The Peaceful Birth of James Nicolas

On Saturday evening, October 20th, we had plans to watch a kids cartoon movie and get ready for church. I prepared baked French toast for Sunday breakfast (ready to bake in the morning), ironed necessary outfits, and we all sat to watch the little movie. That’s when I realized that the sporadic contractions I had a few times a day the last couple of days were just a little more intense. They came so far apart that I would even forget to look at the time in order to keep better track of the progress.

I chose to sit on my exercise ball while everybody cozied up on the sofa under blankets. Of course Samuel wanted to sit with me, so we bounced on the ball for the duration of most of the movie. Since I was hoping this was labor, I held Samuel close and whispered in his ear all sorts of sweetness during the movie. It’s always a silent goodbye to the toddler when one brings a new baby home. At least that’s the tiny heartache I was feeling that Saturday night.

At around 7:30pm, towards the end of the movie, I went upstairs and took a shower wondering if it would all progress during the night and wanting to be ready. When the children were all ready for bed, I was drying my hair and told Nathan about the contractions, but that labor didn’t seem to be moving along. He agreed that we could have everything ready just in case. I saw that he pulled the hospital bag from the closet adding a few things to it. He asked if I was going to bed, which I begrudgingly did. By now it was 10:30pm, and the contractions were still 8-10 minutes apart. There was no reason to stay up to wait for what might slow down or even go away during the night. Nathan fell asleep while I watched the nightstand clock…Every…Ten…Minutes.

By midnight, I was sleeping between the contractions, since I could no longer stay awake. Nothing had changed since 7pm. At 3:04am (8 hours later), I couldn’t get comfortable to work through this contraction, and got out of bed. Four minutes later came another one just the same, and another one. By 3:15am, I knew this was it.

I woke Nathan up, made the bed, grabbed the bag, and he made the call to his parents. And we called again. And again. And again for half an hour! By 4am, we knew we had to go, so Nathan woke Alexander and Eva to explain that Grandpa and Grandma would listen to their voicemail first thing in the morning and come right over. Thankfully, our children are not early risers. : )

We headed to the hospital down quiet, empty streets – I wanted to remember it forever. We checked in to triage where they asked for my birthing preferences: unmedicated and water birth. The midwife said I was 7 cm along and that baby looked great and head down. Perfect! Then we walked to our spacious and birthing tub room. The nurse brought an exercise ball, and I rested over it with my knees on the floor. I had my verse cards and read and meditated on one for 15 minutes or so. This kept my mind focused, filled my heart with peace, and gave my a prayerful spirit.

At around 7am, I got in the warm tub. I imagined we were getting closer although the contractions didn’t seem to have become stronger during our time in the room. Now in the water, they were 8 minutes apart. I knew that the water might slow labor down, so this didn’t bother me. At 9:30am (after being in the tub 2 1/2 hours and contractions still 8 minutes apart), I asked the midwife what her opinion was on breaking my water.

I had requested not to be checked during labor, but I realized the midwife would need to confirm the baby’s head engagement before breaking the bag of waters. She returned at 10am, examined, and baby’s head was perfect to proceed with breaking the water. I was still at 7 cm. I had not dilated any more since our arrival at the hospital at 4:30am (almost 6 hours later). This confirmed that the decision was timely.

I got back into the tub, and a few minutes later, by 10:30am, contractions were very different. I stood up out of the water and hung onto Nathan’s neck. Then came another one so strong that I walked out of the tub much to Nathan’s alarm. “Where are you going?” He asked repeatedly with concern. I couldn’t say, I just needed to get out and move. I never went back into the tub.

Things moved so quickly. I asked Nathan to call the nurse because I needed help. “There must be something they can do for me.” Nathan brought me a nose strip to put on my nose! (I had asked him to pick them up at the store, for better breathing in case I felt the need). I had been feeling lightheaded during these last few intense contractions which made me feel like I couldn’t catch my breath – I just couldn’t take a breath that was deep enough. This made me very anxious, and I felt that I needed help. I couldn’t do this. Nathan gave me the nose strip which made me annoyed because I couldn’t believe he thought this is the help I needed!

In the previous weeks I had made Nathan promise that he wouldn’t give-in if I asked for pain medicine. It. Was. INTENSE! I managed to get past Nathan to press the nurse button. The nurse and the midwife came in, and I was on the end of the bed working through transition. I still wanted help, and Nathan said to me, “Remember all the people that are praying for you.”

The midwife suggested that I get on the bed because I seemed a little unstable (shaky legs). With each of the next few contractions, I felt the need to push at the end of the contraction. I was on my knees and with each contraction, I could feel the progress. I held onto Nathan next to me and just focused. The midwife and the nurse were sitting in chairs next to the table of post-delivery supplies. All was quiet the entire time, until I called out that the baby was crowing. It was 11:06am when the midwife came to the bed and said to catch my baby. “That’s it. He’s here. I’m done. He’s here. He’s mine.” I was elated.

James is now almost 2 months old, and it’s a daily delight to get to know him. We are grateful for the gift of God of this new boy, and for all of your prayers and sweet words of encouragement throughout the pregnancy and as labor approached. It made all the difference to remember those cherished prayers!

with love, Damaris

Big Faith, Small Dreams

“Oh, isn’t this just the house of your dreams!?” This phrase was repeated so often when we first moved into our house. Every time I heard it, I really didn’t know what to say.

It’s been well over a year since I first began the draft of this post on paper. And now that we’ve been going through old house pictures and sharing with you the rooms’ transformation (and here), it began burning in my heart again.So let me tell you why I didn’t know what to say to all the well-meaning visitors.

Truth: It wasn’t love at first sight; it wasn’t a dream come true. This house was an answered prayer.

Four years, scores of prayers, a couple moves, selling a house, living in a rental – this house was an answered prayer. “You are so patient,” friends would say. We knew that we had a small budget which limited our possibilities. Yet, even after the tortuous waiting, still this house was not a dream come true.

So what did we pray for exactly? Well a simple request: that God would provide for us a place from which to serve Him better and serve Him more.

We prayed that the dreams that we did have, of the perfect house and perfect locale, would not trump God’s desires.

We prayed that we would remain patient long enough to receive from His good providence with an open hand and thankfulness.

I knew that this was the place of provision. In my heart this place we were praying for God to put us in was going to be ok. And God is so good! Nevertheless, in my mind many small expectations had to be let go (as a side note, let me tell you that letting go was a long process!). The battle with those expectations, though, was not the reason that this house wasn’t the house of our dreams.

“Dream big” , “Follow your dreams”, “Never give up on your dreams”, “Your dreams will come true”, “Make your dreams a reality!” Do these sound familiar? All these are phrases we’ve probably heard from lots of different voices and maybe even said ourselves. The world that denies God tells us that the ‘good life’ is a life in which we achieve our dreams. That world says the Dream is the thing – the house, the trip, the job, the experience. Truth: the real thing is us becoming image bearers of God by whatever means He chooses. During all of our waiting, God wasn’t after us making bigger, better dreams of ourselves. He was working at growing our faith – big faith for small dreams.

So may we not think that happiness lies in the fulfillment of our dreams – the good life is knowing God.

Next time you wonder if your dreams are big enough, pray that God gives you big faith.

“But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33

with love. Damaris

Why is it so Hard to Ask

Photo Credit: Maria Wild

During this morning’s devotions we did something we’d never done before.

At the breakfast table, we read a Proverb and prayed. By one of the girls’ suggestions, we went around the table and each prayed for the person next to us. Prayers were spoken for the biggest to think before he speaks, for the big girl to be gentle to a brother, for the middle boy to remember what he’s told, for the middle girl to be thorough in all of her schoolwork, for a little girl to be kind to her sister, and for the littlest to not be contrary and cross. The middle girl was next to me, and she prayed that I wouldn’t do all the work, and be healthy, and to be very happy. When it was my turn to pray, I heard my words sound formal, respectful/polite/well-mannered…. I wasn’t tenderly asking with innocence and vulnerability like the small prayers said before me.

Photo Credit: Maria Wild

Why is it so hard to ask?

If He loves to give, why isn’t it easier? All day, my children ask for snacks, help in the bathroom, cups to be filled, socks and shoes put on, and help with long words. Sometimes I hear “Mom, Mom, Mom” so many times, surely there is not three seconds between their calls! One thing I know through their asking is that they need me. The kids ask unafraid and relentless, and their asking is a bold statement of helplessness. The asking requires surrender, and surrender springs from humility. I know I lack the humility to ask God the way the children ask for daily things of me. Because in asking, I would be completely yielding to an Almighty God – I would acknowledge my incompetence and inability.

The irony of it is that when I try to ask, I am afraid I don’t know how to do it the right way (James 4:2,3). If we don’t receive because we don’t ask as we ought, then I just don’t ask! I know my prayers are so imperfect and awkward! But when I pray in Jesus’ name (John 14:13), it’s not my stuttered words He hears but the delightful prayers of Jesus. If I trust His Name is enough, than my struggling, messy prayers are all God wants!

If you think of it, this is why Jesus told us that we needed to be like children (Matthew 18:3 ). My kids ask in helplessness, and they just ask – not afraid to sound broken or simple. Children ask because they are dependent. How I want that my heart is humble enough to ask! Just ask!

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11

with love. Damaris

Are You in Need of Self-Care?

I have been seeing this new term pop-up everywhere, and something about it felt off. After many conversations with Nathan and also with a close godly friend, I’m beginning to understand why. The name ‘self-care’ seemed indulgent…motivated by inward-focus , self-pleasing, conceited desires.

The moniker may be new, but the responsible adherence is as old as creation. After all, rest was built right into the rhythm of life. Integral to creation are the God ordained cycles of work and rest. Rest is a necessary part of a healthy and balanced life: “Exercise and proper rest patters generate about 20 percent energy increase in an average day.” (Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands).

The 6th commandment, too, reminds us of the sanctity of life: “Thou shall not kill,” forbids us from killing, and requires us to take care, nurture and protect life – our life and that of our neighbor.

Here are some areas where we should thoughtfully consider if we are rightly practicing “self-care”:

  • the Physical – eating, sleeping, regular check-ups, fitness

  • the Spiritual – spending time in Scripture, listening to messages, prayer, journaling, singing

  • the Intellectual – learning, reading, engaging in something new, finding inspiration, creativity

  • the Social – uplifting friends, life-giving conversations, connection, serving others

  • the Emotional – dealing with stress, compassion

There can be a difference between this Biblical care of ourselves and what is so often promoted in the popular term “self-care.” That difference most often stems from our motive. I came across something Matthew Henry said that hits the nail on the head (even so long ago!):

“There is a self-love which is corrupt, and the root of the greatest sins, and it must be put off and mortified: but there is a self-love which is the rule of the greatest duty: we must have a due concern for the welfare of our own souls and bodies. And we must love our neighbor as truly sincerely as we love ourselves.” (Expositions of the Bible, Matthew 22:40)

Here are a few questions that might help us examine our motives:

Is a preoccupation with ourselves driving us to be discontent? Do you find yourself manipulating others to get what you want? Whining and complaining until our husband gives-in? Do we seek pity from others? Maybe looking to guilt-trip? Or maybe we say things like: “All my friends get their hair done, I deserve to look good too?” “Why can’t I ever get help when my friend has weekly help from her mom?” “Shouldn’t I go get a manicure since all my friends get massages every month?” “They go on dates all the time, I deserve to break the budget once in a while.” “I deserve this break after the day I just had!”

Demanding self-care is not the same thing that Jesus did during his earthly ministry. Jesus spent time serving with intervals of refreshment and prayer (Mark 6:30-32; Mark 1:35). In the same spirit, we need to retreat, refresh, and come back renewed. Our time, energy, mental and physical health are gifts from God that we are responsible to steward with thoughtfulness and care. He knows, he cares, and he will provide for our every need. We can trust that he sees our weariness. Our Father in heaven cares about our daily load and our emotions. God is bigger than our circumstances, and He’s got this!

It is important to recognize that some activities refill us while others drain our energy. We have to balance the things that fill us and drain us. It will be different for everyone, but learning our energy limitation is key to maintaining our personal health. Grocery shopping can be relaxing to some or draining to others. Same with socializing – some of us are filled up by spending time with friends and staying up late to talk, yet some feel drained by conversation.

If you’re like me, fight for a little silence! A time of quiet to know Jesus. A time of quiet to rest our minds. A time to chill and calm and recognize that He is God and not me. Just a few minutes in my bedroom have had great impact on restoring my sanity and recreating my joy in the Lord. God delights to see us thrive. Shona Murray, in her book Refresh says it perfectly, “By paying attention to rest and refueling, both physically and spiritually, we avoid extremes of energy expenditure followed by exhaustion. We learn to relax without false guilt; learn to view sleep, exercise, and healthy regular eating as Gods gifts; and lean to accept the help of others with humility when needed.”

with love, Damaris

How to Hush our Harsh

How we talk to God is consistently connected with how we talk to others.

When I correct the little girls, I try to instruct them that by learning to listen to mommy’s voice, they are learning to listen to God’s voice. While I teach the children this lesson, the business of the day makes it hard for me to listen to the voice of God and be reminded of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Instead, I forget to spend a few minutes with God or get distracted, and my tone becomes harsh toward everyone around me (I admit to all the uglies here). I lose patience so much sooner, I snap, I raise my voice, and I don’t follow through with the commands given. Many days, my to-do list is so long that I don’t want to fall behind and take time to pray.

Recently, I was reading (you can read my thoughts on the book here) Keep it Shut: What to Say, How to say It, and When to say Nothing at All. Karen Ehman suggests to take our to-do list into our prayer time! I love the simplicity:

“To pray your to-do list, find a few moments to be alone and quiet. Ask God to bring to mind all that you must accomplish that day. Make a list of everything that comes to mind. Then briefly pray through each item on the list. If more tasks come to mind, simply add them to the list. Don’t worry that it is unspiritual to stop halfway through prayer and jot down an item. If you’re like me, it will help you to clear you mind and enable you to focus better on your time alone with God. He is concerned about the details of your life, even the errands.”

Why do we assume we’ll find the time to be with God? Setting an alert in your phone to pray on a time you know is consistently quiet is a new idea I recently came across. I have been known to write it on my to-do list : ) Some moms find the best predictable time to be at the beginning of nap time, while they sit in the pick-up line at school, during meal prep when the children are snacking or watching a little show, or first thing in the morning. It’s been working for me to pray during Samuel’s morning nap. I sit in the schoolroom at the children’s table and they’re very curious as to what’s new on the prayer list.

I also use a short devotional book. This is the one I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks. Some days I take a minute to copy a portion of one of the Psalms. Writing it down helps me focus. Other wonderful ways to hush our hearts and minds can be listening to worshipful music during clean-up or an audio Bible app during lunch.

Due to the ebbs and flows of family life, our routines usually change every 4-6 months, so it’s important for us to be flexible and embrace the new rhythms. Being intentional about our time with God will make an immense difference in hushing our harsh. I know from experience!

“Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.”

– Corie ten Boom

with love. Damaris

Why I Didn't Make New Year's Resolutions

There is something about hanging a new calendar in the kitchen that invigorates me. All the new milestones, and hopes, and possibilities make starting January 1st so exciting. As we welcome the new year with energy and enthusiasm, it has been good for our family to take time to honor God for all that this past year held. Acknowledging how up to this point the Lord has helped us, grounds us and encourages us to breathe and walk through the new 2018. It strengthens our faith to bravely do the next things this next year.

I am usually so overwhelmed by the daunting task of naming all The Ultimate Resolutions – too much pressure! Truthfully, I haven’t given resolutions much thought in the last couple of years for this reason. Last week, however, I read a blog post called How To Stop All Procrastination: Dear You Trying to Do that Hard Thing in the New Year. Wow. That stopped me in my tracks, and I took the time to read it. One of the poignant messages of the post is the beauty of having a word of the month for each month of the year. The idea is to focus on just one good endeavor, a month at a time by writing it down and committing to it daily. Allowing myself to fill out one 3×5 card per month with my “purposes”, restored my hope that I can still achieve goals – just maybe not year-long intimidating ones that I must set by January 1st!

These monthly cards change everything for me! I have written the January word at the top of a 3 x 5 card, then brainstormed all the ways I can apply the word throughout the month. The small-discipline words are verbs (mostly) and I’ll add my own noun. For January, the word is “EMBRACE”. I’ve added “REST”. That’s it – “Embrace Rest”. The body of the card reads:

  1. Spend time resting in prayer daily.

  2. Simplifying dinnertime.

  3. Delegating evening clean-up.

  4. Look for more opportunities to sit with the children to talk, have tea, or read aloud.

  5. Resting is Trusting!

These are the twelve words for the year. One word for each month of 2018:

  • Embrace

  • Engage

  • Be

  • Believe

  • Break

  • Daily

  • Do

  • Let go

  • Learn

  • Live

  • Give

  • Grow

So here’s to a beautiful new year- a clean slate full of anticipations, expectancy and hopes.

with love. Damaris

Back To The Grind

This is a first for me! I always write for the blog late at night after the children are sleeping, and I’m in bed with my bedside light on. But today is different! It’s raining hard, which limits outdoor chores for the bigger kids, and instead everybody’s looking through their new school notebooks, markers, and talking. They’re always talking! Here I sit on the floor on my side of the bed and face the window. I’m kind of out-of-sight. I finished my heavily buttered toast and brought my coffee upstairs with me. Baby Samuel takes beautiful morning naps, so maybe I can get a few words in.

We’re savoring the last slow days of summer as I’m certain you are too! But the joys of fresh new school days are quickly approaching, and before the start a new year, I find it very helpful to take 2 or 3 hours to pray, plan, read teacher guides, and write a schedule. Some years I have gone to the coffee shop by myself on a Saturday afternoon and some years I quickly left right after dinner with my Bible, books, notebook and a pen. This year, Nathan was a most wonderful help, and we did the majority of the planning together a couple of days ago.

Actually, we not only made a schedule, but reassigned the chores! I gain much confidence and excitement about the new school year when we have this planning session under our belt. I will be sharing our full schedule with you soon! There usually are a couple things that need moved around once the year is underway.

Whether you homeschool or not, I wanted to share with you a little list of things that have made a difference when we’re back to the grind. As you know, days get very full and sometimes so fast paced, that we need to have a few things in place to help the days be successful for everyone!

Our Back-To-School Aids:

  • Trader Joe’s organic pops or suckers (this is a first for us). It seems to help little Providence remember to empty all the trash cans!

  • Clorox wipes (have been recently buying these) It has simplified some of the kids’ chores.

  • cooked-ahead breakfast sausages (cook up lots of extra links on the weekend) We don’t have a microwave, but the big kids can reheat these on a small skillet easily. Stored in a gallon zip-lock in the fridge.

  • soft-boiled eggs (same as hard boiled, just a little softer yellow) All the kids love these with a little sprinkle of salt. They keep well pre-peeled in a gallon zip-lock in the fridge.

  • Trader Joe’s frozen hashbrowns (love these!) We usually have them for lunch with fruit or a smoothie.

  • homemade frozen muffins (they thaw so fast!) We keep several dozen in the freezer.

  • bagels (we keep them in the freezer and thaw them the night before) This is the perfect breakfast for us on co-op days! We warm them all on a cookie sheet in a low-temp oven for a few minutes, slice and spread cream cheese on them. Ready to go!

  • freezer meals (these always save the day!) We try to keep 5 dinners ready-to-bake in our freezer.

  • paper plates and paper bowls (huge help!) We don’t have a dishwasher, and paper simplifies school day breakfasts and lunches when quick clean-ups are essential.

  • cereal (hopefully healthy) This is our first time buying breakfast cereals as a staple, and we will see if it makes mornings easier!

I realize this list is not all-inclusive, but I hope it helps as you gear up for the new school year too! What are some of your must-haves?

with love. Damaris

Spoiled Manna

As a wife, I try to be a kind help to my husband. As a mother, I try hard to nurture, instruct, and provide for my children. As a daughter, I look for ways to encourage and help my parents and my in-laws. As a sister, I seek to serve and bless others. While, I’m sure you would agree, these labors are good and worthwhile, it could be that they are not all excellent – they may not be the things that I am called to do in this season of life.

Most of us can relate to these sometimes-competing responsibilities. It’s easy to get caught up in the seemingly endless number of things we can be pursuing – and we try so hard! We try hard to be prepared, and see the needs in advance – we work everyday for those around us to have comfort, joy, and delight! Not too long ago, God began showing me some of my errors when approaching decisions about these callings. He used a story that some of us are familiar with from the Old Testament…

One of the more famous recordings of God’s teaching the Israelites a lesson in obedience and faith while they wandered through the wilderness was when He provided their sole means of nourishment through sending manna each day down from the sky. Manna was bread. With God’s gift of this bread from heaven came some stipulations of how they were to collect and use the manna.

One of these conditions was that they were not supposed to glean more manna than they could use that day. Contrary to God’s clear instruction, the Israelites tried their best to preserve the manna. They gathered more than their share for the day. They were trying so hard to be prepared for tomorrow that they put their efforts into storing up the heavenly goodness (sound familiar?). But, as the account records, their labors were found to be full of worms, literally! The manna that they stored up for the next day had spoiled! God had laid out His plan, but the Israeilites thought they could try harder – could improve on it. All that the Israelites needed to do was trust and simply obey. They would have had enough.

I’m sure that when I trivialize God’s instruction and fail to obey, my labors often end up as spoiled manna. They become foul. They breed worms and stink. Well, this is pretty much the place where God stopped me – just as the Israelites were doing something seemingly good in gathering extra manna for future needs, I had been focusing too much on what more I could be doing, instead of simply what God had called me to do.

All of my efforts to do the right thing are spoiled manna unless I listen to God’s voice! Trying hard, of course, isn’t bad or wrong, but if it isn’t what God is calling me to do – if I’m not walking in obedience, then all I have to offer stinks.

My friend, I pray for both of us, that we listen to God’s voice as we labor in our callings!

with love. Damaris


If Every Night I Did This

Last night I sat on the porch swing alone and took in a breath of serene. I had nothing in my hands but rest. The fireflies’ intermittent glow was mesmerizing, as I listened to the cicadas’ serenade. My thoughts came to rest on goodness – even my weariness is a daily reminder of my dependence on God. I sighed a short prayer. My Father’s good pleasure allows me the lives of these babies that I so delight in!

In the clear air above me the stars hung low. I felt small, but not insignificant – the day had been a sacrifice of love. Everyday, it seems, my life is imperfectly offered to others. My body was a chair, my body was a cradle, my body was a soft and gentle comfort. I am used, fulfilled, and content.

It was not that yesterday was harder than other days. There was nothing exceptionally draining about it. I craved the tranquility and stillness of that porch-swing moment – the quietness to pray and reflect. Evening solitudes help me get my heart and mind ready for the beautiful mess of the tomorrows.

On that swing, my heart overflowed as I continued to pray for the children – for the moments of the day that they probably will never even remember. I pray for the big one who needs to lean on God to overcome, for the child that didn’t listen to instruction, for the boy who asks questions and tells jokes, for the one who was unkind and needed discipline, for the girl that can’t sit still long enough to eat her breakfast, for the little one that had a difficult time smiling at a kind stranger with a complement. They may never remember these days, but the moments shape me and make me grateful. Mine certainly isn’t an extra-ordinary life, but a life filled with Extra-ordinary Grace.

May my children know today how deeply they are known by God.

with love. Damaris