Thursday, March 24, 2016

Meditation in Birth Preparation

   There are many ways we prepare ourselves for the birth of a child. We choose a care provider, take vitamins, drink plenty of water, research our options, pack a hospital/birth center bag, or buy a home birthing kit. We wash tiny clothes and soft blankets, and get everything set up just right before the baby comes. Some of us hunt down doulas and interview them until we find just the right one whom we 'click' with, some take birth classes and tour hospitals. But how much can we really prepare for the act of labor itself? No matter how many times you go through it, each is a crazy, completely unique ride all its own, but there are things you can do like exercises to strengthen pushing muscles, chiropractor adjustments to keep the hips aligned just right to physically prepare you for labor, but what can you do mentally about that mystery date marathon coming toward you? Each woman is different, but I prefer a couple different approaches: reading empowering, birth-centered material like Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and The Birth Without Fear blog, and meditation.
Psalm 139:14- My meaningful affirmation visual
   I just lost a chunk of you with that last one, didn't I? Nah, you probably didn't even click on the link when you saw the title if you were raised the same way I was. In my upbringing, meditation was bad, evil, "New Age" voodoo. While this may be the concept that comes to mind for some people when meditation is mentioned, it's actually a very common practice from the beginning of time. In fact, there are at least 28 scriptures in the Bible that specifically call on Christ-followers to meditate- Meditate on Him(Psalm 16:8), Meditate on good things(Philipians 4:8), Meditate on scriptures(Joshua 1:8), Meditate for wisdom(Proverbs 6:6), Meditate for peace(Luke 12:24-27), and so much more. So why do we flinch at the use of this word in so many contexts?
   According to the dictionary, meditation is to think deeply and carefully in silence; a method of relaxation by focusing one's mind. What about that is evil? Quite frankly, I have found meditation to be very helpful in my life. I've dealt with anxiety and depression since childhood, and have found that aside from prayer for peace, meditation and relaxation techniques are the most helpful thing I can do to cope with the tough days. I have found it to be very helpful during the third trimester of pregnancy, and during labor and delivery as well. For me, it looks something like this: a focused time each day of purposeful physical relaxation(SO helpful later on during contractions) while listening to a play list of songs I find encourage and minister to me specifically. Lately it's been in the form on lying on my side in bed during the kids' rest time, running my essential oils diffuser with relaxing, uplifting scents that are proven to stimulate the limbic region(aka "happy center") of the brain, turning on my music playlist, and just focusing on relaxing my body completely, starting with my face and working down one body part at a time. It helps that unless I'm interrupted by a toddler who is sure he must have missed the 'okay to wake' alarm or the dog who thinks a wasp tapping on the window is an ax murderer I am almost always asleep before I hit my toes. We don't realize how much tension we hold in our bodies until we are purposefully relaxing them. Especially during labor, the tension in our faces, necks, shoulders, and thighs all add significantly to our pain levels, and can even inhibit labor progress by preventing the cervix from dilating or contractions from being as effective as they could be in moving the baby down.
Practicing this kind of purposeful relaxation in the last weeks not only helps keep your blood pressure lower, but it trains your mind and body to work together to purposefully relax when asked to do so. By adding in elements of sound(meaningful, relaxing music), smell(calming, relaxing, or energizing essential oils), and sight(a picture of your baby, an affirmation, a scripture, etc), you can create an environment where your brain and body have extra help remembering that relaxed state. It helps me deal with contractions and labor so much. Even when in transition or going through particularly difficult contractions, I can take a deep breathe and help my mind immediately grasp a favorite, encouraging, empowering line from the song playing-

"This mountain that's in front of me will be thrown into the depths of the sea, for through it all my eyes are on You, and through it all IT IS WELL."

"You make me brave, You've called me out beyond the shore into the waves, You make me brave, No fear can hinder the love that made a way."

"I'm no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God."

"You will lift my head above the mighty waves, You are able to keep me from stumbling, In my weakness You are the strength that comes from within, Good Shepherd of my soul, take my hand and lead me on." 

"It's nice to know I'm not alone, I've found my home here in Your arms."

"When my world is shaking, Heaven stands, When my heart is breaking I never leave your hands."

   Yep, terribly evil, mystical stuff there. Sarcasm. I am fluent. In all seriousness, as some one who has dealt with anxiety my entire life, I dare you to try it when you are feeling overwhelmed. As a doula I urge you to try adding to this to your birth prep routine in the third trimester. As a Christ-follower, I challenge you to really grasp what meditation is and use it as a tool to take some time and just rest with God in your day. He calls us to rest. He calls us to cast our cares on him(1 Peter 5:7). He calls us to find peace and quiet in His presence(Psalm 62:5, Psalm 116:7). As shown above in many verses, He calls us to meditate on His goodness, His blessings, His word, His love, and HIM. So take the time to purposefully be quiet, focus your mind, and relax. Meditate. For so many reasons. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Another Feel Me Better Soup

I love soup. LOVE! It's the ultimate comfort food, inexpensive to make, and you can fit so many nutrients in one bowl of deliciousness that some of the pickiest kids wouldn't otherwise touch. Soup is also really easy to make out of very few ingredients, and really easy to bless people with. As a mama, I love to be able to whip up a pot of soup for some one who is sick or injured, knowing I can put all sorts of wholesome, healing ingredients into it to nourish them deeper than just a meal or two worth. My husband teases the nurturer in me, saying how funny it is that the moment I hear some one is sick or injured my Mama Bear comes out and I must cook for them, nurture them, and take care of them any way I possibly can. He's pretty right. As a nurturer I love to care for people, and as a Mama I know just how hard it is to be so drained, either from illness myself or from caring for sick family, and WANT to make something wholesome and good to nourish the sensitive tummies, but have no energy for anything beyond a packet of Ramen noodles dropped in boiling water.
   So here's a favorite recipe of mine for when you're battling the flu and tummy bugs, and are just beginning to feel like you and yours could stand to put something in your mouth again. It's full of immune-boosting, wholesome ingredients proven scientifically to nourish your body and help your it fight viruses. My kids know I make it when we're sick, so they call it, "Feel Me Better" soup:

- 2 Tbsp butter or oil
- 2 large or three regular size chicken breasts
- 1 large onion, diced small
- 1 cup celery, chopped small
- 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 5-6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1-2" chunk of fresh ginger, grated
- 2/3 cup fine chopped fresh parsley
- 8 cups chicken stock or bone broth
- 2 cups pasta of your choice(optional)
-  1/2 cup natural, unfiltered apple cider vinegar(like Bragg's)
- natural sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Put the butter or oil into the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat. I'm a big believer in flavoring every layer of a recipe. Chicken's the first layer, so make it taste good! Season each side of the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then lay them carefully in the hot oil/butter. 

When the chicken is gold brown on one side, turn it over and cook the second side the same. While the chicken is cooking, prep all those awesome veggie ingredients above. When the chicken is golden brown on each side, take them out and set them aside to cool. 

Your pot is probably going to look like this. DON'T CLEAN IT! All that color in there is flavor! Embrace the flavor. Just dump your celery, carrots, and onions right on in there with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. 

Sautee the veggies over medium-high heat, gently scraping the bottom of the pot every now and then to clean up all that healthy, flavorful goodness, until the pot is clean,veggies are soft, and onions translucent. 

While those veggies are sauteeing, crush your garlic cloves and grate the ginger. I like to use the fine shred side of my cheese grater, because it gets all the ginger in tiny pieces so you don's get any huge or overwhelming chunks, and the grater leaves behind the hairy fibers inside the ginger root that can have an off-putting texture. 

Next, add the garlic and ginger to the pot of veggies. If your pot is looking a little dry(sometimes the veggies seem to soak up the oil so things start to stick) you can add another splash of oil or pat of butter.  While the garlic and ginger cook with the veggies for just a minute or two, use two forks to shred your now-cooled chicken breasts. You can certainly chop or slice or break down by some other method, but I prefer fork shredding, because it gives it a nice texture, and makes sure all pieces are small, soft, and easy for little mouths to chew up. 

Add the chicken, parsley, and stock to the pot, turn the heat to high, and bring it to a boil. 

You can totally just add the vinegar and call it done at this point, but we like a bit of noodles to add to the bulk of our soup. I prefer classic egg noodles and since my little guy is allergic to chicken anyway and can't eat this soup(he gets a beef and noodle version exactly the same, but with beef stew meat, beef stock, a long simmer to tenderize the meat, and a pasta like stelline, orzo, or alphabets), we usually stick to the classic.

 I don't like HUGE noodles, though, so I crush them. It also like it better for little ones to have small noodle pieces, less choke-able. After 10+ years of motherhood, everything in our house is toddler friendly whether it needs to be or not. I just use the flat bottom of a regular measuring cup and crush the noodles down to able half the volume of whole. They'll still soak up the same amount of liquid so don't think you need to double the noodles to get the 2 cups if you crush them. 


Once the pot of soup has come to a boil, add your desired pasta and boil to whatever length the instructions recommend. 

Once the pasta is cooked, turn off the heat, add the vinegar(it sounds weird, but trust me, it's delicious AND vitally nutritive, especially when you're dealing with GI bugs), then salt and pepper to taste. 

And there you have it! A crazy delicious, nutrient dense soup that is nostalgic and wholesome, and puts that salty spaghetti and yellow chunks in a can to shame. You can take out any ingredient your family really dislikes, but every single ingredient adds a huge punch of healing and immune-boosting nutrients, so I challenge you to try it as-is just once. 
This recipe makes about 3 quarts of soup. Plenty for our family of six-going-on-seven and then some, but if your family is smaller or just not that hungry, it freezes for later reheating very nicely. 

K.I.S.S.- Keep It Simple, Silly!

   One of the most common questions I get asked is how I learned to cook the way I do in order to feed my family the way we do. Here's my secret: I am not a professional cook. I've learned the basics by trial and error. That's IT. I promise. Over the years I have burned so much, destroyed so much, and served my family so many meals I ate while apologizing for the awfulness. You don't need any special skills to cook well. You just need to try. I get inspiration from places like Pinterest, Food Network, cook books, and magazines like Vegetarian Times, but in general those recipes are all way more complicated than I have time for in my life.

   We purposefully eat a cleaner diet mainly for the purposes of health and dealing food allergies, and people ask how I manage. Believe it or not, it's not hard. At all. I think we as society over-complicate meals. We put each meal in a box of what we think it should look like, and struggle to find our way out of that box. What's breakfast to you? Cereal and milk, eggs and toast, smoothies? What's lunch to you? A sandwich and chips, salad, a fast food or cafeteria lunch like a burger and fries? What if we stopped thinking about what a meal is supposed to look like and thought solely about nutrients? How do I do it? I just think of every meal needing a protein and two vegetables(or one veg and one fruit), and no more than 2 servings of bready/starchy carbs per day. When you look at meals that way, it's really, really not complicated. Breakfast around here can be homemade granola(oats, seeds, and nuts sweetened with honey) and a side of dried fruit, eggs and toast, or a cucumber-tomato salad and a side of cashews for protein. Lunch can be a sandwich with a protein filling and sides of carrot sticks and and apple, hummus with various veggies and organic tortilla chips for dipping, or cheese cubes or sunflower seeds for protein with a clementine and snow peas as sides. What's for lunch today? Well, Friday is grocery day which means the fridge is getting low so it's odds and ends. For protein  we're having hard-boiled eggs(but the egg-allergic guy will get to pick cashews or sunflower seeds instead) and a veggie "salad" I threw together of random fresh veg we had small amounts of:

-1/2 English cucumber, quartered then sliced
-1/2 yellow pepper, diced small
-1/2 red onion, quartered then sliced thin
- a big handful snow peas, chopped(don't have snow peas? frozen peas work well, too!)
- a big handful grape tomatoes, quartered.
- juice of 1 lemon
- generous splash of EVOO
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Dump it all in a bowl, stir. There you have it. Nothing fancy, but it made a delicious, really  nutritious, good size bowl of a veggie salad that is the all-important "rainbow" for multiple nutrients, and more than enough to feed myself and my four kids for lunch, and likely leftovers to be packed in my husband's lunch tomorrow. It took me less than five minutes, cost literal cents to make, was from scraps in the produce drawer, and with a simple protein side makes a great lunch.
   That's one of the major ways I make clean, allergy-friendly eating on a budget work for our family. No wasting food, no garbage ingredients, and a really nutrient-dense, fast and easy meal with simple ingredients.
   I dare you to change the way you look at meals for one week. Or one day! Think nutrients- Protein, multiple veggies, every meal, with a grain and a fruit at one of the meals.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How Do You Choose?

   These last months of winter I have been blessed with the opportunities to be a part of two groups studying together two magnificent, character-building books: "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World" by Joanna Weaver, and "The Jesus-Hearted Woman" by Jodi Detrick. As much as they seem different and are by different authors, they have actually gone hand-in-hand for content, building on each other and working together in very applicable ways in my life as I read, week-by-week, through the assigned chapters and study guide questions.
   Joanna Weaver's book has been about the story of Mary and Martha, discussing the greatness of both women in societal context of their time, as well as how it compares to us as women today. Deciphering how and when to stop doing and take time to rest and listen, and what can prevent us from being able to go through that process in our everyday lives.
   Jodi Detrick's book is, as the subtitle says, a book about, "10 leadership qualities for enduring and endearing influence." Each chapter works through various aspects of being a good leader, not just in the church, but in our families, in our communities, and in our jobs, by discussing specific characteristics in depth, what they look like, and how to really genuinely develop those areas of your lives.
   When I first started reading the two it never crossed my mind that they would intermingle to strongly, and maybe for some they wouldn't, but for me, right now, they absolutely do. In a recent post, Being a Nurturer, I confessed some of my brain's inner workings. Much of my Martha-ness, really. My constant, driving desire to help everyone. Have you read Gary Chapman's awesome book, "The 5 Love Languages"? My love language expression is strongest in the area of acts of service(with a side of physical touch because I'm a total hugger). Bet you'd never guess that. In this passion to show my love and care for others in tangible ways, I often find myself getting burned out. Despite loving what I'm choosing and wishing I could do more, I eventually get stretched too thin. So how do you choose? How do you choose who you'll serve and care for? How do you choose where you will put your time and effort? There are some places that are obviously priority: family. Kids, spouse, etc. They're your primary 'mission field,' so to speak, but how do you choose what comes next, who gets the next largest wave of your ripple? Is it whomever or whatever is the loudest, most urgent? Is it whomever you have the closest relationship with? Is it whatever scenario comes into your life when you have the time and energy to give? I'm terrible at deciding. I often try to pour my love, attention, and service EVERYWHERE indescriminately whenever I see a need. Over the past 6 or so months, though, I've encountered several scenarios and seen people very deliberately choose, and I don't know how they do it.
   For example, in my MOPS group, there is the wonderful gift of a meal train given to families when they first have a baby. It's such a practical expression of love to help families at a time of major adjustment. The trend that became very evident in the meal trains was that the people who were more outgoing, had more friends in the group, or were connected to small groups had immediately full meal train lists. Every day was immediately snatched up as people were eager to show this love to those families they cherished. When a new mom was quieter, less connected personally to more friends in the group, either because they were new or possibly a working mom who didn't have the free time to be so connected personally to people had a baby, the meal trains were very slow to fill. Sometimes not ever filling and only a faithful few who bring meals to everyone signing up at all. We're all moms. We've all been there, in that place of adjustment, physical and emotional change and healing, and yet it was clear not everyone wanted to help all the moms, just their friends.
   Another example was more personal. In the fall I received a sweet email from a church leader letting me know some one whom I have quite a bit of contact with, was struggling and could use some extra love. There was not a drip of gossip or any desire to smear a person, just a true desire to say, 'Hey, so-and-so is going through a rough patch and I know you have some influence there. It could be really meaningful to make sure she's feeling connected, loved, and supported.' Not a single detail or stitch of dirty laundry, just a pure desire to make sure a person in need felt loved. I was so happy to receive the email and know where I could pour my love, and felt the genuine care and concern in the email. Then, last month I was struggling. Deeply. For more than a month life was in a serious tailspin and I was barely treading water with no support. The leader who had emailed me approached me about something entirely unrelated, and I just felt overwhelmed and burst into tears. I apologized for my dam breaking on her and expressed, briefly, how really terrible and difficult things had been in so many areas for so long, and she gave me an, 'Oh, that's too bad,' response, and kept going on her agenda without a pause though I was sobbing, then walked away when she was finished. I know she has a beautiful, caring heart for many, so what determines who is worthy of that love, care, and that time?
   How do they choose? Do they just choose to help their friends and pass by the needs of those who they don't feel as emotionally connected with so it doesn't pull at them to serve the same way? I'm musing here, not accusing. Wondering aloud. I truly don't know how it's done or the motivation. I've been through a lot of intense struggles in my life and had no one. I know what it's like to have no one and nothing, and my heart just weeps thinking of anyone else going through that in any way. I know what it's like to have just one person who cared enough to reach out, and that help meant the world. If I can be that one person to anyone at any time in my life it would be such a joy to pay forward.
    The two books I first mentioned have been helping me see more clearly what's in my heart, what's behind my motivation, and how to make better decisions in many areas. What's interesting to me is that they haven't curbed my desire to help and pour that care and service into others. Quite the contrary, they've spurred it on even harder, but with different  motivation, and even possibly with better time management, making sure I and mine are cared for, rested, fed spiritually, emotionally, and physically, and not lacking in any way I can control, while reaching out further in the process. By reorganizing my efforts, so to speak, I have more energy and desire to reach further, help more. I think one quote from Joanna Weaver's book sums it up really well for me:
"When we first spend time in [God's] presence- when we take time to hear His voice- God provides the horsepower we need to pull the heaviest load. He saddles up Grace and invites us to take a ride."
How do you decide who to care about? How to help? Who to pour love onto? Or do you? Is life too overwhelming right now to feel ABLE to pour into someone else? What's your motivation? 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Confrontation, Accountability, and Gossip

   Relationships are tricky, sticky stuff. There are intricacies that complicate various situations, so things are rarely black and white. Gray seems to be the name of relationships. Some aspects, anyway. There's no denying there are varying degrees of relationships, various depths of closeness that also affect how we handle the people around us. Hence the grays.
   Over the last two years since we moved to Virginia from New York, I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful people. Over these two years I have gotten to know many a bit better. Sometimes that has meant I chose to distance myself from them because of the ugliness I saw in them when I got to know their true hearts. Others have shown themselves to be so sweet and lovely, inside and out, I am always wishing I had more time to build deeper relationships with them. Relationships are really hard for me, but I do want them. BADLY. I'm just bad at hurling myself out there for them. My brain always says they must have enough friends already so they don't need me, what could I offer in their lives that they'd want to put the energy into a relationship with me anyway, when is it okay to open up and seek out help when I need it and not be seen as a needy, weepy burden, and  all sorts of other introvert thoughts. Maybe relationships aren't plagued with such thoughts for many others, but this is how my brain works. So I often sit back and watch. Hold back and wait. Serve and give any moment I have the opportunity, hoping it'll make me worthy of their effort in a relationship.
   In this watching, waiting, and giving, I've been blessed and I've been burned. Haven't we all? I've seen a lot more happen, heard a lot more said than people probably realize because I don't often make it known that I am seeing and hearing it all. Is it the stoic, German, people-watcher in me, maybe? I come by it honestly, I think. One thing I'll never understand is why people can't just deal with stuff head-on. Why are we so terrified of confrontation? I am not. Anybody who knows me knows this is true. It's part of my filterless modus operandi. I don't shy away from confrontation, and I don't reject it. I like it. Can you imagine? I know that intimidates people, but here's the way I see it: If I'm doing something to upset you(or vice versa), it's not fair to either of us to say nothing. I will not know I'm doing anything wrong so I'm going to keep doing it, you're going to keep being upset, frustrated, offended, etc, and it's going to keep causing tension between us. There is one single solution: say something. Say it bluntly and say it respectfully. That gives you the release of being rid of the burden of frustration, and it gives me the opportunity to see the error in my actions, words, etc, and become a better person by realizing how I am affecting those around me. What's better, that's the biblical approach! To keep silent is a disservice to everyone.

"Don’t be secretly angry with your friend. If you have something against him, get it out into the open; otherwise you are also wrong." -Leviticus 19:17

No gray there! The trap so often found in society is to not only stay silent, but to chatter about your frustrations with one another to others. I cannot express enough how juvenile and unproductive this is. But we all do it. ALL.

 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’" -Matthew 18:15-16 

   That right there is not gray. That is really cut-and-dried: Some one you have relationship with offends you, wrongs you, sins in front of you? LET. THEM. KNOW. Just the two of you, with respect and privacy, tell them. The dreaded confrontation. If they respond in anger, denial, and just plain don't listen? THEN it's okay to take the issue to a trusted one or two mentors, and have them help you to ensure you're taking a biblical approach and the person can see that these trusted mentors agree. This is not gossip. This is not the Christian approach to gossip where one says, "I'm telling you this so you can pray," then proceeds to lay out some one's entire stash of dirty laundry. You know the drill. We've all seen, heard, done it. THAT is gossip, not the accountability stated above. Sitting around chattering in a group, talking about the wrongs of a person is gossip, not the accountability stated above. For the record, as stated multiple times in the Bible, skipping step one is not okay.
   Confrontation is good. I know it's hard, but it's good. It helps people change and improve themselves. It helps people be stronger in their convictions, standing up for what's right. It heals relationships. It prunes from our lives the toxicity and inauthenticity we don't need. It is good. Accountability can hurt, but pain is part of growth. It can be a good pain when done the right way. People can't and won't change overnight, but life is a long process of change and improvement. Give those around you the opportunity to grow and learn, just as I am sure you would like the same. Grow together. Or grow apart, if that's what your life needs. But allow growth. For everyone. Best of all, do it without inflicting unjust pain.