“Mommy, Can You Be Happy?” – A Confession and A Call to Fight for Joy

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That stinging question hung heavy in the air. 
The weight of what she asked sank into skin, rushed into blood, and stopped me cold. 

             “Mommy, can you be happy?”

I was caught in a moment of visible anger, grumbling, impatience, and frustration. It oozed from me, grimy as the water from the dish rag I held. I hadn’t even noticed that while I stewed over some minor mishap, what was brewing within had become tangible. A foreboding cloud of discontent around me. 

Indeed, from the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2) …. to silence these thankless lips.  

How did I get here? The short answer: idolatry that leads to sin.

I see my tendency to value convenience more than my own children, and more than God (idolatry). When my 3-year-old’s inconvenient “mistakes” challenge my comfort, or she somehow fails to meet my expectations, this gives way to under-the-breath complaints and bitterness building up so that when she willfully acts out I’m already at the tipping point where snapping, sarcasm, yelling, and disciplining in anger inevitably ensue (sin).

No one can dispute that motherhood is one of the toughest, most demanding jobs. Is my desire for structure or occasional time away inherently sinful? Absolutely not. But when those desires become the cause of discontent and bitterness,  they have become idols-something other than God that we turn to for salvation. 

For me, these idols of comfort and control often result in:

1. Scoffing at my child’s shortcomings instead of encouraging her toward growth.

2. Correcting impatiently and pointing out wrongdoing instead of stooping down to guide and nurture.  

3. My fiery tongue whipping out with sharp words instead of being the balm of a gentle answer.

 “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45 (….OUCH.)

The truth is, my lack of “happy” is not a reflection of my lack of “me” time.

It’s the result of my desperate grappling after false gods.

The curtain is lifted. The idols are revealed. And OH! The weight of that truth flooding my heart would surely crush me, and I would be reduced to a constant state of of tears and self-loathing on the kitchen floor, spiraling into even further depths of despair …

BUT for these truths:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (emphasis mine)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2:4-10 (emphasis mine)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

           

Oh, hopelessly meritorious Mommy…

 

Are your bootstraps, like mine, worn to threads from trying to pull yourself up by them?

Are you, like me, caught trying on your own strength to claw your way out of the pit of guilt

that overwhelms each failure?

Hallelujah! All we have is Christ!

 

We cannot will ourselves up the hill,

because Christ has taken the cross up for us.

We cannot earn our freedom from sin and mom-guilt,

because Christ has already won it for us.

We cannot find joy in our lot apart from the truth that in

HIM is the fulness of joy by his GRACE.

IT. IS. FINISHED.

Even when we fail, we can fight for joy for the sake of these little hearts we shepherd.

Even when they push us to the edge, again and again and again, we can get down on our knees. We can forgive them and be forgiven again and again and again.

This is not a “happy-slappy,” grin and bear it kind of joy. It’s a joy that says HE IS GOOD in the hard days. It’s a battle call for us to preach this to ourselves and to our children:

That IN and THROUGH our suffering and sin, the

joy of the Lord is my strength.

IN and THROUGH the mornings when it’s not even breakfast and all toddler hell breaks loose,

the joy of the Lord is my strength.

IN and THROUGH the hormone-raging, sleepless delirium, deepest, darkest doubt,

the joy of the Lord is my strength.

This JOY is costly. It was purchased by the blood of Christ. Isaiah 53:10 says, “Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…” When God poured out His wrath on His Son, instead of us, it pleased him. It’s also translated as “it was His will.” He was satisfied once for all.

Sisters, THIS is how we can have joy.  Because Christ’s sacrifice brought the Father satisfaction, we too can be satisfied in the Son’s saving work and, in turn, live with JOY….a deep, sober, humiliated (in the RIGHT sort of way)  JOY.

This kind of joy also means humbling ourselves before our God IN FRONT OF our children. It means seeking forgiveness from them when we fall sort, and modeling repentance. This allows our children to see us at our weakest, so that they might see more of Jesus, and so that we may demonstrate for them the profound truth in that simple, gospel song we sing to them:

“We are weak, but He is strong,

Yes, Jesus Loves me….”

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I DELIGHT in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 (emphasis mine)

This process is painful. It’s exposing and scraping away the chaff. And I believe (Oh, help my unbelief!) that it will produce fruit in my life, and Lord willing, in my children’s. Not because of my perfect parenting, but because Christ works in spite of me, through the mess, and in my weakness and humility.

His mercies are new EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

HE has conquered my shame! I can choose to look into my child’s face when she is posed with that question…that call  to FIGHT for happy. And by God’s grace, I can answer her, “yes, I can be happy.” And I can smile,  humbled but not ashamed, tears brimming, weak, yet finding strength, not in my comfort, not in my ability to control, not in my self-righteous, sinful anger, but in HIM.

Im HIM we find true satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness in what we’ve been called to, no matter what threatens to undo it,

because the JOY of Lord  is our STRENGTH.

“Once for all, O sinner, receive it,
Once for all, O doubter, believe it;
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ has redeemed us once for all. “

From the hymn by Philip P. Bliss, 1871, alt., Music: Zac Hicks, 2013

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Take a Deep Breath, and Read

She curls up next to me with a pile of picture books and half-whispers to herself:

“Take a deep breath, and read.”

Simple words, not intended as a command. Yet, from the lips of that babe, what my heart needed to hear was this call:

Take a breath, Mama. But don’t just breathe. Breathe deeply.

Slow down and dive into a luxurious tale with a toddler.

Enter into the wonder she experiences in narrative.

And then….leave some of those dishes in the sink and go read something that gets you out of your own head. Read something that challenges and inspires you.

Stop outputting for 5 minutes and recharge.

Fill the well!

Drink deeply of His Word.

You NEED it like you need air.

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Why is it that my daughter wants the same story read to her again and again? She knows almost every line by heart.

Because, simply hearing the story once isn’t knowing it. And even “knowing” it by heart isn’t enough. She wants to experience it again and again. She wants to participate in the drama of the narrative, feel the anticipation climbing from page to page toward the end. There’s a kind of security in the repetition of it. A kind of strength in consistency that brings about calm and knowing. And, in the really good stories, the ending leaves her with both a sense of completion, yet wonder at what’s beyond those final pages.

Christian, isn’t this what we need when it comes to the Gospel?

To be drawn into that story again and again? To return to His Word and look into the redemptive work of God throughout the ages? To see it all pointing to Christ? To see the reality of our sin, but remember the sweetness of living by his grace?

Too often, I find myself clinging to fragments of His story, but living completely caught up in my own myopic, selfish version of it, which is mostly law-driven and utterly condemning. In doing so, I’m leaving out the best parts of the story! The GRACE parts!

We need to experience the Gospel grace stories again and again. We need to be like children, wide-eyed with wonder and compelled  by that grace to return to the story. Our story. We need to set our minds on those life-giving truths and let them saturate and nourish our weary hearts. We can read our story and feel that sense of completion and wonder because through Christ it is finished, yet we wait for his return.

Oh Lord, slow us down to return to Your story again, and take a deep breath, and read….

….and breathe in, grace. And breathe out, grace. 

Violet Sky: A Birth Story

15 days late right on time, Violet Sky finally graced us with her presence on Sunday, September 16th at 10:49 PM, just 5 hours after labor began. She was gently birthed at home in water.

Here is our story!

Waiting

No matter how hard you try, you can’t get that prescribed “due date” out of your mind. For nine-ish months you are counting down the weeks and then days. You know it’s never a guarantee, but it is hard work to not get sold on that due date.

My first baby was 8 days past her date, but somehow it hardly phased me. Perhaps it was the freedom I had at that time to take leisurely naps, walks, shopping trips, and get massaged, pedicured, and stay luxuriously distracted until she decided to come.This time however, the bustle of moving, settling in to a new town/church/house/life, and trying to enjoy my 2-year-old’s endless energy in the midst of exhaustion may have had something to do with my more anxious state this time around.

I really had to fight to stay at peace about God’s timing. Well-meaning friends and family came to us with concerns about the length of time passing and the potential “risks” they had heard of. We sought our midwife’s counsel and prayed and weighed out every scenario. Thankfully, none of these scenarios presented any cause for concern for us. Our little one was active and healthy at every check-up, and I was healthy, so there was no reason to do anything but wait till she was ready.

In the first week past the date, I tried to stay distracted and rest. When two weeks past the date began, I started exploring some gentle, natural things to encourage labor. I tried walking a bit more, ate spicy foods, spent some “quality time” with the hubby, ate lots of pineapple, had a few good cries, and even tried some herbal tincture. Still, I had little more than a few random cramps here and there.

Feeling a bit like this birthing ball….

Aria’s birthday, a trip to the beach with Nana

My mom came to town early to help me in the last days, (which ended up being over a week!), but her help with Aria and her loving care during that time was SO needed. I was getting weary, so her presence was a blessing in so many ways.

When the rest of the family began to trickle in and a couple of Sunday’s passed with increasing amounts of raised eyebrows and sympathetic hugs over the fact that I was still pregnant, I began to feel as if I just might be pregnant forever!

Birthing Day

On the 15th day past my “due date,” I went to church (during which the pastor, to my surprise, asked the congregation to pray for me), then went to lunch with my mom and mom-in-law, talked on the phone with a good friend and fellow homebirth mama who encouraged me that “it would be soon!,” and then got a little nap in.

Around 5:30 PM I began to get some crampy feelings. I tried not to get too excited since I’d had a few false starts earlier that week. But it quickly became clear that these were the real deal. I ate a light dinner and we decided to wait till about 7:30 to call my midwife and doula and let them know what was going on.

In the meantime, I decided to start my labor project which was, again, baking! It is really the perfect project to focus the mind on during early labor, in my opinion. It presents just enough distraction and easy to follow directions to keep you from focusing too much on the growing intensity of surges, and it’s wonderfully satisfying after all is said and done and everyone can enjoy the finished product!

(This time I baked these yummy paleo vanilla cupcakes with pink frosting from Elana’s Pantry. They turned out great!)

Aria’s final moments as the “baby!”

Around 8:00 we sent  a very wired Aria (who no doubt felt the growing energy of the pending birth), to spend the night with Greg’s parents. At this point, I was already having to concentrate more with each surge and was busy baking, cleaning, hydrating with coconut water, and nesting.

As the surges grew in intensity over the next hour or so I began to focus more on relaxing. I could feel myself tending to hold in my abdomen with each surge, my mind and body wanting to fight the surge rather than go with it. So I hopped in the shower for a minute and let the warm water help me to embrace those familiar feelings.

When I felt the urge to resist the pain, I began to let out a slow breath which I imagined traveling down through me to where the baby was. I found humming and singing a little really helped, and I visualized those lower pelvic muscles releasing. Using the image of a flower opening its petals was extremely effective. I was surprised at how quickly I progressed once I began to really let go with each surge. I kept talking to Violet, encouraging her and myself that “we can do this.”

After the shower, I used Greg to lean on through several surges, or leaned on the couch or dresser. I kept moving, changing positions and letting Violet move down. Throughout labor, Greg sweetly whispered prayers to me, softly and gently encouraging me. His confidence in me and his joy that Violet was coming was so evident. This gave me courage, and his words and gentle touch greatly contributed to my ability to relax through each surge. I am certain that his love was communicated to Violet as well and it helped us both to birth quickly and smoothly.

By the time Marianne and Christina arrived, I was laying down and using deep breathing and low moaning through surges. I knew I was in transition and began to feel the urge to push. Marianne checked my cervix around 9:45 and I was 7 cm dilated and with a bulging bag of waters.

Praying over me after a surge

They filled the birth tub and as soon as I got in I was immediately so much more relaxed. I had several surges and was really able to  let Violet move down the birth path. I could feel her moving so clearly in between surges. She was swimming her way down so beautifully. I just kept rubbing my belly and talking to her and laying against the side of the tub, consciously trying to deeply relax. I listened to the soft music, let my arms float out to the sides, palms open and relaxed, and drew in deeper.

During a surge just before she crowned. Breathing her down the birth path.

Marianne encouraged me to gently push and breathe the baby down with my next surge. Two pushes later, the water broke with quite a pop! From there it only took about two more pushes before her head was crowning. I could hardly believe how quickly she was coming. I reached down and felt a head full of hair and her tiny ear. Marianne wisely encouraged me not to push too hard at that moment, but to let her head gently emerge.

Violet’s head is crowning

Though my instinct was to push as hard as I could and just get through it, I knew she was right. To keep this birth gentle, I needed to breathe down, allowing those few seconds pause to get a good flow of oxygen down to my baby, even through that “ring of fire.” This greatly lessened my chances of tearing as well.

It was then that I also called to mind what my midwife back home had said about Aria having “paved the way” for Violet. She had encouraged me that when I reached that moment of the most intensity a woman can feel, I should let my body remember and embrace that path once again. So, I leaned my head back and let myself smile through the fire of it. Keeping my jaw loose and my countenance as lifted as I could helped me soften and relax those lower muscles once again and I was able to ease her head out with just one more breath.

For a moment she was suspended between worlds. I could see her head and knew that only one more push would bring her fully into this world and into my arms. My head swirling with the rush of the intensity of it all, I gave in to one last surge and her body easily and gently followed.

 

IMG_3802She was violet. Not just in name, but in color! She glowed in that semi-dark as I lifted her out of the water and brought her to my chest. She sputtered and stretched and Greg and I took turns feeling the pulse her heartbeat in the umbilical cord as the last of the bood flowed from me to her.

After 5 short hours, Greg and I welcomed Violet Sky into our arms. She weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces and was 19.5 inches long.

 

 

Like her sister, Violet needed some convincing to fully wake up right away, (perhaps due to such a gentle transition through the warm water!) Marianne took her and pointed an oxygen tube toward her nose to give her a boost and helped get her heart rate up a bit. I was pretty anxious to have her back right away and get that skin to skin contact which is key in regulating a newborn’s heart rate and breathing. With some help from Christina, I stood up and birthed the placenta so I could settle in, hold Violet once again, and we could begin bonding.

She was wide-eyed, dark-haired, olive skinned by then, and ready to nurse right away. She latched on beautifully and I felt such a rush of oxytocin, the “love” hormone that fiercely bonds mother and child, as we began to get to know each other.

I had no tearing, no hemorrhaging, minimal swelling, and recovery has been swift, thanks be to God!!

 

Aria meets her little sister for the first time

Violet’s sweet little life inspired these lyrics many months ago when I was working on my EP. The song became the title track:

Dark Is Light

For Violet

Hush, be still my heart
this violet sky is full of stars
Love, donʼt fade away
soon the night will turn to day

but thereʼs a warning in that light
a call to war is on the rise

Life is not a choice
Even the smallest one must have a voice
Fear will turn to joy
In the arms of the God who satisfies

And there is hope for our souls yet                                                                          In this, the Love that conquers death

We we are safe in this Love….
We are safe in HIS love….

Fearfully and Wonderfully

When she was about 30 weeks in utero, I recored Aria’s heartbeat with a little doppler machine in hopes that I would use it as part of a song I would write for her. Over the course of the next year the song took shape, inspired by the intimate and profound miracle of how we are formed by God’s beautiful design.

I was finally blessed to be able to record this song a few months ago while pregnant with Violet. So the song is dedicated to both of my baby girls.

To my Aria, on her 2nd Birthday, and to Violet, who I am dying to meet, and who is fearfully and wonderfully still “baking” 😉

Listen to the rest of my album HERE!

Aria’s Song

The womb of life
is in Your hand
the dark is light
as You command

Fearfully and wonderfully made
Fearfully and wonderfully made

Hemmed in behind
hemmed in before
You know my ways
where can I go?

And when I rise
or when I fall
You pierce the night
and bring the dawn

The stars, the stars are spinning
This universe is singing
Creation’s heart is beating
In secret, You are weaving

Fearfully and wonderfully made
Fearfully and wonderfully made
Fearfully and wonderfully made…

credits

from Dark Is Light, released 22 June 2012
Words & Music: Caitelen Schneeberger
Vocals: Caitelen Schneeberger
Piano: Caitelen Schneeberger
Guitar: A. J. McQuay
Bass: Jon McMillan
Drums: Ian Byrd
Cello: Caitelen Schneeberger

All the Messes Between Successes

Another profound teaching moment brought to you by my 2-year-old…..

When I stop to consider the amount of poo and other unpleasant substances that I’ve come in contact with since becoming a mom, it’s truly amazing. Indeed, as moms, we have a high calling!

What would have gagged me prior to motherhood, is now simply part of the job. A not so fun part, but a necessary part, nonetheless.

Potty training my almost two-year-old has added a new dimension to this labor of love. The amount and the “caliber,” if you will, of Aria’s “big girl” potties, and the surfaces I have had to clean them from lately, somehow make me look forward to returning to the slightly less toxic and water soluble breast-milk poo of my soon-to-arrive newborn.

And with that day fast approaching, we’ve hunkered down and stayed indoors (even in this heat wave), to practice the timeless art of “potty time.”

My reconnaissance work on Pinterest has paid off  as I’ve kept Aria entertained with plenty of messy sensory projects and games to keep her hands busy and her mind active. And with silly videos to inspire, encouraging pep talks from trusted friends along the way, treats to reward, and the timer telling us every 10 minutes to “try, try again,” I think I have managed to lay down the framework for a successfully trained almost 2-year-old.

Yet for all the successes we’ve had over the last few days, we’ve had plenty of messes in-between, and plenty of moments of frustration from both parties. But could there be a better analogy to draw from in reflecting on our own “grown-up” spiritual training?! 🙂

At one point this week (I think it was in the midst of stooping down in all my 9-month pregnant glory to mop up a lovely trail of puddles), I thought of how even though I had won my “big girl pants” many moons ago, I still have my areas of weakness and make plenty of mistakes in my actions, thoughts, speech, and heart, daily.

In my walk and relationship with God, I try and fail often. I doubt and forget what I’ve been taught. Or worse, I regress to baby-like behavior in moments of laziness or rebellion.

Yet God stoops down and patiently cares for me again and again.

He gently and lovingly “leads me down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” And even when I fall into the muck and mire of sin, even though I “walk through the valley of the shadow of death ” (Psalm 23), this truth remains:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
(Psalm 103:8, 13 ESV)

I’ve heard it put this way: As Christians, our journey is much like the stock market with many “oh crap” moments (no pun intended) in between moments of “success.” Still, we are always moving “up and forward,” so to speak. Our sins do not make or break our salvation because of God’s mercy and grace through His Son. We can always find encouragement through God’s word to press on, and we are spurred on in faith by our brother’s and sisters in Christ.

All of our moments in the muck and mire (though they be literal as in cleaning up after a potty training child, or spiritual as in dealing with our own messes), draw us closer to God if we are in Christ, because those moments humble us and remind us of who we were apart from Him, and who we are called to be in Him.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Titus 2: 11-14 (ESV)

Home…Where My Husband Is

After a long day of last-minute packing, final moments and meals with family, and teary goodbyes, a 2 hour, overbooked flight swept me and Aria out West to finally join Greg, (who had moved out there 2 weeks before while I waited for my insurance to kick in).

With my 8-month pregnant belly leaving barely any room for my squirming two-year-old, I gratefully stepped off the plane and into my sweet husband’s arms. Arms that would be a BLESSED help and relief to me,  finally sharing the load of our increasingly heavy toddler!

But much more than just a pair of strong arms, over the last 5 years of marriage, this man has become home to me.

Five months of living outside of a physical home of our own, out of suitcases, and in and out of our parents house, has reinforced that truth for me.

That it doesn’t matter where we are. If we’re together as a family, we’re home.

But this also calls to heart the reminder that none of us are ever truly “home” this side of heaven.

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 1 Corinthians 5:1

We, as the “church” at large, are under Christ’s authority. He is her “bridegroom.” This imagery of Christ and the church as bride and bridegroom is all over scripture (Ephesians 5:25, Colossians 1:18, Revelation 21:2).

Therefore, we, as a collective, can say in and out of season and even when we feel the disarray of life in a broken world, “home is where our ‘husband’ (Christ) is.” We can turn to him for that “peace that transcends understanding” that Christ may “guard our hearts and minds” (Phil. 4:6-7).

Walking through the door that night into our new “home,” into an unfamiliar apartment with lots of boxes to unpack and organization to do, I felt the pang of resistance to this foreign space where friends and family were now far behind and nothing felt settled or familiar.

Except…crawling into bed, I felt the familiar weight and form of my husband beside me. His hand on my belly, feeling our soon-to-arrive daughter dancing in my womb sent a warmth through my soul.

The Lord gently reminded me of his unfailing love and provision for our family. He called us here, together, to learn to lean more on Him and to remember that in Him, even in the whirlwind of change, and the unfamiliar, and the “now and not yet” of this world, we are “home.”

No Guilt in Life!

At first, there is so much guilt.

I’m not being a good mom because I lay on the couch and let Aria watch baby videos.  I’m a bad wife because I let the dishes sit in the sink and the laundry pile up. And forget about cooking. The thought of chopping a carrot makes me gag….oh, and intimacy? Not a chance.  I’m also a bad Christian because every other prayer out of my mouth is a cry for God to “save me from this morning sickness!” (more like, all day!). Instead, I could be praising Him for the blessing of this tiny 10 week baby in my womb, and thanking him that with every wave of nausea comes the reminder that he or she is thriving and growing and will soon be another beautiful child to cuddle and nurture and share Christ with.

I doesn’t matter if it’s physical illness, a confrontation that went poorly, or dissension with coworkers or a spouse.We lay so much guilt on ourselves. Too often we allow the weight of our sin or shortcomings to nearly crush us when in truth we have already been spared that burden through Christ.

And when hormones rage and depression sets in, it takes the truth of the Gospel to dispel those lies. The truth for me lately has come so many times from sweet sisters in the Lord. Sometimes it just takes some fresh perspective and a helping hand to remind me that I don’t have to try to pull myself up by my bootstraps, or just suck it up. I can ask for help and find joy and comfort where it is found.

Several of these sisters have reminded me that “this too shall pass.” (And I know they didn’t mean the last meal I tried to keep down.)

As our pastor reminded us this week through the writings of Paul who suffered far greater trials than most of us could dream up:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Whatever guilt is haunting you today, I pray that you will put it to death, ask for help as needed, and remember to always “carry within you the death of Jesus,” so to speak, so that, as verse 10 says,”the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”