"called to build the kingdom first through the romance and adventure of our home..."


Post 35 | The Two Faces of Legalism

It's a pricy penny.  And there are two sides to this coin.  Legalism.  "Behaviorism," I've heard it called.  Pharisee-ism.  Self Righteousness.    In my last post I talked about my firm, growing and delighted belief that the cross is not the gospel, or the most important part of or "the heart of" the gospel.   My belief that the events of the cross aren't the center, with the "other" events of Jesus toggled around it, like the rays of a child's hand-drawn sunshine.   The gospel events are the pieces of a puzzle, or dominoes -- one goes missing and the whole operation halts and cannot be finished.  I shared that I believe the gospel is what God, three-in-one, did for us and gave to us, because He loved us and it made Him happy and glorified to do such things.

(Recap if you missed it:  

What did He do? Chose, loved, made, sustained, came, lived (sinlessly), died as a Lamb, experienced hell, defeated it, resurrected, left the grave for good, walked on earth again, ascended to heaven, sat on the throne, and made us heirs of every single good gift.  

What are the good gifts He gave us? Family, Salvation, License, Nobility, Righteousness, Freedom, Hope, Paradise, Feasting, Companionship, Blessing, Honor, Power, Home, Victory and every other good thing.  Every single one.)  

Legalism contorts both of those things (what He did and what He gives).  It uses His very Holy Language, Scripture itself, and twists, mangles and stabs.  It is offended by diversity, license and individuality.  It thrives in like-mindedness, repetition and rules.  

“There are people... bent on making you a slave of their conscience. They are legalists, and their tools are guilt, fear, intimidation, and self-righteousness. They proclaim God’s unconditional love for you, but insist on certain conditions... I’m not talking about people who insist you obey certain laws or moral rules in order to be saved.   Such people aren’t legalists. They are lost! They are easily identified and rebuffed. I’m talking about Christian legalists whose goal is to enforce conformity among other Christians in accordance with their personal preferences. These are life-style legalists. They threaten to rob you of joy and to squeeze the intimacy out of your relationship with Jesus."  Sam Storms (borrowed be EGM)

There is a legalism that tries to re-sculpt what God has finished.  It tries to convince you that you need this on top of Jesus' complete, A-Z, work.  Many a cult and religion have taken off by using the Bible and Jesus Himself, and then adding to it.  Many not-cult churches are guilty of doing the same thing.  Sometimes it's as "simple" as saying "You must be believe in Jesus and be baptised in order to be saved."  

This form of legalism -- the kind that claims you can add to the security or finality or actuality of your salvation -- is, well, to be frank, very easy to identify.  Anything -- anything -- other than "by grace I have been saved through believing, through faith!" is salvation-legalism.  "I did not do this myself -- I contributed nothing, as this is the gift of God to me." Excellent.  Easy.

"Yet, I have noticed that many of us Christians are certain that God's observing face must be twisted in a displeased scowl. Most seem sure that God experiences a roller-coaster ride of emotions regarding us – dictated by this morning’s state of behavior, spiritual focus, or attitude. We seem to assume that God saves by grace alone and then enjoys us according to a fluxuating, gold star, logarithm-graphed, merit badge system…alone. I knew I should have paid better attention to cosines and tangents in high school and if only I could remember that one other spiritual discipline we were taught last year." Enjoying Grace Ministries

This other form of legalism is a crafty serpent.  It sounds like Colossians 3 with a "don't you dare!" and supernatural-ultimatum tone.  It looks like hands held high (much like the shirt collars), busyness and involvedness in church affairs, and a Bible filled with underlines.  It looks good.  Really good.  Self-depricating, scripture on the tip of the tongue, and a fierceness in guarding God and 'His commands', while remaining doting, 'humble', and friendly.  Pharisees.

They convince you that you are to work hard at pleasing God.  "If you have been raised with Christ, you better seek the things above." They talk about 1 John 1:9 as if it were written to believers, not the lost.  For some reason you feel like you're never quite walking out your salvation without enough fear, enough trembling, and enough accomplishing -- psh, you feel like it's your responsibility to "walk out well," its in your hands.  Conversations in church groups and accountability sessions -- more often than not -- circle around your and their struggles: the conflict in marriage, the unbelief in hearts, the (always sexual) lust given into, the pride we possess that deceives us more than we can know, the single person's fight with emotional purity.

When you share with them the honest, vulnerable, painful stories of your life, they ask you things like "Do you think you are being bitter?" or "Do you think you deserve something more?"  Sports were "gospel-centered" by doing things like praying before, after or during games, never missing Sunday morning church because of sports, by opening up practice with a devotional -- I even know of kids who were sent out of practice to spend 10 or 15 minutes 'with the Lord' because they hadn't done it earlier in the day.  The way to make 'regular things' turn into 'a Christ-honoring thing' was to do 'the spiritual things' (pray, encourage, use scripture, confess sin, etc).  'Godliness' (according to human standards) was often highlighted publicly and often for doing publicly-'spiritual'-things (for example: the youth worship band being applauded for their godly lives and their motives for playing in the band -- "their desire is to glorify God!" -- when I know for a fact that some of the kids are 'struggling' or abandoning their walk with their Lord, and some were playing in the band because they loved their instrument and... that was about it.  I also know some of those kids were Pharisees. PS. I don't care about which kids were up there... I care that their personal lives, motives and hearts were often falsely announced and then clapped-at.  Why can't we just clap-at their talent and thank them for their time? Regardless of "why" they play?  Their skill reflects their God even if they don't realize it.  I actually have more to say about "this" so I should let it be for now.  It should be a separate post.)

"Rarely would these folk ever admit to any of this. They don’t perceive or portray themselves as legalists. If they are reading this they are probably convinced I’m talking about someone else. They’d never introduce themselves: 'Hi! I’m a legalist and my goal is to steal your joy and keep you in bondage to my religious prejudices. Would you like to go to lunch after church today and let me tell you all the things you’re doing wrong?'

I suspect that some of you are either legalists or, more likely, the victims of legalism. You live in fear of doing something that another Christian considers unholy or vital, even though the Bible is silent on the subject. You are terrified of incurring their disapproval, disdain, and ultimate rejection. Worse still, you fear God’s rejection or displeasure for violating these things. You have been duped into believing that the slightest misstep or mistake causes God’s disapproval and disgust." Sam Storms

The first time I read this article I had tunnel vision and sat on my bed wide-eyed.  I was such a blinded, knowledgable legalist that I even frequently used the word 'legalism' and accused other people of it!  Flashes of my life struck like lightning in my head, and I sat there in stunned acknowledgement: "Oh. My. Gosh.  That's me.  I'm a thief of joy, and I'm terrified of God being disappointed in me.  The times when I was most convinced I was 'taking a stand for God' or 'being a good friend by not shying away from tough love' were the times I robbed joy the most.  I must make people so uncomfortable."  While I never (EVER) told anyone that the way to be saved was to "add to the gospel," I did live like people could do things to add or detract from God's pleasure with them, therefore, I was a legalist. "IF you LOVE Him, you WILL obey Him." I announced.  It was a demand, not a new way of life, a promise.  "Guess what, guys!  If you love Me, if you believe in Me, part of the perk is that you're going to obey me! More and more, until heaven where you'll be flawless."

I didn't realize that my salvation was final and God's delight in me was final.  I had lived two decades primarily thinking of 'the gospel' as 'my salvation' and "I'm not a legalist because you can only be saved in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone!"  but I didn't feel like God really absolutely enjoyed me all.the.time.  All the time.  That I never disgusted Him.  That when He thought of my name, when He watched and walked beside me in my life He wasn't thinking "Gosh, when will she EVER learn?  She's a hard-hearted one, this Kristen.  It's a good thing I'm strong so that I can change even HER."

"I will not keep silent... you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give. 

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, 
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, 
but you shall be called -- your name will be! -- My Delight Is in Her!   

Your land will be Married for the Lord delights in you, 
as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,     
so shall your God rejoice over you."

Since the gospel is two-pronged, legalism is too: what God did for you, and how you can add to it!  What God gave to you, and how you can change that.

"When you are around other Christians, whether in church or a home group or just hanging out, do you feel free? Does your spirit feel relaxed or oppressed? Do you sense their acceptance or condemnation? Do you feel judged, inadequate, inferior, guilty, immature? Jesus wants to set you free from such bondage!" (Sam Storms) Do you feel like you have to explain, in dramatic detail, why you can't make it to small-group or other church events?  Do you still feel really, really, really bad about not going?  When you walk into church after worship has already started, do you feel like your friends in the seats around you are disappointed you are late or are thrilled to see you?  (Also, does it cross your mind that if you show up late looking good and made-up that people will think you are really vain and self-absorbed... and if you show up late and disheveled people will think you are really a disaster?)

What I am writing and sharing here is much more about my own story and what I believe with all my heart the world needs to know -- the riches we have in God -- than me feeling angry towards or trying to bash the people and leaders (and parents!) who surrounded me growing up.  This is about my husband who grew up a thousand miles away and who had never heard of my church/family of churches, but lived his life in legalism.   This is about anyone who could be a legalist and not know it (most don't).  This is about Scripture saying "They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them and their offspring throughout generations.” (Exodus 30:21) and the men who cared deeply about Scripture, who spent their lives desiring it be passed to their offspring and the rest of generations, being offended when this Jesus waltzed into the scene saying things like " eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15)  He directly contradicted Scripture and therefore God, so it seemed.  The Word of God matters! they must have thought!  How dare He! they must have worried!  God's Word is True! they must have countered. But they missed the point.

This is for anyone who may have missed the point.  Who have devoted themselves to God, Scripture, Church and missed it.  Like me.  Like my husband.  You may have been raised in the circles we were raised in and never missed it.  But we did.  And we know others have.  And if you have perhaps missed it -- if you have perhaps obeyed, and memorized, and know the language, and serve, and sing, and have a lot to say about your faith because you take your faith very seriously, stayed a virgin, have a bright shining face but make possibly make your fellow saints feel uncomfortable, please listen.  This is where Jesus was harsh.  This is where He was violent.  The diligent, obedient, compliant, determined, admirable, dedicated Older Sons can be left outside of the Father's House.  Obedience is fabulously important -- please don't hear what I'm not saying.  Obedience, diligence, etc is good.  It's necessary.  It is.  But there is a reason the horrifyingly disrespectful, greedy, douchebag, sleezeball son was rejoicing at the feast, welcomed into the house.  There is a reason the boy-who-would-fulfill-every-checklist, the son who obeyed was left out of the celebrating.  He missed the point.  He had the appearance of wisdom and goodness.

This isn't directed at someone or some specific group: it's for the church kids and adults anywhere and everywhere who are doing it right.  Be. Careful.  If you may be an Older Son, listen closely:

“You tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders... You do your deeds to be seen by others... you love the place of honor and greetings in the marketplaces ...

... For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces... You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! 

You clean the outside of the cup but inside they are full of self-indulgence... outwardly you appear beautiful, but within are full of all uncleanness... So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy. 

You serpents. 

You group of venomous snakes."

"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' referring to things that all perish as they are used — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." Colossians 2

Be free.  Be free to be real.  Come as you are, and be who you are.  Pursue every good thing you can get your hands on.  Enjoy it.  Live life like you want kids to respond to their Christmas gifts: with anticipation, wild, noisy happiness, and natural excitement.  He's everywhere.  He's in running line drills, He's in strumming your guitar to Dave Matthews Band, He's in the sound of a toddler's voice, He's in a new haircut that just kind of makes you feel pretty, He's in the color of eggplant, He's in the pages of a Book and in the pages of wordy Ernest Hemingway.  He's in nature and in Times Square and in bath-tubs and in graveyards and in coffee shops and in bed at noon (because you slept in).  He's in the days of sweatpants and the days of sweaty workouts and the days of tears and the days of cheers.  He's not disappointed with you.  He adores you.  He is in charge of "who you are" and He calls it "good" and He is making it "perfect."  Everything about Him is good, and everything about Him is yours.  If washing your hands makes you happy, wash away Germ-Freak and if you don't mind jumping right into a meal without, stuff your face Fatty. You are free.  Do not submit to self-made, severe religion.  Be free! Head inside for a feast!


---> EDITED TO ADD <---

I am not looking for just affirmation and "positive" response (don't get me wrong... I want that too!).  In a way that's not "giving you permission" but that's hoping for conversation: it's okay to disagree with me.  I'm not trying to draw the line in my sand and push you away and keep you in, I'm opening up the front door and putting my self, life and thoughts out here hoping you'll come in, even if your story or beliefs are different.  I don't *have* to write -- I believe this, and I talk about it as much as I can as it fits the occasion.  I want to discuss, I want to help, I want to share -- and I want you to as well.   And if you think it's futile slash annoying to discuss on comments... e-mail me (kristen leigh photography at gmail dot com), ask for my number and call me, set up a time to chat in person.  I'm not afraid of people disagreeing.  I'm afraid of what would have happened to me if I hadn't been told the things posted above, if I hadn't become completely free, indeed.  Especially if you've grown up in the same places Caleb and I have -- we know those two "worlds" well, and we love so many people in them.  Even people who we might disagree with on every point.  If you're willing to join in a discussion and chew over big, real topics - welcome! Really! 

My Weird, Natural, Prodromal, 'Induced,' Pitocin, Drug-Free, Long, Beautiful Birth Story | Part 2


"i'm wonderstruck... all i know is i was enchanted to meet you."

The Pitocin Saga

The pitocin began dripping around 11:30/11:45 pm.  Slow and steady.  I felt like I was awaiting a jury verdict.  

"What will my punishment be? How bad is this going to get...?"  

An hour later, and not much to report - just sporadic and unevenly painful contractions - the dosage was upped ever so slightly.  Another hour and a half later, we were finally getting somewhere.  Very frequent, very regular, very painful.  The hormone seemed to be doing what it was supposed to be doing!  And I was hoping my body would just kick in and keep on strutting, and not fade out.  Around this time Becca and Janet arrived again, and Lydia (who had took all the pictures in the last post) had to leave.  

And I still mentally drop to my knees in thanksgiving when I think about these two showing up at this point.  I was clearly well on my way now.  This was for real for real.  Everything was intensifying, and it had been lasting for hours.  My form of labor, by the way, was back labor.  Back labor... feels like you have elephants on the inside of you, pushing your back and hip bones apart, while a Viking duo smashes your outside with a sledgehammer.  Caleb, who is basically concrete and hard as can be, would push


his weight onto me back and I'd still be clamoring

"Harder! Harder!"

 His poor arms and body were sore and exhausted after doing that for hours - it'd truly be like doing a bench press workout for over half a day.  Janet and Becca rescued him, told him to rest a bit more, and took over the counter-pressure-work.  (Jan was basically riding on me, piggy back style.  She pushed as hard as she possibly could!)

Though the pain was phenomenal, I was amazed every single contraction how bearable and manageable it was to relax, breathe and "work with" the contraction.  The instant reaction our body has to pain is to tense up (think burning your finger on the stove, or stubbing your toe... you don't go limp and loose!  You arch and grab and your arms and face become tense and you say

"ow ow ow ow ow ooooowwww!"

or something ;) and your body goes tight.)  But forcing yourself to breathe slowly, and almost "unroll" each body part - from face, to shoulders, to elbows, to hands, to waist, to butt/hips, to thighs, to legs, to toes was fascinatingly pain-reducing.  I'd never lie and say that it didn't hurt or that it was easy.  It was hard, painful work, but it


was bearable.  I could picture the uterus muscle moving in and out, working BorisBoy down more and more.  I could refresh and enjoy (?) the breaks and drink and snack and be completely pain-free until the next contraction.  We tried an assortment of positions but the one that helped the most was for me to lean my arms and face onto the counter where the sink was, and to squat and sway while someone pushed my back.  The swaying.  Oh the swaying.  Praise Jesus for swaying. It helped



At 4:00 pm I'm told I smiled for the last time until after I held my son ;) And 15 minutes later I got a great leg and arm massage - coconut oil for the win!  Anything to try to help me relax relax relax.  At 5:00 pm we decided to check my dilation and see how things were progressing.  It'd been seven or eight hours since I had been last checked, and I was pleading before the heavenly throne that I wouldn't get a report of

"You're about a 6!"

 Thankfully, I was at 8cm.  I think part of me was hoping the midwife would - in amazement! - tell me I was at 10cm and would be ready to push soon.  Silly mama. Tricks are for kids.  8cm was close - and so much further than I had been! - but I knew a lot still had to happen.  Like that dreaded T word: transition.  And the P word: pushing.  Other than the dilation update, my midwife announced that she didn't feel the bag of water anymore, and she thought it had broken.  Which was weird, because between the last cervical check and this one I had no gushing or leaking or water-breaking-signs-of-any-kind.  My water bag was a big punk prankster.

But hey!  That was more good news!  Another thing checked off the list (again?)!  At 5:15pm I had a special, um, meeting in the Oval Office.  Janet and Becca were very excited.  Bradley students seem to especially love that "clear out."  Bradley talks about it a lot ;)  And boy oh boy was I clear and empty - my body made some serious room for a baby.

After that classy affair, I started being


bothered by my IV.  It hurt so much.  Enough that I noticed the pain even during the peak of a contraction.  I then realized that my hand had swollen up BADLY.  It was about twice the size (maybe more) of my normal hand and it felt like it was ripping open.  (I HATE NEEDLES.)  The nurse and midwife realized that the needle had come out of my vein and yet remained under my skin, so all the pitocin and antibiotic was going into my skin tissue, not blood stream.  No one knows how long it had been like that, so no one knows how much pitocin I


got.  Probably at least some?  It'd been in since 11:30 and it was now 5:30... but how much?  No clue. Soooo, that fateful accident meant that: I got to take the IV out!  No more needles in muah!  The sledge-hammer-elephant-awful-awful contractions were coming again and again and again.  They had been for hours.  No turning back now, folks.  And if I had been asked what my pain level was on a scale of 1-10, I would have said 10.  So quickly.  So honestly. Ten ten ten.  

Transition Begins 

But then.  About 20 minutes later, the uterus aggression upped the anti.  Oh goodness it was bad.  I was burping up a storm.  The swaying and relaxing and breathing really wasn't doing what it had done before.  I told Caleb it felt bowling bowls were being thrown down inside me.  No one could push my back hard enough.  The breaks in-between contractions were shorter and shorter.  A raging Spanish bull was fighting with a fierce Asian tiger, and they were clawing and pounding inside me.  I actually remember thinking that I would happily trade places with the Spartan boy who hid the fox under his shirt and didn't flinch while the fox ate his flesh.  It sounded much more appealing and much less painful than what I was feeling.  At 6:00pm I announced the big milestone announcement:

"I can't do it anymore."  

I had been taught that this nasty phase of labor called 'transition' usually lasts about 30-60 minutes.  Some lucky women experience it far quicker, or maybe even not at all.  And few women experience it for longer than an hour.  I knew the '

transition signs

' and one of those is feeling like you


can't do it anymore.  I wanted to just go ahead and start pushing.  Really, I wanted to go ahead and hold my baby and be done with this entire thing.  "

What an idiot I was to think this was a good idea.  This is TERRIBLE.  I just want my baby and I just want to take a nap and I want to go get in MY bed and I'm tired and I don't like this one little bit."  

I was more than teetering on edge of the Emotional Grand Canyon.  I was Nik-Wallenda-ing it over a tightrope.  Becca later told me

"At the 6:30-7:00pm mark you hit the wall: SO exhausted.  I think we all had tears for you.  We gave you and Caleb some time to console each other and process while Mom and Dad and I hid in the hallway.  The contractions were



At this point, the contractions were worse then ever, but they


beginning to space out a bit: another 'sign of transition.'  A handful of times I fell asleep during those couple minute breaks (and not because the breaks were so peaceful, more because I was entirely


.)  When I woke up from one fire and brimstone contraction, I just started to cry and cry.  Caleb kept trying to reassure and affirm and support me.  I couldn't relax.  I couldn't try a new position.  I couldn't think straight.  I couldn't sleep.  I couldn't do anything but cry.  The midwife (another new one) came in at 7:30pm and checked my dilation.  I calmed down when she was checking, prayingandhopingandwishingandprayingandthinkingandhopingandwanting her to say I was at 10.  PA-LEEEZ.  FOR THE LOVE.  And it was 9.  Two and half hours since my last check, and about two hours into transition, and we were at 9cm.  I cried and cried some more.  I worried because I knew that it wasn't abnormal for women to 'stall out' at 9cm.  I worried because I truly didn't believe I could handle another two and a half hours to get to 10cm

and then push

.  I felt so stuck.

And then.  "Epidural" was spoken.  Out loud.  In the room.  For the first time in 30-something hours.  The nurse eagerly and obviously supported the idea.  She not-so-subtly wanted me to go ahead and get the epidural.  The spine-numbing and contraction-pain-canceling option was 'on the table.'  And this is the part of the story where I am


grateful for three things: education, my husband and my 'team.'

Education: The potential side effects of an epidural are intense (anywhere from a life-threatening infection, to a dural puncture [a leak in spine, that can drain the fluid around the brain], and nerve damage to fever, decreased blood pressure, etc) not to mention the promised side effects: namely numbness and inability to walk/move out of bed

at all

.  I also know that the epidural process isn't instant.  I sat there, in my teary, overcome, physically and mentally pained and DONE state, and was able to still remember that they need to call the anesthesiologist, he has to prep and do paperwork, perform the procedure, and then let the juice begin to work.  The whole process could easily take 30-60 minutes.  I also knew that


epidurals slow down the intensity and the effectiveness of contractions, and can often slow down labor.  And then


pitocin is up-ed to make the contractions stronger.  This cocktail


puts a baby in a precarious and crazy position, one that frequently causes their heart to have a bad rate.  A bad baby heart-rate can quickly turn into an emergency c-section situation.  I knew that.  I knew I didn't want that.  I knew I had worked too hard for too long to just abandon our goals now.  I knew I'd rather work hard for an hour and actual make something happen than 'wait around' to be numbed up.  And to be honest, I didn't want to have come so far... 32 hours of hospital stay!... to try an epidural

now.  "If I'm going to do this, I should have done it a long time ago.  What was the point of going through ALL that if I'm going to numb myself at the very bitter end?"

My husband: The moment the nurse gave us a second to talk about what we wanted to do, he took my face and looked right into my eyes and said

"Kristen.  You are


close.  This is almost done.  You are 9cm and could probably be pushing the baby out by the time the epidural started working.  You're so brave.  You're so strong.  And you don't need it.  I know you don't.  You can absolutely do this."

He was right.  And I needed him to tell me.

My 'team':  Janet and Becca quickly reenforced Caleb's words.  They promised me I was so near the end.  They promised I'd be holding Rowdy soon.  They promised me I could do it.  Then my mom suggested I go get in the shower and let the hot water fall onto my back.  And that was it.  That was exactly the option I needed.

The Shower

With a fresh wave of motivation, and a


lack of all decency, I de-robed and bolted for the shower.  Caleb grabbed some swim trunks and jumped in with me.  Mom held the shower-head over my back while Caleb pushed.  We all prayed out loud over and over again.  I talked to my body.  I talked to my baby.  I talked to myself.  I grunted like a wild beast.  I pleaded with God.  I shook and moaned.  I heard the encouraging words of the people around me.  The contractions were still miserable, but I felt somewhat 'in control' again and like I could force this kid down by focusing


hard.  I squatted like a gorilla and worked and worked and worked.  But ten short minutes later my epidural-fan-nurse came in the bathroom and told me I needed to get back in bed and be checked on the monitors (to hear the baby's heart beat.)

My HERO mother said

"Why does she have to get back in bed?  Can't you use a portable doppler?"

The nurse told my mom that the midwife said I had to get in bed.  My mom fired (and I do mean fired) back with

"Can you please go check with the midwife right now and get specific instruction from her that Kristen must get out of the shower and be strapped to the monitor?  And can you also ask if the portable device may be used?"  

The nurse semi-argued back but did leave and returned with a portable monitor.  And I got to stay in the shower ;)

So instead of 10 minutes, I was able to work in there for 45 minutes.  I was totally refocused, Caleb was 'rejuvenated' and I was finally as sure as everyone else that I


do this.  Around 8:30pm I was out of the shower, and at 8:45 I used the word "pressure" over and over.  I was a little annoyed because the nurse kept asking me if I had 'the urge to push' and I said I didn't particularly feel 'an urge' but I felt pressure and I was in excruciating pain and I was mentally VERY ready to push.  She would somewhat casually say

"Well, let us know what you have the urge."

 My mom had seven kids and did not always have the urge to push.  I knew from reading that not all women get 'that urge.'  I wanted to push.  I felt ready.  I felt pressure.  My mom grabbed the midwife and at 9:00 pm she checked me.

"9.5 cm."  

The midwife, who is a very monotone, collected, unemotional and un-animated lady, blankly said

"I'll be back in half an hour and we can re-check then."

 HALF AN HOUR?!?  I nearly lost it again.  Tears filled my eyes. I couldn't do another half an hour.  I just couldn't.  I wanted to push.  

And the following thirty minutes, ladies and gentlemen (okay, ladies) were... well, basically, I was screaming "THIS IS [NOT HEAVEN]!!!!! THIS IS [NOT HEAVEN]!!!!! I'M NEVER HAVING CHILDREN AGAIN!!!! I've tried to think of ways to describe this.  One odd analogy that came to mind was a soft corn tortilla (my body equals tortilla).  The early contractions felt like someone folding a tortilla in half and tearing it.  Then the later contractions felt like someone ripping a tortilla into tiny pieces to feed to ducks.  The transition contractions felt like tossing a tortilla into a blender and letting it be pureed into tortilla dust.  These post-shower contractions?  It was like taking a tortilla through a tree-trunk-chipper, setting the chips on fire in furnace, and then feeding the ashes to a flock of starving tortilla-ash-eating sharks, then blowing the shark den up with nuclear bombs.  It made the "heavy menstrual cramp contractions" sound like a free vacation to Fiji.  My grandma used to say that the final minutes of labor is like

"funneling all the power in the entire universe through your body."

 Yes.  All Jafar-like.  It's extraordinary, really, how much


a body had inside it.  

My mom says I was absolutely panicked.  I remember clawing at things and practically climbing up the counter/wall.  I bit hands and clothing.  It was absurd.  For a girl who had just relatively calmly and gracefully and relax-ed-ly endured a very long labor - even the most extreme moments where met with an effort to relax and breathe.  I never swore.  I hardly yelled.  


Another physical sign of transition is the inability to relax or be comfortable. A woman who was handling labor well may suddenly find that she has no idea what to do and nothing is comfortable any more."

I was not handling labor well anymore.  I was a complete disaster.   And I honestly thought I was going to pass out and die right then and there. Here's how much pain I was in: I swore... IN FRONT OF MY MOTHER.  One of these demon-contractions was a game-changer because the pain was no longer in my back, rather it was in my hips and pelvis.  I screamed for Caleb to push

"lower! Lower! LOWER!"

After a day and a half of pushing my back in the same place, he was confused.  The women eyed each other.

Janet went to get the midwife.  She calmly said she would be in soon.  Janet returned alone.  So my mama bear went to get her.  Something about a strict tone of voice, and fake wrist watch and

"I'm counting"

got the midwife into my room within 60 seconds ;)

Now.  Brief pause to this loooong story.  I feel a little bad for this midwife because I had only seen her once before this trip to the hospital.  We certainly did not know each other well.  


she had only been a part of my 35-hour labor for about two hours.  I really think she thought I was a dramatic, bad-at-dealing-with-pain, over-the-top laborer.  I don't think she realized


different I was from 5:00pm to 7:00 pm to 9:00pm.  And it was still wildly busy on the floor.  She was being pulled many directions.  I don't think she really believed I was ready to push.  I think she didn't fully 'get' how my labor had gone.  She was doing the best she could with the knowledge and time she had.  But it wasn't particularly available and understanding.  Okay.  Carry on.

Meeting Our Son

She checked me at 9:30 and said that magical word "


" and at 9:35 I pushed for the first time.  

Everyone's eyes got big and the midwife seemed shocked.  Caleb nearly squealed and leaped with excitement:

"I can see his head!  BABY! He's SO close!  I can see his head! He has hair!"

The midwife paused and seemed confused.  She asked me if my water had broke a few days ago, or earlier today, or when, really?  My mom told her that we had been told it had broken, but we really didn't know when.  She shook her head and said

"No, it hadn't.  It just broke now."

I took that first push very seriously?  FINALLY, for real for real, broke my water and showed off my kid's head all at the same time.

Little Man's heart rate supposedly dropped during that first push (my mom thinks the monitor just picked up my heart rate) so they had me stop pushing while they put an IV in and put an oxygen mask on me.  After I was all geared up, they let me push for the second time.  I heard a chorus of 

"His head! He's coming! His head! You're doing it! He's almost here!" 

After that contraction ended the midwife answered a phone call and quietly exited the room.  On her way out she mentioned something about pushing.  We didn't really hear what she said, and another contraction was coming.  "

Can I push?!?" 

I asked.  The nurse said I could, so I did.  After a push or two she told me to stop.  "

You need to wait for the midwife to get back."  

I'm sorry.  But where did the midwife go?  Like.  My baby is COMING OUT OF ME RIGHT NOW.  

A couple minutes later she returned and she took one look at me 'down there' and instructed the nurses to prep for delivery.  (Because, yes, up until this point there was nothing prepared for him to actual come out.  No scissors to cut the cord.  No blanket. Nothing.)  They hustled about preparing the table, and dropping down that big light, and giving the midwife her outer-garment, and putting a blanket on my belly.   Caleb whispered to me 

"This is it, baby.  We're about to meet him.  You're about to hold him.  This is it.  You did it. I'm so proud of you.  You're incredible.  We're going to see him in just a second.  It's happening, baby."

Pushing was an incredible relief from the contraction pain.  I'm quite curious how God made it work, because all of that torture-of-a-contraction melted away when I pushed.  Pushing wasn't painful it was just 'hard.'  I think I said

"This is like pushing the Empire State Building through me!"

I felt calm again, though.  I could feel my body dropping and releasing my baby. The next contraction came and I pushed - trying to be steady, strong and patient.  The room was cheering and adrenaline began to pump.  Pushing felt similar to sitting on the floor, with your back against the wall, and legs pulled back and resting on a couch or bed you're trying to move alone.  Using alllll your might you try to push the furniture with your legs and it won't budge... and then! All of a sudden! It slides away like it's on ice!  A perfect, sweet head plopped out and in the same push his whole body came, too.  He. Was. OUT! NOT in me anymore! And... It felt dreamy and completely, completely wonderful: 

  He reached his long arms towards me, nuzzled into me when I wrapped myself around him, and looked right up at me as he took his first liquidy, panty breaths.  He was perfectly rosy, with flailing arms and legs.  He was smooth and had chubby cheeks made to be kissed.  

What had been the depths of the dark side, in truly a single


transformed like the Beast's Castle, into a high and bliss I've never experienced before.  I felt


My body felt


My mind was clear and


engaged.  I remember the details of those first few seconds brilliantly, in dazzling colors.  I can smell and feel and breathe it.  My heart was absolutely swelling.  Just being poured into with the warm water of brand new love.  I loved my son (I really did!) before I met him.  But here he was!  With us! Caleb was breathless and equally smitten right beside me, where he'd been the whole time.  I felt so strongly for him in that moment.  I adore my husband.  My mother was incredible.  My friends are bizarrely kind and amazing.  My dad is in the doorway, with tears in his eyes.  

I am SO proud of myself! Of us!  WE DID IT.  

Oh, I felt amazing.  No pain.  None.  No cloudiness.  No fog.  Just intense happy and true emotion.  I wouldn't trade those 60 seconds for the entire world.  I'd do the natural birth all over again, in a heart beat, just to have that first minute back.

While I was still laying there I told the people around me

"Oh, that was worth it.  That was so worth it."  

I'll never forget Rowdy's spindly, strong arms reaching


for me.  It was honestly a combination of all my favorite feelings: winning championship games, making hard-to-make-teams, scoring over 100%, people loving the food I made for them, falling in love, being in love, getting engaged, waiting to walk down the aisle, coming home after our honeymoon, making Rowdy, listening to my dad laugh, talking for hours with my mom, the times I've 'been filled with' the Holy Spirit, long nights of worship and conversation, laughing through childhood memories with my brothers and sisters.  All of it.  BOOM. In one moment.  A culmination of all the things that got me and my Caleb to the place where we were a part of a new soul, a mysterious, fresh person, being welcomed into his earthly life... it was absolute ecstasy.  An intoxicating felicity.  

I count it the highest privilege and honor to be able to feel and be a part of the labor and delivery we had.  I know so many women who either simply can't have this experience, or who choose not to, and I have only become more grateful for what our story was.  It was different than what I expected or certainly wanted, but it was marvelous all the same.  And nothing can replace the beauty of that intensity.  Something as 'simple' as Rowdy being given right to me, and him gurgling and grunting and grabbing our fingers and sucking his fists and rooting around on my chest, while we looked at each other, just would be foolish and impossible to describe with words.  Within a few minutes he was latched-on and learning how to nurse.  He was so alert and strong.  He knew me and responded to my voice, and daddy's too.  In a room mildly buzzed with people and machines, he was deeply focused on us.  Incredible.  I was so proud of him.  So... okay... I'm rambling now.  It was nothing short of the over-used word: amazing.

After we had been able to soak him in and bond, really, we were thrilled to be able to watch the room full of family and friends get to feel and snuggle him, too.  It was a worn and weary and teary group.  The whole of them had worked hard for this Nugget Boy and they were rejoicing.   Rejoicing over him and us with gladness.  It was another incredible (and un-planned! People just kept coming in, depsite the nurses wanting them to leave! Haha.  I'm glad they came and stayed anyway ;) The moment was too perfect) memory for me.

My little sisters had been at the hospital almost as long as I had.  They slept on awkwardly, uncomfortable love-seats and waited those grueling 36ish hours with us.  They weren't allowed to come back to see me, but I knew they were there.  And I kept getting reports from others about how sweet, concerned and eager Shannon and Lauren were.  I couldn't wait to let them meet their nephew.

 And when they did, they both burst into tears.  It was the first time I cried, too.  Salty, hot love and relief tears.

But TheLadies weren't the only ones waiting long and hard.  My "support parade," as the nurses called it, were there too.  We didn't even get pictures of everyone who came back (Jess, Kevin and Mikey... I loved that you were there!) 

while I was still in labor&delivery

, delivering a placenta, getting stitched up (a random skin tag/strip ripped off that needed to come off anyway, so it was handy to have it come out during labor... now I don't have to make an appointment to get it removed!), having my stomach mashed on to make my uterus contract, barely dressed... they with glowy-eyes and full hearts made their way into the room to join in the joy.

 My wiggly, vocal, peering, muscular, young son.  Oh I love you.

 Hahaha aaaand this is too "a part of it" not to post ;)  I didn't realize until I saw these pictures how... rough I was looking.  I told Caleb that at the time I felt like this triumphant war stallion, emerging from a foggy battleground, bloody and tattered, but strapping and formidable and victorious.  My flag waving in the background, while clouds parted over the scene.  And then... I saw these.  And.  Yeah.  I had more of a War Hippo thing going on.  Plopped over on a log.  What happened to my face? And Donald Trump Mullet hair? Why was my chin and neck connected with a frog-bubble? Gosh my eyes were tired ;)  I love this picture because I've never been more proud of myself, amazed at my guy, and impressed with my body.  My body... can do awesome things.  Wow.  And I won't be gracing the cover of any magazine anytime soon, or hash-tagging "fitmom" or be printing this one out to hang over the fireplace, but in my rough, swollen, disheveled, worn-out state, I love the story it tells, and what I was able to accomplish.  So I love these War Hippo shots.

(And! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Janet and Lydia for taking all these pictures.  You. Both. Rule.)

 The minutes only grew better and better.

As my dad texted me on his way out

"Now you know what instant unconditional love is."

Yup. Amen. I do.

After finally getting cleaned and ready, we left the l&d ward and made that grand trek to the "Mommy & Baby" rooms.   We were in the wee hours of our third day in the hospital, and we had a baby to show for it.  Roughly four days of real labor, 36 hours of laboring in the hospital, four hours of transition, pitocin but no pain meds, and it was all done.  Labor was over and life with a child began.

 It was my favorite experience of my life.  And the adventure has only just begun!  God is good, and does what is good.  Our life is good, and we are so happy that God, many decades ago, before the earth was made and before time began, decided to love and make a Little Rowdy.  We truly are enchanted.

(Side note: Before labor started, I often prayed that I would have a good recovery.  I even said 'I don't mind if the labor is hard, I just don't want the recovery to be hard.'  I was worried about stitches and catheters and breast-feeding and bleeding and after-contractions and a slew of other things.  I really wanted to be able to fully enjoy my baby once he arrived and not be so physically hurting that I couldn't be 100% 'there' with him.

God completely answered that prayer - but next time I'm going to pray for an easy labor AND easy recovery.  Too greedy?  But really.  I'm stunned and grateful.  I've really felt marvelous ever since that last push.  Essentially zero pain.  Completely mobile.  The kid eats long and hard and easily.  Natural labors have the best odds at having a smooth recovery, but there is certainly NO guarantee and I easily could have had another long hard road ahead of me


he was born.  But God gave us that enjoyable and peaceful recovery we had prayed for.  I'm grateful grateful grateful.  Thank you, Lord.)

picture credit: Becca + Janet + Lydia

Rest | Post 30

A piece of writing that has changed my life.  One I read often, and only love more.  One makes God desperately attractive to me - I read, and I want to know Him better and sweeter.


Restlessness is unbelief, skepticism, blasphemy against the capability and character of God. 
Restlessness declares that God is unable or unfaithful to honor His word. 
Restlessness is a direct affront to God. 
Restlessness is hell. It is a splendid angelic warrior, Lucifer, finding his role in the glories of heaven too constraining to his gifts and potential.
Restlessness is providing the Lord of Heaven and Earth reinforcements, emergency resources, and a Plan-B if His efforts go South. 

"Don't worry, Lord, we've got your back!" 

It is Moses hearing the promise of God to make fresh water flow from the rock and saying (in essence) "Here, Lord, I'll help!" as he beats the rock with a stick.

 It is the people of Israel surveying the land that God had promised them, and declaring, "We are not big enough to defeat the giants in this place." 

Neither Moses nor that generation entered the promised land of rest because they did not rest in God and His promises. In the words of Hebrews, "they could not enter His rest because of unbelief."

Rest is thinking deeply about the good of what God has done, keeping in focus the promises He has made for both your present and your future, and letting God be your God, letting God be in control.

Rest at essence is God-entranced, God-magnifying, and God-satisfied. 
Rest is treating God's promises as rock-solid and unquestionable. 
Rest is a conscious relishing of God's gushing generosity and a relinquishment of our own self-sufficiency
Rest is the garden, the Sabbath, the feasts, the land, and the worship of God's people in the Old Testament.
Rest is the promise of the Gospel and the only path into its life. 
Rest is a gift.  Everything good starts with rest, grows through rest, and is sweetly tasted in the feast of rest. And then comes Heaven. 
Rest is refusing to try to satisfy ourselves through our work, ability or worthiness and (instead) savoring, embracing and exploring all that the Lord has already done and thereby discovering, "Behold, it is very good!"
There were two lost sons in the story of the Prodigals, one who offered to work his way back into His Father's favor and one who reminded the Father of the favor he deserved for the work that he had already done. Both offered work as a payment for the gift of the Father's fellowship, forgiveness, and feast; and to both He said, "No."

"Come in!" was the only offer of the Father. "Cease from your work and celebrate my lavish extravagance and prodigal generosity and you will have me and everything that is mine."

Peter the apostle sums up the Gospel simply, "Rest your hope fully upon the grace that is brought to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ."
[By Don Shorey - Enjoying Grace Ministries]

The Garden | Post 29

The Garden of Gethsemane has been my accidental theme the last couple weeks.  It started with a purchase of My Mother's Hymn Book, a basic and endearing Johnny Cash album.   Though I have hymns I've historically enjoyed more, "In The Garden" has been my number one repeat - it has just crept in my heart.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.

Then I read these paragraphs in Grace-Based Parenting and I've been unable to move on from the ideas and "wow"-moments they have sparked:
"The unwillingness to give a voice to the hurts we have placed in our children's hearts is the epitome of high control.  High-controllers are not strong people but rather weak, small, and selfish.  In contrast, it is our openness to 'openness' that draws us closer to our children's heart and to God.
For example, Jesus came to do His Father's will; that meant everything His Father had sent Him to do.  But when the moment came for the Savior of the world to complete His job, reality washed over Him.  As Jesus stood on the threshold of the crucifixion and that His time had finally come, He was overrun and overwrought by the price of it all.  In that moment of humanness, the Son did what He knew He had the freedom to do any time with His Father.  He slipped to the back corner of Gethsemane, fell to His knees, and had a candid heart-to-heart talk with His Dad.
'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.'
I just can't hear the Father saying anything like 'A deal's a deal; get up and stop your whining!'  There is nothing in God's nature that would even hint that He would say such a thing - especially to His child.   But I know there are human fathers who dismiss their children's questions and doubts with statements far terser.  They don't enjoy what was basic between Jesus and His Father. 
Jesus came to do His Father's will and was committed to seeing it through.  Ultimately, He said 'Yet not as I will, but as You will.'  He arrived at this place after His Father had listened to His pleadings and pains and identified with His human reservations.  The Father didn't rebuke His Son for asking or begrudge Him for hoping for some way out.  He listened to his suffering plea and came alongside Him with help for His resolve.  They both there was no other way to redeem mankind. 
And Jesus came back to His Father a second time, and a third time!  The Father's love allowed His Son to wrestle with the same issue even though the facts were not going to change.  That's because in the grace of the moment, the Father wanted to be available to His Son to listen as long as it took for Him to work through the weight on His heart. 
'Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in times of need.'"

1 | Jesus' questioning, fearing, emotions and humanness was not sin.
The past few years I've become increasingly comfortable with being honest about where I am at and who I really am and how I'm really doing - with myself, and with other folks, and with God.  The 'comfort' is found in a new understanding that it really is true: when I am weak, then He is strong.  The point isn't to be "as strong/unaffected" as I can be, but to be in Him "as much as I can be."  Wondering, begging, intense feeling, numb-not-feeling, wanting a way out... It's not sin.  Jesus did it.  He wasn't "not trusting God."  The proof that He trusted God was that He went to Him, and that He went forward, not that He didn't wrestle.

Part of being a strong, good, "godly" Christian used to mean, to me, that I didn't "give in" to my emotions.  I didn't break down.  I had to keep it together.  I had to have the right answers - and if I didn't, I better get busy studying and knowing those right answers.  Life Poker Face.  Don't let anyone know how terrible this hand really is.  Keeep it tooogether.

I love that Jesus was like "Uh, screw it.  I'm a mess.  I can't take it.  Dad?  Please.  Get me out of this - if there is any way.  This is unbearable."  And He was welcomed, and given "grace and strength for the moment."  The Father gave Him enough to move forward into the following minute.  And when that minute was done, there was enough for the next minute.  I'm learning that Garden of Gethsemane Time isn't a guilt-trip about spiritual disciplines and something to become a noose: "Even Jesus went to be with the Father alone, how do you think you can face your trials without going to Him? Who do you think you are?"  No.  It's more of a picture into ferocious heart ache and how instinctual it was to go to Dad.  "He will help.  He's not ashamed of me.  He's not bothered by me.  He's not rushing through conversation with me.  He's not annoyed that I am still dealing with this.  He's not disappointed.  He eagerly awaits comforting me, and wants me to share everything - everything - on my heart.  I know I am safe with Him."  

Thank you, Jesus, for not over-thinking and over-spiritualizing "your heart" - the roots and the motives and the actions and the reasons - you made it so simple.  "When you hurt, you have a Father who wants you.  And He made you - and even me - to feel and need Him."  I love that. Thank you.

2 | Jesus knew the answers to "Why, God?" and "How will this be worked out for good?" and He still wrestled.
Before the physical world was made, there was a giant family-planning session.  And the three-in-one God knew the cost and wanted to proceed ahead.  Jesus' life on earth was a part of the agenda, and Jesus knew why.  He had known why for eternity.  He know how it would be good.  He wanted the good - that's why He was here.  It was a volunteer mission with a definite conclusion.

But the moment was still so hard.

It makes me feel better.  I know what the last chapter of my book says.  I've read ahead and know that "glory" and "paradise" and "no more tears" and "forever" and "eternally satisfied" and "rejoicing" is the end, and just the beginning.  I know the best is yet to come, and it won't be a tainted best - it will be thorough and full and tangible.  But I don't know the why's and how's for most of this life.  Many things I can look back on and say "Oh, whoa.  I see how that had to happen in order for this to happen, and okay, yes, that was good."  But honestly, sometimes I just don't see it and God doesn't seem to make any sense whatsoever.

And how refreshing is it that Jesus knew the facts, the plans, the details, the answers, the WHOLE story, page by page, word by word, because He was a part of the penning of the tale, but when He was set into a climax as a human character, He responded like one?  He allows us the freedom to work through and work out our salvations without fear of frustrating or resisting God.  He shows us that being a child of God doesn't mean we robotically and stoically crank through life.  He releases us to storm the throne room, dirty and disheveled, knowing that the scepter will always be extended, and that the King doesn't flinch when His royal garb is muddied by our tears and mess while He holds us.  It's where He wants to be.  Wrestling strengthens our relationship muscles with Him.  It's, again, not a sign of weakness as much as it is a sign of strength.  Thank you, Jesus, for showing me that even the answers to the questions can't ward off the pain and that I am allowed and invited to think, mull, weep, plead and interact with my Father.

3 | Jesus didn't have access to specific promises that I do.   
Lastly, it amazes me Jesus didn't hear the Father say "I will never leave you or forsake you."  Jesus wasn't promised "I will be hear.  I will never leave your side."  He had to deal with the silence of actually being abandoned by God.

This is never true for me.

However it feels, however it seems, however I act, I will not be forsaken.  I will not be left.  He is near.  He goes before me, and stays with me, and hems me in behind.  I am entirely safe.  He remains in me, and I remain in Him.  We're attached.  And Jesus didn't live life as a person with that same hope and promise.  He had to say "good-bye" and relinquish all the good He had ever known.  He handed it over at the gates of Hell.  'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'  It will never be my cry.  I scream 'Abba, Father!' and He hears me, and flees the house, and meets me on the road, and comes to me, and gives me all His good things - He showers them on me, and excitedly celebrates.

Thank you, Jesus, for making me a part of the pact - for putting me in your place and giving me a very real hope and security.

Lessons from Joel | Post 24

My mom had the idea, and I'm in the throes of it.  Because I loved it.   A "Wall of Men" in our Little Guy's room.  My two grandpas - Dirt and Papa.  Caleb's two grandpas - Paps and Pop.  Our fathers, Alan and Terry.  And our brothers: Daniel, Elijah, Tim, Micah, Kevin, Andrew, Joshua, Dude, Jeremiah, Josiah and Joel.   One of my projects during this month in Oklahoma was to gather and scan all the individual portraits of the men in Caleb's family.  His mom pulled out album after album for me.  I chose my favorite, she scanned, and we'd repeat.
Today I chose Joel's picture.  I flipped through his album - my first time since having my own little man in me.  The pictures of him singing like he's in a choir (songbook and all) with big rainboots on make me laugh out loud.  And his scrunch-nose faces.  Page after page of that scrunch.  His album is happy - full of farm life, birthdays, holidays, animals, family and big big cheeks.  I chose my favorite picture: one where he's wearing a yellow tie, doing his scrunch face.  I adore it.  The pages are obviously coming to an end… and he's still only three.  I know there aren't more years of pages to add.  I know the album is going to end with a thud.  There aren't hospital pictures.  Or chemo and bloated and sleeping in a white metal bed pictures.  There are some pictures of cute twins in cowboy get-up, making faces in a window sill on a red barn.  And then: there is a letter, on the front side of the final page.

A mom writes to her boy and tells him how sad she is to finish this book.  Reading "finish" makes my eyes sting.  She's sad to finish this book, because she's finishing it without him.  She goes on to list the things that come to mind in that moment - the things she misses the most.  They were awfully beautiful and dreadful to read, especially while Little Guy butt-butted my belly-button as I took it in.  "I miss your little voice."  She told a story in her letter about how Joel would ask her to "help me, mommy?" in his final few weeks.  Everything was so hard and painful for him.  She wrote to him how much she loved to help him, and how she'd hold his hands and lift and carry him.  When he was particularly uncomfortable he'd ask "Help me carefully?"  

The yellow-tied, rain-booted-choir-boy, bald-baby, scrunch face from a few pages ago.  I couldn't help but cry.  Oh Joel.  "Help me carefully."  What sound and sweet words, little brother.  I flipped that last page and there were sticker letters spelling out a part of a common verse: "The Lord gives and…"  That was all.  The Lord gives and.  "Takes away" didn't need to be said.  The hard white back of the photo-album, with the "Creative Memories" logo made it clear.  The Lord gives and… the end.  We know what else He does.  But He gave.  Flip back two pages, and look at what He gave.  And He gives still.  He gives promise.  And Himself.  And album-making.  And time passing.  And grandsons.  And sunshine.

And He gives help, carefully.  

I've unavoidably meditated on Joel's brilliant phrase for the last few hours.  "Careful" is nearly implied in the definition of help: "Make it easier for someone to do something by offering aid; to make more pleasant or bearable; to give assistance or support to."  If the "help" isn't actually easing the load, making the situation better, really full of care and ability to know "what makes this situation better?" than it's not much help at all.  It's more problem.  

Careless, flippant, off-handed, rushed "help" is actually harm.  Check the thesaurus.  Harm.  Obstruction.  Hinderance.  "Help the weak," the Bible tells us so.  And who among us would be confused at the concept when "weak" is a blonde, limp, beautiful, distorted-by-disease child asking with his mouth for food or for the potty or for more blankets?  A heavy, tear-filled, eager heart can only carefully help.  Maybe even fearfully - so concerned about the welfare of the little guy, I know I'd edge far more on the side of moving too slow, taking more time, and checking with him too often.  I'd hate to bring more hurt to him.  

But I think carefully helping the other kinds of weak are a sad blind-spot in the church.   Full of good intention ("Hey! I'm helping! Serving, even!") and maybe even deep, well-studied doctrine, many are aware of truths and promises and help's about God.  Who He is.  What He says.  What He commands.  Militantly, sometimes, church-folk can stomp into the newly burned ashes of a destroyed heart-town and say "Ah-ha!  We know what fixes this!"  Quickly, the broken is gone and the new-and-improved homes and shops are re-built, the roads are paved, the ashes are swept away.  They took care of that!  This was me.  A true (very true - and not even misapplied scripture) was my handy-dandy construction crew.  It's simple, I "helped."  Get rid of this, create this - here, I'll even do it for you - and wa-la!  All better now!

I spent a lot of my life doing a lot of very, very good building.  And a lot of very, very bad helping.  I didn't slowly come up to someone in front of their charred home and sit with them, weeping.  I didn't ask.  I just did.  I didn't offer to go through the rubble and mess and see what could be restored and saved.  I didn't offer to leave the grieving alone, and give them plenty of time to search and mourn themselves (if they wanted.)  I didn't unlock my heart and engage my brain and try to imagine and understand just what this may be like.  I didn't listen to stories as much as I offered my two-cents Jesus-girl solution to the "problems" in the stories.  I don't think I helped carefully.

And when it was me.  When my life was the one on fire.  When my memories and feelings were the ones black and impossible-to-breath-through.  When my heart needed an ear, not a mouth.  When I was weak and silently begging for help.  It changed me.  And the pat-on-my-back, "you're actually being kind of annoying and clingy… and not trusting God… but I won't say it, I'll just casually throw out this excuse about why I can't really take the time to understand you," Bible BandAid, "God won't give you more than you can handle! Grin!," brief "help" was so hurtful.  It made me feel so much worse.  It wasn't considerate, caring or careful.  And now I knew what it was like to be on that side of it.

I wanted (and treasure) the Hosea 11 help.  "I took them up by their arms… I led them with cords of kindness, with bands of love.  I became the one who eased the burdens on their jaw.  I bent down, and fed them."  I learned of Mark 14 help. "Leave her alone.  Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me."  I learned about me and Jesus.  I learned about a mother's head rub and silence, letting me cry and duke it out with my Father.  I learned about friends who announced that they were coming to get you and take you grocery shopping with them!  That's that!  I learned about the people who didn't compare and share their heart-hurts with me while I was just trying to work through my own stings.  They just simply were there - with their whole hearts and minds.  These things "were hidden from the wise and understanding, and have been revealed to little children," like Joel.  "Come to me! All! All who are weary and heavy of heart!  I will give you rest.  I am gentle, and lowly in heart.  My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."  And My help is careful.  

I'm figuring out what it means to help well.  To really be a burden-easer.  To not just dive into the pool with my wisdom-whistle and understanding-inner-tube.  I'm learning that impractical, irrational, crying, dirty people don't just do beautiful things for the Lord, but they are beautiful things to Him.  I'd smack your face and say very rude things to you if you thought Joel was anything but cherished, wonderful and beautiful.  Even though he was sick and weak.

I'm learning I needed a smack, because the heart-sick, and spiritually-crushed, and emotionally-weak are cherished, wonderful and beautiful.  They didn't needed Jesus to sit them down with a sermon and practical take-home point.  He knew that.  They needed Him.  And that's exactly what He gave. The Lord gives and.

And there is a little scrunch-face with Him right now.  Thank you for helping me.  You're changing the way I help other people - I can't thank you enough.  I can't wait to hang your face on your nephew's wall.