The Light in the Darkness

The other day my kids and I were watching some old videos from when the older two were both tiny little bits with adorable little baby babbles.  Miles looked at me asked me, “Mommy…when Nora was born did you ever think you were going to have another baby.”

I had to answer him honestly, that I hadn’t.  I remember there being a fleeting thought of another baby, but it quickly faded.  The time since Nora was born hasn’t always been wonderful.  In fact, there have been a lot of dark times.  It started with a hard pregnancy, and then a few months afterward, postpartum depression that pulled me down deep.  Then came 2016.  

In one year, I watched my healthy, active, full of life uncle pass away from cancer less than a year after being diagnosed.  Just a few months later one of my grandmas passed away.  Then the very next month both my grandma and grandpa on the other side of my family ended up hospitalized on the same day, my grandma from a stroke that has left her bedridden and unable to go home for over 2 years now.  My mother had to rush to California to care for them, and hasn’t ever really been able to return home to Arizona.  As we debated my flying out as well, our house flooded.  A few days later a friend of ours got into a terrible accident while trying to help us fix the water drainage issue that caused the flooding.  And then a few days after that, we got the news that another beloved family member was just diagnosed with another life threatening illness.  It was like we couldn’t catch our breathe.

Things kept happening in the circle around us…people getting sick or dying, friends walking through the unspeakable pain of losing precious 4-month-old babies, people getting laid off, people we loved struggling with trauma.  There were so many funerals that year that I lost count.  There were many things that are not my story to tell, but that affected us greatly.   

It was dark.  I felt myself asking questions of God I’d never had to ask before…never felt I had the right to ask before.

In all this, there was no thought of another baby.  In some ways, deep down, it seemed like if we did have another baby we’d only be met with more sickness and loss…just like everything and everyone else around us.

But it was in all that darkness that the light of Christ broke through and shined on us like a beacon of hope.  He brought us out of the darkness into a good place, and then He gave us a gift we didn’t know we needed.  A gift in the form of a tiny baby.

This afternoon I watched my 3rd baby eat mango in the same corner of my little kitchen as my first two babies sat and ate mango.  Two years ago at Christmas, I could never have looked forward and seen the hope and joy that fill my heart today.  I could never have foreseen this little joy baby that God gave us when we needed joy the most…when He wanted us to trust that He is good, even when things are dark.

I know that the darkness outside this time of year for many of you is just a reflection of the darkness in your life that you’re struggling with, sinking it, just trying to catch a breathe in.    

There’s a quote from The Fellowship of the Ring that resonates with me when I’m in those dark places.  Galadriel gifts the star of Eärendil to Frodo and she tells him, “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” 

Each of us will come to a place in our lives, and maybe we’re in it right now, when it will feel like every light has gone out.  Sometimes it’s even, or especially, in this Christmas season when all is supposed to be happy and full of hope, but instead it feels as dark as the winter days…as dark as the “bleak midwinter”.  

It is into this darkness that another tiny baby named Jesus longs to slip.

The apostle John begins it this way (emphasis mine): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome itThe true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

Into the darkness of our lives and our hearts, when all other lights have gone out, Jesus is waiting to shine.

Corrie Ten Boom’s sister, Betsy, in one of the darkest places imaginable, said that they must tell others that “there is no pit so deep, that He is not deeper still.”  

This Christmas season, I want to encourage you to not let the darkness overwhelm you…to not lose hope.  Instead, look to the Light that can break through all of that darkness.  The Light that never fades and never gives up.  The Light that shines bright even when all other lights have gone out.  

IMG_8579.jpg

 

Advertisements

In Which My Third Baby Is Formula Fed

It’s 2 am and my baby, Molly, stirs in the bassinet next to me.  I pick her up and walk out to the kitchen, where I scoop formula into a bottle and shake it up before popping it in her mouth.  It’s become routine, but it still invokes a little sadness in me….it’s certainly something I never expected to be doing.

You see, I’m one of those moms who really, truly loves breastfeeding.  I had a lot of nursing struggles in the beginning with both of my first two babies, but I pushed through and a few months in it became easy.  I loved being able to feed my baby anytime, anywhere with this amazing super milk made just for them.  I loved the little sounds they made and the way they looked in their milk drunk coma.  I nursed my baby while hiking and felt like super mom, and I could pump out milk like a boss.  Even when my second baby bit me so hard that I couldn’t nurse on that side for over a week, we kept going, and I nursed her until 18 months.

So as this sweet little third baby of mine grew inside of me, nursing was one of the things I most looked forward to.  When she was born, she latched on right away, and I was so thankful.  Things continued to go great…at first.

But then that changed.  My milk supply came in and, just like with my other two, I became engorged.  My baby started struggling to latch.  My second baby had the same thing happen and I ended up pumping and giving her a bottle, which I regretted because she wouldn’t nurse for a week and a half after that.  I wasn’t going to risk that this time, so I kept pushing through.  For whatever reason, my milk supply tanked overnight.  Molly started screaming every time she’d try to nurse and my milk took forever to let down.  It stressed me out and everything got worse.   I could tell I wasn’t full, even after going several hours without nursing.  I’d pump and only get dribbles out [side note: I know pumping isn’t always an indicator of milk supply, but it always has been for me in the past].  Every feeding became a battle, with her popping on and off for 30 minutes, screaming the whole time, until my milk would finally let down a little or she’d get tired…I could never tell which.  I would have to send my other kids out of the room each time because they only stressed me out more.

I tried everything I knew to try to fix things.  I ate all the right foods, did lots of skin-to-skin, and quoted Scripture to try to decrease my anxiety.  And I prayed…oh did I pray.  I begged God to make my milk come back. But things only went from bad to worse.  Her diaper count started to drop, and her screaming cry became more hoarse.  Everyone in the house was getting very little sleep, and between that and all the crazy hormones, I felt like I was losing my sanity.  I’d snap at the kids if they even came near while I was trying to nurse.  I just knew in my heart that this wasn’t working and she wasn’t getting enough.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came one night when my three-year-old came in after Molly finally started nursing (after 30 min of screaming) and sat next to me.  She was visibly upset, and after probing her she said that she didn’t like the baby screaming.  I looked at her little face and realized that this battle was creating as much anxiety in her as it was me.  I knew then that this wasn’t healthy for anybody.  My kids needed a sane mom, Molly needed to eat, and I didn’t need my older two to resent the new baby.  At a week and a half old, as tears streamed down my face, I gave her her first bottle.  I watched as she guzzled it down, satisfied for the first time in days.

Suddenly she became the happiest, most content baby.  She started to put on weight and thrive.  Everybody started getting more sleep and anxiety levels went down.   The strangest thing happened, and I was actually able to enjoy my baby–and to enjoy feeding her–for the first time.  My older two started enjoying her again.  It was obviously the right decision for our family.

But, if I’m honest, I still struggled.  For awhile I cried every time I mixed up a bottle.  I worried that I wasn’t giving her the best start. I wanted to give Molly the same chance as my other two.  I wanter her to be just as healthy, just as well fed, etc.   I grieved the loss of all those special times breastfeeding.  Every social media post about breastfeeding caused a pang in my heart.  And I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  The first times I went into public, I dreaded somebody seeing me shake up a bottle.  I put off telling even close friends what was going on.  I knew in my heart I was doing what was best for Molly and our family, but that didn’t mean I didn’t wish things were different.

I feel such a connection now to other moms who can’t breastfeed.  For the first time, I really understand.  I understand the disappointment and frustration.  I understand the worries about being judged.    I understand the grief.  It’s very real and very true.

Now at 6 weeks postpartum, I’m able to pump about 2 bottles out a day, and for the rest she gets formula.  We’re in a routine and I’m okay with things for the most part.  We found a formula that she does very well on, and each new little fat roll comforts my heart.

Part of me didn’t want to share all this because, frankly, it’s very personal and nobody else’s business.  But then I realized that I needed to share my story for the sake of all the other moms like me.

Breastfeeding is an amazing, beautiful thing…but I’ve come to realize how quickly it can become an idol.  It certainly had become so to me.  I was relying on it to keep my kids healthy and allergy free.  I was sacrificing everything else for its sake.  In many ways, I was viewing breastfeeding as the epitome of mothering a baby.  What I wasn’t seeing was that breastfeeding is just one piece of the puzzle.  There are so many other parts to motherhood that I was missing.  I was missing out on the joy of this newborn stage.  I was missing out on the bonding as a new family of 5.    And I was missing out on my other two children, who were needing a present, sane mom just as much as the baby was.

And formula feeding doesn’t mean I’m missing out on all of the other beautiful parts of the baby stage.  I babywear her a lot, the same way I wore my other babies.  I still snuggle her and hold her close.  When I feed her, we stare into each other’s eyes the same way I would if I was nursing.  She sleeps right next to me in her bassinet.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing.  We need to normalize it.  We need to support new moms struggling to breastfeed, and we need to encourage moms to persevere and try hard to get it to work.  But we also need to support moms who have tried and can’t make it work.  They shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed or less of a mother, or like they just didn’t try hard enough or know enough.  I can tell you from experience that what I didn’t need was another well-meaning person with a suggestion on how to increase my milk supply.  What I needed were the friends who recognized the tough decision I made and cheered me on in it.  I needed the people who told me I was doing a good job for doing what was best for my baby.

If breastfeeding came easy for you, be thankful and don’t judge those moms for whom it didn’t.  When you see a mom shaking  up a bottle of formula, don’t make assumptions, and don’t feel superior.  Don’t make a comment about how much easier bottle feeding is.  Instead, smile at her and say, “Good for you, feeding your baby!” Chances are, bottle feeding her baby is actually one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

And if you’re like me, and haven’t been able to breastfeed your baby for whatever reason…take heart.  It’s okay to feel a little sad, but just know that you are doing an amazing job, Mama.  You are feeding and nourishing your baby.  You are caring for them the way they need you to.  There’s nothing faulty about you and you didn’t do anything wrong.  Feeding your baby formula doesn’t make you any less of a mother than having a c-section does.  Don’t doubt yourself, and don’t let anyone else make you ashamed.  Love and feed that baby the way only you can.  Trust your instincts.  Stop focusing on the things you can’t change, and focus on the things you can (the way you mother, the foods you’ll feed him/her later on, etc).  Don’t let the inability to breastfeed steal these precious, fleeting moments from you.  All too soon that little baby won’t be a baby anymore, and it won’t matter a whit whether they were bottlefed or breastfed.  What will matter is that you loved them and cared for them to the best of your ability.  

I don’t think I’ll ever love bottle feeding.  I still mourn the loss of that special experience, and I will probably always wish I could have breastfed of her like I wanted.  But I am thankful for a healthy baby who is thriving on formula.  I’m thankful that I’m still able to pump out a little.  And I’m proud of myself for not sacrificing my baby’s health, our bond, my mental health, or my husband and other two children for the sake of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is best…if it works.  But if it doesn’t, fed truly is best.

IMG_5403.jpg

My sweet little bottle fed baby

About Baby #3

As many of you know, a third sweet little one is growing inside of me.  I’ve been meaning to write something about this third baby pretty much since I found out I was pregnant…but somehow the words haven’t come.  With 28 weeks rapidly approaching on Monday, I thought that now was as good of a time as any to finally write about her.  But to do that, I have to go back to the beginning…before this baby was even a possibility in our minds.

Continue reading

The Sunflower

A warm summer rain drizzles down this morning, fogging up all the windows of our house.  I can barely see through it to my lone sunflower growing, just about to open into a beautiful beacon of joy.

That simple sunflower warms every crevice of my heart.  It makes me think of late summer days and fields overflowing with tiny sunflowers, bouncing and waving as I drive past, windows down, breathing in their scent mingled with that of dry pine…simpler times when I was mostly naive to the hard things of life.

My heart is not so naive now.  Life is full of hard things…within my family, friends, acquaintances, and the world at large.  I fully see now that life is not simple and peaceful like it was when those Flagstaff sunflowers greeted me.  It is broken, messy, and many times, sorrowful.  Yet, even in the broken a sunflower reaches up toward the sun.

God promises His peace, but His peace is not that of an easy life with few bumps in the road.  It is a peace within even when all is tumultuous without.  It is not found in the events and circumstances surrounding us…but in the deepness of our hearts.

This morning as I was reading Numbers 6:24-26, I was struck by how the Amplified version defined God’s peace: “tranquility of heart and life continually“.  God’s peace doesn’t ebb and flow.  It is constant.  In light and darkness…joy and sorrow…always.

When the storms of life beat down, may God’s peace pour over us calming our hearts…always.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with gratitude, make your requests known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will protect your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

Dandelions

Little yellow dandelions nestle in the grass outside my window.  My children are constantly picking them and bringing them to me thinking they are “sunflowers” and I’ve never had the heart to correct them.  They know I love sunflowers, and so their gestures are some of the sweetest, most genuine that I could receive.  Yet sometimes I tire of the shriveled little remains littering my house, stuck into cups and bud vases.  Sometimes I have this urge to scream, “These are NOT SUNFLOWERS!!!  They are just WEEDS!”  Weeds that cover my grass reminding me of the perfectly manicured lawn that my yard is not. That yard is so representative of my life.

You grow up as a little child and you dream.  For me, I dreamt of little feet running around in a well-ordered home, delicious meals always cooking on the stove, and a handsome husband who came home at the end of the day tired but happy.  I dreamed that I would have everything organized just so, and that my children and I would always be put together.  I dreamed so many things.

Instead, I find myself living a life that’s just a shadow of those dreams.  Little feet do run around our home, but it is less than ordered.  Crumbs sprinkle the floor and dishes sit dirty in the sink.  The chaos of our lives encroaches on our very home.  As I type this at my dining room table, I have to deal with a mattress leaned up against it.  Boxes and tools mingle with the living room furniture.  Many days, the only things on the stove are empty pizza boxes.  My husband doesn’t often come straight home from work.  Instead he heads to our project house and works for a few hours before coming home and falling into bed exhausted and anything but happy.

My life is far from organized and put together.  I cleaned out my car last week, and four days later it was back to its cluttered, crumb-encrusted self.  My children (and myself) can often be seen out on in public in a hodge podge collection of apparel featuring stains, mismatched colors, and tangled hair.  I now avoid like the plague the certain Walmart employee who drew attention to my children loudly bickering as I was trying to scan groceries a few weeks back.  As I write this, it’s Friday afternoon, the mattress is still obstructing my view, and I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner.

In those dreams I dreamed, I never thought I’d be living in the midst of a remodel project, dealing with a rental property business, or going through a season of such busyness and chaos.  I never thought I’d be dealing with so many health issues in my extended family in the past year, or that my mom would still be living in California 6 months later helping her parents, or that our downstairs would flood, or that friends would get in terrible accidents, or that friends would lose children, or…the list goes on and on.

I realize now that maybe those dreams I had were never what God meant for me.  “My plans are not your plans”, He says.  But what does that leave me?  Am I to just sit in despair and be okay with all of those unfulfilled dreams?

The thing I so often forget is that when He doesn’t fulfill my dreams or thwarts my plans, it’s because He has far, far better dreams and plans of His own.  His plans may not be our plans, but He does have them…plans for His glory and for our ultimate good.  Plans that take so much into account that we could never know.

My heart has been squeezed with painful things so many times in this past year.  Yet as I come out on the other end, I can see that He’s been using that pain to teach me and shape me.  I’m not the same woman, nor do I have the same walk with Him, as I did a year ago, and I wouldn’t be able to say that if it weren’t for all of those hard, painful things I’ve walked through and watched those I love walk through.  I’ve learned that when my heart is breaking, His is breaking too, and as I fix my gaze more and more on Him, I watch Him take these broken pieces, these shattered dreams, and these heartaches into His loving hands.  I watch Him not make these bad things good, but instead work them all together for good.  I see Him take away my faulty, uninformed plans and dreams, and replace them with His own.

You see, happiness is not found in fulfilled dreams.  It’s found when we give up our dreams and embrace His dreams instead.  It’s found when we learn to not just go along with His plans, but take joy and fulfillment in them as well, no matter how hard or painful they are.

I don’t know where you are today, but I would venture to guess that your life isn’t anything like you thought it would be.  Maybe your life is full of pain right now.  Maybe your plans are constantly falling apart.  Maybe you’re just not in the the job, marriage, or family you always thought you’d be in.  What I do know is that, while these may not be part of your dreams or plans, they are part of His.  Whatever He has planned for you, He will equip you for, whatever His dreams are for you, there is beauty to found in them, and whatever sorrows you have experienced, He will work them together for good.

My house is chaotic, but it is warm, snug, safe, and full of memories.  My children are never well-dress or well-behaved, but they are my children and they still want to crawl up in my lap.  When my handsome, hard working husband finally does make it home at night and falls into bed, it is me he still wants to snuggle up with.  After two babies, seven years, stretch marks, and fights, he still comes home and wants to be with me.  Our lives may have been full of hard things this past year, but they’ve also been full of joy and laughter, love and growth.  Our days are so far from perfect…but there is beauty in the imperfect.

My lawn will probably never be weed free and well-manicured.  The only yellow flowers available for my children to pick will most likely always be dandelions.  Yet, how much joy and love and beauty am I missing out on when I snub the dandelions whilst dreaming of sunflowers?  Sunflowers are beautiful…but dandelions can be too.  They may be weeds, but they are yellow, cheery, and impossible to kill.  They don’t need diligent watering, fertilizing, or weeding.  Most importantly, the love my children have for me pours over me every time they pick a tiny weed and bring it to me…the love of my safe, healthy children, might I add.

Dandelions can bring even more joy than sunflowers.  I just need to learn to embrace them.  And really, it doesn’t matter if my grass is perfect or weed ridden…I can still lay in it to gaze at the wonders of God’s creation…and the beauty He’s placed in it, just for me. 

The “Jah Jah” Song

We were eating breakfast this morning and, as usual, Miles was talking about a million words per minute.  The poor kid is so quiet in public that no one would ever guess how truly capable he is of talking your ear off.  I was about to start tuning him out when he said, “And, Mommy, who was it that wanted to sing the ‘Jah Jah’ Song again?”

I was stopped in my tracks.  It has been a week, to say the least.  Both my grandparents were hospitalized, our downstairs flooded Sunday night, and it seems like it’s been one thing after another proving that, quite literally, when it rains it pours.

But then my sweet 4-year-old asked me about the ‘Jah Jah’ Song.  

You see, the ‘Jah Jah’ song is a little family story that was told to me by my mom, and that I, in turn, have told to my son.  The story goes that, when my mom and her two younger brothers were children, they and their parents were on a road trip and were singing songs.  The youngest, Mark, said he wanted to sing the “Jah Jah Song”.  Guesses were thrown out, but nobody could figure out what song he was talking to.  Finally, Mark broke down in tears sobbing, “The ‘Jah Jah Song!”.  At last something clicked and somebody finally realized what he was talking about…”I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy”.

My heart was warmed that my son would remember such a story.  “It was Uncle Mark,” I told him. “When he was a little boy.”

“But now Uncle Mark is all grown up, right?” Miles queried.

A shadow passed over the memory, “Well, yes, he did grow up.  But Uncle Mark is in heaven now.  He died when I was a baby.”

Miles fell silent for a minute.  I knew he was thinking.  He’s been wrestling with this concept of dying and going to heaven.  He knows that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but, quite honestly, he doesn’t want to leave his home and his “cozy bed” and move anywhere.  Not even heaven.

At last he spoke, “But, Mommy, I will get to see Uncle Mark when I go to heaven.  Isn’t that so exciting?”

“Yes, Baby, it is.”

Lord, even in the midst of chaos and hardships, let me see the good.  Let me have the faith of a child.  Most of all, show me how to shepherd these two precious little hearts you’ve placed in my care.  Help me to point them to you.

 

The Stillness and the Truth

Some many days I feel like I’m just treading water–struggling to keep afloat but not really going anywhere.  Waves come at me over and over, but for the most part the water is still and there is no current.

I used to love being still.  I treasured it.  These days, however, more often than not the stillness is suffocating…and inside my heart is anything but peaceful.

Can I be honest with you for a moment?  Sometimes being a stay-at-home mom is a really lonely place to be in.  Many of my days don’t even involve conversation with another adult.  Amidst the loneliness, I am constantly being bombarded with thoughts that I am not enough…that other women do so much more ministry and work and reaching out to others than I do.

Yet, even with all the stillness of not really “going” anywhere, I struggle to keep my head above water.  My days are full of repetitive, mundane, and yet inexplicably stressful tasks.  My house is never clean like I want it to be, and the laundry is never done.  I can’t even keep up with the “simple” tasks of a stay-at-home mom, let alone find time for “ministry” or “work”.

But then, God speaks to me like He did to Martha.  “Caitlin, Caitlin,” He says. “Do you not know that I have called you for such a time as this?  You worry about many things, but one thing is needed.  Your identity and worth and daily goals should be from Me alone!”

And I look into the beautiful blue eyes of my children, and realize that in the bustle of trying to “do enough”, I have neglected to really look and listen to them lately.  I have forgotten what my days are supposed to be about…training and teaching these sweet little gifts in the fear of the Lord.  I have forgotten to make this the sole focus of my days, and have forgotten to delight in this work as my life work for this season.

And I look into the pale blue eyes of the man who won my heart, and realize that I’ve also neglected my relationship with him.  I’ve forgotten that spending time with him is a must and a need.  I’ve forgotten that it’s okay to stop working and just sit and watch a show with him on the rare day he comes home early from work.  I’ve forgotten to seek out and do what would help him better to do his work.  I’ve forgotten to seek and pursue him.  In my self deprecation I have forgotten that he could care less if the house is spotless as long as it’s tidy.

And I look around at the wonders of creation, and realize that I’ve neglected my relationship with the Creator of it all, my First and Truest Love.  I’ve neglected to sit with Him, listen to Him, and delight in Him.  I’ve forgotten how to just sit and open my eyes to the gifts He’s given me.  I’ve forgotten to see those gifts around me and within nature, and to thank Him for them all.

 

Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful calling You’ve set for my days in this season of life.  Forgive me for focusing on what I’m not doing instead of on what You’ve called me to do.  Help me to find joy in this season of life.  Help me to find joy in the stillness and repetitive tasks.  Thank You, Lord, for the gift that is this stillness.  

 

halfdome