Friday, January 31, 2014

Loud and clear.

Yesterday was a long, hard day. By the end of it, I was exhausted, in a lot of pain, and very discouraged. My body doesn't have a history of enjoying the last 8 weeks of pregnancy. It is challenging to discipline yourself to take one day at a time (sometimes it's better to take just an hour at a time) and not look too far ahead. Yesterday I made the mistake of wondering out loud how I was going to make it through the next 6-8 weeks, with the level of pain I was feeling (hardly able to walk or get off the couch, many contractions, tired from broken nights of uncomfortable sleep, Etc). I had a good cry, made an ice pack, took a hot bath, and had a few bites of froyo before heading to bed. 

This morning I woke up with the same discomfort as yesterday. At 4am. I decided to just start the day and took a shower. And here I sit, at the table with my Bible study, reading about the way God led the Israelites through the wilderness. This message was written for me, today. 

God is Jehovah Jireh - our provider. He gave the Israelites His presence in the form of a cloud to direct the people and to protect them from their enemies. 

Exodus 14:19-20...
"But Moses said to the people, "Don't be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord's salvation. He will provide for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet."

Other translations have the last part of those verses as saying "you need only to be still." 

Ok. So here I am, trying to fight my own battles. Discouraged by the ways I feel stuck. This winter (in combination with bedrest) is starting to feel like a very real wilderness, trapping the kids and I inside of the house with no signs of spring or the hope that February won't drag on. All I want to do (in all honesty) is fast forward the next 4 weeks and find myself in March. I love those days that seem to fly by in moments of productivity and activity and all the fun, sweet memories that are made at the same time. But those days for me ground to a halt 2 weeks ago, and now I'm forced to accept a slower pace, a more intense awareness of just how many minutes are in an hour, and how many hours there really are in the day. It's a little crazy-making. 

And yet this morning, God is saying to me "Know that I'm The Lord your God, Ashley! I will fight for you. I will protect you and provide for you. All you need to do is be still."

I have a hard time in general being still. I chose stillness for the better part of the last year when I woke early to spend an hour or two with God in the quietest part of my day. But the rest of the hours in those days were FULL! and FAST! and DEMANDING! And most of them flew by. Now I feel as if The Lord has a firm hand on my shoulder, pushing me down. If I won't learn this lesson on my own, He will use other means to accomplish His will in my life. He will use the natural parts of my life - being a mother, carrying a child - to refine me. He will use contractions and pain and discouragement to get my attention, break down the harder parts of my heart, and open my eyes to the fearfully wonderful things He has yet for me to learn about Him. Who He is. What He's done for the people He loves. A better way of living this life He has given me to live. 

I need only to be still. 

The purpose of being still, according to Psalm 46:10? To know that He is God. 

The next verses my study references are Psalm 139:1-6... And it talks about how The Lord hems me in, behind and before, just like The Lord provided for the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. "What a precious glimpse at the tender heart of the Father, who went beyond His children's need for direction and protection to fill their emotional need for a perpetual light in the dark of night." (Beth Moore)

These are the very same verses I have penned on the small chalkboard in our foyer, written last summer. Hemmed in, indeed. I could not feel more surrounded by Him this morning, and what a humbling position that is for this undeserving daughter. 

Ok, Lord. Not my will but Yours. I'm surrendering today, and the next 2 months in particular, to you. Have your way; it's higher than mine. And give me the grace to accept it and find joy in the submission. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Just write.

I told my Best that the other day I sat down to write something meaningful here, and it came out rambling garbly-gook. I told her it was so frustrating and I didn't know how to say what I wanted to say. She said write anyways. She said sometimes people don't care if it makes sense or sounds beautiful, they just want to know your heart and hear your voice.

So here I am, willing to offer what I have presently to give, even if I can't make sense of it yet or communicate eloquently. A few incomplete thoughts and a peek into what God is up to in our lives. I decided that it's much easier to make a list than try to write a whole post that hangs together. Will you accept a list that doesn't even have a title!?

1. Bedrest lessons learned / physical update.

Bedrest has been an interesting teacher. It's a very difficult thing to embrace (personally). I went from nesting at 90 mph to smacking up against a brick wall and being told to sit and do nothing. And even when I DID that, my insides were still churning and planning. What I've found is that even if I am outwardly still, the mind and heart and spirit still have a very strong affect on the body. I could have been laying in bed all night, or sitting in the tub for an hour, and still have a cluster of contractions that were most likely caused by things like hearing the kids fighting downstairs under someone else's care, or worrying about what is still left on the to-do list. Sometimes I realized that I tense my stomach muscles when I'm feeling anxious or if the environment I'm in is stimulating or loud. I've learned to be aware of how I'm carrying myself inside, physically. How to take full, deep breaths and release muscles that I didn't realize I was clenching. To slow my pace - mentally and physically. Walk with one goal in mind - not to get somewhere fast, but to get somewhere without having a contraction.

On the heels of these lessons, I'm thankful to say that after 6 solid days of bedrest following my stay in L&D, I had a regular OB appointment and the baby was looking healthy and happy. I wasn't having as many contractions; I was averaging 1-2 per hour at rest, and 5-6 when I would get up (as opposed to the 6-8 per hour I had when I landed in the hospital). The doctor wasn't thrilled with 1-2 per hour being my 'new normal' and said 5-6 at this point in an hour is reason to head back in for monitoring. But overall he was ok with the overall picture and the direction things seemed to be going, and sent me out the door with permission to slowly add a little bit of activity back into my days, unless they increased the contractions.

I still have help just about every day, between my mom or a babysitter. I prioritize the hardest parts of the day and try to have help then. Our plan is for me to keep taking it as easy as I can and have extra help on hand so that we hopefully minimize the chances of early labor. Just 4 more weeks until I hit 36 weeks! Then I think we will be able to relax a little more about bedrest and contraction counting.

Between the Polar Vortex bringing sub-zero temperatures and extra days off school, and my bedrest situation, it's safe to say that we feel as if we are hibernating and it's making us all a little crazy. I keep trying to explain things to the kids as they unfold, in terms they can understand. So I have said that we can't have the baby if there's snow on the ground, but at this point it feels like Spring might never come! Also, Robbie knows more about what a contraction is, what its purpose is, and how to time one than most husbands. He'll see me pull my phone out (to time one) and say casually, 'another contraction mom?', or 'is your belly gettin' tight?'. It cracks me up every time, and usually leads to more conversation or questions about the baby, delivery, or pregnancy in general. I apologize in advance for any awkward conversations or moments this may lead to.

2. The baby.

It's been hard to feel like I can write or share a whole lot about this baby, and that's left me feeling very conflicted. I have friends who are currently struggling with infertility on many levels. I've watched a dear friend's heart and life shatter after having a stillborn baby at 32 weeks, and the depth of that grief is still present nearly a year later. I've honestly felt thankful and guilty at the same time to be carrying our 4th healthy baby. Most of the time the guilt has trumped the gratefulness, and the consequence has been fear.

I've irrationally feared losing this baby since the day I found out about her. A definite case of 'why should I have another healthy baby when this isn't the way it has played out / is playing out for others?'. I've had a hard time celebrating her life, for fear of rubbing salt into the wounds of others. I don't speak or write about her much, for this reason. I haven't found a balance, and I wish I knew how to walk this fine line gracefully.

We are so, so excited to meet our daughter. We are beyond grateful for her life and the health God has blessed her with so far. And I am letting myself dream about her birth and who she will be without wondering about how long she will be with us. God is writing her story, and her days are numbered (as all of ours are). If they are in the single digits or if she outlives us, I will humbly accept whatever God sees as best - for her and for us. I will thank Him for the beautiful gift of her life, and do my best to hold His gift loosely. I can't control the outcome by worrying or fearing the worst. And I can't make anyone else's pain less simply by entering into it personally in a way that matches theirs. That's really what it comes down to - wanting to take that pain away and never, ever being someone who adds to it. All I can do is trust that God is in control (because He is), and be with Him each day. Walk the road He's set before me, with faith. And enjoy the blessings He gives to us along the way - not minimize them.

3. Finding your voice/purpose vs. listening to/seeking God's.

I find it fascinating the way The Lord is teaching us all something different at the same time. Sometimes we can identify with others in the way our faith is being built up, and sometimes it feels like no one understands or identifies with you. For the better part of the last year, I've felt God raising up the same theme over and over again in my heart. "Listen to MY voice. Seek ME. Make much of ME. Humble yourself, be willing to be quiet. Don't undervalue faithfulness and obedience or trade it for outward posturing that is empty. Listen. Pay attention. Reach out to the vulnerable. Love every day, even if it's in seemingly small ways."

I keep coming back to these thoughts, whether I'm reading through a new book by a Christian author, or doing my Bible study, or spending time in prayer. I keep sensing this theme as being what God wants to teach me now, setting a foundation for the rest of the life I will live.

I've noticed that this phase of life that my girlfriends and I are in? It can be a little bit of a point of crisis. There's nothing like being a young mother raising a family and entering/exiting the babymaking-and-birthing process over and over to leave you wrung out and wondering what your purpose is. Especially when your days are made up of monotonous routine chores like running the dishwasher, laundry, driving kids to school, making dinner, bedtime routines... the spontaneity of life is replaced with curiosity over who will throw up next or run a fever in the night. We give every part of ourselves to birthing and raising our kids, until we are unrecognizable even to ourselves. Sometimes it leaves us wanting more.

I can see how this affects so many women I know. There are searches for purpose, for meaningful 'work' or causes to get involved with. There are hopes and dreams of doing something 'big' someday and maybe starting that process now. There's a lot of general discontent and restlessness. It's not all bad or wrong, but I'm noticing that some of it comes from a place of discontentment - with who we are in Christ and what He calls us to.

And yet I feel God's call to remain small. And by small, I mean humble. Aware of who I am in relation to Him. Understanding that His voice is more important than mine. His ways are above mine - mine, which change every day and with every new circumstance or challenge. I feel His call to seek Him first, to spend time with Him most, to love Him the deepest. To allow myself to be totally consumed with and by Him.

When I am in His presence, anything I might do or say feels like the small potatoes that it really is. Yes, God can use us in powerful ways. But our human nature can cause us to desire to be used for our own satisfaction or glory, and limits our ability to find contentment and peace and satisfaction in Him alone - by simply being with Him! We think have to DO for Him, SAY things for Him, prove success by writing a book or having something concrete to point to that validates who we are. I'm struck by the thought of living a quiet life in Christ that is powerful simply because HE is so thick in it, because He's become the only source of life and breath and the single desire of my heart. That He is what pours out of me, out of my mouth and heart, constantly, in every situation. Not because I'm the one holding Him out alongside whatever else I'm invisibly pursuing or trying to accomplish or grasp. But because He really has captivated me and worshipping Him is all that matters.

As much as I love to read the next new book or blog by great authors and speakers, I've gotten a little tired of people making much of themselves when it belittles The Lord himself. I want more of Him. I want to be encouraged to pursue Him to the degree that I find myself lost in Him - dying to myself and my selfish desires. I want to be encouraged to set myself aside, set aside the desire for the comfort that comes with feeling like I have a platform or mission that is clearly defined. I want to be encouraged to be who God has made me to be, in the place He has me in right now. And if that seems 'small'? To be OK with others seeing that as small or insignificant but not letting it steal my joy, or my faithful daily obedience. I want to love and serve my little family well, and encourage a knowledge of the Lord that grows into deep love among us. I want to love and serve those around me well. I want to have an eye open for the vulnerable, and be willing to serve in small ways with great love. And most of the time? I want it to go unnoticed. I want to be free from the desire for self-validation that comes from other people. I don't want to write a book for the sake of writing a book, or blog for the sake of blogging. I certainly don't want to lead a small group for the sake of being the leader, or get involved in a specific ministry so that I can hang my hat on it and check the box and feel like I'm proving my worth or pleasing others. I pray that nothing I chose to do, nothing I open my mouth to say, not a thought in my mind elevates me above The Lord Himself, replacing His will with mine, speaking out of my limited perspective for my own glory when I should be listening to His voice and letting Him speak through me.

And sometimes that's why I'm quiet on the blog. :)

4. Things that make me weep.

I saw this picture on twitter the other day, while I was getting my hair done.

It was said that this girl is an Iraqi orphan who was missing her mom, and so she drew her mother in chalk on the ground and fell asleep inside the drawing, leaving her shoes outside the magic space.

I literally could not help the tears that immediately welled up and spilled over, and had to distract myself with something totally mindless in order to pull it together and compose myself. This breaks me open for a hundred reasons. The mere thought of it is enough to bring me to tears each time. I'll admit my first response was "give me this little girl and let me love her. I will raise her". I've since researched the photo, wondering about the origin of it and found mixed reports of it's validity. Someone claiming to be the photographer (the little girl's cousin) says that the girl was just playing outside and fell asleep - that she's not an orphan and the story isn't what it seems.

Regardless of who this particular girl is and what her story is, this picture is still a representation of many orphans around the world who do desperately miss their mothers, or have never known the love of a parent. The response this picture evokes in our hearts is what matters most, I think. The way this image masterfully displays the heartache and loss that is felt by a small child who has lost his or her parent(s)... it will stick with me forever.

5. The ways God has blessed us.

I've been overcome with a deep sense of gratitude lately, for the ways God cares for us. He has come to me so gently through the things we are walking through, providing for our needs and reminding us that He is with us. One of the things I struggle with most is fear or anxiety that I won't be able to care for our family adequately. I struggle with inadequacy issues in general, and so it's no surprise that bedrest stirred up those old familiar feelings of "how in the world am I going to manage this / pull this of?". I've learned that the first step is always bringing my concerns to The Lord, telling Him why I'm afraid or what my need is, and asking Him to provide for me. The next step is trusting that He will, or that He has purpose in the struggle.

Since my little stay at the hospital, I've hired 3 new babysitters. I already had one or two that come over occasionally (and are awesome), but their limited availability was leaving me feeling vulnerable the other days of the week, especially if I was going to need help on a daily basis. God provided 3 more women to watch my kids when I need extra help - through a friend and through one of my current sitters - and I now have someone I can call every day of the week for the hours that Rob is at work. In addition, my mom has been so helpful and present - coming over nearly every day to help me with the kids and the house, encouraging me to rest, driving little ones to school, etc. And then there are my friends... sweet women who have brought us dinner, sent emails and texts of encouragement, checking in on us... one who took all 3 of my kids to a matinee of Frozen in the theater so that I'd have a quiet afternoon! Just above and beyond love and care from every side.

I feel my anxiety over inadequacy melting, not because I feel more able right now than I have in the past when I've faced challenges. But because I am learning that we need each other. I really CAN'T do this alone... I'm totally inadequate to raise these kids (with Rob) and be pregnant and have another baby and manage this life well on my own. I need The Lord, and I need others. When I allow God to direct my steps, and I let go and follow Him... when I allow friends to step in and serve, to help me with what I think is mine to manage... I can be OK with my limitations. I can allow my plans to fall apart or the way I like things done to fall by the wayside. I can open myself up to Someone bigger, to something better than living life out of my own sufficiency and strength. It's a new way of understanding and embracing community, and it's a new level of humility. It's a stretch, and it's uncomfortable. But I'm going there and praying God uses it to do a work in my heart that has yet to be done. I know it is building a greater compassion inside of me, and a more beautiful picture of the way God desires us to live with one another.

And now I'm hitting publish before I edit these thoughts or think twice about sharing them! Here's to a new week of growing to love Him more... wherever we are, whatever we are facing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bed rest update & more.

Hello Dear Ones,
I'm writing this little update for you because so many of you care for us and have asked how things are going - and the easiest way to catch you up all at once is to come here. :)

Today will be bed rest day 4. We made it through the weekend without incident and it actually went really well... Rob was home the whole time (even yesterday since MLK Jr is a holiday his office observes). If you want to know what a hard-working husband looks like, stop by our house. Similar to the way he made me look bad when I was in London, our home this morning has never looked cleaner or more picked up! I'm not sure he sat down the entire time, and we even found ways to keep up on his daily runs when kids were gone or napping or someone else was here with me. I'm exhausted FOR him.

Since Friday I have paid very close attention to the signals my body is sending, and have used an app on my phone to track contractions. Bed rest is doing the trick - when I'm faithfully parked on the couch, I have gotten down to one contraction every hour (by yesterday afternoon the pattern was like clockwork, almost to the minute, if you can believe it). When I get up to grab food, or do something else for more than a brief amount of time, they pick right back up and I have a cluster of them. It depends on how long I stay on my feet, how much energy I exert, how quickly I walk around, and how calm or tense I am in general while I'm up, but regardless... they start to come more frequently and the longer I stay up and about, the harder it is to slow them down. So...

Our plan this week is for me to continue to rest as much as possible. We don't want to push it, obviously. I really don't want to land back in the hospital and endure more contraction-stopping techniques. My mom is coming over each day early in the morning and staying until Rob comes home from work so that I have a lot of help with the kids. And I have my next OB appointment on Thursday morning.

I feel good about the plan for the week, and where I am physically at this point. Bed rest is really awkward, and feels indulgent and also maddening at first. But as I've given it my best try and noticed how much it helps, it's easier to accept. Knowing that it's helping provide a safe environment for the baby to continue to grow and develop in is something I have to consciously remember.

Bed rest is a very interesting teacher. It has forced me to come face to face with the natural instincts I have at this time, since many of them conflict with what I NEED to do (rest). The instinct to take care of myself, to take care of the 3 kids under our care and under our noses, the instinct to reach out and care for others/my friends who have needs, the instinct to continue to be involved in ministry and in my son's classroom, the instinct to keep up with commitments I've made and relationships that are important to me that I love to develop by spending time... all of these things are pretty much coming to a grinding halt. It's hard to say 'no', or 'I can't right now', or 'this isn't what I thought would be happening yet'. It's humbling to have to scale back, to refuse to worry about what others think or how they will respond, to accept all the help you need when you're in this position, and to not feel guilty.

I had felt that strong urge to get my house in order, to nest and to take care of some things that needed tending to before the end of this pregnancy. And I was able to get most of it done just before last Friday, for which I'm so thankful. This process is always so fascinating to me, but one of the most frustrating parts that I've repeatedly found is how preoccupied I get with the pregnancy and impending birth and the months afterwards, throughout the last trimester. I think it's natural, and the way God wired us as women. When you're the one carrying the baby, there's a very strong natural instinct to prepare for this little one. Not just physically but mentally, and also within your family, schedule, etc. Maybe it's just me, being wired to forever be a 'planner'. But my thoughts are consumed for now with thoughts of the daughter we will meet and fold into our family. Thoughts about what her birth story will be, dreams about what she will look like and who she will favor as far as personality and quirks go, if she'll have the same milk allergy as her sisters... Thoughts about how in the world I will juggle the end of the school year with a newborn (HA, let me warn you, it's going to look messy). Thoughts about whether or not I'll ever be able to do a sit up or wear a bathing suit again (HAHA).

It's frustrating to know that these consuming thoughts are keeping me from being more thoughtful about other things. At first it's an unconscious shift. But now, I'm fully aware of how little I'm thinking about and doing for others. That feels uncomfortable. And with bed rest smacking me in the face with the complete inability to actually DO anything for others (much less myself) I have just surrendered to this place that I find myself in. I'm trusting that it's the way God designed it to be. For the care of the unborn baby, for the good of our family, for my own sake even...

So please don't feel badly if I don't respond or interact in the usual ways for a little while. I don't ever mean to be rude, but I am realizing how it might come across as such. The gradual pulling-inward that is happening is meant to stabilize and protect the vulnerable places and people I'm responsible for. :) I have felt so deeply appreciative of the love and care so many of you have shown me and my family lately, that it brings me to tears often. To be cared for when you have no hope of reciprocation is very powerful and deeply encouraging. Thank you so much!


Fun Facts About Bed Rest & the Pregnancy so far:

Currently reading: The Book Thief & Reconstructing Amelia
Currently studying: A Woman's Heart: God's Dwelling Place (this session's bible study)
Currently entertaining myself by: becoming an expert Rainbow Loomer. I'm not especially proud of this fact. My kids suddenly have dozens of bracelets. I know which color bands are weaker on the loom, are more prone to breakage, and when they do snap I have gotten really good at weaving a new band back into the most intricate loom patterns. If you have a new bed rest hobby, I'm desperate for suggestions.
Currently eating: not a whole lot. Suddenly the appetite is nonexistent & food doesn't taste as good - that's probably for the best since I can't get up and grab whatever I want whenever I want it! My coffee is back to tasting funky again, too. This has to be the coolest part about observing the natural cadence of pregnancy - I don't need a lot of calories at this point but I do need a lot of water - and that's what I end up with for most of the day. (And if you know me, you know I hate water.)
Currently watching: Downton Abby & The Blacklist. Thank goodness for new episodes. Although 2 hours of TV each week is about all I can stay awake for at this point. Most nights I can't keep my eyes open long enough.
Current pregnancy side effects: swollen hands/knuckles/joints, especially in the morning. Lots of muscle pain at the top of my stomach (where the muscles continue to tear, perhaps?) and ligament pain under my stomach. Headaches. Difficulty falling asleep / staying asleep. Middle of the night trips to the bathroom are getting more frequent. Sleeping sitting up now. Forgetfulness. Emotional and sappy about the small things. Increased desire to circle the wagons, have everyone near to me. Fiercely protective, fear of something bad happening to someone I love, and very uncomfortable with loved ones traveling or being far from me. (This happens every single pregnancy, to the point that I find myself praying for friends taking spring break trips, and get sad and scared when family gets on a plane! It's kind of funny but also not.)
Currently obsessed with: trying NOT to pack my hospital bag. It's the last thing left on the to-do list, and it's way too early (plus I don't want to 'encourage' labor anytime soon). Oh how good it would feel to have that bag all nice and packed up in the corner, ready to go. To be that close to delivery... aahh!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Today didn't exactly unfold the way I thought it would. 
Last night I felt the usual discomfort after a long day of raising 3 kids while carrying a 4th around inside my weary self. Braxton Hicks here and there, muscular pain, exhaustion that is so bone-deep that it makes sleep difficult. I threw back half a pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia FroYo and headed to bed, only to wake at 5am with more contractions. 

They were more intense than usual, and coming every 10-20 minutes apart, so I started timing them. 90 minutes later they weren't letting up so I called my Dr. and landed in triage at Labor & Delivery after my mom came to be with the kids. I didn't feel like I was in labor but the frequency and intensity of the contractions had me concerned, so tests were run and fluids were given and then we all waited and watched. 

And they didn't stop. So the doctor nonchalantly explained that I'd be given a shot to stop the contractions and probably be sent home soon afterwards. 

Ladies. Consider this a PSA - if you hear the term "Turbutaline", brace yourself. I was given a shot of this and 2 hours later, I'm still dizzy, jittery and feeling like my heart is racing.

I've been here for over 5 hours now, and have thought of so many things I'm grateful for.
My mom who jumped out of bed and came right away before the sun was up to be with my kids. 
The presence of God, that truly is with us wherever we are and whatever we are facing. 
The prayers and offers of help from friends all morning long.
Good (really good) medical care.
An extra long weekend to soften the blow of bed rest for the next few days.

God is good, all the time.

Monday, January 13, 2014

On awkwardness, Christmas, and nesting. With a few 'favorites'!

I hardly know how to write here anymore! Sometimes a break is good, but it also freezes up your brain and makes it hard to get back into a groove. I'll try to break the silence but it's going to be awkward. Which is probably fitting because much of life right now feels awkward.

Our Christmas was wonderful - only Maddie got the stomach bug the week before Christmas, and we were otherwise healthy as a family (this is a small miracle). We stayed close to home instead of traveling this year, which is always a mixed bag. It's definitely easier and more comfortable for me, given how pregnant I was/am. It allowed us to keep things fairly simple as far as not having to pack, worry about weather, closing up the house, etc. However, it is really sad for us not to see Rob's side of the family as often as we would like, and that's hardest around Christmastime. I spent the Advent season reading Ann Voskamp's new book "The Greatest Gift", Liz Curtis Higgs' new book "The Women of Christmas", and Barbara Hughes' "Disciplines of a Godly Woman" (until it got misplaced in the house, and I have yet to find it and finish it!). Mornings with a mug of coffee by the tree with those books is a sweet memory and made the season more meaningful to me than it has been in years. I never regret slowing my/our pace. 

And now we are in the thick of January - the kids were supposed to go back to school last Monday (Jan 6th) but we got a ton of snow and the temperatures were below zero. So school ended up being closed both Monday and Tuesday! It was a brutal way to start the second half of the year. I don't know about other moms, but I was ready for our routine to start back up, and being cooped up in the house for an extra 2 days (with it being dangerous to even leave for any reason) was making me antsy. It also complicated the fact that I had my glucose test at the OB on Tuesday morning, and I really didn't want to take all 3 kids with me but none of my sitters were available. At the last minute I found someone to watch the kids and was able to slowly make my way across town to the appointment on the icy roads. I may as well have taken a flight to Florida, it felt so good to get out (and by myself!). 

This is what it has come to, folks.

Over the course of the last week, we have been social hermits and I have been methodically cleaning the house, one room and closet at a time. It started with the playroom, just after Christmas. I pulled every single toy, box and container out, purged, and reorganized. Before everything went back in, the room got vacuumed and wiped down. Everything had a place and there were even a few empty bins! Unprecedented. Then I almost put myself into labor so I hobbled around the house and tried to rest for the remainder of the day, and ended up getting cozy with the heating pad for most of the following day.

The nursery was next. I stopped fighting the urge to fluff our nest and got to work pulling baby clothes and bottles up from the basement, sterilizing and washing EVERYTHING, and setting it all up. Which led to cleaning out the 'nursery' closet, which has up until now been known as 'Maddie's closet'. Maddie has been sleeping in Ellie's room, which was our goal all along leading up to baby #4. So I had to purge Maddie's old closet and dresser to make room for baby, and that took some finessing. We rearranged some furniture, added a few lamps and a much needed side table, and I built a few of those cube-storage bookshelf type things from Target (somebody stop me, they are so wonderful). 

Robbie's room needed some freshening as well. We built his new desk and chair from Christmas, rearranged his furniture a little bit, and put one more storage piece in his room. Aside from Legos EVERYWHERE, always (I'm trying to stop fighting it), I am so glad to have gotten this all done. 

And then the momentum could not be stopped. I was hooked on having totally clean, fresh, organized rooms. So I tackled cleaning out the cabinets in my bathroom, as well as the linen closet/medicine cabinet. I won't tell you how many things I found that had expired (long ago), or how many 2/3 empty bottles of hair products I had kept around. I will simply say that between Christmas and our cleaning/purging spree we have taken out a LOT of garbage. And donated a lot of toys and linens to Repeat Boutique! 

The kitchen and dining room were last. I actually had my (awesome) sitter help me with a total pantry overhaul because of all the lifting/bending over/physical exertion a job like that entails. By this time I've landed square in the phase of Braxton Hicks contractions many times throughout the day. But the pantry was done in a day, and the next day I purged our kitchen cabinets, rearranged everything, and made sure all the kids' dinnerware, cups and utensils were in a low cabinet so that they can be more independent in general with meal prep and helping themselves to drinks and snacks. Cleaning for the sake of cleaning isn't really my thing. But smart cleaning makes me so happy.

I have one last project that I can't quite muster up the energy to get started on... the kids' art/craft supplies. It's in 2 different cabinets, 2 different countertops, one tupperware bin in the laundry room and one pile behind the living room couch. And I have no idea how to get it all in one place, and organized. I think my brain is broken, and my body is slowing down too. Bad news for the craft supplies.

Which brings me to today. This week feels like the actual start of the new year. The kids have a full week of school, we have a new routine with our sitter and I'm hoping to hire a few more just to have on hand for pre- and post-baby needs. I'm back into room-parent responsibilities in Robbie's kindergarten class, and Bible Study starts up next week (I'm not leading our group this semester, and I'm not 100% certain that I'll even attend, but I've signed up to keep all options open). 

The awkwardness comes in here, though. My capacity physically and mentally is languishing. Badly. It's always a steep drop-off for me as I enter the third trimester of my pregnancies. I knew it was coming, I just didn't know when. I had my suspicions over the last week when I was in turbo-clean mode. The nesting and cleaning urges during pregnancy are so strong, at least for me, that they take over my focus and create an energy that I can't muster up on my own. 

I still have a few things on my to-do list in order to feel like I'm ready for the baby. And until those things are well on their way to completion, I'm finding it really hard to do other things first or form intelligent thoughts that are unrelated. I can hardly focus on resting or relaxing after 8pm if I'm anywhere other than a hot bubble bath. My social energies are being consumed by trying to intentionally teach my three kids how to be more encouraging and helpful to one another. I feel like it's my last chance to help them gain more independence that will be really helpful once my hands are (even more) full and my brain is fried from sleepless nights. During all the cleaning and purging, we potty trained Maddie. (I credit Ellie with much of the encouraging work and the bringing of toilet paper to the kids potty wherever Maddie happened to be using it at any given time! Thank goodness for older siblings.)

But I wrestle with feeling like I'm dropping off as a friend. Even as a wife. I can't drop off as a mother or it'll come back to bite me (threefold), so I invest my energies there first. Plus my 3 kiddos are still nearly totally dependent upon me for most of their needs. But it all feels out of balance, and forgiving your pregnant hormonal self for that and giving yourself grace to know that you're doing your best and trying to make good choices is a lot harder than it sounds. 

I have a lot of internal, self-growth thoughts swirling around my head but I couldn't make a coherent sentence let alone blog post about them. I have a thousand thoughts and feelings about this pregnancy and the daughter we are about to meet, but I'm conflicted about sharing them. And I have been learning so much about myself but don't have the energy to actually revisit those lessons.

So here's what I'll end with... a little list of simple things that I'm enjoying on a daily basis. These are my constants, things that are easy to share that make me feel good physically. And that's saying something. :)

Pregnancy Favorites, 2014

This face wash is the best I've found, and Mario Badescu products are found at Ulta which is not only convenient but reasonably prices (& the coupons...!). My sensitive, combination skin is easily irritated but this cleansing gel gets make up off and just feels wonderful. It's also oddly sweet if you happen to get a little on your lips. 

I gave in and got the basic model of the Clarisonic facial cleansing brush, and I'm joining the chorus that sings its praises. I feel like my face must have never gotten clean before I started using this, and I also find that I don't really need to exfoliate as much, if at all, anymore. 

This moisturizer actually moisturizes without being oily. First one I've found to actually do what it says it will. It leaves no trace but skin is hydrated. Brilliant.

This is hands down the best night cream I've ever tried. Or at least it's what is working for me right now, in combination with the above skincare products! It's light and has more of a gel-like texture than a heavy night cream, which I love. I'm amazed at how healthy and even glowing my skin is when I wake up in the morning. It smells delicious, too. At a fraction of the price of any other night cream, even drugstore brands, I'm in love.

I love sugar based body scrubs, and this brand has always been a favorite. It's all-natural and every scent/flavor is yummy. I'm using the honey almond version right now, along with the foaming body wash, and I really love the somewhat oily/waxy residue it leaves on my skin. It exfoliates but also gives you a hydrating barrier. For chronically dry skin on arms and legs, this is a plus for me (but not everyone may like this). 

For dry hands, stretching belly skin, etc... all day every day. I've been loyal to this lotion for years and I'm not stopping now.

This summer and fall my skin has been HORRIBLE. I know pregnancy hormones are mostly to blame, but I felt like the more I tried to cover up the new random patches of blemishes on my temples and T-zone, the worse it got. Nothing was working - my old cleansers, exfoliating more often, zit cream, etc. So I changed over everything I was using - I moved to all Mario Badescu facial products for cleansing and moisturizing, and got back out my stash of Bare Minerals makeup in hopes that the lack of oils and heaviness would help. And it did. Adding in the Clarisonic brush really helped too. I feel like my skin is healthier, cleaner and more balanced than ever. And I'm still pregnant! Ha. I tend to not use Bare Minerals in the winter because any dry skin becomes really apparent after the application of the powder foundation and mineral veil. But something about the new skincare regimen I've found is keeping the dry skin at bay. So, Bare Minerals it is! Again, found at Ulta and coupon-worthy. Like.

This tank top is saving my life. I probably won't use beyond the summer/fall, after my baby bump has mostly deflated, and I definitely won't use it beyond nursing... but for now? It has ample room for my very large baby belly, it doesn't creep upward, it'll serve me well after giving birth while nursing, and it's comfortable and stretchy. Thank you, Cantaloop. Best pregnancy/post-partum tank ever. Found this gem at Buy Buy Baby, which means you can use those 20% off coupons!

And these are just for fun...

A peek into the nursery: 
I love everything Aden + Anais makes. This heavier blanket will be a car seat staple.

I found this owl night light at Hobby Lobby and it's so cute when it's lit up! I hope it doesn't freak the baby out. It borders on creepy, but in the context of the nursery I think I can get away with it. Haha. (4th child = guinea pig. 'Did I scare you half to death? Do you need therapy?'... What ever happened to erring on the side of caution? I guess that's boring now.)

A fresh crib sheet and dust ruffle to make the room 'hers'.
(That's a website pic, not our actual nursery.)

And these little numbers just might be packed in the diaper bag already, ready for hospital pics!

Have a happy week. Embrace the awkward spaces in your life today, and just be you. :)