Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Just Us" Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving.  It has been my favorite for a long time, easily beating the commercially driven Christmas.  Thanksgiving means family.  Time to sit and laugh.  Time to cram into the kitchen, butts squeezing past each other, snitching tastes of dishes and making precious memories. 

My favorite Thanksgiving memory was when I was in York College.  My sister, a friend and I drove from York, Nebraska to Missouri to spend Christmas with two of my aunts, their family, my grandparents, my parents and my siblings.  The women had developed a tradition of bringing homemade gifts for everyone.  My aunt made fluffy, crocheted scarfs for all the ladies and Mom made us all aprons. We posed in a chorus line for pictures, wearing our new gifts, laughing at ourselves. It was joyous!

This Thanksgiving it was just us.  Just my little family.  I really struggled with being alone.  The date snuck up on me and I, incidentally, delayed in asking people over.  By the time I remembered to invite, everyone already had plans.  Surprisingly, no one in our sweet church thought to invite the Keys over for Thanksgiving Dinner.  So I planned our simple menu.  Cooked the traditional meal alone in my kitchen, remembering the past Thanksgivings, relishing memories and singing Christmas songs. 

My melancholy mood slowly diminished as the day wore on and grew more and more special.  I realized, looking around my small home filled with children, that someday, these little people would be at the top of my list for attendants to my Thanksgiving meals.  In a few short years, my children will be busy with their own lives.  It occurred to me that in 2031, if "only" my kids came to dinner, I would be overjoyous.  My Thanksgiving epiphany renewed my heart.  By the end of our meal preparations, all my favorite people were in the kitchen.  Isaiah and Lela Mae washed the big pots and pans.  Rose mashed the potatoes.  Samuel stirred the sweet tea and the baby watched the commotion from his bouncy seat.  Jason stood back and enjoyed the business.  It was heaven! 

Our day wasn't full of Grandma's loud guffaws and Aunt Catherine's oyster stuffing was missed.  Mom wasn't here to spoil her grandkids and we didn't sit around and sing hymns (a wonderful Bentch tradition).  These memories are like hot chocolate on a cold day, warming my heart and bringing a smile to my face. 

But I did sip coffee with the love of my life and watch the Macy's Day Parade.  I enjoyed our alone day and created new memories to stock pile away in my Thanksgiving memory file.  Truly, the lives around my Thanksgiving table are the most important to me and I am incredibly grateful to share my favorite holiday with each of them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day One with No Sugar

Thank you for the huge response after last night's post.  Your sincere messages and comments encourage and inspire me.  It means so much to know I am in your prayers. 

I know that food addiction is a problem.  Many of you shared with me your own issues.  I believe there is hope for us!  I am reading a wonderful book called "Made to Crave" by Lysa TerKeurst.   It has inspired me to replace my cravings for food with cravings for the Almighty God.  Only God can satisfy.  Lysa reminds me that I am made for more.  I am made for more than the vicious cycle of dieting, failure, binging, guilt...dieting, failure, binging, guilt...again, and again.  I was made more!

I am also working out to Faithful Workouts. I bought a 3 DVD work out set for just $25.  I love the Christian saturated work outs.  The women are fully dress (no bare midriffs or butts hanging out), the work out is accompanied by Christian music and Michelle Spadafora, the fitness instructor, gives a short devotional during the last five minutes.  Working out has always energized me, physically. Now exercising with Faithful Workouts I am energized both physically AND spiritually.  I love it!

Day one with no sugar has gone well.  Too well.  I am waiting for the craving ball to drop.  I know I am weak.  I know this soothing peace will pass and I will have to stand up against unhealthy cravings.  Gratefully, in my weakness, I am made strong through Jesus Christ.  He is my power.  I will hold to his mighty right hand and battle through this stronghold.  One day at a time...

Monday, November 14, 2011

quietly reflecting on starting again

It is quiet here.  Another day has rushed and swirled around us; time slipping quickly away.  My precious treasures are safely tucked into their beds.  The handsome hubby snoozes, keeping our king-size bed warm for me; I'll be there soon. 

I could  not resist a few minutes of quiet thought and reflection.  I have spent the past hour scanning my blog, reading old posts from 2009.  It was a good year for us.  I grew in the Lord a lot that year.  I'm glad I kept an account of our family on this blog. 

The past few weeks have been difficult for me.  I have done much soul searching and God seeking.  My biggest struggle, for better or for worse, is with food.  It seems so silly to type that out, but it is true.  Those who have a healthy relationship with food may not understand.  Those of you who cringed and felt instantly uncomfortable cause I just hit your ouchie button...  well, you get me. 

I have recently accepted the reality of my food problem.  I am fearfully and faithfully stepping out and trusting the Lord to be my everything.  Tomorrow, I quit sugar.  (Geesh.  Just writing that scares the crap out of me!)  I want to be what God has called me to be and scarfing down candy to comfort myself...  a-hem.  It ain't pretty.  I want to crave God more than I crave a SNICKERS. 

I need your prayers, please.  And I could really use your verbal support.  If you struggle in this area, please message me so we can encourage each other.  I am thinking of starting a support group here in Alamogordo.  We'll see how things work out. 

Tomorrow is a brand new day.  A day of freedom.  You might find me on my face before the Lord.  Here's to new beginnings!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Keys House Of Learning

I am learning more and more every day what it really means to be a homeschool family.  Homeschoolers are a society all to themselves.  While some families work diligently to popularize their children and sink them into the world's culture, homeschool families take steps to ensure their children are different.  Gasp!  I know, I know, Heaven forbid our children don't look like the popular kids.  It goes against my grain, too.  But the reality is I want my kids to look like Jesus Christ; I want them to represent true, Bible based Christianity.  Current culture is far from Biblical truths.  If I'm doing my job right, my kids will stick out in society.

**side note**  Children in formal schooling can also be amazing examples of followers of Jesus Christ.  We have chosen to school at home, but I certainly do not judge other families and their choices.  I do urge parents (homeschool AND traditional school) to check their definition of success, ensuring it lines up with God's definition of a successful life.***

Teaching my children a godly lifestyle is the foundation of our homeschool.  Christ is interwoven in everything we do.  We talk about God when we play outside; how he created the mountains and the sky.  God is the reason our bodies work so splendidly perfect.  God gives us the ability to learn and to read; he truly is linked to our teaching.

As a one-income family, I constantly seek the Lord for financial direction.  Curriculum costs are ridiculous and it is definitely not "in the budget" to sink $500 in schooling materials, per kid (that's times three now).  My faithful Father pointed us in several directions and we have started this years' curriculum for all of a mere $25, plus miscellaneous expenses for computer paper, printer ink, pencils, glue, etc. 

All three of my school-age kids are going through the Funnix program.  Funnix is a reading program downloaded onto our home computer from the Funnix $25 CD.  By the end of the 200 lessons, the student should be reading at a 3rd grade level.  Isaiah is sailing along.  I am supplementing more alphabet learning with the girls.  Even three-year-old Samuel has done a lesson or two. 

Curriculum for all other subjects are a conglomeration of online resources, the library and books from our own collection.  It's so cheap...  I feel like I'm stealing. 

I also sought the Lord for direction on organizing our days.  I have so many little ones to teach, it is often incredibly overwhelming.  Right now (and life changes moment by moment), we do English and Science on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Math and Social Studies are Tuesdays and Thursdays.  It sounds like we're not doing a lot, but we actually continually teach on all subjects all day long.  Kids learn so much from playtime and general interaction with adults.  With a steady stream of conversation between me and the children, I am always teaching. 

Grace abounds in our home.  Learning is not a race.  Subject by subject, one day lesson at a time, I am confident in the Lord that we will produce some awesome homeschool graduates! Now, let's get back to our ABCs and 123s...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Let the Mess Be

Do the kids' bedrooms ever drive you nuts?  They do me.  I'm beginning to think toys are overrated. 

I finally carved half an hour to spend in Rose and Lela's room on Tuesday.  Not an easy feat considering I'm learning to juggle a newborn plus four plus homeschooling plus housework.  Thirty minutes sorting toys was a treasure I gave to my girls.  A treasure they did not recognize.  By Wednesday afternoon, several of the toys I had carefully divided into appropriate bins, found themselves strewn across the floor once again. 

My discovery of the messy toys loosened the connection between my tired mommy brain and my overly worked mouth. The mantra began, loud and clear, as I marched around their room, becoming hysterical over the piles of dirty clothes, dollies, toy dishes, toys, toys and more toys.  I was hyperventaling while the girls just stared at me, wide-eyed and uncaring. 

Later that day, I laid in bed, nursing the baby, my thoughts scattering and collecting themselves.  I discussed the girls' mess with the Lord, my Problem Solver. 

"God, please forgive me for yelling at the girls." I sighed, full of guilt.  I felt his forgiveness seep into my spirit and soothe my anxious heart.  "Lord...  you're so good to me." 

"Why are you concerned about their rooms?" He whispered to me. 

"Lord?  Why?  Well, it's just...  You know, they need..." My explanations fizzled out and I stopped to really think it out.  Why did it matter so much to me? 

"Jessica, the rooms are theirs.  You have the living room.  The dining room.  The kitchen.  Your own bedroom.  You are busy keeping those rooms clean.  Let the bedrooms go.  Oh, you still need to teach them and train them in how to keep a clean bedroom.  It won't be easy.  But you don't need to invest your emotions into your children's bedrooms.  Let it go."  The words of my Father answered my prayers.  His faithful response, full of wisdom, made total sense. 

It may be too simple, but ignoring the mess is my solution right now.  I'm seriously contemplating reducing the toys to what can easily fit into one toy box and nothing more.  Other than that, I'm learning to let it go.  It hasn't happened over night, you understand.  I still feel an adrenaline rush of aggravation when I go in their rooms to kiss them good night.  But I'll get over it.  I believe it will be for the best. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Life With Five

Adding a baby into the family is like a comet barreling into the earth's atmosphere.  Routines are a joke.  The house is a mess.  And everyone's crying. 

In the days post partum, life pulled me along and I stumbled, trying to keep up.  It felt like I was drowning, my head bobbing up occasionally, sputtering for air and coughing up water. 

Four weeks later, I am blinking and staring at the light wondering how the heck did my tiny bundle become this fat baby?  And when did I start making Isaiah empty the dishwasher?  How long has the girls' room been trashed?  Has Samuel always been so big?

I forgot how much I enjoy my children.  I became a cranky-you-know-what during my pregnancy and I struggled to get through each day, often resorting to hollering and crying.  Now that I feel more like Non-Pregnant Jessica, my kids are much more enjoyable.  They're actually fun again!

Oh, and who is this hunky man I share a bed with every night?  Jason was so patient and gentle with me during the pregnancy.  He took over most of the household chores.  (Or taught the kids how to do them.)  He cooked dinner and did the bedtime routine.  Jason was awesome.  As I feel more and more like ME, my eyes adjust and I feel like I'm falling in love with him again.  Aw....

So, things are good at the Keys' House.  We have five kids.  Wow.  Sometimes, I look around and think, "someone's missing!"  But a quick headcount reassures me that, no, there are five kids in the living room, and life with five really feels this natural.  I am one grateful and blessed woman!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Why I Chose an Epidural

Things change.  People change.  I changed my mind.

I am a natural birth supporter.  I think birth is an amazing opportunity to realize the strength and power God gives women.  I committed to un-medicated labor four previous times.  Number Five was different.  I was weary of the pain of childbirth.  I chose an epidural. 

When the pregnancy began, I told Jason I wanted an epidural.  He did not have peace about it and I did not want to make the decision on my own.  Begrudgingly, I decided to not pursue it without Jason's 100% support.  Pregnancy marched along and I prepared for another all natural birth. 

Three weeks before Matthew was born, I got scared that the baby wasn't moving enough and we raced to the hospital to be monitored.  As I laid in the hospital bed, hooked up to monitors, watching TV, I couldn't help but think "this could be how my labor goes".  I mulled that over for a few weeks.  I re-opened the topic with Jason.  He caved in and gave me the go ahead.  "Let's try it with this one", he said. 

I was blessed to have a wonderful OB, Dr. Hewitt.  Throughout the summer, I prepared Dr.Hewitt for my labor.  I printed out a detailed birth plan with unusual requests like "mother will bathe the baby"; "no eye drops in baby"; "mother wants to labor in any position"; etc.  Dr. Hewitt nodded along, interested and intrigued by my past homebirth experiences.  It was a huge surprise to the kind doctor when, at my last prenatal appointment, I said, "Don't be shocked... but I've decided I want an epidural".  She just laughed and marked my chart. 

How could I choose an epidural when I know all the risks and I also have already had four babies without pain meds?  Something changed in me between Samuel and Matthew's birth.  I grew up.  I lost a baby (my little October baby).  With the other childbirths, "the birthing experience" was very important to me.  This time, I just wanted my baby.  I didn't care how he got from inside my womb to into my arms; I just wanted him to be healthy and alive. 

The first few days post partum, I began second guessing my decision for the epidural.  Over and over again, I let the scary reaction of the epidural run through my mind.  I followed "what if" rabbit trails.  I regretted my decision.  Until I remembered...  during the labor, I was thrilled with my epidural.  I enjoyed labor; that had never happened before.  After a few days, I laid the obsessive worrying aside.  I embraced my decision and the joy it gave me during labor. 

Would I have an epidural again?  I don't know.  I don't even know if we will have a sixth baby.  I'm considering adopting as opposed to going through pregnancy/childbirth again.  But that's another day.  Another baby. 

Would I encourage other women to have epidurals?  It's a personal choice.  Having a child naturally is incredible.  But my epidural birth was incredible, too (aside from the initial reaction to the drugs).  I encourage women to research all their options and then be open to whichever direction labor takes you.   

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

My Baby!

A proud Papa and Momma and a fussy Matthew. 

 I am admiring Mr. Matthew; I did good! 
Note the old hospital room they put us in.  Green walls!
And there's my mother in the background, texting my daddy.

Matthew's Birth Story

**Here is Matthew's birth story, as requested by my darling fans (love you CH,  Autumn W. and Lindsey B.!!)  Per my usual, it's very detailed.  Warning to the faint of heart!!**

I have birthed five babies. Two in a hospital, three at home; only one with an epidural.

The Braxton hicks contractions that had been assaulting me for over a month turned serious on Tuesday, August 23rd. All day I felt contractions that hurt down low in my abdomen. Tuesday was the day my friends were coming over to bless the baby, me and my upcoming birth. All through the Mother Blessing, my contractions continued. My mother and sister had arrived from Wyoming on Monday, August 22nd, and my mother continually studied me. These contractions were serious and she knew it.

I went to bed around 10pm on Tuesday night, wondering if the painful contractions would really bring labor or if I might be the one woman in the world to be pregnant forever. As the contractions continued and woke me off and on through the night, I knew this was it. Around 3:30am, I started timing the contractions. They were between five and eight minutes apart and lasted 30 to 60 seconds; still easy to manage. Around 4:30am, the contractions got harder and were consistently five minutes apart. I decided to wake up Jason.

“I think we’re gonna have a baby today, Jason,” I whispered to him. He rolled over, quite awake and stared at me. I grinned and gave him an update on my contractions.

“And you just now woke me up?” he asked. I shrugged. We laid in bed talking through a few contractions. Jason recognized the pain and the consistency, and agreed that a baby was definitely on the way today. We got up and started packing for the hospital, going over my previously prepared list. While we packed, the contractions picked up and became too painful to talk through.

I woke my mother and sister around 5:45am and told them we would have a baby today. They were very excited and started getting ready to leave for the hospital. I texted my friend, Kim, who was our amazing childcare person. She lived an hour away and estimated she should arrive at our house around 7:15am. Mom and Rachel stayed at the house until Kim arrived and then they joined us at the hospital.

Jason and I finished packing and began the hour long trip to our hospital in Ruidoso. Leading up to the labor, I had worried about the long drive, but it ended up not being an issue at all. Jason drove fast, and I closed my eyes and sang praise and worship songs. Singing was very comforting to me and helped manage the now very painful contractions.

Arriving at the hospital, we discovered they were full of post partum moms and laboring moms. We were given the back-up, back-up room. It had green tiled walls, no TV, no bathroom and was full of storage. I didn’t care. I was here to have a baby, not a party. Bring it on.

I told the OB nurse, Chrystal, I wanted an epidural. She was looking through my birth plan. I told her to forget the first few pages as I had changed my mind in the past few weeks and no longer desired a painful, un-medicated birth. Chrystal closed up my file and helped me get into bed. She told me all the things they would do before I could get an epidural. First on the list was to check me and see if I really was in labor. Chrystal checked me and told me I was only at a one. I just about cried. My OB, Dr. Hewitt, walked in right about then and also checked me. Dr. Hewitt found me to be at a five, much, much better! Apparently, I’m hard to check; they had to practically dig for my cervix every time they checked me.

Dr. Hewitt wished me the best, said she’d be in touch, and left the room. The nurses ran my blood, looking for the palatal count and gave me a full bag of IV fluids to raise my blood pressure. I signed the release form for the epidural.

The anesthesiologist, Dr. Wrath, joined us in the room. “Everybody out,” he said severely, looking pointedly at my mother and sister. Mom and Rachel left quickly, assuring me they would be praying for us. Then Dr. Wrath turned his serious stare at Jason, “you have to sit down,” he said. Jason and I laughed before we realized the doctor was serious.  Jason quickly sat down.

I was very nervous at this point. I considered backing out of the epidural. All the horrible possible complications from an epidural ran through my mind. I knew all the risks by heart because I had researched epidurals over and over again. Yet, here I was, choosing an epidural. My heart raced, and I doubted my decision. My mind imagined telling Dr. Wrath never mind and to please leave. But I dug up some courage and determination, reminding myself that a pain free labor was right around the corner.

I hung my legs off the side of the bed while they pumped the bed higher and higher. Dr. Wrath, a tall, young, athletic man, began laying out his supplies. “Don’t put your hand to your right,” he said.

“She brought her own gown,” Chrystal answered an unasked question.

I heard Dr. Wrath sigh from behind me. “Well, I can’t promise to not get blood on it,” he said shortly.

“I don’t care. I know birth is gory. It’s ok,” I said, trying to reassure him.

He numbed my back and inserted the epidural catheter. It hurt, but not terribly. He put in a small dose of medication and we waited. “Do you feel dizzy? Light headed?” Dr. Wrath asked me.

Aside from my nerves, I felt fine. Satisfied that no allergic reaction was coming, Dr. Wrath hooked the medicine up and it flowed through my body. I immediately only felt the pressure of contractions and no pain. I sighed deeply. It was going to be OK.

Dr. Wrath taped my back up with the epidural tube and Chrystal instructed me to lie down. I begun to feel sick. “I feel kind of … weird, “ I said as I gently laid back on my bed.

“What do you mean ‘weird’?” Dr. Wrath asked.

“Like I’m gonna pass out,” I said, my voice trailing off as my blood pressure plummeted and I began to travel into unconsciousness. Everyone sounded far away and I felt my hands drop limply to the side. The next ten minutes were odd and scary. I woke up with ringing ears and sweat drops all over my face.

Chrystal shoved the baby’s heart monitor over my abdomen. I heard nothing. She moved it again. Nothing.

“Is the baby OK?” I asked, my voice weak. She didn’t answer me. No one did. Then a slow heart beat filled the room. Much too slow for a baby. I drifted out again.

“Jessica, we’re going to put a fetal monitor on the baby,” someone said. I saw two older nurses leaning over me, shoving their hands inside me. My water broke.

“Meconium.” The word was passed between the six medical professionals surrounding my bed.

“Jessica, can you get on your side?”

“Get the mother oxygen.”

An oxygen bottle and mask were shoved at my face. I took deep breaths, lying obediently on my left side. The heartbeat came up, but not by much.

“Jessica, roll over on the other side.”

Gloriously, the baby’s heart rate rose again to a safe level. I noticed Dr. Hewitt had joined the brigade around me bed. She looked at me and smiled reassuringly.

“Can my husband come over here?” I asked wearily.

Jason quickly appeared and held my hand. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I shouldn’t have had the epidural…. I made a mistake.”

He leaned in close to me and said, “It’s too early for that. We’ll talk about that later. It’s OK. The baby’s OK. You’re OK. Don’t worry.”

The worse was over. I was numb from the waist down. My blood pressure was normal again and the baby’s heartbeat thrummed healthily. Dr. Hewitt checked me one more time before she headed to her clinic. It was 10am and I was dilated to a seven. Dr. Hewitt expected a baby by lunch.

I started shivering uncontrollably. The nurses weren’t worried. Mom and Rachel rejoined us and we filled them on the scary ten minutes they missed. Jason found a blanket and covered me up. The shivering subsided. We settled in for the waiting game.

I labored without pain. It was amazing. Every now and then I could feel little pressure. After an hour, I was still at a 7/8, so they started Pitocin. I didn’t care. I couldn’t feel anything, so who cared? Let’s get the labor moving. Mom laughed at my nonchalance approach to labor. It was so different for me.

I was unaware of the hours moving past us. I enjoyed the company of my family. Jason felt left out of the action… there was no action. My body moved the labor along without my help. It was odd, and so wonderful at the same time. I loved not feeling any pain.

At around 12pm, I was dilated to a nine, the baby’s head right against the cervix. The young nurse in training, Jenee,’ excitedly felt the baby’s head and grinned at me.

“I’m gonna wait till you tell me you’re ready to push. You let me know when you’re complete,” Chrystal said. She patted my leg and left.

Two hours later, I was still at a nine; the baby’s head had slipped back, off the cervix. They upped the Pitocin. I started feeling the contractions, even though we kept pressing the button on the epidural every 12 minutes (as allowed) to up the pain medication. Around 2:40pm, the Pitocin was clicked up again. Now things were intense.

I felt the Pitocin-induced contractions. I could feel them in my lower back and around front. I asked Jason to apply counter pressure to my back; it helped.

"It hurts," I complained loudly.  "It's not supposed to hurt."  I gritted my teeth as another roll of pain assaulted my numb-ish body.  Mentally, I realized I had to accept the fact that my labor was hurting and would continue to hurt.  I decided to suck it up and have this baby.   After just a few of these difficult contractions, I started pushing.

“I’m pushing!” I said. Rachel poked her head out the door and notified the nurse. Into the room, Chrystal and Jenee’ rushed. They checked me, confirming the obvious; the baby was coming.

I pushed hard with each contraction.  The epidural took the edge off, but I could still feel the pain of my body working to bring forth my baby. 

“Do you want to try panting, Jessica?” Chrystal asked. My eyes were closed but I could hear her moving quickly around the room, preparing the stage for the imminent birth. She must have already notified my OB, Dr. Hewitt who was working in her clinic across the street.

“No. You get down there and catch that baby,” I said. “Or let Jenee’ do it.” I heard my mother giggle. We were almost over and that gave me great strength. I pushed hard and felt my baby move through my bones. I grunted loudly with each push.

Dr. Hewitt made it as the baby’s head was crowning. She rushed to put on her gown, not having time to slip her shoe coves on. I pushed… and felt my skin stretch. Pushing… pushing… stretching… stretching.

“I can’t do it!” I hollered.

“Jess, you’re doing it.”

My perineum stretched and burned. “There’s a cord…” I heard Dr. Hewitt say.

“Is the head out?” I asked. I was waiting for the relief that always accompanying the head’s exit. There was no relief.

"Yes," Rachel answered me as she clicked away with the camera.  "The head's out!" 

“He’s stuck…” Dr. Hewitt said.  Quickly, before I knew what was happening, both nurses were at my legs, pulling my knees up to my chin.
“PUSH! Jessica, PUSH!”

I took a deep breath and pushed as hard as I could, my grunt becoming a yell. The baby’s shoulders shifted and his body slithered out of mine.

“I did it!” I lifted my arms in victory. Mom and Rachel clapped and whooped. Jason grinned. The medical staff smiled as they worked carefully on the baby and on me.

Our little Matthew was very blue, but pinked up after they gave him oxygen and a good rub down. He wasn’t interested in nursing right away, but was very alert and fussy. He looked around, cried, looked around and cried some more. After they moved me to the recovery room, Matthew was ready for his first meal.

I was happy to have my baby in my arms. He is worth every pain and aggravation of pregnancy, labor and birth. I am so very grateful to be his mother.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Pregnant Momma's Thoughts

In case you missed the obvious, I'm pregnant.  Very pregnant. 

Pregnancy is an intense mixture of blessing and suffering.  Carrying life is amazing.  I am humbled and honored to be a woman who is called to carry and birth children.  This calling is not without pain and suffering.  Morning sickness, stretching ligaments, emotional roller coasters, exhaustion, not to mention labor and delivery, all combine to create endless opportunities for personal growth.

Approaching delivery I prepare myself for complete surrender to the birth process.  I learned the hard way with Samuel's birth that labor is easier when I lay everything down and willingly ride the waves of pain.  I talk to God a lot about labor and pain.  I have gathered a list of songs in my MP3 player to encourage me and keep me focused on the ultimate outcome of labor.  The ultimate, desired outcome of labor is a healthy baby and a healthy momma.  I have added to this outcome my desire that God be glorified through my labor and delivery.

Even while mentally preparing for labor pains, I am praying and asking God to take away the pain.  I have heard of women having pain free labors, and I put in my request for one of those.  I don't believe God intended for women to birth in pain.  It's the result of the curse of sin through the imperfect Eve (Genesis 3:16).  Despite the new covenant of Christ, women continue to have excruciating pain through childbirth.  I talk to God about this too.  And I have asked for the originial plan, to birth easily and pain free.

Even with asking for a miraculous pain free birth, I submit to whatever He has planned for me.  There is so much growth through suffering.  God uses pregnancy and childbirth to mature and grow women.  I learn to completely rely on Him as I walk the trials of motherhood.  I know that suffering produces perseverence.  Perseverance, character and character, hope (Romans 5:3).  I want these charactistics to be a sincere part of my life. 

As I await the deliverance of my pregnancy and the arrival of my gift of God, little Matthew, I sink deeper and deeper into His grace.  I waddle around the house, doing chores while my belly tightens with "false labor".  I take deep breaths and relax into the knowledge that God is a big, big God.  He is more than enough for me.  I trust Him with every part of me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

brothers and sisters

When I was about four years old, during the Texas summer heat, my siblings and I spent hours in the backyard swimming pool.  My older brother, Israel, would pretend to be a shark and attack me and our little sister, Rachel.  We would screech and stumble over ourselves, trying to get away. 

Years later, when Israel got his drivers license, he took us to the mall.  On the way home, it was raining.  The new driver slipped and his tiny Volkswagon Rabit skidded into the ditch.  All of us stared at each other, our breathing and heartrate slowly coming back down to normal.  When we realized we were all OK, we started laughing.  Israel put the car in first gear, gunned it, and we slipped back out of the ditch.

Growing up side by side, I took my siblings for granted.  There were five of us, total.  Israel, my big brother; Rachel, the one who others thought was my twin (only 13 months younger than me);  Sarah, my baby sister whose personality matches my own; and the baby brother, Jonathon, the one who adored me and I, him.  We lived side by side, marching into life in wide-eyed wonder.  We kept secrets from my parents.  We fought viciously for invisible sibling rights.  Life was linked to each other.

Scattering like the seeds of a dandelion in the wind, my siblings are now all over the United States of America.  I haven't spoken to my dear baby brother since Christmas Day, and sadly, that was within a text.  My littlest sister's distance goes beyond the miles that seperate us.  My big brother continues to amaze and impress me with his talents and abilities as we tentavely discover the adult version of each other.  I'm blessed to call my other sister one of my best friends. 

It saddens me to lose my siblings.  I feel like I lost my group.  We surrounded each other for years, not always on the same side, but still, together.  Now we are all grown ups, and I miss being a part of their lives.

I watch my children, the sibling group my husband and I have created.  They play dress up together, share meals together, fight and holler at each other, and share silly jokes together.  Life is linked to each other.  Peering into the hazy future, I wonder what their relationships will be when they are all grown.  Will their friendships be strong when their lives veer off in seperate directions?   Will they look back on their childhood and remember the sweet moments? 

I pray they will.  I am motivated to give them opportunity to form life long bonds, reminding them how precious their brothers and sisters are in their lives.  We work on building a family that moves like a team, helping each other and sacrificing for one another.  And I treasure the time with my children.  As the older women remind me, time goes by quickly.  Soon, I will miss them as they run full force into the world, doing God's will. 

I think I'll call my brother.  Well, maybe an email...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

only God can explain

I got my own personal miracle this week. 

At 2:20am, I woke up to strong cramping.  Thinking it was something I ate, I headed for the bathroom.  There, I discovered blood.  Bloody toilet paper and blood in the toilet bowl.  What scared me the most was the blood clotted tissue on the toilet paper.  I was bleeding.  I was almost 29 weeks pregnant and bleeding.  Not spotting.  Bright, fresh blood.  I started hyperventilating and crying.  I put my hand on my belly, and raised the other hand in the air "Lord, I surrender this baby to you!  Please save him!"

Careful to not wake the toddler who had joined me in bed a few hours earlier, I headed out of my room to call my mother-in-law, Tami.  Her midwife experiences are priceless to me and I knew she would confirm my fears.  She answered the call quickly.  I told her about the blood and that I thought I should go to the ER at the hospital downtown.  She said, "Yes, go.  Now.  Don't wait for Jason to get home.  He should meet you there." 

Jason was working the night shift.  I hung up with Tami and called Jason.  "I'm bleeding.  I called Tami and she said I need to go to the ER.  To meet you there.  OK?"  Slight pause as Jason took it in.  This is our sixth pregnancy.  Four ended in birth.  One ended in bleeding and death.  We knew, this far along, bleeding was not normal at all and we needed medical help.  "OK.  I'll see you there," he said softly. 

I woke Rachel, my sister who is currently staying with us and helping out, quickly told her the situation.  We hugged each other and I hurried off into the night, the mini-van's lights hitting the deserted country roads.  I was calling my daddy before hitting the main highway, waking him from a dead sleep. 

"Daddy?  I'm sorry to bother you....  I just wanted you to know that I'm heading to the ER with vaginal bleeding,"  my voice shook.  Daddy voice was heavy with sleep, "Um...  how many weeks are you?"  "Tweny-nine," I whispered.  "Ok, Jessi.  We'll be praying for you.  Love you."  Then I was alone in the van. 

And I prayed.  I cried out to the Almighty God to come and heal me and this baby.  From my previous research, I knew that vaginal bleeding is not normal.  Often bleeding is from problems with the placenta or some type of vaginal infection.  Both of which can cause premature labor.  Placenta problems are usually resolved with emergency Cesarean to save both mother and baby. 

"Lord, I want this baby.  I want this baby to grow up.  I want to hear him call me Momma...." I cried as I drove in the dark.  "I want to watch him ride bikes with his brothers.  I want more time than this!"  I felt peace wash over me and soothe me. "Lord, I release this baby to you.  Please come and have your way.  I trust you.  No matter what."  There was nothing I could do to stop the bleeding.  I could do nothing to make my body hold this baby inside for another 11 weeks.  But God could; and so, I beseeched him. 

My parents were praying.  Jason's parents were praying.  My Daddy posted a request for prayer on Facebook and many people responded with simple posts, "praying".  I believe somewhere between my home and the hospital, God moved inside my body.  I believe He healed me. 

At the hospital, there was no more blood!  None.  All the tests came back normal.  The sonogram showed a healthy placenta in exactly the right position.  The baby's heartbeat was strong and he kicked and moved about during the  6 hours we were observed on the Labor and Delivery wing.  The hospital staff faithfully searched every possibility for causes to vaginal bleeding and came up short each time.  We were discharged with admonishes to come back if the bleeding started again or if I had contractions or cramping. 

There is no explaination other than a miracle.  At home, I research vaginal bleeding in the 3rd trimester.  Every website said "go to the ER.  Get medical help."  Every article warned of placenta previa or placenta abruption.  My bleeding was real.  I really did see blood clots on the toilet paper.  God's plan was greater.  God stopped whatever was wrong inside my body and kept my baby within me, healthy and strong.  Praise His name!

"So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you."   -Deuteronomy 31:6

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

the non-due-date

Yesterday was Vivian Joy's due date.  It was a hard day to walk through.  June 6th.  When I discover a pregnancy, the due date is one of the first things I calculate.  That date sears into my brain as the countdown to delivery begins.  June 6th.  As May passed us by, I knew the no-longer-big-day was coming.  Sometimes, I pushed those thoughts down and didn't want to think about it.  Other times...  I wrapped the thought into my mind, hugging the few memories of Vivian close to me. 

Sunday night, June 5th, I realized "it's tomorrow!"  I knew it was, but I had to be sure.  I pulled out 2010 calender, but the darkly scratched out weekly marks were not helpful.  I sat on the couch feeling at a loss of how to know for sure.  Then I rememembered, I was charting when we made Vivian.  My charts were tucked underneath the bathroom counter, not necessary now with pregnancy instead of periods.  In the bathroom, I searched methodically through my old charts.  Two years worth of charting clipped neatly to a pink clipboard.  I couldn't find it.  My searching grew almost frantic.  Proof.  I needed proof that she lived. 

There it was.  I had hidden it at the bottom of the pile.  I pulled the chart out with the "happy face" sketched beside the bold "ETA June 6th" and the cycle length marked "9 months" beside yet another "happy face".  Without warning, I realized I was sobbing.  The sobs reminded me of the cries that took over months ago in the same bathroom as I processed the loss of my October baby.  The October baby who should have been a June baby.  I bent over my now swollen belly and gasped for air.  The chart proved that Vivian had been alive and real.  I had written on September 28th "three positive pregnancy tests!!!"  I stared at my chart and caressed it.  "I wish it had turned out differently, little baby."  With a sigh, I quickly stashed all the charts back beneath the sink and left the bathroom, drying my tears.

It is odd to mourn the loss of one baby while carrying and celebrating the growing life of another.  I want this baby, but I also wish we could have had our Vivian.  The "real" Baby #5.  I want both.  I wish Vivian could have been born, alive and healthy, last week and this little baby, growing now for 28 weeks, come a few years down the road. 

But I can't click my heels together and make my wish come true.  Vivian's in heaven, long gone from my body.  I can only imagine what might have been.  And I have a new baby now.  One that pushes against me even as I type a memorial to his sibling who preceded him in life and death. 

So, I ask God to kiss Vivian good night and tell her I miss her.  I ask him to let her know her big sister reminded her mother that she "has a baby in her tummy and one in Heaven".  And I rub my belly and feel life kick back.  This is the path God chose for us.  He will dry my tears and lift my head.  Thank you for life, Lord.  "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:21  For me, in the past year, the Lord has done both.  I will praise His Name.

Time4Learning Final Review

My family enjoyed our month with Time4Learning. I signed Isaiah and Rose up for one month trial. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had some issues when we first started using Time4Learning. Specifically, Isaiah was not able to work independently on the computer with Time4Learning. We solved that problem by keeping an adult beside him to assist in reading the directions.

The more Isaiah used Time4Learning, the more he enjoyed it. I found it affirming to see him reading, proof that my efforts in teaching 1st Grade has been worth it! He does read! We basically used Time4Learning as a year-end-review.

Rose did awesome with the PreK/Kindergarten lessons. The younger curriculum is easier to maneuver than the 1st Grade lessons Isaiah struggled through. Rose easily chose which lessons she was interested in and gleefully played the learning games. She thoroughly enjoyed Time4Learning.

My favorite thing about Time4Learning was the section where the parent signs in and can see exactly what her child has been busy doing on the learning program. Many lessons were scored with a number grade (example, 86%) and it was good to know where Isaiah's comprehension level was with various lessons. Parents are supposed to be able to assign lessons everyday for the kids, but I couldn't figure out how to do that during our month trial.

Which brings me to my conclusion. While I would definitely recommend Time4Learning, I don't think it's the best fit for our family. The biggest reason is that I have four kids and, while the monthly cost is affordable for small families, for us, it quickly adds up. If Time4Learning could offer a monthly price for large families (more than two kids), we would be interested. As of now, I think the Keys will keep plodding along with library books and free Internet resources.

**This is a personal review by Yours Truly and as usual, my opinion is 100% my own. The content of this review was not written by Time4Learning, but the writer was compensated. **

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time4Learning mid month review

For the past two weeks, we've been signed up with Time4Learning.  Isaiah has only used the program twice because the first time he sat down at the laptop to play/learn, we were both frustrated.  Originally, I imagined independent learning for Isaiah.  I imagined him playing and learning off in the corner while I managed the other three children.  Instead, he kept needing me to come explain directions to him as they were often not read outloud during the lesson.   

The first time Isaiah played Time4Learning, I made him do one phonics lesson.  He hated it.  After that, in an attempt to trick encourage him into liking the program, I allowed him to choose the other lessons.  Isaiah gleefully obediently skipped phonics and reading lessons and headed the science games.  He enjoyed the science lessons, but I still had to be available to read some of the directions to him. 

Yesterday, he actually asked to do Time4Learning.  I was excited about that!  He wanted to learn!  Yea!!  We sat down together this time, to ward off the frustration of him trying to do it on his own.  And I insisted he try more phonics/reading lessons.  I walked Isaiah through clicking on the right icons and he began his lessons about the sounds m/ch/sh/ck. 

The second time around was much better than the first.  Having an adult right beside Isaiah helped tremendously.  He was also more familiar with the program and maneuvered through it with a bit more ease.  And he persevered for almost an hour, staying with phonics/reading the whole time!  Isaiah was reading their online books by the end of his session! 

At this point, I would recommend Time4Learning and I will probably sign up for atleast another month.  There are Also, I want Rose and Lela to use Time4Learning to see how well they do with the lessons. 

This is my half way review.  More to come in a few weeks.... 

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Plans Amuck

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."  Proverbs 16:9

I love to make plans.  I love schedules and routines.  I thrive on alphabetized lists.  I have an organized personality, very close to a control freak. 

But this does not always serve me well.  Plans fail.  Schedules run amuck.  Lists get lost.  And control freaks have four kids and fall apart.  Having four kids in the house reframes me and my organized self.  I cannot let my desire for a clean house drive me to insanity over the dirt and toys. 

"How do you do it?" is a common question thrown at me from awed individuals.  They look at me like I'm a saint with an only slightly tarnished halo.  How do I do it with four kids and another one on the way?  Um, my other option would be what?  Falling on the floor, curling up into the fetal position and crying all day long?  I do what I have to do, constantly running to the Lord for grace and mercy.   

 Lists and schedules have slowly become guidelines instead of attempts to control life.  Life will not be controlled.  Life is fast and changes every moment.  Priorities shift and I learn that I would rather read a book to my kids then sweep the dirt off the floor.  The dirt will always be here, but someday my kids will be grown and out the door.  I don't want to miss out on my one and only opportunity to pour into their lives. 

It's not that I don't still have lists and schedules, I do.  I am learning more and more how to allow God to direct my steps.  I want to be OK when He chuckles softly at my expectations, and gently realigns them.  God sees the big picture.  He knows that a week on the couch resting due to unexpected contractions will bring about growth in a certain momma.  He knows that canceling a four year old's birthday plans will grow our family closer.  I see just a tiny piece of life, but God sees eternity. 

So I continue to daily surrender to the God of the universe.  His ways are higher than my ways.  His thoughts are higher than my thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:9)  Today I look at my list and lay it at the feet of the Father.  "Lord, this is what I want to accomplish today, but you come and have your way."  Amen.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seeds of LIFE

I have faith for a garden to appear this summer.  Our hearts are full of plans and dreams of watermelons, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers and carrots.

Tiny seeds are promises of fruit, vegetables, flowers, trees and LIFE!  Planting seeds reminds me of how God sows within our hearts.  When we first surrender our lives to Christ, salvation is sown into our hearts.  Grace and faith take time to cultivate and thrive.  I have to take care of the spiritual seeds within my spirit.  If I don't water them with prayer and feed the seeds with the Word of God, they will wilt and my growth will be stunted.  But when I come to God on a a daily basis, like the sunshine miraculously grows the vegetable seedlings into full grown, mature plants putting forth delicious fruit, God's presence warms the seeds He plants within me and I grow in my faith.

Isn't it amazing that God allows us to be creators?  He allows His creations to re-create life as a woman grows a human being within her womb.  I can share in God's creative abilities as I follow the steps He designed, taking tiny seeds, poking them into wet soil, and expectantly waiting for the fruit of my labor.  It is God who knits the baby together inside me and it is God who allows us to reap what we sow.

God is showing me so much about himself as Jason and I begin our garden.  Right now we are working on finishing the deck.  The next step is fencing off our garden plot to protect it from children and animals.  Finally, when we know the garden will be safe, we will till the soil and put seeds and our seedlings into the ground.

I'll keep you posted.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Wiggles and Bittersweet Memories

The pregnancy is going well.  I think, but I'm not certain, I felt my newest baby wiggle inside my womb yesterday.  It was higher than I expected which then prompted research via my phone to investigate just where my uterus should be at this point in the pregnancy.  According to Google, at 16 weeks the uterus is about 2 inches below the belly button.  It amazes me that my baby is already rising up and growing so big.

The growth and life of this baby is bittersweet.  I have not forgotten Vivian.  She floats through my mind.  During the intense time of healing, God used many songs to bring me comfort.  When they come on the radio, all those memories of pain and loss barrel into my heart.  But the songs also remind me of the things God whispered to my heart that brought peace and healing.

I am hesitate to truly prepare for this new baby.  With each of my other children, I sewed a baby quilt during the pregnancy.  Even during those short few weeks when I was pregnant with Vivian I began to mentally plot out a quilt.  While I am dreaming of a baby in my arms come August, I want to wait until after 24 weeks to buy everything and design the new baby quilt.  Part of it is, I am exhausted and tired all the time and I struggle to maintain the home.  If I am honest with myself, I know the other reason is because of the fear of loosing another baby.

If I really believe God loves me, I can trust Him with my future.  If I really believe He loves my children, I can trust Him with their future.  Whatever that looks like.  I am learning to trust Him. I am learning to not be afraid of His plans for me.

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:10

Monday, January 31, 2011

Drinking In the Word

I have been walking around my home feeling...  odd.  Am I depressed?  Is it the pregnancy?  What is wrong with me?

I could not put my finger on it until just now.  I've been empty.  Empty.  

In His gracious way, the Lord led me to Isaiah 55.  

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.... Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare."

As I read this, my soul cried out.  I prayed, "God, meet me where I'm at!  Please, can you come to me in my home?  With my sleeping children and son playing in the next room?  Who am I that you could come to me..."  and then my mind was filled with the image of drinking ice cold water on a hot day.  The sensation of fresh water hitting my mouth, filling it and racing down my throat.  I can feel it all the way to my stomach sometimes as it cools my insides.  

This is how the Father wants to come to us.  But we have to pause and drink in His presence.  It is hard to pause in the middle of life.  A quiet moment in my house is rare unless all the small ones are sleeping.  And even then...  The pause to drink in the Word and the very presence of the Almighty God is so worth it!  

"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near." Isaiah 55:6 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Evolving School at the Keys

"I hate school!" is Isaiah's mantra recently.    

When he first stated the above comment, I backed off with schooling.  It was the holidays, I was mourning the loss of my miscarriage, and it was easy to pause school.  I even tried my hand at "unschooling'.  There are various definitions of unschooling.  Some unschooling families do absolutely zero formal schooling and allow the children to learn on their own accord.  Other unschooling families do some formal schooling, but leave most subjects to the whims of the child.  I have a very dear friend who unschools, so if you leave a comment, be sure to be nice! **smiling politely**

After two months of no formal school, I questioned my unschooling decision.  I realized if I didn't teach my child to read, he would fall quickly behind his peers.  While I battled within myself why that mattered, I prayed for direction and guidance from my Source of wisdom, the Almighty God.  During this time of prayer, I picked Isaiah up from Sunday School and noticed a piece of paper in his hand.  His teacher expected him to be able to read it.  Ah.  One reason why it was OK to expect Isaiah to be on the same learning level as his peers.

In my prayer time over this issue, God reminded me of various issues in my life that I do, even though I don't like doing them.  For example, cleaning toilets.  I hate cleaning toilets.  And doing dishes.  Eating healthy foods.  Requiring Isaiah to knuckle down and learn how to read is good for him, even if he "hates" it.  Often, God requires us to do things we do not want to do.  It is good for us and builds character.  

We are on week two of knuckling down and continuing formal learning.  We set the timer for 30 minutes, once in the morning and again in the afternoon.  The younger children are gently banished to their bedrooms and Isaiah and I focus on his lesson.  The biggest improvement we have made to school time is we now invite God to join us.  We start each learning session with prayer, asking God to come and give us both patience, perseverance and strength.  

My ultimate goal for my children is that they love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength.  I want God to be number one in their lives; this is my deepest prayer.  One of the most powerful ways I grow in my relationship with the Lord is by seeking His truths in the Holy Word of God, putting my ability to read to excellent use.  Teaching Isaiah to read enables him to begin to search the Word for himself, bringing him closer to the Father.   

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."  Proverbs 16:3

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Motherhood Follies: The Sunday Cereal

Jason graciously offered me the extra hour of sleep a few Sundays ago. Our kids rise with the sun, or shortly before it. This particular Sunday, Jason gave me the morning to sleep in. I enjoyed the extra sleep, but I relished the down time. My morning was absent of the usual begging and pleas of the children.  I joyfully got out of bed and took my bathroom break minus two-year-old Samuel's usual visit.  It was wondrous!

Jason brought me breakfast in bed, assuring me that the kids were fed and getting ready for church.  My stress free morning seemed too good to be true.  I ate in peace and enjoyed the quiet time with my husband.  

Shortly after the quiet morning meal, I began getting ready for church.  A child escaped Daddy's firm hand, Rose skipped to my bathroom door and asked for help putting a clip in her hair.  I noted a layer of crumbs on her tights.  

"Were you rolling on the floor, Rose?"  

"Um, no.  Sam spilled some cereal on the floor," she said.  

I dismissed the crumbs and finished her hair.  She scampered off happily.  I finished getting ready and headed out the bedroom door.  The kids ran about, putting shoes on and looking for coats.  Jason grinned at me, pleased with himself and his morning offering.  

And then I saw it.  My payback for a peaceful morning.  Two full boxes of cereal were emptied out on the kitchen floor.  Tan crumbs filled every edge of the tiles.  My breath caught in my throat.  I paused and stared at the mess.  Ignore it, I told myself and headed for the fridge.

CRUNCH.  CRUNCH.  My high heels crushed the cereal into tiny pieces.  I gritted my teeth and kept walking.  CRUNCH.  CRUNCH.  With a low growl, I whirled around and crunched quickly back across the floor.  I grabbed the broom out of the closet and began swipping the offensive mess.  

"This is what I get for taking a morning off!" I hollered into the empty room.  Jason rounded the corner.  

"Put the broom down, Jessica," he said.  He held his hand out for the broom.  I snarled.  He glared.  I knew he was drawing the line, but I just couldn't bring myself to give in.  

He sighed and turned around.  I swept the dad gum floor, grumbling internally in my heart.  

On the way to church, I calmed down and we discussed the mess.  

"I was gonna clean it up," he said.  

"Ha!" I tried to tone down the sarcasm.  "When?"  

He sighed loudly.   

I should have kept crunching across the floor and ignored the mess.  I want to be The Mom who is not moved by circumstance.  The kids were happy.  My man was happy.  I was happy...  before the cereal discover, that is.  I gave the cereal, or the mess, power of me, allowing it to influence my attitude.  

Next time, I'm gonna tap the crumbs off my Sunday heels, smile broadly, and head out to church.  Next time....  

revolutionary love

I have experienced revolutionary love. Love with no strings attached. Jesus Christ loves me and made a way for me to have a relationship with the One True God. God desires a relationship with you, too. If you have yet to experience this revolutionary love, please email me at jandjkeys@hotmail.com so I can share this amazing experience with you. Blessings, -Jess