Merging the blogs

If you currently subscribe to Ordinary Pen, first of all, thank you! Thank you for listening, reading, encouraging, and following! As some of you know, I’ve had a separate website/blog up for a while dedicated to my music endeavors.  I’ve decided to finally merge these two blogs and will be posting from now on at www.caitelen.com

I’ve exported all of my posts from Ordinary Pen so you’ll still be able to find previous posts there. In the future, I will post there exclusively. I’ll continue to write about parenting, faith, ministry, health, and food, and will have my “herb store” up. I’ll also have updates about my music, past and future recordings, thoughts about music/worship leading/being a musician, and info about any upcoming “gigs.”

I hope you’ll head on over and follow me there!

 

www.caitelen.com

 

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“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

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. 

New Year, New Song

IMG_4536It’s been almost a year since I’ve written here!

My last musings were on the exciting adventures of the Paleo Whole30 cleanse (of which I am due for another!), and as you can see I’ve changed the “look” of the blog a bit. I do plan to get back to sharing recipes, writing about some aspects of my journey as a mom, and up-keeping my recently re-opened side business working with herbs. But, I have also been busy in my “other life” as a musician and wanted share my recent endeavors!

So, belated as it is, here’s my most recent song, released for the Christmas/New Year season. It’s FREE to download on bandcamp.

Hope it blesses you!

Behind the Music

Lately, I am learning to be a Momsician. Living and creating in the “present” of fragile 2 hour nap-time slots, with towels stuffed under the bedroom door and duct tape holding the mic to its stand. I accept as a precious gift the few moments I can steal to be inspired and make art….read the rest of the story here!

 

Whole30 Here We Go….

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My palate is dull, my energy levels are down, and my gut feels overworked. I’ve also been leaning a little to hard on the chocolate for those afternoon energy boosts. It’s time to hit the “re-set” button!

Many friends have vouched for this cleanse and its benefits. I’ve danced around the diet for some time now, trying recipes here and there and slowly taking out some unnecessary “go-to” foods.

Finally, I’ve decided to try taking the 30 day challenge for my health, and hopefully to help me better serve my family with more energy!

I plan to begin on February 1st and would love to invite some of you to join! (It’s always nice to have accountability in these things 🙂

I’ll be giving weekly reports and would love to hear feedback from people who have tried it, or are doing it.

To find out all you need to know about this Paleo cleanse, go HERE.

Check out: WEEK 1 on WHOLE 30

 

How To Get Kids To Take Herbs….And Enjoy Them!

At the onset of a cold or flu, you may be quick to reach for that soothing herbal tea, but getting your kids to drink it is another story. Fortunately, there are ways to make herbs fun and enjoyable for kids while they still reap the benefits. You may even find yourself getting requests for some of these herbal goodies when no ailment is to be found!

Here are just a few ways I make herbs palatable for kids:

Herbal Popsicles 

Great for teething, soar throats, swollen/cut lip or gums, etc.

1. Make a strong herbal tea.

2. Pour freshly boiled water over fresh or dried herbs and let steep for a good long time (15-20 min at least).  My go-to blend consists of chamomile, lemon balm, peppermint, and catnip (this blend helps with digestion, nausea, calming nerves, restoring electrolytes and stimulating the immune system).

3. While tea is still warm, mix in a little maple syrup or raw honey to sweeten. You can also add a splash of juice such as pomegranate, carrot, or cherry. Do not to use juice that has added sugars, preservatives, or “colors.”

4. Let the tea cool down, pour into popsicle moulds (or you can use an empty ice tray), freeze and enjoy as needed!

Have a Tea Party!

When Aria has been especially feisty or restless, or if she’s fighting off a cold, I like to make her some herbal tea. Sometimes, the best way to get her to drink it is to put it in her tea pot (which is shaped like a puppy dog), and make a special “tea time” with her. I let her drink from a real tea cup or small mug and we sometimes have a treat to go with.

I have been fortunate that Aria enjoys herbal tea without added sweeteners, but for the kids who are harder to convince, simply add some honey or maple syrup to the tea. You could also try just adding a few more peppermint leaves (which are naturally sweet) to your blend.

If you aren’t into using loose leaves, Traditional Medicinals makes great bagged teas.

Eucalyptus Herbal Steam

One of my favorite things to do in the winter is to boil 1/2 cup of dried eucalyptus leaves in water on the stove. Its antiseptic properties disinfect up to about 50 feet in any direction, so it helps to clean the air when colds are going around. For kids with respiratory issues, bad coughs, phlegm, etc., once or twice a day help  fan some of the wonderful steam toward them and encourage them to breathe deeply. It’s usually fun for them to watch the steam and boiling water too (as long as they are monitored at all times…or else you’ll be treating burns next!)

Dilute a Tincture

Tinctures are a concentrated extract of an herb. Some tinctures are made with glycerine, but most are made with alcohol which make it rather unpleasant to take, and must be diluted for kids.

A few drops of echinacea tincture in a small glass of juice, diluted with some water, is a great way to guard against colds and flus in winter.

When a cough or congestion is present, horehound is wonderful, but it is very bitter. A shot of juice with 10 or so drops of the tincture is will help expectorate.

**You can also add some tincture to already sweetened tea.

Make a Lavender “Buddy”

Lavender is a powerful herb in bringing relaxation and restoration to nerves. Children are very responsive to this herb. You can always put a drop of the essential on their shirt or favorite stuffed animal, but another fun option is to make a special lavender “buddy.”

It can be as simple as an odd sock, or you can bust out the sewing machine. Either way, fill the “buddy” with dried lavender flowers and let the relaxation begin! Encourage them to hug their buddy when a they’ve had a tumble, or while you may be attending to a boo-boo.

Warm Lavender “Buddy”

A variation on the above: make a mixture of rice and lavender leaves. The buddy can then be warmed up in a microwave to help sore limbs and muscles, or to keep warm during fever chills, while getting the lovely effects of the lavender as well.

So, when the dog bites, and the bee stings,

don’t forget to try a few of these herbalicious things!!

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….