Slavery Serves Salvation: How God Can Hate What He Won’t Condemn

Slavery: a boiling hot topic anytime it arises. We are a century and a half removed from the awful history of slavery in our country but time has not removed the ill-feelings towards it, nor should it. The current national requests for the removal of the Confederate flag, because it has such strong ties with supporting slavery, has only rejuvenated the discussions and debates and deep feelings and dark thoughts on the subject — that have been present all along, if only just beneath the surface.

brotherHow do Christians interact with and respond to this? From a human dignity position, the answer would seem unquestionably clear as to what position we take. But when we turn to Scripture for support, to try to find the verses that proclaim without a doubt that God and His people detest slavery, how do we wrestle with what Scripture has to say about slavery, or more pointedly, what it doesn’t say. Scripture doesn’t condemn slavery. That’s mind boggling because the concept of slavery seems so far removed from the gospel of love and grace and freedom that we proclaim. What room is there for slavery, especially racist slavery, in the message of God’s redeeming work? 

That question, or the lack of a clear answer, has been enough to turn many away from God’s Word and the gospel. How can they embrace a God who neglects human dignity by allowing for slavery and even abusive slavery? The Mosaic law gave restrictions to masters and allowances to slaves in the case of severe injuries – losing eyes or teeth (Exodus 21). And a master earned death or punishment if he was responsible for the death of a slave. But in that same verse, the slave is called the master’s “property”. How does objectification like that fit into the picture of God creating humans in his likeness and with dignity? And even that there are laws to punish severe cruelty of slaves would suggest room for (or at least turn a blind eye to) modest cruelty and abuse towards slaves.

What about a man being permitted by God to sell his daughter into slavery? What about a male slave being forced to chose between his own freedom and his family? What about a female slave having no say over when or to whom she is wedded, or even worse, not wedded but still taken advantage of?

These are difficult, painful, dark questions. I’ve heard a handful of teachings that attempt to (sometimes successfully) explain and reconcile this, some with more historical validity than others, some with more understanding and compassion than others. But if the reality of slavery – in ancient history, modern history, and even current times – is truly examined, I don’t see how it can or should sit well with a believer.

But today it hit me. A light bulb turned on. A moment of understanding – that may not explain all of what Scripture tells us about slavery, or every aspect of this immense issue – but that illuminated this subject in a way I had never considered it before. It’s a light that says, YES God allowed slavery, YES God ordained His people to practice ethical slavery, but that NO God does NOT prefer slavery, and quite possibly even that YES, GOD HATES SLAVERY!

How do these answers coexist?isaac

Galatians 4:22-31 tells us. 

Particularly verse 24 which explains that Hagar and Sarah function as allegories (not to discount the historical accuracy of their accounts), illustrating the two covenants, slavery through the law (Hagar), and freedom through grace (Sarah). Which is the entire message of Galatians. And the entire message of the Bible. The Mosaic Law was given as a shadow of the law of Christ to come (Hebrews 10). The old testament sacrifices to repeatedly atone (pay) for sins were a picture that paved the way for the Perfect Lamb who would make the sacrifice and atonement (payment) ONCE AND FOR ALL. The Law of Moses served to reveal sin so that we could seek redemption and freedom from that sin (Romans 7).

And even though I’ve read it so many times in so many ways, the analogy of slavery and freedom for sin and salvation suddenly hit home. I mean, I’ve KNOWN the analogy is there, it’s undeniable all throughout Scripture. I’ve KNOWN what it means. I’ve KNOWN how it feels to pray, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). But suddenly all of Scripture unfolded before me. Suddenly I saw that I’ve been thinking about it backwards or inside out. Human slavery is not the source, the original truth, from which spiritual slavery and freedom borrowed the analogy. Rather, spiritual slavery and freedom is the source, the original truth, that God designed an analogy for when he ordained and allowed for human slavery.

From the first time in ancient history that one man forced his power and control over another, slavery was meant to demonstrate the depth of depravity of sin. God allowed slavery and even designed slavery to give us a real, tangible, first-hand illustration – NOT to degrade human dignity – but precisely to emphasize the depth of human dignity. That human dignity is not to be found in the fallen, sinful state we are inescapably born into, but that human dignity can ONLY be fully and truly found in being broken free from slavery, primarily slavery to sin.

So…God would allow millions of people, entire nations and people-groups, over the span of millennia to be deprived of choice & freedom, brutally abused, tortured, starved, raped, orphaned, widowed, murdered…all for an analogy?

Yes. Because that analogy would save billions from a far-worse slavery that would last for far beyond millenia, into eternity. I’m not trying to say this should be an easy answer that settles well with us. It should burden us unbearably. It should ache into our very bones. The curse of sin is horrendous. It IS sin that leads to slavery. It IS sin that causes human slavery to be painful and bitter and destructive, regardless of when in history it happened or with what people group. It IS that awful sin in the here and now that will lead to the eternal devastation of souls. And that is precisely why and how and where we seek freedom in the only source that will ensure true, eternal freedom. We seek it for the sake of human dignity. A human dignity that can never be truly reached in the state of sinful fallenness, but that must come from a rebirth that can only result from understanding the deep, dark reality of slavery and therefore the rich, bliss of freedom.

Someone shared the point with me yesterday that if the Messiah that the Jews had awaited for so long had come as they expected him to come – an earthly King who would save them politically from Roman oppression, and not as the perfect lamb to die – that the entire nation, and earth for that matter, would be obliterated. The religious Jews were expecting “Thy Kingdom come” but God’s kingdom was for the redeemed – those who had been made imperishable by the blood of the Lamb (including Old Testament saints whose faith rested in the fulfillment of that promise).  If the Messiah did not disappoint their expectations, by coming instead to die and make all things new, there would be no one to bring into the kingdom. No one on earth would be made imperishable and the coming of God’s Kingdom would cause them all to perish because it could not be tainted by the Kingdom of the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:50)

Some of the most precious hymns, and really the entire genre of gospel music, originated from black slaves who desperately sought freedom from oppression in the American South. I can only imagine how much they wished and hoped and desperately dreamed that the freedom they sang about would come in a tangible form during their lifetime. But the hymns often reflect an admirably eternal perspective, acknowledging that even if they weren’t freed from human slavery here on earth, they would receive true freedom from sin and oppression when they faced death. 

swing low sweet chariot“Swing low, sweet chariot/
Comin’ for to carry me home”

“Oh, soon to glory we will go/
Down by the riverside”

“When I’m dying/
Do remember me/
Do Lord, remember me”

“Oh, when I come to die/ Give me Jesus”

“Goin’ meet King Jesus in the air/ I thank God I’m free at last”

In that way, slaves must have had an immensely deeper understanding the gospel and the freedom that the gospel brings, than those of us who haven’t experienced any form of human slavery. Because they understood the bitter turmoil of the effects of sin more than most of us ever will, it’s sure that those who trusted Christ are experiencing a blissful freedom from sin and human anguish beyond what we can ever comprehend (Luke 7:47). I know I have absolutely no place to speak to a slave’s experiences, either to try to relate to the weight of the negative they experienced or to try to project positivity. But I do know what Galatians teaches us. And now I understand it better.

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking: for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sanai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, 
‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; 
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; 

For more are the children of the desolate 
Than of the one who has a husband.’
And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? 
‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, 
For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.’ 
So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.”
(Galatians 4:22-31)

In short, this passage is saying: You are saved and given true, lasting freedom entirely by the promise of God’s grace through the new covenant of Christ, not based on the rituals or actions of the old covenant of the law of Moses that try to earn salvation but that will never grant true, lasting freedom. AND SLAVERY IS THE GOD-GIVEN ALLEGORY FOR THIS.
(Notice Hagar was a bondwoman. To put it bluntly: a slave.)

In the words of John MacArthur explaining the casting out of Hagar, in his chapter on Sarah from the book Twelve Extraordinary Women: “Harsh as it may have seemed, there was a very crucial, necessary, and positive spiritual principle in the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael. This symbolized the important truth that the kind of religion that is dependent on human effort (symbolized by the carnal scheme that conceived Ishmael as an artificial fulfillment of God’s promise) is utterly incompatible with divine grace (symbolized by Isaac, the true heir of God’s promise). And the two are so hostile to one another that they cannot even abide in close proximity.”

The account of Abraham and his heirs is an odd one for our culture to comprehend, and maybe for any culture. It’s hard to process what the individuals in the account must have experienced. So much personal anguish and injustice in the story, from every perspective. It can’t really be explained from a human dignity perspective, why God would allow it. Unless God had something bigger going on. Unless there was something more at stake here than Abraham or Sarah or Hagar or Isaac or Ishmael (which takes a bit of humility to accept).

Among other, obvious, big-picture plans, God very specifically wanted to use this instance of slavery (Hagar) to illustrate salvation by grace alone. This wasn’t an afterthought. God didn’t spell out this Genesis account just to think back to it while he was inspiring Paul to write Galatians and tell Paul, “Oh hey, this works as a good allegory, use this!” It was God’s intention from the beginning of Abraham’s life to work out the details to provide the Galatian believers (and all believers to follow) an allegory of freedom through grace-based salvation versus slavery through works-based attempts at salvation. It was God’s intention from the beginning of time when he allowed sin to penetrate this world –knowing all of the devastating affects it would have — to allow sin to lead to human slavery and even wretchedly abusive slavery, in order to paint the very real and very grotesque picture of what slavery to sin looks like so that he could draw His children away from the terrors of being enslaved to sin and into the comfort and peace of true freedom from sin that comes by grace alone. That’s why God would permit and not condemn slavery — a representation of the captivity to the sin which he hates — even among His people Israel, and later among the church His bride. He needed the illustration to persist and its filth to convict and speak to our needy hearts.

I know there’s still plenty of loose-ends to work through in these thoughts on slavery and salvation but God’s big-picture use of slavery throughout Scripture and history is undeniable. He’s consistently revealed Himself and His ways through Scripture in such a way that we know He sovereignly causes all things to work for His good and glory (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20) even when others mean them for harm and destruction and pure wickedness. But neither in any way does God commit evil nor condone evil. And in every way His character is absolutely upright and just and good. The only conclusion then, when discussing any sin, tragedy, travesty, disaster, you name it, is that God justly ordained it (designed it, not just allowed it, because He’s bigger and bolder than that) and that the end results (even a very far away end) will be absolutely good and God-glorifying. The same is true of the wretched history of slavery. Since slavery illustrates sin and it’s devastation, God absolutely hates slavery. But what He hates more, and what He simply can’t tolerate, is letting sin triumph. So neither will slavery triumph. Hence why God gave our world slavery, to draw His children away from sin and to provide ultimate freedom beyond our comprehension.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
(Galatians 5:1)


Disclaimer: I’m NOT AT ALL intending this post to be an exhaustive analysis of the Scriptures (NOR history!) on this topic, NOR imagining I am considering all the questions to be answered. I know it’s a massive discussion to be had and I’m only touching on the tip of the iceberg. But for me, it was the tip that revealed the potential rest of the iceberg to me. So this is a personal reflection on one passage (Galatians 4) and a proposed theory of how that passage enlightens our understanding of topic of slavery and how it relates to the rest of Scripture.

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“Why” or “Can We Afford to Chew”: An impression from Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted

The Last Thing He WantedI could list many books that have made an impression on me; several of them written by Joan Didion. But one book by Didion took me by surprise. It started as an easy read for escapism but as the pages turned it impressed upon my soul a feeling – a weight, a haunt, even – that still resonates months after I returned the completed book to the shelf. The Last Thing He Wanted is a political mystery/thriller – not a genre I’m typically drawn to. It’s neither my favorite nor the most revered of Didion’s works.  It was an enjoyable enough read, a refreshing change of pace for me, and reflects Didion’s gift of straightforward yet soulful, staccato storytelling. Yet Didion weaves into her erratic mystery the riveting theme of “why”. The impenetrable question that drives so much of our reflection and life. Why? What led to this? How did this come to be? What parts of my long, sordid history brought me to this point, right here and right now? Motivated me to this action? And most of all, Didion asks, does it even matter?

A character in the novel, while considering omitting from her autobiography the death of her childhood best friend, says: “Because it didn’t actually change my life. I mean I cried, I was sad, I wrote a lot about it in my diary, yes, but what changed?”

The character’s mother (the book’s narrator) reflects in response, “I recall explaining that ‘change’ was merely the convention at hand: I said that while it was true that the telling of a life tended to falsify it, gave it a form it did not intrinsically possess, this was just a fact of writing things down, something we all accepted. I realized as I was saying this that I no longer did.”

The narrator continues, after a tangent, “The business of Elena McMahon, then, is hard for me. 
This business of what ‘changed’ her, what ‘motivated’ her, what made her do it.” 

That business is hard for me, too. 
I’ve spent many long nights and foggy journaling mornings searching for that answer, sure that such shed light would revolutionize my life, convinced that such an answer was the key to unlock my moving forward. Stagnant without it. Struggling, swimming, sinking even, as I tread water on that question of why, what changes me, what motivates.

How did I get here? How did I become who I am? What made me into whatever this I that I have become?

Finding that answer would certainly propel me forward, part the waters, be the wave to crash me onto the shore. For even that kind of movement would be going somewhere. It would get me to land. 

As the novel progresses, the narrator reflects on another character, “Treat Morrison himself appeared to have no interest in examining what I am distressed to notice I was choosing to call ‘his formative years.’
…Treat Morrison said nothing for a moment. ‘A lot of people get some big mystical kick out of chewing over things that happened forty, forty-five years ago,’ he said the,. ‘Little sad stories about being misunderstood by their mother or getting snubbed at school or whatever. I’m not saying it’s self-indulgent or self-pitying or any other damn thing. I’m just saying I can’t afford it. So I don’t do it.”

Didion spent 140 pages meandering around the question of “why?” – begging it and making me beg for it, not for the character as much as for myself, my own formidable, formative years – just to throw it out with the dismissive words of an esoteric, elusive cog.

And yet a brilliant cog. Whose statement, while framed in avoidance, actually speaks depths.

I know that “mystical kick” all too well and the vicious cycle of degradations it can lead one on. I know that “chewing over things that happened” and the inevitable jaw ache that follows, bringing no satisfaction to the craving nor soul-thirsting hunger. And I know that the answer to the question “Why?” will not wrap up a story with happy endings nor bring resolution. Because I know that the answer may never come, nor even exist.

And so, Treat Morrison, of all the impotent and uninspiring characters to exist, you have inspired. You have left an impression that this waxen heart desperately craved. You have planted a question that has overgrown and replaced the age-old, endlessly nagging adage of “Why?” with the transformative catharsis of, “Can I afford to contemplate it?”

And with that question comes an answer. A short, simple answer at that. No.

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To the Moms Who Haven’t Gotten Their Act Together Yet

Dear Mother-in-the-park-with-your-eyes-on-your-phone-and-not-on-your-child,
Haven’t you read the articles and blog posts about the importance of giving your full attention to your child and not to a lifeless electronic object? The ones about how much your child needs your active presence and not your passive oversight? The ones about your child’s precious personality and how that child thrives on your interaction which you deprive them of when you  interact with your phone instead? What about the ones about the brevity of their youth and liveliness and how you better take advantage of all the moments now before they are gone forever?

I’ve read them. Several of them in the past year. They’ve been so inspiring.
And so guilt-inducing. They made me self-conscious every time I pulled out my phone when I was in public with my children.

But I know where you’re at. I’m there too. And I don’t think it’s wrong.

IMAG5062b

Looking at your phone instead of your child may not be the best thing you can do to nurture your child in that moment but it may be the only thing you can do in that moment.

It may be that you’re adding a reminder to your never-ending to-do-list that would otherwise vanish into the vast emptiness of your “memory” if you didn’t add it in those few seconds.

It’s quite possible that you’re Googling sleep-solutions because it’s the only way you can keep your eyelids pried open so that you don’t collapse onto the park bench and get mistaken for a bum (especially with all the baggage it takes to get from the house to the park with a couple of kids).

Or maybe you’re Pinning recipes, trying to find the one recipe you can make work for dinner tonight, using the hodge-podge of groceries left in the fridge between shopping trips.

You could be texting your husband (first chance to do so today!) to check in on his day (or if it’s been a really rough morning, to desperately check his ETA this evening).

Or maybe you do look like you’re semi-interacting with your child, because you’re snapping their picture to upload to Instagram.
How else are you going to let extended family know you still exist, since you don’t have time to answer their phone calls?

God-forbid you’re on Facebook catching up with friends. You’re already on a “play-date” with your mom-friends, aren’t you?!
…Let me just say, if you still think a play-date is opportunity for quality adult social interaction, you obviously don’t have young kids. Facebook may just be our only adult social interaction this week.

The fact of the matter is, sitting on that park bench, phone in hand, the screen’s warm rays glowing in your face, may just be the only five minutes of (relative) peace and quiet you get before bedtime. (Nap time isn’t what they promise you. Despite all the well-wishing older women who encourage you to use that time to “nap” yourself, you know that if you actually did, the household really, truly would finally collapse from utter neglect.)

That five minutes, inbetween breaking up a squabble over who gets what swing and kissing the owie acquired by falling off said swing, may just be the only moment you get to mentally and emotionally recharge (especially for those of us who are naturally introverts) before diving back into the carousel of motherhood with it’s incessant demands for not just mental attentiveness and physical exertion but also emotional outpouring, so much so that you begin to wonder who cries more: you or the baby.

IMAG5064bMoms, you are the mender, the healer, the carer, the giver, the supporter, the cheerleader, you name it. Your child knows that. Five minutes on your phone is not going to change your child’s perspective of you. It’s not going to damage your relationship with them. It’s not going to stunt their development. It IS  going to reassure them that you are there and that you do prioritize them because you DO put down your phone when your child needs you (or a band-aid, or a juice-box, or a potty-break). You DO look up at them when they call for your attention as they hang upside-down on the monkey-bars for the hundredth time that day. You DO allow your brain to overflow and  become immensely scattered as you respond to every demand from every direction, (often via your phone): home, church, job, family, friends, and of course, those sweet, sweet children.

And you know what else? You DO take that five minutes to disappear into the land of Smart-Phonia (and, yes, even Social Media), to unwind, to reset. You take that breather so that when the bell rings, you can dive back into the game with as much gusto as ever. You know your limits and you do what it takes to not surpass those limits so that you can continue be the giving, caring, active parent that you need to be. And you pray. You beg for grace. You join arms (often electronically) with the other mothers out there on their knees, thankful when you’ve made it through one more day, when you’ve advanced your child one day further into this crazy adventure called life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting all those articles out there encouraging you to get off your phone so you can be a more active and  involved parent. I think they provide an immensely valuable reminder of how priceless the role and responsibilities of a parent are. I have been sincerely inspired and challenged by them to sacrifice myself even more to be as much of a parent as I can be, by God’s strength and grace.

But I wanted to make sure you know there’s validity to the other side of the story. There’s validity to using your phone, even as an occasional escape, even in the presence of your children.
Now, let’s not use that to justify laziness or selfishness BUT let’s use it to become stronger women, more gracious to our children, and more compassionate to our fellow mom. Let’s recharge, let’s plan our meals, let’s build and fulfill our to-do lists but let’s also not neglect our true source of power and peace because Facebook and even parenting forums cannot provide the wisdom and grace parenting requires.

Let me remind you as I remind myself that five minutes of Scripture reading, meditating, and prayer can give us so much more than any Instagram update. It’s okay to let our children see us on the phone. But it’s empowering (to us and to them) to let our children see us pray.

Sincerely,

One-of-you.

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My Birth Story: Juniper

Like all good stories, this one begins a long time ago; particularly, during my first pregnancy. I had heard enough advocacy for natural childbirth throughout my life to be slightly suspicious of the typical hospital method of birth. So before I delved into the experience myself, I spent a good amount of time researching birthing options. It started with watching the documentary The Business of Being Born and then borrowing from the library the book by the same authors, Your Best Birth. I also borrowed and read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Two other books that I bought and found very helpful were The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Active Birth. I realized a little too late that I probably read TOO much. I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want but then it was a matter of what was actually plausible and possible for us to pursue. I was disappointed to find we had no local birthing centers. I was hesitant to deliver my first child at home, without any idea of what to expect. But most decidedly, our insurance wouldn’t cover any portion of a home birth, but – go figure – would almost completely cover a (much more expensive) hospital birth.

So I did what I had to do: wrote out a very thorough birth plan and labored at home as long as I could before heading to the hospital. Altogether I labored for 10 hours, six in the hospital. The on-call doctor was actually fairly supportive of my birth plan and the nurses were nice enough. The experience wasn’t horrible. I tried to move around and walk when I could but did spend most of the time in the hospital laboring (and pushing) on my back. I was about 90% sure I was going to die (or at least would prefer to die) during transition, all of which I spent curled up in fetal position myself. Even though I had requested to tear naturally instead of receive an episiotomy, my doctor talked me into one at the last minute, literally in-between pushes. I wasn’t quite in the position to resist. So instead of precious moments bonding with my baby right after birth, I had to cringe through who-knows-how-many stitches.

d-mombaby2All in all, it was enough to make me want something different the second time around. And thankfully, my husband’s new job meant new insurance – one that would cover a portion of home birth! (Also one with a high deductible that we would have to pay anyway – might as well pay it to a model of care I felt supportive of!)

This change happened a third of the way through my pregnancy so I got in touch with LB, a local midwife who came highly recommended from a good friend, home birth advocate, and doula-in-training J (who will also come into the story later). Everything seemed to indicate I was a good candidate for homebirth. The only hesitation was that LB would be out of state for a training conference early in the month that I was due. Since I wasn’t due until the 18th and had that date fairly well confirmed by an early ultrasound, we thought we would be safe. My first baby came a day after her due date and LB was due to return with almost a week and a half to spare if this baby came on time. Just in case, another local midwife JB would be on call if anything happened while LB was gone. So we went ahead and pursued prenatal care with LB.

With all that prefacing, I’m sure you can imagine where this story is headed. I met with LB on a typical prenatal care schedule but the tone and atmosphere was completely different than the sterile, impersonal doctor’s office. She came to my home, often bringing along her own baby. The visits were warm and friendly, making it easy to ask plenty of questions and to feel well informed. Instead of getting curt, matter-of-fact answers that I often got from the medical system, LB gave thorough explanations, sharing her deep knowledge and understanding of the entire pregnancy and birth process.  I met with LB a day before she left town and everything was progressing well. I promised, jokingly, that I wouldn’t take any long walks or do anything else that might spur on labor. I could tell my body was gradually progressing towards labor, with the usual surge in nesting and whatnot, but nothing told me it was urgently impending. I figured I still had a good week or two which would give LB plenty of time to return.

photo(3)On Thursday (my 38 week point!) I entertained the idea of skipping the women’s Bible study I attend just because I was tired. But I knew it could be one of my last to attend, so I went and felt fine. Friday morning I woke up feeling mostly rested, until after breakfast at which point I crashed on the couch and didn’t move for the next hour. Thank goodness for Blue’s Clues to entertain my two year old until my husband conveniently had a mid-morning break from work. I even looked up if sudden exhaustion was a symptom of the onset of labor. Of course it was, but no more so than any of the other symptoms that could put you either hours or weeks away from baby. On Saturday I took another substantial nap within hours of waking up. It was refreshing so in the afternoon the husband took me and Cailyn out for frozen yogurt. We walked around a bit, including through the grocery store – I love that hunch that told me to go ahead and get two gallons of milk as well as a few other groceries we were low on. Throughout the day I had been feeling more Braxton Hicks than usual but I attributed that to the walking I had done. They weren’t necessarily more intense, just more frequent.

To switch to a slightly more graphic mode, on Saturday I had also noticed an increase in cervical mucus, including streaks of red. But again, I knew that didn’t guarantee anything immediate. By the end of the day I had lost several small pieces of what must have been my mucus plug. I got excited but still assumed labor was several days off. The several days it would take LB to return, of course.

Saturday night I stayed up until 11pm. I had discovered during the last week that the later I stayed up, the easier it was to stay asleep through the night. Sam was still up in the living room. Soon after I lay down in bed, I felt a few Braxton Hicks. Or so I assumed. I felt them in my abdomen and not my back and didn’t feel the telltale rising and peaking of a real contraction. But after feeling a handful of them within 45 minutes, I thought it might be worth timing them. I was quickly surprised to find the contractions coming every five minutes or so. Then I got a handful of contractions coming every two minutes. By then they started feeling like real contractions, building in intensity before fading again. They were only lasting 20-30 seconds at that point, and weren’t quite stopping me in my tracks, but the fact that they were there still caught me by surprise. By 12:15am, I went and told Sam and as he got over the initial stun, I fumbled around about what to do next.

Part of me was still hesitant to believe that labor was starting. With Cailyn, I remember several nights of sporadic contractions before real labor started. I was hoping that could be the case here, but went ahead and called JB, our back-up midwife, to let her know what was going on and to hopefully get some feedback on what I should do next. I was immediately comforted by her warm, friendly voice. She carefully listened to me describe my contractions. And then with a slightly nervous chuckle she told me she was already on the way to another birth. Imagine both of our surprise! She still gave me 100% attention on the phone though, walking me through a number of questions and giving appropriate advice. Based on my descriptions of the contractions, she thought they were still sporadic enough that active labor may be a way off. She suggested several things to try to slow labor progress so she could hopefully attend her first birth and then make it to me in time, telling me to contact her in the meantime if anything changed.

I got off the phone with her around 12:30pm and I followed her first suggestions by filling up the bath tub with warm water while Sam made me a cup of hot tea. Sam then asked if he should start setting up the birth pool we had rented. My first reaction was that it was too soon to be bothering with that, but I then realized there was nothing we were waiting on. He left me in the bathroom to soak and time my contractions and went to work on the pool in the other room.

Starting to consider that it was quite possible JB might not make it in time, I called friend/doula J who had already offered/agreed to attend our birth. Thankfully she was already awake and functions well as a night owl. She talked to me for a few minutes and said she would come over when I wanted her to. Of course, still (wishfully) thinking I had plenty of time, I told her I would let her know when that was.

Soaking in the bath did help with relaxation. The contractions had begun to pick up intensity before I got in the tub but once in the water, it was easier to get through them. I continued to time the contractions. It gave me something to focus on to get through them. I tried to balance fighting off the creeping intimidation and fear of possibly giving birth without a midwife there, while also holding onto it somewhat, knowing (and hoping) that fear could slow and inhibit labor. But in my case, contractions kept coming consistently every two minutes, lasting about 30 to 40 seconds, gradually longer. JB had said that they should be hitting at least 40 seconds to make significant progress so I tried to hold off for 30 minutes of consistency at that level before updating her, but I caved just short of that and texted her around 1:30am. She asked if they felt strong. At 1:36am I replied saying yes, they were significantly painful. And painful they were.

Originally the water had helped toned down the pain but it had gotten to the point that the water didn’t seem to make a difference.  I began feeling the contractions much more in my back to the point that I couldn’t just recline in the water.  Also to the point that I couldn’t stay silent. What started as mild moaning to get through the peak of the contractions turned, within a few contractions, to not being able to hold back a yell. This was right after I had texted JB and it sent Sam running to the bathroom (yes, he had still been dutifully setting up and filling the pool for me; and yes, I had still been anticipating transferring from the cramped, shallow tub to a real soaker.) I couldn’t say much to Sam at that point, except that it hurt.

Based on the timeframe and the pace of my contractions, I had estimated I was maybe halfway progressed. And that thought was almost unbearable. The pain was coming in such strong waves that I couldn’t fathom bearing it for several more hours or even several more minutes. I started thinking that the only option might be to call 911 and maybe make it to the hospital where I could cave to an epidural. An intense pressure built up within me. It released suddenly with a BM and simultaneously a gush of fluid. The former was obvious and easy to acknowledge (sorry for the TMI, but this is a birth story), the latter took me a moment to process–my water had broken! Maybe I was closer to delivery than I thought! But a moment was all it took because within seconds of that I was crowning.

I’m not sure quite my words or tone, but I immediately let Sam know and he dialed JB right away. Before he could even get her on the line and before I could get beyond the quick thought that I needed to try to push slowly so I could avoid tearing, her head was out. Her head was OUT. Suddenly all the pain and intensity was gone. Time seemed to freeze. I suddenly couldn’t remember what I should do next. I knew I had to wait for the next contraction to deliver her shoulders but the minute that it took for that contraction to come seemed to last forever. During that time JB was on the phone talking Sam through what to do. I remember asking Sam to ask JB if it was okay that the baby’s head was under water. Of course I knew it was safe for a baby to be born in water; I had even planned for it. But something about the suddenness of her arrival and the reality of it happening here and now threw me off guard. But then that one quick push came and she came all the way out. It was 1:40am: two and a half hours since my first contractions and two and half minutes since the contractions reached such intensity I thought I wouldn’t make it (which should’ve told me that it was time to deliver).

I pulled her up to my chest, just like that. I held her tight for just a moment before pulling her back to look at her face and to check that she was breathing. (She was!) In the meantime, JB had told Sam to call a third local midwife, LC, who could come quicker than she would be able to. But because of the suddenness of it all, she also suggested we call 911 as they could arrive faster to make sure everything was ok.

Sam did call 911 and the dispatcher walked him through a few more steps to make sure the baby was breathing clearly and such. The firemen arrived pretty quickly and before they did I had delivered the placenta and Sam had clamped the umbilical cord. I had also managed to send a text to J and my MIL to come because the baby was here. J arrived soon after the firemen and was a perfect balance of calming and controlling presence, especially in contrast to the firemen (God bless their souls) whose big, burly presence didn’t quite fit the atmosphere. They did provide Sam with a scalpel so he could cut the cord. Then the EMT arrived and asked what hospital I wanted to be taken to. When I said I planned to give birth at home and didn’t want to be taken to the hospital if I didn’t need to be, she gave me a blank stare before saying she needed to check what to do because she had never responded to a home delivery that didn’t want to be taken to the hospital. (All we had to do was sign a waiver). Another nice EMT checked my vitals.

junisfirstphotoIn the midst of this, Juniper latched on and started her first feeding. I also remembered to check to make sure she really was a girl and in-between various interruptions to look over and discover that she had all her fingers and toes and that she really was quite perfect. She had surprisingly thick, dark hair (I was expecting another baldy), dark blue eyes, a clear complexion, and a round little head. Debates are still out on who she most resembles.

In the hustle and bustle, Cailyn had also woken up and got to come in and see me and meet Juniper (after we had gotten cleaned up a little bit). She was half asleep and as stunned as the rest of it, but handled it impressively, catching on right away that her new baby sister had finally come and being sincerely happy about it. My in laws also arrived and took part in the excitement before taking Cailyn home to stay the rest of the night with them. And pretty soon the emergency responders all trickled out while J stayed to help Sam take care of baby and me.

J and Sam helped me back to bed and by that time LC, the third (and final!) midwife arrived. Even though I hadn’t met her before and my first contact with her was a middle-of -the-night phone call (after she had just attended two births in the past day), she was as sweet and as helpful as could be. She checked me over, especially because the walk back to bed had caused me to get light headed and almost pass out. She was a little concerned about my blood pressure and pulse but after having me recline and breathe deeply, they improved. She did conclude that I had lost a good amount of blood but nothing that bed rest and some chlorophyll couldn’t fix. I had also torn but mildly compared to before and not enough to warrant stitches (yay!).

P1070470LC also examined Juniper and found her to be in great shape. She weighed in at seven pounds, five ounces (compared to Cailyn’s eight pounds eleven ounces!) and 20 inches long. J stuck around to help her and was so dear to make sure everything got cleaned up. Sometime after 4am everyone had left and Sam and I settled into bed (our own cozy bed!) with the sweetest little baby in-between us and just stared at each other in disbelief.

P1070482All the times and all the ways I had imagined our birth possibly going, I had never imagined anything like this. And as shocking and almost traumatic as it was, I really don’t know if I would have it any other way. I was SO thankful for the midwives’ help, even if from afar or after awhile. LC came back and checked in on us the next day. And LM visited and checked in on us upon her return from out of state and again a few days after that.  I can only imagine how great it would’ve been to have one of them, especially our original midwife LM, present during the labor and delivery but there was also something empowering about getting through it with just Sam by my side. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I would plan for my next birth alone! But experiencing first hand that “birth works” is something else. Between instinct and education I had become convinced that natural birth was the way to go. But knowing it is nothing compared to doing it. And ultimately I am so thankful to God that I was able to do it, have my husband by my side, and most of all able to come out of it holding a healthy, beautiful little girl and having health myself.

firstfamilyphoto

First Family Picture, a couple hours after birth.

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DIY Frosted Animal Cookies Tutorial

Hello blogging world. I know I’ve been gone a pathetically long time. I have no excuse other than life being busy. Or me being lazy. Or both.

Believe it or not, I did start composing a handful of posts just to get interrupted and then not come back and finish them. And I’ve had ideas for many more posts that never got started. It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything. I’m actually in the midst a sewing streak right now – the longest I’ve had in years! If I work my way back to try to cover some of the interesting/creative things I’ve done over the past few months, I could have content for weeks! But that’s a big “if.”
As much as I like writing and as much as I like crafting, it can be counter-intuitive for me to try to write about crafting. Because then I’m spending time writing instead of crafting and vice verse or something. But enough of my sad story.

Here is a quick project I was thrilled to stumble upon.

I love me some Mother’s Circus Animal Cookies. There’s something so perfect about the frosting, the soft cookie inside, the SPRINKLES outside. Mmmmm! But they get pricey when added to the weekly grocery budget.

What isn’t so pricey is the drab, boring, frosting-less, sprinkle-less animal crackers. I have a HUGE bear-shaped tub that Cailyn is currently (and quickly!) working her way through.

It occurred to me that even though the plain version is called a cracker, it’s probably the same thing as the inside of the Circus Animal Cookies.

THAT insight joined a long-overdue lightbulb that goes waaay back to November when I helped my MIL make cupcakes for my SIL’s baby shower. The cupcakes we made came from the book What’s New, Cupcake? by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson which contains some of the cutest, most creative cupcakes I’ve ever seen. We made the cupcakes called “Shower Heads” which is such a clever play on baby showers.

Image

(Picture snipped from Amazon’s book preview, to show them in their full glory, and because I can’t find the pictures I took of the ones we made.)

They are simply mini-cupcakes with wafer cookies on top to make the faces. As you can see, the wafer cookies have a smooth coating which I thought would be chocolate. BUT IT ISN’T! No, not at all. The amazingly smooth, creamy coating for the faces is FROSTING. Just plain-ole, store-bought, in-a-jar frosting!

When I heard that I almost gave up hope. I’m not at all a cake artist and I definitely can’t manage frosting. If I get it on the cupcake (and not in my mouth by the spoonful) that’s an accomplishment. Forget trying to make it smooth!

But let me tell you a secret: This was the EASIEST thing EVER. It took a little practice to not make a mess but as far as making it smooth – no effort!

Want to know how? I’ll tell you!

But, I’ve taken a detour from my original topic. Although I’m hoping you have guessed where this goes. The brilliant method I discovered back in November for making cute little edible baby faces could, get this(!), make ANIMAL COOKIES!

So I took a couple big handfuls of the plain, boring animal crackers out of my daughter’s tub. (She loves them, by the way. But she doesn’t know better, yet.)
I took a large sheet of wax paper spread over a plate.
I took my jar of store-bought frosting.
And, of course, my fun, colorful sprinkles.

I scooped a few generous spoonfuls of frosting into a microwave-safe bowl. And… I microwaved it! For all of 5 seconds. And then another few seconds at a time until it was smooth.

See? You know it’s ready when it’s the texture of melted chocolate. And yes, that’s a cookie hiding in there.
(You’ll have to forgive me for the pictures. The project went so fast I only got some pictures when I was almost finished with it.)

Then you take a regular dinner or salad fork and use it to dip the cookie in the frosting. If your frosting is deep enough in the bowl, you can just dip the cracker in on the fork and pull it all out, nicely coated. If you’re reaching the bottom of your bowl, like I was, you can flip the cracker over a couple times until it’s coated.

Then – this is important – take advantage of the slots in the fork and let plenty of the runny, goey frosting drip off. Even rub the bottom of the cracker against the side of the bowl, to get rid of excess. Believe me, the cracker will still have plenty of frosting on it. If you leave too much, the frosting will form a big puddle under your cracker when you set it down.

Then just slide the crackers  (crackers? I should start calling them cookies now that they officially have more sugar than nutrients) off the fork and onto the wax paper. Gravity will do most of the work for you.

Keep dipping cookie and sliding them onto the wax paper until you have enough to make you happy. And I’m sure you can be a lot more careful and precise and make your animal cookies look a lot prettier, but I have an bad habit of racing sloppily through a project to get to the end results (a tasty cookie, in this case.)

If your frosting starts to loose its smoothness or gets difficult to work with, just pop it in the microwave again. Unlike can happen with chocolate, I never noticed any detriment to my frosting when I re-microwaved it. I guess the time is so short (again, just 5 seconds!) that you aren’t coming close to burning it.

Then give the dipped crackers a few minutes for the frosting to set and sprinkle with multi-colored (or your favorite colored) sprinkles. The traditional nonpareils do the trick.

I found that when I sprinkled too soon, the sprinkles would sink down into the frosting after a while. It didn’t affect the taste at all, but they didn’t look quite as pleasant as when the sprinkles rested on top of the frosting a little bit. So test it out to find the right timing to let the frosting set without letting it get so solid that sprinkles won’t stick. And if you’re making a large batch of cookies, take a couple breaks in between dipping to sprinkle.

Another trick I found is that when I set the cookie on wax paper that already had sprinkles spilled all over it, the sprinkles stuck to the bottom of the cookie and actually gave it a nice resting place that kept the frosting from oozing out around the cookie as much.

Once you’ve finished these unbelievably simple steps, you’ll want to dig right in. (Cailyn obviously did.) So go ahead. But popping them in the fridge for a few hours definitely helps them set! The longer they were in the fridge (12+ hours) the more the frosting hardened  so the texture became like that of the Circus Animal Cookies. Until then, they tasted wonderful but there was a distinct difference from the store-bought kind. The homemade ones were.. moister? They were pretty much like frosting on cookies (and who would argue with that?!) But giving them that time to set allowed the frosting to become a little more candy-coating like, as you expect from the store-bought variety. If that makes sense?

Anyway, the only way they lasted the 12+ hours is because I wanted to test the time they needed to set. I think I snuck one (or more) every hour. It was just the right amount to feed my sweet-tooth. (Okay, who am I kidding? I could’ve eaten 50 of them without blinking an eye.)

Cailyn thought they were pretty exciting, once I let her at ’em. I only let her have a few because I didn’t want her to get smart and start rejecting the frosting-free animal crackers (and because I obviously ate the rest of the frosted ones.) But she certainly enjoyed them!

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March 30, 2012 · 8:25 pm

Why Calvinism is Confusing and Where Logic Comes In

Calvinism… Five Points… TULIP: these terms go far to clarify a doctrine to those who see and believe it. But to those who don’t see or believe it, or don’t know or understand the doctrine, these terms can muddle it all the more.

What I’ve come to greatly prefer are the terms (granted, translations) that Scripture itself uses to describe the doctrine in question: Election and Predestination.

According to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary the words can be defined as follows:

Elect: select; by implication favorite: – chosen, elect.  (G1588)

Predestine: to limit in advance, that is, (figuratively) predetermine: – determine before, ordain, predestinate. (G4309)

The definitions are fairly straightforward. There are also similar terms, such as foreknew, choose/chosen, and called.

In the few discussions/debates I’ve had on the topic, it seems easy for people to say “I don’t agree with Calvinism” or “I don’t believe in the five points.” Honestly, that’s all fair and good. But what I don’t hear as often or don’t see people quick to say is, “I disagree with election” or “I don’t believe in predestination.”

Why? Because Scripture itself uses and teaches those terms.
Elect is used an upwards of 20 times.
Predestine is used at least seven times.
Foreknew/foreknowledge is used another handful of times.
And that doesn’t count the numerous uses of chosen and called that relate to this doctrine, (or other variations that I didn’t think of or come across in my five minute word study.)

While the doctrines of election and predestination haven’t always been crystal clear to me and I have at times been stumped by arguments from opposing views, the evidence in Scripture is undeniable. And even beyond the evidence, the logic of these doctrines has become overwhelming obvious to me.

In church this morning, I was listening to the powerfully convicting hymn “All I Have is Christ” (Jordan Kauflin/Sovereign Grace Music).
The line that stuck with me was, “And if You had not loved me first, I would refuse You still.”

The line draws obvious inspiration from 1 John 4: 10 & 19: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins… We love because he first loved us.

At the heart of that line (and those verses) is the doctrine of man’s utter depravity. I believe a true Christian would be hard-pressed to deny utter depravity. It’s foundational to the teaching of the gospel and the acceptance thereof. (See also: Romans 3:9-12; 23. Romans 8:7-8. Job 15:14-16. Mark 10:18. 1 John 1:8-10.)

With man’s utter depravity in mind, particularly the following aspects: “No one seeks God” (Rom 3:11) and “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7), there seems but one logical conclusion to make. Since we couldn’t seek God, God first sought us. And (returning to 1 John 4) since we couldn’t love, God first loved us.

In other words, the necessary conclusion of utter depravity is that God initiated (and continues to initiate) all aspects of salvation, including what initially drew us to Christ.

I think (hope) most everyone would agree with that.
The slight step beyond that then, is that if God initiated salvation by loving us, making that love know to us, calling us, and opening our heart to submit to Him, then He would see it through to salvation. That’s the “I” of Calvin’s TULIP: Irresistible Grace, FYI. And I suspect that’s one of the most logically challenging parts of the doctrine for many people to “accept”: that if God calls us/chose us/opened our hearts to Him, we won’t be able to resist that but will (eventually) respond with saving faith.

While it doesn’t coincide with our own perception of free will, based on the doctrines revealed in Scripture, irresistible grace is not only (mysteriously) consistent with free will, but also the logical conclusion to utter depravity and God’s initiative in salvation.

But it’s not just logic! It’s written throughout Scripture. The most commonly referenced passage to explain that is probably Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

But there are others:
John 6:37 & 44: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

Ephesians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

… And that’s not even getting into the whole discussion of the sufficiency of God’s calling!

The other major issue most hold with the doctrine of election and predestination is not a new one. As a matter of fact, it was addressed in Scripture when the doctrine was originally being explained, that is, the issue of, “Is it FAIR?”

Is it FAIR for God to chose some to believe, which implies He must chose some NOT to believe?
Is it fair for God to elect some to eternal salvation while in the same hand sentencing others to eternal damnation?

It may not settle well with our consciences, initially, but I’ll let Scripture speak for itself:

Romans 9:10-24: “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls–  she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” [Emphasis added.]

So my final question is, again of logic, would be why is almost an entire chapter of Scripture devoted to justifying a doctrine if that doctrine doesn’t exist?

…And regardless of any impressions or actual interactions/experiences gathered from historical or current “Calvinists” or “Reformed Christians” or whatever they may be called, this doctrine is the most liberating doctrine and the ultimate expression of grace.
It really is best summed up as Doctrines of Grace because it depends on nothing more. Nothing I do. Nothing you do. No qualities of my own that could earn His favor. No move in my own heart to choose God. No attempt of my own to seek Him. It leaves no room for pride, arrogance, or even legalism, despite our own bent towards those.
On the contrary, I am saved by God’s mercy alone, from the midst of my wretched depravity, “as I ran my hell-bound race” (in the words of the previously quoted hymn by Kauflin.)

And because I can’t say it any better, I’ll share the last verse and a quarter of said hymn:

You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You

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Life is But a Breath

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
– Joan Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking)

This past weekend brought a frightening reminder that life is fragile.

But also that God is in control and that God cares.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103: 2-5

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