Friday, March 30, 2012

G. K. Chesterton & Jeff Meyers on Spring Cleaning

Spring is here! It's the time of year to don rain boots (the brighter colored the better) and splash in some puddles. Winter's death is making way for new life. There is more light in the morning, more light in the evening, and growing things are waking up!

All this revitalization makes me look at my home with a critical eye and renewed energy. So when I'm not puddle jumping with my kids, I'm joining the rest of the homemakers who inexplicably feel like deep cleaning their homes this season. Normally I'm a pretty laid back housekeeper, but when the bug bites, I go a little bit OCD. I didn't just tidy my room—I pulled everything out of the closet, organized it, and sent half of it to Exodus for "long term storage." I went through all my kitchen cupboards and stacked everything neatly. I bought a new shower curtain. (IKEA: two bucks!) As I stand in my spick and span house, I have two thoughts to share.

First, cleaning the house is *good.* At the beginning of each week, I walk from room to room and put stuff away that has been used and discarded over the weekend: jammies get hung on the hooks in the bathroom, beds get made, toothbrushes get put away, the floor gets swept... With each thing that I put away, my soul feels a little more at peace. By the end I'm humming, "It is well, it is well, it is well with my soul!" (Yes, I know that hymn is about redemption, not a clean house, but I'm thankful for both.) An ordered environment is peaceful and frees the mind to be creative and constructive, not just go crazy. The more order the better around here.

Look what I found in the dryer!

Table in the Mist - Exodus BooksSecond, a clean house doesn't stay clean. The book of Ecclesiastes has always been balm for my soul when it comes to housecleaning, but during OCD Spring Cleaning week it's even more important. I recently read Table in the Mist, by Jeff Meyers, a most excellent commentary on it. I could write a whole post about how fantastic and life changing it is and how you should read it for yourself, but right now I just want to apply it to this topic. (Buy it. Read it!) We are all familiar with the phrases, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," and, "grasping for the wind," that are used over and over. According to Jeff Meyers, this doesn't mean that life is meaningless. Rather, Solomon is describing life as vaporous. Just as you can't form the steam in the bathroom after taking a hot shower into the shape of a rubber ducky (that comes from Solomon Among the Postmoderns, by Peter Leithart, which is next up on my book list) so you aren't in control of your life. There is nothing we can do here on earth (under the sun) to gain any kind of eternal leverage. Both the wise and the fools die. The inheritance left by a hardworking man is so often taken over by idiots who squander it. We feast one night only to wake up hungry in the morning. We clean the house and then it gets dirty again. And there's nothing to do about it. But the great hope of Ecclesiastes is that though we are not in control, God is and He is a good god—loving and merciful and eternal.

Every weekend we eat quickly and head out the door. Or we get home late and leave clothes piled all over the place. Beds go unmade and toothpaste gets squirted on the bathroom counter. In other words we live. And normally I'm okay with that. But when I get that OCD Spring Cleaning bug and Get This Place Cleaned Up, I'm tempted to get aggravated when people mess it up again. "Don't put that THERE, it's new place is over HERE! Don't drop crumbs behind the bench, I just moved everything and vacuumed! Don't spill, I just mopped!" I feel so out of control!

That's where Ecclesiastes comes in. I'm not in control. I never was. I never will be. And it's okay. Take a deep breath. Eat. Drink. Spill. Enjoy the good of my labor. I can always Spring Clean again next year.

A hand-eye-coordination activity: pouring water back and forth between pitchers. I left the room for a minute and when I came back I heard Joshua say: "Everybody take off your socks and roll up your pants!"

Manalive - Exodus Books"Vapor of vapors. All is vaporous."

Life is like trying to shepherd the wind, but it is not meaningless. I'll close today with a couple of quotes from G. K. Chesterton's Manalive (another life changing book you should read right now!). Innocent Smith has been accused of deserting his wife and family, but it turns out he only left his home so he could find his real one.

"I mean," he said with increasing vehemence, "that if there be a house for me in heaven it will either have a green lamp-post and a hedge, or something quite as positive and personal as a green lamp-post and a hedge. I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything. And I would not be so very much surprised if the house in heaven had a real green lamp-post after all."

"At the end of the world, at the back of the dawn, I shall find the wife I really married and the house that is really mine. And that house will have a greener lamp-post and a redder pillar-box. Do you never want to rush out of your house in order to find it?"

Someday this vaporous existence will become solid. Like winter turning into Spring, all will be made new, "on earth as it is in heaven." So as we Spring Clean year after year and tidy up day after day, we are witnessing to the fact that Paradise is somewhere and something Real.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stephen's Birth Story

My birth stories always start with days of waiting that feel years long. Trying to be patient. Trying to stay cheerful. Hyper-analyzing each twinge and contraction. Hoping for more pain. At last, at 15 days late, Doctor Ed arrived to give my comfortably unborn baby a little kick in the pants to get him coming.

It was Saturday, July 23, 2011, a sunny summer morning and I was ready to do whatever it would take to get that baby OUT! the doctor administered a prostaglandin gel and then left me to relax and see if it would “take.” Almost immediately (around 11:30) contractions started coming regularly. I was delighted! I felt excited each time I felt another one coming on. This really was labor and I would soon be holding my baby! I rested and moved and squatted the day away, just waiting and breathing. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon and I was ready to get in the birth pool. Everyone else was right outside the door eating a most delicious smelling dinner, but though I was hungry, I felt too queasy to eat anything. I thought this whole thing would soon be over and then I would eat. Mentally, I piled my imaginary plate high and savored the feeling of eating with no baby and no pregnancy hormones inside me.

Breath. Relax. The sun set. The kids were put to bed upstairs.

Soon midnight was approaching and it became apparent that the impossible was going to happen after all. I was now 16 days overdue and Esther and the new baby would share a birthday. I was actually happy about it; I like the 24th for a birthday much better than the 23rd. Dr. Ed broke my water, but nothing really changed.

At last I felt that it was time to push and the drama began. I was in the pool and tried several different positions—all very uncomfortable for Eli, who was letting me lean on him—but nothing seemed to be doing anything. Then I moved to the birth chair and Dr. Ed’s assistant, Paula, discovered that I had a cervical lip. She eased it out of the way, but suddenly it came back and pushing hurt in a way that it wasn’t supposed to. Dr. Ed moved me to the bed—to the same position I had been in when I had a cervical lip during Joshua’s delivery. The contractions were so strong and so painful in that position that I needed help from everyone to keep from losing it all together. I was only there for 20 minutes—or less even—but it felt like a brief eternity.

Suddenly Dr. Ed proclaimed with joy that the cervical lip was gone and I could try pushing again! I sat up and prepared to move back to the chair, but as I did, a wave of nausea washed over me along with the next contraction. As I retched over a bowl I knew I wasn’t going to be moving anywhere. With the following contraction I started pushing with all my might. “Urge to push” is an understatement. Everyone scurried around gathering chuck pads and preparing the bed for delivery.

What followed is the hardest ordeal I’ve ever gone through. Each push seemed half as effective as it should have been and it felt like the baby was dragging my cervix down with him or that I was pushing against some barrier. Mercifully the contractions were not right on top of each other and during one lull I asked my mother-in-law to pray for this new life that was struggling to begin. I think the whole thing was about two hours from the first “urge to push” until he was born at last.

In the end it was hunger that got him out. I still felt hungry—after all, I’d only eaten a quick breakfast and a small snack at lunch time and it was now the wee hours of a new day. All of a sudden, I was done being pregnant. I wanted the baby OUT so I could EAT! It was then that I began to push with a strength I didn’t even know I had. I stopped caring about tearing or pain and pushed until there was no more contraction to push with. And it worked! With a squish, his head was out! But the contraction was over and my momentum was gone. “Is he okay?” I asked, wondering if the cord was around his neck. But he was fine. “He’s just taking a little nap,” my mother in law assured me. And so I rested for an absurd moment. When the next contraction came, I finished the job. And now, months later, I am amazed that after all that pain and travail, the only memorable sensation is the feeling of deliverance and relief as the baby slithered out of me and into my arms.

The cord kept pulsing and Stephen and I rested, him on my tummy taking his first breaths. He slowly turned from grayish purple to a healthy pink. The first thing I noticed was his hands which seemed so big and manish! One of them wrapped around Eli’s finger with a grip that was very much alive.

[Humorous story here, for the strong of stomach: Dr. Ed asked Eli if he wanted to cut the cord, but he was stuck with me leaning on him. So Eli's mom did the honors. As she poised to make the cut, Dr. Ed mentioned that sometimes it can "spurt." Immediately afterward, blood spattered like an R rated movie! There were drops on Eli's hands and even on his glasses! I thought it was funny.]

It was almost 2:00 in the morning by this time and everyone was bleary-eyed as they cleaned up and the weighing and measuring and first outfit ritual began. He was 8 pounds 6 ounces—not nearly big enough for all the work it was getting him out! I was surprised to find out that I hadn’t torn after all.

He nursed and I ate (at last!). I took a shower, everyone left, and we went to sleep.

The End
(which happens to be the beginning)