Saturday, October 15, 2016

Not your average Hollywood

When I moved to California, I knew God was calling me to a different kind of mission field. One that many people back east don't understand to be a mission field. I mean, California is still part of the US. It's not like moving to a foreign country. And yet Los Angeles often feels very much like a foreign country to me. I'm a small town girl. I grew up in the middle of the woods in upstate New York.  I graduated high school in a class of 96 students. Never having a desire to move west of the Mississippi, my life goal was to marry and settle down in Michigan. California was NEVER on my radar. But when I moved home from Costa Rica, I prayed the seemingly innocent prayer of, "Here I am, send me," thinking God would send me to some normal mission field, like El Salvador or Croatia or Uganda. The Lord heard my prayer and does what He does best: surprise me with the answer. He called me to trust him and move to Los Angeles as a missionary to the nations. Because every nation under the sun lives in LA.

The past three years have been a journey for sure. I thought living in Los Angeles was God's goal. Being a small town girl, the first year I lived outside of LA in the sleepy city of Simi Valley where the motto of the city is "Relax and slow down". It was like God was easing me into the waters. The next year I moved into Studio City, which is a burb in "The Valley", yes where Valley girls come from. When Dave and I got married, we legit lived in Bel Air. We had a tiny little apartment in the old section of the canyon that drops down from the valley into Los Angeles. When we had Violet, we undoubtedly needed more space with cheaper rent. We prayed and told the Lord we were willing to move any where in the city that He wanted us to be in. We were open to any place as long as it was the place He wanted us to be. Open the door to the right place and shut all others. And of course I wrote out a list of everything we needed. He obviously heard our prayers We tried for three months to move to the beach where the life style is slowed down and relaxed. We went to open house after open house and applied for half a dozen apartments, literally never hearing back from any of them. We would have been closer to Dave's work and let's all admit it, its so much fun to live at the beach. But then we found out there were going to be some changes at Dave's job and we decided for the best of our family that I would go back to work full time and Dave would stay at home with the baby. As soon as that happened, we decided to look in a totally different area of the city. We looked at one apartment and BAM! here we are in the heart of Hollywood.

In the few weeks we've lived here, Dave and I have had new revelation for why we are here. We were not only called to Los Angeles, but specifically to Hollywood. And what better way to do missions in an area than to go in and live there. Every day we strap Violet in the stroller and walk the Hollywood Hills. We have worship music blasting in the stroller as we prayer walk through our new community. We've been able to explore some really cool areas of the city. Now I don't know about you, but if you're not from Los Angeles it's easy to have a stigma and preconceived notion about what LA is really like. From either Straight Out of Compton street sketch to hoity-toity Beverly Hills entitlement Kardashianism, the perception of LA is either that it's full of flaky, rich, Hollywood stars; Hollywood star wannabes; or criminal street gangsters and bums. While LA has it's fair share of the later, there are also just good, old-fashioned, hard working Americans that just want to have a quiet life that just so happen to live in one of the biggest cities in the nation. What I've come to love about Hollywood is that it's nothing like what I thought it was like. Sure there's Hollywood Blvd with it's fancy star walk and tourist trap bars restaurants, and museums. But Hollywood is so much more than that. It's classy and quaint and charming. Hopefully these pictures I've taken on our walks will change your opinion about what Hollywood is all about.

Is this earthquake tested? Reminds me of some of the houses in Anonos

Life is better under a palm tree

Baby in the front, coffee in the back

Adele super fan

Neighborhood lending library. Take a book, leave a book.

Building is a challenge

I want to live in a castle

The lamp post that leads to a wardrobe

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

My supernatural, (almost) pain free birth

I realize it's been forever since I've written. I've gone through every major life transition possible in the last time year: got married, moved twice, gave birth, had two grandmothers pass away. But it's about time to share my birth experience. I hope it is encouraging to any pregnant mothers out there who wish to have a natural child birth without any pain medication.

My birth room
First of all, I found the most amazing midwife in all of LA. She has a private birth center with only two birth rooms that look like the Beverly Hills Hilton mixed with a day spa. She pretty much guarantees you'll be the only one delivering there because she keeps her mama list small. Her goals for child birth matched mine and she has personally delivered thousands of babies. It was important to me to find a place I felt comfortable in. I work in a NICU next to the labor  delivery  you didn't work so I knew I wanted  something that was completely different from that environment. I also needed to completely trust my midwife.

My husband and I ended up not going to a birthing class. Dave was working second shift and we could never find the right time to go. With my background in neonatal development I really didn't feel I needed to pay for a class and we just got Dave several books that he read. We loved the Bradley Method and really followed that closely. It's all about the emotional sign post of labor and how to handle each phase.. I really worked hard in the months before labor to work on the breathing and visualization techniques. The type of pain experienced in labor and delivery, while extremely physical, is really emotionally and mentally controlled. I also watched several births on YouTube that were marked "pain free, natural labor and delivery".

In April, my church hosted a small conference for expectant mothers run by a woman who write a book on supernatural child birth. She's from England and has four kids of her own. She said to write out a prayer list to pray about before and during the birth, have a verse of meditation, and write out positive affirmation statements. Anyone who knows me knows I love writing lists for prayer.  Every apartment I've ever had came with a long, detailed list of all my wants. Heck, even my husband came from a very specific prayer list. Why should my birth experience be any different? My statements were as follows:
I believe for a supernatural, pain free labor and delivery.
I believe I will not tear.
I believe for a 7-8 pound, healthy baby.
I believe in a peaceful birth without fear.
I believe for a quick labor.
I will not embrace fear or pain, but I choose to embrace peace and joy.

The verse I meditated on was Hebrews 4:9-11
So there remains a [full and complete] Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has once entered His rest has also rested from [the weariness and pain of] his [human] labors, just as God rested from [those labors uniquely] His own. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], so that no one will fall by following the same example of disobedience [as those who died in the wilderness].

I also fully believe that child birth was never meant to be painful. Pain in labor came with the curse at the fall of man. Jesus came to restore our original design, and with that how we were designed to be, including painless childbirths.
The week before I delivered

I can honestly say nothing can fully prepare you for childbirth, but practicing definitely helped. I was hoping she would be born on 7/7 because it's such a cool date, but alas, even after bouncing on a yoga ball, taking multiple miles-long hikes, eating spicy food and even the El Caoti "The Salad" known to induce labor, three days after my due date I was still preggers. I had an appointment with my midwife on Monday, July 18. She asked me if I was ready to have this baby. Of course!!! She stripped my membranes and I went into labor that night at 10pm. 

Labor was not exactly what I expected. How could it? It's like no other sensation known to man. Though there was no sharp or throbbing pain. Just waves of increasingly intensifying contractions. Like the worst Charlie horse centered in your entire lower abdomen. I used a contraction tracking app. My contractions started at 30 seconds long, five minutes apart. There was no gradual build up. The first three or four hours Dave and I spent watching comedy on TV. Each time a contraction would come I'd bounce on my yoga ball and focus on my breathing.  By 3am I was at 1 minute long and four minutes apart. Dave fell asleep on the couch while I got in our jacuzzi tub. I took micro naps between contractions. My favorite moment was texting Dave from the tub to bring me some water. By 6am I was in transition and crawled into my bed to meditate through each contraction. Bethel worship playing constantly. I kept focusing on pressing the app button at the start and stop of each contraction and taking long, deep breaths while watching the seconds tick by. Like when I used to time how long I could plank at the gym before collapsing. I was very internal, not saying anything. Not crying or yelling. Just internally focused. Dave just let me be, letting me focus on my body.   We called the midwife and she said to come in around 9am. Jennie, our birth coach, came around 7am. She rubbed my back and legs and helped apply counter pressure during intense contractions. I stopped counting contractions on my app at this point. 109 contractions accounted for with probably another hundred not tracked. Rocking my whole body back and forth during contractions helped alleviate some of the tension. Dave crawled in bed next to me and just held my hand, encouraging me with soft words.  Breathing and breathing. At 8am the midwife called and said to come in, they were opening up the clinic.

The worst part of my labor was the drive to the clinic. Strapped in the front seat in a seated position I couldn't rock my body, just tap my foot through the twenty minutes worth of contractions on our way in. Bethel music still playing. Still focused in my breathing. When we got there, the student midwife greeted us at the door. I got right in the birth tub. It was 9am when my midwife greeted us, chipper for having actually slept the whole night, unlike us. She checked me and declared we would have a baby by 10am! I was fully dilated and ready to push. The interesting part was my water never broke. My midwife broke it for me some time between 9:15-9:45. I have no real concept of time during the pushing phase. I let everyone move around me. I was concentrating on the intense inner workings of my belly, focusing on what was like a mixture of pain, pressure, and ache. 
Violet the moment she was born
There was never any fear during my labor. But some time during the pushing stage I had to make a conscious choice: prolong the birth of my baby because of doubting my ability to be able to push her out on my own since I've never done this before and I have no idea what it's going to be like or agree with my body that I was designed to give birth just like billions of women before me. I mustered all of my strength and with the help of my amazing team, brought my baby into the world to the song "Child of God" which some where in the back of my brain I noticed had appropriately come up on my playlist. 

Jennie, my long-time friend and birth coach; Simona, my midwife  

Before she was born, as soon as we knew it was a girl, Dave and I started looking at names. We had narrowed it down to Violet or Aubrey but wanted to wait to see her face before officially naming her. As soon as her little face came up out of the water at 10:21am I declared, "Her name is Violet!" I'll never forget the moment she was placed on my chest for as long as I live. We wanted a name that was not too popular while not being hipster or strange. I've only known one Violet and she's one of the coolest missionaries I know. A few days after she was born, we went back to the clinic to have a check up and I suggested to Dave that we buy African violet plants for all of the staff that attended our birth. Dave's face went pale. He told me he had forgotten that his mother, who had passed away three years earlier of cancer, always had African violet plants in her kitchen window because they were her favorite flower. It was like a little hug from heaven.

If I could give women any advice for preparing for a natural childbirth, it would be this: labor is not just physical, it's mental. If you go into labor believing it will be painful and awful, it will be. If you believe it can be a positive, empowering experience, it can be. Surround yourself with positive thoughts related to birth. Focus on how you want your experience to be. Meditate. Practice breathing and focusing for labor well in advance. Read books. Educate yourself on how the body works. Birth does not have to be a scary, traumatic event. Yes, things can go wrong, but pregnancy, labor, and delivery are natural events.

In summary, I had a 12 and a half hour labor and delivery with a little over an hour of pushing. I labored 10 hours at home because it is so much more comfortable at home. We had Violet at 10:21am and were home resting in our own home by 3pm. I had supportive people around me who encouraged me in how I wanted to birth my baby. It is possible to have an incredible, natural birth. I can't wait to have another one (well, maybe I can wait a few years!!!!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hope deferred and restored

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

At the beginning of 2015, this verse really resonated with me. There were days when my heart just felt sick. It was an odd feeling, to be honest. I had never wanted to move to Los Angeles. It was never a dream for me to be in the industry, to make it in Hollywood, to live a glamorous life. In reality, all I really wanted out of life was simple: to love my job, to travel the world for God, to have good friends who I could encourage in life, and to be married with kids. Yes, having a fun-filled life of adventure is awesome, but the deepest desire of my heart has always been to be married. I saw the awesome relationship my parents had and I wanted that for myself. Someone to encourage. Some one to love and be loved by. Some one to travel with and do missions with and have fun with.
Being heart sick was odd for multiple reasons. There was nothing I could complain about in life. I LOVE LOS ANGELES! I never wanted to move here, but once I got out here I fell head over heels for this crazy town. With the people. With the unusual contrast between lush ocean landscapes and barren dessert beauty. With the community and network of friends that adopted me I have a job that pays the bills with extreme flexibility to continue traveling for missions and coworkers that I love to hang out with outside of work. In a transient city where the average length of stay is less than 16 months because of high expenses and a grinding psychology to try to make it, I found myself thriving socially. Some of the most creative people I've ever met are rooted here. I was living in a great location with the most wonderful roommates ever (FELICIA AND SARAH!!!!) We would have girls nights, family dinners, and Bible studies out of our apartment on a weekly basis. And yet me heart was sick. I couldn't complain because life was too amazing. God has been so gracious to me over the past few years. But the one thing that I had always hoped for hadn't happened yet.
Some time in the winter of 2015, I really don't know when, God had to start talking to my heart about hope. Some where along the way I had lost hope that I would actually meet the right guy for me. I had put myself out there in the dating world of LA and it came up lacking. Hollywood glamorizes the dating scene out here. In pretty much any chick flick about dating, which is like every chick flick ever made, and especially in movies that actually take place in LA, they make dating look like this super fun activity full of interesting conversations over lattés, cocktails at exclusive clubs, and men buying you drinks whenever you go out. Let me tell you what; Hollywood lies. About itself. While that may be the case for slender models who like to stay out part my bedtime and frequent the Sunset strip, for us normal, hard working girls the dating scene is LA is just exhausting. Each time you have a first date or a dating event to go to, social etiquette dictates that you get all glammed up, heart open to possibilities, are on your best most cutest behavior, only to be disappointed by not even finding a flake of glitter let alone a spark with someone. Many of the men I met were interesting, but not at all what I was looking for.  Finally one night, after yet another first date that left me deflated, with my two closest girlfriend over to comfort me, I reached a breaking point. I literally laid face down on the carpet of my apartment and wept. God my hope has been deferred for too many years. My heart is sick. God I'm gonna need some Miracle Grow to revive this withered tree in my heart. Hope had died.
And yet the Lord is faithful. I have seen Him pull through over and over and over again. He has provided for me in every season of my life. So I decided to start focusing on the second half of the verse. A longing fulfilled is a tree of life. I asked God to revive my heart. He asked me to start dreaming again. Really? I need to do what? He literally asked me to dream with Him again. To dream about what I wanted in my marriage, what characteristics I wanted in a man, to really search my heart and see what my heart wanted. Anybody can pray for a man, but what kind of man would resonate with my heart? Who am I as a person and what do I have to offer to a man? What kind of man would want to be with the kind of woman that I am? This was all sounding familiar. A few years back when I moved home from the mission field, God taught me a lot about being specific in prayer. This was another area where I needed to be specific. But I needed to know what I wanted to begin with.

Here's what I came up with: loves Jesus above all, tall enough that I can wear heels and not feel self conscious, an adventurous and fun-loving MacGyver type with what I like to call the 3 M's: Music, Missions, and Ministry. These were the things that were most important to me in a relationship and things I felt I could give in return. Things that I felt would compliment me in what I felt my calling in life was. Plus it was more specific than just, "is a decent human being who pays his bills on time and isn't a psycho."

Now here's something I've been pondering for a long time. Why do we feel like in the church we can't ask God for specific things, or to ask for the dreams in our hearts? Do we feel it is selfish? Too much to ask? Will we irritate God with our petty petitions? Or are we so afraid that God doesn't want to give us the things that we desire we would rather not ask and risk it "not being His will for our life"? Where did we pick up this theology? This is the same God who heard Hannah's prayer and gave her a baby, heard Jabez's petition for more land and expanded his territory, heard Elijah's prayer that there would be no rain for years and then to start the rain again, heard Gideon's weird request for a sign of confirmation that God was on his side, and heard Moses' death-wish request to see His face. Were these requests selfish? Were they too big for God? Were they only answered because they were in God's will? This is the God of the impossible that says all things are possible and that He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, willing to do immeasurably more than we could ever hope or imagine.

I started thinking more about the Psalm 37:4: Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of YOUR heart. The crazy emphasis is all mine. As we delight ourselves in the Lord, we start to see how good and faithful He is. However, this is a mutual relationship. In turn, He begins to give us the desires of our hearts. He cares about what is in our hearts and loves to fulfill those desires, mostly because He probably put them there in the first place. He wants more good for us than we could ever hope for or imagine could be possible.

Hebrews 11:1 is a very common and popular verse in the Christian faith. "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." I started to focus on this verse a little differently, on the hope part instead of the faith part. By definition, Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one's life or the world at large. As a verb, its definitions include: "expect with confidence" and "to cherish a desire with anticipation". So in essence you have to have hope before you can have faith. To take it a step further, I'm starting to believe that you have to dream first. A dream is a wish your heart makes, something that you long for or desire. Hope comes along and gives you the optimistic belief that those dreams can become a reality. Only then can faith gives us the confidence to keep pressing in until he tangibly have what we're hoping for.  I felt like God was asking me to dream about the man I wanted to be with to give me something concrete for hope to land on. To be specific with what was in my heart and have hope revived that God actually had someone like that out there for me. And to have faith that some where out there a man was dreaming about a woman like me and having hope that I also existed.

So what dream have you lost hope for? What dreams do you need revived so you can have hope again? It's time to start dreaming with God again.