Nehemiah

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” — Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

For as long as I can remember, writing has been a passion of mine.  I have the first book I wrote tucked away in my cedar chest, a story about a girl believing in Santa Claus.  I pursued degrees in school with a heavy emphasis on research and writing because I enjoyed it.  In college, I loved going to the library with my notecards and doing research for a paper.  I never felt a strong desire to work on a team or to lead a project; I’d be much happier behind the scenes, silently researching and writing by myself.  I’ll be the first to admit I am not the best writer or the most creative writer.  I’m learning that we don’t have to be the best to be successful, especially if God has given us a passion we can use.  He didn’t create us to be perfect.  He knows we aren’t and loves us despite our imperfections and daily failings.  He does want us to realize our God-given talents, though, and use them to promote His will.

When I first read Nehemiah, I was on bed rest.  My goal had been to read the entire Old Testament before the birth of Caitlin.  Reading and studying are incredibly different actions.  I read through Nehemiah in a day.  Now that I am studying Nehemiah (both as a Bible study through my Women’s Group and our church sermon series), I am falling in love with this book.  God has opened my eyes and placed upon my heart a burden.  I’ve prayed throughout this study for God to use me, and I am slowly realizing His plan for me.  It’s not something that I am ready to share, although I want to scream it out.  I only need God’s approval and I’m working on His timeline.  Sunday’s sermon spoke to me in that I need to further pray and plan before I am able to take action on this burden.

I will say that I almost missed what God wants me to do because it seems so…ordinary.  Kelly Minter speaks often about her mission trips and how the book of Nehemiah placed it on her heart to help the poor.  That’s an extraordinary burden.  We all, however, have different roles in God’s great plan.  We may not all be called to participate in mission trips or to act out God’s will on an international level (although I will say, I do feel an urge to do a mission trip – this is something that I want to do with my kids when they are older).  Maybe you aren’t sure what your burden is.  I wasn’t, and I am still questioning how this will play out.  Listen to your heart, hear what your gut instinct tells you when asked the question “what makes you weep” (Nehemiah 1:4).  Perhaps God has already placed this on your heart, but it seems so ordinary that you have written it off.  Revisit that, pray about it.  See what God leads you to do.  What starts out ordinary may very well turn extraordinary, without you even realizing it.  Give it to God and let him have control.

When you start to see God working in your life, you realize He didn’t just start having a presence when you started seeking it.  He’s always been there, preparing you and encouraging you – even if you didn’t welcome Him.  I witnessed this with my last pregnancy and delivery and now I am seeing it in other aspects of my life.  Unanswered prayers, having a passion even though I don’t feel good enough for it, placing people in my life for very specific reasons — it’s God at work now, and it’s been God at work all my life.  You may not see it yet, but when you do there’s no turning back.  You may put off what He’s calling you to do, you may not think you are the right person or that you aren’t good enough for His calling, but you will see how He has worked and proven His presence in your life and you’ll follow that burden He placed on your heart.

Update 5/20/2017 

It has been nearly three years since I had the overwhelming urge to start sharing my testimonies through a blog.  It’s only been in the past seven months that I have been dedicated to writing my book and even more recently to begin blogging more about how God is active in my daily life.  It’s a journey!  With my upcoming conference, I hope to learn more.  God calls us, and then we spend time preparing.  We learn through the Old Testament stories the various ways God calls people to move, but then they also spend some time waiting and preparing.  Whatever you feel God is calling you do do, know it’s normal to feel like you aren’t qualified.  God will qualify you, He will refine you.  I’m still in this period, nearly three years later.  It’s fun to look back and see where it all started!

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Caitlin’s Arrival

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11

This is my favorite Scripture and after the birth of Caitlin, I fell in love with it even more. When my mom was in last week helping me recover, she told me that she believes God threw all the scary obstacles about Caitlin’s health at us to ultimately protect me. She knows that I wouldn’t have slowed down if it was just my health that was at risk, but knowing that there could be danger to Caitlin forced me to follow my doctor’s instructions. It’s taken me two weeks to gather my thoughts about the delivery and the days that followed, and I still get emotional if I think too much about what could have happened.

The day of the scheduled c-section, I remained pretty calm on the way to the hospital and even during the first hour there. My doctor came to see me before and told me that Caitlin was transverse, which meant it’d be harder for her to pull Caitlin out and to expect a bigger incision. Since I have no prior experience with a c-section, I wasn’t too concerned with this. We went through the motions and I finally started to get emotional when they were wheeling us back. I did not like being separated from Troy to have the spinal and when they made him stay behind it hit me that this was actually going to happen. Multiple people told me the spinal is much better than the epidural. They all lied. For me, the epidural seemed much easier because of the pain I had been in. The spinal hurt, and it seemed to take forever. It worked really fast, but then I started to feel incredibly sick to my stomach, I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t feel my arms. I started to get slightly hysterical at this point because the sensation was horrendous. Troy finally came in and I just remember being so happy that he was there. I don’t remember a whole lot about her coming out – I later heard that they cut me at 8:02am and she was delivered at 8:05am. I remember she didn’t cry right away and I asked about that, and then she cried and I cried. I didn’t get to hold her, they didn’t put her on my chest. Troy took pictures and showed me, and I remember turning my head to get one glimpse of her. I still felt really sick to my stomach and was getting really upset. I don’t remember much about the next 40 minutes. My doctor told the anesthesiologist to give me shots, and he gave them to me in my shoulders. The nurses were taking Caitlin the the nursery and told Troy he could come, but my doctor said no and told him to stay with me. I know he sat at my left side. I asked at one point if they tied my tubes, because I don’t remember her asking me and I knew that she was supposed to. Next thing I know, I’m being wheeled to recovery and they are telling me that I’m going to have two units of blood.

This is overly dramatic, but I did think at one point I was going to die. The sensations I was having from the spinal and whatever else they gave me were the worst. Troy told me later that all of the doctors were putting these pads in me and counting to make sure they got them all back out. He said at one point I asked about a smell, and it was from her cauterizing my uterus to get the bleeding under control. I was out of it the rest of the day. I did get to hold Caitlin once or twice. During the transfusion, my in laws brought Lauren and Colin to come meet Caitlin. I remember seeing them and loving how happy they were. When they were going to leave, Lauren wanted to stay and Troy was going to let her. The last thing I remember is telling him I didn’t think it was a good idea because I wasn’t feeling well, and I’m pretty sure I then passed out. Two friends came to see me that night, but looking back I don’t remember much about them being there. The night nurse came and told me that I had to get up and go to the bathroom. She insisted that I get walking and moving. The first time we tried, I sat up and started feeling sick so I laid back down. I passed out again. I was really frustrated and remember praying for strength to go to the bathroom because I did not want to be cathed again. The second time she came back, we made it to the bathroom and I ended up passing out in there. It was a victory for me that later I was able to go without passing out and without getting another cath.

The next day, the doctor came to see me and I don’t know if this was the first time she told me what had happened or not. I had a complete previa and placenta accreta. She told me that it was a good thing we went ahead and tied my tubes because I wouldn’t have been able to have any more kids – it would have been much worse than the experience with Caitlin. Placenta accreta is when the placenta attaches too deep into the uterine wall. I was fortunate for two reasons. First, it could have penetrated through the uterine wall and attached to another organ like my bladder. Second, in the majority of cases for this condition the only way to stop the bleeding is to actually take out the uterus. My doctor was able to save my uterus, thankfully. She told me that had they been forced to take my uterus, I would have ended up having 16-20 units of blood instead of the 4 I had to have.

Caitlin’s health, as far as we know, is perfect. Our pediatrician saw her the day after she was born, and when Troy asked the questions about what our 20-week scan and high risk appointments revealed. He didn’t know anything about this, and told us he would have never known we had issues with her during the pregnancy based on his examination of her. She pooped A LOT, which was the best sign for us as far as her bowel is concerned. He’s getting the records from our high risk appointments and will keep an eye on her, but at this point he doesn’t feel there’s any health issues. Praise the Lord!

Looking back, I realize that bed rest allowed me to carry her to 37 weeks – and kept her from going to NICU. It also very well could have saved my life. Had I hemorrhaged at home with this condition, it could have been fatal. Realizing how severe the situation was looking back, I feel so grateful that God protected me. Of course, this was His plan all along. Caitlin certainly is meant to be a part of our family, and she is meant to be the last (human) addition. God protected us from harm and kept us safe. Troy told me that he would have had no confidence in my former OB in this situation, or if I had delivered at the other hospital. It’s amazing to me how I can look back and see the path that led us to this doctor and this hospital. It was all God’s work, even when I didn’t know it. He was leading me and protecting me before I even returned to church and worked on my relationship with Him. Through this whole experience, all the trials and scares, He showed me that if I have faith in Him, trust Him, and turn to Him, He will protect me. His plan for me is one to prosper. He showed me the power of prayer. So many people prayed for Caitlin, it’s overwhelming (in a good way). It brings tears to my eyes thinking back on the last few months and all of the people that supported and prayed for us. God works in amazing ways and this experience has changed my life. I’ve always believed in God, but my faith is so much stronger now than it ever was before.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who prayed for us, delivered meals to us, visited with us, and helped me in a thousand different ways over the past four months. God put you in our lives for a specific purpose and I am grateful for each and every one of you.

Reaching the Goal

“Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” — Psalm 55:22

Nine weeks ago tomorrow, my doctor shocked me by putting me on strict bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. Having a complete placenta previa, I researched and understood the risks associated with the condition. I remember her telling me our first goal was 32 weeks, then 35 weeks, and anything after 35 weeks was just gravy. I don’t think either of us believed I would make it to the last date possible she’d let me carry Caitlin.

Here I am – 37 weeks exactly tomorrow. My c-section is scheduled for Wednesday morning at 7:30am. I’ve gone to the doctor weekly and spent my summer on the couch. I have had guilt over the boring summer my children have had and the lack of interaction I have been able to have with them. I have been bored to tears. I watched many, many episodes of Friends, Big Bang Theory, Flip or Flop, Love It or List It, Catfish, and Criminal Minds. I read a handful of books. I flipped through numerous magazines. I read the entire Old Testament, with the exception of Chronicles, and started in on the New Testament. I’ve blogged a little. I started a project I felt called to undertake. I visited with friends, texted friends, played Candy Crush, and spent countless hours just scrolling Facebook. It’s been a memorable summer, though not in a way I ever expected. Even though I have cheated a few times, going out to dinner here and there, for the most part I really have adhered to my doctor’s instructions.

My reward? God got me to 37 weeks without hemorrhaging. He kept Caitlin and me safe. He allowed me to carry her to a point where she may be able to completely avoid a NICU stay. Caitlin has grown, practiced her breathing, kicked me like a little maniac, and kept me company during this long summer. I am so incredibly blessed to be in this situation. From what I read, it’s more likely than not to have hemorrhaging when dealing with placenta previa. Now I can give other women in my situation hope – the condition does not mean bleeding. I credit God and my doctor with getting me here without incident. Had I not been placed on bed rest, who knows what would have happened. As frustrated as I have been multiple times over the course of the last nine weeks, I am so grateful that it paid off for me.

Words cannot express how appreciative I am of everyone who has prayed for us, brought us meals, helped me with my children, visited with me, entertained me via text, and checked in with me. It’s been overwhelming to a point, the support we have received. God led us to our church and I believe with all my heart and soul that the reason we were led there is because of the amazing community. Through the church, God has placed so many amazing women in my life and I could not have gotten through the last nine weeks with my sanity without them. I am blessed for all the women in my life – including those God placed in my life years ago. I am grateful for my husband’s friends, who have checked in with him throughout the last nine weeks and given him support. I am so insanely proud of my children, who adjusted to this temporary lifestyle and helped me. They’ve had to grow up a lot in the last nine weeks – both now can fix their own food and drinks, they both can take their own baths and wash their own hair (a bigger deal for my 3-year old!), they had to play together a lot and have done so with minimal fights given our circumstance.

We’re in the home stretch. My kids are so excited they can hardly stand it. My son just beams when we tell him how soon Caitlin will be here. They talk about how they are going to help me. I’m starting to get very anxious and nervous about the c-section, but I know God will continue to keep Caitlin and me safe. I pray that she is healthy and all of the scares we had earlier in the pregnancy were just that. However, I know that whatever happens on Wednesday and whatever we learn about her health, it’s in God’s plan. He won’t give us more than we can handle, as He proved over the course of this pregnancy. I certainly didn’t trust in myself as much as He trusted in me, but here I am. I did it! Without my faith and friends/family, I wouldn’t be where I am. Praise to God and thanks to my friends and family from the deepest depths of my soul. I am eternally grateful.

No Fear

“Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” — Psalm 112:6-7

I’m still making my way through Psalms and my journal is filling up! There are so many amazing verses in Psalms for every situation in life. The devotional I am reading through focuses on Psalms and there are many things I have jotted down, prayers I know I’ll be needing in the near future or verses that I think will be extremely relevant to me.

These two verses jumped out at me today, and again I had to write about it before I feel I can continue reading. These verses explain what I have been feeling over the past few months and I believe God spoke to me while I read this today. Remember this, He said. Study this, focus on this. Immediately, I sent a message to a friend who is dealing with a difficult situation. Stated simply, what is going on stinks. She’s handled it with grace and love, however. God compelled me to share it with her because she will be able to relate to this as well.

As we get closer to the birth of Caitlin, we have started to kind of put some financial decisions on hold. Quite simply, we do not know whether or not Caitlin will have some medical issues when she is born. I haven’t talked about it much, and a common response from people when I mention it in passing is, “I thought everything is fine.” Honestly, we don’t know and we won’t know with 100% certainty until Caitlin arrives. We have completely ruled out cystic fibrosis, since I am not a carrier. We feel strongly that she does not have Down’s Syndrome, based on the tests I had done earlier in the pregnancy. The high risk doctor assured us after our fetal echocardiogram that Caitlin does not have any heart defects. We still have no idea why she presented an echogenic bowel, though. This could have been caused by something as simple as she took in some blood earlier in the pregnancy. This is a scenario I feel is likely, given that I have had a previa my entire pregnancy. However, it could also be an obstruction or a twist in her bowel. This is not something that can be determined until she is born. It’s still a possibility that Caitlin could require surgery, or some other kind of medical intervention. It’s still possible she could have Down’s Syndrome.

Yes, with every pregnancy there is some uncertainty. I know this from experience: thoughts of something being wrong with the baby don’t generally cross a woman’s mind unless they have reason to believe it. A woman with a smooth, easy pregnancy is probably not concerning herself with the reality that something could go wrong. I think that is great – it’s how pregnancy should be. It’s hard knowing there is a possibility of a health issue. I imagine it would be infinitely more difficult knowing that there IS a health issue.

This pregnancy has been extremely difficult for me and my husband. Yet despite all the curveballs we have been thrown, I have an overwhelming sense of peace. I have my moments of anxiety, don’t get me wrong. Even in those moments when I start to think about what could happen, I feel calm. I feel peace. I know that God is taking care of me. He’s taking care of Caitlin. He has this. I truly don’t fear getting bad news because I know
it’s His plan and He will see us through. I fully trust everything will be okay, whether we are going to be faced with a daughter with health issues or not. We are planning, in a way, for the possibility that she will require surgery or some other treatment. We are also going ahead with plans for a healthy child as well. We’re starting to plan a beach trip. We’re starting to think about some day trips with the kids.

In March, when we were hit with all the news, neither of us could talk about it without tearing up or being emotional. We turned to God and to each other, we prayed, we reached out for support. Through that, God blessed us with peace. He let us know everything would be fine. Now, when we talk about holding off on replacing a car or some home improvement project because we want to wait until we know what we are facing with Caitlin, we aren’t emotional or upset talking about it. We are peaceful and calm. We speak with certainty, knowing it’s a possibility, but without fearing the outcome. No longer do I fear bad news because I trust in God’s plan. For my trust, He rewards me with peace.

God and Facebook

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” — Romans 12:12

This verse doesn’t necessarily have a direct link to what God put on my heart to write today, but when I came across it doing a devotional it jumped out at me.  I had previously underlined it in my Bible, and reading it again today it had a whole new meaning.  I love how God’s word can really speak to you when you need it most.

So much of what goes around on Facebook is just pure crap.  That’s so eloquent, I know.  It’s the truth.  My husband has taken FB off his phone because it’s the same old stuff, people sharing too much or complaining.  I’m guilty of the FB complaints, so I don’t say this stuff to be judgmental.  It is an outlet for people to express their opinions or vent about what’s happening in their lives/the world.  It can be a forum for bullies to attack their victims.  My daughter, at six, has asked when she can be on FB.  My initial reaction?  Um, never.  Of course, at some point she will be allowed on – many years from now – but we’ve already told her that we will have all her passwords.  For everything.  She told me once she’d change them.  I told her if she did, she would never be allowed on the computer.  It can be a scary place, especially when I think in terms of my children and to what they could be exposed.

It doesn’t have to be like that though.  Twice, I have had FB friends challenge me to post my favorite Scripture verse.  God can use us through social media to proclaim His word.  When we received the terrifying news about Caitlin’s anatomy scan, I reached out via FB asking for Scripture.  And I would then post a new verse each day.  Through this, I had people message me telling me how inspiring the verses were to them.  Even during what seemed like my darkest hours, God used me to reach people who needed to hear His word.  Likewise, He used my friends to comfort me.  I posted this before, but my husband referred to this as the Power of Facebook.  It’s the Power of GOD through Facebook.

I’ve followed a lot of inspirational pages on FB as well.  So while my newsfeed is a lot of updates about friends and acquaintances, it’s also filled with Bible verses and motivational phrases.  God continues to use that as a way to reach me.  During the two weeks when we terrified that our daughter had a chromosomal abnormality, every single day there was something on my Facebook feed that just jumped out at me, giving me strength.  After we knew that everything was probably going to be okay (I won’t feel 100% about that until she is in my arms!), I still saw the same posts and loved reading them but they didn’t necessarily relate to anything I was going through.  I had this happen again today.  My husband and I were texting about an issue we are faced with, and deciding we need to pray about it.  I then got on FB and out jumped a post that my friend had shared.  It wasn’t a verse, but it was just a two sentence motivational saying that was incredibly timely.  I took a snapshot of it and texted it to him.  Then I did my devotional and came across the Romans verse I quoted at the outset of this post.  For me, today, it was God’s instruction to my husband and me.

I challenge anyone who reads this and is on FB to start using it as a forum to spread God’s word.  It doesn’t have to be the only thing you do on FB, but every now and again find something that inspires you or speaks to you from the Bible and share it.  You never know who is reading your feed that could use those encouraging words.  Start following some inspirational pages.  Some of my favorites are Proverbs 31 Ministries, Good Morning Girls, The Praying Woman, and Scissortail Silk (thanks to Stacey!).  Don’t skim these over, but read what they post and let God speak to you.  He is using all kind of things in your life to reach you, open your eyes and heart to hear Him.

Criticism

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” — Ephesians 2:10

Yesterday, I reached Psalms in the Bible.  I have been eager to read this book in particular, as it seems there are so many inspirational verses rooted in it.  As I began, I texted my friend to see if she knew of any studies for Psalms off the top of her head.  She listed one, then offered to let me borrow a devotional that is based in Psalms.  Before starting my readings this morning, I sat and wrote out a prayer.  It’s amazing what God can show you just through a simple 3-minutes of writing.  Out of nowhere, I prayed for my relationship with my daughter.  This turned into a cry for help in an area that I struggle, and I ended up in tears.  I know God wanted me to address this today, to admit to myself that I need to refocus my relationship with her.  When I opened the devotional, it had Psalm 139 written out and then focused on 2 verses in particular:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  — Psalm 139: 13-14

I love my daughter more than words can express, as any parent can relate.  I often find myself falling into this downward spiral of criticism, though I thought at the time it was for her benefit.  A perfect example of this happened this morning.  She comes out of her room dressed for camp in an outfit she wore two days ago.  I will say, I did laundry yesterday and knew the outfit was clean.  But, I had to point out that we shouldn’t really wear the same outfit in the same week.  Especially when we have a closet full of clothes.  Kids will pick on you if you wear the same stuff over and over.  In my mind, I wanted her to know that kids can be mean and try to shield her from any pain.  Looking back now, it was completely irrelevant and not necessary.  It hurt her feelings, as I could see on her face, because it’s an outfit she enjoys.  I don’t normally pick battles over clothes, yet for some reason today I had to criticize her.  I dealt with kids making comments to me when I was in middle school about something I’d wear.  It was AWFUL.  I survived though.  

When I started writing out my prayer and thinking about this, I texted my husband.  I was devastated at my enlightening.  I’m a horrible mom, I thought to myself.  Who criticizes their daughter like that?  I don’t get much quality time with her, and you’d think being on bed rest I could carve out some time for that.  With an almost 4-year old boy who also needs a lot of attention, it’s difficult.  I desperately want to change this, and I prayed for guidance.  I want to build her up, not break her down.  God made her.  She is HIS gift to me.  She is not my own.  He designed her to be a unique individual with special talents, abilities, strengths and weaknesses.  Who am I to try and mold that, or change that?  I can’t shield her from pain in this world, and I certainly don’t want to be the cause of any pain.  My husband’s response was, she loves you.  She does.  Unconditionally, just as I love her.  So instead of criticizing her or trying to change her, I need to hug her.  Kiss her.  Encourage her.  Share this verse with her.  Give her the ability to use God’s word in the future if someone does hurt her feelings.  She’s almost 7.  I know we are coming into a critical time as far as my relationship with her goes.  She’s going to want to spend more time with other people, less time with her parents as time moves on.  I need to foster a relationship with her that she’ll embrace and turn to when she has difficult situations in the future.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but maybe I am.  I think raising a daughter, especially in today’s world, is a scary thing.  It downright terrifies me to think of the problems and issues that she will face.  I want to keep her in a bubble and safe.  In doing so, I realize that I haven’t been helping her.  I have spent time telling her why she needs to change x, y, or z.  I need to equip her to handle situations on her own and create an environment where she wants to tell me things.  I need to start now, make it a habit or it will be difficult to do two, three years down the line. 

While my realization today upset me, I’m not dwelling on what I feel is a fail on my part.  God knew this about me, and He chose to make it known to me today.  I know in my heart my criticisms were never malicious, and I know that I’m doing the best that I can.  We all are.  There’s no manual we are given on how to raise our children and we will all make mistakes.  I am embracing this and asking God to help me redirect my words toward my daughter so that I am helping her, not accidentally hurting her.  Psalm 139 and Ephesians 2:10 are excellent references to which you can turn if you have a parenting struggle.  I highly recommend reading, writing out, bookmarking, highlighting, dog-earring, and memorizing these verses.