Thursday, May 7, 2015

What New Mothers In the Pews May Be Thinking

I want to keep my baby in the service, but they offer childcare. Does it irritate people that I don't use it?

I wonder if anyone would notice if I nurse right here; I don't want to miss anything.

Does my baby sound as loud to everyone else as he/she does to me?

Should we sit in the back so we don't distract people?

Should I put my colicky baby in the nursery? 

My baby looked so cute in this outfit... before he/she puked on it.

Woah. Did anyone else hear that blowout? I hope no one can smell it yet.

Is it wrong of me to put my baby in the nursery so he/she doesn't distract me?

Please, Baby, don't start crying/vocalizing right when the pastor/priest/church official asks for a minute of silence!

Do I seem rude when I don't stand up because my baby is asleep in my arms?

Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep. 

What if he/she spits up all over the seats?

No, no no! Don't start crying!

My baby is so cute. 

I wonder if anyone can tell I haven't showered in more days than I care to admit. I hope not.

Why do I even try to come to church with a grumpy baby. It must really bother people.

Are people looking at us because the baby is cute or because the baby is annoying? Cute. I'm going to say cute. 

This is hard, but it's worth it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why We Should Be Slow to Blame Cancer/Autism/Alzheimer's/Etc. on _____

Think about all the things that have changed in the past hundred or so years.

  • Weaker o-zone layer
  • Vaccines
  • Climate change
  • Rise in c-sections and pain medication for labouring women
  • Diets (gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, etc.) where there is limited medical necessity or study that proves their effectiveness
  • Increased pollutants
  • Blanket use of electricity and/or batteries (constant aural stimulation, if nothing else)
  • Processed foods and the need to find ways to speed reproduction to please the masses
  • Use of factory-made hygiene/beauty/cleaning products, not all of which are regulated
  • Plastics created and used everywhere for nearly everything
  • The average person works longer hours and gets less rest
  • Greater use of medications where a change in lifestyle could be the better way to solve the problem
  • Use of machines (planes, trains, cars, etc.) for transportation
  • Tanning and hairless bodies became a beauty standard
  • Daily showering is expected as the norm
  • Smoking and drugs became cool
These are just some things I came up with; there are countless others. I think it's worth considering. There have been a lot of changes, and we should be careful when blaming one element of change for problems we are encountering in excess without significant proof of their fault.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If I Could Go Back

I dreamed, last night, that I went back in time to when Benny and I met. I don't know how I did it, I only know why. There were some things I thought I could do better – like communicating with more honesty and openness and being less assuming about what he was like before I actually knew him.

There were some problems with my plan. 

First of all, I was the only one who knew what would happen between us. Having already gone through our courtship-of-sorts, engagement, and two and a half years of marriage, I was completely aware of where we would be headed. This knowledge robbed our relationship of what I think was its most unique and essential aspect: Benny pursuing me with no idea of romance or a crush. He had noticed me, he has said before, because of my being a lady, and that had encouraged his approaching me. When I went back, I was the one pursuing him. I knew already what would happen if he pursued me, so why shouldn't it work the other way around? If you know Benny very well at all, you can imagine the disaster that turned into. He is so slow and careful in his decision making, he was not at all receptive to my taking charge, nor did this allow his need to fight for me to take place. That would be difficult for any man.

One thing I also had not considered was that I was going back with all the maturity I had gained over a period of five years. Benny did not have such an advantage. Instead of going back to the man I know now, I was interacting with Benny and a considerably lesser maturity level. That was not at all easy to deal with. He grew so much in the two years between when we met and when we married, people would have a hard time recognizing him from one year to the next. It was truly impressive, and I wouldn't have married the man he was when we initially met.

It also meant that all that time we spent getting to know one another was lost. I already knew so much about him, we didn't need to write the many letters asking each other questions that were so pivotal to our relationship. I think we wrote nearly 100 letters back and forth before we got married, and that doesn't include emails, talking in person, chatting on Facebook, or phone calls. We got to know one another in a very short amount of time as a result of all the types of talking which took place. How would you react if someone started pursuing you, seeming to know way too much about you, and you have no clue what he or she is like?

How did it end? I'm not really sure, because Benny woke me up to nurse Ellie, but it wasn't going anywhere good. As tempting as it could be to say I could make things better by going back, I think my dream convinced me there would be much to lose, as well.

As Benny said, when I told him about it: “It's like you were in the Room of Consequence. Now you know better.” 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thoughts On Young Dumbledore and WWII

I remember reading the last Harry Potter book in its entirety the day it came out. I've since read it probably five times, enjoying it more each time, and still discovering new things. I'm sure I wasn't the only person who was shocked (and maybe a little hurt) when I read about Dumbledore's teen and young adult years – the years he spent fawning over Grindelwald, succumbing to his influence and supporting the ideas of pure blood in the wizarding world. Although he hadn't shown any signs of hating muggles and “dirty bloods” before or after this time in his life, the idea that he had ever had such leanings was startling, and I was really disappointed.

In the midst of my shock, however, I found myself irritated with Harry for being so angry with Dumbledore's actions. I felt that it was unfair to expect so much of him when Harry himself hadn't ever been in the same position. Sure, he could say he wouldn't have acted the same, but how could he know for sure?

It reminds me a lot of how people react to Germany in WWII. This country seemed too quick to accept the influence of Hitler. Never mind how much he did to help Germany or the fact that he was like a balm to them when they were trying to recover themselves and their pride after WWI. Never mind his adeptness at speaking and seemingly harmless ease of influence.

Like Germany, Dumbledore was recovering from great loss, feeling abandoned and a new, frightening sense of responsibility. Like the people there, he was quick to come under the banner of someone who made him feel powerful again – someone who gave him a new purpose to live for. And like that country, he also came to recognize his faults and did his best to never be associated with the mistakes of his past. And, like so many other countries, Harry was quick to see fault in Dumbledore. Instead of seeing vulnerability, he saw weakness. Rather than accounting for the changes and improvements that were clear in Dumbledore's later life, he took offense at the past, taking pride in the assumption that he could never make the same mistake.

God forbid.

I don't think this similarity was lost on Rowling. In fact, I would guess it was intentional, though she hasn't said that outright. She has, however, pointed out that the fall of Grindelwald coincides with the downfall of Hitler in 1945. And let's not look over the fact that the character has a German name and was accused of causing great turmoil in all Europe.

I think there's an important lesson to be learned from this aspect of the Potter books, as well as from the parallel in history. We can't be quick to judge people's mistakes – especially when they are in a weakened state. Although there are people who rise above wrongful influences, they are not a majority. There are powerful people, waiting on the sidelines, watching for frailty, and no culture or country is guaranteed insusceptibility. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Crazy Path to Mommyhood

Thanks to the influence of my mother, I don’t think there was anything I ever wanted to be more than a homemaker. The idea of keeping a home, husband, and children appealed to me in a way nothing else could, and I grew up with that mindset. When I graduated from high school with no marital prospects, I went to college mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else to do while I waited for my husband to appear.

Thankfully, he didn’t take long.

Shoot forward about a year and a half. I’m engaged, long distance, and I get one of those calls that every fiancĂ©e dreads: the “maybe we should wait” call.

Benny knew how much I wanted a family. It was one of the first personal things I ever shared with him. He had at least two more years of college after we married – perhaps more, if he decided to get a higher degree – and having a family when only one of us could work, and the one of us working could only manage part-time, because of chronic illness, seemed irresponsible. I was adamantly opposed to contraception, as well, so he knew that was off the table, and suggested we should postpone our wedding until he graduated.

Although I understood his reasoning, I resisted the suggestion. After all, we needed some time, I thought, to learn to live together before children, and there were ways outside of contraception that could keep pregnancy at bay. It was hard for me to say I would wait for two entire years. I was twenty-two at the time, and I had hoped to start my family at eighteen. As crazy as it may sound to a progressive ear, I felt like I had already wasted three years, and I was saying I would give up two more. It was a huge sacrifice – especially because I had done my research and was aware that my chronic illness could mean I would not be able to have children for as many years as most women; however, establishing my marriage was more important to me, and even if it was hard, I felt it was the right decision.

Less than a year later, we were married. I loved being married. It was a new layer of life I hadn’t known could exist, and there was a new peace. I was designed by God for that life, and for nearly six months, I was content to simply be Benny’s wife. It got a lot harder when we had a pregnancy scare. I had been out of sorts, and several people suggested to me that I might be pregnant. Although I wasn’t convinced, I bought a test. When the negative came up, I could tell Benny was relieved, and I was relieved for him. What would a pregnancy do to the rest of his college career?  At the same time, I was heartbroken. I had secretly hoped I was pregnant. I got in the shower and cried for awhile, and for quite some time I was low in spirits. Benny could tell and knew why. He was incredibly kind and understanding, giving me space to mourn the baby I had never carried. Although I normally wouldn’t dare to equate my feelings to that of a woman who  has suffered a miscarriage, that was how it felt. Thankfully, I had only shared the possibility with a few people.

It was hard not only because I wanted a baby so badly but because there was a lot of pressure for us to start our family. People who knew little of our situation would suggest that we should get started pretty soon – to not wait too long – and although we knew they weren’t trying to make things difficult, it was still painful to hear. You can have the best intentions and still hurt people.

Almost exactly one year later, Benny was nearing the end of his last school year. Since the beginning of our marriage, I had had random “nightmares” about getting pregnant before Benny graduated. By January 2014, Benny told me that if I did get pregnant and was able to keep my job most of the pregnancy, we could make it work. Although we still weren’t trying to have a baby, this was a huge stress relief. As though God was testing Benny’s sincerity, less than a month later, I was pregnant. I was absolutely unprepared and knew it. There were many decisions we had planned to make before starting a family, and now we had to make them relatively quickly.

One big decision was one I had been putting off: where to have the baby. My mother had given birth in the hospital for all her babies, and Benny’s mother had given birth at home. When Benny told me he thought I should consider homebirths, I thought he was crazy. It sounded dangerous and foreign. I hadn’t imagined giving birth outside of a hospital, and I told him I wasn’t comfortable with the idea at all but I would think about it and do some research.

When I found out I was pregnant, I hadn’t done any research and I hadn’t really considered it an option. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Benny, because I knew he wouldn’t support something without being completely comfortable with it, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I read two articles with opposing points of view on the subject – both of which were well argued but neither of which made me comfortable with making the final decision.

Since I was still unsure, I asked a doctor in the area to recommend a doctor and hospital for us. I figured she would best know the system in the area, and I knew she had similar values to us, so I felt comfortable going with whatever advice she gave. I was surprised when she told me she thought I would be better off with a midwife and homebirth or birth center, and she even went so far as to recommend one. For the first time, I considered it, but I wanted to ask someone else in the medical field. I asked my sister-in-law – a labour and delivery nurse – for her thoughts. She, too, expressed confidence in the idea of a homebirth, telling me upsides and downsides, what to look for in a midwife, and telling me where I could get more information.

After feeling like I had been assured by these people, I then asked my mother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law about their experiences and opinions, knowing that they had had homebirths. Both of them stressed that I should do whatever I felt safest doing, and they talked to me about their own research.

At this point, I felt like I could take the extra step of actually meeting with the midwives recommended to me. I called to make an appointment, not yet completely assured it was what I wanted to do but sure it was a safe option, and I would be free to change my mind at any time.

When I went in for my appointment, it was immediately clear that I wasn’t stepping into a weird world of mantras and amulets but a place of medical business. It was homey, certainly, but was clearly not granola or avoiding the medical aspect of the profession. Not only this, the midwife I met with was strikingly like my mother, and I felt safe and assured by her no-holds-barred approach and bluntness when I asked questions. Although it had been a foreign concept to me, and knowing I would probably get a lot of flak from people who disapproved of my decision, I settled on a homebirth, and I never questioned my decision from that point.

Pregnancy was both hard and good. A lot of my fibromyalgia symptoms dissipated over the period of the pregnancy. My morning sickness during the first trimester was nasty, though after that I had few serious problems until the third trimester. It was a peaceful pregnancy.

When it finally came to the labour, choosing a homebirth sure seemed like the right idea. It started so fast (minute long contractions, one to two minutes apart within two hours of it starting), I’m sure I wouldn’t have wanted to travel to the hospital. The midwives were there shortly after Benny called, letting us quietly (well, I guess they were quiet) labour, keeping an eye on my progress and monitoring the baby – our personal lifeguards in case anything went awry, giving advice and encouragement. When it was all over, I had a baby in my arms: sweet, little Eleanora.

I’m a mother! It’s still a surprise to me, sometimes. In a way, it’s a change… but at the same time, it feels completely natural. I’ve been preparing for it most of my life, and holding a small child in my arms, nursing her, caring for her, was what I was created to do. Already, I see little changes every day, and I know it will be over sooner than I can imagine. Getting here was hard, and I know the difficulties don’t end after labour, but I feel assured by these three things:

God created me for this.
My mother prepared me for this.
My husband supports me in this.

That’s all I need. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

All About Bread

I’m a bit of a nerd about breads. I don’t have time to make them as much as I’d like (nor the energy, being pregnant), but I love pulling out my bread book and looking through the pages, deciding on one to try next.

This started when I married. Benny loves his bread. Let me rephrase. Benny loves his good bread. If you care about it at all, you know good bread isn’t very cheap. A half decent loaf is going to be around $3-5, and as much bread as we eat, I was quickly frustrated with how much it cost us. This isn’t even going into the realms of Italian loaves, rolls, biscuits… so I decided I would try making bread myself.

I pulled out my handy dandy kitchen aid mixer, attached the dough hook, and got out my Betty Crocker recipes. By the end of four hours, I had two, beautiful loaves cooling on the counter – and Benny was ecstatic. I could have used a bread machine, but feeling the dough forming and smelling it ferment was too wonderful to pass up. Ever since then, we’ve only bought bread when I am unable to make it myself (which is basically never). I don’t see the point of buying it when I can make it so much cheaper – and with ingredients we prefer (half wheat is the standard, though it changes once in awhile).

People are intimidated by the thought of making breads, for some reason. Maybe it’s just a general apprehension of cooking, I don’t know. I’ve thought about inviting people over and showing them how easy it is. It’s not like one grain too much of sugar will kill those lovely loaves. If you’re interested in trying out some things, here are some tips and thoughts:

1.      Buy this book: Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads
Not only is this book full of amazing recipes, there are tips for different things that can go wrong and ways to make up for the fact that you don’t have a steam oven or baking stone (which I will have, one day, when I’m wealthy). It talks about equipment needed and provides tips for three different kinds of preparation: by hand, with a mixer, and with a food processor. Seriously. Buy this book.
2.      Experiment with types of bread. Try making pitas – they are almost incomprehensibly easy. Cuban loaves are also fun (those round ones with the big X), and you can steam them in your oven to give them an amazing crust. Try different kinds of biscuit until you find one you prefer. I tried several recipes before I settled on one that used olive oil instead of butter or shortening.
3.      Collect roll recipes. There are many out there for a reason. A good butter roll is great, but so is one which is mashed-potato based. And they are good with different kinds of meals.
4.      Get tools used specifically for bread. Like a dough scraper – one that is stiff and doesn’t bend, preferably, with measurements written on it for quick cutting. Special bread pans for baguettes are nice, as well. The book I recommended has a more complete list.
5.      Buy bread loaf pans that you will only use for breads – and don’t wash them unless you’re making a sweet bread. Yup. Just like that cast iron skillet.
6.      Turn on the oven an hour before you’ll use it. Trust me. It will regulate the temperature better. (Bonus benefit: when it's cooler, you can put your rising loaves on the stovetop so they rise at a similar rate to when it's warmer.)
7.      Don’t ever trust the times given for cooking. Keep an eye on your bread. Watch for the browning and tap your loaves as you bake until you find out the times that work best for your oven.

Okay, I’ve shared enough to get you started. Go forth and ferment. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

As A Christian, Can I Panic About Ebola?

It's a situation I've been watching carefully, and it only recently seems to be something people are noticing. Studying epidemics is a sort of hobby of mine and has been for many years. I’ve been fascinated to study how different cultures – especially religions – react.

Take a very short trip in history with me, for a moment, to 1918, when the Spanish influenza was swallowing the globe. Only Australia remained untouched, as it cut off contact with everyone else, and it is estimated that anywhere from 50 million to100 million people died. The majority of those people were in the prime of their lives; the elderly and children seemed strangely untouched. Whole villages were wiped out. Cities became forced to bury people in mass graves because they were dying too fast to build caskets or dig proper graves. It was a dark time, and the line “bring out your dead” doesn’t seem so funny when you realize people were literally dropping their loved ones outside their doors, hoping against all hope that they hadn’t been exposed long enough to become ill themselves. All social events were banned, but one group of people stood out as defying this law: Christians.

Gathering together on Sunday, everyone wearing masks, many churches would set up chairs in the middle of the street and have their services. At a time when people were abandoning their own families and shutting themselves away, believers were finding strength in one another. This isn’t to say they were better than everyone else – because there were people who did amazing things without this form of faith – but they knew their hope lay in something other than remaining healthy. I have no doubt that there was fear in their hearts, wondering if they would die next, or a spouse, or a child, or a parent. It’s not as though faith makes things less scary, because they are scary, but it allows us to focus on something other than fear. We wouldn’t stand in the way of a rampaging elephant herd as a show of faith, so how should be think about this situation?

This is how I think about it: things like this - where one is so completely out of control - you feel more acutely, especially if you like order and predictability; however, there is nothing that works quite like an epidemic for bringing people face to face with eternity. It forces them to actively choose God or themselves in a way most wouldn't, because this culture is so lackadaisical and would normally enjoy the lukewarm feelings of disinterest or indifference. In a sort of strange way, I think these things are beautiful. It's amazing to see how striking the church can be in "such a time as this," where we can be unafraid and aware of the glory that awaits us if God chooses to take us up to Him. Even as one is completely aware of the danger, one can also be aware that – ultimately – our hope lies in something quite different than the next breath we take.

I'm thinking specifically of Romans 8:5-27, especially the last two paragraphs:
"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

"Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God."

2nd Timothy 2:7 also comes to mind: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

We are in a fallen world, and our gut reaction will be one of fear; however, God gives us strength in Himself so that we can treat our fears differently and reach the world in its crisis, bringing others to share in our hope.
"This is the mark of a really admirable man: Steadfastness in the face of trouble." Ludwig van Beethoven
"It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everyone else and still unknown to himself." Francis Bacon
It is a mindless philosophy that assumes that one's private beliefs have nothing to do with public office. Does it make sense to entrust those who are immoral in private with the power to determine the nation's moral issues and, indeed, its destiny? .... The duplicitous soul of a leader can only make a nation more sophisticated in evil. ~ Ravi Zacharias