It amazes me the things I define myself by.

For as long as I can remember, I was always the skinny girl.  I pretty much looked like a toothpick until I was about 16 or so and even then, I was still very slender.  This had its own problems, but in general it was something that I liked about myself.  I definitely thought of myself as thin and whenever anyone would describe me it would almost inevitably be on their list.

Fast forward to last year.  Now happily married and pregnant, I ended up gaining about fifty pounds during the pregnancy.  I wasn’t too concerned (especially considering that I had lost some weight in my first trimester due to really bad nausea, etc.) and I was certain that it would be pretty easy to lose all or most of that after the baby came.  I’d be back into my pre-pregnancy clothes within a couple months of the birth, no problem.

Well, that didn’t happen.  Despite exercising, and cutting out some unnecessary snacks and such (no dieting for this nursing mama), and lots of agonizing, eight months later, I’ve lost hardly any of that poundage.  And I’ll be honest…that’s really hard.  Just ask Aaron (or don’t!)…dealing with that has been one of the biggest emotional challenges of the past months.  It’s not that I’m overweight or anything now…I have a normal build now…but I’m definitely no longer “skinny”.  And while that doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, it’s been very hard to come to terms with.  And I realised that’s because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve subconsciously defined myself by my skinniness.

This has all been brought to my mind again in the past couple days when yet another aspect of how I defined myself had to fall.  My curly hair.

All my life I had wanted curly hair, but my hair was always very frizzy and flyaway.  But about five years ago, I discovered the Curly Girl method, stopped shampooing and brushing…and voila! a head of ringlets.  To say that I loved it would be an understatement.  My curls lived happily in Florida, then Missouri, then New Zealand.  I love humidity!  Then, I moved to central California, where it’s very dry.  They hung on for awhile, but in the past year or so, that, coupled with all the lovely hormonal changes that come with pregnancy that apparently affect even your dead cells, made for pretty sorry curls.

It took me a long time to finally admit it, but last week I resigned myself to the fact that…I don’t really have very curly hair anymore.  It’s not stick straight or anything, but nothing like the ringlets it used to be.  And it sounds quite silly and reveals my shallowness…but I was really discouraged about that.  I felt, in a way, like I had lost part of myself and didn’t know what to do.

And that feeling was what alerted me to the fact that, once again, I was defining myself by something so superficial.  I mean, it’s dead cells!  Yet here I was, so upset over the fact that they weren’t like I wanted them to be.

It’s essentially pride.  I liked how I looked before…skinny and curly hair.  And I was very prideful about both of those things.  I hate to admit it, but I judged people who didn’t look that way.  As if I had anything to do with the fact that I looked that way!  But sin can distort our thinking so much.

And now that those things are gone, even though it was hard to deal with at first, I’m learning to be thankful since those outward physical things…though certainly not bad in and of themselves…I had allowed to work in me sinful attitudes.  Pride.  Judgmentalism.  And now that they’re gone, and I maybe don’t look exactly like I wish I did, God is working in me a humility that wasn’t there before (and still needs lots of work, believe me!).

And He’s working in me a slow knowledge that I can’t let anything outside of Him define me.  Certainly not something as trivial as my body shape or hair type.  I need my eyes so focused on my Father that it doesn’t matter to me how others view me.  I don’t want the cares of this world to come in and slowly choke out any fruit that I can produce for His kingdom (Matthew 13:22).

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day…while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, 18-5:4)

Potatoes roasted with garlic

Yesterday was one of my sister-in-laws’ 10th birthday and for the birthday meal, I was asked to make what has been dubbed “Jessica’s Potatoes”…pretty descriptive, eh?!  And as I was making them, I thought that this would be a good introductory recipe for this blog…a simple, but typical crash course in cooking with Jessica.  The two main components of cooking with Jessica are the lack of a real “recipe”…and lots of garlic (though that can be modified for desserts).  And this “recipe” has both…  Enjoy!

Jessica’s Potatoes (or, Potatoes Roasted with Garlic)

Chop potatoes into bite-size pieces (I usually use russets or Trader Joe’s golden potatoes) and fill a 9×13.  Cut the bottoms off and peel four heads of garlic (really!  It’s not too much…it mellows out wonderfully).  Toss with the potatoes.  Drizzle entire mixture with a good amount of olive oil.  Salt liberally.  Toss well.   Bake at 400F for an hour and a half to two hours (until potatoes are tender), tossing and mixing occasionally.

Real life isn’t like the parenting books

One of the perks (probably the only one) of having really bad morning (i.e. all-day) sickness in a pregnancy, is that you get lots of time to read.  That was me last summer…for once in my life, I had too much time to read…something I never thought would happen.  And along with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and random other novels, I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on about this amazing event that was going on and making me so sick.  Pregnancy, labour, home birth, water birth, birth in general, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, babywearing, co-sleeping, etc., etc.   If it was about natural birth and parenting, I ate it up.  Lying on my bed or the couch, or on a good day, sitting in a chair, I read and read while sipping lemon water and occasionally munching some wholegrain cereal.

[And just in case any of you are going to comment and tell me that small meals of protein throughout the day help with morning sickness…just let me say, thank you for trying to help…and that may have worked for you, but it definitely does not work for me!  Protein in most forms like eggs, cheese, peanut butter, meats, etc., my body just could not handle very well, especially before noon.  Thus, Barbara’s Bakery Shredded Oats ceral became my constant friend, along with buttered toast, berries and altoids.  But anyway…I’m getting off-topic…but I just didn’t want to blow-up at anyone who told me the protein thing for the billionth time…)

Co-sleeping (the practice of having your baby share your bed or sleep right next to your bed) was something I read quite a bit about because originally we weren’t going to (Aaron left it pretty much up to me).  I guess I just listened too well to that story of King Solomon and threatening to cut the baby in half, but I was very scared that I would end up rolling on my baby and killing it.  And then I read this wonderful article which supplied some very helpful links to scientific studies showing how safe co-sleeping is.  After reading those, I was sold and became quite excited…it definitely appealed to my mommy heart to have my baby sleeping right next to me.

And in the beginning, it was wonderful.  Christmas Eve night, Cedar’s first night home from the NICU, I cuddled his little body next to mine and it was pure mother bliss.  Especially having seeing him in his isolette and then little hospital bed, all covered with wires and tubes, tucking him up against me and falling asleep to nothing but the sound of all of our breathing was amazing.  And as he got older and got over his nursing problems, not having to get out of bed to feed him was great!  I became a big co-sleeping advocate.

And after Cedar was born, I continued to read occasionally about how great co-sleeping was and I agreed wholeheartedly.  We weren’t sure how long Cedar would stay in our bed, but I figured probably until he was weaned, which would hopefully be when he was a year or older.  A couple months ago, he got too big to try to fit all three of us on our queen bed, so we moved him to a crib-turned-co-sleeper right next to it and that worked really well.

But now, he’s sleeping in the library/guest room/office in the crib-turned-back-into-a-crib and I find myself wondering what happened.  According to the parenting books that advocate co-sleeping, everything should be peachy as long as your baby sleeps next to you and you nurse and cuddle with him at night if he fusses.  But…shockingly enough, real life isn’t like the parenting books.  They don’t tell you that your baby might be a light sleeper who wakes up four to seven times a night, crying and thus waking up Daddy who really needs his sleep so he can get up in the morning and go to work with power tools and on high ladders.  And that this can continue for weeks and no one will get much sleep, leaving the only sane option to be to put the baby in the other room and let him learn to put himself back to sleep when he’s not hungry.  I never thought that would happen.

One thing I’m definitely learning in this phase of my life…in my marriage and in parenting…is to hold very loosely to the ideas that I had when I was single.  Back then (seems like another lifetime), I had so many plans and big ideas for what I would or wouldn’t do, but oftentimes life throws you something you don’t expect, something that you didn’t anticipate at 18, and you need to roll with it.  Even though there’s already been lots that I didn’t plan on, I’m learning that if you trust the Holy Spirit to guide you, He will.  And like so many other things, it ends up just being another opportunity to throw yourself on Jesus.

While composing…

I woke up this morning, exhausted, having gone to bed late and been up several times with Cedar throughout the night.  (I’m beginning to relate to the “sleep-deprived for the rest of my life” feeling mentioned by a lot of moms I know.)  Having awoken in such a state, I started to feel quite overwhelmed as I mentally went over my to-do list for the day.  Shower.  Catch up on clothing and diaper laundry after being gone for the weekend. Dust.  Sweep.  Mop.  Wipe down the bathroom.  Prepare the guest room/library/office for my sister, Rebecca, who is coming in tomorrow to stay for several days.  Clean the dehydrator.  And the list went on, full of a bunch of little things that have been needing to be done for awhile.  All I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and sleep for several more hours (uninterrupted…what a concept!), but Cedar had woken up already and I knew I needed to get started on the day.

As the morning moved along, I composed this post in my head…one about how you have to trust in the Lord for His strength to get you through hard days.  But as the day progressed, it never got written, and now, I’m finally sitting down after most of my list (and more!) is done…I realised that the day hasn’t even seemed hard at all.  I do still depend on the Lord for His strength, but a lot of times, focusing on how hard I think a day is going to be (something I sometimes do, especially when I haven’t been able to get much sleep lately) is going to make it a lot harder than if I just quit focusing on it!  Kind of like when Peter was walking towards Jesus on the water and then started sinking when he looked away…if I stay focused on Him instead of my little hardships, the hardships end up not being as hard as I thought they would be.  A lesson I need to remember often.

When His grace was enough

I’ve always had a very overactive imagination.  From the time I was little and I was terrified that aliens were going to burst through our roof and carry me away, I’ve had to do battle with myself and the scenarios I can imagine if I let my mind go.  And while I’m no longer scared that aliens are going to abduct me, I still regularly have to fight against letting myself imagine horrible scenarios and becoming fearful of how I was going to handle them.  It’s a constant learning to take your thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to be filled with the perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

Last year, I read a blog post that resounded with me as clearly as if I had written it myself.  In this post, the author shared how she too has the same problem of letting her imagination run wild and bringing fear upon herself as she wonders how earth she’ll deal with whatever terrible scenario she just imagined.  Then, one of them happened to her.  And she realised that in all her imaginings, she never factored in God’s grace and how He promises that it will always be sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

She shares: “Martha Peace wrote about exactly this in one of her books. (I think it was The Excellent Wife.) She pointed out that when we are simply imagining chilling scenarios, we are facing the horrible emotions without any of God’s sustaining grace. Every time we imagine something, we put ourselves through agony of a kind we will never have to go through in real life. Because when awful things are actually happening, God walks with us through them and gives us His grace and strength. The peace of God’s presence through a trial is something I can never conjure up in my imagination, and something that only comes with real trials, not the pretend ones I make up while driving. Now I know the difference.”

After reading that post, I remind myself of it pretty regularly, especially since I had that same thing happen to me last year…one of the fearful scenarios I had imagined came to life and yet in it, there was peace.

It really started during our trip the British Isles this past September.  Six months pregnant, I was sitting on the bed in our little cottage in the Lake District, going through our very full inbox, when I read a quick e-mail from one of my friends.  She was about two months ahead of me in her pregnancy and she was sending out e-mail since she had ended up having her little boy six weeks early.  He was small, was having breathing problems and was being sent to the NICU.  Please pray.

My heart went out to her, and I prayed for her little one, but at the same time, the fears started pressing in on me.  What if that happened to us?  What if our baby came too early and wasn’t alright and had to go to the hospital (we were planning a homebirth)?  I don’t think I could deal with that…  I said as much to Aaron, who simply said something along the lines of, “God will give us grace to get through it”.  I was going to remember that.

Fast forward about two months. (And by the way, for those wondering, my friend’s little boy is now doing fine.)  Four weeks to go until my due date, I was in labour and the baby was coming.  My midwife was still going to deliver at home, and at a little past three in the morning, our son was born.  The midwife drew him up out of the water and put him on my chest and it was one of the most amazing moments of my life.  He was a little limp, but after several seconds, his tiny limbs start squirming and he let out a few lusty cries.

After moving to the bed, my midwife kept monitoring him, and after a couple minutes was concerned that he didn’t seem to be breathing very well.  After the first few loud cries, he was just whimpering and it kept sounding like he was trying to catch his breath and couldn’t.  My midwife called the doctor she works with, asked his opinion and they decided our little boy needed to be taken to the children’s hospital.  The ambulance was on its way.

While we waited, I held my little one close, bundled in blankets and holding an oxygen mask to his face, only taking it away to suction his nose and mouth every so often.  We announced his name, Cedar Milan, to Aaron’s family who was waiting with us.

When the ambulance finally came, they worked on Cedar on the dining room table, inserting an IV into the back of his tiny hand.  We weren’t allowed to come in the ambulance with him, so I kissed him and told him I loved him and then…they took my baby and I didn’t know if he would live until I saw him again.

And yet…while I’m in tears as I write this, at the time, I was truly filled with a peace that was beyond my understanding.  Later, as we drove to the hospital, I had quite a bit of energy and I chatted away with Aaron and his mom, going over all the details of the birth.  Now, I wonder if I appeared unfeeling, but I actually think it was my Father’s grace upholding me at that time.  If the enormity of what was going on had actually sunk in at the time, I don’t know if I would have been able to hold it together and deal with all that we had to.

We spent the day at the hospital, mostly in the NICU waiting room, trying to doze on the slippery couches, and walking gingerly (on my part anyway) down white corridors whenever we were allowed to see Cedar.  He was doing better than they originally thought he would, and he continued to improve all day, but it still was my baby who was under all those tubes and wires.  Before giving birth, I had daydreamed often of how wonderful it would be to cuddle my little one against me after the excitement of his arrival died down.  Now, all I could do was put my hand through the hole in his isolette and stroke his downy head, watching the fragile up-and-down of his little chest.  Yet again, in all this, there was peace and a strength that could only come from the One who had formed every part of my son when he was hidden inside me.

The hardest part of it all came that evening, when we had to drive home for the night, an hour away from our little boy who wasn’t even a day old.  People near the hospital offered their homes to us, but we had to go and pull together things we would need when we came back the next morning.  We were hoping then to be able to stay at the hospital until Cedar was released, which, we were told, could be anywhere from one to two weeks, at the least, five days.  We knew we needed to go, but the doctors had told us that the turning point would come when he was around 24 or so hours old…that night…and there was nothing we could do.  So we went home, knowing the best we could do for our son was to be ready for whatever would face us the next day.

I remember many tears in the car that night.  Aaron and I held each other and sobbed before we pulled out, and I broke down a few more times on the drive home.  We didn’t know what the morning would hold.

But…there was grace.  Grace for both of us to be able to sleep soundly that night and awaken to hear that Cedar was doing much better in the morning.  Grace for the next four days (much less time than the doctors had originally told us) that we spent in a room in the NICU, trying to catch snatches of rest amidst constant beepings and babies crying and trying to get our little one to eat enough so we could leave.  Grace for when Cedar had to spend a day and night under the bilirubin lights and all we could do to calm him was briefly cover him with our hands.  Grace for the days finally at home, but wondering if his jaundice would ever get better.  Grace for all his problems with learning to nurse and wondering if he’ll gain weight as he should.

I remember reading the blog post that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I think it was a couple days before I went into labour.  As I said, it immediately struck a chord with me, but the truth of it increased a hundredfold several days later I went through it myself.  Something that I had imagined as being so horrible and feared greatly when I thought of whether it would happen to me…did happen.  But in the fire, He was there…and when we passed through deep water, He was there.  “Fear not, for I am with you”  And He was.

The start of something simple

It began with dinner out.

I had looked forward to this date with my husband for awhile and was thoroughly enjoying just being with him, savouring our mushroom appetizer, and talking or being silent together.  We had just finished an interesting conversation on church and what it should look like, when he looked at me and said, “I think you should start blogging again.”

Rather taken aback at this out-of-the-blue statement, I didn’t say anything for a second, and then all the same objections began to flood my mind.  See, this idea of starting blogging again isn’t exactly a new one.  Aaron and I have talked about it several times over the past year and a half, but honestly, I’m just intimidated.  And the funny thing is, I’m intimidated by myself.

My old blog, “The Scribbles of a Sojourner”, for a long time was, as I put it in one post, “an up-to-date account of the doings of my life, interspersed with random musings and such”.  During certain seasons of that blog, the writing juices were flowing like crazy and I would blog several times a week, sometimes even churning out two or more posts a day.  And I loved it…I love writing and having an outlet to be able to share my writing with others was great.  But then, several years ago, that season ended.  I started Bible college and got busy with schoolwork and friends.  My poor little blog limped along as I would guiltily post once every month or so, random scribbles from a brain so full of Old Testament history and friends’ problems that not much was left to write about.  After two years of that, I moved to New Zealand and the blogging picked up a bit, especially when a certain dark-haired young man became a regular reader.   But when that young man began to court me, any spare time online was spent chatting or writing long e-mails.  Writing anything other than “I miss you so much” letters became rather impossible.

All that to say, quite a gap has grown between now and when I stopped blogging regularly.  More has happened in those few years than in any other time in my life and I am now a completely different person than that girl who scribbled away while she sojourned.  And so whenever the topic of starting back to blogging would come up, I would freeze…”I can’t do that.  There’s no way that I can condense and write about all that has happened in these past years and I obviously can’t blog anything new until I do that.”  My perfectionism reared its ugly head, shouting that there can’t be any unexplained gaps and it’ll just mess everything up, anything new must be explained, etc.  That may sound silly to many of you, but I’m guessing those of you who are also perfectionists can relate.

Aaron understands how I struggle with this, so after his statement at dinner, when I was sharing this again, he just said, “Well, then, start a new blog.”  But, but…okay.  What a brilliant idea!  Start again, with the slate wiped clean and the possibility of anything being written on it.  My husband knows me so well…”my new blog” began to instantly take shape in my head.

And as we were driving home from our lovely dinner, I asked him what I should call this new blog.  “Something simple” was his reply and even though I knew that he was saying it should be a simple title, that phrase struck me as perfect.  Living simply is something we strive for in our household, and also, seeing that title so often will be a needed reminder as I write.  This blog doesn’t have to be anything grand, not everything has to be explained…just write.  And so I will.