A Lesson from Almond Butter

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A couple of weeks ago Dan and I started buying almond butter. Our peanut butter consumption is at an all-time high, and almond butter is healthier than peanut butter, so we finally made the switch despite the price difference. Now we alternate between almond butter and peanut butter.

Lydia loves it. She calls it just “butter” and asks for it every day when we’re eating breakfast. Yesterday morning we were having some oatmeal when she asked me for “butter in a circle”, which means she wants me to draw a circle on her oatmeal with the almond butter. Circle drawing is easy with things like honey or ketchup, but not almond butter. So, she got an almond butter “glob” instead.

She strategically spooned the glob into her mouth without getting any oatmeal in the process and asked for another “glob”. I told her no.

She had a minor breakdown before I explained she could have more almond butter after she ate some oatmeal. Almond butter is, after all, much more expensive than oatmeal and we’re not going to eat straight almond butter for breakfast. Lydia shoved one spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth, threw her spoon into her bowl, and demanded more “butter”.

Again I told her that she had to eat more oatmeal, and the scene repeated itself. She was, as I had instructed, eating more oatmeal, but this wasn’t at all the attitude I was hoping for, so I started to explain,

“Mommy will tell you when you can have more. I just want you to eat your oatmeal until Mommy decides you should have some more almond butter.”

But even as I was talking, God was taking my words, turning them around, and directing them back at myself. (again)

How many times have I been waiting for something that I really want? And I pray to God and ask Him for it.

And God tells me, “Not yet.”

So one day goes by and I ask again.

“Not yet. Just wait.”

And another day, another breakdown. “God, I can’t wait any longer, I need it now.”

“Not yet. I’ll give it to you when you should have it.”

And the scene repeats itself.

Then this moment happened and God said, “I will tell you when you can have more almond butter what you’re waiting for. I just want you to eat your oatmeal wait until I decide you should have it.”

How many times have I waited impatiently like Lydia and even demanded what I want? A baby. An apartment. A job for Dan. A baby to come home from the NICU. Or sleep through the night…the list could go on.

God opened my eyes this morning to see in a new way that I need to always, no matter what the issue, wait until He decides the timing is right. It was such an easy lesson to recognize, but, oh, so hard to do.

One thing I do know. Most of the reason I denied Lydia almond butter was because of its price and our budget. God is not denying me anything because of its price or His lack of funds. His timing is for the best.

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:25-26

Just Ask

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This girl is a lot like her daddy. She’s very independent. “I do it” has long been one of her most used phrases. And, she’s a little bit perfectionistic. Ever since she was a three pound bundle in her NICU isolette, she’s been feisty, getting frustrated when she doesn’t get things done right, the first time, by herself.

A few days ago she was having a grand time playing by herself with her umbrella stroller. She had a baby doll in the stroller, a purse over her shoulder, and was pretending to be a “big girl Lydia” who gets to drive a car and change diapers. But the fun ended when the umbrella stroller folded up and she couldn’t get it open. I was in a different part of the basement doing some for-real grown up thing, probably folding laundry or washing dishes, when suddenly I heard her sudden outburst of tears and yelling. Abby was sleeping so I snatched up Lydia as quickly as I could, raced into her bedroom and sat her on my lap.

I’ll admit, I was frustrated too, annoyed that she had to have such an outburst that could have woken up Abby when she could have just asked me for help. But I took a deep breath and decided to make this a teachable moment.

Justine: Lydia, what happened?

Lydia (angrily): I couldn’t get the stroller open.

Justine: And did you get frustrated and yell?

Lydia (sheepishly): yes.

Justine: What should you have done?

Lydia: Obey, right away, all the way, happy way? (that’s what we’re teaching her these days)

Justine: Well, no, you should have just asked Mommy for help.

Lydia: Will you help me please?

Justine: Why, of course, I’d love too.

And that was that, we headed out, I opened the stroller, and she was happily (and quietly) playing once more.

Except, that wasn’t that. I wasn’t three lines into that conversation when the lesson hit me like a brick wall. Suddenly, even as I was talking to Lydia, I could see myself having the same conversation with God. Because I, too, have gotten frustrated in these circumstances. And I, too, have had sudden outbursts with tears and yelling. It’s hard living in a basement, after all. It’s hard moving a lot. It’s hard having two little ones. And there have been times in the past few weeks when I have responded just like Lydia. So there I was, sitting on my Heavenly Father’s lap having the same conversation.

God: Justine, what happened?

Justine (angrily): Lydia wouldn’t obey. The place is a mess. This is hard!

God: And did you get frustrated and yell?

Justine: (sheepishly): Yes.

God: What should you have done?

Justine: Obey?

God: You should have just asked me for help.

Justine: Will you help me please?

God: Of course, I would love too.

Sometimes I get so focused on trying to accept the circumstances God has placed me in, trying to just obey what He wants me to do right now, that I forget how much He really cares. Now, the past week had already gone much better, ever since my summer sausage incident. But I have been earnestly putting this lesson into practice daily sometimes hourly. And God is helping me. Every day. Every hour. And the best part is, He (unlike me) never gets impatient with my asking. He never has to stop washing dishes to wipe his hands. He’s always there, instantly, ready to help.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

And Yet I Will Rejoice

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There has been a reoccurring pattern in the life of my family that goes something like this: Dan and I prayerfully make decisions and plans and then watch as God totally changes them. To some extent, this is true of everyone, but in the past year or so for our family it has seemed kind of extreme. Housing. Jobs. Babies. Not to mention the little things in life.

I haven’t been handling our “temporary” housing situation very well lately (I put temporary in quotes because that is another one of our plans). Maybe it really is a difficult situation, or maybe it’s just that there have been a lot of difficult situations and I’m getting burnt out. I’m not sure.

One of the agreements to our living in this basement (in the home of a family from our church) is that every Tuesday our church hosts a Bible study. Here. In our little “temporary” home. Combined with the Bible study we normally attend on Wednesdays this makes for two very late nights in a row.

Well, this week the Bible study turned out to be a very good thing. Between conversation and prayer, I was reminded (for the millionth time and I know I’ll need it again) to rejoice.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

So it was as the clock approached 11, the last stragglers were about to leave, and the girls were very sleepy. I was encouraged and had a new resolve to rejoice and trust that this crazy, windy road God is taking us on is not without purpose. And then, as if to test my new resolve, Lydia threw up. I had given her a couple of slices of a summer sausage during snack time and, as we don’t normally eat pork or sausage, the combination didn’t treat her very well.

We said hurried goodbyes and I cleaned up the floor while Dan cleaned up Lydia. I’d say we handled the episode relatively well and soon enough Lydia was tucked in watching an inning of baseball with Dan while she fell asleep. I set out a (literally) midnight snack for Dan and I to enjoy together so we could actually have a few moments to talk before going to sleep. Just as I was about to take my first bite, Lydia threw up again.

Well, we made it out ok. I was still rejoicing and lighthearted despite the surprise attack by that summer sausage and we finally got to go to sleep. Dan was up at least once more with Lydia during the night but I didn’t know that until morning because a couple of hours after resting my head on the pillow I found myself running to the bathroom wishing I hadn’t eaten that sausage either.

It was bad. The sort of bad where you spend an hour in the bathroom just praying your stomach would surrender and empty itself so you could go to bed in peace. But, do you know what? By God grace I kept rejoicing.

I think if you could have been there (I’m glad you weren’t) to see me and hear my thoughts, it might have been almost funny. I was sick and in pain and tired and completely convinced that God loves me and is going to use this all for good. I may have even been smiling there in the bathroom at two in the morning. It was crazy. Knowing trials have a purpose, even if you don’t know what the purpose is, makes them so much more bearable.

The next day we were well enough to eat some breakfast, at least a rather bland breakfast of plain oatmeal, bananas, and tea. By Wednesday night we were all well enough to go to our own Bible study. And so far I’m still doing well in my new resolve. I know this is a lesson I’ll have to learn again. And you’ll probably hear about it when I do. For now I will keep on rejoicing, trusting God’s good plan, and staying away from summer sausage.

Not Home Yet

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Last Thursday Dan called at around 6:00 in the evening to let me know that we’d be moving that night. I had nothing packed except for a bag of the girls’ clothes. Sometimes life feels to crazy to be for real.

Yes, this is our fourth move in a year. And, no, we don’t particularly enjoy the moving process. That’s not why we do it. Each and every one of our moves was for a perfectly good and logical reason, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. This time we had to move because our apartment building was filled with lots of smokers and the various forms of smoke were filling our apartment and making us sick. The real concern, though, was for little Abby. As an early preemie, Abby is already considered high-risk to have chronic lung problems and second-hand smoke was only adding to her risk factors. After seeking some advice from our family and doctor, we decided it wasn’t worth the risk to stay out our lease.

It took a while, but eventually our apartment management released us. We thought we had another place lined up for the move, but once we got out of our lease and gave the landlord a call we realized it wasn’t going to work out after all. With two weeks left to be out of our apartment we still didn’t have a place to go.

Sometimes I look back at the things that have happened to us in the past year and I can’t believe it. There have been so many unexpected emergencies, changes, and a lot of waiting too. I can’t help but wonder what will happen next.

So, with two weeks to homelessness, a generous family from church welcomed us into their basement for as long as we need to stay. In a flurry of an evening we packed up everything we thought we might need for the next couple of days and drove off through the night to our new temporary home.

I never did get to that laundry room.

As we’ve adjusted to our new situation and discussed where to go from here, it has struck me over and over again how not in control we are. It doesn’t matter how much planning we do, what security nets we lay out, what advice we seek, God can change our lives in an instant. It would be scary, except that we are His children.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.
Romans 8:14

In church this Sunday we sang a lot of songs that were quite fitting to our current situation. One that I especially liked is called “Behold Our God”.  It makes me think of the last chapters of Job.  Job’s life had completely fallen apart but God came in and reminded Job of how small Job was and how big God is.  God is on the throne.  God created the world.  He is above all things.  Again, it would be scary if Job wasn’t God’s child too.  So, this song reminded me of those chapters in Job and the message they contain:  God is the one seated on the throne, making decisions, leading His children, doing the impossible.

Dan and I had a lot of plans last year. I think God changed all of them. And, by His grace, I’m ok with that. I know His plans our better. So now we’re pressing on, seeking His guidance again, and letting Him lead.

Who has held the oceans in His hand?
Who has numbered every grain of sand?
Kings and nations tremble at His voice
All creation rises to rejoice

Who has given counsel to the Lord?
Who can question any of His Words?
Who can teach the One who knows all things?
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?

Who has felt the nails upon His hands
Bearing all the guilt of sinful man?
God eternal humbled to the grave
Jesus, Savior risen now to reign!

Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!

Break My Plans

I mentioned a little while ago that God has been teaching me not to depend on my own plans. He’s still teaching me. As I think back over the past year, it seems like we’ve been struck by blow after blow of changed plans with only a couple of months in between each new change. I’m naturally a reflective sort of person, but over the past week I’ve found myself reflecting more than normal.

During one such reflecting time a song burst into my mind that I hadn’t heard or thought of in years. It’s called “Break My Plans” and, while the story it tells is much more serious than our own lately, the chorus hit home.

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

Since popping into my head last week it has continued to repeat. Over and over. It has become my prayer.

During church this Sunday more stories, verses and quotes filled my mind in a sequential order that we now joke of as my own special conference featuring guest speakers: Darlene Deibler Rose, Job, and Hudson Taylor. Later, C.S. Lewis shared his two cents as well.

I was struggling to sing songs of worship when things down here were feeling hard and God felt so far away. That God knows and cares didn’t feel true.

The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen – that was what I put my trust in – not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace,
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:15). Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord.

(Darlene Deibler Rose)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.”
(Job 1:20)

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
(John 4:1)

“To know that ‘shall’ means shall, that ‘never’ means never, and that ‘thirst’ means any unsatisfied need, may be one of the greatest revelations God every made to our souls.”
(Hudson Taylor)

“We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
(C.S. Lewis)


Break My Plans
by This Hope

The praise songs of a nation flowed from his hand
And in a world of dark oppression he made a stand
They told him to be silent, and led him away
Ten years was the sentence, a prisoner of faith

As he waited for God’s timing
Another winter chilled the air
And when he thought of his own family
He was filled with despair
So he cried out for justice, was there any other way
But then he gave it all to Jesus, as he began to pray

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

I know I’m called to suffer and take up my cross
But sometimes I grow so fearful when I count the cost
Still my heart wants to follow, and walk in Your ways
To be counted with the faithful, Lord guide me today

With all my heart, my strength, and my soul
I will love You, God
So use my life and take complete control.

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

Many Are the Plans

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During the past few days I have been reminded of Proverbs 19:21, which says:

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

I had been pretty excited to begin my 5K training on the treadmill at the gym of our apartment complex. Saturday was the final run in Week Two of my nine week training program. It was a wet, slushy, cold, and snowy evening as I headed out to the gym, sloshing through puddles and trudging through freshly fallen snow. This time I even stretched before I ran, but four minutes into my workout my knee started hurting. For about thirty seconds I tried to keep running before I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. So now I’m off my training schedule and on the elliptical to give my knee a rest and learn a little more about how to run, stretch, and not injure myself.

The very same night we gave up potty training…again…for now. After a week of accidents and messes, Lydia has successfully learned to go to the potty immediately after she wets her pants. She loves it. She hasn’t gone in the toilet once. I talked to some other moms, prayed about it, solicited Dan’s opinion, and made a mental list of pros and cons. Since we recently invested in some quality cloth diapers, the only thing we lose by waiting to potty train is the extra cost of washing those diapers, which I calculated to be about three cents a day.

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I didn’t really want to write about that in a post. I didn’t really want to “give up” again. But it’s the best decision for our family right now.

After giving up the endless trips to the toilet and all the time spent reading to Lydia while she did nothing on the potty, I was excited to get some more done yesterday. Clean up the living room, wash that pile of leftover dishes from Sunday, tackle a project or two, play with the munchkins. Abby decided she wanted to be held all day instead and by eleven o’clock I had only tackled some of the dishes and Dan had thrown everything littering our living room into piles. So much for my plans to catch up.

Our list of plans goes on and on, but I have been reminded of that ever-true Proverb. The Lord’s purpose will prevail. And after a nice, quiet prayer time while the girls were sleeping, I surrendered my plans and came out feeling happy. God’s plans are much better than my own.

2013 in Review

One of our favorite things to do at the end of each year is remind ourselves of some of the year’s highlights. Originally I intended to post the “Top 10 Blog Posts of 2013”. However, as I looked at what those posts were, I realized that most of them were the first Abby updates. Rather than include ten Abby updates, I’ve edited the list slightly to give a fair view of some of the favorite posts of the year:

10. Wasted Seasons

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This is one of Dan’s favorite posts of the year.

9. Anniversary Date

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A sweet story of a special date just days before Abby was born.

8. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

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Some thoughts on the lessons I’ve learned this year about suffering.

7. Ten Things I’ve Learned in Three Years of Marriage

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An anniversary post.

6. Abby is Home!

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This was the highlight of our year!

5. A Letter from Abby

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Abby hijacked my blog one day and wrote this sweet letter of thanks.

4. Abigail’s Birth Story

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A detailed account of the day Abby was born.

3. The Birth Story I’ll Never Tell

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In this post, I shared why we will never have the birth story we had always hoped for, and how God helped us to accept the situation.

2. Abby Update: 66 Days Old

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This is the day Abigail was transferred from St. Joe’s over to UofM Mott’s Children’s Hospital due to her excessive spit up and weight loss over the past several weeks.

1. Introducing Abigail Faith

 photo pregnancies_zps233c3fe6.jpgWas anyone surprised? This was the first post published after Abby was born announcing her early birth at just 28 and a half weeks.

This is Love

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A few nights ago I was up at three in the morning with Abby. Dan had taken a few days off of work when Abby came home but he went back on Thursday and Friday, and he had asked me to start taking over all of the night time feedings, which was what both of us had planned on happening all along.

But I was so tired. As I sat in the glider with Abby my mind drifted off to all of the couples I have seen lately who have recently become engaged, or married, or celebrated their first wedding anniversaries. According to their Facebook pages their days and nights have been quite full with a lot of dates, love letters, flowers, and special time together.

My mind drifted through Dan and my own early days of marriage, then fast-forwarded to the past few months. We spent almost three long months with Abby in the hospital. At times, it felt like one long nightmare. Three emotional, exhausting, painful, long months. There wasn’t time, energy, or money for flowers or chocolate or date nights. We didn’t even have a free moment to just sit together on our couch.

And now Abby is home. Things are happier and much less crazy. Our house is cleaner than it has been since we moved in. But things are still busy, as any mother of two or more would surely understand. And once again there has been no time, money, or energy for date nights or flowers or love letters…you get the idea.

So as I sat there with Abby, so tired, thinking about all these latest events in my life and others, I was struggling to have a good attitude. I began to pray.

God reminded me of the reasons I married Dan. And I remembered my first joy I at being the one who gets to serve him for the rest of his life. I remembered how Eve was created to be Adam’s helper, and how that’s my main job today. And then God brought to mind a passage from Philippians:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

It occurred to me then, that this is true love. It isn’t always happy, or easy, or pretty. This is how Jesus loved us. He humbled himself, came to earth, suffered, was rejected, and died. If this is God’s great example of love, then I can follow His example in how I love Dan. So even when there’s no money for flowers, no time for date nights, and no energy to stay up a few minutes longer together and talk at night, I can still love Dan like Jesus did.

During the late nights, the hard work, and the times apart I can still demonstrate real love to Dan.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the other stuff.

I know it’s an old lesson, and I’ll probably need to learn it again. But it was a good one I thought worth sharing. I made it through the three AM feeding with a song in my heart and a smile (a sleepy smile, that is) on my face. And a couple of nights later the girls were asleep and Dan and I, for the first time in a long time, had the time and energy to sit together on our couch chatting and looking at the lights on our newly decorated Christmas tree.

Abby Update: 37 Days Old

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Weight: 4 pounds, 3 ounces
Feedings: 36 milliliters fortified to 24 cal every 3 hours by gravity

One of the most exciting things to track as NICU babies get closer and closer to discharge is how much milk they’re able to take in on their own, either by bottles or nursing. Abby hasn’t started on bottles yet, but here’s her success nursing from the past few attempts:

Wednesday night: 14 milliliters
Thursday morning: 28 milliliters
Thursday night: 26 milliliters
Friday morning: 2 milliliters

Wednesday night our nurse was skeptical about weighing Abby before she ate. “It’s still early. We don’t want to set parents up for disappointment”, she told us. Then, after Abby ate for a short amount of time, and fell asleep, we weighed her again. I couldn’t see the weight but I heard the nurse say, “Well, look at that!” when she saw that Abby had taken in 14 milliliters. The next morning was her personal record so far: 28! When doctors came for rounds they were surprised at her progress. Babies aren’t really expected to succeed until about 35 weeks. Abby was only at 33 1/2 at the time.

So the doctor asked us when we’d like to start bottles. However, she also told us that Abby is so young and small that she probably still won’t come home for two, maybe three weeks. Well, we don’t necessarily think it’s going to take her that long to figure out bottles (it took Lydia less than a week) so we haven’t started them quite yet. We will probably give her her first bottle tonight or tomorrow. Often, the bottles are the last step for NICU babies, but because Abby is so small and young, that may not be the case for her.

This morning we were told that Abby has not had a dirty diaper in quite a while, although she did have another solid weight gain (3 ounces). Dan and I suspect that the HMF (human milk fortifier), which is cow’s-milk-based, may be part of the culprit, as it is known to cause gas, pain, and constipation. Tonight we may talk to the doctors to find out if there’s any possibility she could come off of it, since she has been having quite large weight gains.

Our doctor also examined Abby’s foot yesterday and announced that she thinks it looks good. It is still turned in, but she’s getting better and moving it on her own. We probably will not need to do any more to fix it then the exercises we have been doing with her. Abby also gets to come off of the sodium supplements. Yay!

The real disappointment came today when Abby didn’t have any interest in eating. She took in a whopping 2 milliliters. Not at all impressive in light of her 26 ml and 28 ml feedings yesterday. Again, she hasn’t had a dirty diaper in quite a while so she had a very full belly. We suspect that is probably the reason for her lack of appetite.

Over the past couple of days I have been reflecting on what God has been teaching me over the summer. With two moves, three months of being unable to unpack, weeks of morning sickness, Abby’s early birth (right before a third move!), and our time in the NICU, I’ve been realizing a bit of pattern. I’ve mentioned before that I thrive on a schedule. Routine, stability, and familiarity make me feel comfortable and happy. When something happens to disrupt those pillars I freak out and then stable myself by thinking, “Well, as long as …. I’ll be fine.”

As long as we don’t have to move again
As long as I can unpack at the end of the summer
As long as we can get onto a routine
As long as I get to take a nap
As long as I can still have another baby
As long as…

then I’ll be fine.

Over and over again Dan and I have been put in situations that are just beyond our control and over and over again I would pick out one little thing and say, “well, as long as…”. I realized last night that God is teaching me something. We need to trust Him with no “as long as” attached. Even if He took it all away: all the routine, structure, and comfort. All of the hopes, dreams, plans, and expectations. My hope should be in God, not in my “as long as”.

I decided it’d probably be good to learn this before any more crises arise.

After pondering all of that last night for quite a while, I started off today without really thinking about it. After Abby only took in 2 ml this morning I started to get a little down, and a little stressed. On the way home from the hospital I caught myself thinking, “Well, as long as she does better tonight…”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

God is the only pillar I can stand on that won’t crumble under my feet. He is the only cleft I can hide in that won’t fail me. So I am learning to stand on that rock and not my own little sand castle, to hide in that cleft, and not my own little nook I’ve carved out for myself. Everything else will fail, but God won’t.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

I could go on to make some bold statements about how I will choose to trust God “even if _____”, but I won’t do that here. I figure, my future actions and blog posts will reveal enough of that. Hopefully they will reveal that I am learning to stand on Christ, the only solid rock.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Praise the Lord
We are thanking God for:
-Abby’s continued weight gain and nursing success
-no more sodium and no need (it looks like) for further foot treatments
-important lessons in learning to lean on Jesus instead of happy circumstances

Please Pray:
-that she will get back to her successful nursing and have a smooth transition to bottles
-that Abby will be able to come off of the HMF if that, indeed, is causing any problems
-for wisdom as the doctors are allowing us to make more of the (timing) decisions

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Edit: The sermon mentioned in this post is now online in video and mp3

Sundays are the hardest days for me. It was the same when Lydia was in the NICU. I’m not sure exactly what it is…maybe it’s seeing all the families together at church. Maybe it’s all the babies being held by their mama’s when I don’t get to have mine with me. Partly, I think it is the worship songs. Songs that we sing during church are full of deep truths about God: His lordship, His holiness, His sovereignty. They confess that God is in control, that He is good in all He does, and that we are joyfully, willingly surrendering all and worshiping this God. On a typical Sunday these are all fine and wonderful things. However, when you’re struggling through a trial, those truths hit a little deeper and a little harder. You think a lot more before you sing something out loud. Surrendering to God’s control carries a new weight to it because you know that it might mean going through something hard and still confessing God’s goodness.

Anyway, whatever the full reason is, Sundays are my hardest days. When our kind friends at church ask “How are you doing?”, half the time I start crying. Then I have to reassure them that Abby is doing fine, great, in fact. “So, what’s wrong?”

Dan asks me the same thing when I get down sometimes at night, right before I go to sleep. “What’s wrong?” And he is usually rewarded with a drawn out list:

Our sink won’t drain. The garbage disposal is broken.
The handle just fell off our laundry room door.
My peanut butter spatula** is gone.
I’m tired.
Our house is a mess.
And my baby is in the hospital.

**my peanut butter spatula, which I was thrilled to re-discover when we moved after a summer of being packed away, is a thin “icing spatula” that I use to clean out jars, mainly peanut butter jars which we go through multiple times a week. Since the first time I got to use it in this apartment, it has mysteriously disappeared.

The list varies, depending on what new stressors have come up, but I always end it the same. My baby is in the hospital.

And then, at other times, I feel perfectly fine. Sometimes I can prance into the NICU like it’s “just another normal day” and smile and hear an update on Abby. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a big deal at all. She’s stable, doing well, doctors are pleased, and will be home in a month or two.

Is this suffering?

Prior to our latest discovery during Abigail’s birth, I never really had a reason to grieve. I’m sure I’ve heard loads of sermons, and plenty of Biblical teaching on grief and suffering, but I must never have had enough motivation to really pay attention. Starting the night after Abby was born, I began to wonder what the Bible really says about grief.

Since I know others have suffered far more than me, is it ok for me to be sad?
Do I deserve to be rebuked for being so down?
Is it wrong for me to be hurt when people act like this is all “no big deal” and tell me it will “be over before you know it”?
Am I overreacting?
How much of this really is just postpartum hormones?
Will I offend those people who have suffered greater things?
How do I respond when well-meaning people say things that don’t comfort me at all?
Since our troubles are small to God, is He annoyed that I can’t just “get over it”?

How fitting it was yesterday, when our guest speaker at church preached a sermon on “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”. Not only was it a fitting sermon, our speaker was a pediatric heart surgeon who operates on babies, has operated on preemies at the very hospital where Abby is, and knows all of her doctors and much of the other staff there. And he is one of those people who has suffered greater things than I have.

But at the same time, he was full of compassion. He spoke with gentleness and kindness and wisdom and truth. Early in the sermon, he made the point: we should never trivialize the sufferings of others. And we should never claim to fully know God’s purpose in allowing suffering into someone else’s life.

And so, in perfect timing, God answered many of my questions. No matter what trial I am going through at any given time, it is the trial which God has allowed into my life for a reason. It may not be hard in someone else’s life, but it will be hard in mine. And God, who created me, knows that and has compassion. God, who sees all and knows deeper love, joy, hope, and pain than I ever will, isn’t offending by my suffering. He offers comfort. And He uses suffering to fulfill His purpose in my life.

As far as others are concerned, it isn’t a ranking system of suffering. Just because someone has suffered more than someone else, doesn’t mean they are special, or stronger (or weaker), or godlier than anyone else. As Christians, we aren’t supposed to compare or belittle anyone’s sufferings. God only asks us to enter in to their suffering, to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

I hope that, through this time in the NICU and the disappointment of never being able to have a full-term baby, Dan and I will become more compassionate Christians who are equipped to enter in with others who are suffering.  Even if the suffering seems small in our eyes. Even if the suffering seems like something harder than anything we’ve experienced, something with which we could not honestly relate.

And now, because I know Abby’s fans, followers, and prayer warriors need their update…

Weight: 3 pounds, 6 ounces
Feeding: 30 milliliters fortified to 24 cal every 3 hours given over the course of 1 1/2 hours

Abby had another pleasing weight gain last night. She has been struggling to digest lately, having more leftover milk in her tummy at the following feeding times, and going whole days without a dirty diaper. She has also started spitting up again. For now, we are just waiting it out. She’s still young and small and will, hopefully, outgrow these problems.

Now that Abby is 32+ weeks old, she will start receiving iron in a couple of her feeds. Lydia, when she was in the NICU, hated her iron and it always made her spit up. Preemie’s aren’t able to produce red blood cells on their own without receiving extra iron, because most babies get their iron stores built up from Mom during the last weeks of pregnancy. Abby never got that. So we’ll see how she does with these supplements added to her “salted caramel lattes”.

On a brighter note, the physical therapist stopped by today and took a look at little Abby. She was impressed. Her feet may or may not be improving, it’s hard to tell. However, Abby is “very social”. Most babies favor either their hearing or sight, but apparently Abby is excelling at both. When Dan talks to her, she will turn her head and look at him. At the same time, when she’s awake she is “bright eyed” looking around at everything. Tonight we’re going to bring in some family pictures to put above her in the isolette, so that she can “look at us” even when we’re not there.  (Just a side note: Dan and I recently learned that Lydia’s isolette, her “bed”, costs $45,000.  Yikes!)

Lydia remains the NICU’s favorite toddler. A while ago one of the neonatologists (there are five that rotate) tried to befriend Lydia a little unsuccessfully. Dan informed the doctor that Lydia likes stickers (which are available in ample supply at the reception desk). Yesterday the doctor was back on and brought us two packages of stickers that she had gone out and bought just for Lydia. Originally she bought her some other toy but it was for ages 3 and up, and she didn’t want us to sue her. Lydia happily took the stickers and ignored the doctor. Dan says you just can’t buy her friendship.

Praise the Lord
We are thanking God for:
-Abby’s development: seeing and hearing
-Lydia slept in this morning, which meant Dan got to work a little more and I got to sleep at little more
-answers to my recent questions regarding suffering
-that God is compassionate and gracious to us all

Please Pray:
-that Abby will stop spitting up, start digesting more regularly, and that her feedings will be able to be reduced from 1 1/2 hours long to just 1 hour
-that Abby will tolerate the iron well, and it won’t cause her to spit up more
-that Abby would continue to gain weight and that her exercises would work to straighten out her left foot
-that Dan and I will figure out a better routine now that I am (close to being) able to drive (starting Wednesday)