Friday, September 19, 2014

June 23, 2014: A Birth Story

Benjamin's story begins here, where John's story ends.

Ben has not even been here a week, and I am still on such a high after bringing him into the world "the old-fashioned way."

After John's birth (failed induction --> c-section), I was depressed, uncertain, and I felt shafted in every way.

Since Ben's birthday, I have been so sure of myself as a mother and as a woman. As painful and hard as it was, I seriously count the moment when Ben was pulled out (11:59) as the greatest moment of my life. Euphoria.

I must warn you before you read on that this account will be fairly graphic as I want to remember details. I also hope that this story can serve as an encouragement to first timers who are scared to death to give birth. Don't be! For all you know, God may be writing the most beautiful story you've ever told through your birth experience. Here's mine.

Sunday, June 22 was a typical day. I don't remember much about the day actually except I was peeing approximately every five minutes. I also remember going to a sweet little girl's birthday party and having some light contractions throughout the day and evening.

My cousin, Chris, was staying with us awaiting the birth and prepared to take on responsibility of John when it was go-time. She was sleeping on our couch. My contractions became regular as soon as she went to sleep.

From 10pm-2am, my contractions were coming about ten minutes apart and were very bearable. I was able to breathe deeply and have Josh rub my back reaaaalllllllyyyy hard. I might even get a couple minutes of sleep in between. However, after 2am, they started coming 4-6 minutes apart. There was no rest and lots of back pain. I was also still peeing every few minutes. Every time I stood up, my contractions intensified. It was also during this time that I preferred to meet the pain of each contraction on my hands and knees. (I am now certain that I never experienced contractions during John's labor. Ouch.)

We decided to leave for the hospital at 6am after a short walk down our street. I was certain that we'd get sent home; I've always considered myself a wuss, so I deemed the L&D walk of shame a sure thing. We stopped at Starbucks because Josh needed coffee (read: I kept him up all night) and we arrived at the hospital at 6:18am. I waited downstairs in the lobby for Josh while he parked the car and denied the wheelchair when it was offered to me. We walked up to labor & delivery triage, which, for the record, is the WORST possible welcome place for laboring moms. I asked to pee (of course) as soon as I got there. That decision bought us a lot of time in the waiting room because a handful of "laboring" women arrived while I relieved myself. I will never forget the difference between laboring Ashley and these tough ladies. While I was struggling to breathe while filling out paperwork, they were talking, smiling, and laughing with their support person(s). High pain tolerance much?!

When we finally got the paperwork completed, I was escorted to a tiny room where I was given a hospital gown and a paper sheet to cover myself (the. worst.). My contractions had also slowed by this point and I was having a strong one about every 10-15 minutes. (The midwife on duty told me that they were 4 minutes apart, but I was certain that if I couldn't really feel them that they weren't producing much result). She checked me and said I was 1 cm. dilated and 60% effaced. That was a centimeter better than my 39 week appointment, but not quite good enough to keep me there. She agreed to monitor me for one hour and check for progress at that point. Josh was not yet in the triage room with me. Something I said in my delirium led the nurses to believe that I didn't want him there.

Eventually I asked for Josh and the hour wait (slowest of my life) was soon over. The midwife checked me and reported that I was still 1 cm. and would soon be heading home with Tylenol 3 and a sleep aid since contractions kept me awake all night. Josh then paid our $250 false alarm ER fee, (Rude.)  and we prepared to get discharged.

BUT.

The midwife noted some "variables" in our little one's heart rate patterns. She told us this was often indicative of low amniotic fluid, and if that was the case, we'd likely be admitted. We waited for 45 forevers (still regularly contracting) for an ultrasound to check on our babe. Indeed, my fluid was a tad (tiny bit) low, and I was admitted.

We left the triage area fully expecting a foley bulb induction (which I hear is horribly uncomfortable), but we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our L&D room that I'd dilated another centimeter! (I only made it to 1.5 cm. with John, so this was a victory: the most dilated I'd ever been!) This was around 11am if my memory serves. We were then told that I'd be starting Pitocin soon, and because I'm a wuss, I asked for the epidural in tandem with the killer-contraction drug.

Somewhere in this time, my mama arrived. I had been texting through the night with my little daily group text group: Mama, Calley & Lisa (though sista Calley was apparently comatose and we had to get Ricky to wake her up next day for her to even know I was in labor). Mama & Lisa both booked their plane tickets during the night - crazy girls!

Josh had gone to get himself & Mama some lunch when they came to start my epidural (1:11pm). The anesthesiologist also kicked Mama out of the room. I was struggling through contractions as she put it in place, and this was my first sign that I could mind-over-matter just about anything while giving birth. I concentrated. I relaxed myself. I didn't move a muscle as she stuck me mid-contraction.

Pitocin started (2pm).
Heavenly epidural rest.

Aunt Lisa arrived some time during the heavenly stage. (Thanks to Mandy who collected my family from the airport.)

I dilated from 2 to 7 practically in my sleep.
I literally could not believe that I was at 7cm (4pm). My former doctor told me my body was faulty, incapable. Obviously, I only sort of believed her.

When they told me I was 7 cm., I started getting really shaky. (I had gotten shaky & mildly itchy right after the epidural.) I also felt really weak. I think it was partly nerves that this thing might really happen, that in a few (several) hours, I might actually be pushing a baby out. WHAT?!

However, I was also informed somewhere in this window that it was possible that we were dealing with an infection. Chorioamnionitis. I had heard of it before because my friend, Mandy, was once a L&D nurse who was in labor for three days. She thought she might get it. She didn't. I did.

At this point, however, it was just a possibility. I was feverish. My little one's heart rate was sometimes funny, and my blood pressure suspect. They also were supposed to test my urine because of the fifty million times I'd peed the day before. Could've also been a UTI. No one ever tested my urine, though. Chorio was decidedly the diagnosis a few hours later.

Things get sort of foggy after this.
I. Was. Exhausted.
I was infected.
So much sweat.
Mama kept wetting a rag for me.

And then ....

The epidural wore off some.
Annnnnnd Pitocin contractions of death.

These babies were off the charts. Also? Pressure. (This was the most surprising thing about laboring to me - the length of time that the pressure lasts.) I sort of freaked out. Tense. Crying out in pain. Oh, and I shushed everybody (throughout the whole thing, but who cares? I also *spoiler alert* pushed out a nine pound baby so they all let that one slide).SHHHHHH!

During these death contractions, I was sitting up in my bed, bearing my weight on my hands, and I accidentally screwed up my IV (which was in my right wrist).

I begged for more epidural. Loudly.

I think her name was Janet (new anesthesiologist). The angel who rescued me with more epidural.

And then. My favorite nurse, AJ, rescued me by turning OFF the Pitocin because my contractions were strong enough without it. Praise be to Jesus.

She also came very swiftly after savior Janet gave me a fresh dose of epidural to remove and redo IV (where said fresh dose was coming in). After blowing two veins, a special IV guru lady came in and placed it in the crook of my left arm. I also began getting an antibiotic to treat my infection.

At this point, AJ saw that I needed coaching. I was very interested in taking a zen sort of birthing class, but it was way out of our budget, so Josh and I just decided to wing it (how we do). Thankfully, God hears, and I'd been praying for these nine months for a successful VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean), so he gave me the most awesome nurse to ever live. Amen.

Over the next couple-a ?? few ?? hours, AJ coached me into multiple positions to improve the position of my big baby (note: move. him. down.). At first, I was on my back with both knees in the air. My family members gently moved me knees from side to side. (I have no idea why, but this felt so good.) This was when I achieved total relaxation a.k.a. beast mode laboring woman status. I made the nurse cry. I have never felt so bad-ass in the whole of my life (excuse my language - I really don't cuss, but I feel there is no other word in the English language to describe what I did with the help of my family and my awesome nurse).

AJ then advised me to get on my knees and drape my arms over the bed. It was at this point that I knew I was going to poop during labor. Earlier in the day, my nurse had told me that when she was laboring, she tried to hold in the poop (because she had a crush on her doctor, but that's not at all important to the story;). Her nurse finally told her she was gonna have to let it go and poop if she wanted the baby out. I took that anecdote to heart and spent the whole of the evening pushing out a generous amount of poop. (Like I said, TMI, but this is childbirth, folks.)

Finally, I laid on my side while someone held up my leg for me when I felt the urge to push. I was relaxed exhausted enough to sleep in between contractions. My favorite nurse, AJ, left at some point around this time. Bummer.

A very pushy doctor was on call on the busy evening of June 23. He was ready to get the baby out or cut me, which ever came first. He gave me the deadline of 12:30am. I wanted to kill him. At this point, c-section was not in my vocabulary. It was time to push a massive baby OUT.

Mama and Josh held my legs. Pushy doctor counted. I always only made it to ten on the first push. Second, third, fourth, I'd push until a good seven and doc would sigh heavily when I quit. I heard his disappointment, but I didn't take it to heart. I only heard Josh's affirmation. I was a wicked good pusher pushing on barely any sleep. (Oxygen mask also.)

Then Josh said these words to me: "I can see the head."
I was skeptical. My response?: "Can you really?"

I pushed with all I had.

The resident delivering our child cut me.
It seemed like several cuts were made.

I remember looking at my mama with fear in my eyes.
I realized an episiotomy was had.
Mama looked at me and mouthed, "It's ok."
And it was.

There was blood & lots of it.
Josh was still vertical.

(I have no idea how long I pushed. It was a looooooonnnnng time and AJ had told me earlier in the day to push when I felt like it. So push I did. All evening long; we had a big baby to move down.)

When our baby was out and thrust upon my stomach, there has literally never been a better feeling.
I was just cut and the room looked like a crime scene, but I felt wonderful.

It was hazy and dreamlike wonderful.

I remember placing my hand on its bloody back.

"It's a boy!" Josh announced almost immediately.
(Josh cut the cord. He did awesome. Almost as good as me.)

I honestly could care less about the gender at that moment. "It" was out.
(Not until I was sitting on the toilet with my nurse's assistance did it hit me that I was a mom of boys, a pair, two of a kind, brothers. Wow.)

My baby boy arrived feverish like his mama, but I got to hold him first *insert proud mama smile* and for just a few seconds because I was being stitched up. I handed him over to Daddy because I didn't want to accidentally throw him or something while I was in pain. (Something I want to remember: the warm water they poured on me after birth just prior to stitching was heavenly.)


The pediatric team whisked my boy away to the Special Care Nursery soon after he was born. It is still on my labor and delivery bucket list (yes, I hope to do this again) to push out my baby and nurse him immediately.

He would spend the next five days receiving antibiotics in our hospital's Special Care Nursery.
He latched both sides perfectly in the SCN in the wee hours of June 24, 2014. And the angels sang.

Benjamin Joseph Beam was born at 11:59pm on Monday, June 23, 2014. (He's very last minute like his parents.)

He weighed 9 lbs. even. He was 21 3/4 inches long. Head circumference: 37 cm. (Translation: He is huge.)

We thank God for our big healthy boy. These are my first thoughts, my scribble-it-down-lest-you-forget version. (Note: I wrote the majority of this in June.) I reserve the right to come back and make some additions as I remember more details. I also want to write more about our 5-day experience with the hospital. It was crazy, but it is our story and we love it.

Ben, my second born, is my treasure.
He is such a good boy.

Josh's words describe my transition to two (my transition with Ben, son of my right hand) perfectly: "I don't remember you being this happy."

Oooooh, Benji Bear, Mama loves you.

Friday, May 9, 2014

412

Walking across the front lawn
       was for me the highlight of moving.
               Only ten minutes down the highway
                                                   to a third grader
                                                                 is madness.
                                                                   I thought I couldn't go.
                                                                           I didn't want to go.
                                  But she made the short walk home
                              easier, safer.
                             412
     The numbers of life
    and rest
   413
Home                  


photo by my dear Hannah
Happy Birthday to the dearest and best aunt I've ever known.
Aunt Lisa, I cannot imagine my life without you in it.
You are a precious gift to all who know you.
But to me, you are more than precious.
I have never witnessed a more wonderful aunt-niece relationship than our own.
You have never been anything but the richest blessing and today I want you to know it!
In short, I adore you, and I hope you realize today and everyday that you are the best!

             

Monday, March 24, 2014

Read the Bible: SPECK(s)

I am really excited to be writing about reading my favorite book (or series of books), the Bible.

Lots of spiritual leaders tell us to read. this. book.
But they often fail to give us any practical help or motivation for doing so.
I do not want to ignore this faith blind spot; rather, I want to share how my Bible reading routine went from non-existent to being the highlight of my day.

You can read my first super-simple tool explaining how to read the Bible here.

The second little tool I'd like to share was neither invented by me nor my husband.
I have no idea where this gem originated. All I know is that I've shared it with so many girls I've lost count.
It's so helpful.

I posted earlier this month that I'm reading Obadiah-Zephaniah, the balance of Matthew, and the epistle of James. When I come to the Bible, I come unguided by a devotion of any sort. Just me, the Holy Spirit, and the written Word.

And while God often supernaturally speaks -
Like something just jumps off the page and I immediately see how this word uniquely applies to my current season of life.
- Oftentimes, I also need a little help understanding what in the world I'm supposed to gain from this passage. (Note: It takes time to develop the spiritual muscle that is hearing from God on the daily. That's why tools like this one exist.)

So, when I come to a fresh passage of Scripture - just me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit - I use SPECK(s) to help me discern what God is teaching me through it.

Photo by my sweet friend, Hannah
The first time I saw SPECK(s), I was an inconsistent Bible reader. A girl named Tiffany shared this with me on a scrap sheet of paper. When asked if I wanted to learn a simple tool to help me gain something from my Bible reading time, of course, I said yes. What good Christian girl would turn down an opportunity to learn from someone spiritually older sharing something for my benefit? I thought I had it all figured out spiritually speaking, though. I mean I had memorized Galatians 2:20. I was well on my way to understanding all the spiritual secrets, right?

Luckily, I wised up in months to come meaning I humbled myself and listened to Tiffany's roommate (and my spiritual mentor), Corby. She re-shared this tool with me, and I began to use her rendition in my daily time with God. (Yes, during our crazy 5 a.m. meetings.) Whenever a passage of Scripture stumped me or left me without a way to apply it to my life, I would simply look for one of these five focus categories.

I'd ask myself ...

Is there a sin to avoid? 1 Corinthians 10:6 says (concerning the wandering, rebellious children of Israel), "Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did." Sometimes we read a rather disgusting passage of Scripture (because, let's face it, people are imperfect) and all we can really gain from our reading is what not to do. We do well to heed the passage as a God-given warning to us.

Is there a promise to claim/keep? Promises. The bread and butter of the Scriptures. God "has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them [we] may participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). Claiming and keeping the conditions of promises is a practice used by God to cause us to look like His Son, Jesus. Let me explain.
There are two types of promises in the Bible: conditional and unconditional. Let's dissect the most popular verse promise in the Bible.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

An unconditional promise (emboldened) is something that God is going to do regardless of our actions. In John 3:16, God loving the world and giving Jesus is unconditional. No matter how lovable we prove to be, God loves us still. Praise Him! There are countless unconditional promises in the Scriptures. A conditional promise (underlined), conversely, has terms. God will ________ if we _________. In John 3:16, our receiving eternal life in lieu of death is contingent upon our belief in Jesus.

Once God gives a promise, we can then claim that promise before His throne in prayer. Matthew 6:33 is a conditional promise: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." {These things, in context, are food/clothing/essentials for life.} Therefore, as long as I am seeking God's kingdom first (allowing Jesus to lead my life), I can ask/depend on God to meet my needs. There is much to say about promises, but we'll leave it at that for now.

Is there an example to follow? Jacob. Joseph. David. Barnabas. These are few of my favorite good examples in the Scriptures. As I read their lives, I can glean godly principles that they understood and practiced and apply those to my own life. However, there was one perfect example. His name is Jesus. "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14, 15). Because Jesus is our example, the one we emulate above all others, I choose to read Jesus's life daily. The four books where His life is found in most detail are the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you're looking for a place to start reading in your Bible, I highly recommend your genesis being one of these four books.

Is there a command to obey? Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commands" (John 14:15). The simplest way for us to show our love for God is to obey the commands He's given in His Word. More often than not, you will find something that God is commanding His people to do, be, pray, speak in your Bible reading. Here are references for a few commands that Jesus gives His hearers: Matthew 5:16, Matthew 9:38, John 13:34.

Does this help me know God more? I get the sense that most people like to read their Bibles to make them smarter. I believe that this is faulty motivation. Now, there is nothing wrong with knowing more about God. I myself love to read and understand and I aim to be a lifelong learner. However, if we read our Bibles like a historical document or a resume for our God, we will be sorely disappointed in the outcomes. Our Bibles are not to be studied for studying's sake. Our Bibles are meant to change our lives. With that being said, a question that I DO ask myself while reading is: What does this teach me about God's character? The Bible teaches us that God is patient, loving, faithful, full of wrath, yet slow to anger {just to name a few}. I do not stop there, though; compiling a list of His character traits is not enough. In the Scriptures, the word know is connected with the word intimacy (like a man knows his wife; you get the idea). I believe that God wants us to know Him rather than just know about Him. Take Ephesians 3:19 for example: and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. This verse talks about God's love being beyond our comprehension. In order to know it, we must experience it. Knowing God is a more intimate experience than simply learning a list of facts about Who God is. Luckily, our knowing God is not only dependent upon us. We are in a relationship with Him, and He is very trustworthy to reveal Himself as we seek Him.

Is there a scripture to memorize? Some days a command to obey or some new knowledge about God's character stands out to me so much that I just have to carry it with me, so I commit it to memory. Psalm 119:11 says, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." Scripture memory precedes victorious living.

I love this tool.
I still use it when I get stuck or need help getting back into my Bible reading routine.
I hope you enjoy it also!
I also hope you enjoy your Monday time with Jesus.
-Ash

{For a much more concise version of this tool, visit my dear Rebecca's blog.}


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tender

He was born yesterday. 53 years ago.

I called him. I sang to him. He admitted that my rendition sounded better than little sister's. {Neither of us can carry a tune in a bucket.}

It was his day.
It was his day, and I wanted to write.
But with a play-date, a toddler who never naps, a teacher-husband who must quarterly conference with parents, and Kentucky basketball, where was the time?

So, I write today.
In his honor.
So, I write today.
Because he matters.

I must admit that this post will likely require many disclaimers, parenthetical/clarifying statements, and grace.
We all have hard stories.
Some of us choose to tell them.
Some of us choose to conceal them.
Neither coping mechanism is wrong, but at the end of the day, I am a storyteller.

My daddy was born 53 years ago yesterday.
This event changed the course of world history.
Completely unique and eternally handsome, I know nothing about his entry into this world, but I am certain he's always been his own man and he's always, always been good-looking.

I know that growing up he faced a few struggles.
Not unlike everyone, but also so unlike everyone.
I daily choose to give struggles their due knowing that they are gifts from God and (contrary to popular pull-ourselves-up-by-boot-straps-philosophy) that they shape us.
This was true for Daddy.

I know that growing up he was a stud.
Capital S - T - U - D.
On the likability scale, he's a 10.
Charming.
Smart.
Good with his words.
Fiercely athletic.
Ruggedly handsome.
Perfect in so many ways.

He won a girl's heart who I affectionately refer to as Mama, and I'm so glad he did.
They got married way young.
Suffered the catastrophic event of a miscarriage.
Built a business. Bought some land.
In time, I was born. (In today's infant loss terminology, I was their rainbow. Yes, I was.)
Then we built a house.
{I was two, and I "helped" Mama paint.}

Like most little girls, I worshiped him.
I thought he was perfect.
I have hated bananas my whole life long, but when I was a wee girl, I ate them because he did.
I also ate so many hot dogs. (Blessed food I don't eat while pregnant; someone please grill me a juicy one as soon as we coax this babe out.)
I also was certain that I was a basketball fan.
And now that I'm grown, I truly am. Go Big Blue.

I want to stop here and tell y'all something I'm passionate about.
I am passionate about daddies.
All of them.
The ones you call "sperm donors." Yep, them too.
The ones who are strung out on drugs.
The ones who cheat, cheat, cheat on your mamas. Especially them.
The ones who cheat, cheat, cheat on you, mamas.
The ones who make every excuse.
The ones who never call.
The ones who don't have to call; you know, because they live here.
The ones who work too much.
The ones who are self-righteous.
The ones who forgot to teach you to hunt, fish, fight, cuss, change the oil. {Also whatever it really is you boys do.}
The ones who come home and drink every night. Then pass out in the recliner.
The ones who make you cry.
The ones who give up too easily.
The ones who legally aren't daddies anymore.
All of them.

One thing I wish that everyone would go ahead and wake up to (because it took me more than twenty years to see) is that your daddy (whoever he is) just might be the most important man in your life.
I know that mine is.

Yes, I am married to a wonderful man who I literally cannot imagine doing life without. Most days he is like oxygen to me. Must. Have. Josh. Or. Will. Suffocate. Yes, he is a big deal. My life is survive-able and often even rich because of my sweetheart.

And then there's John. I cannot describe his influence in ten thousand words. And I think he's the big one. He makes chaos and sense of it all in a five minute period. He wrecked me. And continues molding me like no one else ever has.

But. 
The stage was set by a man who held me for the first time just shy of his twenty-fifth birthday.
I made him Daddy, and he very literally made me a girl. His girl.

{Disclaimer: I, in no way, intend to slander my daddy. I speak in truth only words which I hope will give life. I very much respect the man I sang to just yesterday. I want only the best for him and to be the best daughter I can toward him.}

As the years passed, the polish wore off.
I started to notice Daddy's cracks.
For a few days, I even hated him.
He did things that no one is proud of. So did I, but since he is the daddy, I guess his counted more.
I still love him fierce.
But it stung.
Sometimes I just felt weird.
Other times I felt pitiful.
Ultimately, I felt really sad.
He was shaping me.
The little girl with all of her innocence was ripped away.
Everything got hard.
I never realized this was a gift - not until recently.

To put it plainly, my parents got divorced.
I was very young.
Nine to be exact.
Very impressionable.
I didn't know God, so I certainly didn't know Ashley.

She was a good girl. 
But she was now broken. 
Foolish young one thought that a bad thing. 

People told her that parents were supposed to be perfect. Or if they did make any mistakes, they were only allowed small mistakes like yelling too much or making you late for dance lessons. They were not allowed big mistakes like leaving their little girls. 

She would learn in time that God ignored big mistakes everyday. 
In time, Jesus would make her free.

Even after he left, there was still no one like him.
One compliment from his lips made me float on air.
I did strange (no stranger than what you're imagining) things to get his attention.
One ill word from him deflated me for weeks on end.

He could break my heart more completely than anyone on the planet.
He still wields this power.
Thankfully, I now have a Protector and a healing heart capable of Love.

After he left, though, something in me changed forever.
I knew that I was needy.
I was vulnerable.
I was a girl without a daddy (at least for the 20+ days per month I did without).
I had a heart with hate (however stationary or fleeting) in it.
Somebody had to help me.

About nine months after the divorce was final, I called upon Jesus.
I told Him in very child-like words with very child-like trust that I was not good and I very badly needed His help if I was to do anything good with my life.
Because, from where I sat, everything looked bad, bad, terrible.
Or something like that.
Amen.

His leaving and their divorce was redeemed from the second it was announced.
For I realized the fragility of human relationships and the necessity of placing my trust in God first.
In other words (to quote one of my favorite bloggers), the gospel is all I have.
I praise God for divorce.
I hate it. Oh, I hate it.
But God uses the crap out of it.

I wish I could write that things got easy and I forgave him immediately.
Unfortunately, that isn't the case.
He hurt me.
Again.
And again.
And I hurt him.
Again.
And again.

Isn't that what life is?
We continually hurt one another.
And then, by grace and with severe trust in God first, we forgive.
It's the only way I've found to live truly abundantly: to forgive daily.
(Just yesterday, I had to forgive John for stealing half of my ice cream sundae with sprinkles. And then, I had to forgive myself for CRYING ABOUT IT! #pregnancyisweird)

So, where are we today, the day after his fifty-third birthday?
God, the Protector of my heart, has given me the direction and the heart to pursue a relationship with my daddy.
I pray that it'll be more than the typical divorced father-daughter relationship where Daddy is but a box on a long checklist of places to go/people to see.
I desire a real relationship with him.
One where I know him and I allow him to know me.

In twenty years or so when his health fails him and his grandkids are 'bout grown, I do not want to regret not following God's leading in this sacred relationship. I owe it to him - the first and (arguably) most important man in my life - to give him moments and hours and days of my life. I owe it to myself too.

There is something healing in the way he still rips me wide open.
God uses Daddy to peel back my layers.
He uses him to keep me tender.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

When I was young and childless, I attended a yearly conference called Passion.
One of those years, a speaker named Andy Stanley challenged us students to consider the future. He asked us to be intentional with our lives and consider now how we hoped to be remembered after we're gone. He gave us the homework assignment to compile a list of descriptive words that we hope will be on the lips of those we leave behind as they remember us. What do I want people talking about at my funeral?

This message is still bearing fruit in my life as I often consider for what I want to be remembered.
My most recent addition to my list is the word tender.

I see, throughout the Scriptures, instances where God was hindered from working most effectively through people because of their hardness of heart. I also call this hardening of the heart a lack of trust in God. (See examples in Matthew 13:58 and 19:8.) The opposite of hard is soft/tender/trusting.

I praise God for my daddy who often makes me want to harden my heart. To protect myself (as if that's possible).
But with Jesus's help, God uses my daddy to produce a soft, tender, trusting heart.
Please, God, continue.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.
I will always adore you.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Different Kind of Update

I am 26 weeks pregnant.

This number sort of appalls me.
This pregnancy has been a hard season.
Mostly because of the season.
Winter. Hard. Hard. Hard.

There is a huge part of me that just wants out of it.
I want winter to be over.
I want to hold a newborn baby.
I want to not have to constantly obsess over how the heck I'm going to have enough energy to entertain my son throughout the day.

But I am finding that this season is producing.
What exactly, I'm not sure.

Maybe for starters, it's producing thankfulness.
True thankfulness.
Even when it's a sacrifice to say thanks.

I feel really happy that I will not look back on this pregnancy as a wonderfully festive time.
This is hard for me to explain fully.
I think I will look back on it as an altogether imperfect season.
One that revealed cracks and holes.
One with plenty of opportunity for God's grace.

Every week (by Tuesday), I am saying, "Next week, I am gonna do ________________ better."
"Next week, I'll get ________________ more right."

And the following week, I'm right back to, well, saying the same.
This pregnancy has revealed that I am still a wonderfully flawed person (as if I didn't already know it).
This pregnancy has revealed it all the more!

I want to remember that I drank too many too sweet decaf Starbucks beverages because I felt I "needed it" to get through the day.
I want to remember that I strapped John in his car seat and listened to him talk to himself/sing country songs for a couple of hours before he fell asleep because I was so desperate for time that didn't involve him hanging on me.
I want to remember the episodes of Curious George that he watched for half of the day. The one with the skunk and then the baby kitten.
I want to remember the kitchen when my sink, counter, and table were cluttered with dirty dishes.
I want to remember all of my failed attempts to invite someone, anyone into the messiness of my life - paralyzed by shame which I know that God already covered over x a million. I know, but I sit crippled, isolated.
I want to remember that one of John's favorite slogans is "throw it in the chicken" because our kitchen floor is ever-littered with toys that I often fail to make him clean up.
I want to remember the three snow/ice falls and the countless times that I lost my balance and nearly fell only to whisper, "Thank you, Jesus," all the times He caused me to stand on my own two feet.
I want to remember the taste of the Nestle Tollhouse milk chocolate chips (only the best for my baby) and the sound of the nurse telling me that my glucose tolerance test was normal.
I want to remember all of the pathetic days of laying back down only five minutes after waking up because it was so effing freezing in my house and/or I just felt funny. I want to remember that the mornings were hard, and that during March, I started eating lunch around 9 a.m. just to feel normal.
I want to remember that John couldn't really care less about his sibling. To remember that every time I told him Baby bro/sis was kicking me, he'd proceed to kick him/her back. He has no idea the magnitude of the gift I plan to give him in late June - the reason his Mama doesn't cannot tend to his every whim. {Father, draw him to Jesus. Please.}
I want to remember that I'd often plop myself on the couch (or lock myself in my room) from the second Josh walked through the door and remain in my dormant state all evening long.
I want to remember that I gained 28 pounds before 28 weeks. I also want to remember the total (however crazy large it may be).
I want to remember this babe as one who moves very little. And though I gave up worry for Lent, I have quiet anxiety attacks at least ten times a day regarding whether or not he's still alive or if I've killed him/her with my decaf coffee/chocolate habit.

I want to remember this pregnancy for what it was. It was hard.
To all the women who struggle to get pregnant and wish that their hard was my hard, I write this in your honor. We suffer differently; glory to God!
I am not writing a formal complaint against this child to share with him/her later in life when I want to feel validated as the best mother in the world.
I am not airing grievances against God Himself.
No.

This is me counting my blessings.
God is using this pregnancy. Like mad.
Every single day.
He is deepening my desire for Him.
My desire that John will be His {because let's be real, this place is hard}.
Deepening my understanding that second children are among His greatest gifts.
{If we had any inclination that there was any way we'd achieve perfect parent status in this lifetime, the second child throws that illusion out the window [totally shattering said window in the process]. Complete breaking of reliance upon myself is happening, people.}

I write this after an hour-long Starbucks session of listing things I need to do to give my life more peace this week. Baseball practice is back in full-swing and Josh will spend two nights this week talking final grades with parents. It's gonna be one of those weeks, so I gotta put my game face on.

This week I will once again show up for motherhood and pregnancy. Admittedly, I might pull the covers back over my head one day every day. But I will show up.

I want to meditate on this thing:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

I am so honored to be carrying you, sweet one. I am so thankful for you and for the ways in which you're already molding me - not into a better Mama, but a more dependent one. I pray often over you and your big brother than you will depend on God (this is one of my five key areas of prayer for you). I pray that You, Father, will use my feeble excuse for faith to model for my children that life is only abundant when we are relying upon You for strength and help. I cannot believe that You are entrusting to me another child teacher. I know that there is no way that I'd be the Ashley you desire without this person. And so I ask for this cup to remain. Even to run over with hardship if that's what it takes to drive me towards You. I am so thankful for this babe and this pregnancy. I give thanks, in Jesus's Name. Amen.

And now for something fun ...
Total Weight Gain: 28 POUNDS (!!!!!!!) {I will also embrace suffering to lose this baby weight.}
Mama, You-Babe & Big Bro - 23 weeks gestation
John slowly learning to pee in the potty
How's sleep? Very hard to get to sleep, but once I'm there, I sleep pretty well.
Food Cravings: Chocolate Chips
What I Miss: Warmth - this really has nothing to do with pregnancy. Related to pregnancy: I miss waking up and feeling like a normal person rather than too weak to begin my day.
What I'm Looking Forward To: Going outside with no long sleeves/coat. Taking your big bro to the park/showing off my bump (=YOU) at Daddy's baseball games. In short, I'm ready for the true arrival of Spring.
What's new? I had two Braxton Hicks contractions during week 25. I never experienced this with John. It gives me a sense of hope (maybe false hope) that I'll be able to experience real contractions with you.
Movement: You move significantly less than your brother did. This leads me to believe that you'll be more calm and sleep more. Ha! I also fear you'll have your days/nights confused because you move mostly at night when Mama is trying to get comfy and go to sleep.
Gender Guess: I have no clue. I do get boy vibes when I'm at the doctor's office. The staff ask me what I'm having each month, and I always tell them how I don't know and how my family is due for a girl. Every time I just feel like they're telling me with their eyes, "Sorry, hun, it's not a girl" (though I have no preference). We shall see...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Read the Bible: BREAD

I met my husband nine years, one month, and eight days ago.

His first words to me?
"Did y'all eat yet?"

Over the following nine months + six days, we became the closest of friends.
{Maybe I'll share the whole story one day.}
Know this, I loved him first.
Know this, he stalked me.

He hid in the forest watching me to & from my car to know just the right moment to pop out and say hi.
He read my little MySpace "blog." (Always writing.)
He observed my life really, really well.

You can ask him if you'd like, but for the sake of this post, I'm gonna say that one of the tipping points that put him over the very risky edge of asking me to officially be his girl on November 10, 2005 was this one little rather inconsistent habit I had have (more consistently now #grace) ...

I read my Bible.

This may not sound that crazy or counter-cultural to you.
It may have been part of your upbringing, your every day.
But that's just not my story.

What may surprise you is that I grew up going to church since I was born. {I'm guessing my mama waited a month or so before taking me to church because, well, that's the kind of mama she is. [Consequently, the kind I am too.] She rules.} Anyway, yeah, I've been going to church for a mad long time.

I distinctly remember starting to read Genesis in my Precious Moments King James version of the Bible {Dear Precious Moments, why the King James for kids? I do not understand. I will not again attempt King James until age 35 at least.} Yes, my neighbor, Tyler, sister Calley, and Mama were waiting in line at the Burger King because we were craving salty fries. It was a Wednesday night post-G.A.s, third grade version of Ashley. I think she made it through Genesis 6.

I was heavily involved in two different youth groups throughout my teenage years. I was clinically depressed, parents yo-yo-ing between together and separate. (Note: God uses every little thing for good. Praise Him!) I was deeply entrenched in sin. Deeply. And while I am certain that many encouraged me to open my Bible for encouragement - to experience victorious living, to literally participate in the divine (as a teenager ... what!!!?) & escape the sin/depression that was currently weighing down my entire existence (2 Peter 1:4) - I also know that no one ever sat me down and showed me how to read the Bible.

I knew that this book was so full of good stuff.
I listened to sermons.
I knew a few right answers.
But I did not read my Bible.

I, therefore, did not know what it was to walk in Victory.
I also did not regularly hear from God.

Approximately eight months after the end of the darkest phase of my life (high school), I met Josh.
I also met a group of people at my college who were interested in having the right faith practices.
Reading the Bible was one of them, so I decided to give it a try.
Still having no example, and not much help/accountability.

So, I started reading a book (?????) by Beth Moore.
I was called To Live is Christ and it chronicles the life of Paul through the book of Acts.
For about two months, I read this book and highlighted almost every word of Acts in orange highlighter.
(Acts became my favorite book in the world and, after reading the whole of the Scriptures, it still is!)

Still, my time in the Scriptures would be sporadic and my reading largely guided by the emotional state of being on a particular day. {My emotions were a no-good guide because during these years, I failed every college class I took and was coming to terms with the sinful patterns in my life that God would use His Spirit and my Bible to break. I needed to carve out reading space even when I wasn't feeling it.}

Fast forward to Spring of 2007, I passed all of my college classes (two semesters straight ... all A's and one C {darn algebra}). I also met a young woman named Corby who changed my life forever. She taught me how to read my Bible.

Now y'all, I knew how to read.
I actually consider myself a voracious reader.
I read fast. I read hard. I read well.
But reading my Bible was a different kind of reading. It was spiritual work.
It took discipline and guts to do it everyday.

Corby (a nurse) decided that it was a great idea to meet my friend Mandy and me (two college students) every morning at 5 a.m. to enter into the habit of daily Bible reading.

We met at the campus housing (where Mandy lived) lounge. I lived in Pooler (only a 20 minute drive at 5 a.m.). I was late every. single. day. But y'all, I started reading my Bible and a really weird thing happened: I didn't get tired; I got free.

I traveled to China during the summer of 2007 to teach English, to pray, and to share God's love/grace/mercy in my daily encounters. I described my daily ritual to my travel buddies as "my semi-legalistic Bible reading routine." Reading my Bible was not yet woven into the fabric of my day. I was still weaving. Reading was still work.

But soon enough, I discovered that I couldn't wait to open the pages of that worn NIV navy blue pocket Bible. I like to describe my reading time as God's method for getting me in and out the weather. Without it, I'd literally be standing outside knee-deep in the March Michigan snow without my clothes on.

In time, my handsome boyfriend became a Bible junkie also. And now, he wakes before the sun to spend a good hour with Jesus and coffee {worn NIV navy blue pocket Bible in hand} before heading into the high school hallway where he makes our living.

He's such a stud that he developed a super helpful acronym to remind us how to read the Bible.
How? Isn't it simple, Ashley?
Yes, and this is the simplest illustration ever.

Why bread? Welp, bread is something we need, need, need for sustenance. God understood this because God created us this way. God also understood that we need something even more than we need daily bread, so He made the comparison because we can all relate to the daily huger our tummies feel.

Photo by my awesome friend, Hannah
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3

We are very spiritually hungry also. More so than we realize. God has made us that way so that we'd come to Him every. single. day. Just as the Israelites wandering in the desert had to collect manna each and every day, we also have to open our Bibles regularly. In other words, we cannot give ourselves a seven-hour Bible sesh once a week and expect our hunger to be satisfied. Our spiritual tummies rumble daily also.

B- Begin with prayer. This is a super simple practice for me. Each day I begin by reading my daily devotion from Jesus Calling. I cannot say it enough: BUY THIS BOOK! Sarah Young writes the things she hears from Jesus down for us to enjoy. I find that the practice of reading my devotion first puts me in an attitude of prayer. In other words, an attitude of humbly accepting the words God says to me. I then follow the example of King David (see Psalm 119 for examples) and ask God to speak and that I would listen. Simple.

R- Read the Bible. I love books, y'all. I read a lot of them. Some days I am even tempted to read another "spiritual" text about the Bible in lieu of the Bible. I fight the temptation because there is no other book that boasts the same usefulness: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). There are numerous other verses that promise the Bible will change your life. Read it and find out!

E- Examine what is says. HOWEVER (and it's a big however), we cannot just open the book, read it, close it and expect life change. The Bible doesn't work that way. We must think intelligently about what we've read. It's my daily practice to write about my reading in my journal. It also helps to talk about it with others (or with yourself - I fully believe in embracing crazy). We must live with the words God has given us. Joshua 1:8 says, "Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

A- Apply it to you life. "So that you may be careful to do ..." A wise man once told me, "Your Bible study is not intended to make you smarter. It's intended to change your life." If we come away from reading the Word of God daily and our life is not shifted in massively strange ways, quote me on this: We are doing something wrong. One of my touchstone verses for my life is James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. If I am not taking action steps after my Bible reading, I am the same as a non-believer: I am deceived. A true believer's life should be changing. Daily. Every time we open His Book.

D- Do it everyday. May we not be the kind of people who live off of yesterday's "quiet time."

It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees. Deuteronomy 17:19

God had this daily expectation of the king of Israel. I say, if it's right for the king (one desperate for wisdom in how to rule his tribe with excellence - sounds familiar as a mama), it's certainly right for me.

May I (and you) always ask at the end of any solid teaching/method/tool: What does this have to do with Jesus? So often we read all the books, implement all the strategies, and forget about Him.

Fortunately (for the sake of this post), Jesus is very interested in Bible reading, very interested in bread.
In fact, Jesus Himself says He is bread.

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35)

He didn't stop there. In true Jesus fashion, He assigns a sort of offensive and grotesque task.

"Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." (John 6:57, 58)

Jesus asked His followers to eat Him. Many stopped following Him that day, but a precious few understood Him. Simon Peter was among the few.

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68, 69)

Oh friends, if we claim to follow Jesus, we must eat the bread of His Word daily {often, so very often hard to swallow}. The words in my Bible testify about Jesus (John 5:39). May we come to them each day that we may know and follow Jesus. Amen!

My husband's first words to me have taken on new meaning.
Dear friends, did y'all eat yet today??

{Many, many more thoughts - practical & spiritual - coming on Bible reading. Stay tuned. Love, Ash.}

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What I'm Reading: March

February was both a blur and the slowest month ever.

I turned 28.
I enjoyed the Olympics. (Therefore I got far too little sleep.)
Josh's man crush inherited The Tonight Show. (Note: even less sleep.)
I fell down the front steps of the school. Still have a pretty nasty bruise to prove it. (John and I are on a self-declared winter break from school.)
John watched The Lion King for the first time. We have been learning about being sad and scared during movies together. (He is beginning to understand that The Lion King is NOT Alex the lion part four.)
I have enjoyed spending times indoors with my boy, but I'm very literally itching (when bellies grow, they itch; winter-y dry skin isn't helping) to get outside! March, be good to us!

I survived the blessed month of my birth thanks to reading.
Reading is an escape, an encouragement, and something that I can usually do without falling.

During February I successfully read several books.

Hosea (a new favorite), Joel (a reiteration of truths revealed last February), and Amos (including a fresh promise for tomorrow). God is good!

I finished Paper Towns in record time. It was a page-turner! And as a former pseudo-English teacher, I appreciated all the literary references therein.

Kisses from Katie challenged me. It was as if Katie flew over from Africa and kissed me on the cheek during this bleak February. Her words continue to challenge my lifestyle, and I cannot wait to post more about this book in this space very soon. I highly recommend anyone who longs to lose their life to gain Someone better, read this book! 

I am still reading the gospel of Matthew and The Ministry of Motherhood. I've read bits & pieces of Ephesians, but I find myself wanting to study it (and I have studied parts of it this month), but I've decided to drop the Ephesians bit and just move on to something in the New Testament that speaks to my spirit this March. My mama brain often finds the writings of Paul difficult. :)

Well, it's a new month, and I have high hopes for you, March. Let's warm up, but in the meantime, let's do some reading! Here's what I'm reading, March edition:

Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk & Zephaniah
Let's hear it for the minor prophets! I tend to gain such momentum when I get to this portion of my daily Bible reading. Maybe it's because they're short, and I have the ADD personality type #ENFP. But I have always really heard from God during my readings of the minors. Just a few days ago, as I finished the final chapter of Amos, God caused words to leap off the page as He promised me a new thing He's getting ready to do. I cannot wait to hear His voice and heed His guidance during this next month. What a thrill!

The Gospel According to Matthew
I am continuing the gospel of Matthew. I am begging God to answer me this question as I read: How can I follow Jesus's example (that He set with His Twelve) as I seek to disciple my Two? Many days, He answers. Other days, He asks questions of me. And others, He has in mind something completely different. I adore and aim to always be reading the life of Jesus. He's my perfect example, full of grace and truth, after all.

James
This letter seems to coincide with many of the themes God is streaming through my life (and my social media applications) at this point. I am really, really exhausted of religious people pursuing change through rules/politics when Jesus called us to live a life of love. James wrote things like this: "Mercy triumphs over judgment." This resonates with me, y'all. After I finish James, I'll likely camp in the epistles of John because I just want the reminder to love one another to wash over me and do ministry to my soul. I am exhausted of hearing the voices, but not experiencing the love. (Preaching to myself as always.)

Sparkly Green Earrings (Melanie Shankle)
I had the privilege of sitting under Melanie's teaching at Allume. She just seemed like my people. A little loud. A little crazy. A lotta Bible. A good storyteller. I added her book to my reading list that day (now books as she just released a second). Sparkly Green Earrings is a memoir of motherhood. I love reading, laughing, and being encouraged by the stories of others. While I am learning the hard lesson that comparing myself to other mommies is a totally meaningless pursuit, I am also learning that relating with, laughing with, and finding encouragement in other mommies is a balm to my soul! Bring it on, Big Mama! I'm ready to learn from your life and laugh with you.

An Abundance of Katherines (John Green)
I'm super excited for the second installment in my John Green adventure with my husband (Note: Josh's favorite writer). Josh picks up the books for me (because I'm not allowed to check out books from the library. Once again, #ENFP) or digs them out of storage in the basement (because I'm not allowed to go down there other than for laundry purposes - not sure why, I just made this rule for myself #creepy). I plan to read this book over the weekend while Josh is home (when I can shirk my mothering responsibilities a bit) because I know I won't wanna put it down once I start.

The Ministry of Motherhood (Sally Clarkson)
My goal is to finish this book this week. We shall see ...
I should probably read this book (and all of her books) with more intention, but I know that I will read it again soon. Thus, I am simply noting what I notice, delving deeper where God leads me, and then tucking it away for a few months before pulling it out again to read with women God entrusts/has entrusted. This stuff is simply too good to only read quickly and alone. I am craving a group to bounce ideas and practical applications off of. I want these words to take deep root in my heart and in the hearts of other mommies. It's that good! Stay tuned ...
God is moving in my heart fierce for mamas!

Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls (Gary L. Thomas)
Nothing, nothing, nothing has shaped my soul quite like mothering. {That would be an understatement.} My favorite, favorite blogger, Lisa-Jo Baker, raves about this book. She keeps re-reading it, and I keep re-reading her blog, so it must contain some worthy, gospel-saturated thoughts about parenting. I am giddy about reading this book. I plan to be both encouraged (I'm doing it, y'all; I'm Mama) and spurred on (I wanna parent with my guts for all the glory that He deserves).

It's gonna be a good month.
Happy National Reading Month!

I also have on order Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson (Sally's husband). Josh and I are going to read this book slowly, with intention. We have a toddler and are currently enduring the "wonderful two's." I've heard that three is the new two, so Josh and I want to be prepared to gently and thoughtfully guide John through his own shortcomings and selfish ways (even as we are guided by God through our own). Thank you, God, for giving us John (and sweet bro/sis) to disciple after Your Heart. We do not take this lightly! (Therefore, I am not promising that this book will get finished during March. Read: Not. Gonna. Happen.)

I am excited to continually record my wee little thoughts here on the good stuff that I'm putting into my wee little head. I'd also LOVE to know what y'all are reading. (???)

Happy March, fam!
xoxo, Ash