Summer Dreaming: Three months of Baby Love

The hot days of summer found our little Zlaten clan settling into more of a regular routine. As Asa grew out of the “fourth trimester” and into the baby phase, life has become a little more predictable. Asa’s sweet spirit brings us all such joy, and for me personally, his companionship has been anchoring me through some stressful times in other realms of our family life. We are in upheaval again; grad school starting up for the fall, job changes, etc. I am learning more and more to lean into the grounding of my family, and finding peace here at home and wonder in seeing my kids thrive.

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We took Asa on his first road trip to the western slope at the beginning of August. Yep, the road trip part was a little torturous. For our first leg of the trip, we decided to break the time up by going to Buena Vista first and spending a night there at the Cottonwood Hot Springs. Literally 10 minutes outside of Buena Vista…with the towering gorgeous mountains in sight… we were stopped for 1.5 hours of road construction waiting. There was no way I was going to keep the kids in their car seats for all of that time at a standstill, so we got out with all of the other temporary parking lot travelers to chat and pick roadside flowers. We were ever so thankful to climb into the hot springs after that incident! Asa took to the water immediately, leaning into our chests and kicking as much as possible. Needless to say, the kids slept very well that night; hot relaxing water will work miracles. Actually, the kids rocked sleeping the whole trip! At our second stop, a hotel in Delta, Elleanna actually tried sleeping like a big girl in the second queen bed in the room. It was one of those moments where I was intensely aware of how much she is growing up. And, at the end of it all, I am very thankful for kids who sleep well in hotels, even if the car rides can be rough. On the way home we stopped for an hour each in Glenwood, Avon, Idaho Springs and Boulder before we rolled home… Asa likes to stress eat I suppose.

The day after we came home from our trip, I came down with Strep. On Elle’s first day of preschool. So I lost a week in there somewhere. It is amazing how the kids keep growing and life keeps moving on through my states of sickness.

Asa keeps chatting more and more, and he is getting very wiggly, and any day now I expect him to roll over.

Life is sweet, and moving fast, full of hard times, mundane work and moments that stop me in my tracks, filling me with wonder. Like a few nights ago: I was hustling to get a few things done before Asa needed me to put him to sleep. Matt placed him in his bouncer chair, and I heard Elleanna come over to bring him toys. Then she opened a book and started telling her brother how much God loves him. These are the moments I keep living for, the times that balance out the whirlwind of raising two little lovies.

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The Birth Story of Asa Everett Robert

What a grand entrance our sweet son made on May 20, 2016 at 6:43 p.m. For those of you who really don’t want all of the details, here is the short version: My labor was fast, and we have been recovering well. The end.

You should stop reading now if you don’t want to hear more about birth body fluids and the process of a second baby coming into the world. However, if you, like me, are super passionate about normalizing the power of the female body to give birth, please read ahead.

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Asa’s first morning

This time around, my body definitely responded differently to labor than the first time. I experienced prodromal labor right at 37 weeks for about four hours, and then my body did nothing else contraction wise for 2.5 weeks. We were working pretty hard to try and get labor going naturally, as a gestational diabetes diagnosis puts more pressure on having an on-time baby (see my previous post). So starting around week 36, I started chiropractic aimed specifically at aligning my hips, pelvis, sacrum, etc. and continued that bi-weekly until the end of the pregnancy. Beginning week 37, I started working with an acupuncturist in town who has a lot of experience with labor and postpartum support. She put me on black currant oil, and a Chinese medicine herbal concoction for lowering blood sugar, as well as calcium. At home I was already taking magnesium, a Wish Garden tincture for uterus toning and of course iron and my pre-natals. Between all of these appointments and all of the Boulder Women’s Care appointments… There were a lot of appointments. I also had quite a routine of essential oils going (see my pregnancy, labor and postpartum oil report below).

And who knows what actually worked (Matt and I laughed often that maybe these were all placebo effect practices), but I did finally go into labor, and not too early or too late in the game. On the Wednesday of week 39 for me, a few contractions began in the morning, and then completely stopped. The next morning, contractions started again, but slowed down. I had my regular 39 week appointment and no stress test scheduled for that day. When the midwife checked me, my body was dilated to a two. We opted to have her strip my membranes (which actually… was not as bad as I thought of a procedure… there really was no stripping involved, just some movement and jiggling of the cervix). The midwife said that this procedure opened me to a dilation of 3 and that maybe we would have a baby that night. A little bit of labor did start for me that evening, but by 11p.m. it all stopped again. All of these stops and starts started discouraging me and were so new to me. The contractions weren’t really that painful, and we kept walking and walking. Wednesday and Thursday nights we walked around Lake McIntosh by our house, and Elle kicked dandelions and we watched the fish jump, trying anything to get the baby moving out of me. I felt so discouraged. Matt told me “hey, let’s get some sleep and then we will have a baby tomorrow.” I definitely didn’t feel as optimistic, and besides, he wasn’t the one who still had to carry a baby, but we all did sleep straight through the night. 

Friday morning, May 20: Around 8:30 a.m. contractions started up a bit again. I clearly remember coming down to the living room we share with the whole house and sitting cross-legged on the floor, playing “little people” with Elleanna. Contractions would come and I would close my eyes and breathe through and relax (much different than laboring with Matt alone in the middle of the night in total calm and quiet as we did with our first). It was difficult to explain to Elleanna why I couldn’t get up and get her juice to drink that morning very often. I did a few dishes. And then we decided to take a walk at Target. We slowly shuffled through most of the store, starting with the dollar section and then the movie section. We looked at pillows. We looked at toddler shoes. Around 11:30 a.m., we made it to the yogurt aisle and “pop!”. I told Matt “I am peeing… but I can’t stop it…Oh, maybe my water just broke!” Luckily I was wearing a pad already, so the scene definitely wasn’t a dramatic movie rendition of a gushing river spilling all over the greek yogurt, and no clean out call was dispatched. So we shuffled to the front, made a few random purchases, and loaded into the car. I called Boulder Women’s Care and our doula Sarah Mills of Birth Mojo Boulder. Even though my contractions weren’t rolling like a freight train yet, Matt and I decided to go and labor at the hospital. We ate some Wendy’s. I laid down and Matt took a quick shower, and then we loaded up for the commute to Boulder Foothills Community Hospital.

We checked in around 2:30 p.m. The front desk lady asked me if I was in labor; she said my face wasn’t contorted in pain like most of her check-ins. I was ambivalent too. Just like my first labor, my early contractions never landed on a consistent pattern. So we checked into our labor room, and chatted with the nurse. We got our diffuser set up and started diffusing lavender. I kicked off my flip flops. We turned on my peaceful laboring playlist. And the midwife told me I was dialated to a 6. After they hooked me up to the monitor (and I declined the IV cap placement), my mom and I started walking the halls of the hospital. Then, the real gushing began. I had lots of greenish-brown liquid come out, and I just couldn’t stop it. The nurse and the midwife became more concerned, as this color of liquid is a sign of meconium staining. Sometimes, meconium passing can indicate stress for the baby, and also he was not cooperating with the monitoring situation. So, the midwife strongly suggested we try an internal monitor. I was horrified – I had visions of them drilling a probe into the skull of my not-even-born-yet son. However, the midwife explained to me that there would be no skull drilling; in fact, it would be more like an EKG probe. We consulted with Sarah, and she pointed out that really, considering all of the risk factors for an internal monitor, we had already crossed those bridges (like my water had already broken, and also they were already wanting continuous monitoring). So I laid there and cried as they inserted the monitor. It is so hard to make those decisions when you are in the heart of labor. At this point, the midwife also announced to me “You haven’t progressed. We are on a timeline now and you need to get this show on the road.” Wow, did I ever feel even more discouraged. Every time I had attempted to get into a laboring rhythm, they kept wanting to interrupt me with poking and staying still. So I finally shuffled to the bathroom, and then my “bloody show” arrived… as well as unending waves of contractions. This was about 5 p.m.

At this point, I think it took me about an hour to walk the 20 feet back to my bed. The contractions seriously wouldn’t let up at all. Halfway back to the bed, I ended up on a nursing stool. They checked my blood sugar. And then they began the painful process of inserting and IV cap while I was in hard labor (a dumb mistake on my part… I really should have let them put that in at the beginning when I was still smiling and making jokes), as the midwife wanted to give me an IV drip to make sure my blood sugar didn’t crash. And then Sarah and the midwife told me I had to keep changing positions every 15 minutes. So, I hung onto Matt and labored. And I got into the bed and onto my stomach to labor. I was on all fours. Matt stepped out for 15 minutes to eat some Chipotle my parents had brought him, and during that time I definitely transitioned. The waves of fear crashing over my heart felt impossible to handle. All I could think about was how I was “stuck” at a dilation of 6, and if the contractions needed to continue like this to get me to a 10, there was no way I could do any of this at all. But, at 6:30, the midwife looked at me and said “where do you want to have your baby?”

So we sat the bed up and she dropped the bottom part down so I was in an assisted squatting position of sorts. And then I held my legs back and pushed with all of my might… three times… and Asa Everett Robert was born at 6:43 p.m. He arrived into this world weighing 7 pounds 10 ounces, and measuring at 20.5 inches in length, and a head circumference of 14 inches. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck three times, but he was fighting and crying and breathing in life even with that cord impedance. The midwife expertly freed him, and he only had to have one minute of oxygen, and then he was on my chest. And the first thing he did? He pooped on me. And I started shaking from the crazy hormonal shift that happened in my body. The relief I felt was astronomical. Even though that labor was much shorter than my first, the intensity of it brought me to the brink of what I thought I could handle.

I’m thankful for God’s protection of me and my son. We both kept passing each test at the hospital with flying colors. I only tore to a first degree tear this time, and so recovery has been much better. Asa already makes us laugh so much. In fact, a few hours after birth in the recovery room, as he was laying next to me, his eyes flew open and he made the loudest grunt… and, of course, pooped. My mom and I started laughing so hard. He continues to grunt like that sometimes when he poops. Asa seems more content these first 11 days than Elleanna was, so I am hoping that means my milk has come in very well this time (we have his weight check today… I am sure my next blog post will be about breastfeeding 2.0).

Wow, can I just say, I am happy to have this sweet baby boy on the outside and not on the inside anymore? Even if he won’t let us put him down at all, ever? I’m treasuring these days, because I know soon he will be up and running and tumbling with his sister and cousins, and he won’t need to rock for hours on my chest anymore. For now, I’m letting time reorganize into whatever it needs to be. Who needs to live in reality anyway?

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Pregnancy / Labor / Postpartum Oil and Herbs  Log (I use DoTerra Oils)*:

  • All throughout pregnancy, I used a blend of geranium, ginger, eucalyptus and frankincense on my lower back followed by a hot rag for 20 minutes every night… followed by a back rub by my husband. Seriously, this was the primary was I could get my body to relax enough to sleep.
  • Starting week 38, I applied a blend of clary sage, ginger, lavender, basil, cypress and geranium to my feet / ankles as many times as I could think about it through the course of the day.
  • During labor, my mom applied basil, geranium and frankincense to my lower back several times, all oils to help labor progress and relieve stress, trauma and pain
  • After labor, and for several days, I had Matt apply helichrysum to my feet, an oil that aids in stopping bleeding.
  • To support breastfeeding, I have been applying basil to my breasts (not the nipple area), and I have also been taking fennel internally. Both of these oils help support milk production.

WishGarden Herbs:

  • For pregnancy, I took WishGarden’s pregnancy safe sleep herbs when needed for a restless night
  • Beginning week 37, I used their uterus toning blend for the last month of pregnancy
  • Post-partum, I really loved their AfterEase for after birth pain. My best friend Vicki advised that I drop this blend directly under my tongue when nursing those first few days, and it really did help me.
  • I have also been taking their Goat’s Milk Rue and Post-labor hormone balancing tincture twice a day… and I have also been taking my encapsulated placenta two times a day!  

*I was not paid by DoTerra or WishGarden to post about these products

Waiting for Baby Love #2: Introspection Overdue

Exactly 3 years ago today, I started this blog. I definitely fell off the wagon this last year in recording our family adventures, but I find myself wanting to connect again as we prepare to welcome Baby Love #2.

This pregnancy started off as a bit of a surprise for us. And of course, I had signed up for one of my most intense semesters yet last fall; I took on a new teaching role leading the lecture for a big 125-person writing class at CSU, and I was in three graduate-level classes that all required a lot of reading and research, as well as teaching my usual class at Front Range Community College. When October hit, I was nauseous, sleep deprived and just exhausted from driving up to Fort Collins five days a week. We were also navigating big changes in Matt’s life. IBM laid him off in May of 2015, and we decided to try an entirely new direction; he now works as an administrator at our church in Boulder. In October, we also found out that our baby is a boy! We were actually shocked. I don’t know why, but for some reason, we figured that we would have all of the girls.

For the spring semester I finally was able to strip back my Ph.D. schedule to prepare for the end of my pregnancy (and my due date of May 22, 2016). From January to March… all three of us had cold after cold, and allergies. Week 26, Matt went with me to Washington D.C. for my birthday and so that I could present at the APPE ethics conference. We had such a good time, and it was a good little pre-baby get-away. Week 29 came, and we found out that I have gestational diabetes with this pregnancy. So many fears hit me. After my pregnancy and natural birth with Elleanna, we were entering a new world of potential risks (and subsequent meddling by doctors). So I started a new way of eating (thankfully this all coincided with spring break, so I had a week at home to re-think my eating and food prep game plan!). We started learning what foods spike my blood sugar, and what I can handle. I started weighing and counting carbs… and pricking my fingers four times a day to check my levels. My fear levels have ebbed and flowed throughout this entire process, like when the doctor decided I needed to start insulin shots at night because we couldn’t get my fasting levels to come down, which subsequently also meant that my OBGYN wanted me to start coming in two times a week to monitor the baby’s heart rate. Also at one point, the doctor thought I might have pre-eclampsia, but in the end I was cleared from that diagnosis.

Above left to right: Week 26, Week 29

The fear factor of this pregnancy was such a new experience for me. With Elleanna, I passed every hurdle with flying colors and everyone left me along until I went into labor. This time, there’s been more measuring and poking, recording and scheduling. I’m also seeing a chiropractor who specializes in pelvis / pregnancy work, and an acupuncturist who has me drinking all sorts of teas and also tells me that this coming Friday, we will “aggressively” do a session to get the baby out. And if I don’t go into labor by my due date, we will have to face an induction. This week, as I keep waiting for brother to make his grand entrance, and my due date gets closer, I’m trying really hard to rest in the space between aching pregnancy back and an impending newborn tornado. I need to be patient for but ready at a moment’s notice to jump into those impending “rushes” indicative of ushering in a new life. So, Rhema, relax, but also be ready to work really really hard when baby decides it is time, or the pitocin does.

Above from left to right: Weeks 32, 34 and 37

Yep, a second pregnancy has been totally different for me than the first pregnancy. Sometimes I feel guilty that I haven’t had as much time to sit and day dream about baby love #2, as I am squatting up and down to potty train baby love #1 (ahem, big girl, as she will pretty much literally only let us call her “big girl” these days).

Oh Elleanna. She actually has been a lot of fun and really good about this whole pregnancy process. And she seems to talk like she understands the impending life tornado about to hit our house, but I am not sure any of us really do. Since I have had so many extra appointments this pregnancy, she has come to a lot of them. She currently believes that brother is “black and white” from all of the ultrasounds she has watched, and we talk a lot about what a heart beat is. She often comes up to me with a notepad and a pencil, asking me questions and taking notes about what we can do about my blood sugar. She also slips off her crocs when I slip off my shoes to take my bi-weekly weight at the doctor’s office. And, if you are ever bored and have a toddler, try to explain why sometimes we adults have to pee in a cup and give the doctor the pee… I dare you. Her favorite doctor day is Monday, when she comes with me to one of the “No Stress Test” heart monitoring sessions. This time is mainly her favorite because for the last 6 weeks, we pop in the office VHS copy of “Lady and the Tramp” on their amazing VHS/small screen set up as I kick back and monitor the baby’s heart heart for 20 minutes – 1.5 hours (depending on his level of stubbornness). We also walk different pathways to the doctor’s office each time, which is located at Boulder Foothills Community Hospital. Sometimes we take the lilac route, and go look at all of the statues. Other times we take the inside walkway with the cool blown glass art on the ceiling. And Elleanna has become quite the expert at pushing elevator buttons, with a few near misses of pressing the emergency button… yeah.

So until next time, I will surely have a birth story to share. For now, I wait in the forever purgatory of the last days of pregnancy.

Above, from left to right: Weeks 38 and 39

Centered on Hope: Advent Week 1

This past week during our Sunday service at Hope Boulder, Adam Bradley challenged us during the lighting of the first Advent wreath candle to purposefully pursue hope. This tiny word confers trust, waiting, looking expectantly to the future, and desiring. As he challenged us to think of what we are hoping for in our own lives, I was struck by the realization that I have not taken time lately to dream…to find those confident expectations. Overall, gratefulness for my family and the goodness of God does frame me; however, the darkness of this world has a way of creeping in unnoticed and changing my vision, especially when I am on an intense rollercoaster. This season has been stormy to say the least, and I’m not sure I’ve learned how to really let the hope of Christ anchor me.

So this week, that’s what I set out to journey towards, yet again. I’ve been pouring through several Advent devotionals on the YouVersion app (if you haven’t downloaded this free Bible resource, check it out!), and I’ve also been working through the 24-7 Prayer Advent 2015 series (http://24-7prayer.com/theword15).

The first challenge I received was recognizing what keeps me from spending time in God’s word. Anxiety, a relentless graduate school rhythm, and exhaustion from my pregnancy easily become my excuses to operate from a mind-numb paradigm.

Lord, still my heart and mind. Make your Word come alive to me again.

The focus of this year’s 24/7 Prayer Advent series is The Word, as in The Word made flesh through the coming of Jesus, and how each page of the Bible breathes God’s Son. The Word discerns me, challenges me, builds me, strengthens me, guides me. Spending time in the Word is spending time with Jesus. The first Advent video tackled Ephesians 6:10-17, discussing what it really means to be armed with the Word. The sword referenced in this passage is a machaira, a very short sword (like a dagger). It was used in close combat, but it was also used for self-surgery. If a soldier was hit with an arrow, he would stop and perform self-surgey with this short sword to prevent infection (and death). I was struck by the analogy Paul presented in Eph. 6:10-11; it is my responsibility to be aware of my battle wounds, and to get to know the Word so well that I can use it as my short sword to cut out the lies of this world. The word “Rhema” is also used in this passage, conveying a hope that the Holy Spirit will bring specific promises of the Word to help root out these lies. So I am not responsible for the surgery and healing, but I must take the first step in sustaining the influence of the Word in my life so that I have an arsenal to face this world.

Lord, may Your Word by my life blood; may I fully experience “Immanuel, God with us.” 

My second line of inspiration this week concerns the song “O come, O come Immanuel.” The advent hymnal devotion on YouVersion expressed this hope: “As you wait for Christmas this year, as you wait for God’s help in the stresses and pains of your life, as you wait for Christ to return and bring us Home, you can use your Advent month not just for shopping or killing time till the festivities. Sing this hymn with confidence – God keeps his promises. Sing this hymn with hope – your future will be better than your past.”

Lord, restore my eyes to see the hope that you offer this earth, even as the world seems to be falling to pieces. May we find true peace in the freedom that You bring. 

So I’m working on these ideas of trusting in God’s hope, and recognizing my responsibility to pursue God’s heart and word. It never ceases to amaze me how in each season, God asks me to trust Him in new ways; as my plates keep spinning and He gives me more blessings and responsibilities, may I still remember the child-like faith and pure hope found in the manger baby. He really is God with us, the true light of the world.

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My little family last Christmas (2014). We’ll have to snap some current Christmas season ones soon! (And yes, that is Nans’s famous upside-down Christmas tree!)

15 Years Later, My heart still sings

Music surrounds many of my life moments. From my daily consumption of multiple hours a day across all genres to vivid memories of poignant melodies marking epochs of my life, music infuses the very way I think. I sing songs to remember scriptures, and I am pretty sure I can sing every single word on the Spice Girls’ “Spice Album”… still. I have cassette tapes of me and my neighbor Natasha creating our own DJ radio shows where we would listen to the radio to catch the exact song we needed and then record that segment onto the tape in the middle of our 8-year old rantings. My mom tells stories that I would sing at the top of my lungs all throughout the grocery store, singing “Gory! Halle-uah! To the King!” when I was only a few years old.

I’m not sure I can even estimate the impact music has had on my life. I know so many Broadway songs, and Disney songs, and jazz songs and pop songs and oldies. Through all of my life, music has offered me rhythms for each season.

The best account I can give, though, is how my heart is stirred through worship music. Turning 13 marked quite a time in my spiritual walk. I remember our youth leader, Dee, at the Church of God in Grand Junction, encouraging me to try leading worship for our youth group. I had just started working on chord charts on the piano, and I definitely loved to sing. Over the next few years, her influence of intimacy with God, falling in love with the Word of God and showing me how God’s faithfulness would steady me through all of my teenage years completely changed my perspective on worship. From that time, I began to see vivid pictures of who God is, and I began to experience His steadying peace. I definitely could be a very dumb teenager. I definitely hurt people along the way. But overall, I remember feeling so protected by my relationship with God. I would write songs, pour over His Word, and I would find shelter in times of worship with Him.

The second youth group I was a part of expanded my connections and challenged me very much as a musician. We had a bigger band, we worked on more modern music, and we were encouraged to keep going deeper with God. I learned a lot about music, and leading a band with Matt Voss at the First Assembly of God youth group, and the whole band we had together. Remember going to Washington D.C. to play for Nationals?

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My family moved in the middle of my senior year of high school. This was really hard at first. I remember listening to the radio A LOT and being somewhat moody. It was hard to be re-planted. We came back to the church I had gone to in Longmont when I was in elementary school. I joined the youth group and began playing with Lori and Jesse. I also joined the college team… and ended up meeting Matt… (although at the time, I would have never considered dating him. We laugh over this a lot now. I had a lot of growing up to do. I am very glad we didn’t date until much later.) Here, Mark Lopez pushed me to grow as an encourager in worship leadership.

When I moved to Tulsa to go to ORU in the spring of 2006, a huge relationship with God shift happened in me. I was on my own in a lot of ways, but still very much a part of a community bent on finding Jesus. Yep, there was a lot of hypocrisy, and some crazy “spiritual” experiences that I wish to not repeat again. But I also found the anchor of God’s Word and many rich friendships. Even though I tried out for all of the “official ORU worship” avenues and never made the cut, I kept singing. And leading. And offering peace. My dorm room eventually had a piano set up in it, or I would play with my friend Rachel. And by my last few years, I would lead worship for the group of girls I helped lead in our dorms. Even in the midst of being crazy with school, the tumultuous ocean of my heart being broken, and then not knowing where I should go after graduation (BIG World changer has never been my path)… I can still look back and thank God for healing my heart over and over again, and giving me peace. I was also introduced to the concepts of liturgy and growth through worshipful contemplation at my church in Tulsa (Saturday Night Community Church), where “sacred” blended with “secular,” and a depth of the Word brought worship to light for me in many new ways. I also became passionate about the Burn movement and 24/7 worship… I remember pounding away many late night sets at different churches with either no one or maybe 1-2 people in the world, experimenting with singing spontaneous prayers and scriptures. And I also remember many homey nights at house church with Kelbert and Symon. They always offered up genuine examples of personal, spontaneous worship and encouragement.

When I moved back to Longmont after graduating from college, I had to be redefined… yet again. I worked with Mary Jean for a year of the Tent Longmont. We hosted quarterly worship nights, and helped network the church of Longmont. Ultimately I was very sad when this did not continue, but God set a new tone for me through that experience. He gave me a heart for connection with all types of Christian faiths in worship, and He really began to open doors for us to guest lead at different churches all around the Front Range. We always seemed to come in when other worship leaders (or churches) just needed a break. And God’s peace flowed through us. He continues to use us in this capacity, and I love it!

A few months after college, Matt and I started dating. We began to play music together, and found such an amazing connection as musicians (and…well… as lovers too). I can honestly say that worshipping with Matt flows naturally. We are united. We flow so well together. And I wish we would step back and do this more. When we struggle with peace in our home, it is so easy to get caught up in the stress and “logic” of fixing situations. I long for my desires to change… that I would remember the simplicity of sitting at the feet of Jesus and resting in Him, instead of being consumed by the weights on my heart. Adulthood can do some strange things to me.

We ended up leading worship at Summit Foursquare church here in Longmont with Ted Vail and Jeremy Girard. And then after we were married, we decided to help Ted with a church re-plant in Boulder… Hope Boulder. For the past (nearly) five years, we have helped lead worship in Boulder. I have fond memories of candlelight Christmas services, and of branching out a lot in integrating the Word into worship. I have become bolder in how to encourage people during a worship service, and in how to hear what God says about how He wants to connect with people. Thanks, Lisa, for mentoring me through what it really means to commit to a group of people, and contend for their understanding of the Father… day in and day out. Thanks, Shane, for your passionate heart and willingness to believe yet again that God will move.

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Enter motherhood. The sleepless nights, the incongruity of rhythm and schedule… nearly two years later, I am still trying to figure out worship… again. I often feel distracted and disappointed in myself for not finding more time to spend on my own in worship. Even in the midst of this time, where I don’t often “feel” the presence of God, I have received startling reminders of His grace. As I come out of my teens and 20s, such emotionally charged times marked with possibilities and wondering “Who am I?” I can now say I have entered into more of a time where God has steadied me and has shown me who I am both through experience and His Word. And yet at times… I still wonder who I am… in the middle of being a mom, and a wife, and a graduate student, and a writer, and a worship leader… and just plain me, in the middle of all of those roles. May I continue to seek grace over harsh self-inflictions. May I continue to let God speak to me and guide me through all seasons, even if that speaking isn’t as passionate as my 15-year-old self writing my own songs of passion and love. May I learn how to write songs again from where (and who) I am now. May I remember that God is still close to me.

Through all of my seasons of worship leading, I have newly defined what God means when He asks us to worship (and ultimately what it means to lead in worship). He calls me to surrender to Him, to acknowledge who He is and praise Him for all He has done. To be worshipful means to be thankful. I lay down the all-consuming thoughts of life and mediate on who He is. He speaks truth to me and my lens of this world changes. I’ve lead for hundreds and empty rooms. In leading, He calls me to bless and pour out His truth, through scriptures and prayers and songs that lead people to know Him more, and to honor Him.

It hit me this month – 15 years ago was the first time I led worship. Thank you to all who have mentored me and walked along side me. God has used you to cultivate me as someone who honors the King of the Universe in a genuine, heart-felt way. For this, I am humbled and grateful.

15 years later, my heart still sings.

Shaped

From generation to generation, women desperately hand down this focus. Our brains work intently on this skill, often fulfilled in days of determination (mostly wrapped in guilt) and sometimes even flavored with a drop of exhilaration. We pour our resources, our hopes, our emotions and our hearts into someday finding the ideal. We worship body image and the power of the feminine curve.

Nearly every conversation I have with the women of my family somehow winds back to flesh and bone. Gaining or losing 20 pounds, how to shape our hair, and concern for other body changes. Some seasons we are striving hard, looking to regain whatever beauty we have lost. Other seasons we have given up. Competing with ourselves is the most brutal of wrestling matches, and we often take this out by shredding the physicality of other women too.

Nearly every conversation I have with a friend will weave in these deep-seeded cultural matters. We are always running more, working to get one more size down and trying to finally achieve the perfect us. Even the women I have met who have achieved big goals like completing a triathlon, finally squeezing into their jeans from high school or achieving their health goals still say it is not enough. Yep, lots of blogs tell us we can be there, not to mention the remainder of media. But I am not here today to enter that battle. And I am not here today to say that we should never care about our bodies.

Something just itches at my heart. When I found out the baby I carried would be a daughter, I knew I had to really start sorting through this big mess we have dubbed femininity. Yes, I want her to know that she is beautiful (and I think she already does… nearly every person we encounter comments on what a beautiful baby she is…), but outward beauty is not enough to build a strong life. And honestly, inward beauty is not enough either, at least the self-propelled type our current Christian culture sets as the ideal. Even after pregnancy and these last 8 months to ponder, I still feel like I haven’t gotten very much farther in how to teach her to really deeply love her self, to not tie her self-worth up in beauty or accomplishments. Because I still very deeply struggle with these things.

But every night I do pray over my little baby love that even now, she would know Father’s love for her, and that all of the days of her life she would be rooted and grounded in how He sees her… His thoughts toward her are endless and unchanging. He delights in her. He always sees her as she was made to be, a brilliant life-giving force of a woman, a fiercely beautiful wise Eve of the kingdom of God. And maybe through parenting this life force, all of this will sink in for me too.

Perhaps if we lived fully surrendered to God’s grace, planted and rooted and grounded in Him, flourishing in His courts, we would finally get it. But somedays, I don’t even remember how to get there, and my heart hurts from this world and from the demands of daily life. Somehow, I need to learn and change and grow, because I don’t want to give this self-deprecating lens to my beautiful little seed of a woman. Someday, she will have to face these things head-on too, or they will shape her until her very last breath on this earth.

Dream Thread

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This past spring, I faced many heart decisions. Coming down the home stretch of my pregnancy, a chilly fear attempted to settle on my soul. How would I deal with this huge shift into motherhood? Who would I be in the middle of these new family demands? You see, I was raised by a pioneer woman. My mom’s brilliant creativity and talent always blazed a trail through normal. She sang, danced, and acted. She ran away from college and joined a touring bar band in Canada. She came back to college and eventually earned a Ph.D. She started a children’s theater. She has changed careers several times. Now she teaches. And I was born in the middle of everything. My main memories of her are how much she has always loved me and how much she has always let me be in the center of her life. She gave me a strong work ethic and the imagination to re-invent myself over and over again. But what does it mean for me to be a mother?

I have always wanted a baby. However, I have never been a very good housewife, and when I bemoan this, Matt always tells me he didn’t marry me for my housewifery skills, and he would rather me philosophize all day if that is what my heart desires (this is usually the case). I knew having a baby would shift a lot around. One month before Elleanna came into this world, I was offered a full time teaching job in a far away state. This was a dream job of teaching full time as a journalism instructor and even under a few of my mentors! Oh how we agonized. Oh how I ached with the physical pain of the last month of pregnancy. Oh how I considered every piece of me. You see, Elleanna is one of the sweetest dreams to ever come true for me, and I find it ironic that on the cusp of this fulfillment, I was offered another path entirely. I am not saying that because I am a mom I am now only a mom. I am saying that after a full week of wrestling and sleepless nights, we decided to say no and stay here, and hope that maybe someday another door would open.

I struggled with feeling like I chose comfort over adventure. Even now some days I find myself daydreaming of what it all would have felt like to pioneer a new trail. Other days I am a happy fully soaking sponge, enjoying life as it is now. Baby love is hard and delicious, and we already chug along like a well-oiled family unit. Some days expectations get the best of me. I want it all – a better physique, a fulfilling career, time to volunteer, time to research and be well-read, time to be the best mother possible, time to be the best wife possible, time to have a sparkling house (actually, I wish a magic house fairy would come and spare me these constant cleaning chores).

So who am I now in the middle of all of these changes? My days are full, and for the first time in my life, I understand why people just want to veg in front of the TV sometimes. After a full day of baby wrangling, I just need a break. I have a hard time reading through a full book right now, let alone apply for more grad school. And other days I find myself thoroughly enjoying this slower season of less commitments and the pursuit of chasing baby smiles.

This past Sunday the associate pastor at my church presented a simple yet striking message. He challenged us to search our hearts and find what is our “dream thread” – what ties together the best days and the worst days? What keeps our hearts beating? What emerges as purpose over and over again as life’s seasons move on? I found myself thinking of some pretty high days… my wedding day, the day we found out we were pregnant, graduations, etc. and some low days… getting dumped by a college boyfriend, the death of a young cousin, the estrangements of heart friends. But I have to say my heart thread resonates best with the surprisingly calm moments. On big important days, I am often so nervous and high strung that I don’t really register what is going on. I have found the most delight in marriage when Matt and I have deep conversations over a cup of coffee or a drive somewhere. I have found the sweetest moments with my baby girl as I get up with her to nurse in the middle of the night and she sighs with relief that I have come for her, and I stroke her sweet mop of untamable hair and try to keep my bleary eyes open. I am finding job satisfaction in light bulb moments with students, connecting with an interesting person over an interview and writing.

I wonder, as I battle the ebb and flow of expectations, if shooting for the moon means I miss what is right in front of my face. I hope I will look back at my life and see these simple things as worth the ride. I hope there will be a time when we can risk it all and prove what we are made of. I hope we will always know when to pull back and wait.

“Honor and enjoy your Creator while you’re still young,

Before the years take their toll and your vigor wanes,

Before your vision dims and the world blurs

And the winter years keep you close to the fire.

In old age, your body no longer serves you so well.

Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen.

The shades are pulled down on the world.

You can’t come and go at will. Things grind to a halt.

The hum of the household fades away.

You are wakened now by bird-song.

Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past.

Even a stroll down the road has its terrors.

Your hair turns apple-blossom white,

Adorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body.

Yes, you’re well on your way to eternal rest,

While your friends make plans for your funeral.

Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.

Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.

The body is put back in the same ground it came from.

The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.”

Ecclesiastes 12: 1-7