Reflecting on Mothers’ Day

What a difference a year makes!
This time last year, on Mothers’ Day 2016, I was recovering from the worst stomach bug of my life, dehydrated and feverish, just thanking God I wasn’t pregnant at the time. I had hit the longest point of infertility, and it had been three years I had wanted a Child #3.
I was grateful to be coherent and recovering, grateful for the lessons learned, grateful for a new doctor with a new drug to try, and grateful for the two girls given to me. As I hit Mothers’ Day, I remember being resigned and grateful, and in a good place with the Lord.
Around two weeks later, on June 1st, I found out I was pregnant with “Tiny Doll.” Here I am, a year later, mother of 3 with an almost 3 month old.
It strikes me there are a lot of 3s involved. Three years of personal waiting for Child #3 who is now almost 3 months old.
Three is an important number in the Bible too. For three days, Jesus lay in the tomb, and the disciples despaired. They longed for and grieved their very best friend, they mourned their betrayal and cowardice, and they hid in an inner room, scared, devastated, and feeling lost. They forgot all of His promises, all of His power, and couldn’t fathom the end of the story.
But in 3 days, Christ arose, conquering death, securing my salvation, and proclaiming Himself as God without a doubt.
This Mothers’ Day I rejoice in new ways, with the baby blessing I do not deserve.
Praise be to God!

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The Birth of Liliella Violet Conte

The birth of baby #3 was going to be my second – and last – attempt at a VBAC.  If I couldn’t go into labor naturally on my own, this time around, I was going to commit to c-sections – in order to protect my scar and not risk rupture.  I had had two emergency c-sections already (both for legitimate reasons – and different reasons each time), but I didn’t want to be stuck having c-sections if I could help it.  There were only two hospitals in the entire Seattle area willing to try the VBAC with me, and Swedish Edmonds seemed very competent and confident that it could be done.  They still made me set an “end date” though, and didn’t want me to go over a week late.  However, because there was a scheduling snafu, they scheduled me for 9 days late.  I found the arbitrariness of it amusing and frustrating.  But I had 9 days to work with, so I prayed it would happen! I had never gone into labor on my own before though, so my hopes were low.

I had had many contractions over the last few weeks, and they seemed more frequent and more painful than the last two pregnancies, but I still didn’t get too excited.  As I passed the due date and went late, I knew I was following the same pattern.  Saturday night, February 18th, at 8 pm, when I was 4 days late, I started having painful contractions – but they were anywhere from 15-30 minutes apart.  They weren’t getting closer together, but they weren’t stopping.  I could function and talk and do normal activities through them, but, during the contractions, which were at least a minute and a half long, I had to stop and breathe.  And I definitely couldn’t sleep through them.

At midnight, I called the doctor to let them know what was happening, just to keep them informed.  They had told me they didn’t want me laboring at home, and this didn’t seem like labor, but I thought I’d let them know.  They told me I should come in if they even got to being 7 minutes apart for an hour, just because I was a VBAC-er.

After being up until 6 AM that first night, I was miserable enough to go take Tylenol and get ice packs.  It was my back that felt the contractions the most, so I put the ice packs on my back, with one on my front.  I was exhausted from being up all night.  Since the contractions were about 17 minutes apart, every time I’d start to drift off, another one would wake me up.  With the ice packs, I got them about 45 minutes apart, and finally went to sleep – for about four hours total.  I woke up the next day utterly exhausted.

But the contractions didn’t stop!  They continued on, all day, at an average of 12 minutes apart.  It was frustrating.  We didn’t go to church that morning so I could sleep in, as well as pay attention to the contractions and be closer to the hospital.

Brad and I both used our phones’ timer options where we pressed “lap” any time a contraction hit.  They just weren’t really getting any closer together as the day went on.  They weren’t fun either, as every single one hit my back with some lengthy pain.  I walked, took a shower, and even a lukewarm bath.  Nothing helped.  I was so tired.

Finally, by early evening on Sunday the 19th, I lost my mucus plug in two bursts.  I thought I had lost my mucus plug with Rachael and Rosalie, but this proved I hadn’t.  I had never seen anything like this – like a giant bloody slug.  *shudder*  Getting hopeful, I called the doctor again, and this time got Dr. Randolph Bourne, a male doctor in the practice who happened to be on call that day and the next.  He was supposedly great with VBACs, but I had decided against using him during the pregnancy, as I had never had a man doctor and didn’t feel comfortable with it.

He told me that it was a good sign but, unless I was feeling sharp terrible pain in between contractions, had bright red blood, or they got to being 5-7 minutes apart, to go ahead and remain at home.  *sigh*

That evening, we were eating our 10 pm meal, and I was trying to figure out HOW, on earth, I was going to get to sleep another night in a row with non-stop contractions, and we were watching a favorite episode of Stargate for fun.  My back was so tired out from the pain, at this point, but I knew the contractions HAD to be doing something.  Part of me still thought they’d suddenly stop and come to nothing.  I didn’t want to hope I was actually going into labor.

During the hour that we ate, I finally hit 7 minutes apart, and then the last couple were 4 or 5!  Getting excited, we called my parents, who drove the 20 minutes up from Kirkland to stay with the girls.  It was 11 PM at that point, and I was so done.  Wanted to actually be in labor and have this baby! The girls were in bed, but not asleep.  I said bye to them and opened the door to my parents, telling them they could use the spare bedroom to sleep.  Everything had been packed for hours, so I grabbed it all, and Brad and I headed out the door.

We got to the hospital around or just before midnight.  Before doing anything else, a male nurse hooked me up to the non-stress test to watch Liliella’s heartrate through the contractions.  I was sitting up and leaning forward to take the pressure off my back, but that was cramping her during the contractions, and her heartrate slowed way down.  That gave Brad and me bad memories of Rachael’s birth (her heart dipped and stopped and started and they took her by c-section because she was being strangled in her cord).  They had me lie back and Liliella did much better, but they still wanted me to stick around for an hour to double check.  I was fine with that, and told the doctor so, explaining my history and how nervous her heartrate made me.

I wasn’t comfortable with the male nurse doing a cervix check, so they sent in a sweet older lady.  She said I was only 2 centimeters!  TWO?!  After 28 hours of labor???  I felt like crying.  However, since they wanted to monitor me for an hour, she said she’d check me again after that hour to see if I could hit a 3 and stay at the hospital.  I was horrified at the thought of being sent home to spend how many more days without sleep and in pain.  Plus, I was having contractions every 5 minutes, so I had a hard time believing I wasn’t dilated further.

After an hour, Liliella’s heartrate sounded fine, and I promised myself I wouldn’t bend forward any more in this process so as not to compromise her any.  (But, because of my back labor, this was MISERABLE.)  I was still only 2 centimeters after an hour (although 80% effaced!), and so they sent me home, telling me to come back if the pain got to a point I couldn’t bear it, if my water broke, or if I started bleeding.  I tried not to cry as I gathered my things.

“How am I supposed to put up with this for another night?” I asked.  It was past 1 AM.  “This hurts in my back a lot, and is coming every 5 minutes!”

“What you have is back labor.” The male nurse told me I could go ahead and do a c-section if I wanted one.

“Oh, man.  What a shame that would be.  I’ve come this far, and I might actually be going into labor.  I wouldn’t stop now!”

Misinterpreting my word “shame,” he argued, “No shame in a c-section!  You’ve already done what half the population can’t do: grow a baby.”

I appreciated his encouragement – and there was NO way I thought a c-section was shameful!  Had had two beautiful ones myself already! – but I wasn’t going to give up, even if this labor went on forever.

“We could give you a shot of morphine,” he said.  “It will take thirty minutes to call that up if you want it.”

Morphine scared me.  I’d never had it before, and it sounded extreme at this point.  “Did taking Tylenol yesterday slow down my labor?  Could I just try that again?  It took the edge off the back pain yesterday.”

They promised me it wouldn’t slow down true labor, and gave it to me on the spot.  Stupid me – at this point Tylenol wasn’t going to do a thing.  But I didn’t know that.  😛

Brad and I drove home, and I just sobbed.  I was so exhausted, and disappointed with how slowly I was progressing.  In my head, I envisioned an infinite number of days without sleep, and in constant pain.

By the time we got home, I was just miserable.  I tried sitting in the bath again, but just sitting was miserable.  I was trying so hard to be quiet because my parents and the girls were fast asleep.  Brad told me to take my safe antihistamine sleep aid, thinking that would put me out even though I was in increasing pain.  I took it, but that just made me drowsy AND miserable.  I tried to lie down with the ice packs again, but couldn’t stand lying in a bed.  I flung the ice packs off and paced the room in torture.

“We should’ve gotten you the morphine,” Brad said.

“I know!  I’m an idiot!” I cried.  Not knowing I was in some sort of transition, I thought I still had hours of being at a 2 in front of me.

Brad called the hospital back and told them to order the morphine – that we were coming back in to get it.

“I’ve wasted our whole night.  I’ve wasted time and ruined your night,” I moaned, over and over again.  Pacing, in the midst of another contraction, I felt a gush.  “My water broke!” I exclaimed, feeling hope. “Now they HAVE to admit me!”

We drove back to the hospital, having only been home an hour(!), and this time I wept the whole ride, my back killing me sitting there.  Brad wanted to drop me off at the front, but I didn’t want to be alone.  As he grabbed my stuff out of the trunk, I put my forehead on the car and cried.  I hurt SO badly in my back and bottom.  But I wanted to walk.  Walking made it bearable.

Not even caring that I was crying, we stumbled back into the ER.  Brad thought I wouldn’t want to walk all the way to the maternity ward, so he barked orders to the lady behind the desk. “Get us a wheelchair now!” I’ve never heard him so authoritative.  😛

He rolled the wheelchair after me, but I ignored it, preferring to march down the hallway myself, finding that ever so slightly more bearable.  I just about collapsed in the elevator though as the pain ripped through me.  It felt exactly like someone was beating my lower back with a metal baseball bat.  It was the worst pain I had ever felt, especially because it went on and on, with almost no breaks in between.

I could barely open my eyes because of my exhaustion and the sleep aid, and yet I was in terrible pain and couldn’t sleep.  The nice older nurse helped me into a gown, and asked me to lie down on the hospital bed.  I’d try, then pop back up again and begin walking in place moaning.  Lying down was HELL.  Yet they kept making me lie back down.

I was dilated to a 4 1/2!  And rapidly dilating further.  I most likely hit a 6 or 7 before I got the epidural.  After over a day of getting nowhere, now my body was moving FAST.

At this point, I dropped all pretense of politeness.  My voice got very soft and rapid.  I kept moaning, in a soft weak voice, “Please!  Please!  I can’t do this.  Make it stop.  Can I get an epidural now?  Where is it?  Is it coming?  I can’t do this!  My back!  My back!  Please!”

Brad ordered people about and kept trying to comfort me.  I really didn’t want him or anyone else to touch me, and I didn’t want to lie down.

The nurse kept saying, “Come on, Rachael.  Lie down.”  They wanted to keep the monitor on me to watch the baby’s heartrate through the contractions, but I wasn’t even paying attention to the fact that I was having a baby at that point.  I felt like I was dying.  I told Brad, “This is what dying feels like!”

The only time I remember feeling irritated is when the nurse said, “You have to do this, Rachael.  Every other woman does.”

That wasn’t comforting.  😛  Otherwise, everyone was very nice.  And they were hurrying fast.  I was moving very fast, and they wanted to get that epidural in for me.  The only good thing about the excruciating back labor was that I wasn’t once worried about my scar and VBACing – because I felt no pain in the front of me!

They started an IV with some sort of pain med, but it did absolutely nothing.  Finally, thirty minutes later, but it felt like three hours, the anesthesiologist with the epidural arrived. I couldn’t even sit still on the bed to get it, and he had to insist I sit back down quickly in between rapid contractions.  They had Brad sit in front of me, and he started breathing hard.  He hates needles.  That was the only time I snapped out of my exhausted moaning, and turned to him.  I felt like I snapped into clarity worried about him.  “Are you okay, Braddy?” I kept asking him.  He insisted he was, and they put in the epidural.

Unfortunately, at first, it only worked on one side!  “My right side! My right side!” I murmured a bunch.  They had me roll to the side and I prayed it would fully kick in.  Finally, I only felt the pain very low in the front, so I upped the level once.  Other than that, it worked beautifully, and all pain left me!  HALLELUJAH!  That’s when the shakes started, which were obnoxious, but I get them every time I give birth – even with c-sections – and I can’t stop them.  Just a hormonal reaction I can’t control.  I shook until I had to push.

I was only in labor about an hour or two before I was fully dilated and ready to push.  They called the doctor and broke down the room.  From the ceiling, they pulled a giant object that looked like the steering wheel of a ship.  “What’s that?” I asked, feeling like a subject in an alien spaceship about to be probed.  They told me it was a light.  That thing was HUGE.  😛

Randolph Bourne, the man doctor, was still on call, so I realized I was being delivered by a man after all.  Oh well!  There were like five people in the room – I felt like I was on display for the whole world!  The man nurse, the man doctor, and like three other nurses, all crowded around staring at me, all propped up ready to push.  *groan*

The pushing process only took 45 minutes!  And, during it, we sat and chatted.  Seriously.  The mood was so calm and relaxed.  He asked me about my hobbies.  I told him about my books on Amazon, homeschooling my kids, and teaching piano!  Hahaha!  They wanted me to wait to push through contractions, but my original older lady nurse would get excited and have me push too early, and the doctor would tease her for it.

“I’m VBACing.  I’m doing it!” I said to the doctor, as it suddenly hit me with delight that I was having a baby.

“You did this all yourself.  No Pitocin.  Good job!” he replied.

That was a pretty good feeling!

I could feel Liliella dropping into the birth canal lower and lower, but there was no pain.  It was fascinating.  Like having a bowel movement.  😛  At first, I wasn’t pushing quite right, because I couldn’t feel myself push whatsoever.  I also would let out my breath when I pushed instead of holding it.  I explained I had weight-lifted since I was 12 years old, and always let out my breath when lifting a weight.

“You’ve been pooping even longer,” the doctor quipped.  “Do it like that!”

Brad held a leg and the nurse the other, and I got it right.  Then I pushed great!  Only 45 minutes later, she crowned.

“We see blond hair!” someone called out.

I felt shock at that moment.  “She’s BLONDE?” Never had I imagined, with Brad’s dark hair genes, that we’d get another blonde!

“Do you want to see with a mirror?  Or reach down and feel?” they asked.

“Noooo,” I shuddered.  Ignorance is bliss, in my book.  😛  Brad said later that there was a lot of blood.  I’m glad I didn’t look.  Haha.

And then she was out!  At 7:04 AM!  With a cry – that went on for twenty minutes (Baby was grumpy from the getgo  😛 ) she was there!

“Do you want me to put her on your chest?” the male nurse asked.

I had NEVER had that option with the c-sections before, so I was stunned and took a second to speak.

“We’ll clean her off,” he reassured me.

Horrified that he’d think I didn’t want to hold my baby if she was bloody, I quickly said, “No, no!  I don’t care about that!  Of course I want her on my chest immediately!”

And there she was!  Brad cut the cord, and my tiny blond baby was put on my chest.  She didn’t want to nurse for a bit, but I tried.  She was so precious!  Praise the Lord, I made it through 35 hours of back labor, got the VBAC I had prayed for, and had my beautiful, wonderful, miracle of a third daughter!  I instantly called my girls in to meet their sister.  All the joy!

Liliella Violet – born February 20th, 2017, at 7:04 AM, 7 lbs, 2.8 oz, 19 inches

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Top Posts of 2016!

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It’s time for the list of the top 10 posts of the year!

This was a slower year for me, mostly due to pregnancy and all that comes with that, so I only wrote almost half of the amount of posts of the previous year.  In 2015, I wrote 93, and this year I wrote an exact even 50.  BUT, even with half the posts, I actually, just barely, got more views and visitors this year than last year, meaning that my posts are bringing in more readers than ever!  Hooray for that!

This year, I had 11,687 visitors to my blog with 16,043 views and ended the year with 118 blog followers.  *cheer*  (To follow this blog, click FOLLOW on the right hand side of this page) 

Without further ado, what were the most popular posts of this year?  Well, not all of them were even actually published on this blog this year – some have remained super popular from previous years, and have lived on with lives of their own all over the Internet.

Sitting at #1, by far, with no competition, and with around 35 hits A DAY is:

Anime Characters by Myers-Briggs Type (with 7,164 individual views this year!!)mami_tomoe_render_by_moeblueberry1771-d5evnl7

This post is also #1 on any Google search for “anime characters by Myers-Briggs type and continually brings in guests to my blog.  Kind of exciting, even if it is very niche.  So if you like anime AND personality typing, this is the post for you.  Identified by name, show title, and picture, I have anime characters from various shows in neat little groups according to their types.  🙂

 

The Day I Met Job (with 996 individual views)PCOS Challenge Infographic

This makes me so happy that it’s #2.  This is the deeply personal testimony of what God did in my heart and life last year after suffering with secondary infertility.  It is also about my best friend and her daughter, an appreciation of my mother-in-law, a nod to a fellow author, and mostly a testimony about a hero of the faith I met last year.  Please read the article.  I hope my vulnerability and sharing of God’s greatness touches your heart!

 

An Open Letter to My Pregnant Sister (with 460 views)beautiful-wedding-tiara

Still going strong.  This is a writeup I did for baby showers that I first composed for my sister 2 1/2 years ago, and have tweaked a few times since to share with other expectant moms.  There must be a need for this, as people continually search for this online and find my site.  🙂

 

Tied with “My Pregnant Sister” is: Setting up the Romance Ship (with 460 views)austenland-holding_13254521245

How fun that my breakdown of the smart secret to writing a winning romance story did so well!  I thought this one was a bit obvious until I read (and watched) many people miss this key point to setting up their relationship story. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I threw my own theory out there, and it did very well!

 

Should Married Women Vote Against Their Spouse? (with 349 views)your_vote_counts

This one was a hot button when I first posted it a few years ago, and it continues to be something people search for and find through my blog. Read at your own risk…  🙂

 

Could You Love This Genderless Person? (with 287 views)5

Maybe it was just a catchy title, but this was a very niche article about genderbender dramas that I posted. A “genderbender” is when a guy dresses up and pretends to be a girl, or vice versa, and the opposite sex falls for them.  I explore this trope and why it means so much to women, and maybe what’s spiritually at the heart of this “forbidden romance” story.

 

In Memory of Victoria Mercy Conte (with 262 views)conte-052

A year and a half after the sudden and tragic passing of my husband’s baby sister, this post, written by *him* not me, still makes the top 10 on my list.  Please read my husband’s beautiful, tear-jerker tribute to a lovely life that sits very dear to our hearts.

 

NAME THE BABY! (with 221 views)namebabygirl02

I’m legitimately shocked that this made the top 10!  Last year I teamed up with lovely author Melanie D. Snitker to do a giveaway and promote each other’s books.  Readers named the baby that her main couple was pregnant with, and we got some great responses.  I need to do more on this blog with fellow authors next year!  In the meantime, check out Melanie’s very successful books on Amazon.

 

Asian TV for the American Newbie Viewer (with 188 views)patemainverted_dvd-f

This is a fun list that I kept on my sidebar.  Always hearing me talk about anime and kdramas but have no idea what’s safe or good to watch or where to start?  Not sure you’d even like Asian TV?  I put together a “starter” list of Asian TV for people who don’t like Asian TV, so to speak.  These are storylines and shows that I think any American could love without feeling too “eastern” in the storytelling style.  Give any of these shows a chance, and let me know if they did not disappoint!

 

And last but not least: Sarcastically Realistic Movie Descriptions – Name That Movie!2a3

This one also surprises me that it made the list.  This was a funny little game I posted on my blog a while ago, and it’s done well recently.  Someone must have reposted them.  If you’re looking for a comedic way to describe popular movies, as a game for a party you’re hosting, this might be the post for you.

 

So which blog post of mine was YOUR favorite this year?  Leave a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a Minor Sufferer

I have the most mediocre, run-of-the mill trials.

I mean, really.thinkstockphotos-469098080

And, since I know You’re listening, Lord, that doesn’t mean I want them ramped up to a Daniel or Job on the scale of suffering!  Just making sure You know I’m okay with my Mary and Martha level.  I’m good with that!  😉

Unlike my Job-like friends I talked about in this article, I’m kind of this mediocre sufferer.  My trials are always highly obnoxious, only a little scary, and a bit sad.  Not real earth-shattering.  Let me make a “RJ’s Suffering List” in a Paul-like way.  You remember the Apostle Paul’s list, right?  Involves a lot of beating, people trying to kill him, and even a shipwreck? AND his list is all stuff done in the name of Christ!  Like real persecutions for his faith.  MY list is just regular life woes.  Would only count as “thorns in the flesh”!

So, that disclaimer being said, RJ Conte’s very vulnerable, honest, and pretty complete list would go something like this:

Separated her shoulder and ankle ligaments – twice each

Had hormonal imbalances.

Had a doctor perform the wrong test, which scared her senseless for a bunch of years

Had to deliver two healthy babies by emergency c-section – couldn’t have her perfect births

Lost relatives to spiritual and physical death

Went through 18 months of infertility after having two children successfully 

Lost some cartilage on one side of her knee 

Has chronic environmental allergies to everything, including most animals

Gets pneumonia or some other respiratory infection once a year from colds

Has a couple ex-friends who won’t talk to her due to her infuriating stupidity in her young adult years

Has had other friends get caught in serious sins

Has occasionally been treated selfishly and not loved the way believers should love one another

Has a daughter with a massive amount of food allergies – none that are life-threatening, but all that lend itself to obnoxious hives and maybe vomiting

Has had to move a little bit often, and leave churches a couple times

Doesn’t make money on her novels…

Because her novels are overtly Christian, and the world isn’t quite down with that

Had to have Accutane because the acne went on FOREVER. And, even now, in adulthood, some of it has come back

Has been insulted on her physical appearance…

Maybe because she’s never at a perfect weight, but always has those last 15 pounds she’d love to lose…

And what do you know? Finds out she has gestational diabetes in her recent pregnancy, and probably some insulin resistance, which probably caused her infertility to begin with…

Therefore, has to give up regular Mountain Dew  *sob*

 

Woot!  That’s my LIFE Trial List!  I put ALL of those on there so that you can hopefully identify with one or two or five or all of them.  See?  I’m a normal human being like you. Please tell me Paul isn’t laughing up in glory. No offense to anyone whose list is identical to mine, but it’s kind of measly.

What do you do when you’re the “normal friend” with the normal, daily life trials?

The person who doesn’t have much to say or help to give out because you’ve not gone through much of anything that interesting – or that every other Christian hasn’t gone through to some extent?

And sometimes you wish you could trade in the whole group of the small guys for one big, God-glorifying trial that’s over a few days after it begins but makes you this awe-inspiring Christian with a great testimony?

And then you’re ashamed of yourself for saying so, because the Elijahs and Jobs of the world look at you like, “You’re thirty years old, for grief’s sake, and have it all.  Seriously?”

Okay, maybe they don’t do that, because they’re freakin’ Job, for goodness sake, and have so much love and compassion and godly character that they could drown you in it.  But you’re convinced they probably are tempted to think that way about you.  That they’re secretly wringing their hands at home, staring at your Facebook posts, and hating your guts. Right?

I have a dear person in my life whose short years are littered with a few, scattered, mediocre trials.

“I kind of had a crush on someone but they didn’t like me back.”

“I have some big fears.”

“I didn’t make the grades in college that I liked.”

“My managers didn’t treat me well.”

“Someone close to me moved away.”

But this person has completely walked away from the Lord. They can’t see beyond their own suffering, which they see as horrendously awful, even though very few in their life have any clue what would warrant their dramatic, victim response.

The little ongoing things are REAL, folks.  They’re sneaky.  They creep in and go on and on and on, making us think our life is less than perfect, will never BE perfect, and drive us crazy with their prickly itchiness.  Sure, we may not have lost our entire family to death or been tortured for our faith or be stricken as a paraplegic, but things are still NOT RIGHT.  And, as pathetic as we can feel, those things linger day after day after day and break down the joy that we’re supposed to have.

I’m going to introduce a radical concept: all trials are trials.

Call out!  Ask for help.  Reach out.  Ask for prayer. Get godly advice. Don’t be ashamed.

Sure there’s some validity to saying, “Wow, I’m a stupid, babyish ninny.  Get a grip and move on with life, and don’t let these little things bother you.” But I really don’t think that’s always helpful or productive, and few human beings are in that kind of place. And God totally gets that.  You don’t hear him calling us “stupid, babyish ninnies.”  God only gives us the trials He knows we can survive and also come out the other end (1 Corinthians 10:13). So for some, those may seem “smaller” but there’s no belittling comparison scale in the kingdom of God.

And His GRACE is sufficient for ALL of them.

If you or I are really struggling in a little Martha trial (“My sister drives me NUTS, Lord.  Make her clean house and play host with me!”) chances are, that’s where my spiritual idols are.  And the feeling of being used as a slave by one’s lazy sister, whether the right perspective or not, has the same capacity of driving us away from the Lord as the massive shooting of one’s whole family does for someone else.

DON’T let that make you feel small, pathetic, or worthless.  All things that make us believe that God is making a mistake (Martha: “Jesus, why are you letting her SIT there?  Jesus, do something differently!”), all of those things that make us doubt that God is good, drive us from Him.  And, before you know it, your “mediocre list” has become a gigantic battleground for the devil.  It’s a fight for your very soul.

Can I highly, highly, highly recommend One Thousand Gifts, which I’m re-reading for the51vwntxh1sl-_sx347_bo1204203200_ 2nd or 3rd time? Ann Voskamp is a very, very average homeschool mom and housewife.  She had her one “big tragedy” in young childhood when she was hardly old enough to even get it. But, besides that, her trials have been run of the mill.  Compared to anyone else maybe.  However, Ann saw that bitterness, ingratitude, and a coldness to God were sneaking in right under her nose while she washed dishes and did laundry and made dinner for the millionth time day after day. And, in beautiful, poetic words, she explores the beauty of all of life – everything God gives – the great and the impossible. And how her entire life’s perspective changed.

This Christmas I asked for butcher paper.  Yep, this giant, larger-than-life roll.  My sweet mother-in-law, without question, went and bought it for me, and it sits under my tree like a giant possibility of gleaming white.

I know what my very first use of it is going to be – the making of a floor to ceiling list.  Of gratitude.  That the Conte family can walk by and add to at any time.

So that those little bugs don’t get in the way – my shoulder is aching again as I type this, and I’m really, really hankering for a piece of holiday pecan pie that I shouldn’t eat.  (Man alive.  Die, taste buds, die!  You cruel villains!) Because those little bugs grow and grow and grow in our hearts to become the most giant of Godzillas. To become life or death to our souls and our First Love (Revelation 2:4).

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This guy has it all.  Pure happiness in liquid form, baby.  😛  😀

So no one is a “minor sufferer” at all.  Even giving up the Mountain Dew can be a giant
battle that leaves you a little breathless, a bit bruised, and more surrendered for the kingdom of Christ.  Hey, if you’re going through a sugar detox, come to me, and I will WEEP with you, bro!

 

It all matters in the Great Fight that is this Christian life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day I Met Job

  Many of you know, because I haven’t been the sPCOS Challenge Infographiclightest bit shy about it, that our little family’s growth came to a grinding halt after our second child due to sudden Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome symptoms and what’s known as “secondary infertility.”  We had two daughters very easily and then nothing.  Suddenly I was riddled with strange symptoms.  My body was like a foreign alien, and my main dream in life was shattered.

I’ll just give the recap of our family’s story so that I can share about what God taught me in November/December of last year – the point of this blog post.  It will be a long post, but stick with me and please read through until the end.

Some people dream of being corporate businessmen, others dream of being teachers or social workers and training and saving children.  Some dream of traveling the world or being a firefighter or an astronaut.

All I dreamed of, besides writing books, was having a large family that I could raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and homeschool and love.

When I became a mother almost 5 ½ years ago, I called my husband one day at work and said, “This is what I was MADE for.  This is the most fulfilled I have ever been.”

Four years later, when I began homeschooling, I called him again and said, “I take it back.  THIS is the happiest I’ve ever been.  A mother AND a homeschool mom.  It truly doesn’t get better than this.  I could do this for the rest of my life.”

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                My girls became Christians young (both at age 3) and are my best friends and usually nothing but joy. Yet strangers in grocery stores would make comments like, “Must have your hands full” and I thought, “With these two?!” Never.  Matter of fact, I had time on my hands enough to write a few books these last two years in the evenings.  These girls are sweet, quiet, adorable things.

I was totally ready to grow my family.  The girls prayed for their dad to be ready for #3, I prayed for my husband to be ready, and we waited.  After a year, my husband heard a Bible study talk on the Leviticus passages on discharges and mildew – passages most likely to skip over! But the teaching leader’s sermon was on obeying God in the things that don’t make sense. He explained that even when God’s commands seem like they might be a challenge, if we just obey, his yoke is easy and light. And my husband came home with a new peace in his heart, and said, “I feel led to try for #3.”

I cried.

 

Happiness Wall

My “Happiness Wall” for my first baby back in 2010

I went out and bought a stuffed animal, homecoming baby outfit, and journal – all prematurely of course – just because it’s what I always do.

Over time, I stuffed that bundle of baby stuff under my bed in a grocery sack and hoped I’d someday look at it again. We couldn’t get pregnant.

My emotions were a roller coaster.  I had a doctor who waved my concerns aside, saying I was 28 years old and got pregnant fine before.  “Just give it time, girl.  Don’t stress.”

I said, “No, I know my body.  None of this is normal.  Something’s wrong.”

She finally gave in and gave me Clomid, which made me swell up until I had to take my rings off, my shoes were tight, and I felt like my face had become a balloon.  I put on weight and couldn’t take it off.  I got medicine-induced mood swings that made me so depressed I would sob and rant and not know what was happening to me. I was filled with so much self-loathing for my body, that didn’t work and looked like a balloon, that I finally covered up my bathroom mirror in pillowsheets and Bible verses so I wouldn’t have to look at myself.  I hated myself so much, I had thoughts of harming myself.  I finally understood what it was like to have a touch of chemical depression as the meds messed with my head. I have so much more sympathy for those who have to go through that.  After three months, I got off and gave up on meds.

Our church went through a merge that we didn’t feel was a good fit for us personally and we started looking around.  At the first church we visited, which we eventually went back to, the pastor’s wife and I hit it off and she mentioned a new doctor and a new drug.  So I tried that too, especially after the claims that it wouldn’t be as bad as Clomid.  Letrozole was the new up and coming thing, after it had only been used for breast cancer before.  It was this new doc that found the polycystic ovarian symptoms I had, and informed me, after an ultrasound that I bravely submitted myself to, that I actually wasn’t ovulating at all.

In the midst of all of this, my emotions were a rollercoaster.  Every first Sunday of the month, during communion, I would confess my discontentment, my desire for control, and my idol of this perfect, large, homeschool family I dreamed of.  I wanted to be the women with twenty kids.  I used to name my twenty fake kids when *I* was a kid. I used to write stories about my future family.  Even my peers said I was “motherly.” There was the one that described me as a “fuzzy mother hamster.” This was what I was made for. Then why did I only have my two precious daughters?  Why wasn’t God answering their persistent prayers for a baby sibling? Would I never even get a son?  Would that longing for a constant stream of babies through my arms be snatched away from me?

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Me with Baby #1 in 2011

It’s hard to even write this knowing how some people want children and can’t have any at all – yet I had two.  I even watched my godly mother-in-law lose her youngest daughter. I was awestruck, even then, by her righteous response. But I was too new into our infertility journey, and my heart was unwilling to repent at that time. I would think back to her amazing response later though, it sitting with me in spite of my own anger at God.

But one day I woke up and went, “Pathetic or not, stupid or not, THIS is shaking my faith.  So I need to come to grips with the fact that it’s serious and I better get down on my knees daily about it instead of comparing myself to everyone else and trying to shove it under a rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

But it was still a back and forth battle.  I would pray before every single pregnancy test.  I coped in a variety of good and bad ways – the time I walked out of communion and my husband had to find me in the side alley next to the church vs. the time I read through all of Job and wrote a really special blog post about how amazing God was and how I could trust Him. Or the time I thought, “Fine!  I’ll just splurge on clothing spontaneously!” and bought myself a fancy dress that ended up getting ruined the first time I wore it vs. the time I wrote a poem about God working on my heart and asked everyone to pray.  Or the time I cried for hours at my husband and blamed him for more than his fair share of everything vs. the time I sat down with my kids and talked through idols and how God was working on me.  It felt like there wasn’t a single day I could predict how I could react, and the inconsistency and fight to surrender was killing me

And the worst part was that, all throughout this battle, God was silent.

I never heard from Him, I never felt His peace, and He did not take away my suffering. He didn’t cure me or heal me or even take away my desire to have more children. I prayed hard that He would just take away my desire.  I prayed hard that I would feel His presence.  But it felt like He vanished, and that made me more heartbroken and angry.

In November, one of my very best friends in the whole world, Bethany Jennings, informed me that her 3-year-old daughter was regressing.  She couldn’t drink well out of a cup, she was stumbling when she walked, her speech was slurring, and her eyes drifting.

At first I didn’t want to believe her, hoping it was just motherly paranoia, but I’ll never forget the day I requested she video her daughter, Cora, so I could see.  I watched, horrified, at how much the little girl had regressed from when I had seen her in April.  Something was seriously wrong, and it was probably in her brain.  My chest tight with anxiety, I prayed that their visit with the specialist would come as quickly as possible.

Cora Jennings was diagnosed with an AVF (arteriovenous fistula) – like a swollen blood vessel – over her brain stem. It was compressing her whole brain, causing many neurological problems; she was losing the ability to walk, talk, chew, swallow, and other dangerous effects. My friend went to the best neurointerventalists in the nation, and he had never seen anything quite like Cora’s specific problem and its unusual formation. He was stumped and went into strategy mode with a ton of his colleagues.

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There was a real possibility that my best friend’s second born daughter, her precious little fair-haired princess would die. 

I had a three-year-old daughter.  What if it had been me?

For the first time in a while, God shook me out of my own stupor to care for my friend, who showed nothing but firm resolve and faith that God would do what was best.  If God planned on taking her three-year-old out of this earth, then she wanted to lead thousands to Christ because of it.  Her posts, and even her private IM chats with me, showed nothing but beautiful faith, real raw emotions coupled with such a love for her Savior, and a hopeful attitude about how God would use their family.  We started the page Praying for Cora together, and Bethany wrote her godly thoughts down for thousands to read, people who were touched and followed her page, eating up her words and being moved by the Holy Spirit inside of her.

I couldn’t imagine having that kind of faith and peace, and wondered why God had never given that to me.  I wanted more children and I was being a brat.  I couldn’t imagine contemplating one of my children being taken away! I felt awed and humbled.

The Jennings live on the east coast, and the risky, never-been-done-before operation to stop the swelling flow of blood was happening in the morning.  For me it was in the middle of the night.12246719_10207973116347885_5303478278759824858_n

I set my alarm to 4 AM and started praying.  On my knees at first, then jogging in circles around my living room, I pleaded with God for her life.  I had never gotten up in the middle of the night and stayed up to pray. I knew so many people were doing so with me, but in my house it was silent, still, and I was alone. I had to come face to face with God, and it finally wasn’t about my secondary infertility. It was about something more important.  I would take infertility over my friend losing her little girl, and that was the first time some of my clenched fingers came loose in my heart.  Maybe I was willing to surrender my dreams after all.

I watched the sunrise, something I hadn’t done for possibly a decade, and took pictures, feeling closer to God than I had in a while.12241312_10208118536786954_1470777290341552039_n

When the call finally came hours later that Cora had been saved, that the operation had been a smashing success, and that she was going to okay, I fell into a relieved, exhausted sleep.  Praise the Lord for His mercies!

I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my husband’s family that next week, thanking God for new answers to prayer, reading IM messages from Bethany about Cora’s progress and recovery.

My heart was being softened and I didn’t even know it.

A mere few weeks later, I traveled to Iowa, to a town on the border of Nebraska, to a part of the country I forgot existed and had never been to before.  It was a mild winter for them, with only one thunderstorm and a brief bit of nippiness.  I had been invited to play the piano in the wedding of a former piano and voice student, who was a kindred-spirited best friend as well. He was marrying the young lady he met in school in Iowa and I was his honorary “groomsman,” his former teacher playing his favorite songs.  It was a special honor, and playing in my students’ weddings was always on my bucket list.  This was the second time I got to do so, and I was thrilled.

My friend, the groom, can be scatterbrained, to put it mildly 😛 , and he didn’t even let me know who I would be staying with while I was out from Thursday-Sunday until the day before. I was told I’d get to board with an honorary aunt, a friend of the bride’s who was as close as family, and who had also put my friend up when he came out to stay and work there a summer.  He gave me her number and we texted each other a picture so we’d know who was who when I showed up the airport. I thought, “Here goes nothing!”

She walked in with a cane but had a young face.  I later found out she was in her early forties, so not old enough to be my aunt, but not quite a peer either.

I was in and out in a whirlwind of joyful fellowship, enjoying old Texan friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and wedding prep and practice.  But every evening the aunt and I would sit and talk far too late into the night.  She’s one of those that it’s easy to just get started with and never stop.  It came out that I was a writer, and I gave her the address of this blog.  Unbeknownst to me, she perused a bunch of my articles.

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Me with my iconic pink tips 😛 next to the groom to my left  🙂

The very last night, after the wedding was over (It was beautiful!) and I had stayed and laughed my head off with the other young people in a hotel room, I returned nice and late to the aunt’s house.  She and her husband were talking, and let me in on their chat.

After the aunt’s husband went back to work (Hard-working man that maintains multiple jobs and puts in many late hours at night doing so!), the aunt decided to trust me. Based on the recommendation from the groom? Based on what she had read from my blog? Based on the comments I made? Based on the look in my eyes or our conversation?  I should ask her sometime.  But for some reason, even though I was still a bit of a stranger, she made the plunge to trust me with her story.

Guys.  I met Job that day.

On December 12, 2015, the same day my good friend and student got married, I met Job.

I didn’t know that Job lived in the twenty-first century, nor that he had an auto-immune disorder that left his limbs aching and hurting most of the time, nor that he was a 40-something homeschool mom in a big, beautiful, older home in a little town in Iowa.

But I tell you, he does.

Those of you who remember my Job post from last year might recall that the only thing that truly comforted me in the time of so many “whys” was Job, specifically when God speaks at the end.

Nothing else can comfort in this broken world better than the thought of how great and big God is.

How He doesn’t answer to us for His decisions, how He does what He deems best, and how He so poignantly and even sarcastically points out how much He can do as God that Job couldn’t dream of. In my darkest hours, when I truly thought, “I’d stop trying to be a Christian right now except that I know I can’t because I am His, and because there is nothing else,” I’d read Job and know that I could never escape Him, and the best place to be was by His side, even if it felt like He was crushing my soul with His decisions.  That, in the end, my only hope of peace and comfort and understanding was sitting at His feet.

Because Job suffered so very, very much.

And so does this woman in Iowa, this adopted aunt of my dear friend.

In all my life, I have never heard a story as horrific as hers. I didn’t think anyone could suffer this much.

I won’t go into the particulars because of my broad audience, and because that is her private story that I would never want the responsibility of telling, but just know that this woman and Job will sit at God’s right hand some day.  I know it in my deepest heart.

As she sat and talked to me, and as the tears ran down my cheeks, the horror and jagged broken pieces of my heart piercing me, and as I held her hand and listened, she said words I will never ever ever forget:

 “I.  Love.  God.”

I was dumbfounded.

She continued. “He is good.  And I can say that, even though my trial hasn’t ended for all these years, even though I’ve developed health ailments on top of everything and been rejected more times than I can count, even though I don’t see an end in sight, even though I was once suicidal and didn’t think I could stand living… I know that God is good and that I love Him and want to follow Him all of my days.”  She was not bitter.  Her pure faith filled the room. I was seeing someone again who had it far worse than I did – far worse suffering than I could imagine.  And, like Bethany Jennings, she had nothing but faithful joy radiating from her eyes.

But she took it a step further, and that was the clincher.  “So I saw on your blog that you were struggling with some infertility,” she soothed kindly. “That must be so hard. I know what it’s like to have your womb just cry out.”

My chin was quivering now and I was trying to keep from sobbing.  “You… DEIGN… to talk to me about my MEASLY ‘trial’ after all you have been through?  Why?”

And she said, “Because it’s still a trial and because I care and because I feel for you.”

  And she went on to counsel me in a way only a Job reincarnate could. And she didn’t see me as pathetic under her feet but she engaged in my pittance of suffering. And she challenged and encouraged me.

I went to my bed that night and cried until I fell asleep.  I cried the plane ride back home. I cried when I saw my husband and little girls coming towards me in the airport bearing flowers. I cried when I told my husband the story at home.  I cried every day that next week.

The very next day after I got home, it was a surprisingly warm day for the northwest, and I took the girls to a new park.  The sun was out, which was also a rare treat, and the sky was clear. I sat on the park equipment, my face lifted to the sun, my eyes closed, and I began to thank God for all that He had given me.  For all that I had.

And lastly, my bitterness finally gone, I opened my hand completely, baring my palm to Him.  And I said, “Thank You for my infertility. Because I know that, without it, I could not be Christlike. Thank You for what You have decided to do in me.”

I was not the same after that.

    Now God didn’t magically heal me just because I said, “Thank You.” I pretty much despise when people tell me, “Just stop stressing and it will happen” or “All I had to do was surrender and then God gave me what I wanted,” as if we follow this works-religion that tells us our life is all up to us and we just have to repeat some magic words or go through a chain of actions to make God do what we want. I know some pretty godly people who aren’t stressing and have fully surrendered, and are still fully entrenched in their trial.

I still teared up when I got negative pregnancy tests, and I realized that was okay.  It wasn’t me being angry, it was okay to still be sad.  I still had times I really doubted He could heal me.  And He still felt distant and I couldn’t hear His voice or feel His peace.

Six more months of this passed, during which I started going to the new doctor recommended to me by the pastor’s wife, conquered a decade-old fear (Woot!) that I won’t talk about here, and started a new med.  I was convicted I needed to have faith that God could do a miracle, while still trusting that even if He didn’t, this was what was best for His glory and our family.  And encouraging my daughters to not lose their faith as well, but to continue to pray.

I still had emotions that swung up and down, but never the same depression, never the same anger.

I was changed.

Fast forward to the present.  I was on a double dose of the new med, Letrozole (Femara), trying again after a failed month of it.  My childhood friend was in town from Idaho for the weekend, and my parents were flying into town the next day. Summer was in full swing, and the days were longer and easier.  I got over two colds and a stomach bug all through the month of May, and was just grateful for good health and sunshine.

I had recently shared my testimony at the end-of-the-year Bible study (BSF) fellowship day, and had spoken about what God had taught me through studying Revelation, Job, and my good friends.

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!” Revelation 4:9

After I spoke at BSF, I had finally felt God’s presence subtly, like he was holding me around the shoulders, pleased with me.  The sensation filled me up.

Putting out feelers into my author community, I asked for audio book suggestions while I gave my house a deep clean.  Jennifer Westall replied to me and sent me a free copy of her book Healing Ruby, a depression-era story seeped in the gospel and realistic drama. Doctrinal disagreements aside, main character Ruby’s faith made me tear up. She was nursing a sick young man with tuberculosis, and challenged him boldly when he got depressed.

She admonished, “God CAN heal you.  God has the power to heal you.  Have faith in what He’s doing!  Have faith in His love for you!  Never let your faith waver!”

After finishing the book, I laid my hand on my stomach and prayed for God’s healing, asking Him to forgive me for doubting Him.  I may not be angry any more, but I thought God had moved on and wouldn’t do what felt like the impossible.

I pulled out my pregnancy test two days ago on Monday, for the umpteenth time, just going through the motions. I sat down on the bathroom floor, my back to the wall, waiting to check to make sure the test was negative so I could go back to bed.  I prayed like I always did, that my attitude would be peaceful and godly when I got yet another no, and I counted the seconds in my head, my heart racing like it always did in spite of me.  The light was off and the bathroom was dark, dimly lit by the sun poking up over the horizon.

After only two minutes, I wanted to crawl back in bed, so I got up on my knees and peeked at the test.  There was the clear, bold, negative line.  Immediately my mind spun with, ‘What will the doctor say next?  This was the third month of Letrozole.  I thought it was working, and I was ovulating for the first time in who knows how long.  Does that mean something else is wrong with us? What other options are there?” But immediately I shut down my brain.  Go to bed and don’t worry.  The night before, when I had prayed to the Lord on my face about the pregnancy test of the next day, I had finally heard Him speak.  “Rest,” He seemed to say.  “Go to bed and rest.”  So I had. And I wanted to do so now.

Yet something pulled me back.  Did you even look at it in the light? Before I tossed the pregnancy test in the trash, disappointed but resigned, I flipped on the light.

THERE.

In the darkness, I had missed it.

It was so faint.

But it was THERE.

It existed.

A faint, light, SECOND LINE.

I….

I…

I AM PREGNANT!!!!!!!

When I called Bethany and the aunt in Iowa, they cried with me, telling me their hands were shaking, voices full of tears.

I am SO THANKFUL for God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You will now glorify me more by being pregnant than not.  This valley is over.”

And, as my ecstatic five-year-old remarked, “God answers prayer!! This is God’s love gift to us!” Because the due date? It’s Valentines’ Day 2017.  Yep, February 14th.

God’s love gift indeed.

I may never know God’s timing, or why He had me wait, other than knowing it was to clean house in my heart and make me more like Him.  I may also never know why He decided, like Rachel in the Bible, to “remember me” and lift His hand and bless me in this way.

But I am thankful.  SO VERY THANKFUL!!  I am thankful for the prayers, encouragement, testimonies, faithfulness, and love of all of the saints who surrounded me in this process, and I am thankful that God gave me my heart’s desire when I didn’t deserve it.  I am thankful that He showed Himself the doer of things impossible to my little girls, and answered their prayers.

I am excited to share this happy-surprise-twist ending with you, but would have shared what God taught me no matter how it ended, even if I didn’t have a single other child.

God can do anything.  But sometimes He first wants you to sit and meet Job.  ❤

 

What do Lady Gaga, Personality Types, and Rainbows Have in Common?

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The answer to my title is: They’re all in my yearly stats!

This year I saw the best traffic on this web page in all of my years of mc_guime_performing_live_to_5_thousand_peopleblogging!  I had 15, 507 views from 11,248 visitors.  All in all, I had exactly 555 comments.  🙂

People browsed the most from the United States, with Canada at second place, and United Kingdom coming in third.

Readers came from Facebook most often, with Reddit hitting a close 2000px-facebook_icon-svgsecond, and search engines being the third choice.  The most common search terms were “shocking truth about lady gaga,” “hiding” (???  Okay?) and “blonde rj.”

After reading my article, people then were most likely kgpsqbx3to click links that took them to Amazon.com (To buy my books!), or to my best friend’s page at The Simmering Mind, or to Jane Friedman’s description of the “literary novel.” Hello, Jane!  We don’t know eachother, but I hope you enjoyed the traffic!  I loved your article.  🙂

Onto my top 10 posts!  

These are the posts with the highest views in 2015!

#1 Liminal Fantasy and the Stupid Heroineposing20in20a20spider20girl20costume

This was a huge success on Reddit (Click to read the discussion), mainly due to the fact that I simply beefed on a trope of fiction that so many of us are sick of.  It was fun to write and rant all in one!

#2 In Memory of Victoria Mercy Conte

My heart is full thinking about this post making it to the #2 spot.  ❤  MyConte - 052 husband wrote this speech, and then spoke in front of a large gathering at his littlest sister’s funeral.  This was a tough year for the Conte family, and we miss our little butterfly very much.  My husband’s words are tender, compassionate, and yet hopeful – since we know she’s with the Lord.  I hope his writing continues to bless even more people.  ❤

#3 Anime Characters by Myers-Briggs Type

People love Myers-Briggs and people love anime.  This is a combination ofmami_tomoe_render_by_moeblueberry1771-d5evnl7 the two.  It took me a while to find all the pictures and correct spelling of names.  This is an ongoing project, so a link to it sits in the right-hand sidebar of this page at all times.  The majority of Redditors agreed with  my assessment of types, so I’m glad.  I wasn’t terribly happy with how WordPress sometimes insisted on formatting the pictures, but it works.

#4 All Myers-Briggs Humor Posts

I’m going to lump all of my Myers-Briggs humor posts into one place, murder_scenesince they were all in the top 10.  These do very well on Reddit, and are all similar in style.  I do them when I want a comical post in between serious posts.  Find your type!

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Responds to Finding a Spider in the Shower

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Responds to Endless Videos of Your Children on Facebook

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Would Respond to a Visit from an Alien

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Reacts to a Dead Body

 

#5 Lessons from Job on Infertility

I’m really glad I decided to share my struggles, as it took me quite some 325554_f520time of suffering with this before I felt brave enough to share.  It has been wonderfully relieving to have other people know what we’re going through, and secondary infertility is not talked about very often.  Job is a powerful, wonderful book, and I’ve been clinging to it all year.  Could use prayer, as we still don’t have any answers about why we have not been able to have more children.  😦

#6 Make Your Mami Tomoe Musket for Under $20!BeFunky_IMG_4671.jpg

Believe it or not, this hit my top 10 list!  This is for the cosplay crowd, or lovers of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  I can’t wait to go to an anime-con and see someone who actually made this musket.  😀  Meanwhile, I’ll be bringing mine, so look for me at Sakura-Con!

#7 Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

Another post about my difficulties from this year, this one with a more general, artistic, lyrical bent.  Again, I’m glad that my excruciatingly honest posts are the ones that get the most views.  If God can use my trials for good in someone else’s life, I can sleep a little easier at night wading through the challenges.  Please pray for my family.  ❤

Rainbow Land

#8 Sakura-Con Friday Part 2!Ruby blur

This is really random that this was my #8 top viewed post.  This is simply one part of an anime convention I went to, complete with pictures of cosplayers.  Maybe someone saw themself and reshared it a bunch of times.  🙂

#9 An Open Letter to My Pregnant Sister

This one still astounds me that it’s hit the top 10 list two years in a row. beautiful-wedding-tiara This is my most-searched-for blog entry, and gets hit by people on search engines almost daily.  I still wonder if people think they’re going to find something juicy, or if there are just a lot of pregnant sisters out there.  🙂 I was able to revamp this devotional a bit and use it in another baby shower this year.  🙂

And lastly…

#10 I’ve Never Told My Kids to “Bow Your Head and Close Your Eyes”

WOOHOO!  So glad this recent post made it on the list of top entries of child_prayer3_679979819the year!  Let’s continue to challenge ourselves spiritually, parents, and fight unbiblical and extrabiblical dogmas!  Let’s fight hypocrisy and be Christians under grace in our parenting.  If you haven’t given this a read, I hope you will do so and leave your thoughts!

Thank you, readers, for making this the best year of blogging ever!  Can’t wait to bring you Heartsick, and The Hotline Girl and 12th Girl (from a new publisher!) – and hopefully good news on a couple fronts – this next upcoming year.  Regardless, God is God and He is good and takes care of me, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t stopped fighting the good fight, and I have your abundant friendship.  I am so grateful for all of you!  God bless your 2016!!!

 

 

Lessons from Job on Infertility

I’ve had my own taste of trials in the last four years.

Usually, they involve people – spiritual illnesses or spiritual deaths that rip my insides out.

But there’s been other stuff too.

A child with severe food allergies.

Serious, isolating, environmental allergies of my own.  The kind that makes me too annoying to be in the same room with.

And this fact that I can’t seem to get pregnant again.

How long I’ve been waiting for child #3 isn’t important.  I can always find someone who has been waiting longer than I have.  And what’s important isn’t comparing lengths of times, but the fact that we’ve all felt the same agony.

Yes, I have two children already.  Two beautiful girls.

How could I conceive them easily, seventeen months apart, and then nothing?  I have no whys.  No one has any whys yet.

The parents who have a child or multiple children, but were suddenly forced to stop having any more because of a situation beyond your control – we are in a boat all our own.  Those whose spouses simply say no, those with bodies that stop working, aging problems, reversals that didn’t change anything, nothing but miscarriages, adrenal or hormonal imbalances, emergency hysterectomies, ruptures, impossibly dangerous pregnancies, death of a spouse, or divorce.  Where suddenly you’re done.  Your family is done.  And your heart sputters, “I’m not done!”

We’re not allowed to join the infertility forums, because we’re “clearly not infertile.”  Yet we have the same root problem: this is not how we wanted out family to end.  This wasn’t the plan.  Our wombs cry out for babies too.  As our older children age before our eyes.

It’s not important how long I’ve been trying or how many children I already have.  The problem is one of control, discontentment, and this insatiable desire to be my own god of the universe. 

As I wait without answers, weary with disappointment, I found myself spouting lines like, “I know I’m a sinner by nature, but I wasn’t walking in any continual sin.  God and I were good!  So why’d He do this?  How mean can He be?  Is He just punishing me over and over again?”

A beautiful friend suggested a different perspective.  She pointed me to Job.  “What if God isn’t punishing you or being mean?  What if He had a conversation with the devil that went like this? ‘Have you considered my servant, RJ?  She’s gone through a bit of suffering at the hands of other people in the last couple of years.  Nothing you can do will make her turn from me.  She brings me glory.’”

And the devil went, “Ah, she’s a young woman who has always dreamed of a big family.  She’s not content with the daughters she has.  Stop her womb, and see if she still loves you then!”

And, like Job, I emotionally failed the test. 

Job is the granddaddy of suffering.  I don’t think there has ever been a person alive who has hurt more than he has.  In the space of like a day, he lost:

  1. All ten of his children – whom he may not have thought were believers, and whom he was always worried were rebelling against God, hence his need to sacrifice on behalf of their frequent parties. (1:4-5) So possibly no hope he’s going to see any of these kids again either, which his buddy so “nicely” pointed out to him.  (8:4) DEVASTATING.
  2. All of his wealth. (1:14-17)
  3. His health. He sounds like he was in agony.  Forget allergy hives that I’ve seen destroy my poor daughter.  Forget my continually thick throat.  This stuff was brutal. (2:7-8)
  4. The comfort and companionship of his aching wife, who’d rather curse God and be bitter. (2:9)
  5. His good reputation among his friends. (12:4)
  6. And lastly, the one that seemed to hurt him the most: thinking he had lost God’s love and care. (9:33-35)

The lines Job uses have totally come straight from my mouth in the past.  Recently, I felt so distant from God, as if He walked away from me.  As if He wouldn’t answer my prayers or listen to my cries.

Listen to the raw realism in Job’s words.  Nowhere, in my mind, is a Bible character so relatable.

“What I feared has come upon me: what I dreaded has happened to me.  I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” (3:25-26)

“Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for.” (6:8a)

“What strength do I have, that I should still hope?  What prospects, that I should be patient?  Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?” (6:11, 13)

So I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me.” (7:3)

“Why have You, (God,) made me Your target?  Have I become a burden to You?” (7:20b)

“If only there was someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that His terror would frighten me no more.  Then I would speak up without fear of Him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.” (9:33-35)

“Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.” (19:7)

“Have I not wept for those in trouble?  Has not my soul grieved for the poor?  Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.  The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.” (30:25-26)

How many of us have said these words about any of our suffering?  About any trial?

THEN GOD SPEAKS.

God does not answer to ANYONE.  He gives and takes and makes the world spin and run just because He’s God.  He gives and takes away according to what brings Him glory.  And that God chooses to love us.

We, thousands of years later, can see why He did all of this to Job.  He has shown Himself glorious through Job to billions of people who have read Job’s story.  What an HONOR to Job!

Not only is this passage absolutely beautiful in its poetic and lyrical nature, so please READ it all, but it gives you this giant, immense picture of God that silences all whining.  After Job heard it, he said, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:6)

If you do not read the below passage, you are missing out on the true glory of God revealed in suffering.  Nothing else has helped comfort me in my trials more than this.  Nothing else gives me the greater, bigger perspective picture of God that makes me love and trust Him and view my troubles as small things in His grand picture.  Not the kindest, fluffiest of verses on pretty Hallmark cards do an iota of what this passage does for me.

In sarcastic, pointed, and thorough thoughts, God speaks in a real, no-nonsense way – like a chastising parent who loves His child but must give that child perspective on their whining.  And, like a loving parent, God blesses Job with abundantly more than what He took away.  In ways Job couldn’t imagine in that pitiful state.  God even forgives the wife for the sake of Job, as He brings ten more children through her womb.

So read the whole passage and be humbled in awe, fear, trembling, and true comfort.  And make sure you don’t miss this summary in the midst of it:

“Would you discredit My justice?  Would you condemn Me to justify yourself?  Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like His?  Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself with honor and majesty.  Who has a claim against Me that I must pay? 

EVERYTHING under heaven belongs to ME.” (40:8-10, 41:11)

The Lord Speaks

38 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.

16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.

19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?

31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[c]
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom
or gives the rooster understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?

39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?

39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Do you count the months till they bear?
Do you know the time they give birth?
They crouch down and bring forth their young;
their labor pains are ended.
Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
they leave and do not return.

“Who let the wild donkey go free?
Who untied its ropes?
I gave it the wasteland as its home,
the salt flats as its habitat.
It laughs at the commotion in the town;
it does not hear a driver’s shout.
It ranges the hills for its pasture
and searches for any green thing.

“Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
Will it stay by your manger at night?
10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?
Will it till the valleys behind you?
11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?
Will you leave your heavy work to it?
12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain
and bring it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
though they cannot compare
with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.

19 “Do you give the horse its strength
or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make it leap like a locust,
striking terror with its proud snorting?
21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
and charges into the fray.
22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
it does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against its side,
along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;
it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’
It catches the scent of battle from afar,
the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
and spread its wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is its stronghold.
29 From there it looks for food;
its eyes detect it from afar.
30 Its young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there it is.”

40 The Lord said to Job:

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”

Then Job answered the Lord:

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:

“Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you.

15 “Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.
16 What strength it has in its loins,
what power in the muscles of its belly!
17 Its tail sways like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.
18 Its bones are tubes of bronze,
its limbs like rods of iron.
19 It ranks first among the works of God,
yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.
20 The hills bring it their produce,
and all the wild animals play nearby.
21 Under the lotus plants it lies,
hidden among the reeds in the marsh.
22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow;
the poplars by the stream surround it.
23 A raging river does not alarm it;
it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth.
24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes,
or trap it and pierce its nose?…

42 Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

 

An Open Letter to My Pregnant Sister

I am the person least qualified to write a devotional for my sister, and she knows it because she heard me sound pretty exasperated with my girls the other day on the phone. However, because I love her the most, and am in these same trenches, I’ll just share what is valuable to me in this challenge and struggle called parenting.

There are people who say, “I was crazy to have children!” or “What was I thinking?” or “How did I get into this?” But, the truth is, you didn’t. You were led. Even the most diligent family planner was also chosen. God got you into this, and HE decided that you and your husband would now glorify Him best as parents, here at your current age. There was no, “how did I get into this?” about it. This was predestined from the beginning of time. You are going to be pregnant with your specific child through the hot summer months of the year 2014.

So before we go any further, this isn’t a congratulatory devotional on “Good job, sis,” it’s an “awed and on my knees” type of letter to you. God decided that YOU would best glorify Him as a parent and that it would be in your best interest too. This is humbling. This is grand. This is greater than us.

It’s important to mention this because quickly I forget. It’s back to “Good job, RJ” and “What did you plan for this child, RJ?” and “What are your thoughts for this child, RJ?” and RJ, RJ, RJ!

And really, parenting isn’t about me. It isn’t about you. It isn’t about our methods or styles or how soon they were potty-trained or what curriculum we use or how they behave in public. Even their sin isn’t about us. They’re responsible for it. It’s easy to look at that brand new baby and think their life revolves around you. We so often accuse babies of thinking everyone’s life revolves around them, but we mothers are guilty of the same thing with that child. In reality, they’re in your home for a short period of time, and then they’re off doing what God has planned for them. God has designed YOUR child specifically for this world, for the future years following 2014, for the life that they’ll live then and the relationship He’ll have with them.

And I get so caught up in the relationship they have with ME. I get so caught up in how they’re going to fulfill my life and satisfy me and bring me joy. And when they don’t do it – and oh! They don’t do it often! Then I’m bitter and upset and unsatisfied and angry.

Because it IS a battle. Parenting might just end up being the hardest thing you ever do. It will definitely be your hardest job. Do you know why? Because, unlike your husband, you didn’t pick a child ahead of time with a personality you enjoy and a maturity you can count on. Unlike your best friends, you didn’t choose a child that makes you laugh, loves to talk deeply about spiritual things with you, and is fun to be with. You may end up with someone you don’t understand whatsoever and is nothing like you. For sure, you will end up with a depraved sinner who, at first – and for who knows how long – wants nothing to do with your God. And that’s HARD. It’s hard to be around immature unbelievers 24/7. It’s not something I had ever done before or was ever truly prepared to do.

But that human being who you love so much but who can be so hard to live with and understand… Their life isn’t about you or your home – not really. God decided that THIS baby needed to be born because they were going to glorify Him. With their sins, with their successes, with their relationship with Him or without – although we sincerely pray that they are a powerful lover of God! Sure, you brought them into the world, but even the science of that would not have succeeded without God deciding, in His sovereign pleasure, that your baby, your specifically unique baby, was going to bring Him glory. Was going to bring good to you and your husband. Your hardships with this child, as well as your joy with this child, God decided is GOOD.

So yes, you have a responsibility. But even your responsibility is not really to this child in the end. It’s still about your relationship with God. And that frees you from the burden of failure or comparing yourself to others or worry, fear, and doubt. Even your parenting, breastfeeding schedules, homeschooling, and diaper changing are to further your relationship with God. When changing the 7th poopy diaper in a day becomes about you and your rights and the burden it is on you, it is instantly not about God any more. So no, it’s not “How dare you, my child, go against me and my plans for you” as I so often think and even say. Instead, it’s “Do you understand that you’ve hurt God who loves you and died for you? Do you understand the plan He has for you? Do you understand how to surrender your life to Him and turn away from sin? Can I tell you about how your repeated disobedience today has taught me more about my own inadequacy with God and how forgiven I am?”

I think a child brings you more joy than you thought possible, but also more hard work. Yet we hold the promise of knowing that we were specifically chosen for this task, as if God placed a sparkling crown that says “Mother” right on your head. So whyImage do we get bogged down with the results? Why do we fear what other mothers say? Why do we take personally how these little personalities that God created – we sure didn’t choose anything! – respond? I don’t know. If you figure it out, let me know. All I can tell is, it comes about when my own idols come to the surface – and you will discover you’re much more of a sinner than you thought! But how gracious of God to purify you even more – to make the ruby red of your heart shine with pure intensity and have no specks or planks in it! When I take my eyes off of that sparkly crown, off of God’s face above it that is reflected in its shiny surface: the crown that is my relationship with Him and the tasks He has given me, not the plans and ideas I have for myself and my kids, all mayhem in my soul begins.

I will never stop loving you, and I’ll never stop loving this child. Even before the baby has been born, I chose to love them wholeheartedly, because they is of my blood! And because this child is yours.

It’s the same with our Lord. Whether you feel like you’re a bad mother or a good one, the fact is, you’re a sinful one. And He will never stop loving you. Before you were born, He chose to love you and die for you because you have been washed in His blood. And because you are His.

I know, someday, you will finally, physically receive an imperishable crown and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Because that’s what you are: a servant. And you will understand how much of a servant you can be made to be in the next coming years! Fight the GOOD fight that glorifies God. We’re all here for you. We can’t wait to have you running alongside of us! I love you, sister.

Jesus’s Second Coming Like the Birth of a Baby?

God gave me some interesting thoughts as I woke up one morning. He gave me a sort of neat analogy that I thought I’d share.

Jesus’ coming can be likened to the approaching birth of a baby.

1. You don’t know when it’s going to happen. It could happen at any time, day or night.
“The Lord is going to come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1

2. All we can do is read the signs.
Signs of being close to delivery:
Water breaking
Strong contractions spaced closely together
Dilation/effacement
Losing the mucus plug
Nesting

Signs of Christ’s second coming:
Israel a nation again
Increasing lawlessness
Disasters, famines, and disease
Scoffers in their own lusts

Etc.

3. We are told to be prepared.
Matthew 25:1-13 tells us about ten wedding guests that were not prepared for the bridegroom’s coming.

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

So be prepared.  We pack our bag, set up our crib, have a baby shower, buy diapers, etc.  But what are we doing to be prepared for Jesus’ coming?  Do we see it in the same light?

We need to live our lives like pregnant women expecting a child any day.  We have to be careful how much we lift.  We have to take our prenatal vitamins.  We have things we need to stay away from, whether it’s environmental, food, or stress.  If we don’t, we can injure ourselves or our babies.  In the same way, we need to live our lives like Jesus’ return is eminent or we hurt our witness.

When Jesus comes, it will be wonderful and incredibly happy.  Just like the joy of a new baby!

 “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”  John 16:21