Sunday, July 15, 2018

How Benny Came

We reached a record breaking temperature of 114 degrees in Whittier the day before I was induced. Grandma and Grandpa Stevens' air conditioning stopped working, and Rose came down with a stomach flu that had her throwing up for the next twenty-four hours. Under the care of my mom, Rose shared her sickness with Jacob, Jessica, Jane, and Terri while Phil and I were in the hospital.

After much deliberation and prayer, Phil and I scheduled to induce a week before my due date. Seeing as Rose's birth was a whopping hour and forty minutes start to finish, I didn't want to be stuck at home with children when I went into labor with baby #3. Plus, this baby was sitting heavy, pressing on nerves, and causing frequent contractions that hindered all activity.

It was time. We drew up plans on what to do for every scenario, but we certainly didn't want to use those plans.

The doctors were of the same mind, so after confirming that PIH had a bed for me Saturday morning, we walked— er waddled into the hospital at 7 am. I'd been dilated to two and then three cm in the last several weeks and now was 60% effaced. The nurses all believed things would go easy for me.

On our way out the door
Regardless, I believed that this labor and delivery would be the hard one, the one where things didn't work out. Certainly, God wouldn't allow me to have three smooth labor and deliveries. Certainly, this one had to be hard, where something went wrong. I suppose I don't know God as well and I think. I keep bracing myself for calamity. But things went as smoothly as possible.

After a check in and answering a few dozen questions—no, I'm not allergic to latex, no, I don't smoke, yes, I understand the risks of an epidural—the nurses started me on the first dose of an antibiotic that needed four hours to get into my blood stream.  Phil and I rested, watched Fixer Upper, and read quietly while we waited. Both the older nurses, Lynette and Karen, were impressed to see Phil and I were reading real books. A little D.E. Stevenson and Lois L'amour passed the time nicely.

They administered the first dose of Pitocin at 11:30 am and allowed me to have an epidural shortly after. The anesthesiologist, Dr. Cola, was chatty, relaxed, and clear about everything he was doing. Some electric-feeling discomfort down my legs prevented him from inserting the epidural as deep as he usually does, but the drug still put my legs to sleep. I "labored" then until about 4pm waiting to feel the urge to push. The contractions weren't so terrible that I couldn't talk through them, but I did count to twenty each time to mark the end of each one.

The contractions were coming one on top of the other when the nurse came in to turn down my Pitocin intake. She checked me at that point and said the baby was just hanging out ready to come. She said she could feel the hair. Ew.

As if ordering a pizza, the nurse called in Dr. Williams who after arriving suited up in a full body garb while we chatted calmly. It was all so different from when Rose came, when nurses where rushing in and putting an oxygen mask on me and somewhat frantically pulling equipment out of the closets. No, this time everything was done as if we were just having tea together. Phil and I and Dr. Williams chatted in between pushes. And in ten minutes Benny was out. Born at 3:24 pm weighing 7 lbs 7 oz.

A filmy-white slippery little boy. I can still hardly believe he was ever inside of me. He cried for a short spell and then calmly looked around as he lay on my chest.

We settled on Jonathan Benjamin Stevens because we both liked Benjamin. Previously the children had favored Benny because that's the name of the youngest boy in The Box Car Children. But to prevent our boy from having the initials B.S., we agreed that Jonathan was a sound first name.

The hospital allows a great length of time to bond with the baby after birth. In fact the baby wasn't measured or weighed for several hours after delivery. A bath didn't come until 6 hours later. This has changed since Rose was born. I guess the hospitals have discovered that keeping baby with mama is best.

Phil and I enjoyed some privacy and peace in the AC of the hospital for the next two nights. About twenty people came and went getting Benny's birth certificate, performing a hearing test, circumcision, taking vitals, temperatures, meal orders, bringing water, meals, medication, drawing blood, ripping off the IV tape, helping me to the restroom, etc.

I have always been impressed with the hospital meals. Just for dinner they gave me a tray with a main course, soup, dinner roll, coffee, cheese cake, canned fruit, and juice. Phil took advantage of his one free meal a day until Monday, when the staff informed us that they'd officially discontinued that perk as of an email that morning.

After double checking Benny's jaundice levels and getting wads of paperwork about this, that, and the other, we were wheeled out of the hospital around noon Monday morning with our new little package in hand. The two volunteer ladies who wheeled me to the curbside were all a twitter over the new baby, and soon Rose and Lee would be too.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lemmings, Cliffs, and Gravity

I’m of the belief that God is involved in everything. I don’t think he set up the laws of nature, such as gravity, momentum, and centrifugal force, and then let things go like a wind up toy. I think he upholds and maintains everything. 

He not only put the sun in the sky, but his power presses gravity inward on the sun’s core to continue the nuclear fusions that keeps the sun burning every hour every day. He not only made water, but he continually holds the oxygen and hydrogen bonds together to prevent their separating. He is always loading electrons with the power behind electricity. He is always propelling the celestial bodies. He is always pumping energy into every plant and animal cell. Without his hand upon every aspect of our world at every moment, the world’s natural laws would stop working.

However, God also made mankind with a power somewhat like his own to influence and change the world. This means that God causes our choices in the natural world to be effective. He actualizes our choices, so to speak. For example, when we lie, God respects our choice and instead of silencing our words, he sees to it that the sound waves travel to those who are listening. When we raise our hands to strike someone, God contracts our muscles to operate according to our ill intent. And when we decide to turn away from the Lord, God continues to fire the neurons in our brains that make this rebellion possible. He both made us and makes our refusal of him possible. That’s what it means to have freewill.

This doesn’t mean that God causes our evil to happen. Evil is our decision to operate contrary to God’s laws. The results of our choices—broken bones and broken relationships—are how God causes our choices to have effect. It’s like God saying, “I will not change my gravitational laws if you choose to jump off a cliff. I will respect your choice and continue to be the force behind gravity even if that means killing you.”

I think that’s why God says things in the bible like: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV). And “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6b ESV). And “The Lord of hosts has sworn, ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand,’” (Isaiah 14:24 ESV).

Yes, I realize this means that God doesn’t just allow pain and suffering. He causes it. Pain and suffering are evidences that God continues to uphold his laws so that both our good choices and our bad choices have effect.

So when we eat too much, God expands our fat stores to accommodate for the excess. That’s how he made the human body. When we miscalculate the load factor on a bridge’s pylons, God maintains gravity’s pull on the bridge until the pylons crumbles.  And when people get caught on the bridge when it breaks, God bruises or breaks according to the strength that he set for our flesh.

This doesn’t mean that God enjoys our suffering or that he is out to get us. “For he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33 ESV). Rather, God causes the pain because he wants us to be beings with power instead of ineffective soft dolls.

Thus, things like cancer and plane crashes and volcanoes and bombs are not actually evil. To say these things are evil is like saying that the spankings or time-outs that we give our children are evil. No, the consequences are not evil; it’s the choices themselves that are evil. The consequences, horrific as they may seem, are evidence that God respects our choices. They’re also evidence that we aren’t using our power properly, and that though we have power, we’re still under the ultimate power of God’s laws. We cannot escape the consequences of what we’ve chosen. 

Certainly, the world wouldn’t be this way if we’d respected God’s laws. For just as we—and by we I mean mankind—fail to respect gravity and thermodynamics and load factors, we also fail to respect the moral laws that God established. The first one being: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16 ESV).

When God told Adam and Eve this, he wasn’t testing them or threatening them or sharing his personal preferences. He was explaining to them how their inner machines operated. And the human machine operates best through relying on the Lord for our understanding of good and evil. The tree’s fruit, real or symbolical, was the choice to acquire a moral understanding with or without the Lord. We chose to acquire it on our own, and God respected our decision. It was like God said, “If you prefer your own good over mine, I will respect your choice and not force you to be on my side. Though it grieves me, I will let you feel the consequences of living without me.”

It would be nice if the Lord could just intervene against his own laws. But just like he doesn’t stop gravity to save us from death, he doesn’t stop the consequences of living a life apart from him. That would be robbing us of our choice. It would be like God saying, “I know you’ve chosen to have your own good, but I’m going to make you choose mine anyway.”

Unfortunately the solution isn’t as simple as changing our minds. See, we are all rather like lemmings that have thrown ourselves off a moral cliff. It doesn’t matter if we change our minds mid-fall. We can’t stop the plummet. Even for the one who decides he or she is going to be really good, they’ll find that they keep slipping up. They can neither act perfect nor be perfect. And by definition, that’s what God’s moral law asks of us. If we wish to be with God, we must be with him in all things.

Perhaps you wonder why God can’t just forgive us the little slip-ups we make everyday. But that is for the same reason that he doesn’t stop gravity whenever we disrespect it. To do this is to take away our power to influence the world. To just forgive us the slip-ups is to take away the consequences of our actions. Suddenly, our choices don’t matter anymore.

No, God cannot undo the laws of gravity to save us from our plummet. But he has inserted one more factor into the mix, and that is the option of falling upon his son who then absorbs the force of our poor choice. That is the only way to prevent moral death.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Hip-Hop Performance

The house is quiet except for the whir of the air conditioning. My mom has taken the children for the night, Phil is still at work, and Katie, our live-in help, has flown to Washington to find a wedding dress with her mom. It's one of those rare moments when the house is my own and I can play my Celtic music loudly. I'm not responsible to feed anyone but myself, and as Phil is going out with Mike Posey for dinner, I'm looking forward to the long evening alone.

There's rejuvenation brought about through the company of other women. And there's rejuvenation through good food and rest and stretching. But the rejuvenation in being alone is entirely different. It's why I set my alarm for six on Saturdays and Sundays. It's those sweet moments of silence in the house before I hear the toilet flush and our bedroom door open, before Mary Poppins starts to play in the living room or a squabble breaks out over what items may be brought to the upper bunk.

Quiet. Stillness. Solitude.

Perhaps it is all the more sweet because it is so rare. Even when both children were at school, I would buzz from one activity to the next, attempting to accomplish as much as I could in the short hours that I had. That was not rest. But this is. I've got to keep off my feet. I've got to keep the contractions from coming. At least until tomorrow when I'll be 37 weeks and the baby is no longer considered premature.

I will use the time to remember and record.

In the garden the corn is growing over our heads. I dust the silks with the tasseled tops every few days to pollinate the corn. We've also got green beans and sweet peas that the children snack on before meals. The other day the two cronies were sitting beneath the tall bush beans' canopy while seeking out the pods. They also graze on the baby fennel and the mint. I can smell them when they walk in the kitchen door.

The backyard has become a dust bowl thanks to Lee and Bigwig's activity. Bigwig pushes the dirt out from his burrow, and Lee clears it away to load his dump trucks or make mud slides or pile it on top of the cement pad. Phil helped me switch the compost and rabbit hutches' positions in the backyard so that the yellow slide can fit back there, making room for our summer pool in the courtyard. The slide, however, has become a new surface to pile dirt. That boy comes inside covered in a film of dust. He would much rather take hole digging classes than Hip-Hop/Jazz classes.

I had to tear him away from his digging project last Tuesday to wipe him down for his and Rose's first dance performance at the Whittier Community Center. The children were not too certain about being dropped off in a new place with no familiar faces in order to do something that they only partially understood. I suppose I don't blame them.

Rose was jazzed about her lipstick and princess ponytail and powdered face. In fact, she got ready an hour earlier only asking for my assistance when she blew baby powder in her eye thinking that's what I meant by "We're going to put powder on your face." Lee was another story. In true Latapie fashion, he wore a black shirt backwards to hide the graphic. Two safety pins held up his pants and I'd colored the rubber edges of his shoes black with a sharpie. I thought he wouldn't be able to tell the difference but he was definitely worried about taking off his red blazer in the humid backstage lest someone see the surfing macaroni graphic on the back.

Phil and I watched a few dozen dancers perform: tap, jazz, contemporary, ballet. Each time a teacher led a row of tiny dancers onto the stage under cover of the blue stage lights, I teared up. Must be the pregnancy hormones; however, an elderly lady in the restroom told me, "No, that's just being a mom."

Lee and Rose danced to "Move Your Feet" for not more than 5 minutes during which the audience was in stitches and I was in hysterical tears. Lee stood there like a deer in the headlights and Rose flapped her hands around until the lights went out and Rose convinced Lee to get into their final pose. The house lights came on one more time to show off their pose before the stage went dark again. Phil turned to me while the audience applauded, "Well, our kids are good at other things."

True. They're good at inventing games. They're good at playing together. They're good at helping each other clean up their spaces before dinner. They're good at identifying plants. They're good at sleeping all night. They're good at eating their vegetables. They're good at listening to long stories and sitting for longish car rides. They're good at holding their breath under freeway overpasses. They're good at quoting Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and The Boxcar Children and The Trumpet of the Swan. They're good at kissing my tummy and asking questions about the baby. They're good at folding their clothes and putting them in their drawers. They're good at buckling themselves into the car and climbing trees. They're good at hugging me goodbye, which is a new development of late, and they're good at forgiving after bickering.

We'll soon see how good they are at being the big kids in the house.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Problem of Pain

To the one who says, “I cannot reconcile a loving and merciful God with all the pain and suffering of this world. If there is a God, he is either wicked or weak.”

I wish to ask: Do you mean that a merciful God would intervene in painful circumstances, or do you mean that he would protect us from the consequences of our choices? Perhaps you mean that a just God would protect the innocent while allowing the wicked to suffer. Or do you mean that God should stop natural disasters from hurting innocent people?

If you mean that a merciful God should intervene in painful circumstances, such as preventing fire from burning our hands or falls from breaking our bones, then it sounds like you wish the laws of nature to be different. That this world should be incapable of hurting us. No sharp edges. No precipices. No blinding lights. No wild animals. Soft. Blurry. Tame.

But I don’t think we want a world without danger. I think we want a world where we know how to properly interact with danger. One without accidents. 

I don’t think we want a world without velocity. We want a world without miscalculations. We don’t want a world without problems but a world where we know how to solve the problems.

But perhaps that wasn’t what you meant. Perhaps you meant that God should protect us from the consequences of our choices. That if we drive impaired, our vehicles should turn into styrofoam. That when we try to gossip, soap bubbles come out of our mouths. That intercourse won’t work with multiple partners or if it does work, that it never passes on an STD or unwanted child. That bullets should evaporate when shot at humans, and that money spontaneously combusts when it’s exchanged greedily. 

But if our poor choices have no consequences, then we have lost the power to choose entirely. That's like saying you can eat cheese or you can eat beef, but the beef isn't beef at all. It's actually cheese made to look like beef. Can we really choose the beef at all? No. 

Similarly, if all our choices circle us back around to painless results, we are not really choosing to steal or kill or slander at all. We shall have no concept or right or wrong for we haven't the ability to choose. 

No. I don’t think we want a world without choices. We want a world where everyone makes the right choices.

Let us suppose then that you meant that God should only allow pain and suffering to happen to wicked people. Then, I must ask, who is wicked? Certainly not you. You’ve done nothing terribly wrong. And what you have done has been for good reason. The time you screamed at the children was because you hadn’t slept well. The rift in that relationship wouldn’t have happened if so-and-so wasn’t so hard to get along with. And what’s so wrong anyway with buying things that bring joy? You can’t be held responsible for the way those products affected the environment. 

I don’t mean to make anyone feel guilty. I mean to show that everyone has their excuses. The drunk driver just wanted to be accepted by his friends. The sex trader was sexually abused as a child. The gossiping diva was told she was worthless and ugly. The woman who drowned her children was locked in a closet for the first three years of her life. The ladder-climbing CEO was dominated by a controlling father. The school shooter was shown more hatred by his peers than a Jew by the Germans. 

We always have an excuse. Some excuses are more obvious than others. Some are wrapped up in generations of destructive patterns. And who is to say which excuses are valid and which are un-excusable? Only an omniscient being would know that. And his judgements might not look good to us because we can't see why he's making them.

I think that’s why so many people think this universe is meaningless. Not because there isn’t a reason for suffering, but because we don't know the reasons. A truly meaningless universe would look like cats raining from the sky, and gravity not working and flowers spilling from our mouths when we speak. No rules, no trends, no consequences, no relationships. That is meaningless.

This world is not like that. When we make poor choices, we see the results, great and terrible as they may be. And those choices have a ripple affect on all those around us. We have the ability to not only affect our children but our children's children's children. A dictator has the power to affect millions. There's no way to escape the influence of those around us, and to take away our power is to turn us into dolls.

And that brings me to the last thing that you might mean.

Perhaps when you say pain and suffering, you mean things like earthquakes and famine, things not caused by man’s choices. If God is good, why does he allow disasters to occur? 

While such natural phenomenas are violent and seemingly random, a study of weather, tectonic plates, and ocean currents might make sense of it all. In fact if we hadn't severed our relationship with God in the garden long ago, who's to say we couldn't understand and control the powerful forces of the earth? Perhaps you might think me crazy, but I think that was what we were meant to do. But because we gave up that power in the garden, we cannot tame it now.

I think I hear you saying, “That was their fault, not mine. Why should I be have to suffer for their poor choices?” 

But that’s like asking if we can be something other than human, or if we can have our power taken away from us. It's like asking if a branch of a tree can be unaffected by the rest of the tree. If the roots take in poison, the rest of the tree will suffer and continue to spread it. No, it wasn’t the branches fault that the roots took in poison, but the branches cannot be saved from the affects of the poison unless grafted into another tree. One with good roots.

And there I must leave off because as long as we shake our fists at the only tree with good roots, we shall not want to be grafted into it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ways that I Lose My Faith

I seem to be losing my faith quite frequently these days. And by losing my faith I don't mean my salvation. I mean my daily reliance on Jesus. 

For example, when I ask God to change someone and I see no change despite fervent prayer, I grow impatient and lose my faith. Turns out I had been believing in a God that would change people the way I thought they ought to be changed, a God fashioned after my own liking with my ideals and my plans. I feel suspended over thin air, realizing the platform on which I was standing is not there anymore. I feel God is not there anymore, and indeed I am right. That god, the false one, was never there.

This is how our faith is tested, and by testing I mean the same thing as a mathematician testing a coordinate to see if it is the solution of a function, or graphing a set of coordinates to see if they fall on a line. Or—if the mathematical illustrations mean nothing to you—it is like baking the dough to see if you’ve added enough yeast, or trying out a new medication to see if it helps the rash go away.

You see, we all of us have a particular image of God in mind when we say our prayers or think of the one who purchased our salvation at the price of his son’s blood, and that image must be refashioned after every disappointment, sorrow, and fear. Without the refashioning, we either begin creating a god after our own likeness or we turn our backs on God entirely like the prodigal son did. 

But perhaps the prodigal son is actually closer to God than the one who continues with his false religion. The prodigal knows his will can’t bend to God’s so he runs away to spend his, and by his I mean God's, resources as he wishes. On the other hand, the one making a false god believes his will is God’s. The prodigal is not far from realizing how inadequate he is without the Lord; the one in a false religion thinks he, unlike all those sinners, is pleasing the Lord.

As for the man who sees that he is suspended over thin air, who sees that he is believing in a false god and chooses to discarded that image, he is transformed by the renewal of his mind, and through testing he discerns what the will of God is (Romans 12:2).

Let me cite another scenario in which I lose my faith. Phil and my back-house studio is vacant. We have a laundry list of action items to complete before the next renter comes in June. We don't have this month's rental income supporting us. Phil’s and my cars both ended up in the shop, and at the start of the month I was too sick to do any work. Phil and I are overwhelmed and exhausted. We don’t know how we'll complete all our work or stay out of the red financially. I grow anxious and short-tempered. I lose my faith. 

Or here is another example: I attended an interview with the principal of Lou Henry Hoover Elementary where Lee will be attending kindergarten next fall, and I was shocked and distraught to learn that the principal wished to put Lee into first grade instead of kindergarten because I held him back last year. I exited the meeting frantic and angry, and went on a rampage rudely venting on school district employees in an attempt to get what I wanted. I lost my faith. 

In the first situation, I feel inadequate to the tasks at hand. In the second situation, I was feeling unjustly treated and afraid of the future.

How frequently I lose my faith that a situation is within God’s scope, that he is prepared to take care of these things too, that he is the one to bring about justice and to give good to his people.

Not too long ago I was reading Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, a gal who fresh out of high school felt called by God to serve in Uganda. Her service there lead to founding the non-profit organization Amazima, adopting thirteen girls, and residing in Uganda permanently. During a fund raising trip to the states, she became overwhelmed with worry about her girls back home.

“I had become so concerned about how I would continue to provide for the children that I forgot I wasn’t even the one who was supposed to do it. I’d been so busy working to raise money that I forgot to ask God for it.” (Davis, 126)

“I keep forgetting to ask God first to heal me, to fill me, to guide me, to rejoice with me. I have to set aside ‘time to pray’ in the morning and at night instead of being in constant communication with him. In Uganda because I was so physically ‘poor’ I was completely dependent on God and spiritually as wealthy as ever.” (Davis, 122)

Reading this was a spotlight on my faithlessness, not only because I hadn’t brought my financial and parental fears to the Lord, but because even in prayer, I was expecting the Lord to deliver in a certain way. Was my faith placed in what God would do or in God himself? I wanted the Lord to help us complete our tasks and supply the extra money and get Lee into kindergarten. Could I still have faith in God if we didn’t finish on time, if our accounts went into the red, and Lee wasn’t permitted into kindergarten?

“You know that under pressure your faith life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. Don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed not deficient in anyway” (James 1:3-4 Message).

Again, in what sort of God did I believe? Was it in a God whose plans matched mine, one who gave me all I wanted, a false god fashioned after my own desires? No, I knew that God was not bound to orchestrate events according to my will.

It's a tell-tale sign that my prayers are faithless when I pray them in fear. I beg God, “Please, do this! Please, please, please. I need this! I must have this! I don’t know what I’ll do without this!”  These are the sort of prayers said with no faith that the maker will take take of me. I am “like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8 ESV).

I lose my faith. 

Again, I have three options: transfer my faith onto the real God whose plans might not be to my liking, flee from this God and his undesirable plans, or follow after a false god. Too frequently I choose the last option. I decide to shoulder the burdens on my own with the belief that God doesn’t care or God helps those who help themselves or that God will step in once I’ve proved my worth. But this is not the God of the bible. It's one created after my own flaws. God cares. He is able to do anything if I trust him. And he is not waiting for me to prove my worth. Chance are if I complete all my tasks myself, I will probably then believe I have earned God’s favor and that now God owes me some easy living or a bit of entertainment or a night's rest without a child interrupting my sleep.

I do not mean that by giving up my hopes for the future and renewing my faith in God that I then sit back and wait for God to get Lee into kindergarten and prepare the studio for the coming renters. But I do mean that any effort I make is done with a newfound rest and delight. I am no longer fretting and fearing that if I don’t do things right, I won’t get what I want. I know the responsibility of making things happen “correctly” is not up to me. There is no fault upon me if things don't go as I like or in a socially acceptable manner.

I take each task every day—scrubbing the studio floor, ordering curtains, selling items on ebay, requesting recommendation letters from Lee’s previous preschool teachers—with prayer. “Lord, is this the task you would have me do today or should I rest to heal from my sickness?” “Lord, please help me be open to Lee going into first grade.” “Lord, should I focus on selling items on ebay or trying to paint the studio?” “Lord, is it really necessary that we re-grout the shower and if not, help me to be at peace with the way things are.”

That is what the Bible means when it says to walk by faith and not by sight, to live in Christ, “to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you,” (Philippians 2:12-13). 

By the way, Lee was permitted into kindergarten after an entrance test, letters of recommendation, a local school council meeting, and several months of suspense. Phil landed five side jobs and I discovered that Mike Hamilton's Kenner Star Wars action figures that he'd given me to sell were worth hundreds. And while Phil and I have yet to finish preparing our studio, we are taking one task at a time, in faith.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Monterey 2018

It's been two years since we visited Ed and Barb at their home in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and the children had been asking for another visit, so we put that on our calendar for this month. Despite coming down with a cold followed by a painful ear infection, I somehow managed to pack up the children and myself and grab some antibiotics at Urgent Care before leaving for our trip.

Taking a vacation with two kids while being 30 weeks pregnant and sick was a new experience. My left ear was plugged for the duration of the trip, and my energy was at an all-time low. Despite that, the vacation was the most restful one I've had since the welcoming of Lee into our family.

Things I would normally fuss about—knowing and planning our events and meals, taking pictures at every stop, kids whining in the car, noisy children bothering restaurant guests, forgetting my tea and deodorant, keeping track of all our belongings, making sure we're driving the right direction—fell by the wayside because I didn't have the energy to worry about them. When we set up our folding chairs on the beach, I wasn't bored or antsy without a book or journal. I was content to just sit and watch the children play. I left my computer at home and my phone in the car. I was too tired to take pictures and my brain felt too mushy to cough up any thoughts to record in my journal. I simply rested. And it was lovely.

I ought to add that without Philip and Ed and Barb, all this relaxing wouldn't have been possible. Phil checked us in and out of Cambria Pines Lodge. He loaded and unloaded the car. He took the children on outings so I could nap. He took pictures and coordinated a breakfast with Luke Shakelford. He acted as the enforcer of rules and the face behind the fun for the children. He handled our vacation schedule and budget as well.

Then Ed and Barb stepped in with outing suggestions and aquarium passes and meals and a love for us and our children that made us feel right at home. They watched the children one morning so Phil and I could grab breakfast at Monterey's First Awakenings. Phil and Ed took the kids to Dennis the Menace Park, and Barb made us sandwiches for a picnic on the beach. They supplied the kids with age-appropriate toys and enough Doc Mcstuffin and sugar to last them the rest of the year.

The children were great travelers this time round. I'm so encouraged to see how each year they become easier to take places. In the car they sat quietly listening to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle or A Series of Unfortunate Events. They drew on their doodle pads, which were a travel gift from Auntie Terri several years ago. Rose dressed her magnetic doll and Lee found Waldo. They indulged in Cheetos and fruit leather and PB&J bars from Trader Joes. And even though we still had to stop for the restroom every hour or so, I welcomed the bathroom pit stops too.

We spent one night at Cambria Pines Lodge, stopping at Padaro Beach Grill on the way up. This year Phil secured us a corner room with a forest view and a living room separate from the bedroom. I don't know why we haven't requested this prior years. That was definitely the way to go. After putting the kids to bed, Phil and I could stay up an entire thirty minutes before we too conked out. That's luxury right there.

Highlights included rock hopping at Moonstone Beach, the children wading through neck-high  nasturtiums at the Cambria Pines Lodge kitchen garden, the yellow mustard so vibrant and the oaks so majestic along highway 46, spotting dead jelly fish on the sandy beach, picking up hermit grabs and touching sea "enemies" at the tide pools, homemade meat loaf and asparagus at Ed and Barb's, watching the sea otter video and standing in the splash tunnel at the aquarium, spotting a doe and her fawn in Ed and Barb's front yard, watching the children perform somersaults on the fake turf in their front yard, Ed tossing fancy shells onto the rocks for Lee and Rose to find, acquiring a list of book suggestions from Barb, Ed playing Guess Who with Lee, Rose's delight at collecting colorful pebbles, sipping cool kombucha on the beach, listening to Lee explain to newcomers what fish were swimming in the open ocean display at the aquarium, children in their underwear leaping from the rocks, watching the train go by at Padaro Beach Grill, hearing how Lee would've defeated the snow monster in Frozen, sleeping in until 7am almost every morning, Phil doing a load of laundry at Ed and Barbs, the children's excitement when showing Ed and Barb our 2017 family movie, being content with only hearing half of what's going on, and Lee expressing that he was so excited to go home because he missed his blankets and bed.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Pros of Being Pregnant

1. Elderly ladies smile sweetly at me.
2. Strangers know exactly how to start up a conversation.
3. I don't need to explain my frequent bathroom visits or chocolate binging.
4. People understand my need to sit down.
5. I can quietly observe the children rough housing without joining in.
6. Friends and family always ask how I'm feeling.
7. Doctors ask me all sorts of caring questions and want to see me often and measure me.
8. I can eat normal-sized meals without feeling full and still have room for dessert.
9. I don't worry about bloated days.
10. I have a whole new set of clothes given to me by friends and family.
11. Being cute means being huge.
12. My children talk to my tummy.
13. Sitting around and putting my feet up is considered taking care of myself.
14. I'm seized by the urge to get rid of excess stuff.
15. Friends offer me their extra baby equipment.
16. The children offer me their name suggestions: Lee-Lee and Duegoo and Shnee
17. People hold the door open for me and offer to carry things for me.
18. Weight gain is normal.
19. My baby likes to inform me of his presence with pokes throughout the day.
20. I don't have to feed the baby or change the baby or hear the baby crying yet.
21. Staring at my stomach's movement is a form of entertainment.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why Church Was Not For Me

I used to rate church on Sundays based on several things.

1) Did I feel drawn closer to God through a particular song in the worship service?
2) Did something the pastor say stir me to action or conviction or repentance or enlightenment?
3) Did anyone take particular notice of me by asking me questions or complimenting me or showing interest in what I had to say?
4) Did I shed light on any group discussions by pointing out something that everyone else had failed to see?
5) Did I supply someone with some help?
6) Did I steer all small talk towards deeper, more soul-altering conversations?

If I was able to answer two or more of these questions in the affirmative, I usually thought the Sunday was relatively successful. But if no one took any interest in me, and I made a fool of myself in a group discussion, if my mind wandered in the sermon and I found all the songs more annoying than worshipful, then I went home brooding and full of angst.

The pastor should have used more examples to keep his audience engaged. All that chit-chat with super-smiley, super-made-up ladies after the service just goes to show you that no one was affected by the sermon because if they had been convicted, they wouldn't have been discussing the weather or where they bought their outfit. They would've turned to one another and began discussing how they were now going to go and do likewise. And I can't believe I listened to that long-winded lady talk about her garden for fifteen minutes. She never once asked me a single question about my life. She's so self-centered.

I now recognize several things.

1) By waiting for the music to match my mood, I was allowing my lazy and gluttonous spirit to prevent me from worshipping someone greater than myself.
2) By expecting a passionate, intellectual, and applicable sermon, I was missing the small and simple reminders in the message. To remember where I have come from and to where I am going.
3) By expecting others to take particular notice of me, I was relying on my fellow-church goers to make me feel loved or important.
4) By hoping to bring wisdom to group discussions, I was believing that my understanding was far superior to others and that their simple contributions weren't valuable.
5) By thinking it was my job to give someone advice, I thought that I had the power to change them.
6) And by trivializing small talk, I was merely hiding my disinterestedness in others behind a facade of spiritual snobbery.

There was no trying to "fix" my attitude towards church. When I tried to be selfless—that is listening to others talk about things of which I didn't care—I always came away feeling depleted and resentful and wondering why others didn't notice my sacrifices. And when I kept my mouth shut in group discussions, I felt like a plugged volcano listening to the seemingly foolish and off-topic things that others said. And while I was able to keep myself from criticizing the service by working on my to-do list or reading the bible quietly to myself, that didn't really seem like the right thing to do.

Like I said, there was no "fixing" my attitude. But then again, no one gets fixed through effort. We can only be fixed when we've completely depleted our own moral efforts, after all our tricks have failed and disguises worn out. It is only when we come to the very end of our own attempts that we say, "I cannot do it. You must." Only then does the Lord do the heavy lifting.

Selflessness. Love for others. That is the trick to benefiting and enjoying church. A selfless person sees church as a place to listen. They see it as a privilege, a powerful force, a place to remember, a chance to know and learn from other's faith. But a self-centered person hates church because church seems to spotlight their selfishness in a most uncomfortable manner.

Now this spotlight could be a very good thing, if it brings a person to cast themselves at Jesus' feet and say, "I'm terrible. I can't do this. Help!" But if the uncomfortable feelings drive a person away from the cure, it is a tragedy. They were so close to asking for help. They were so close to Jesus and a life of real love.

It is this love for others that can't be contrived or manufactured or faked. When we fake it, we keep track of things and grow bitter and resentful and exhausted. But when it's produced from within us, that is, we ask and believe that Jesus can do it within us, it's genuine and easy and natural. Alone, we are incapable of this kind of love. It only comes when we invite the Lord to do it within us.

The steps go like this:
1) Try as hard as you can to follow Jesus' commands to love one another.
2) When you find you can't, give up.
3) Believe that Christ can do it in you.
4) Ask him to do it.
5) Watch as he generates this new love in you from a new heart.
6) Begin to understand why church is for you.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Character Study: Ashley Emerson


Mantra: “I make music, fiction, and lots of mistakes.”


Trusted Carryall: A drawstring bag where she keeps all her essentials so switching purses is easy (1)  


Purse of Choice: Brown Tote by Constanza Rota (2)

Signature Scent: Replica, Jazz Club by Maison Margiela. (Shhh . . . it's actually a male scent.)

Everyday Shoe: Mark Fisher Limited brown suede boots (3) 

Every Home Should Have: "A teapot, any teapot will do."

Oldest Possession: Play jewelry and scans of fashion drawings from her great aunt

Collectibles: When she was young, she used to collect sand dollars and junior ranger stamps on camping trips.


Favorite App: Audible (4): a free audiobook app. She pays a monthly subscription to get books as well as audiobooks.

Favorite Flower: "Gluten free . . . just kidding . . . succulents."

Repeated Read: Journey of Souls (5) by C.D. Baker, a historical-fiction novel about three siblings from Germany in the 13th century

Place to Shop: T. J. Max. She loves the quality and variety as their merchandise changes all the time.

Favorite Color Combo: Earth tones and dark gray

Pet: If she had a pet, it would be a small black poodle named Sherlock. (6)


On her playlist: Back in Black by AC/DC, La Grange by ZZ top, Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin, My Boy by Billie Eilish

Where She'd Love to go Next: L’Abri in Switzerland: a Christian philosophy camp where you make all your own food and at night you discuss matters of the soul (7)

Cooking: Zucchini muffins

Breakfast: Eating breakfast takes too much time. Just a coffee with cream and sugar followed by an early lunch.

Show: If she had time to watch something right now, she'd watch the Netflix show The 100 about teens sent from space to a post-apocalyptic earth. (8)


On Her nightstand: The side of her desk serves as a nightstand. On it sits lip balm, a coaster, a Sandalwood candle, and a dead plant.

Her Confidant: Her mom

To Unwind: She drinks mint tea, sits in front of the fire, and thinks.

Her Secret Weapon: Research, she could do it for days.

Life Hack: She doesn’t use a wallet, just a big binder clip to keep her cards together (9)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

What to Do When You Discover You Didn't Marry Superman

Step One: 
Don't panic. You are merely adjusting to how you relate to your new surroundings, much like having to adjust to walking on the moon. Turns out you were living in a dreamland, and this is merely the cold shock of reality overcoming you. You didn't marry superman. Given time, you will be able to navigate this terrain. For now, say this ten times to yourself, "No man is superman but Jesus."

Step Two: 
Don't fall into the trap of thinking your husband is exceptionally pathetic or grossly sinful. If all of men's flaws were put on display, you would see quite clearly how your husband's are rather common. You have a single window into a single man's heart. Do not fret. No blemish, quirk, or sin is too trivial or too great for God's notice and care. God cares that you are irritated.

Step Three: 
Do not abuse the privilege of insight into your husband's heart by putting his flaws on display for your girlfriends. You would be mortified if your husband put your physical blemishes on display for his man friends. If complaints are always on your mind, chances are they will inadvertently bleed out in your speech. The trick to keeping complaints out of your speech is to keep them out of your mind. And the trick to keeping them out of your mind is to set your mind on other things. Begin a daily list of all the ways your husband is a blessing. When you find yourself thinking about how your husband did something wrong, ask God to stop your thoughts and then deliberately choose to list what your husband has done right that day. Example: woke up on time, showered, dressed himself, went to work, etc.

Step Four: 
By all means, find better systems to living. If you were hired as the personal secretary to a CEO, and much to your chagrin, the CEO kept calling you "Toots," do politely ask him to stop. Likewise, if the CEO has a terrible filing system, help him sort things out. Learn to work the company more efficiently and with the utmost respect and courtesy. Truth be told, the company would fall apart without you. And you are there to make it not just function better but grow.

Step Five: 
Do not be tempted to return to your dreamland with statements like: "Is it too much to ask . . . " and "All I want is . . . " Chances are, even if he did learn to perform that task correctly, you would then focus on his next imperfection. The reality is you are discontented with anything except perfection from him while you extend grace and patience to yourself. Do not be shocked that you love yourself more than him. We are all born selfish. Yes, this news can be alarming to those of us who thought we were better. Tell yourself and God this reality and then remember that God doesn't love you based on your merit but the merit earned through Jesus' perfect life and death.

Step Six: 
Say the following ten times to yourself and to anyone who asks how your marriage is, "It is a God-meant work in process." The weaknesses in him and the weaknesses in you were meant to unearth your need for Christ daily. Congratulations! Your marriage is working.

Step Seven: 
Let the Lord, not you, work on your husband. He is not your project or child. God will take care of his sanctification. When you are tempted to hint or correct or teach him, tell the Lord about it. God's work is much more effective and powerful than your own meddling.

Step Eight: 
Regain the respect for your husband that you once had before learning he wasn't superman. This is nearly impossible to do while simultaneously contemplating his deficiencies. Review Step Three to re-center your thoughts, then ask the Lord to help you regain respect. There are several ways to help this process. One: observe him in action at his job or doing something he does well. Two: ask his mother to remind you of his strengths. Three: daily list what he does well.

Step Nine: 
Find someone to keep you accountable regarding your words and thoughts about your husband. Someone who is going to encourage you to lean upon the Lord and not someone who is going to encourage you to complain more. Meet and pray with them regularly.