Manna from Heaven

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Daily Bread. It’s a phrase I’ve heard so many times that I hardly think about it anymore. However, yesterday as I was reading to the girls, I was struck anew with an ancient truth.

So there we were, sitting around the breakfast table, when I pulled out the giant story Bible we’ve been reading. The title of the story for the day was “Manna from Heaven”. In case you don’t know, or don’t remember the story, you can look it up in Exodus 16. God’s people are wandering in the wilderness and they’re hungry. They complain and God gives Moses the plan for what’s to happen next. He sends bread from heaven with the morning dew. Each day the people are supposed to collect enough food for the day, no more and no less. The next day God sends the bread again. And again. On the sixth day, the people are told to gather twice as much as they need for one day, because the next day is a day of rest and there won’t be any new manna. Some people do as they are told, but some don’t trust God. They gather more than enough manna (or they gather just enough but don’t eat it all) and they save some for the next day. In the morning it stinks and it’s full of worms. Then Day Six rolls around and, again, some of the people do as they are supposed to and others disobey and only collect enough for one day. The seventh day comes and those who didn’t collect extra just don’t have any food. The ones who saved their extra overnight wake up to find it not stinking and not full of worms this time. When I read this story I often wonder if it’s the same people who disobey God in each incident or if it’s different people – the ones who don’t trust God to provide again, the ones who don’t trust God to keep His word, or maybe some who are just bad at listening to directions.

God still provides for His people. Sometimes it’s money. He provides enough for everything He wants us to have, no more, no less. When Dan was in school we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived on what we had and God took care of us. When He got his first “real” job, we were so excited about the huge increase in our income. Then we had to move out of cheap, subsidized, campus housing and into a condo in Ann Arbor. That hurt the freshly filled bank account. Then came medical bills with our second baby. That hurt too. For a while I was a little down about that.

“Just when we start making a little more, then all these bills come in and it’s all gone.”

But God showed me differently. He had provided two days worth of manna for the time when we would need it. “Just before the bills came in, God gave us more so that we would be able to pay them.”

It has happened again and again in our lives, and not just with money. Sometimes it’s other material things. Sometimes it’s feeling God’s presence or getting time alone with Dan or having some peace in our home before something crazy happens. No matter what, He just wants us to trust that He will provide what we need, when we need it, but no more and no less. And, at least in my experience, He tends to provide in such a way and in such timing that keep me dependent on Him.

If God is truly the God of our lives, our time, our bodies, and our bank accounts, it’s also important that we ask Him how to be spending these things.

A couple of months ago Paul was about to run out of clothes. He was getting bigger and we just didn’t have any bigger boy clothes. Most of our baby clothes (we have half a room full right now!) are pink and purple with bows and ruffles. We could have run straight to the store and picked out some really cute baseball-themed pajamas, but one of us had the idea to pray and ask God first. So we did, We prayed something like, “God, our money is yours. If you want us to go buy clothes for Paul we are happy to do so, but if you want us to use this money for something else, please provide the clothing he needs”. Then we waited.

A couple of weeks later we took a trip up North. Dan’s mom surprised us with a dozen like-new garage sale outfits for Paul, in the right sizes. My mom surprised me with a trip to Kohl’s and treated the kids and me to a new outfit each. On our way home, one of our dear friends handed over two diaper boxes full of little boy clothes. The picture up above is of Paul on our walk this morning, decked out entirely in clothing that was given to us by a family from church, my mom, Dan’s mom, and one of our friends.

I used to think that God only provided for people who didn’t have enough. I thought that anyone who had a large enough income was already provided for by their job, that they should thank God for their job and budget away. I have recently been realizing that there is far greater blessing in asking God how we should use our resources and then being obedient. Then He will provide the manna we need for one day, or two days, but no more and no less.

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One Year of Thankful…Complete

One year ago, on my birthday, I began a project I called “One Year of Thankful“. My 26th year had been tough. We moved a pile of times, endured unpleasant job changes, suffered through 12 unexpected weeks with a baby in the hospital, and were in the process of adjusting to having two kiddos at home. I was having a hard time, feeling down, getting angry, and realizing the lack of joy in my life. So I began this project: record one blessing a day and take a picture to go with it.

Now my “year of thankful” is complete. I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’ve enjoyed counting my blessings. I’ve learned that it’s not enough to pick one thing a day, an attitude of thankfulness has to be continuous. I’ve learned that blessings come in showers and sometimes there are droughts. At times I would have to choose between a number of blessings in a day. Other times I would go for days struggling to think of anything for my “thankful”.

As I was wrapping up my year, I thought it would be fun to go through my complete album to see what I was the most thankful for. I think this says something about my personality and it definitely says something about what I treasure in life. Here are my top ten:

10. Finding Things – Apparently I lose things somewhat frequently and really dislike it. Every time I find a lost item I have reason to rejoice.

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Day 54 – I found my lost phone.

9. Nature and Beauty – From the beauty of freshly fallen snow, to a colorful sunset, to my favorite flowering trees, I love enjoying the beauty God has placed all around me.

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Day 79 – Baby bunnies.

8. Relief from My Job – You don’t even know how many times I took pictures of dishes washed by someone other than me! Or sometimes it was folded laundry, someone to watch the kiddos, or a discovery that made my life easier. A break from the grueling task of “domestic engineer” frequently made my thankful list.

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Day 216 – Having my parents here while Dan and I were at the hospital, being able to take it easy as the girls were cared for and all the dishes and laundry done.

7. Material Things and Comforts – Material things were often gifts and comforts often included warmth or sleep. I’m blessed with so many nice “things”: a house, clothing, all sorts of kitchen knick-knacks, and so many comforts like warm blankets, medicine when I’m sick, or the exercise ball that brought so much relief late in the pregnancy.

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Day 71 – Nap time.

6. Love – Originally this was lumped under “Family and Friends”, but it came up so many times I gave it a category of its own. From date nights to flowers, love letters, and special chats with Dan, it’s clear that I enjoy any language of love from my husband.

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Day 315 – My one and only Valentine.

5. Walking with God and Answered Prayers – This category skyrocketed late in my pregnancy with Paul. Every week was an answered prayer. But it wasn’t just weekly milestones that made the list. During some of the most pressing trials of the year God brought much peace, guidance, and comfort.

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Day 348 – This moment. I thought it would never happen. Psalm 37:4

4. Quiet, Precious, and Meaningful Moments – I am a creature of habit. Special moments that we enjoyed every day (like breakfasting in the breakfast nook or snuggling with Lydia in the morning) often made my list. I’m also an introvert and any quiet or peaceful moments made it into my thankful album.

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Day 82 – This Moment: Snuggled up with his girls.

3. Food and Fun Times – I was amused at how often food came up as my thankful for the day. Especially special occasion food (aka something with cheese) or fruit. Fun times were also a favorite, including family outings, trips up North, and weddings and showers.

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Day 156 – Another perfect pre-baseball picnic.

2. Productivity – This one really surprised me. It’s back to those pictures of dishes I guess! The second most frequent thankful has something to do with making progress on housework, organization, research, or projects.

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Day 233 – Finished!

1. Family and Friends – This one isn’t much of a surprise. Family and friends and the special moments we have together were the most common thankful by far. God has blessed me with many loved ones, but most frequent were my loving husband, and crazy kids.

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Day 364 – Adding another little one to our family has only made me love them all more.

Paul’s Birth Story

Ever since Lydia was born, I have enjoyed hearing others’ birth stories. Some are encouraging, inspiring, or at times, intimidating, but all have been useful in preparing me for another birth. So this is Paul’s birth story. Here’s my disclaimer: this is going to be long (for the most part) unedited. If you don’t enjoy hearing lots of medical sorts of details, this post may not be for you.

To understand the full impact of this story, it may be helpful to read (or reread) this post from a year and a half ago. I recently went back and read it and was so surprised at how similar the beginning is to Paul’s story. God is so kind.

Monday Morning

Monday (March 16) started off in a pretty routine way. We woke up, ate breakfast, and Dan went out to the garage to exercise. While he was out, I snapped this picture, my 35 week photo. I never thought I could make it to 35 weeks and we were thrilled to get this far. In fact, when Abby was born my doctor told me I would probably never go past 32 weeks. Our current doctor told us a 35 weeker is usually a “take home baby” and we were thankful for even a chance to bring Baby home without spending time in the NICU.

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We were running low on leftovers so we had a pretty small lunch. I had just a peanut butter, banana sandwich, figuring I would grab a more substantial snack after my nap and dinner-time would come soon enough. After lunch, one of the girls from our church came over for a couple of hours to clean our floors and play with the kids outside, since I have been unable to do those things for a while now. They stayed out extra late and didn’t come in and get settled down for naps until after 2:00.

I was chatting with Dan (who happened to be home that day) while he washed dishes. “Aren’t you going to go take a nap?”, he asked me. I told him I was headed that way, just wanted to print off a couple of things from the computer. I had spent the morning tidying up our kitchen from the months I’ve spent “taking it easy”, and I had just finished and wanted to move our printer upstairs so the counter would be clear. I printed my documents and was just looking through them when I felt a big gush.

Just a second later I felt another gush, and then a third. My water had broke, and it took a moment to realize what was happening. I hesitantly tried to get Dan’s attention while he worked away at a particularly dirty pot. As soon as he knew what was going on he sprang into action, gathering items for the hospital, calling our babysitters, getting the girls up from their short nap. I was all but helpless because I was leaking so much fluid and I didn’t want to move around and risk speeding up the coming labor.

After half an hour, what seemed like a very long half hour, we were in the car on our way to the babysitters, and then the hospital. Contractions had started but they weren’t coming in any predictable pattern yet, they just hurt.

3:45 PM

By 3:45 the contractions were coming more regularly and we were in the waiting room of the family birth center. I was excited, restless, and nervous, so we just stood in the waiting room holding hands and waiting to be called in. A nurse came and got us settled in our triage room, where we spent the next two hours.

I was amazed at how peaceful everything was. In the past our room has been full of medical staff poking and prodding me in a million ways. This time there was just one midwife entering my data on the computer and hooking me up to be monitored for the next 20 minutes (which turned out to be two hours). This was the first time I got to see a graph of a baby’s heartbeat and my contractions during labor. It was almost fun, watching the coming contraction and then seeing how far apart they were (3 minutes) and how long they were lasting (1 1/2 to 2 minutes). I thought to ask Dan to take a picture but by the time he got the camera ready I was right in the middle of a contraction. We took the picture anyway.

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We gave the midwife a copy of my birth plan, which was as simple as I could keep it while still being meaningful:

-Please direct any possible questions to Dan.
-Unless it becomes medically necessary I would like not to have an IV.
-I would like to have as natural of a delivery as possible.
-If at all possible, I would like to hold the baby immediately after delivery.

The midwife informed us that at 4:00 our doctor had started a c-section and we would have to wait at least half an hour before he could come do anything.

Now, back at 16 weeks, I had a surgery to put stitches in the cervix, adding support that would hopefully enable things to stretch and Baby to stay put longer. My fear during our time in triage was that I would dilate too quickly and the stitches would tear. So we waited and prayed and watched my contractions on the graph. Dan named the unitless graph, the “Graph of Awesomness” and let me know when my “awesomeness” was “off the charts”.

By 5:00 I was starting to feel the stitches pulling and we kept waiting to hear some word from our doctor. A very sweet resident came in and chatted with us for a while. She did an ultrasound to check that Baby was head-down, and she told us that she could remove the stitches if our doctor took too long.

5:30 PM

Our doctor rushed in around 5:30 and sat down with the resident immediately to start taking out the stitches. The procedure took longer and hurt more than I was anticipating. Dan held one arm while a nurse held the other and both kept streams of encouragement coming as I scrunched up my face and braced myself through each painful poke. Finally the stitches came out and I was able to get up and walk to our labor and delivery room. Much to my dismay, I was only dilated to 1 1/2.

As we walked to the room where Baby would hopefully be born, I drilled our nurse with questions about 35 weekers. Would I get to hold the Baby? Would I be able to have a “normal” delivery? She told me that Baby had to be a certain weight (4 pounds, 9 ounces?) to stay in our room. The resident had predicted Baby was probably 6 – 6 1/2 pounds, so that was encouraging. I could have a normal delivery in a normal labor and delivery room, but there would have to be a special team present to evaluate Baby and decide if s/he needed to be taken to the NICU.

6:30

When we got to our room a new nurse took over and chatted with us for a long time. I was leaning against the bed waiting for her to finish so I could try to get into some sort of more comfortable position. She kept offering me all sorts of natural pain relief methods: bean bags, birthing balls, the shower, heating pads…I was overwhelmed and just wanted her to leave. I knew it would help to move around but I could hardly bring myself to do that, so I asked for the birthing ball, figuring I’d been using it over the past couple of weeks and maybe I would have some idea what to do with it.

During the entire labor I had Philippians 4:13 playing in my head to a tune I learned when I was a kid:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do. All things through. Christ who strengthens me. Christ who strengthens me.

Because this was going to be a VBAC, I had to be hooked up to the monitor continuously and I had to have a hep lock so I could be hooked up to an IV quickly if that became necessary. I asked for some water, determined to stay hydrated and avoid that IV. I was feeling the contractions almost entirely in my back and legs, so the nurse showed me how I could sit on the ball and lean forward on the bed to help with the back labor. Dan was a champ and started massaging my lower back. When the contractions became more intense he would press hard on my back, which helped significantly with the pain. Then in between contractions it was back to massaging. As soon as a contraction would end I would whisper, “Water” and Dan would grab my ice water and hold it for me to take a sip, then I would relax for about thirty seconds before another contraction came.

7:30 PM

There was a shift change and our new nurse came in and brought a heading pad for my back. Dan and I were in our groove now, but wondering how long labor would last. We were spoiled with Lydia and the entire labor was 8 hours. I was starving, but couldn’t bear to eat anything, and Dan was hungry too. Those pb sandwiches were not holding us over very well. Occasionally we would discuss the likelihood that Baby would be born early enough for Dan to run out and get us some Qdoba.

When Lydia was born I didn’t make a sound until very close to her actual delivery. So when I started moaning through the contractions we thought for sure we must be close. We kept waiting for the signs of transition. Dan was sure I would throw up, and I kept waiting for that moment when I would feel the urge to push. Time seemed to be moving so slowly. I know, it’s kind of pathetic when others have labors that last days, but like I said, we’ve been spoiled.

8:00 PM

I’m guessing on the times here, because I was to absorbed in labor to pay much attention to the clock. I would occasionally check it to guess at the likelihood of Qdoba though. I was so hungry. Dan kept asking if I was going to throw up and if I felt pressure. Both the nurse and Dan could tell by my behavior that the contractions were getting really intense, but I still didn’t feel any urge to push.

The pain reached a new level and I started standing up for the contractions, leaning forward on the bed. Afterward I would collapse back onto the ball and dread the next one. The pain was so intense I bit my tongue to resist yelling out, “God, help me”, and I was silently praying all along. Although I was fully aware of the things happening all around, I couldn’t respond to them. When Dan asked me questions I didn’t respond. When he tried doing something different, like rubbing my back higher up, it was all I could do to grab his arms and move them back down. I kept looking back at the contraction chart to see how much time I had before another one came. I guess at this point, I was in transition.

The nurse and Dan made the call that it was time to check me, something I had been avoiding because I was terrified I would only be dilated to 4. But I did what they told me, hoping for some encouraging news. I climbed on the bed and a resident came in. I was dilate to 8, fully effaced, and Baby was at station zero. He said there was a little bit of the cervix over Baby’s head.

The nurse suggested that if I roll on my side and try another position, it might be enough to pull the cervix away from Baby and speed things up a little. I was all to happy to oblige. I think it was two contractions later when the nurse panicked a little because she saw Baby’s head.

She hit an “emergency staff” button and a team of doctors, residents, nurses, and pediatricians came storming into the room “like a SWAT team” (said Dan). I didn’t know if I was supposed to be pushing or not, so I didn’t try to push, but I didn’t fight it either. But it became pretty apparent to us all that Baby was coming whether or not I was “supposed” to be pushing.

Our doctor told us his part of the story later. Normally if he has a patient dilated to 1 1/2 at 5:00 in the evening, he doesn’t stick around. He knew my history with Lydia’s speedy labor so he grabbed some dinner at the hospital and was just sitting down to read a book when he got the page. He came walking to my room, not aware of how quickly things had been progressing. As he walked into my room, he saw Baby’s head.

I asked Dan later how long I was pushing. “Three minutes” was his guess. The nurse said I pushed through two contractions. I remember pushing the head out and hearing the nurse suggest I curl up to feel the head. Not a chance. I was just going to get that baby out. I pushed once more and was surprised that Baby wasn’t coming. The head was out, after all. It turns out Baby came down so fast and hard that he didn’t have time to straighten out. Dan says his knees were still curled up to his chest when he was born.

Then it was all over. Just like that. Baby was placed on my stomach and Dan cut the cord. Somebody said, “You have a little boy.” We were shocked. Both of us had convinced ourselves Baby was a girl. The pediatricians took Baby to the warmer and started their evaluations with lots of exclamations about how bruised his face and feet were from the delivery.

The doctor and resident began stitching up some second degree tears, a process that took half an hour and was miserable for me. I had an episiotomy with Lydia and this time I tore in the same spot, where the skin was still weak. Sadly, as soon as Baby was ready to be held, I couldn’t hold him. I was in too much pain as they stitched me. So they kept him on the warmer and waited for my stitches to be complete.

I remember looking over at the bed, thrilled to have a little boy this time, and thinking, “He’s a Paul.” We had discussed a few baby names but hadn’t picked one out yet. When they handed him back to me, Dan said, “I kind of like the name Paul.” And his name was chosen.

Then I got to hold him. This was a moment I’ve wanted since Lydia was born. I’ve prayed for it more times than I could count. I almost cried just thinking about the possibility as we got further along in the pregnancy. And God made it happen. It was so happy.

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Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

We could have made it to Qdoba but it just felt wrong to have Dan leave me or Paul that soon after birth. So we just waited. I had brought some energy bites, made and frozen long ago, and they were lifesavers in those hours following birth. Much better than the hospital’s jello or popsicles.

11:15 PM

When our two hours in recovery were over, the nurse helped me to a wheel chair. I got the much loved heated blanket and the even more loved swaddled Baby and they wheeled me to the Mother-Baby Unit. As we rolled along, and I marveled at the birth story we got to have this time, the hospital played a little lullaby announcing Paul’s birth.

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He was perfect. Twice the size of Abigail at her birth. Much older than Abby or Lydia. Able to eat and breath on his own. And he had hair.

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