my little brother, so happy that he was your uncle that I cried, and I remembered—being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about when I was really scared and really hurting before I had you, and Aunt Adeline came over every day so I wouldn’t have to be alone? She always walked in with my favorite Sonic drink and once a pair of gold polka dot shoes that matched your nursery. Whenever I wear those shoes, I remember how my little sister was there for me, and I remember—being a big sister is the best.

Did I ever tell you about how no one knows how to make me laugh like my little brother and sister? That rarely does anyone quite understand me on the same level that they do? That at one point they stopped being just little brother and little sister and became my best friends?

Oh my girl, being a big sister is the best. What fun you are going to have! I am so glad you have Greer, and I am so glad he has you. I love you!