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

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….

Singing With the Stars….Literally

Today, I needed a little perspective. I needed to be reminded of my smallness and God’s bigness. It may sound simple, but it is so easy to find ourselves at the center of our own little universes. We think we “deserve” this comfort, or that convenience. We think it’s our “right” to be treated a certain way, or live a certain lifestyle. We find ourselves living each day asking “what do I want” much more than, “Lord, what is your will for me?” And then, even when we do seek the Lord, how often do we really listen? How often to we really soak in His word and seek his face?

Today, I gained some perspective again through this short video clip from the 2011 Desiring God Conference. Louie Giglio “mashes up” the recorded sounds of space and sea to show us that Psalms like 148 are not just pretty verses, but truly all the creatures of the earth and sea sing his praise, and his majesty is indeed found above the earth and heaven.

I found myself crying tears of humility and joy at the reminder that we are NOT the only beings in this universe who have a voice with which to praise Him. God’s ears are FULL of the songs of his creation, from the tiniest buzz of the bee, to the whale’s haunting melody, to the pulsar’s magnificent aria in outer-space.

Please, take the time to watch this and be reminded of how glorious our God is! How GREAT and GREATLY to be praised!

To Make the Sad Untrue

About 4 years ago, some dear friends of ours lost their baby girl just shy of 8 months in the womb. Through years of grieving, moments of doubt, and many tears, they still find hope in the Lord and hope in the truth that, as “The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name” so simply, yet profoundly puts it,

“Jesus came to make the sad untrue.”

This line became the pulse of a song they wrote together during this past year as part of their grieving process, but also as a remembrance of the hope of eternal life in Christ. You can purchase their song through the site above, and in doing so you will support them in their fundraising efforts for their future adoption!

It’s a beautiful song of brokenness and praise. The music and lyrics so profoundly mirror the bittersweetness of the “now and not yet” of our state as Christians. He has come, yet is still to come. Until he does, we are not immune to trials, but we don’t have to live in the darkness of those trials and hardships. We can live in the light as he is in the light, and press on in faith! (1 John 1:5).

Please  take a moment to visit the band site, read a little more of their story, and purchase their song to help support them. ALL PROCEEDS go toward their adoption fund through Desert Springs Church.

Though we mourn, we don’t mourn without hope (1 Thess. 4:13), and it is indeed true that every story whispers his name, even our own stories of loss. He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 3:5).

That is GOOD news to celebrate this CHRISTmas!

My Empire of Dirt

All is vanity….but God is the one you must fear (paraphrased from Ecclesiastes 1 and 5).

A few years ago, just months before he died, Johnny Cash covered the song “Hurt,” by Nine Inch Nails. The meaning of the song is debated. Originally an alleged suicide note, Cash’s version has been named an epitaph to his life, but I believe it is more than that. It’s a gospel song, even if it wasn’t written with that intent, and I’ll attempt to prove that here, or at least argue that the theme heavily alludes to our depravity apart from Christ, the futility worshiping ourselves, and the glory of the Cross and what Christ did for us there.

As the first verse implies, to ignore the hurt and the emptiness we feel, we often turn to crutches. We “try to kill it all away,” but when the drug wears off, or the credit card gets maxed out, or the box of chocolate is empty, or person we trusted lets us down, we “remember everything.” We can’t ultimately hide from our sin and idolatry, and we will always come to the end of ourselves. This pattern, without the hope that is found in the redeeming love of Jesus, leads to death.

God spoke to this through the prophet Hosea:

They made kings, but not through me.

They set up princes, but I knew it not.

With their silver and gold they made idols

for their own destruction

(Hosea 8:4, emphasis mine)

The plaintive chorus cries out to “my sweetest friend” (Christ). The speaker offers up his “empire of dirt,” realizing that all he has done, all he has collected, every idol he has served, and every dollar he made, spiritually amounts to nothing (“Everyone I know goes away in the end”).

The final line of the chorus, “I will make you hurt,” alludes to the truth that the depravity of the hearts of all Mankind led our God to sacrifice His Son for us. In his mercy, he gave us eternal life. Jesus willingly went to death on our behalf.

Because of this, our song doesn’t end with our guilt and the meaninglessness of life. Even this song ends with hope of “starting again.”

When God looks at us, he no longer sees the empire of dirt that we are.

He sees His Son, Christ. He sees us as clean.

My prayer is that I would remember the futility of my “empire of dirt” and the things I treasure and cling to for comfort. May I be reminded that “where my treasure is, there my heart will be also” (MAtt 6:21), and pray that God would “create in me a clean heart…and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

“Hurt”
(originally by Nine Inch Nails)

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

[Chorus:]
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

[Chorus:]
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way