I have always been perplexed by Jesus’ promise that his yoke is easy and his burden light. I often can’t think of anything heavier or harder than the Christian life. Forgiving people who have hurt me to the core. Sharing the Gospel through my shyness. Serving others and seeking their good. Getting to church with three children under 4 after a weary week, not to mention volunteering for the never-ending activities and events. Being honest and encouraging and kind when it’s easier to be passive aggressive or sarcastic. Squeezing in time to pray (and then the guilt of not praying enough), Bible reading, Bible study, Bible memorizing, helping my toddlers start all of these spiritual disciplines.
So I was excited to read The Easy Burden of Pleasing God by Patty Kirk (IVP, 2013). I read it. And re-read it. I’ve had this book for three months now and have struggled to write a review of it because of my own ambivalence.
I like it. I hate it. I’m relieved. I’m more anxious. I just don’t know.
Kirk’s premise is that our work is to believe in the One God has sent. Period.
And I agree—all the work that was vital was done by Jesus, and we cannot add or take away from our salvation.
The most helpful (to me) sentence of the entire book: “Hopefully, my daughters do not regard the rules I’ve given them as they’ve matured… and their own dutiful avoidance of such behaviors as the main business of our relationship. If they did, then they would think my love for them less if they ever failed… and any interaction between us would be hopelessly encumbered by my unmet expectations and their probable feelings of guilt.” (21-22) Yes! The parent-child relationship teaches us so much about God’s love for us. Obedience to rules doesn’t make up the whole of the relationship. How I need to hear this daily!
But the rules are still important. They are protective and good and beautiful. That’s why there are rules in the New Testament to the Church. The works are important, though they don’t make up our salvation. They are an evidence of an internal working and transformation by the Holy Spirit, and not something we can muster up by sheer will. I think Kirk would agree with my assertion—the problem is, I’m not totally sure. It seemed unclear to me. The whole way through, I wanted to sit down with her and ask her questions about what she meant regarding this or that.
I felt there was not enough discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit – who is the one who empowers us and transforms us for these good works, nor of the book of James, where the relationship between faith and works is discussed.
I also felt some of this book was spent trying to make God’s commands not so hard for us to swallow rather than pointing us to the powerful Spirit of God in us. Her chapter on forgiveness—a hard work, indeed—was an explanation on who we were not required to forgive based on omissions from Jesus’ commands on forgiving. It seemed that a lot of space was dedicated to explaining what we didn’t have to do. It seemed like excuses not to do hard things. God’s holiness means his expectations are high—perfection, actually. But we don’t respond to failure by lowering God’s expectations. We use our failures as an opportunity to point to Jesus, our righteousness.
And the thing is, God calls us to do hard things. And while there are many precious saints who need this message of rest, I think most of us need to hear a prophetic call to work in the power of the Spirit for the glory of God. I think we already devise our own excuses for why this or that passage of Scripture doesn’t apply to us. I fear people will interpret it as a cop-out to just kick back and keep doing what they’re doing—building straw kingdoms that will have no eternal value.
Kirk is right to point out our obsessive need to always be doing something. We throw ourselves into a frenzy of Bible studies, church programs and ministries, and a flurry of private devotional activities. I’m having to daily preach to myself that God’s acceptance of me doesn’t depend on my faithful Scripture reading and memorizing, or how many things I can get involved in at church (all of which have decreased with the birth of my third child under 3). I’m now resting from my wrongful burden of thinking that I needed to do those things to please God and be accepted by Him. I still do them—but in short snippets as my busy days and needy babies allow, and bringing the guilt and shame of not doing them some days to the cross and leaning on the Perfect One instead. Because when I get into that shame cycle, I find I withdraw from God completely.
Resting from the wrong burdens (thinking I need to do this or that to get God’s approval) leads me to take on obedience with joy. I’m walking 3 miles in Texas heat with a double stroller and a baby carrier to the park to tell moms about Jesus—when I’m not exhausted from the daily home stuff or nursing a baby constantly. Which is a lot. But I love my neighbors—a love that has taken years to develop in this shy woman enough to drive me to tell them about Jesus. And that’s just it. It’s a work God has grown me into, which makes the burden light.
I like this book. I do. It spoke peace to my must-earn-it mentality with God. My only real concern is that it doesn’t seem clear enough on the importance of works without making them the benchmark for God’s acceptance of us. I see too much apathy within the Church, possibly because Christians assume these good works are too hard. They are. But He who started the good work in us will see it to completion, and carry us in grace the whole way.
Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher, but my opinions are my own. I was not paid for this review.
When I was in 9th grade and basketball season was imminent, the principal came handed bookmarks to all the basketball players. The bookmarks had pictures of basketballs and hoops, and overlaying all of it was a very popular Bible verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. -Philippians 4:13″
I was one of the worst players on the team, though I did try very hard. I loved the Lord and had begun reading Scripture voraciously, and I was learning what it meant to be faithful to Christ in all areas of my life. Christ had strengthened me for sharing Jesus with my friends, for becoming a person of integrity in my schoolwork, and for enduring a difficult family life. But contrary to this implied promise on a bookmark, Christ would not strengthen me in basketball (except my 3-pointers and free throws…they were actually pretty sweet). So what happened to “all things?”
Philippians 4:13 has become our mantra whenever we are trying to do something difficult – particularly in sports. We’ve turned it into the Christian version of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” We repeat it over and over, we call it our “life verse,” because we find power in positive thinking.
If you saw the movie Soul Surfer, then you saw this mantra in action. Bethany Hamilton lost an arm to a shark, but she found that she could still be a champion surfer because she “can do all things through Christ who strengthens [her].” Hamilton has a cool story and I’m glad that she was able to move beyond self-pity to do what she loves to do, and I appreciate her desire to help others in the Majority World through her surfing. But I don’t think this verse is an appropriate application to her situation.
Let’s look at the context of Philippians 4:13:
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.
Now that you’ve read the surrounding passages, how does this apply to surfing or to basketball or even overcoming hardship? Right…it doesn’t. Paul was apparently having financial trouble, and the Philippians came to his aid. Paul had learned the secret to contented living with plenty or with not enough – Christ is the one who gives strength for that.
We cannot rip a single verse out of the context where it is found and expect to apply it to any situation. Why not? Because this is how truth is distorted and cults come into existence. If you can point to any single verse, you can back up any idea that you want with Scripture. Want to be pro-cannibalism? “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53). You can do this with almost any idea you come up with, if you look hard enough.
The problem with using Philippians 4:13 in this way is that we have read our American ideas into it. The American Dream is basically: work hard enough and you can do anything you want.” Apply this to Philippians 4:13, and Christ strengthens us to do anything we want if we just believe and work hard enough at it. But I still stink at full-court press and jump-shots. What if Bethany Hamilton hadn’t been able to pull herself up onto her surfboard? Would Christ be a failure? No. The promise is that He strengthens us for contentment whether we have plenty or nothing at all (a great promise, indeed!). Those are the “all things.”
This application of Philippians 4:13 is not Gospel-centered. We cannot work hard enough to achieve anything we want. We are, at every turn, dependent upon God’s grace as limited creatures. As we work, we are energized by His Spirit to accomplish His will (which may not include my membership in the WNBA).
Is there a better passage to go to for such situations?
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul shares how he has come up against hardship after hardship. He then develops some kind of “thorn” in his side. He asks God to take it away, but God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul goes on to say that he will boast about his weaknesses, his failures, his hardships, because that is when God is most glorified – when we cannot take any of the glory ourselves. It is a perfect picture of our dependence on God’s grace in our weakness. Perhaps not for basketball, although God did give me grace to endure the humiliation of being bad at something (for 6 years!) in order to spend time with my friends and develop close spiritual relationships with them that resulted in locker room Bible studies, mutual prayer and encouragement, and a fertile soil for my spiritual development. It’s grace for a wounded surfer who can be used by God when she feels her life is over. That’s it exactly – God showing His strength in my very apparent weakness, not for my glory or for the sake of basketball, but for the advancement of His kingdom.
What other Bible verses have you heard ripped totally out of context?
(Edited and reposted from my archives at http://myofferings.wordpress.com)
In my last post, I shared that I was planning a drug-free, birth center delivery with a midwife instead of at the hospital with an obstetrician. In fact, I never saw an obstetrician even once during the entire pregnancy. The previous post explains my reasons why. Many of you have been asking how that went, so here is Eden Grace’s birth story. This is a long post – I divided it up into her birth story and then my reflections on this experience compared to my hospital experiences…feel free to skip one or the other!
Eden’s Birth Story
I had started having contractions about every 15-20 minutes on Sunday, March 17th. Some were intense, but most were just irritating, and I just chalked it up to more Braxton-Hicks contractions. I was able to sleep through them most of the night, but at 5:30am on Monday, I had to get out of bed. The contractions were about 7-10 minutes apart, and my hips were killing me. I walked around the house a bit, picking things up and timing the contractions, guzzling water just in case the contractions were caused by dehydration. By about 8:30, they were still coming, so I had Brady take the kids to stay with some friends, but I still wasn’t 100% sure this was labor. I was uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t really describe it as pain.
When Brady got back, we went for a good walk around the neighborhood to try to speed things up, and after about 15 minutes of walking, I got some good, hard contractions that made me stop walking and focus on breathing through them. We got home around 10:30 to time contractions, and I almost panicked: they were slowing down! There was a 12 minute lag between two of the contractions, and we thought, Well crap, we sent the kids off and Brady took off work, and we have to have this baby today! (Because, you know, babies are so known for their convenience and good timing) At 11:00, I predicted to some friends on Facebook that this was probably going to be my slowest labor yet.
I needed a rest after the walk, so we sat and watched Netflix for a few minutes. I felt another contraction come on, and I prepared myself for a tiny one like the previous three had been.
And then. BOOM.
At 11:30, a huge contraction and a lot of pressure, and I thought I was peeing myself right there on the couch. I scrambled to get up (apparently, I need to chill out on how much I care about messes), but I couldn’t because the contraction was so intense. I realized then that my water broke, so yay, baby decided to become a little more convenient. The contractions immediately became pretty intense and close together, and I had to focus all my energy on them each time.
Brady called Christine, my midwife, and let her know what had happened. Up until this point, I hadn’t even bothered calling her because I thought I’d be so embarrassed if I put her on alert and then nothing happened. He reminded her that my other labors had progressed quickly at the end (4 to 10 centimeters in one hour), so she had us come in to the birth center. We got there at 12:05pm, and the labor notes remark, “Mother is laughing, smiling.”
And I was. We walked into the birthing room, which is like a lovely little bed and breakfast suite. It has a nice, large bed and a large jacuzzi tub, blue walls and lit candles and soft music. I walked in and immediately relaxed after the 30-minute car ride. Christine and her assistant, Brenda, were both waiting with smiles and excitedly squealed, “It’s your big day! She’s coming!” No rush, no emergency, no hospital smell.
Christine checked my vitals and the baby’s, but never checked my cervix, so I really had no idea how far I had progressed. Christine saw that my contractions were coming hard, so she filled up the tub with warm water, and I got in to manage them easier. Between each wave, I’d turn and talk to Brady or one of the midwives, making comments about my previous births or how different this was from the hospital, joking and laughing. Then I’d feel one come on, and focus again to breathe through it. Christine sat on the side of the tub, occasionally checking Eden’s heartrate with a waterproof doppler, and Brady sat next to her, holding my hand, rubbing my back, giving me water to drink.
I’d been in the tub about 10 minutes when I had a contraction that felt kind of pushy. Christine noticed it too, and said, “Wow, you are efficient!” I was worried that I was feeling the urge to push too soon – labor didn’t seem hard enough for me to be to that point already! Christine told me to trust my body and just go with it. The next contraction was even more pushy, and I couldn’t bear to be leaning back in the tub anymore. I felt I needed to be on all fours, so I turned over.
The next contraction came, and the urge to push was insane, so I bore down with everything I had. They put a mirror down in the water to see what was happening, and Brady said, “Aubry, she’s coming!” The next contraction came, and I felt her crowning. Ring of fire ain’t no joke. This was the only point in the entire labor that I felt like I couldn’t do it, and it lasted 30 seconds. I let out a controlled scream – doctors are wrong, screaming does help sometimes. When the contraction was over, I reached down and felt the top of her head and almost cried with joy. I laughed out, “My baby! She has a lot of hair!”
Next contraction, head out. As I waited for the next contraction to deliver the rest of her body, everyone was saying, “Whoa, she’s huge!” And apparently, broad-shouldered. My other two babies had been tiny (6″11 and 7″1), and Eden was born just a day shy of 38 weeks, so we figured she would be even smaller. I even carried smaller with her. It took a lot of manipulating to get her shoulders out, and Christine pushed my leg up and out. I literally roared to get that child out. Later, Brenda called me a lioness. Indeed.
She landed right into her daddy’s hands. Brady pulled her up out of the water, I turned over, and he laid her on my chest. She cried about 3 seconds, then took some good breaths and peeked around at all of us, quiet and alert. She was so peaceful – a gentle birth into warm water and dim lights and her parents’ hands. She was born at 12:53pm, not even an hour after we got there. She was 8lbs 10oz (a full two pounds bigger than both my boys!) and 22 in long.
When the cord stopped pulsing about 10 minutes later, Brady cut it and wrapped her up into his chest and sat in a rocking chair with her while I delivered the afterbirth and then got to the bed to get checked over. The entire time, Eden was never more than 10 feet away from me. They weighed her and checked her over and gave her Vitamin K shot right there on the bed in front of me. She never fussed. We stayed a few hours, then I showered and they discharged us by 4:30pm. There was no need to stay – I felt fantastic, and we were both healthy.
So how would I compare Eden’s birth with the hospital births of my two sons, attended by obstetricians?
1) There was no fear. I’m convinced that my labor went as quickly and as easily as it did in part because I just tend to labor quickly, but also because I wasn’t fearful and tense. I was encouraged to learn about normal, natural birth and the amazing things my body could do without medical help, so I knew what was going on each step of my labor. I didn’t have to walk into a hospital – a place where you go in emergencies and where I’ve experienced a lot of family trauma. I knew the midwife and while I’d never met Brenda, she was motherly and kind to me. I was treated as a normal woman going through a normal part of life, rather than a potential medical emergency that needed to be treated. And I think it was this lack of fear that helped me progress so quickly and easily.
2) I knew more. About everything. The midwives taught me how to figure out exactly how Eden was positioned during pregnancy, which was both fun and helpful to know. They looked at my diet and made suggestions where they were needed to keep me low risk. I borrowed books from them. They asked me how I was doing emotionally, and how I felt about mothering three young children. They scheduled long appointments so I could ask any question I wanted to. I wasn’t just a patient to be tested and prodded for complications; I was treated like a whole person going into a new phase of life. I’ve been pregnant three times, and I learned so much new stuff the third time around.
3) I had a strategy for coping with pain. With my boys, I knew I wanted a natural birth, but I thought it meant I had to just brace myself and make it through contractions. That’ll work I guess, but this labor was a lot easier because I didn’t fight the contractions. I recommend Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, which teaches husbands/partners to support and coach the laboring mother into relaxing deeply into each contraction and between contractions. Instead of tensing up, I breathed and moaned through each contraction while focusing on loosening my muscles as much as possible. It worked so well that I didn’t realize I was so close to pushing, and I was still laughing and smiling between contractions right to the very end. It was never too much. (As a disclaimer, the Bradley book is meant to be accompanied by a Bradley class, which I didn’t take due to time constraints and the fact that this was my third birth. Also, I ignored their teaching on laboring position, which is almost exclusively side-lying to help with relaxation. I laid on my side through one contraction and knew that wasn’t for me – I just followed my body’s instincts instead.)
4) Recovery was much faster. With my first birth, I had Pitocin, Stadol, and some other mild (read: ineffective) pain relief, and no epidural. With my second, I had only an epidural. Both times, I felt sick for two weeks postpartum, and I felt like I’d been hit by a bus right when I should have been bonding with my newborns and rejoicing over them. This time? I felt great right after the birth – we picked up cheeseburgers on the way home. I’m a week postpartum and besides the afterpains (which, by your third child is like labor all over again) and sleep deprivation and a little soreness, I’ve felt fine. Pain relief drugs during labor are really pain delaying drugs. I’d rather have a day of labor pains and then feel great, rather than some labor pains, then two weeks of feeling awful while trying to care for a newborn. Not to mention the stress of the side effects – the Pitocin caused both Breckon and I to become distressed (I hyperventilated from the pain and fear, and Breckon’s heartrate plummeted), Stadol made me horribly dizzy, and the epidural made my blood pressure drop to a nearly dangerous level, which made me very stressed and concerned for Kian. The use of medications in labor has been proven to increase the rates of C-sections. For me, natural birth was honestly easier.
5) Breastfeeding was easier. I wasn’t actually able to breastfeed either one of my boys, which was emotionally really difficult for me for a long time. The labor drugs made them too sleepy for days, the IVs made me so swollen that they couldn’t latch on, my babies were kept in the nursery or otherwise separated from me for far too long for no compelling reason, and the hospital staff were completely uncooperative and disregarded my instructions not to give them formula or sugar water. With no drugs, Eden was alert after birth for a long while. I had immediate help this time, and she was constantly with me, so I was able to nurse her right away.
6) I was in control. I loved not having to fight for the birth I wanted. I loved not needing to remind people not to offer me epidurals, I loved being able to move around as my body needed to without the ridiculous monitors or being on my back, I loved being encouraged to manage the pain rather than helped to escape it. I liked not being judged for refusing eye ointment or Hepatitis B vaccine when I know I don’t have STDs. I just said what I wanted and it was done. No hospital protocols to barter with, no doctors or nurses acting like they were the experts on my body or who wanted to speed things up for their convenience. My baby, my body, my birth, my decisions.
I’ve had nothing but joy in reflecting on my birth experience with Eden, whereas I’ve had to work through some hard emotions with Breckon and Kian’s births.
Unless some medical necessity demanded it, I would never go back to hospital birth again after this experience. It’s just too stressful for me. I would even consider having a homebirth attended by a midwife, since my labors go so quickly.
***It’s unfortunate that I need to note that my experience is not a reflection of yours – please don’t feel judged if you didn’t do what I did and you loved it. These were my births, my experiences, and I’m not here to judge yours. I’m only relating my story.***
When I tell people I’m seeing a midwife for this pregnancy, or that I’m giving birth in a birthing center, I get a lot of weird looks. If this were my first child, I might think those looks were deserved, but America’s maternity care is in serious crisis. My story proves it.
In June 2009, I went into labor for the first time. The first among my peers to get pregnant, I naively assumed that my wishes for my birth would be honored–barring any medical complication, of course. My body has always been extremely sensitive to medication, so I knew from the start that I wanted a natural, drug-free birth for my own safety and that of my son. So I did some research, drew up a birth plan, and had it ready to hand to my doctor and nurses in Labor & Delivery.
The contractions began at 10pm, and at 5am, we went into the hospital. I was at 2 centimeters. I was a little deflated after 7 hours of labor that I still had so far to go, but the pain was bearable and I knew it took first-timers longer to progress. I proudly handed the nurses my birth plan and was surprised at their reactions – rolling their eyes. Another one of those. One nurse said, “Well, we’ll see what the doctor says.” What?
Three hours later, the doctor came in for less than 2 minutes to assess my situation (very roughly and painfully). I was still at a 2. Without asking permission or giving warning, he pulled out a long stick and used it to break my water. He told the nurse, “Put her on Pitocin and up it every 15 minutes. We should have this baby by 4pm.” Translation? He wanted to be home by dinner. He never said a word to me, the one in labor, the one whose body he had commandeered.
I was too compliant and fearful. He was the doctor, I should listen to him. He’s the expert.
Except he wasn’t. Not on my body. A normal dose of Pitocin is an overdose for my body. It has happened before – a normal dose of morphine was an overdose for me, and caused me to stop breathing once. A few common antibiotics cause me to shake uncontrollably, and one mild narcotic I was on once made me sleep 20 hours per day–I fell asleep while walking! I have to be really careful about drugs.
Pitocin is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, which is what causes contractions. Suddenly, my contractions were long and unbearably hard. My fear increased–I knew something was wrong. I begged for mercy. I hyperventilated from the overwhelming pain, and my nurse got in my face and yelled at me for depriving my baby of oxygen. This was all my fault. (I hyperventilated harder until my husband literally pushed her out of the way to calm me down himself) Breckon’s heartrate dropped dramatically with each contraction. They kept upping the dose every 15 minutes, even though it was clearly causing both me and my baby distress.
Because time is money.
I begged for an epidural. I was terrified of what more drugs would do to me, but my fear of this pain was worse. I was told I was at a 3, and I couldn’t have one until I reached a 4. Once I reached a 4, an epidural was ordered, but I went to a 10 in less than an hour and epidurals are slow in coming, so I didn’t get one. The doctor barely made it in the room to catch my son, and I was told not to push while waiting for him. I decided someone else could catch my baby. I needed to push. I needed this agony to end. The doctor walked in, saw my son’s head crowning, and he yelled, “Don’t push!” while he struggled to get boots on over his expensive shoes. He had lost all my trust. I pushed with the hope that birth goo would cover those damn shoes. I got the baby out, but received a 2nd-degree tear for my disobedience. (It turns out that pushing hard during crowning is a bad idea. Now I know.)
My birth ended with a healthy baby, and a lot of blood loss on my part, but a healthy mother nonetheless. Should I just be grateful we were okay? Should I just be grateful that I didn’t have a C-section? I am grateful, but no, I don’t think that’s enough. It’s not okay that this happened. Or that a slightly-less-dramatic version of it played out with the birth of my second son in a different hospital and a different doctor. There was a strong emotional damage that I’m still working through nearly four years later.
The U.S. spends more money on maternity care than any other country, but it does not rank well in terms of maternal or infant mortality. Does that surprise you? Even after my births, it surprised me. Most of Europe and Japan have much better birth outcomes than we do (here are the CIA factbook lists for maternal mortality and infant mortality - the U.S. isn’t even close to the best).
The difference? In most other Western countries, birth is viewed as a normal part of a woman’s life cycle (rather than a medical emergency), and over 70% of births are attended by midwives rather than obstetricians. More, in this case, isn’t better. What’s more, is that women in these countries frequently report less fear of childbirth and less pain in childbirth than American women. We are trained to fear it, and so our perception of pain increases.
Most U.S. hospitals have C-section rates between 30 and 35%–well above the World Health Organization’s recommendations for what is safe. My midwife has a C-section rate between 2 and 8%. Do we really believe that 1/3 of women cannot birth the children they have grown?
Continuous electronic fetal monitoring seems safer, but since its implementation in hospitals, the C-section rate has skyrocketed. Intermittent fetal monitoring is proven to be just as safe and leads to fewer C-sections because mothers aren’t confined to beds on their backs–the least efficient and most painful way to labor. Epidurals come with real risks, and they slow labor down, so Pitocin is often given to speed things up. Pitocin often puts the mother in more pain and the baby in more distress, so more epidural is given to cover the pain, and soon a C-section is deemed necessary because the cycles of epidurals and Pitocin have stalled labor too much or caused the baby’s heartrate to drop too dangerously. How do we react? Thank God she was in the hospital! Only, had the mother been able to use gravity and movement to ease the baby down, and allowed her body’s natural contractions to progress the labor more gently, she could have avoided major abdominal surgery in the first place.
I do thank God we have obstetricians. For the relatively small percentage of women who truly need surgery to safely bring a baby into this world because of preclampsia or placenta previa and other emergencies, they are literally saving lives. But they are not trained in normal birth. They don’t trust it. Many never see a normal, natural birth in the course of their training.They fear it and medicate it and think they have improved upon nature, but they are actually making things worse.
Here are things I believe that have led me to choose to birth with a midwife:
1) I believe women are strong. We are not damsels-in-distress who need to be rescued from birth and pain by the knights of medical intervention. I have talked to so many women who say about drug-free childbirth, “I could never do that.” I think you could. I think you’ve been trained to fear it more than it deserves. Our birth practices should not be fear-based, and I believe women are far more capable than they realize.
2) I believe women should control how they birth. Responsibility about our bodies and our babies have been wrested from our hands and placed in the hands of doctors and nurses who don’t know our bodies like we do. I believe women should move around in labor rather than be strapped to a bed for monitoring, so that she can be the primary assessor of how things are going and what her body needs to do. I think we know how to birth instinctively, but current medical practice sweeps our confidence and instinct out from under us.
3) I believe my safety and my baby’s safety come first, over and above hospital protocol. Hospitals are businesses, and time is money. I no longer trust a medical establishment that ignores a birthing mother’s wishes because her labor is “taking too long” and a doctor who will push drugs onto a woman so he can be home by dinner (did you know most C-sections take place around 4pm? Atrocious.) I can never trust a doctor making decisions so that he won’t get sued–and it’s hard to argue in court that a doctor did everything he could if he C-sectioned the mother.
4) I believe it’s hard to improve upon God’s design. We live in a world ravaged by sin and death, so we do see complications and even death from childbirth. But I believe that for most women, the best practice for childbirth is to let the hormones and contractions and natural movements do their thing. Unnecessary intervention leads to problems.
5) I believe childbirth is spiritually formative, and we shortchange ourselves when we seek to “just get through it.” Childbirth is a big theme in Scripture. Sure, there’s the curse, but it’s a metaphor frequently drawn upon to talk about God’s agony over our sin, the groaning and waiting for the coming of Christ, the pastoral labor for the Church. It wasn’t until I began researching normal birth practices that I really came to love God’s intricate design of the female body–and truly loved that I was a woman. My body is not a series of flaws. I believe birthing mothers know something about enduring pain and trials for something better, a much-needed lesson for our culture that avoids all forms of pain and discomfort and immediately doubts God when pain arises, even though He promised it would come. I think birthing mothers know the power of blood and pain and sacrifice to bring life, and can identify with Jesus in this small but profound way.
I promise I’m not judging you if you elected to be induced, got an epidural (I had one with Kian), or had a C-section for whatever reason. You are not less of a mom. My purpose is not to contribute to the mommy wars, but to give a small overview of the information that I never encountered until my third pregnancy, and to share my own story. I pray the complicated system of insurance companies, hospitals, and the doctors who work for them (and who often feel forced to bow down to their systems or risk losing their licenses) will soon put the care of mothers and babies as a priority over money and time. As for me, I’m done with this kind of maternity care for good.
If you’d like more resources on this, I highly recommend anything by Ina May Gaskin, a well-respected midwife whose birth outcomes put modern OB care to shame (for pregnant moms, please put down What to Expect when You’re Expecting and read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth - it’s the best childbirth book I’ve ever read and took away my fear of giving birth). Also, Rikki Lake’s documentary The Business of Being Born and More Business of Being Born are great overviews of the maternity crisis in America (both are on Netflix!).
What is your experience with typical American maternity care? Do you agree or disagree that it’s in crisis?
For our out-of-US readers, what has been your experience in your country?
I spend a lot of my time thinking about food these days.
With a flyweight 2-year-old, and a 3-year-old who has growth spurt upon growth spurt, my cooking has to make vegetables more palatable, pack more nutrients into small packages, and because we live on one income, it has to be cheap.
I’m also nine month pregnant, which brings its own set of complications to the table: I indulge in some cravings, but I have a bit of anxiety from reading too many baby books that warn us that “every bite counts,” and that promise if I just put all the right ingredients in my mouth, out comes a perfect, healthy baby (although, somehow all of my kids have survived the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper cravings). There is also the fear of gaining too much weight. Like most American women, I’ve struggled against my body, and even had a mild case of disordered eating as a teenager.
Stone argues that our relationship with food is extremely complicated. We constantly worry about calories and fats and too much bread and their effects on our waistlines. Eating feels, as Stone adeptly writes, like ”a concession to the enemy.” As a nation, we struggle with anorexia, bulimia, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease on epidemic levels. Documentaries and books abound on the unethical practices of American agribusinesses, stockyards and chicken industries that practice cruelty against humans and animals alike, and the ill effects of pesticides and GMOs. We know now that much of our food and clothing comes from holding others in slavery. Diets like Atkins, Paleo, gluten-free, vegan, and a host of others are endorsed by celebrities to guarantee weight loss, clear skin, cures from disease, and longevity. And the Christian alternatives are hardly better – they are often just weight loss diets pulled from the context of Scripture, and touted to have God’s stamp of approval, with the same adversarial view of food.
Stone insists, however, that this isn’t how God intended for us to approach our daily bread. Moving through Scripture, she reveals to us a gracious God who provides incredible variety for our cuisine, who delights in feasting, and who, incarnated in Christ, is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. God’s most precious gift to humanity – his own flesh and blood crucified – is commemorated in the act of eating a drinking, and calls us to look toward the Supper of the Lamb at the Resurrection. Surely food is important to God!
Eat with Joy helps us to embrace the pleasure of eating as God intended – to give thanks to our gracious Provider on whom we so desperately depend, to savor the sensory experience of eating, to eat slowly in community rather than in frantic gulps between errands. She gives an overview of the ethical dilemmas of eating in a Super-Sized world that make us uncertain of how to approach food, and gives helpful steps we can take to show God’s love to others through food. Learning to cook your foods with as few processed ingredients as possible (“from scratch” – which is not as hard or as time-consuming as the food industries would have us believe) is a great way to know where your food is coming from, to love others through hospitality, to gather your family together, and to save precious resources for various avenues of showing God’s love in this world.
One fantastic feature of the book is that at the end of each chapter are prayers for mealtimes, followed by simple recipes. In our family, we tend to repeat the same general prayer before eating – really, it’s hard to know what else to say! These prayers move us to consider praying for justice for those who suffer in the food industry’s clambering for profit, to welcome the “least of these” to our table as Jesus did, to sense God’s presence and provision among us, and so much more. I haven’t tried any of the recipes just yet, but I look forward to several of them!
Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that Stone is a realist who pushes us toward the ideal. Using William Webb’s hermeneutic of redemptive movement, Stone insists that we start where we are, and make slow movements toward embracing the vast goodness of food. Don’t eat in community yet? Schedule 2 or 3 meals and build from there. Can’t afford organic, local, free-trade, cage-free, or otherwise ethical food yet? Try making one meal per week that fits the bill and work up as you can. Never cook from scratch? Pick a simple meal or two to practice with, and when you’ve perfected them, pick another. There is something for everyone here: I cook nearly everything from scratch, and we eat together as a family daily. I feel strongly about ethically-produced food, but we seriously just can’t afford it right now. But we do make it a point to buy fair-trade coffee. It’s one small, symbolic act that we can do, rejecting the mentality that “if you can’t do everything, then why bother doing anything?” It doesn’t seem like enough, but it’s what we can do.
I also appreciate Stone’s non-snobbish approach to food. So your friend serves you non-organic vegetables or meat raised unsustainably? Accept the gracious gift with love, just as it was offered to you. While encouraging us to care for creation, Stone also pushes us to love our neighbor. She doesn’t attempt to solve all the complicated ethical questions, but she does help us think through them and perhaps live with a little tension as we wait for God’s justice to fully come to our broken planet.
I’ve been craving cinnamon rolls for weeks – the gooey, homemade kind that usually brings me a lot of shame after eating it. You know what I did last week while in the middle of this book? I made some. I kneaded that dough for 15 minutes and longingly waited all afternoon for them to rise. I didn’t skimp on the ingredients to save calories. And when I pulled them out of the oven after dinner and served them to my family, I ate one. I soaked up the excitement and pleasure of my little boys who weren’t expecting dessert. I praised the God who put all these ingredients on earth just for our enjoyment. And I just really enjoyed my cinnamon roll.
*Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of this book. My opinions, however, are my own.
You thought I’d quit, right? I’m back, with hesitation.
I’m almost 9 months pregnant with my third child, and to be honest, my thoughts have been much less than profound lately. We’ve moved twice, found a church, found a midwife, and have had to settle all the millions of details that come with moving. Actually, I just realized I still have the wrong address on my driver’s license. Sigh.
In all the disorientation, I’ve found the most settling things to do have been the most basic to our survival right now: cooking and preparing for childbirth. Of all that’s coming at us, the things I must do are feed my family and have this baby. I’m reading books on cheesemaking and natural birth right alongside each other.
I hate the uncertainty and up-in-the-air-ness of it all, so I push myself back into the ground by the mundane tasks of kneading dough, heating milk for yogurt, chopping onions into perfect little squares. I spend far too much time on my feet doing these things – and I have the varicose veins to remind me - but I feel driven to cook.
Because I was frustrated with my experience under the care of my two obstetricians and in the hospitals for my first two births, I’ve chosen to give birth with a midwife at a freestanding birth center this time around. I’ve been reading all these birthing manifestos written by midwives, whose main philosophy of birth is that it is a normal part of life for most mothers – not a traumatic and dangerous one that needs to be managed by doctors (as long as both mother and baby are healthy) and impersonal machines. Their cry is, “Women were made to do this! Women are not damsels in distress, but strong warriors who bring forth life!”
And I love all this strength-talk. I’m finding that I’m less fearful about delivering this time. I marvel at what this pregnant body can do to simultaneously grow a new life and keep up with two very active young boys (ages 2 and 3, no less!). I marvel at what my own body has done twice, even under the extreme stress of unnecessary Pitocin and the forced, idiotic practice of laboring on my back. Pregnant women are far less frail than we often imagine.
But I feel the weakness more each week. The heavy belly, the gross veins on my legs, the achy hips, the itchy stretch marks. I can do a lot of things, but I often push my body past the point I should because I hate not being able to do all I need to do – all I used to be able to do. I often leave my husband with a sink full of dishes and a mountain of laundry that I didn’t get to at the end of the day, and he’s taken up my slack marvelously, since I’m often ready for bed by 7pm. Pregnancy is an unwelcome lesson in my own limitations and in dependence on others. Which is how I used to define weakness, but I can’t seem to apply it here anymore. It really is a wonder we get anything done with all this miracle-making going on, and I’m trying to be grateful for what I can accomplish.
I’m slightly terrified of being alone all day with a newborn and two attention-needy boys, each in difficult stages of their own. And as much as I feel the weakness now, I know it will be worse when I am sleep-deprived with a newborn. So I throw myself into even more of a frenzy, cooking meals and freezing them for postpartum, trying to get absolutely every closet organized, making list upon list. I wish I could store up things like a camel stores water for the desert – things like sleep and laundry and clean bathrooms.
So yes, I’m back, but with thoughts a bit muddled by fear and excitement and recipes and busyness.
Go easy on me.
Forgive the silence around here lately! We said our goodbyes to Raleigh, packed our jammies, and moved to Dallas this past month. We covet your prayers as we continue Brady’s job search (three interviews this week!), find affordable housing, and get things figured out for this little one on the way (can we pause this pregnancy, please?).
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Britney from BareTribe. Britney and I went to the same college, but we managed somehow to never hang out or get to know each other. And then we found each other’s blogs this year, and guys – I adore her writing. Also, you definitely need to check out her hilarious ongoing video series, ”How-t0 With Annika,” where her 4-year-old adorable and well-spoken daughter instructs us all on helpful things like “How to Pick up a Chicken.” She is also new to Twitter, so show her some Twitter-lovin’ here. You will want to keep up with this blogger. Enjoy!
I stared at the pretty “weekly schedule” print-out that I keep on my fridge, weighing the importance of each commitment and scheduled event. I erased something and wondered if it would make a difference. If one more quiet day at home might finally ease that unsettled feeling that I couldn’t seem to shake.
It wasn’t too long ago that my days had flowed easy. Our schedule was always full but we were like busy little bees, happily humming and content as relationships blossomed around us. But an untimely winter had come- a hard season of confusion and sadness for our family- and the humming had stopped. The hard season was over now, things were returning to normal all around us, but I didn’t feel like humming. I just felt busy.
The big empty day on my calendar seemed promising. “Maybe I’m almost there, maybe one more day will do it,” I hoped.
Flash forward to later that week. I sat with other women in my church as we sought to define our mission statements and callings in life. Mine was about “demonstrating and communicating wholeness within my community.” It wasn’t until I wrote it down and saw it in black and white, staring right back at me, that pieces suddenly came flying into place and I understood. Ifinally understood.
I had been filling my days with good things, so pleased with the healing and growth in my life, but it had made me busy. And if being busy was the problem, then I assumed the solution was to simply rest. Retreat. I thought erasing things from my calendar might actually soothe my restless spirit when the real problem was that I was stuck in a bubble of safety and self-growth. I wasn’t living out my mission statement within my God-given community. Not anymore.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and only in that kind of clarity was it suddenly plain: I had been uncomfortable with my own brokenness. Though I drew near to God as Healer and Redeemer, I felt like my presence within my community was tainted. How could I demonstrate wholeness to the world when my own spirit felt crippled? Why would I be transparent when under my surface was a no longer a peaceful river, but a tumultuous storm? I hadn’t felt like I had much to offer.
And yet, there’s the mystery.In our worldly understanding, wholeness and brokenness are at opposite ends of the spectrum. But in the economy of God –where last shall be first and blessed are the poor in spirit and his power is made perfect in our weakness- in that kingdom we are lovingly promised that broken means whole. We are taught that being broken is a necessary part of being made whole andthat is what the world will never witness if people like myself don’t demonstrate and communicate it without self-awareness and fear.
What might have come from sharing my brokenness more freely?
I wonder if it is in our toughest seasons that we are the ripest for ministry. I wonder if those months when living out my mission statement felt unnatural and hard were perhaps the time when I would have received the most joy and peace from pursuing it anyways. Because I doubt that God would create and call me to a purpose that my circumstances could ever make void. I’d be willing to bet that there’s never a time when I’m ill-equipped or unable to live out the ministry that he has made me for. If I have been made to value and reflect the wholeness of God, then I have the freedom and power to do it at all times, in all things, and in every season.
As I sat in that room with other women pondering their own mission statements, I gave mine a good hard look. And I underlined it. And I thanked God for the vision that always comes eventually when we’re asking for it.
And I smiled because, deep inside me, I felt my heart beginning to hum again.