Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Keeping Watch

My sophomore year in nursing started out with a chapel organized by the nursing profs at IWU. Teresa Smith did a devotion on the scripture of Christ in Gesthemene. He was requesting his closest friends to keep watch with him... stay awake, pray, be attentive, but please, just keep watch with me... I can't exactly recall her reflections, but that talk slowly awakened something within me that I came to know as one of my mercy gifts - keeping watch with those who are suffering. Over my nursing career I've had the privilege of being in the presence of those who are about to pass into the next life; The challenge is learning how to quiet myself, and allowing the emptiness/uselessness that I feel to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus. I never would've thought that this would be the area of life in which I felt the most used by God. In nursing school I wanted to rescue people or die trying. I wanted ER, trauma flight, high-octane experiences. My philosophy was that God was indeed the ultimate giver and taker of life, so no matter how many machines we applied to a patient, when it was their time to go they'd go. It didn't take long before I saw that machines, while good in many ways, stripped away the moments that letting go and honoring the patient's wishes provided. I didn't really keep watch during those days. I kept busy.

After carrying a caseload of oncology patients in Boston, I began to learn how to be present with a person who was dying without panicking. How sometimes there are no answers. How sometimes there is nothing else that can be done. How to respect silences. How to listen. How to beat back the need to talk about myself. How to get out of the way and be Christ's presence.

I still love working in the ICU. I love trying to turn the tide in a patient's favor and give them another chance. But now my gut knows when the end is near, and I find great satisfaction in helping both the patient and their loved ones find meaning and memories during the watch. It's a sacred time.

My dear friend, Jean, lost her 2-1/2 year battle with pancreatic cancer Saturday evening. Jean was a life-long model to me. Jean was also my mother's best friend. Jean made time for me to come and visit the last time I was home, and readily opened her heart to me when I asked, "What have you been learning? What has God shown you?" She touched many with her honesty and wit. She blessed her family by intentionally investing in them during the 2-1/2 year watch. She was surrounded by friends and family when she left behind her earthly shell and passed into eternity. I believe that, though it was a bitter battle at the end, Jesus was honored by those who kept watch with her. Jesus was present in those who kept watch with her. And now God will be present to her family by blessing them with another line of watchkeepers. Godspeed, Jean.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

"With delivery before me and pregnancy behind..."

...I press on towards the goal!! Almost 33 weeks along, with a big, busy belly. This baby feels the most active of the three. Most of the time I still feel it's a boy in there, but then again, I was consistently wrong with the other two. I delivered a week early with Izak, labor precipitated by my water breaking. With Liberty's pregnancy I was dilated to three and 80% effaced at my 36 week visit. My midwife laughingly said, "I guess I'll see you this weekend." But labor pains, 5-8 minutes apart, only came for a few hours every night, and would disappear when I fell asleep. At 37 weeks I was 4 cm and ready, but no baby! (How do you know the difference between false labor and real labor? Real labor ends with a baby in your arms!) The midwives shook their heads, not sure how I was still hanging in there, but every night labor would come and go. At the end of 37 weeks I was actually at 5 and so ready to go. Libby came at week 38, her labor so furious and fast I was stunned for a day or two. This third baby... well, I think it will be earlier still. Braxton-Hicks are a frequent part of my days, sometimes being so intense that I have to stop and catch my breath. SO, so tight! But then it's off and running again, since there's no rest with two little ones, especially since Izak decided to crawl out of his crib for naptime yesterday. A first.

I need to start pulling out my boxes and going through what I have and what I need to get. I donated a bunch of things to a friend in Buffalo who was in need, thinking that I was done with babies. She had a little boy. But I think I can salvage some things from Libby's early stuff... and what do you really need, other than Onesies, for the first few months? If this child is as big as I think it will be, then I should be able to use 6-month outfits soon enough. First baby 8# 8oz, second 8# 14oz, my guess is it will clear the 9# marker.

I need to start assembling the Call List for labor, which feels very overwhelming to me. I wish my mom were a given to be here, but she's 6-hours away, caring for elderly MIL and my handicapped sister. She's miraculously been at the other children's births, don't ask me how, but this one doesn't have a good feel to it. Heck, she could get mostly here but be stuck in Chicago traffic for three hours. Oh well, God knows, God knows.... I keep telling myself that. This is a time in which I feel very courageous for the actual labor, but so frightened for the kids and what will happen with them. They're so little, and though I know they'll survive, I worry how it will roll out. Will it be a sudden onset? Will there be lots of time to arrange and communicate? How will this impact Matt? His roll is so different now, and I know he's planning accordingly, but there's only so much you can do before the wait begins. I feel as if we're already in "the wait."

Exhaustion is a daunting reality from day to day, but I rest in the comfort of knowing how awesome I feel after the baby's out. I never feel more weak, vulnerable, and tapped out than when I'm pregnant. After birth it's as if I've been brought back from the dead, a kind of resurrection I suppose. How will it work with three, three and under? Not sure, but the encouraging word that I've been receiving is that two to three is not as big of an adjustment as one to two. If you have experienced otherwise, please keep it to yourself. I have to have hope at this point.

There is a narrowing that I experience towards the end of my pregnancy, as if the walls were closing in and I am being pushed into a corner. It is a place where I am very, very alone, about to embark on an adventure in which no one can really come to my aid. Labor is an alone place, and I find myself already making that mental shift. It's different than being lonely, that's a state of being in which you can be surrounded by thousands, but connect with no one. Being alone is a reality. Other than God and the new life about to emerge, no one can go to the place of labor with me. My husband, who is amazing in delivery, can only come so close, he still stands at a distance in a sense. He is watching and coaching me from afar. I can see him and hear him, but I can't go to him. Matt has been my hero in the delivery room, and after birthing two children I know and love him in ways I never imagined possible... . He protects me and "keeps watch" while I work very, very hard to let labor have it's way with me. He makes the process safe by his presence. He won't let anyone distract me. He is my guard. One more time, Matt.

So 3 weeks could be a week 36 delivery, 5 weeks could be the 38 week delivery... we'll see. It's a secret only God knows, and He ain't tellin! :)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

"... As Long as It's Healthy."

This blog might sound on the rant-ish side, because it's something that I've felt very passionate about for a very long time. It's a response to a cultural cliche'. Case and point: Matt and I were out for a wonderful dinner at my favorite restaurant, Benihana's. We were sitting at a table with 5 other people that we've never met. The mother of the family sat next to me, and very pleasantly asked how far I was along. (Not really something that I can avoid these days. The big belly is quite the conversation starter.) Eight months, I replied. And the next question that always, always follows is "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" I reply, No, we didn't find out. Well, this nice mom was so tickled and proceeded to tell me that she didn't find out either because they didn't have good ultrasound machines back then, yadda, yadda, and then the comment that cuts me every time: "It really doesn't matter if it's a boy or a girl, as long as it's healthy."

I know that this statement is supposed to be an appropriate, encouraging, cheerful way to end talking with an expectant mom. It has an unspoken good-luck quality, as if one were giving you a charm or shaking salt over their shoulder. Honestly, it's all I can do to keep my big mouth shut and not say something like, "Really??? Is that ultimate the goal here? Is that how I'll know if I've "made it", when I have a healthy, whole child? And what then would you say to all those women, of whom my mother is one, who deliver babies that have obviously not met that standard? Babies that are not perfect, not healthy?!?"

I especially feel like believers could re-examine the use of this trite statement. What if I have a baby that has abnormalities? We would all agree that God loves this baby, God created this baby, God knows this baby. But it doesn't fit the "healthy" description. Did I not pray enough? Did I not have faith enough that this baby would be whole? Did I sin (remember the old Bible stories)? I know all of the answers are "no." So what in the world can we do with a statement like that? In the process of working towards a mother's heart I have come to the point of wanting to please God by joyfully accepting every child He gives me. While I, of course, desire a healthy child, my heart's cry is to be an obedient servant, even if it means that my baby (babies) might not be healthy. Even if it means that God takes me down a different path to do something in me that only a child with disabilities could do... if I could love and trust Him that much... whatever it would take, I would do it.

I personally like this: It doesn't matter if it's a boy or a girl, it will be loved no matter what.

I realize this may come off very b*tchy, perhaps finger-shaking-shame on-you; it's not my intent. People close to me and far from me have made this statement. But can I be honest with the universe? I'm never prepared for the "healthy" statement when I hear it. I often think about moms who have what appears to be a healthy baby, but instead the little one has or develops unseen problems. Hearing, sight, autism, learning disabled, and the list continues. Then heap on top of it the problem that they seem to be a healthy looking child... but a mom's heart is secretly breaking. I have no doubt that growing up in a home with a handicapped older sister is the seedbed of my thinking. It's a way in which having a disabled sibling has irrevocably changed my perspective.

Okay, there's downloading for you. Hope it wasn't too harsh.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Defeat - the tool of Motherhood continued

At a very young age I took this scripture to heart, "Be holy as I am holy, says the Lord your God." "Mom, what's holy mean?" "Perfect." Be perfect as I am perfect... and that became one of my mortal flaws from my earliest memories. I've always wanted to get it right, be correct, not corrected, be on target or even ahead of the game. Rebuke brings humiliation, correction is shame. I have always jokingly used this to my advantage, "Don't you want a nurse who is a perfectionist?!? Or would you rather have someone who sometimes gets things right?" God knew this seed would be constant battle for me, so He lovingly uses the tool of Motherhood to dig it out of me. Motherhood is a spade. Motherhood gets at the heart of control, image, and the need to be right. Motherhood lays her silver blade at the base of Perfection and cuts down deep to the root of the problem.

From time to time I find myself uptight about parenting issues. Discipline. Speech. Potty training. Walking/crawling. I look at the problem from every angle I can find, ask millions of questions, read every article and board I can find, make every comparison possible... not to necessarily know how to best serve my son or daughter (though that's a part of it), but to find out if I'm right. It becomes more about the feelings of inadequacy and failure that I am feeling, than about the normal, timely process it takes for some things to take hold in my child's life. I worry more about whether I'm measuring up in other people's eyes, than whether I'm being kind and loving to my child in their time of transition. I came to the conclusion early on that I wouldn't post about struggles with my children because of their right to a private life, their chance to develop without me throwing up my blogging hands at their failures. I don't think this is an image game. But in my deepest heart, when I feel anger and resentment boil up when he/she doesn't seem to be "getting it," I've learned to step back and say, "What's the REAL issue here? Is it because I can't control this situation? Is it because I feel the pressure to check one more thing off my parental list? Is it because I can't be perfect?" These thoughts are a sign to me of the Holy Spirit's tender work in me, for nothing is more defeating to a perfectionist than knowing that to be perfectly human is to be imperfect, and to strive for anything else is vanity.

Lord, fill me with your kindness today towards my children... and as I feel my limitations, may I also repent and receive your kindness for myself.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Shake, shake, shake... shake your bootie!

Tonight I had the privilege of helping put on a dance for the mentally challenged members of the Center for Enriched Living, a day program in Lake County. As a church we sponsored their summer dance, "A Night in Las Vegas." One of their board members, Laine, attends our church and helped dove-tail this event into our vision of outreach. This was our first community contact since Matt became the lead pastor. We provided food, drinks, decorations, and chaperones for a 2-hour dance. It was a blast! I haven't danced that hard for that long... ever.

I've mentioned in the past that I have a mentally and physically handicapped older sister. Every dance she's gone to she's been the prom queen because she's one of the most gregarious, bubbly people that you've ever met - and she can shake her bootie!!! I think she would've been proud of me tonight, because I was able to hang in there for almost two hours, 8-months pregnant, sweat and all. (Two cups of coffee and a bag of chocolate cookies helped boost my resolve.) Thankfully, the DJ had choreographers to follow, so I was able to look better than I actually am. Many, many times during the dance I thought, "If my sister were at a dance I would want someone to treat her with joy and excitement." So it helped me overcome being shy, and taking a member by the hand to help them swing their arms to the beat. I thought, "This man is someone's son, someone's baby boy," and it helped me overcome feelings of awkwardness in order to slow dance with him as he sat in his wheelchair.

The marginalized, the "least of these", is who Christ commanded us to love. It was truly a joy to do the electric slide and hokey-pokey with a group of individuals that didn't need my presence tonight nearly as much as I needed theirs.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The boy, happy at home. Posted by Picasa

A run down

I'm not really about blogging on events, but lately that seems to be the crux of things. So I suppose it's fair to do a bit of reporting. For the record, I haven't ever been as busy as I have been for the past month. I pride myself in quiet, cozy schedules that focus around home routine and childcare. It's just been downright nuts lately.

Upon returning home from Buffalo I spent a few days getting my bearings back, and preparing for the next feat of events upcoming. Being about eight months pregnant has made the "bounce back" factor much slower than I'm used to. If I think about it, I've spent the entire time I've lived in Chicagoland battling the delayed return of energy and homeostasis since I was technically pregnant when we moved. I can only imagine what it will be like to not be pregnant in a few weeks... yipee!! Saturday afternoon we had wonderful friends stop and visit. We met the Spauldings in undergrad, Brad was one of Matt's groomsmen, Laura is a fellow nursing student. We're godparents to Adam and Hannah. It was a terrific visit. I'm amazed how some friendships seem timeless and deep, and some friendships, though closer in proximity and exposure, struggle to maintain relational depth and intensity. I was so encouraged and undergirded by their visit. They went to church with us Sunday morning and enjoyed Family Day. Brad said, "Hey, if I lived closer I'd love to come to your church!" Good words of encouragement for me.

Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed to West Michigan to meet our former small group friends from Buffalo. We stayed at my sister-in-law's huge country home that was only minutes from Lake Michigan. It was a great, but stunningly tiring, time. Six adults, five kids ages four and under. Two dogs (our former Newfoundland lives there), two kittens (read escape artists), about 10 chickens, a rooster, and a cage full of finches. A literal zoo. We enjoyed the gorgeous beach, white sand that squeaks when you walk on it, clear blue water. It was awesome, and a little scary for me. In my pediatrics rotation I cared for a baby who was drowned in the bathtub by her brother... I never thought about it again until I had a little boy and a little girl, and then it all came flooding back. I'm not necessarily trying to sound like the most neurotic mother you know, but it gives you a little context, I guess. I kept both eyes plastered on the kids at the beach. They did wonderfully. Lots of laughing and playing. We have a beach just up the road form us here in Lake County, and of course Izak asks for it constantly, even more so now. It was great to be in the same space with our dearest friends, though there wasn't a lot of time for heart-to-hearts. By the time we left the kids with sitters and went out for dinner Tuesday night we were all about asleep in our plates. It was hard to say goodbye, not knowing when we'll see each other again. My guess is it will be soon.

On our way out of West Michigan we stopped by and saw Aunt Suzy, the cousins, and G'ma G'pa Hilson. We navigated Chicago's traffic very well and got home in four hours. The kids have been so tired all day... but Izak INSISTS on potty-training himself. I've been practically discouraging him, but he runs to the bathroom and crawls up on the potty to do it anyway. For more information than you might want about our training adventures, feel free to click on my husband's blog link.

It's late. I'm tired. I'll talk to you all soon.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I ran away... but I came back

This last weekend I ran away to Buffalo for approximately 48 hours. It was a trip to surprise my friend, Barb, for her baby shower on Sunday afternoon. I just couldn't miss it. Barb and her husband, PJ, had tried for years and years to have a baby. Barb and I were so excited to be pregnant together at the same time last year. We were green and growing when a bomb fell on them. The official diagnosis is "incompetent cervix." She went into early labor, unbeknownst to her, around 22 weeks. She was hospitalized to try to stop the labor. After a week they couldn't hold it back any longer, her water broke, and she delivered her baby. In the process Hannah died. Barb and PJ had called Matt and I for support and counsel during the heartbreaking decisions and stages. We were good friends prior to that... this experience fused us. I was with Barb during the beginning of her labor, Matt visited the next morning and was one of the few people to see little Hannah. Matt took care of the memorial service a few days later, I sang and played the piano. It was a guilt that almost choked me as I stood before them singing songs of comfort with my belly round and active. It seemed so wrong. When Matt told them that we were moving to Chicago they were blown away, and through Barb's tears she cried, "You were the only one who saw Hannah." There are some things you will never forget...

Shortly after we moved, Barb called and surprised me with the wonderful news that they were pregnant!!! I surprised them back by telling them that I was too!!! Once again we are weeks apart with our due dates. She has been closely monitored by her medical team, and all is well! And she's no longer considered high-risk! In a few weeks she'll have a green flag to have that little baby whenever she can! I was hiding in the kitchen when she arrived at the shower a few minutes early. It was soooo much fun to see her reaction, and then, of course, we two pregnant women had a nice little cry together. I said, " We've wept together... now it's time to celebrate!" It was worth every mile to bless her, pray over her, and encourage her. I'm so proud of them. They've remained faithful in the face of devastation, and clung to the promises of God because their very lives have depended on it.

Just for fun I bet Barb that I'll beat her to the delivery room. We'll see... but I wouldn't bet against me. LOL

Seeing my old home was a striking experience. It was as if I'd never left. The fields were greener, and the trees bigger than I remembered. I called Matt from Carrie's and said, "I'm not coming back." I saw precious few friends, as I knew too many would put me in an emotional tailspin. I didn't go to church Sunday because I'm not ready to face 2000 people yet. I only had a little relational margin left. It was so cozy to sit down with old soulmates and share at a deep, meaningful level. I surprised the McGarrys and showed up on their doorstep for coffee. Jennifer, Chuck, and the kids met me at Uncle Joes for breakfast. Aud and I had dinner at Buffalo Street Grill, and Carrie and I sat on the deck while the kids ran in the sprinkler. Deep conversations, insightful questions, revealing answers, an occasional cry. It was almost like a dream... I awoke one morning and clearly thought, "I had the weirdest dream. I had moved to Chicago and Matt got his own church, and we left everything behind... Hey, why am I on the floor in Gavin's room?" It was really, really good to be back.

The best part was that Matt was home with the little ones while I was away, and he did a wonderful job. The slept well, napped well, and were happy when I returned home. He's awesome anyways, but to insist that I go for a weekend by myself was one of the greatest gifts. He's so selfless. So brave. And so thoughtful.

So there. I did run away... but I'm back.