17 weeks

A year ago this month, things were dark. Fear and anxiety were my masters as I worked tirelessly to curate a world where my feeling of safety could never be disrupted. This meant giving into thought cycles that were totally founded on my perception and not God’s truth. I begged God to pull me out of the mire of that season but felt only cold.  There was no freedom. Not that God hadn’t been there to give it to me; I know He was all along.  I was leaning on my own unsteady understanding instead of the Rock of Ages, who doesn’t shift like the wind.

I asked Him through those months “why won’t this end?” Just once I felt an answer, and it wasn’t about me, it was about other people. “So you can love my flock through their dark nights.” I was determined then not to waste that season, however dark, however cold, however long. I felt (maybe for just that moment) privileged and thrilled that God would think to use a broken ragamuffin like me, one who couldn’t leave my house without googling where the nearest hospital was, to care for His kids. What grace that He defines our seasons!

Now, a year later, I am enjoying some light. Last week our missional community reflected on the Ecclesiastes verses “there’s a time for x and a time for y.” As I listened to my friends share their stories, I was moved to tears. I saw how beautifully the natural rhythms of our lives work together– when we are desperate for truth, He makes others strong enough to carry us to Jesus. My heart was provoked, and for the first time in a very long while, I felt like I had something to offer people. I got to use some of what I’ve learned about God’s faithfulness and goodness to (I hope) encourage other believers, like they showed me when I was completely blind to it.

Now, of course in hindsight, I see that without those many months of terribly painful training, I wouldn’t have had a shred of ragamuffin wisdom to give to anybody. In that dark and shadowy place, I got to experience intimacy with God in a way I couldn’t have anywhere else. There, I got to know Him as Father and Counselor and Divine Author of my story.  He did gracious work in me there, and my mind feels new. I can’t pin down a moment when things shifted in my heart and mind, but that kind of crippling anxiety has stayed pretty much a memory. I’m in a new, more joyful season, and I want to let God define it.I don’t want to waste it on me.  I want to be fully present and engaged with the season I’m in, attentive to the new facet of Jesus–just the one I need–being tenderly revealed to me.

I have about five months (give or take, I hope it’s take) of being shaped into a mom before I become one, and I want to use what He’s showing me in this joyful time to love other women and get to know my husband. I want to use well the time I’ve been given, whether it’s a time of darkness or light, to learn and grow, to let God make me a better lover of Himself and a better lover of others. I want to speak and write and serve joyfully from this season, because today is all I have.

How far along? 17 weeks as of yesterday
Baby is the size of a: Navel orange! Over 5″ long (crown to rump) and 5 ounces! Bigger than a Big Mac!
Total weight gain: Probably 2-3 lbs.
Maternity clothes? Finally bought some maternity pants. I don’t really like them. They’re dark skinny jeans from Gap – how could they go wrong? Well, the pregnancy band helps, but the butt and hips are sloppy looking. My biggest pet peeve with jeans. So I mainly wear my regular pants with the belly band I talked about a few weeks ago, which has been working well. I need to get a black one of those. Right now I only have the nude color.
Sleep: Picture perfect dream world.
Best moment this week: Tim and I had some really good time together Saturday afternoon. It was the first Saturday he’s had off in a very long time, so I felt refreshed to be able to laugh with him and have him home with me.
Movement: The baby woke me up on Saturday night! I felt this flutter in my belly and my first thought was “What is this baby trying to tell me?!” So I got up and ate a snack. :) Turns out kicking isn’t morse code.
Food cravings: Salty/crunchy, sour/cold. I.e. kettle chips and cold green apples.
Miss Anything? I had an ornery moment last night when I couldn’t have any of the herbal teas in my house. I guess lots of herbs are a pregnancy no-no, so it’s best to avoid herbal teas (pretty much anything but peppermint. Oddly, even some pregnancy teas aren’t pregnancy safe). Since I have to take it easy on caffeine too, tea isn’t a big option. Hot water with lemon did the trick!
Symptoms: Not much lately! Light indigestion and lethargy, but nothing to write home about.
Mood? Restful, but only because God is faithful in sustaining, not because circumstances are any less chaotic than usual.
Looking forward to: A short work week! We celebrated Thanksgiving with Tim’s family on Sunday, but we also have plans with some friends on Thursday. Count on a green bean casserole…or five. Also, as mentioned in previous post, my best girl and her hubs are coming to visit next Friday!!

Mostly just wanted to show off my outfit.
Mostly just wanted to show off my outfit.

16 weeks

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” -CS Lewis

“Lead with your body and your heart will follow.” -John Coe

When Tim and I first started dating, I naively judged my love and care for him based on the affection I felt for him. I didn’t see then that affection is an emotion, and spending time with Tim and serving him without regarding my feelings would propel me into deeper love. My love for him could actually be about him, not about me.

Emotions, I now know, are deceitful, and love, I now know, is a choice. Two years into marriage, I don’t wake up every morning feeling affection for my husband. That doesn’t mean I love him any less. It’s our covenant that binds us, not my feelings toward him. And that’s comforting to me, because feelings are a harsh taskmaster with little grace.

Naturally, this confused posture of heart affects how I relate with God.  For the majority of my Christian life, I’ve found myself waiting to desire God before pursuing Him. This ultimately meant I put off doing what’s beneficial for my soul until I felt like it. Terribly unwise, as I know for sure I do not drift toward holiness.

I started a lectures series last summer on spiritual formation (find it here). It was super helpful in engaging my mind and heart with spiritual disciplines, which I had been contemplating for many months. What the professor taught about abiding in Christ made so much sense to me: “lead with your body, and your heart will follow.”

I began to see that faithfulness begets faith. And in turn, faith leads to the act of faithfulness. The two work together to propel my walk with God. The simple act of obeying God in spending time with Him – yes, daily, and yes, even though I don’t feel like it, and yes, even if it’s something I’m just crossing off a list – has only been beneficial to me.

He is teaching me that nothing is neutral – either I am creating space for love or losing it.  Love flourishes in fields of self denial, in the spaces where I say “no” to what I want (or think I want) and “yes” to what I need. The more time I spend with Him, the more help I have in discerning these things. (Psalm 73 tells me when I go to His sanctuary, He gives me His mind.)

I want to live in this renewed mind. To let it transform my actions. I want to practice creating a restful, gracious environment where my baby can flourish.  And that makes me think twice about everything I do and say. For example, today I did not want to write this blog. I’m beyond tired. And this is the first week I’ve felt like God didn’t give me any insight to share. But more than I want to laze on the couch, I want to establish healthy rhythms of fruitfulness and rest. And I think for me that starts with denying my flesh and seeing beyond my emotions. Thinking of the big picture: what will benefit me and my baby and husband? What will help me love others? What will deepen my love for God? Acting like I love Him, that’s what.

Sowing good seeds in my heart when my desire doesn’t match. Investing in my soul. Even when I don’t see results. Even when I’m tired. Trusting He will take these little seeds and reap a harvest of love in my heart and in my life.

When I am weak, He is strong. And I think seeking Him victorious over my weak and tired self will keep me coming back.

How far along? 16 weeks
Baby is the size of: An avocado!
Total weight gain:  Finally back to my pre-pregnancy weight! So, we’ve leveled out. Many thanks to Pizza Luce & Ben and Jerry’s.
Maternity clothes? Wearing the same loose outfits through the week. Sorry everyone. You’ll be seeing a lot of the same two sweater dresses. Pants are becoming more difficult, so I actually just ordered my first pair of real maternity jeans!!
Sleep: Really good! Except for getting up several times a night to go to the bathroom, I’d say this is the best sleep of my life. I’ll savor it for now.
Best moment this week: I had a really encouraging talk about heart things with my friend Katie yesterday afternoon. Being known and understood by a girlfriend gives me the traction I need to push through another week. Lots of grace.
Movement: Definitely felt the little one flip in church on Sunday! Getting super excited for more jumps, pokes, and jabs as baby grows bigger and stronger.
Food cravings: Still carbs. Potatoes in any form. Kettle chips. Spinach with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Cold fruit. Water with lots and lots of lemon juice.
Miss Anything? At this point I think I’ll miss being pregnant more than I miss anything during pregnancy. But I miss my best friends, Rachel in California, Kat in Kentucky, and Kate in Texas. We talk almost every day, and I can’t wait for them to come visit me after the wee one comes!!
Symptoms: I am ecstatic to say I haven’t had any physical symptoms at all this week. Other than a swelling belly and being really tired. The latter is normal for me : )
Mood? Drained and a little stressed but also on the edge of hopefulness after some really good times of reading and thinking this week. Knowing God is kindling something beneath the surface is generating some excitement in me!
Looking forward to: Oh boy, LOTS. Thanksgiving, time off work, and then Rachel and her husband Ikaika are coming to visit at the beginning of December!! For 5 whole days! And guess what? They are moving here. To Minneapolis. Into our house. In February. Words literally can’t describe what a dream come true this is for me. I used to cry thinking I’d never live in the same city as this girl again. God is so funny and so good. Feeling really thankful He is giving me family in the friends I have.  And they’re coming just in time to help with baby. :)

15 weeks

To all who believed He gave the right to become children of God.  -John 1:12

This month makes four years without a mom.

I remember just after Thanksgiving in 2009 getting a call that she had died. The only thing I remember as I hung up the phone was God’s presence with me, like I was the only person in the world who mattered to Him in that moment. He had me. And it didn’t feel abrupt– He had begun unfolding reality for me years before, gently turning my trust from my earthly parents to Him (and some really loving people close to me). In a way I felt prepared for it, like I had been practicing for a while.

Naturally, as I adjust to the idea of being a mother myself, I have had some difficult moments where the loss is biting, almost acidic. Moments where it corners me, accusing me of every kind of inadequacy. I questioned my ability to mother without having a mom. In those times I felt resentful that I was entrusted to take care of someone else with no one to take care of me. That posture of heart made it very difficult to operate in any form of tenderness, toward my husband or my baby. I even felt jealous that God would create and delight in this new life in me when I wanted His attention. He still had nourishing to do for me! This was my time for healing! I felt interrupted and a little duped.

Of course, He cornered me with truth, lovingly provoking me with those pointed moments.  Maybe this pregnancy is a time for basking in fresh and thrilling truths. Maybe I need to feel desperate to turn my gaze to Him. Maybe my time for healing is not over, but made even richer than it could have been before.

These maybes became a tangible “yes” quickly. I spent last Saturday at a retreat with a ministry called All Things New.  The talks and ministry time centered on Jesus as good shepherd who delights in leading us to the Father. A simple truth felt so new: when we live in His grace, we are adopted into the Father’s family. My identity shifts from orphan to daughter because law has shifted to grace. That means no matter how our own earthly parents may have failed me, I can be nourished and loved and disciplined perfectly by God. Held by Him, fed by Him, taught by Him, loved by Him. Both mothered and fathered.

I felt hopeless and helpless because my trust had wavered from God back unto my broken earthly family. Fixed again on my own brokenness, I missed the God who waits to be gracious to me. And how desperately I need His nourishment. How serious a sacrifice Jesus made so I could have it. How gracious of Him to leave us with a Spirit who knows both our thoughts and God’s thoughts and can exchange my deceitful reality I live in for His truth. All because as sons and daughters, we get God’s presence.

How far along? 15 weeks
Baby is the size of: An apple. Hopefully a delightfully plump Honeycrisp, engineered right here in Minnesota.
Total weight gain: Good news: up one pound from last prenatal appointment. Not good news: still down three lbs from my weight before I went to Barf City USA.
Maternity clothes? Got my first pair of maternity jeans, hand-me-downs from my mama friend Cassie! Other than that, I just bought a few sweater dresses in a size bigger than normal and wearing them on repeat.
Sleep: Halfway decent. I’ve been going to bed earlier and earlier every night. Yesterday I stared at the clock at 7 pm waiting for a socially acceptable bedtime to arrive. 8 bells and I was on my way up the stairs, seriously. I love my sleep.
Best moment this week: So many rich insights at the retreat this weekend. My whole being was smiling the duration of the day. And I got to go with a pretty sweet friend, my Gwenny. Also got to hear the little Peanut’s heartbeat this afternoon, which was really special. I think today was the first time I felt really connected to the baby beyond the physical.
Movement: Pretty much just digestive movement. Sorry.
Food cravings: Tim’s been making these ham and cheese omelettes for me the past few days. I’ve been wanting those a lot. I never knew he was such a talented omelette chef. Other than that, mostly just bread and potatoes, but that’s nothing new.
Miss Anything? No!
Symptoms:  Big improvements in the nausea category! This is the first full week I’ve made it without ralphing. The only new symptom I’ve been noticing is how uncomfortable it is to sit for a long time. My abdomen feels really crammed, so I feel better when I’m standing, moving, or stretching.
Mood? Tired and peaceful. We put up some Christmas lights in our bedroom (the white kind, the peaceful kind). As usual I have a Christmas-scented candle burning. And I could fall asleep any second because I’m lying in bed. At 5:32 pm.
Looking forward to: The Birth Center appointment was probably the pinnacle of my last four weeks.  I have some fun things peppered throughout my week, but, as always, I’m looking forward to the weekend.

14 weeks

Disclaimer: I’m including some of my views on birth in this entry. I have not yet given birth, and I do not claim to be an expert on it. I also understand there are tons of great reasons for medication and interventions during labor and would never, ever judge a woman for making a different choice than me. What I’m describing below assumes a low-risk, normal pregnancy. I’m sharing these things not to prove a point but to draw spiritual and emotional parallels I’ve been processing as I’ve learned.

One of the most helpful books on birth I’ve read is Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. Ina May is a well-known midwife who runs a birth center in rural Tennessee called The Farm. Many women travel long distances to have their babies at The Farm, finding the care of the midwives to be more personal and the (unmedicated but highly supported) labors themselves to be shorter and free of complications.

One reason Ina May believes births at The Farm are less complicated is the atmosphere. In the little birth cabins in the woods, the laboring woman is free of the harsh light and sometimes cold/sterile environment she might experience at a hospital. She can move around as she pleases, finding the most effective birth position for her (gravity!). She is allowed to eat and drink freely, bathe, and enjoy the company of whomever she would like with her during the birth.

All these nuances work together to create a more relaxed environment, and hopefully a more relaxed attitude in turn.  Because labor is viewed as a totally normal part of a woman’s life and a natural physiological process, the laboring woman and her attendants often foster a lighthearted, playful atmosphere, knowing laughter lends itself to relaxed sphincters (sorry if that word choice is alarming, but it’s precise). And relaxed sphincters mean, of course, a considerably easier time pushing a 6-10 lb human being out of one’s body.

I really believe attitude is crucial in birth. Not that labor is a total mental game, but I’d say just like in other areas of life, a laboring woman has the choice to surrender to the pain or resist it.  To dread the next contraction or view it as one step closer to her prize: the baby. She has the choice to be afraid of her body or amazed at what it can do, following its lead through the phases of birth. Her mental state can contribute to either easing or prolonging her labor.

These things reminded me of a difficult season a few years ago. In email correspondence with a mentor, I inquired about ways to cope with my situation. I was essentially looking for a trap door with which to escape my suffering. She responded, “Ashley, the only way out is through.” Instead of taking this wisdom seriously, I relied on temporary fixes for months to feel better (really, to feel anything different than the loneliness and rejection I felt then).

Retrospectively I can see God was using this situation to shape my character and teach me to trust in so many ways.  In a way, I was “giving birth” at that time in my life to some really important things. And the labor was not easy because I was not in tune to reality. I was zoned out and focused so much on the pain that I missed the big picture, where the beauty is. I would have been better off facing my pain and even embracing it, but I chose to resist it, allowing it to master me. My avoidant attitude prolonged my suffering season, blinding me from the freedom that was already mine in Jesus. I was utterly focused on the pain.

Birth, too, might be painful, but I want to focus on the beauty of it, because I’ll forget the pain when I get the prize.  Maybe it’s like running a marathon. Yes, it’s painful because muscles are working hard, but it’s a beneficial type of pain, not a threatening one.  That’s how I want to operate in all kinds of suffering. I want to ask important questions of my heart as I face hard things, so I can shift my gaze from the pain to the Savior.  Because each day, each trial, is one step closer to seeing Jesus– and in that day, I will ask nothing of Him, because my joy will be complete.

Examining my heart in trials: What temporal pain am I resisting? How could this pain actually benefit me or shape me in a helpful way? What might God want to birth in me? How might my resistance prolong my circumstance? And most of all, Where are my eyes fixed?

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” -John 16

How far along? 14 weeks
Baby is the size of a: Peach! Almost 4″ long.
Total weight gain:  I won’t have a scale until a week from today when I go see the midwife. I’ll update then. I’m guessing I put on a few, as I’ve been finding myself with sour candy or another carbohydrate in my mouth more often than not…
Maternity clothes? Rocking the belly band. Normal pantalones.
Sleep: Last night was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in forevs! 8pm felt like 9pm because of Daylight Savings…and I was zonked. If it weren’t for the constant peeing, I’d be in tip-top shape come bedtime.
Best moment this week: On Saturday I noticed a teeny baby bump! Maybe it was just the carbs, but I think I have the real deal – or getting there. See below photo.
Movement: I thought I felt a flutter last night. I’m supposed to feel more noticeable movements in the next few weeks, definitely by weeks 16-20.
Food cravings: ANYTHING SOUR. Sucking on lemons, loving grapefruit, and constantly on the prowl for some kind of sour candy (sweet tarts, sour patch kids, sour punch straws…)
Miss Anything? Not so far this week.
Symptoms: Have been getting sick a few days a week again. Friday night and Sunday were barf city (no thanks to a 20-ounce smoothie I drank in 10 minutes, or that chicken cordon bleu I had to have). But Saturday and today were great. I’m still feeling that round ligament pain in my abdomen and noticing some more digestive stuff going on, which is never fun. A positive symptom is my muscles seem way relaxed. My chiro (who moonlights as a doula!) told me pregnancy hormones are meant to relax the uterus and stretch the surrounding muscles but are also “non-discriminating,” meaning it’s prime time for chiropractic adjustments, cause my body will take it. It’s been super nice not to deal with the constant sore neck and tension I usually have.
Mood? Pretty hungry and a tad ornery that it’s only Monday. I have so much going on at work. Tuesday mornings are my earliest day; usually I have to be there around 6 (6:30 am meeting prep). Luckily, I’ll get to leave by 4!
Looking forward to: The weekend. And my next appointment at the Birth Center on Monday. And, of course, meeting this little baby peach in 5.5-6 months.

I think I finally have a little bump to show for all my hard work the past few months!!
A little bump to show for all my hard work the past few months!!