Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Motherhood and the Illusion of Control

I like to control things.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Everyone likes to have control in their life. They like to choose, or know who is doing the choosing for them. I can even have control when Michael asks me what I want when he runs out to get take-out and I say "Surprise me." I know Michael. I know that he knows what I like. I know that I'll get something I enjoy. If it's a place we've been before, chances are he'll probably get something for me that he knows I've already ordered. I can have control by anticipating what will happen and figuring out how I'll react to that something.

Motherhood is the best thing I've found so far to teach me that control is an illusion. It never really existed in the first place, but to keep my mind from going crazy, I try to assume that I have control until I don't.

I should have known, when I had Evvie two weeks early, that I wasn't in control. When my labor lasted 23 hours because I got stuck at 6 centimeters and needed an epidural even though I wanted to do it naturally, I should have seen that control was not real. When my milk came in late and I had tons of nerves because Evvie's weight wasn't where it should be immediately, I should have known that control was just an illusion. Sleeping through the night, self-soothing, falling asleep on her own for naps, actually TAKING naps, growth bench marks, teething, and unpredictability should have all clued me in.

My first big realization came when we took Evvie to a friend's wedding in Tennessee. It was a 6-7 hour car ride, and Evvie didn't sleep for most of it. Then she cried all the next day and slept for maybe 30 minutes. And on the third day, the drive home, she slept equally as little. I did everything I could think of to get my baby to sleep, but because she's a human being with likes and dislikes and is in control of her body, she didn't. I merely had to deal with her mess, or ask Michael to, because I was playing for the wedding. Because I was worrying, because I was controlling, I also tried to control Michael, who had graciously come along as baby-sitter. We argued because of that.

Next came Evvie's weight loss. My child seems to have the appetite of a sumo wrestler. She's not even crawling yet, but I'm chasing her all over the place. At her nine-month Dr visit, the Dr said "She's underweight. Put as many calories in her as possible. Come back in two weeks for a weight check." Control went out the window. I knew my milk supply had been down. I talked with the lactation consultant on how to bring it up. I fed Evvie more fatty foods. She took on more weight and chunked up. Hurrah! But then she started teething again and suddenly she didn't want to nurse. Control gone again. Many times I found myself wishing I could just force Evvie to nurse, instead of listening to her needs (gums hurt = nursing hurts). While she was supposed to be gaining weight, she didn't want to nurse. Lovely.

I worried constantly. I fell into fear. I justified my worry because if I was worrying about something I would have a better chance of figuring out how to fix it, right? I refused to accept that there was simply nothing I could do to make Evvie do what I wanted her to do. So I drove Michael crazy. And we argued. I went kicking and screaming to God after that argument. I told him that I felt abandoned by him. I asked him why he made me a mother and then gave me a body that made it really really hard to provide what my baby needed in terms of food. I heard him whisper that it was because I wasn't in control of anything in the first place and that I needed to trust him. I had become over-confident and this was his way of showing me that I needed to trust him for control of my life. I asked him for peace and he gave it to me.

Amazingly, I think we forget to ask God for what we need. We ask and ask and ask for the things we want, or for the things that we see other people need, but we are so blind to our own true needs, that we don't ask him for the things we really need. All we really need is a right view of ourselves and a right view of God. This applies to the time and place that you are in, and not just that you are a great sinner and God is a great savior. My right view of myself is that I am needy, I am not in control, and I am not as clever at coming up with solutions as I think I am. My right view of God is that he needs nothing so he can give everything, he is in control of all things (even the smallest atom), and that he is infinitely clever and wise. Resting in those knowledges helped me have peace.

Evvie is now back on track with her weight, and I'm waiting to see my need to control rear its ugly head again. However, I know that my God is faithful to pull me back to himself by showing me as many times as I need that he is really the only one in control.


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Importance of Corporate Worship

Some time ago, mid-October of last year, Michael sent me two links, both blogs/articles by a PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) pastor-turned-religion professor at Grove City College. The first was entitled, "The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons"; the second, "The Problem with Praise Teams." The reason behind both of these articles appearing in my email inbox was somewhat of a joke, seeing as Michael and I are both on the praise team at our church, and somewhat of a discussion raiser, seeing as Michael enjoys getting a reaction out of me. As you can tell, they got enough of a reaction out of me to be inspiring a blog post five months later.

This professor was, by no means, good at using scripture in context, or even the right scriptures. He was incredibly biased, and this showed through in his writing and his interpretation of scripture. (If you really want to see what I mean later, look up his second article. His first is just opinion, not trying to be based on scripture.) I even called him "stuck up" to Michael when he eventually got home from work and wanted to discuss the articles. I am equally biased on my side, but that's not what I want to get in to today.

My church is a church that, during my 15 years of attendance, has gone from singing just hymns with piano accompaniment (vocals mic'd), to just contemporary worship songs with an acoustic guitar, piano, and some heavily-contested percussion (all mic'd) as accompaniment, to a fairly even balance of hymns and theologically sound, word-rich contemporary music from places like Sovereign Grace, Chris Tomlin, and the like, with acoustic guitar, piano, percussion (no longer contested), bass, and on alternate Sundays violin or flute (all mic'd). For years my church has been trying to find an acceptable medium where we can incorporate some of the great contemporary songs, and yet enjoy the steadfast richness of the old hymns. We have discussed and changed how loud we have everything mic'd. We don't want to overpower the congregational voices, but we do understand that some people don't enjoy singing if all they can hear is themselves.

I've been a part of this process since 2007, listening and contributing to the conversation. Because of this, I can see what this professor means when he says that he doesn't know if contemporary Christian music can compete forever with the richness of hymns. I understand what he means when he says that it's hard to write lyrics that are "theologically sound, but significant, profound, appropriate, memorable, and edifying (not to mention metrical)." This he says points (in part, there's more in the article) to the decline of contemporary praise music. Another thing he mentions as part of the decline is that you have to have a praise band to accompany contemporary praise music (I've hear some wonderfully simple piano-only versions of contemporary praise songs. This transitions us to his second article, where he attempts to use scripture to point out why a praise band is "not quite biblical".

This was the article that got me the most riled up. I felt backed into a latice-worked corner with his use of scripture, with his use of the phrase "not quite biblical". This is the article that got me really thinking. In it he details what's wrong with the praise band and why it shouldn't (and probably won't continue to) exist. The way he details what corporate worship (or corporate praise) should be is spot on: "Corporate praise . . . should be congregational, together, and vigorous." I agree with this, completely. However, he mentions that if you're using the praise team and no hymnals, people are bound to be more hesitant to sing because the words are printed on the screen without music in front of them. He also mentions that, with a praise team, people can't hear each other which, diminishes both the "together" part, and the "vigorous" part of how we are called to sing our praises to God.

Here's where I get to why I titled this post as I did. One of the things this article challenged me to do was to listen more carefully to the people in church singing around me. The professor made it seem like if your church played music too loud to hear the congregation around you, your praise band was "not exactly Biblical". So, in a small act of rebellion, I determined to listen to the people around me to prove to myself that what my church was doing for worship was okay.

(As a side note, let me just say that technically "corporate worship" should be any time a body of believers is meeting together to glorify God, whether that is through song, listening to the word, prayer, or even service. I, however, am using it specifically in the context of music and song.)

The past few months, I have been blessed. The article that got me riled up, and still does if I read it thoroughly (all my arguments with it are argued by other people in the comments; you can read them there if you wish) - this article has lead to my biggest blessing yet. In my defiance, I came to realize that my church sings. They don't just stand there and hope that the praise team knows all the words. If they are unsure, they listen to a verse, and then try with all their might to hop in to the song. If they know the song, they really sing. They sing loudly, and with gusto. They put their heart and soul into singing their praises to their Creator, their Savior, their Redeemer, their Father. As I look around each Sunday (because having been on the praise team for so long, I know most of the words), I rarely see people just standing there staring at the screen. Even those who aren't certain of their voices know the value of making a joyful noise, and this blesses me.

I have come to realize that corporate worship is so important, if only because you have the chance to look around and see all these other people from various backgrounds and families and situations all proclaiming that God is God, and He is good, just, sovereign, etc. There are so many Bible verses where we are exhorted to worship together, and I'm starting to learn why. Each Sunday I want to stand up in front of church and say "Thank you for singing! Thank you for praising God in my presence and blessing me!" Except, I can't, because you know, order. So this is my thank you. If you go to my church, if you sing, thank you. Thank you helping me see my Savior better. Thank you for showing me different facets of His beauty. Thank you for showing me that God is trustworthy because you trust him. Thank you for showing me many more things about God that I don't have time to list here.

The beauty of this revelation is that this can happen anywhere. If you can see people singing, if you can hear them singing, no matter what your worship style is, whether it's no instruments, or some instruments, or all of the instruments, if you can hear the congregation singing around you, you can hear people praising God for everything. God shows himself to us when we praise him together. When we glorify God, even if it's only the best way we know how, we show him to those around us.

So, if you stand in church, and stare at the screen, or the hymnal, or whatever you use, and just don't sing, I encourage you to listen, and then to lift your voice to the Creator who gave you the voice in the first place. It will encourage others, and it will encourage you. Not to mention, God gets all the glory, because he's the one giving you the voice in the first place.

Thanks for listening!

P.S. There are so many more reasons for the importance of corporate worship, but I don't have time to go into them now. Just know, I realize they're there and regret that I didn't have more time to extrapolate on them. :)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Pregnancy after Miscarriage

The most comforting thing I've had said to me about miscarriage and pregnancy after miscarriage was spoken by a male doctor who (at the time) had been in in the business so long he had delivered at least one of my siblings.

When I came in after most of the bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped, he did an ultrasound to make sure that everything had vacated my womb, and then before he left me to clean up and compose myself before going to the check-out desk, he sat down, asked me if my husband and I were planning on trying again soon, to which I answered "yes! as soon as possible!"

He gave me a time frame in which to let my body heal, and then, looking me squarely in the face, said very simply, "The only thing this miscarriage is going to affect with your next pregnancy is your nerves."

That one sentence has stuck with me more than I can describe. In it he said, "You're fertile. You can get pregnant again. You should have no problem carrying a healthy baby to term. This wasn't your fault."

God has been amazingly good to me this past year. In it I've experienced his goodness in the most harrowing time I've ever known. After the miscarriage he carried me, held me, comforted me, placed people in my life to comfort me, showed me how he'd experienced the loss of his Son on my behalf, and when month after month of trying passed with no pregnancy, he taught me patience and how to rejoice with other mothers. In fact the month before I found out I was actually pregnant I finally had to give my jealousy to him and rejoice with a close friend of mine. Her announcement made me cry, but for the first time, I was able to be happy with her without thinking "That should be me!"

I'm not saying I learned to trust God in every way before he opened my womb again. I'm just saying, I saw a divine peace invading my soul when I very much wanted to hold onto my jealousy and hurt.

The month God placed life in my womb again, I was fairly certain it had happened almost right away, but didn't want to hope until the pregnancy test came out positive. I wanted my hope to be in my salvation through Christ, not whether or not I was finally pregnant this month. The test came out positive and through my joy, I immediately experienced fear. Michael told me he, too, was fearful. We prayed a lot. Then we told our parents.

I had decided before I became pregnant that the next time I was pregnant I wanted to announce the pregnancy as soon as I was pregnant, because it's God's doing that there's a life in there. I wanted to give him the glory, and express my belief that life really does begin at conception. Each life should be celebrated immediately, if it really and truly is life, I told myself.

However, once I got pregnant, my fear made me want to clam my mouth shut, just in case. I didn't want to tell people and then have to tell them that I'd lost another baby. Within the first week, I let maybe 3 or 4 people know outside of family. They became my prayer community.

Fear continued to stand in the corner of the room and stare at me for the next several weeks, even after I had conviction from God that I wasn't glorifying him as I should and started telling people that I was pregnant again. Every time I went to the bathroom and saw there was no blood in my underwear, I had a small moment of worship. Each symptom that cropped up was a blessing. I thanked God when I felt nauseated. I worried when I didn't feel nauseated. On really fearful days when all fear would do was perch on my shoulder and whisper in my ear, I'd text my prayer buddies a line such as "Having a fearful day today. Please pray." and I'd get wonderful texts back saying they were interceding before the throne of God for me. It is such a blessing to have prayer warriors as friends. Fear would recede to the corner again, or sometimes leave the room altogether.

My first doctor's appointment and ultrasound were fearful events. Michael came with me. I had a blood pressure rate through the roof because I was so nervous and he talked at me non-stop while we waited. Then we saw the baby, right on track with where it should be, hear the heart beat, so strong and healthy sounding. I cried in the car, and quite a few times after that. Michael said he preferred these happy tears.

All this being said, even though I'm almost 14 weeks, there are times I realize I'm still unconsciously checking for blood. I would say fear has pretty much left the room. It's faded since the first ultrasound, but that doctor was right. The only thing I have experienced in spades, thanks to my miscarriage, is fear. Each week that I've gotten to past 6 weeks has been a small celebration. Feeling my uterus pop above my pelvic bone has been beautiful. Seeing and listening to my baby's heart beat twice has moved me to tears both times.

God has been exceptionally good, in carrying me through the miscarriage, and in carrying me through the nerves of this second pregnancy. While I would never wish a miscarriage on anyone, especially their first baby, I can say that had it not happened, I would be a lesser person today. I would love God less, I would love my husband less, I would love this baby less, I would be less compassionate.

I still have a ways to go both in pregnancy and in learning to love God, but God will be there with me every single step of the way, and so will my husband. :) I think I'm covered pretty well.

Soli Deo Gloria