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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Asa Everett Robert: The Two-Month He-Man

When week 6 happened… Asa became all smiles!

He started sleeping 5-7 hour chunks at the beginning of the night, followed by more sleep (and in his bassinet!!!). And week 8, a beautiful thing happened… my milk supply increased. Matt and Elle have been praying on their daily walks for my milk. For those of you who know my story, with Elle, I had a horrible time with breastfeeding and I was only able to give her about 1/3 of what she needed, and it devastated me. Not because I am against formula by any means, but I had really set my heart on breastfeeding, and for it to be such a frustration and a struggle was difficult for my heart. This time around, I prepared myself; possibly, the same issues could happen again. And when we had to start supplementing for Asa at two weeks, I thought we would walk the same road. But this time, I wasn’t as hard on myself. Sure, I mourned and had some anxious days about how we would handle it all.

But I also knew I couldn’t be a slave to the breast pump. I knew that letting anxiety eat up my day and rob me of being able to really take care of my children was not worth it. So, I continued taking my placenta encapsulation, taking some herbs recommended by my acupuncturist and my chiropractor, and I continued acupuncture and chiropractic work consistently. I also rested, and let Asa demand feed. Around week 6, Asa’s latch also became noticeably stronger… and by week 8, we’ve been able to go down to only 2-3 supplemental bottles a day (about 2 oz each), usually given after he eats the late afternoon and early evening feedings. And he is thriving and gaining weight just like he needs to; he is content. I have felt a lot of joy and peace and thankfulness. Again, this account is written not as a condemnation, but as a hope; I walked down the extremely low milk supply road last time, and I have to say that either way, my babies are healthy and thriving. But I am attesting to the wonder I have felt that God answered a desire of my heart (one that in the grand scheme of life is seemingly insignificant). I have been blown away by the truth that he takes care of even the little things we long for, not just big gigantic cares.

Also around 6-weeks, Asa started taking swing naps 2-3 times a day (God bless you, nap swing!). I don’t remember how to transition a baby from swing naps to real naps… but, I suppose we will figure that out eventually. He is also perfecting his one eye brow raise of curiosity.

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July also found us traveling up to Estes Park a few times with both kids. Asa actually slept most of the time. When my friend Rachel was here, he even slept the whole way through a put-put golf game in the carrier. Oh what sweet delicious days.

P.s. Asa still has a really deep man cry when he gets really upset. It is so cute. And it makes me sad at the same time until we can fix whatever ails him.

Asa Meets One Month of Planet Earth

Friday, June 24 marked Asa’s 5-week anniversary of taking his first breath on this planet. I am not going to lie… our second time around rearing a one-month old was not really any easier than the first time. However, I must say, I have had much more grace for myself (and hopefully for my whole family), because I really do know that this fourth-trimester time is a season, and in the scheme of life, actually a short season.

Matt was able to stay home from work for the first two weeks, and this period helped us adjust to being a family of four. Elleanna really is an amazing big sister. She is very protective of Asa, as in she always wants to know where he is, and the moment he makes a peep, she tells me to go and take care of baby brother. She also (for awhile) wanted to nick name him “juicie”, which I take as a term of endearment. She has been resilient and loving in the middle of all of these huge changes, and when she is frustrated, she has not yet placed the blame on brother. I am not saying this attitude will stay, especially once Asa is moving and wanting to “share” all of her things, but for now, I am counting my blessings.

After Asa turned one week, we took him to the doctor again for a second visit because he wasn’t quite gaining enough weight. I had major supply issues for breast milk with Elleanna, and guess what? I have them again. This time I am at much more peace with it (and trust me… I tried everything and continue to try all sorts of things to at least give him some breast milk). However, the main reason I bring that particular visit up is that it was one of our first forays into public. We went to lunch at Chick-Fil-A, and of course, Asa’s diaper exploded. And we didn’t bring any of his newborn clothes. We scoured the car, and finally found the 18-month boy PJs a friend had given us that her son didn’t need anymore, so into the PJs he went, and into the doctor’s office we went. You’d think the second time around we would be totally on top of having our car stocked with all of the necessities to handle a pooping and eating newborn… but, oh well.

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When Asa turned 2-weeks old, Elleanna went to stay the night at mema and papa’s house. On our way home from dropping her off, we decided to swing into Sonic, because they have half-price milkshakes after 8 p.m., and I seriously wanted one. The drive is literally 5 minutes from my parent’s house, but one minute in, Asa was crying like the sky was falling down. We thought the car would help him nod off, but he sounded more and more like an abandoned little lamb. When we finally got to Sonic, a mere four minutes later, we parked and I got him out. I put his cheek against my neck, and he kept taking deep sniffling breaths and sighing. Some car rides have gone better since then, and some have not. While we are on the topic of crying, oh my goodness does Asa have the cutest little man cry! It is deep, and we call him a little car alarm.

Elleanna had quite a 3-year old birthday bash that weekend after Asa turned 2-weeks old. We had lots of family in town. And it was so delightful to see everyone, but I also think we totally overdid it. As in, our whole family got a cold, even Asa a little bit. So, that was a miserable way to spend over a week: fevers, coughs, newborn, trying to breastfeed full time. I actually am mainly trying to block that week out from my memory, because it was so crazy.

Another Elleanna note (and I guess that’s the unfair part of being the second child…the first child pops up into blog posts): She is so cute at pretending to breastfeed. She will get this neck pillow that we have and sit cross-legged like I do and use it like a Boppy with her baby doll. Melt, melt, melt my heart. She also asks me about pumping a lot. So pretty much all of the conversations at our house completely revolve around bodily functions now, with a few politics and cars thrown in.

This past weekend was Matt’s 20-year high school reunion. Let me tell you, Asa was the star of the show. At all of the events we went to, he calmly stared around the room and let people hold him. I am pretty sure we gave half of the women in the room baby fever. So, I guess we will see how many children younger than Asa show up to Matt’s 25 or 30 year reunion.

For our first 5-weeks of getting to know Asa, he is really very chill and sweet (when he is not hungry or has a wet diaper, of course). He is beginning to sleep a few longer chunks at night on his human mattresses, and this week he has started to realize that there is a big wide world outside of gazing at my chin. So even though this month has been crazy, I know from here on out he will be changing so much. In the blur of not sleeping, I am trying to engrave permanent memories of who he is right now on my heart. Oh sigh.

 

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

Advent Week 4: The week of love

Yep, Christmas happened two days ago. I thoroughly enjoyed (and also kind of stressed out) the last push to celebrate. Every year we try to do better at scheduling… and this year was okay, except that I kind of burned out Christmas Eve morning after taking care of a sick emotional little girl, trying to make too many cookies and attempting to make it to church for my favorite Christmas Eve service. Let’s just say we didn’t make it to church and took a nap instead. And then on Christmas Day we drove across the mountains, chasing the tail end of a snow storm, to visit my mountain family in Paonia (see pictures below).

I really do love Christmas. I love that it brings all sides of my family together to celebrate. I love that we spend time thinking about how to be generous to each other. And at the risk of sounding cliche, I really do wish I was better at showing love, grace, peace and generosity all throughout the year (and not just the Christmas season).

My last week of Advent devotionals were all about love.

“Why do we love? When we have a complete understanding of love, perfect love displayed for us in God’s gracious giving of His Son, the outpouring of love upon others is not only justified, but instinctive. We love because He first loved us.” – 121 Advent Devotional, YouVersion App

And

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” – 1 John‬ ‭4:11-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

But the thought from my week of love-focused Advent devotions that really caught my heart was the idea that God’s love (and the love we are called to emulate) conquers over all earthly forces, including human emotion, which so often uses love to disguise pride and self-seeking.

Of course we read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings, and in a lot of dating books, etc. And the Bible talks about love a lot.

“God’s love is self-giving and sacrificial. He gave Himself on our behalf (John 3:16). God’s love is unconditional, it is given to us when we do not deserve it (Romans 5:8). God’s love is eternal (Jeremiah 31:3). God’s love is powerful. God’s love heals and comforts but also serves as our defender, His love defeats the enemy on our behalf. God’s love is life changing (1 John 4:19). Nothing can separate us from God’s love.” – 121 Advent Devotional, YouVersion App

But how do I learn to love with God’s conquering love? My heart dwelt this week in the mystery and powerful force of the love of a God Who has committed and sustained faithfulness to our human race despite often complete rejection, abhorrences and cursing of the God of the Universe by said created people.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” – ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭31:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

His everlasting love came to fruition in the manger babe, and love ultimately won that first Easter morning. His challenge to me (and all of us) is to love this world with the same love, starkly different than the world’s love. I am commanded to love void of self-motivation, and above and beyond the fleeting emotions that flourish from my desire to be loved in return.

Honestly, I’m not sure how to love this way. I want to defend my heart, stick up for what will be the best for me and my family at all times. Hopefully I will learn more this year about God’s path of hope, peace, joy and love, and not just in a Christmas-card kind of way. May I be willing to see God’s heart for all people and situations, and to act out of the genuine paradigm of the Father. May I be led by the Holy Spirit, anchored by hope, sustained by joy, and guided by peace. And all of these things also for you.

Advent Week 3: Jingle Bells, Light and Joy

Okay, so really.

Sometimes the jarring difference between reality and the Christmas songs we hear all throughout the holiday season feels like a punch in the gut. And this year, I am stunned by the stories of sadness happening around me. Friends with parents dying, mothers with sons facing extreme illnesses, financial strain, job loss, depression, stress…

I was driving home Thursday night from my very last final for this semester of grad school, just kind of humming along to whatever song was playing in my head at the moment, when a wave of compassion washed over me. I felt led to pray. I mean, really pray. And as I was telling the Lord about all of the heavy things on my heart, my questions and anxieties for my community and for myself, He reminded me of the manger scene. I found myself in the middle of the birth story of Jesus, juxtaposed with scenes from Jesus’ entire life. God called His Son Jesus, Immanuel, God With US. This humble King would shoulder all of the worst sorrows and atrocities we could ever even imagining happening… He experienced them all, and sits next to us with tears in His eyes as our hearts become heavy with the cares of this world. But He doesn’t stop at just empathy. Jesus proclaims joy through every phase of His life. And not the jingle-bell type of joy that puts a warm glow in our hearts (seriously, though, when Elleanna sings “Jingle Bells” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” you can’t help but smile!). The joy Jesus drinks from is the sustaining type of life force that propels Him to the Father through all circumstances.

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” Jesus said. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:22–23)

From my advent devotional this week: “So no more let sins and sorrows grow. Though the battle rages for a few short decades here, and we experience many losses along the way, fix your eyes on the joy ahead. Rejoice! Nothing in this world can undo or even diminish your joy in Jesus. No sin and no sorrow can separate you from him and the everlasting happiness he brings.”

 

Our joy streams from belonging to the Lord, the stability of our identity, the hope of the world, because He offers us life beyond this world. Our joy is an act of trusting God’s goodness and wisdom, even when rampant shootings terrify our children, cancer takes our mothers when they should still be here for many more years, and families fall apart. I’m not trying to fix all of our problems with one small blog post, but I am exhorting myself to chose the empowering joy of the Lord. And it all began with the angels who told of the joy of Jesus coming to shepherds, wisemen and eventually the entire world.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:4-7

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” –  Romans 15:13

From our Zlaten family Christmas this past week