Saturday, November 26, 2016

Things That Happen to Church Planters

Dear new or prospective church planter,

Welcome to my very outdated and mostly inactive blog! My name is Amanda and I am married to a preacher boy from Missouri who moved down to Texas all for love. We’ve been married for 14 years and have a 10-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 1-year-old baby girl. Growing up, it never entered my mind that I might marry a man in ministry. But when I met Curtis, I fell in love and became quite willing to sign up for whatever was in his future. We were surprised to be called into church planting after our years of working in student ministry and parachurch ministry. 

Our church, Bayou City Fellowship, celebrated its fifth birthday in September. My son started kindergarten right before we launched and he just started fifth grade. It’s hard to believe. We planted a second campus right after we turned two because we ran out of room for kids in the school we were leasing. Since our second campus is still so young and since our first campus recently relocated, it doesn’t feel like we are five years past our launch. Sometimes people share memories from the early days and I realize we’ve been doing this long enough for me to forget things. We’ve accumulated a nice little chunk of years. We have to get to five before we get to twenty-five, right? 

With our first five years under our belt, I’d like to share some of the most challenging and some of the most rewarding things we have experienced as church planters. I am going to start with the hard stuff so we can end on a positive note. I want to shed light on these situations so that if they happen to you, you can look at what’s real and let fear and discouragement leave quickly. I also hope someone who’s experiencing them will be encouraged to know they’re not alone. I’m praying that my words, heart, and tone will honor God and be helpful to anyone who comes across this in the future.

In sharing some of our challenging experiences, I would never want to dishonor my beloved church, which I love deeply with my heart and spirit. Our two campuses feel like they are our children, having been birthed after months of anticipation, through very painful labor and joyful delivery. We have the privilege of serving with and ministering to some of the most loving, gracious, generous, courageous, accepting, hard-working, faith-filled, and Jesus-focused people I can imagine. God has graced us beyond our wildest dreams. But we are also a church family made up of human beings, and that means we all bring sin natures, spiritual weaknesses, old wounds, fresh wounds, church-related baggage, expectations and opinions to the table. It can get real. Very real. What a miracle it is when Jesus supernaturally binds a bunch of flawed people together into a wonderful, eclectic family. We, like every other church and every other family, have to work at loving one another well. I suppose 90% of the tough things we go through are experienced at every other church in America. So here we go… 

10 hard things that happen when you plant a church:

1) You and your church will be vulnerable to controlling people who are drawn to your newness and inexperience. People who were not given the platform they desired at their previous church will hope to get it from you. Over time you will discern the controlling people from the servant leaders. It is likely that they will leave when you refuse to be controlled anymore. Don’t develop a suspicious spirit about people (this is very destructive) but ask God to make you as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. 

2) The enemy will carefully orchestrate “perfect storm” situations that you never could have imagined. When his well planned attacks are executed, you will experience shock and awe. You will climb out of the rubble, stumble toward Jesus and fall at His feet. He will deliver you in time. You will look at Him in holy awe when He builds an even more beautiful house out of the parts that had crumbled. 

3) You will be intimidated by “everyone” and “a lot of people.” These terms will be used to put pressure on you. For example, “I think we should ____ and a lot of other people do, too” is more powerful than plain old “I think we should _____.”  Everyone and a lot of people can make you feel like the sky is falling. That is, until you wise up to the fact that “everyone” and “a lot of people” is usually one other person who wouldn’t bother talking directly to you about it. 

4) People will tell you they miss “the good ole days.” This can sting and make you feel cruddy about the growth your church has experienced. Did you do something wrong by opening your doors to the community? Of course not. Those early seasons had their own difficulties that we don’t always remember. It was never our goal to create a spiritual country club that catered to the comfort and social needs of its members. No Spirit-led person would sign up for that. We must resist the desire to hunker down with our favorite people (gag) and keep everything the same until we die out. 

5) Your family will sometimes be treated as more than human or less than human.* There will be people who flatter you and put you on a pedestal. They will think you can do no wrong. They will credit you for doing things only God can do. It will feel weird and it should. There will also be people who treat you like a door mat. They will make sure you feel guilty about taking any Sundays off. They will behave as though you don’t have feelings. They will send you anonymous emails. They want you to quit. Most people will understand that you and your family are the same amount of human as everyone else in the church.

6) You will say painful goodbyes. Some people you can’t imagine your church without will leave. Even if you totally understand their reason, it doesn’t feel good. It hurts your pride and it hurts your heart. It’ll be okay though. Be grateful for what they contributed to the church and be open to new leaders and friends. God is the only One your church can’t live without. Send them out with a blessing.

7) You will not always approve of yourself. You don’t want to need forgiveness from the people of your church, but you will. You will not be perfect. Sometimes you will be blame-worthy. Sometimes you will sabotage Sunday morning with your bad mood and it will affect the whole congregation. Sometimes you will poison the garden with your very own big mouth. It will not be long after your launch that you will walk into church with a keen awareness that you minister by God’s grace. It is not a bad thing for the leaders of the church to be the most aware of their need for Him.

8) Given enough time, you will offend everyone and be offended by everyone. You will notice that certain people don’t look you in the eye anymore. And you will catch yourself avoiding certain people. Close relationships are impossible without forgiveness and humility. Develop the ability to forgive quickly and move on. This is important for longevity. If we aren’t good forgivers and if we can’t ask for forgiveness, than we might as well leave the ministry. Forgiveness is a really big deal to Jesus. 

9) You will live under constant pressure. The church is heavy. Jesus ultimately carries it, but He lets you feel quite a bit of the weight. We found a Christian counselor who is well acquainted with pastoral ministry. When the oven gets really hot we know we can go to him and talk it out. Ask God for someone trustworthy to help you process what you are experiencing. No one wants to burn out in their 30’s. It will take self-care to finish this marathon at a ripe, old age. Also, when God gives you days of lightheartedness and laughter, squeeze out every last drop. 

10) These and other hardships will purify your heart for Jesus. They will keep you from loving your work, position, influence and calling more than you love God. They will protect the Priority Love. I learned this principle from my mom and I’m so thankful for the hope it gives me. 

Now, on to the good stuff! 

10 great things I hope you will get to experience when you plant a church:

1) You will never be bored. If you’re the kind of person who needs a lot to do, you’re in the right place! One of my kids went through a season of occupational therapy and during that time I learned the term “heavy work.”  Certain people require a lot of heavy work for their bodies to regulate. If you require heavy work in the physical, mental, spiritual or emotional sense, you will find church planting to be very satisfying.  

2) You will get to see many of your ministry dreams come true. When you start a church from the ground up, the schedule is not too crowded to do the ministries you’re dreaming of. One of the ministry dreams I had for a long time was for our church to start an ESL program. Some amazing ladies in our church launched this beautiful ministry in the fall and it gives my heart so much joy that we can serve internationals in our community. 

3) God will send you some very special people to put their gifts into action and you will thank Him every time you see them. These people are so talented, hard-working, sacrificial, and wonderful, you won’t believe it. You know you don’t deserve to have them at your church, so you will lavish praise on Jesus for His grace. 

4) Your prayer life will have an incredible opportunity to thrive. Prayer should be a huge part of a church planter’s life and of the life of his church. The Lord will answer your prayers so specifically, you will fall to your knees in awe of Him. He will do miracle after miracle, big and small.

5) There will be people in your church you love so much, you’ll wonder how you went your whole life without knowing them. Relationships are the best part of church planting. Curtis and I often say, “Isn’t it weird that we didn’t even know ________ three years ago?” 

6) You will learn to appreciate the diversity of gifts in the body of Christ. You will become keenly aware of how many spiritual gifts it takes to make the ship seaworthy. As we began our church planting process, we prayed that God would bring us every spiritual gift and every part of the body of Christ to help our church thrive. And He did it! It is beautiful to see them all working together. 

7) You will be cared for by your church family. I pray you will find this to be true. When we launched our church, the enemy came at my husband many nights in a row through terrifying dreams. One night, without telling us, a bunch of the men on our core team took turns praying for him every hour so he could sleep. The nightmares stopped. Also, when we had our youngest baby, people brought us meals every single night for a month. We couldn’t believe it. 

8) You will see your struggles and painful life experiences redeemed as you use them to minister to people. Our prayer team is pretty big and it always amazes me when God sends a woman with a familiar struggle to pray with me. Almost every Sunday I get a taste of that redemption. Thank You, Jesus.

9) The person who really, really doesn’t like you will probably not stay. I can’t imagine why anyone would stay at a church plant when they don’t like the pastor. It wouldn’t really pay to stay and be grumpy and try to outlast them.

10) For the pastor’s wife, there’s no collective pressure to be like the one who was there before you. You may feel more free to be yourself instead of fitting into a mold. At first, you will probably serve in the areas with the biggest need, but over time you will be able to serve where your gifts and passions align. 

Friend, I pray a blessing on you and your family as you seek God's will for your ministry. May you hear His voice, have His vision, be given the strength of His hands and the steadiness of His feet. And may your heart only and always be His. 

*I got the concept of “more than a human” and “less than a human” from a book called Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge a few years ago. Eldridge quoted speaker and author John Bradshaw from his book Homecoming. He wrote about toxic shame that can cause individuals to be more than human (ex: perfect) or less than human (ex: a slob). He says healthy shame allows us to make mistakes, which are an integral part of being human. You can read it in context here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

In Honor of the Time I Asked Google if I Should Have a Third Child

Last night I came into the living room and found my husband playing "Butterfly Kisses" from his phone and singing it to Willa. I asked him if he was doing some emotional cutting. He was just being silly and in love with his baby girl. In that corny and sweet little moment, I remembered how we had struggled so much over the decision to have a third baby. And here was my husband singing one of the sappiest songs of all time to her. It seems ridiculous now that this was once a hard decision. 

One day when I was feeling torn about whether we should leave well enough alone or try to have another child, I googled "Should I have a third baby?" I was really hoping to find an amazing blog post where some mama would show me the way and answer this question for me. I read a few things but none of them satisfied me. 

One of my struggles was that Annabeth was already in kindergarten (her big brother was in third) and this would be like starting over. But while my year of freedom had some definite perks, I felt sad when I saw other moms out with their kids during the day. I avoided going inside Chickfila during breakfast or lunch because it made me emotional to see a million little kids and their moms. I realized that the point of life was not to get my kids raised as quickly as possible so my husband and I could live some fantasy life of relaxation, travel, and date nights. Some of that is good, but it was not what God intended our lives to be about. 

I also struggled with my age. I would be considered advanced maternal age with any future pregnancy. My mom was really young when she had me and when I calculated how old my sister and I were by the time she was 35, it freaked me out. (I was in 8th grade by then. Eek!) But I realized that if a peer came to me and asked "Am I too old to have a baby?" I would've said, "No! Absolutely not. Go for it!" Why couldn't I tell myself the same thing?

On November 11, 2014, our dear friends Cassi and Dustin had their first baby - a sweet little girl named Sadie. Curtis and I were so excited for them and we were up at that hospital as soon as we heard that she'd been born. Being in the hospital and holding that little bundle - we looked at each other and knew we wanted to do this again. It was a few months before we were expecting. Guess what my due date was? November 11, 2015. The Odoms are expecting their second baby and their due date is actually Willa's birthday. 

I will never forget telling our kids that we were going to have a baby. We were in the back booth at a restaurant called Newks. I had horrible morning sickness and the only thing I could stand to eat at that point was soup, which Newks has in abundance. When we told them, they both started bouncing up and down on the cushiony bench and asking a hundred questions. It was the best. 

Around twenty weeks, we took them out of school early so they could be at the gender-revealing ultrasound. We had intended to let it be a surprise but we were weak - oh so very weak! We decided it would be beneficial for the kids not to get their heart set on one gender and to give them time to prepare before the birth. I was totally convinced the baby was a boy. When the ultrasound tech announced it was a girl, I very loudly said, "WHAT?!?!" Haha. 

Annabeth walked on air for the next 24 hours and Jackson sulked. Bless his heart. Even so, I promise you he wouldn't trade that baby sister for anything in the world. On Monday, Willa Rose had her six month doctor visit and got some shots. That evening she was pretty weepy and my sweet boy said, "Willa, I'm so sorry about your shots. I wish I could've tooken them for you." I died. 

I thought by the time the baby was 6 months old, the honeymoon would be over for the big kids and their enthusiasm toward her might lessen. That has not been the case at all. The more interactive she's gotten, the more eager they are for her to wake up in the morning and the happier they are to come home and play with her. Annabeth walked in the door yesterday, didn't even say hi to her dad and me, and whisked the baby right out of Curt's arms. I know that Jackson and AB will have plenty of days when they get annoyed by their pesky little sister, but their relationships with her are so dear. I think Willa's a very lucky girl to have them. 

Having a big gap between your kids is not super common, but there are some really special things about it. For example, Annabeth came to my baby shower and helped me open the presents. I bought her a corsage and made a big deal about it with her. I love that she will be able to remember it. 

Also, my time alone with Willa during the day reminds me so much of the best parts of having your first kid. If we want to snuggle on the couch the entire day, we can. I don't have to jump up to help someone go to the bathroom or get a cup of juice. Now our early mornings and evenings are crazy -  getting the kids ready for school and doing their various activities - but I figure it all balances out. 

I want to say something to any young mamas reading this post who are overwhelmed with little ones right now. They are going to grow out of some of the things that drive you crazy. They will be potty trained. They will let you sleep late-ish on Saturday mornings. They will be able to fix their own cereal. They will get old enough to go almost anywhere with you without giving you a panic attack. When that happens and you're able to get some rest, you might have the desire and the bandwidth for another kid. When Jackson went to Kindergarten I enjoyed him immensely. The elementary years are so fun. No one told me! That's when I first started thinking that we should've had more kids. Before that I was too tired and overwhelmed to imagine it. Consider this before you take steps to make your family size permanent. 

To any mama who might come across this post after asking Google if she should have a third kid, I can't show you the way or make the decision for you. And this post is not amazing. But I can tell you our family has treasured every single day with Willa. We know the hard parts aren't forever, so we don't dwell on them. We feel extremely graced to have her with us. May God give you wisdom as you decide and bless your family in every way. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Willa's Birth Story - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I nearly fell out of the bed. I’m not sure why I was shocked since I had labored in the night and we had voluntarily driven ourselves to the hospital. But when I wasn’t further dilated and they tried to stop my labor I just wrote the whole thing off. 

The ultrasound had showed that our baby was really sleepy and wasn’t moving around as much as she should’ve been. They had spoken with my doctor and he wanted her to go ahead and come that day. 

They got us settled into a nice little delivery room. My nurse was named Hanna and she was excellent. She was kind, a good listener, attentive, patient, gentle and smart. I remember seeing the baby station and bassinet and it was so wild knowing that all of it was for my baby. And she would use it today! 

I got my epidural early on. I was really nervous about it because I had started to pass out after my last one and had to have oxygen. Nurse Hanna stood in front of me and let me hold onto her. She told me to breathe and talked to me to help me stay calm. The anesthesiologist was a woman and she was wonderful. It was the least painful one of my three. A few minutes later I was still doing great but then the room started getting dark and I felt like I was going to black out. The doctor and nurse shifted my body to one side and kept it from happening. I’m not sure why my body does that. I was totally fine after that. 

Curtis, my mom, Melissa and Crista were with us at the hospital during my labor. It was a happy and fun atmosphere in the room. We talked about the Lord’s goodness a lot. Curtis played my favorite worship songs on his phone. I hadn't slept the night before so the epidural made me very loopy. If someone spoke to me, it took me about 5 seconds to respond. The doctor came in to see me and broke my water at some point. He thought I would have the baby around 6 or 7 that evening. I thought it would be earlier based on my past labors. Around 3 I told Mom and Lis and Curtis to go get some lunch. They had been awake for hours and hadn’t eaten. Crista stayed with me and we watched my contraction monitor for fun. All of a sudden I felt pressure and Crista said, “Whoa! That was a really big one!” I was so thankful for my epidural. Nurse Hanna, who had been monitoring me from her station, burst in a couple seconds later and asked how I was feeling. Crista left and the nurse checked me. I was a 10! Crista texted Curtis, who was in the middle of the sky bridge that connects the hospital to a shopping mall, and told him to get his butt back to the room. Mom and Melissa had just ordered a nice lunch at Churrasco’s nearby and had to come right back. Oops!  

It wasn’t long before my room was emptied of the people I knew and filled mostly with people I’d never met until that day. Curtis, of course, was by my side. He counted and I pushed and at 4:44 PM, that sweet Willa Rose Jones was born. As with her sister, the cord was wrapped around her neck. She cried a little but when they laid her on my chest she got very still and seemed to fall asleep. That moment is supposed to be really sweet and bonding and everything, but it scared me to death. I thought something was really wrong with her because she wasn’t moving around.  The nurses eventually got a little nervous too and took her to the baby station. They did what they do and the baby was fine. (Remember how they’d said she was “sleepy” in the womb?)  My doctor and all the nurses sang Happy Birthday to Willa while they were working on her. They wiped her off and put her in a blanket for me. Curtis and I marveled at this priceless treasure we had just been given. 

About an hour later, my mom and Melissa came in. Then Crista and her son Noah came in. It was a joy to introduce everyone to our new daughter. Later in the evening, my dad brought my grandmother and Jackson and Annabeth. My mom says that she’s never seen a happier little family than the first time the five of us got to be together in the hospital room. There are many things I can’t recall, but I remember Annabeth arriving in some leggings and a t-shirt. Apparently my dad didn’t know that she was supposed to have a skirt on over it. Ha! I think my first postpartum meal was a burrito from Freebird’s. 

We hated to say goodbye to our sweet Nurse Hanna when her shift ended. I wanted to keep her. Before she left, she told us that on her way to work she always prays for whomever she will meet that day. Willa’s birth had already been covered in prayer before we met her. How precious is that? 

Our night nurse was Pat and she gave Willa her very first bath in the sink in our room. I’m kind of old school and I was looking forward to her getting a thorough cleaning. Nurse Pat was really funny and kept me giggling through the night. She helped me get out of bed those first few times, which is a traumatic part of the whole process. You really want great people with you for the first 24 hours. 

Curt’s Mom and Dad spent the entire day driving from Missouri and they made it late that night. We got to see them for a little while before they checked into the hotel connected to the hospital. The Lord has been so kind to us with the births of each of our children. Despite distances and crazy travel schedules, all three of our kids got to meet their four grandparents on the day they were born. I’m so grateful. That day we also saw Corey, Cassi and Dustin, and Crista’s husband Brian. 

The baby and I had a hard time falling asleep. Gone are the days when you could send your newborn to the nursery at night. Hospital policy is now to keep the baby and mama together at all times, unless the baby is having a test done. There are mostly pros to that, but one con is that it’s against the rules to sleep while the baby is in your hospital bed. There aren’t that many ways to comfort a crying baby in the middle of the night when you’ve just given birth. I couldn’t get up yet without great effort, nor could I even lift her out of the bassinet from my bed. So I finally cradled her around my stomach on the Boppy (in the very spot where she used to kick me at night) and we both snoozed a little bit. It was as close to the womb as she could get. The baby on the other side of the wall from us cried all night long and I felt so bad for the mama. 

The next morning my mom came to the hospital and continued the tradition of drying my hair for me. It’s so awesome that she does that. We had lots of new visitors, including the Parkers, the Moseleys, Alicia, Laura, Cassi and Sadie, the Altics, and Christine. 

Our third day in the hospital was very strange. While it was still dark, a nurse came in with a special bassinet with lights on it. Willa’s bilirubin was high. (Being born a bit early caused her system to operate slowly and this was one of the effects.) She had to lay under the lights the whole day. We were really upset that we couldn’t hold her. But if she didn’t spend enough time in there, she might not be discharged with us later that day. We prayed hard that that wouldn’t happen. Ralph and Jane Borde came to see us, which was really fun because their baby was going to be born in that same hospital two months later. They helped take our minds off the jaundice drama.

Willa Rose passed her blood test that evening and we got to take her home. We picked up a pizza and salads on the way home and then started our life as a family of five together. 

Even though we were really happy, that first week was extremely stressful. I ended up wishing Willa had been born a couple weeks later and avoided the jaundice drama. We were discharged on a Wednesday and had to be at our pediatrician’s office every morning - bright and early - for the next three days for a bilirubin check. On Saturday morning I had to take her to an after hours clinic in order to do that. I had to show up before it opened to make sure they got us in before all the sick kids showed up. At that appointment I found out that Willa had to go back to the hospital for more phototherapy. There was no way to get us the equipment required to treat her at home since it was the weekend. I was in a bit of shock. I was incredibly exhausted, my body was still in pain, and my emotions were wacky. By God’s grace alone I was able to deal with that news without having a meltdown. 

Willa and I checked into Texas Children’s Hospital in Katy later that morning. She had to be under the lights as much as possible, so I pumped milk for her so her time outside the glowing bassinet would be minimal. I also pumped so that we could be sure she was drinking enough to flush the jaundice away. She was not a good nurser and we didn’t really have time for her to get good at it. It was hard, again, not to be able to hold my baby as much as I wanted. She got very restless and was constantly ripping off her little eye mask and flipping her body around. 

The nurses and doctors at this hospital were incredible, although I hope I never have a reason to go back there again. It’s a very sobering place. When I felt overwhelmed, I remembered that any one of the parents in that building would trade places with me. I think jaundice is probably the most minor thing you can be admitted for. We had a male nurse and I would've adored that if I’d been there with Jackson, but it was a little weird for me since I was in a postpartum state and pumping non-stop. I just had to get over it. He was very professional and wonderful with Willa. (I’m super thankful for male nurses, by the way. Curtis had one during his hospital stay six years ago and he was tremendous.)

The next morning my baby girl was discharged and we picked up celebratory donuts and kolaches on the way home. It was like a little party around our breakfast table. Willa had finally kicked the jaundice! We had a couple more bili checks that week (her poor heels!) and then our lives finally calmed down. I got to sit on my couch and snuggle my newborn in my pajamas for hours on end, just as I had imagined. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Willa's Birth Story - Part 1

I can't believe I waited six months to write about Willa's birth. I tried to do it when she was a newborn, but my brain was so mushy I could hardly put a whole sentence together. This took me the whole day to write and is probably not much better than what I would've come up with on three hours sleep. It's overly detailed but I will thank myself for that in a few years. Here is part 1 of Willa Rose's birth story. 

The Friday before Willa’s birth, Curtis and I had to go shopping for a new washer and dryer. Our 11-year-old set had finally kicked the bucket. We had lunch at Salata and I ate all the ice I could get. I had developed an insatiable craving for ice in my third trimester (low iron causes this) and theirs was the perfect shape and softness. My craving was so fierce, I had actually lost a couple of pounds because I was preferring ice to food. 

We walked next door to the Sears appliance store where the salesman showed us a simple washer/dryer set that would be big enough for a family of five. It arrived the next day. We had been tempted to see a movie instead and go appliance shopping later, but I’m glad we decided to be adults that day and take care of business. I came to see the whole thing as God’s providence. 

On Saturday I was supposed to be part of the A21 Walk For Freedom downtown. I was pretty run down from a cold and was having a ton of Braxton Hicks contractions. At my OB appointment the Thursday before, my doctor said I was starting to dilate and while he thought I’d make it another week, it could be soon. Worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace with the other walkers and with my doctor’s words ringing in my head, I decided to spend the day close to home. If this was my last Saturday before baby, I had a lot to do!

Priority number one was to have a pedicure. I value having nice toes to look at when all dignity is shed during the birthing process. Annabeth and I went to my favorite nail salon and had our toes done. She was very ticklish during her foot scrub and it made me laugh. My heart was tender to my girl because she was about to move from being the baby of the family for six years to being a big sister. She was so excited but I knew it would be an adjustment for her. Having this girl time together made me feel more peaceful. After our pedis, we went next door and had Chinese food. Once our nails were dry enough, we ventured to Target to get last minute items like baby shampoo and newborn diapers. It was surreal to buy those things because they’re sort of the last stuff you get before baby comes. Meanwhile, Curtis was at home cleaning out the garage. He was totally nesting. The kids and I hung out at home that night while he prepared his sermon for the next morning.  

During my third trimester, Sundays were pretty hard on my body. Getting myself ready in a hurry, driving to church, walking around, standing during worship, and wrangling the kids sent my Braxton Hicks contractions into overdrive. One Sunday at about 34 weeks, I thought I was going into labor on the way home from church. After drinking a bunch of water and taking a long bath, my contractions chilled out. After that, I resolved to sit down during worship and only come for one of our two services. It seemed silly to already be at that point when I was more than a month out from my due date, but the truth is, this was my third pregnancy and I was six years older than the last time I’d had a baby.

That final Sunday we were at our Cypress campus. I remember struggling with what to wear - now nine months pregnant - and settling on a billowy and comfy black cotton dress. I was trying not to be vain about things but it’s definitely hard not to be self-conscious at the end of pregnancy. Everyone asked me how much longer I had. I figured I couldn’t possibly last more than two weeks, but hopefully less! We normally go out to lunch after church but that day I told my husband I just needed to go straight home and get in my bed. Stick a fork in me, I was done. 

In the late afternoon we drove out to my parents’ house in the country. They had a big quilt spread out on the grass with some pillows. Mom had a conference that weekend and she had spent the afternoon out there reading and resting. I laid my tired, sore, contracting body down on the blanket and looked up at the green trees and the blue sky. Memaw had brought a big jar of oatmeal raisin cookies and they tasted so good. Even though my body felt terrible and I was weary of being large and weak, the afternoon was nothing less than dreamy. It was beautiful and peaceful and everyone was taking care of me. Mom had to help me get up when it was time to go inside for dinner. We had fajitas but I couldn’t eat very much because my stomach didn’t feel very good. 

By this time I thought labor could be pretty soon, or I deeply wished it would be. I couldn’t imagine carrying on much longer in that state. I told my mom and grandmother it could be the next day. Mom said she would not turn her ringer off during the night, just in case. 

We went home and got the kids in bed. I took my nightly warm bath to calm down the contractions that I had every evening. Curtis and I settled down on the couch to watch TV. I started logging my contractions on an app just to see. For some reason Curtis started having an allergic reaction and his whole body was itching. He took two Benadryls and then went to bed. Meanwhile, I continued to have a lot of contractions. Eventually I got in bed, but I was having too many to be able to sleep. Another bath didn’t stall them. They didn’t hurt yet but they squeezed my abdomen pretty hard. My stomach was upset, too. I prayed to God that if this wasn’t the real thing, He would make it stop and let me fall asleep. I mean, my husband was passed out on Benadryl so this was not ideal timing! Somehow I did fall asleep for an hour or so. I woke up to some cramps that did not feel good. My contractions came quicker now and I decided it was time. 

I packed my bag and then woke Curtis up. I told him I had been up all night and it was time to go to the hospital. He jumped out of bed and shook off the Benadryl. It was about 4 AM. I texted my mom so she would know that it was game time. I texted our sweet babysitter and her mom, who live a couple streets over, but they didn’t wake up. Then I texted my best friend Crista and asked if we could drop the kids off at her house. She fed them breakfast, got them dressed and off to school before joining us at the hospital.

Curtis and I headed out on our 25 minute journey to the hospital. By now it was 5 AM and, thankfully, slightly too early for rush hour. I hoped my contractions weren’t subsiding but I thought they were a little bit. By the time we parked I was losing confidence. We checked in on the third floor and sat in the waiting room for a few minutes. No one else was there but eventually some other couples showed up for their scheduled c-sections and inductions. They took us into a triage room and hooked me up to all the things. To my dismay, I was not any more dilated than I had been at my doctor’s appointment a few days before. I couldn’t believe it. 

It was now that a tiny factor began to influence the course of our week. 

According to my calculations, I was 37 weeks to the day. But according to my doctor’s records, I was two days shy of that. At the beginning of my pregnancy I did not try to argue with them about my due date, but in the end I wished I had. Since they believed I was only 36 weeks, the hospital wanted to stop my labor. The nurse gave me an IV bag to hydrate me, but it didn’t stop my contractions. Then they ordered a very long and unpleasant ultrasound session. I was wheeled down into a room where they poked and prodded my belly until I wanted to cry. Curtis and I felt stupid for coming to the hospital. In my very pregnant and emotional state, I felt like I was just being used to help one technician train the other. They wouldn’t tell me what was going on the whole time and I started to get scared. Now I know this was protocol but in the moment it was unnerving. 

They wheeled me back to the triage room and put me back in the bed. I started apologizing to the nurses for wasting their time. They were gracious and did not seem bothered by me. A little while later a nurse came in and said, “You’re going to have a baby today.” 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

An Introduction

Hello, Blog! It's been quite a long time. You turned 10 years old this month. I can hardly believe I wrote my first post about Baby Jackson that long ago. He has grown into such a wonderful kid. He is thriving in fourth grade and I've never enjoyed him more than I do right now. He's into TaeKwonDo, is well mannered, loves to read, and is really fun to laugh with. He gets a kick out of telling me random science facts. 

Annabeth is seven now and in first grade. She is outgoing, cheerful, and feels very comfortable being the center of attention. She loves to dance, ride bikes and play with her friends in the cul-de-sac. 

Well, dear Blog, there's something I've been meaning to tell you. We took the plunge. 

And we're so glad we did. 

Willa Rose Jones joined our family on October 19, 2015. She arrived five days after my 36th birthday and was about three weeks early. She was 6 lbs. 8 oz. and 19.5 inches long. 

I'm not sure I can put into words how happy our family has been for the last five months. There is so much joy and love under this roof. What a gift from God. 

The kids just got home from school and they were bummed that the baby was taking a nap. They miss her when they're gone. The way she smiles and laughs at them tells me she thinks they hung the moon. 

She definitely looks like Annabeth's sister, but I think she really takes after her brother. She has big blue eyes and rosy red cheeks. 

Curtis is smitten with this baby girl. We both feel so graced. 

Willa loves to be held and talked to. She's very vocal when she's happy. She sleeps through the night and wakes up when the big kids are getting ready for school. Right now she's teething but no teeth have poked through. She takes a few naps a day - the longest one being in the afternoon. Sometimes I have to wake her up after three hours. She likes to sleep on her tummy and sucks her hand to fall asleep. She used to require a tight swaddle, a paci, and for me to hold her just so. I was kind of sad when she passed out of that phase. I think she will start sitting up soon, which will be a lot of fun. 

Oh, and Blog? My baby bangs are starting to come in.