Minimalism & Love Languages – OYoLM March Update

One day in college during an RA staff meeting, my boss informed us that we would be discovering our “love language” together that afternoon.  Doubtful and apprehensive at first, I didn’t see how this cutesy little system could help me understand myself better or even peg me accurately.  Especially with the phrase “love tank” being bandied about, there was some definite eye rolling.

However, upon exposure to the descriptions of said “languages,” I was surprised at how much they made sense.  I didn’t think I would fit into a love language mold, but I absolutely did (the Quality Time and Words of Affirmation molds, in fact).  I later read the book for myself (and years later walked my own RA staff through the quiz), and if you allow yourself to look past the cheese, there’s a lot of wisdom to be found.

For the uninitiated, Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages explains how people tend to give and receive love in different ways and how by knowing your own love language(s) and those of others, we are in a better place both to demonstrate our love and truly feel loved.  He proposes that most people fall into one of five love language camps (or at least value some camps more than others): Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  This was such a revelation to me at 19.  I finally understood why unloading the dishwasher meant so much more to my mom than just “hanging out.”  Or why I could remember in detail both the best and worst things people said about me.

So what does this have to do with “Our Year of Living Minimally”?  Well, March is a big celebratory month for us with my birthday and our anniversary falling two days apart (Beware the Ides of March & Happy St. Paddy’s!), and special occasions like these tend to mean stuff, at least in greater consumer culture.  When we put our shopping ban in place, we decided not to get each other presents for our birthdays, anniversary, or Christmas.  We still very much celebrate these occasions, just without the stuff.  In fact, this year David got up early to make me a delicious black bean tostada birthday breakfast and shared a list of his favorite memories of our relationship, complete with a song for each category of memories.

He also tried his hand at a chocolate cake (from SCRATCH!) and officially redeemed himself from the flour/powdered sugar confusion incident of 2011 … 😉  We celebrated our anniversary with dinner and plan to celebrate more fully this summer with a night away.

Now, in full disclosure, “Receiving Gifts” happens to be the lowest ranked love language for both of us.  That’s not to say that we haven’t given and received thoughtful gifts over the course of our relationship, but certainly our most memorable gifts have been experiences together.  To celebrate our first year of marriage (and our birthdays as justification for the trip), we got to go skiing.  Our first year in Indonesia we celebrated our second anniversary with a hiking/beach vacation in Lombok.  We took a babymoon/anniversary/birthday trip to the Philippines for year #3.

Now that Clementine’s here, our trips consist of walking 50 meters to the local Mexican food joint, but we’re still happy to be spending time together.

Perhaps pursuing minimalism is easier for us in some ways due to our love language bent, but this year has pinched at us a bit namely because of our primary love languages.  While we may not be as tempted to go out and buy a lot of things, going out to eat (sometimes multiple times a week) was a significant way we spent quality time together before this year.  However, in limiting those experiences, two things have happened.  1) We work together more in prepping meals to eat at home, which allows for more quality time and 2) We really cherish those rare occasions (book dates & birthdays) where we do get to spend time together over a meal we didn’t prepare.

So what about you?  Do you know your love language(s)?  How does it impact your experience with minimalism?

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OYoLM February Edition – The Why

While I (Sarah) do most of the writing for this blog, my husband (David) is chiming in this month to share the “why” of not only our decision to buy (almost) nothing for a year, but also the general motivations for our pursuing minimalism.

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The formation of new habits is largely a matter of forming new loves, new orientations of the heart that recalibrate the course of our lives towards our deepest longings. Put more simply: new habits begin when we answer the question “why?” in a new way and then act on that new answer. When we provide a new, clear, definite, desirable answer to the question “why,” we often find the motivation that had been lacking to undertake new ventures, explore new places, or make lasting changes to our lives. Why run? Why diet? Why read? Why travel? Why own less? Answer these questions in a new way and you will be forced to explore new ways of living, and these new ways of living are the beginning of new habits.

Joshua Becker assigns some simple homework to participants in the first week of his Uncluttered course: know your why. Beginning a journey of minimalism demands establishing true north, identifying Polaris so that travellers can stay on course. During the first week of the course, Sarah and I dutifully sat down to finish our homework. We agreed to work individually first, and then come back together to share what came to mind in answering the “why” of our pursuing minimalism. After our conversation we then condensed and consolidated our reasons and posted them on our bathroom mirror where they still hang, an ever-present reminder at the start and close of each day for why we are choosing to live in a new way.

I want to share our why on this blog, or at least a part of it. For some of you our why may be so predictable and well worn that that it hardly seems worth repeating, but I hope that for others our why provides new questions or new motivations for your own lives.

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Everyone should read this book!

The reality is our minimalism journey was a long time coming. Sarah and I would both list Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline as one of our favorite and most impactful books. What Foster sets out to do in Celebration of Discipline is to reintroduce time honored spiritual disciplines, one of which being simplicity. Foster calls our materialism “the modern psychosis that defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn” (Foster, 101). He goes on to state:

This psychosis permeates even our mythology. The modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl could do either!) Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry (Foster, 101).

While minimalism may be a new movement garnering a lot of attention over the past few years, its criticisms of a materialistic culture are nothing new; Celebration of Discipline was originally published in 1978.

For Sarah and I, minimalism is deeply connected to our faith in Jesus Christ, because we believe that God cares about how we relate to possessions. For us seeking to live minimally is part and parcel of learning to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt 6:33). Foster states, “The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first and then everything necessary will come in its proper order” (Foster, 106). For the Christian “the inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions” (Foster, 106).

There are two dangers to minimalism and minimalism-type lifestyles. One can be found in Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (another motivating force in moving us towards minimalism). While there are some great practical tips in her book, the Konmari method does not involve shifting the location of our joy or meaning; it merely attempts to refine it. For Kondo joy is still found in possessions; indeed her whole approach is essentially stripping away the non-joyful possessions so that those material things that are joy inducing can shine all the brighter. One danger in minimalism is that we still seek joy materialistically. We just seek to do so qualitatively instead of quantitatively.

The other slightly more insidious danger is for minimalism to become a badge of honor marking the one who lives most minimally as the winner in a lifestyle of game of limbo. The bar is continually lowered, and participants own less and less proving just “how low they can go.” But this can easily become an exhausting, legalistic, joy-sucking game of judgment (and indeed five minutes poking around Amazon or the blogosphere will take you to some of these stories).

But for Foster and for the Christian, the point isn’t in what you own, rather a lot or a little. The point is the pursuit of the kingdom of God, for “simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom” (Foster 107). This in no way invalidates the very good reasons for living minimally because “when the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, ecological concerns, the poor, the equitable distribution of wealth, and many other things will be given their proper attention” (Foster 107).

So why do we week to live minimally? We seek to live minimally because “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). We seek to live minimally because we have been given the kingdom (Luke 12:32). We seek to live minimally so that we can “learn the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:12). Most of all we seek to live minimally as a way of seeking God’s kingdom, being transformed, asking that God “turn our taking into giving…giving as he gave himself up for us all” (from Walter Brueggemann’s prayer, “We are takers,” in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth).

Our Year of Living Minimally – January Update

Well, we survived the first month of our “Buy (Almost) Nothing Year,” and it wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated!  All of the decluttering and simplifying we did over the Christmas holiday really paved the way for initial success with our audacious goal.  In the past, I would get overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in our kitchen, both random utensils and a decent amount of non-perishable food, so much so that I was discouraged from cooking.  However, by ridding ourselves of the excess, cooking is a much more pleasant endeavor … and it doesn’t hurt that David doesn’t mind doing the dishes.  🙂

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Friday Night Fettuccine

As I mentioned before, my biggest apprehension going into this year was our no eating out rule (excepting book dates and travel).  That first Friday night at home it was a little sad not to head out together for our weekly Amigos date, but it’s since become the new normal.  We’ve decided to make Fridays “Italian Night” complete with either homemade pizza or a pasta creation.  It’s also been great having leftovers to carry us through the weekend.

Since we’re a bit behind in our reading, going into the month it looked as though we might not eat out at all the entire month of January.  However, the school needed to send us to Singapore for a visa run, which meant we had no choice but to eat away from home.  🙂  We thoroughly enjoyed our rogan josh and chicken tikka masala in Little India.  And Clementine is a huge fan of the mango lassi!  We were thankful for the little “splurge” and I am newly motivated to try out some Indian recipes in the not so distant future.

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Enjoying our Little India “splurge”

We did do a little Orchard Road shopping for Clementine while in Singapore, although all under our “approved” guidelines.  Her grandparents gave her some money for Christmas we had yet to spend, so we got her a Grimm rainbow, which she’s loved.  Since potty training is in our imminent future, we also got her a potty seat … (pray for us now).

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Loving her Christmas present

One thing I did notice on our trip was the lure of Starbucks.  At the airport I mentioned to David how on any other trip we’d be grabbing our triple caramel macchiatos (easy on the syrup) before boarding the plane.  I was proud of us for drinking homemade coffee in the car on the way there.  I hadn’t missed it much, but walking around Singapore where there was a Starbucks every few meters it seemed, I was suddenly very aware that I hadn’t had a takeout coffee in awhile and how nice it would be to get one.  It’s crazy how much our surroundings influence us!  I am so thankful that I don’t see a Starbucks on a daily basis or really any other “tempting” shops.  (See photo above for the “We Miss You!” email I received from them the other day …)

While we didn’t finish Anna Karenina (our December book) this month, we went ahead and read January’s The Underground Railroad since a digital copy recently became available from the library (and was going away at the end of the month).   Even though we live overseas, we still have access to three Dallas area libraries, and more often than not we are able to find the books we’re wanting to read.  There’s even an option to “recommend” the library purchase certain digital titles, and a few times they’ve actually stocked David’s requests.  All that to say, if you haven’t looked into your local library’s digital titles, you are potentially missing out on a goldmine of convenient and free reading.

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January #DaSHbookdate

In addition to our unforeseen Singapore trip, we actually got a book date in this month as well.  Because eating out has become a treat and not the norm, we have appreciated it so much more.**  We really savored each meal, taking no bite for granted.  However, now that eating at home is the norm, we appreciate those meals more as well.  We’re eating more healthily both in content and quantity, and we’re spending less money.  It’s still very early in our year long experiment, but we are happy to see some rhythms emerge and notice positive change.

So that’s the update at one month in.  I realized after the last post that I hadn’t gotten much into the “why” of our decision and had planned to use this month to cover that more fully.  However, I’m going to leave that one to David.  This year is the culmination of ideas and promptings spread over the course of several years, so much so that “the why” deserves its own post.  Plus, David spoke in chapel this month over the spiritual discipline of simplicity, and I know he’ll express our heart much better than I could.  So … stay tuned.  🙂

** I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a fantastic resource we stumbled upon this month that has further shaped our thinking about consumerism and its pitfalls.  The whole blog is worth checking out, but this post in particular really helped put our eating out habits into perspective.

2016 – An Illustrated Year in Review (Top 10 Edition)

In roughly chronological order, here are the top 10 highlights from our 2016:

1) Visiting the US for the first time in (almost for Sarah, over for David) two years

We were blessed to make it home twice in 2016, both for the Christmas holidays (2015-2016) and over our summer break.  We loved introducing Clementine to her extended family and reuniting with old friends. Other than time with family and friends, we probably enjoyed food the most.

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2) Continuing on a minimalism journey

I wrote about this one extensively in the last post, so I won’t say much about it here.  I’ll just share a quote that pretty much sums up our feelings toward this pursuit: “Owning less is merely a means to an end, it is not the end itself.  Minimalism removes the physical distractions so my greatest priorities can be elevated.  It allows my life to be defined by eternal, lasting pursuits, not the temporal possessions contained in my home.”  – Joshua Becker

3) Participating in Bible Study Fellowship

In the fall of 2015 I (Sarah) joined the Jakarta chapter of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  We studied the book of Revelation, and while the reading and homework commitment was significant, I was glad to have an outside the home outlet for community and spiritual growth.  I carpooled with our pastor’s wife and usually ate lunch with her and a few friends afterwards. My small group consisted of women from Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, India, Venezuela, Norway, and the US.  What a privilege it was to study Scripture alongside these women, knowing that many others were studying the same book all over the world.

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4) Teaching Sunday school and hosting a small group

David and I have taught youth Sunday school for almost three years now, but Clementine’s birth has certainly changed the way that works.  As she’s gotten older and more active/vocal, David has taken the lead in teaching, while I care for Clementine.  We miss teaching together but know this is only for a season.  We also began hosting a small group in our home that thankfully allows us to study together without the distraction of childcare.  (We meet just after C’s bedtime.)

5) JD’s visit and subsequent move to Jakarta

Over the Chinese New Year holiday my cousin, who was teaching in Taiwan at the time, came to visit us.  We were able to visit a small island just north of Java, and we tried to convince JD to come teach in Jakarta the next year.  He wasn’t really interested at first until our small group friends came over for dinner and made a more convincing argument, apparently. 😉

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6) David turning 30

He finally made it!  Considering I turned 30 two days before we got married, I’ve been waiting the entire span of our marriage for him to catch up.  We had a great day celebrating all the things that make him wonderful, complete with 30 letters from family and friends and 30 reasons I was glad he was born.

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7) Clementine learning to walk

Or better yet, Clementine’s development in general.  She turned one and then nine days later took her first steps.  While we had heard some “mamamama” and “dadadada” babbling for the past few months, her official first word coincided with our summer visit to David’s parents house.  Upon meeting Cato, Clementine excitedly exclaimed, “Dawg, dawg, dawg, dawg!”  It’s still her favorite animal, although her vocabulary has expanded to include a few more (thanks to Dear Zoo).

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8) Sarah returning to work

When we made the decision for me to stay home after Clementine’s birth, we committed to at least one year and would discuss future plans as the time came.  As the 2016-2017 school year approached, we decided that I would again stay home for at least one more year.  However, one of the principals approached David late in the spring asking if we’d be willing to consider my coming back to work part time (teaching two English classes, grades 11 and 12).  Our initial thought was no, but after praying and discussing with the school further what that might look like practically, we felt confident moving forward.  This year has very much been the best of both worlds for me.  I love that I still get to spend so much time with Clementine and yet also have an outlet for creative work.  We were able to extend the arrangement for another year, so our family is looking forward to our time here in 2017 and beyond.

9) Sarah (re)learning to drive a manual transmission … in Jakarta traffic

We got our car just before Clementine was born, and while most people in Jakarta hire drivers to tote them around in Jakarta traffic, we’ve been lucky that David is willing to brave it himself.  However, my returning to work has necessitated that I take on a bit of that responsibility as well.  My first car was a standard (that lacked reverse, but that’s a story for another day), so I wasn’t learning from square one.  It had been many years, however, and driving here can just be scary, y’all.  It’s worked well for us, and I am fairly comfortable/confident with the 1-2 km stretch I drive each day.

10) Book Club and #DaSHbookdates

I would split this in two, but I’m a sucker for top 10 lists.  A friend started a book club at the end of last spring, and it has been such a blast to read and discuss alongside some really smart women.  In 2016 we read All the Light We Cannot See, State of Wonder, The Alchemist, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, and Call the Midwife.  This November marked three years of book dates for David and me.  These continue to be such a nourishment to our marriage; I only wish we’d been doing them from the start!  2016’s books were Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Princess Bride, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Bell Jar, Bleak House, The World According to Garp (A couple friend book date … a first for us!), No Country for Old Men, Persepolis, Ethan Frome, It, East of Eden, and Anna Karenina (still working on this one …).

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We have richly experienced the goodness of God in 2016 and hope and pray the same for your 2017!

2017: Our Year of Living Minimally

I almost titled this blog, “2017: Our Buy Nothing* Year,” but then admitted that was a bit misleading.  A few things fall under that asterisked “nothing.”  We (of course) will buy things over the course of the next year.  Food, for example.  Clothing for our child.  However, when it comes to the nonessentials, our goal is next to nothing.

A little over a year ago I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  While the author can be a bit particular and extreme, I loved the basic concept of keeping only things that are truly meaningful (that “spark joy”) and discarding the rest.  She advocates huge purges in a very systematic way.  We didn’t completely follow her method (except for folding clothes!), but the book provided a good foundation for our future decluttering efforts.

Around this same time I noticed friends posting articles from the blog Becoming Minimalist, many of which resonated with me deeply.  We needed to simplify.  To live with less.  Declutter.  Define priorities and live with intentionality.  Last spring, in an effort to promote his new book, the author of the blog ran a special on an online course called “Uncluttered.”  By preordering the book, you got access to the class for free (normally $90).  We figured a $12 book that intrigued us anyway was worth access to a 12 week course that would hopefully support us as we sought to make some significant changes to our lifestyle and habits.

While in the first go-round we made minimal (no pun intended) progress due to the end of school and summer travel, this fall we were able to repeat the course and actually complete it thanks to the extra time over our Christmas holiday.  As of New Year’s Eve, with the last of our “excess stuff” donated/sold and out the door, our home is completely clutter free.  Every closet, every drawer, every cabinet and folder has been thoroughly considered and purged of uneccessary clutter.  We have gone through every item of clothing, every pen, every spice jar.

Everything that remains is either something we know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

But back to the title of this post.  We have made real strides on our “minimalist journey” and have settled into the rhythms that work for us.  Looking into 2017, however, we have a new goal.  Inspired by a few others on a similar minimalism journey, we’ve decided to implement our own “Buy Nothing Year.”  Just like minimalism looks different for different people, the guidelines we’ve decided on are unique to us and our situation.  I am sharing our guidelines (or goals, as I prefer to call them) because 1) I want the accountability and 2) I want to record our experiences here on the blog.  When I decided to train for and run a marathon, I wrote a blog about it for the same reasons.  I was inspired by the quote, “The difference between a dream and a goal is the written word.”  Here I put fingers to keyboard and spill digital ink because this is one of the most significant goals I’ve ever undertaken.

Our overarching goal is to limit purchases to needs based items for an entire year.

However, I suppose there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the definition of “need.”  I know I for one can talk myself into many a purchase based on some gymnastic-esque parsing of that word.  If needs based purchasing is our goal, here are our specific guidelines (and pre-planned exceptions) for accomplishing it:

1) Limiting eating out to book dates only.  I’m starting with the hardest.  I love eating out.  Love, love, love it.  I love not having to plan, buy, prep, cook, and clean.  If Gary Chapman ever decided to add a sixth love language, eating out should be it.  However, it is SUCH a drain on our finances.  And (especially in Indonesia), it’s not healthy.  So, while at home in Jakarta, we will limit our eating out to once or at most twice a month, depending on when we finish our planned #DaSHbookdates reading for the month.

Exception A: This summer.  I’m sorry, I just can’t do without Ted’s, Chuy’s, Taco Bueno, La Popular (notice a trend here?), etc. while we’re home over break.  We’re not going to go crazy, but considering we go without for 11 months of the year, a visit or two (in the case of La Popular) to some of our favorite restaurants this summer is just going to happen.

Exception B: Invites from friends.  We won’t turn down opportunities to build relationships because of some silly rule we made up.  However, as we progress into the year, we hope to host more friends in our own home.

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Our last breakfast out at one of our favorite spots

2) Not purchasing new clothes.  This hasn’t been as much of a struggle for us over here, but this summer could be tough.  As we’ve gone through our wardrobes in the process of decluttering, however, we’ve realized that we already have so much, plenty to last us a year.

Exception A: Clementine.  She obviously won’t be able to wear her 12-18 month clothes for the next 12 months.  I plan to buy her a limited number of items over the summer.

Exception B: Workout socks and sports bras.  These are a legitimate need in my wardrobe right now, and I can’t buy ones I really like over here (or I would have bought them prior to 1/1).

3) Gifts (for others, not me and David) are okay.  We also plan to buy a few books/toys for Clementine’s birthday this summer.

4) Very, very limited hobby related purchases are okay.  Most books we choose for book dates are available through digital libraries we’re members of.  However, if a chosen book (either for a book date or Sarah’s book club) is unavailable, we will purchase it for the same reasons we’ll go out to eat with friends if asked.  Relationships are more important than our own self-imposed rules.  As Oscar season draws near, we may also make some Indonesian “rental” purchases (which are super cheap anyway).

5) We are each allowed a birthday dinner out at a restaurant of our choice, and we can take a one night trip while home this summer to celebrate our five year wedding anniversary.  

That’s it!  Can you think of anything I’ve forgotten?  Obviously we can’t anticipate every scenario that may arise over the course of the next year, but we hope these guidelines will provide good boundaries that will allow us to 1) pay off debt more quickly and 2) learn what we really can do without.  Another goal of mine is to blog about our “experiment” each month of 2017.

What about you?  What are your goals for 2017?

30 Reasons I’m Glad You Were Born

For my husband on his 30th birthday.

You are a lover of lists.  Other people’s and your own.  You catalogue every book you read and movie you see.  You collect lists of books you should read (Newberry Medal and Pulitzer Prize winners to name a few) and movies you want to see (Academy Award winners, AFI top 100).  To do lists, shopping lists, packing lists, pro/con lists … you bring order to the universe (and our lives) via lists.  I hope you enjoy this list. 😉

You love coffee.  Making the coffee every morning is one of the best ways you love me. 😉  I love that one of our first dates was at a coffee shop and that so much quality time has been spent sitting across from one another drinking coffee.  From trying Kopi Luwak for the first time in Bali, to the disgusting sludge they called coffee on the boat to Ko Phi Phi, to Antipodean flat whites, I love sharing coffee with you.Coffee

You are quite competitive.  I got glimpses of this during the Cabin days.  A monkey-esque climb up the rafters to beat Joshua to a stick of some sort comes to mind.  I didn’t realize the full extent of your competitive nature, however, until I beat you at Hand and Foot, and I was really surprised by how much it bothered you.  Thankfully you’ve gotten used to my beating you (at least at Connect Four) and you are a much more gracious loser. 😉  That hasn’t taken away your competitive drive, however, and I love that I can always count on you to give your all … and a run for my money.  Someday our names will be on the Rook plaque … Competitive

On our first date (to which you also invited your best friend), Chandler called you the “King of Analogies.”  And you are.  Analogies are your primary method of explanation.  As an English teacher and lover of all figurative language, I’m constantly impressed by your ability to make unusual, profound, and often hilarious connections.

You love music.  All kinds.  Our first one on one outing (which wasn’t a date) was a Shearwater concert, and our conversations in the car on the way there and back sparked an exchange of mix CDs.  I remember being impressed by your knowledge of bands because it almost rivaled mine. 😉  I also thought it was cute that you thought you were introducing me to Bright Eyes.  You did, however, introduce me to Joe Pug and Josh Ritter and then took me to their concert for our actual first date.  I can’t even count the number of concerts we got to attend that first year.  My favorite concert memory (of which there are many) would probably be hearing Josh Ritter sing a stripped down extended version of “Change of Time.”  Over and over he sang a lyric that became an anthem for us in such an uncertain yet exciting time; “Rough seas, they carry me wherever I go …”Music

You are musical.  God bless your parents and all the money they spent on piano lessons for seven kids.  I can only play a one handed version of “Edelweiss” despite my six years of lessons, but your skills have stuck around.  I love listening to you play the piano, and I’m so glad God has used your gifts to bless others these past couple years both at school and at church.  I’m excited to raise our daughter in a musical home.Musical

You are organized.  From planning our epic five-week tour of Southeast Asia to arranging the kitchen after our move when I was nine months pregnant, you are a master of organization.  Your attention to detail and your tidy nature make our home a better place.

You are an animal lover.  I know almost all these pictures are of cats, but you’re really a dog person.  You have such sweet stories of growing up with Frankie, and you gave Cato his name (long before The Hunger Games).  One month into our marriage, however, a cute little kitten meowed his way into our lives and hearts.  Little did we know what havoc Hassan would wreak over the course of the next year.  Fleas.  Pee.  Torn carpet.  Scratched furniture.  Knocked over water glasses.  He really loved you, though, although probably not as much as Biddy. 🙂  I’m nervous to ever get another cat because I know he or she could never be as perfect as #LittleBiddyCrookedTail.  And the kittens!  I’m so glad we got to experience that together despite the amount of stress they added to our lives …Animals

You are an excellent driver (and even better parallel parker … seriously, a random girl at Yummilicious once complemented your parallel parking skillzzzz).  I appreciate this so much more after moving to Jakarta.  While most people hire drivers because of the crazy traffic, you navigate the streets with ease.  I kinda enjoy being your navigator as well.Driving

You’re a great teacher.  Sharing many of the same students with you for three years, I got to see this up close and personal.  Your students have profound respect for both your knowledge and your ability to communicate that knowledge in interesting ways.  Your sense of humor provides a context where kids are interested and engaged.  Your students trust you, as many approach you for advice and guidance on how to better understand the Bible as well as concerning their personal issues.

You are teachable.  Your insatiable thirst for knowledge drives you to seek out good teachers and resources.  You are confident in your skills and knowledge but humble enough to know there’s so much more to learn.

You are naturally athletic.  It’s a shame you didn’t play sports in high school because I know you would have been so good at them.  I was a little jealous when you rolled out of bed to run your first official 5K (not having trained at all) and handily beat my own PR (for a race in which I actually placed!). Your speed and agility make the guys’ team at Thanksgiving football unstoppable.  One of my most cherished memories is sledding with you post Blizzaster 2011.  You probably carried that heavy toboggan up the hill over thirty times; I remember being really impressed.  You even do yoga with me!  Our dropping in on that class in Bangkok is another favorite memory for sure.Athletic 2

You come from a big family.  As the oldest in a family of four (me) married to the middle child in a family of nine (you), you’d think I’d be a bit overwhelmed.  FamilyHowever, your family has become very much so my own.  I love how each of your siblings (and in-laws) are so different yet truly complementary.  Everyone has their own niche.  It’s bizarre to think about what the family will be like in ten years!  We’ve already hit 21!  Compared to my family’s now six (counting you and Clementine), it’s a pretty different world.  Early on in our relationship I was so impressed by your relationship with your parents and siblings, and now I am so proud to be a part of the Hall-Szabo-Atkins-Noetzel-Spencer clan.Siblings

You have excellent taste in television.  I have loved discovering new shows with you (Breaking Bad, The Wire, Better Call Saul) and introducing you to some old classics (Seinfeld, Designing Women, Gilmore Girls).  I think the show that really jumpstarted our love of working through a series together, though, was Friday Night Lights.  Coach & Tammy.  Texas forever.  Clear eyes.  Full hearts.  Can’t lose.TV

You’re especially good looking.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.Good Looking

You are a peacemaker.  You don’t enjoy conflict, but you don’t pretend it doesn’t exist either.  You actively work to bring peace to a situation rather than falsely proclaiming peace when there is none.  This may not always translate well into a culture where a lack of conflict is seen as the greatest good, but your authenticity and peacemaking heart are godly virtues that I truly admire.

Food!  You love all kinds.  I love planning our meals, shopping for groceries (I MISS you, Central Market!), and cooking together when we can … you make an excellent sous chef!  One of my favorite parts of traveling has been getting to try so many delicious new foods with you (and some not so delicious).  I’m still a little bummed we didn’t try brains in Myanmar when we had a chance, but goat intestine and duck feet can be our weird food claims to fame.  I love that we were able to take a Thai cooking class together in Bangkok, and I’m quite impressed that you actually ate the partially formed chicken (I think it was a chicken, right?) egg in Ho Chi Minh City.Food

You love to read.  More than anyone I know, excepting maybe my dad, but it’s a close race.  My first visit to the Cabin I was astounded at the number of books (floor to ceiling, wall to wall) owned by you, Joshua, and Will in the “library.”  We spent our first summer together completing the Wheaton library’s summer reading challenge, and when we married, we married our books together as well, complete with a clovered “From the Library of David and Sarah Hall” stamp.  I am still impressed by your yearly reading goals, especially your 100 books feat of 2014.  Your interests are myriad from history, to science fiction, to Biblical Studies (especially).  You even read books on labor and delivery in preparation for Clementine’s arrival.  #DaSHbookdates are my favorite dates of all because nothing’s much better than discussing literature with my best friend and dialogue partner over margaritas and Mexican food.Reading

You are very intelligent.  Your reading habits obviously enhance this, but in addition to your breadth of knowledge, you are naturally clever.  You are analytical and meticulous.  You understand and express arguments extremely well.  I love the way your mind works.

You’re the fun uncle.  Even to kids who aren’t your blood relatives. 🙂  You have such energy and enthusiasm, and children love you for it.  From playing trains with Caleb to Dominion with Hannah, you give your time and attention selflessly to each of your nieces and nephews.Uncle

You love movies.  The prequel to our first date was a viewing of Kill Bill Volume 2, a mutual Tarantino appreciation further cementing our interest in one another.  Casting our own ballots for the Oscars has become tradition, and I love going back and watching all the Best Picture winners with you.

You are a sports guy.  Your knowledge of baseball (especially baseball), basketball, football, and even hockey is astounding.  I didn’t really like sports growing up; I hated Sunday afternoons in the fall because it meant my dad monopolizing the TV with Cowboys games.  I actually enjoy watching sports with you, however.  You explain things in a non-condescending way, and your enthusiasm is infectious.  You bought (and then later gave away to your dad and brother) Rangers World Series tickets.  You almost got beat up for my Spurs sign at a Bulls game.  A random Japanese man struck up a conversation with you in Tokyo because you were wearing a Darvish shirt.  I’m glad Clementine will grow up in a home with such an avid sports fan!Sports

You are a critical thinker.  A mutual professor in grad school once said that he wanted to teach his children to be critical thinkers, not critical people.  I see this in you and am excited to raise our daughter with this mindset as well.  You listen with an open mind and give all arguments their due consideration.  You’re not necessarily easily persuaded, however.  You hold strong convictions, but they are hard won.  My own critical thinking skills are enhanced by you, and I treasure you as a dialogue partner.

You love to travel.  Whether it be a two hour road trip or a five-week tour of Southeast Asia, you are always up for an adventure.  You love the outdoors, so you’re right at home hiking Colorado mountains or Lombok volcanoes.  Riding elephants, trekking ancient ruins, taking sunset boat rides, eating unusual food … these are the memories I will cherish forever.Travel

You are a true servant.  You help where it’s needed, whether that be teaching Sunday School or leading worship in chapel.  You wash the dishes and change dirty diapers.  You make sure my water glass is full before bed and get up with Clementine in the middle of the night.  You make our lives easier, and I am so grateful.  Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “… everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”  I am married to a great man.

You’re a Texan!  Considering I hadn’t lived in Texas since I was 18, I pretty much hit the jackpot when at 28 I fell in love with a fellow Texan in Illinois of all places!  Not only does this make coordinating family holidays waaaay easier, but there’s something to be said about coming from a common culture … and Texas definitely has its own culture.  From visits to The Big Texan to pics with Big Tex (before he burned down), bluebonnets, the Alamo, and a giant armadillo, to quote the little kid from Terms of Endearment, “Texas is the best!”Texas

You are a great father.  After watching you interact with your nieces and nephews, I had no doubt this would be the case.  From before Clementine was even born, you were a great dad.  You read books about childbirth and newborn care and dutifully assembled all her baby gear.  Immediately after her birth the two of you had an instant bond as she quieted down on the measuring table once she heard your voice.  You give of yourself so selflessly, from walking her to sleep for hours to reading her innumerable books innumerable times.  We’re obviously a bit biased, but Clementine and I think you’re the greatest.Daddy

I couldn’t ask for a better husband.  You love me so well in a million different ways.  This past anniversary we both made lists of what we loved about the other, and as I think over those things I am overwhelmed with gratitude that God saw fit to give you to me.  To quote Julia Sugarbaker, “I don’t deserve him, but nobody else does either, so I may as well have him for myself.”  Amen.Husband

You are a lover of the Lord and his Word.  You are an example of what it means to love God with your mind.  You are whom I think of when I hear Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  You’ve dedicated seven years of your life to studying Scripture in an academic context, and yet you don’t desire to dwell in an ivory tower.  You are a bridger; you model sound hermeneutics for the Church and desire to see people’s lives changed as they encounter Jesus through the Word.Scripture

You are exceptional.  Because you’re an introvert and don’t draw a lot of attention to yourself, it’s sometimes easy for people to overlook you or underestimate you.  Once people truly get to know you, however, they tend to have immense respect for the person you are.  You are exceptionally gifted, and you use your gifts in quiet, unobtrusive ways.  The opening lines to a song we both love put it so well: “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique, like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see.  And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.”  I certainly think you’re a snowflake, but no matter where we end up, I know that our greatest satisfaction ultimately comes through serving Someone beyond us, even just as cogs.  As you continue to use your gifts faithfully in seemingly small and insignificant ways, God will do exceptional things through you.  From a fellow functioning cog, I love you and the life we have together.

The Nap Time Chronicles

It’s 1:06 PM, and I just put Clementine down for her second nap of the day.  Of course, she could sleep for five minutes or fifty minutes, but hey, I’m celebrating the little victories.  My baby has been a horrible napper outside those initial newborn weeks when she practically slept all day.  However, at that point she wasn’t sleeping at night, so it was pretty much a wash.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, the only time she would sleep during the day was on me, either in her wrap or after falling asleep nursing.  Two minutes after being put down, I would hear the inevitable “come and get me” screams from the nursery.  Thankfully (seriously praising the Lord here), she’s started to nap.  On a good day I can get two naps totaling up to about three hours.  On a bad day, I usually get at least an hour.

I never expected one little hour to myself to be so absolutely glorious.

Motherhood is hard.  So much harder than I imagined.  Before you have kids people warn you how hard it is, and you hear about the sleepless nights, but no veteran’s words of wisdom truly prepare you for the exhaustion and frustrations of new parenthood.

I love my daughter.  Fiercely.  She is beautiful and funny and smart and a true joy to us.  She and I have grown quite a bit together, and I am so thankful God chose me to be her mother.  It has been a process, though.  We’ve sort of had to get used to each other and grow into our roles as mother and daughter.  I want to be honest about the difficulty of these first few months because 1) it’s already so much better, and I don’t want to take where we are now for granted, and 2) maybe another new mom will relate.

The moment Clementine was born, I didn’t experience a wellspring of “loving” emotion.  My biggest feeling at the moment was gratitude that the pain was (mostly) over.  My second biggest feeling was shock after hearing the word “girl” came out of the doctor’s mouth.  I don’t know how else to describe those initial moments, but it wasn’t the “I fell instantly in love” that so many others have expressed.  Amazement?  Yes.  Disbelief that two minutes ago this thing was inside me and now she’s out, and she’s mine, and I’m a mother?  Absolutely.  Love?  Not exactly.

The first 24 hours with her were great.  She was calm and barely cried.  She slept through the night!  Breastfeeding was a bit of a challenge, but overall we felt pretty good.  Then came night two.  No one got any sleep.  She HAD to be held.  Every second.  I remember crying and wondering if I’d ever be able to put her down again.  Breastfeeding continued to be an issue, and I didn’t get the support I needed from the hospital staff.  I felt panicked and ill prepared, and she was nine days early, so my family wasn’t there, and it was all. just. so. much.

David and I held our own for almost a week before reinforcements arrived.  At first I almost looked forward to having some time to ourselves as a family of three. After about 24 hours at home, however, I felt like crying out (like a baby myself), “I want my mommy!”  Thankfully we had some good friends take care of us that first week, bringing us food and most importantly, teaching us to swaddle.  David had to be gone quite a bit to take care of Clementine’s paperwork, not to mention hunting down a nipple shield that didn’t make me bleed.  (Did I mention breastfeeding was a problem?!)  Those hours with just me and Clementine were lonely, even daunting.

My mom and aunt arrived a couple of days before the actual due date, and while I know they were sorry to have missed Clementine’s birth, they were happy to have three full weeks with her to hold and snuggle.   I was just grateful to have help.  I was so incredibly emotional and overwhelmed.  Every day I would cry; oftentimes I didn’t even want to get out of bed.  The sleep deprivation was killing me, and the constant struggles with breastfeeding left me feeling so defeated.  I was cranky and rude to the people who loved me enough to fly halfway around the world to support me through this time.  A friend (and fellow new mom) posted this blog at just the right time, and I read it aloud to my family, pausing several times as I choked on tears of empathy.

I Skyped with a good friend and veteran mom of four and explained how I thought something was wrong with me.  I was supposed to love more than I did.  I wasn’t supposed to resent my baby.  My friend shared something so freeing.  She said that newborns are cute, but they are not fun.  She said that just after her first was born, if someone had come to her house and offered to take the baby away forever, she would have gladly handed her over.  Another friend shared her struggle with breastfeeding in the early days explaining that once she got home from the hospital, she and her newborn daughter just sat and had a good cry together over how difficult it all was.

This is not the picture of new motherhood we typically see.  We see newborn photo shoots with slumbering infants and perfectly manicured moms with freshly blown out hair.  We see this:

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Not this:

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I honestly wasn’t prepared for the reality of motherhood.  And it’s taken me a long time to adjust.  A week or so after all our family had left, I was Skyping with my aunt who asked me how things were going.  I of course teared up and said not well.  What I felt the most was obligation.  I changed Clementine’s diapers and fed her and bathed her and didn’t sleep because of her because I was her mother, and I was obligated to do so.  I still didn’t feel that overwhelming motherly love I had heard so much about and expected to feel.  My aunt said it was okay and that in this season, obligation equaled love.  It wouldn’t always be that way; the feelings of love would come, and I shouldn’t beat myself up over what I was supposed to or not supposed to feel.

Thankfully, she was right.  In time the feelings have come.  I do think I have the cutest, smartest, funniest baby on the block.  😉  There are certainly still frustrations and challenges, but those will always be there. Love may have started out as duty, but in time it has matured into delight.

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Not exactly a royal family, but we are a happy one!

60 Reasons I’m Glad You Were Born

For my mom on her 60th birthday:

1) You always think of others. Nothing I could plan could compare to the way you have celebrated each of us in incredibly meaningful ways. A six-foot long Subway sandwich in the courtyard of the Grace for my thirteenth birthday comes to mind.

2) You nurtured my creativity but still helped guide my choices (ahem, the Barbara Bush puppet).
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3) You didn’t let me watch rated R movies for many years. (except for Stand by Me … ;)) You protected my childhood and didn’t let me grow up too fast.

4) You love Daddy so well. You always speak well of him, a trait I try to emulate in my own marriage.

5) You’re a great daughter. You are caring and incredibly generous, and I hope to take care of you as well as you cared for Papa John and Grandmommy. I have priceless grandparent memories because of you.

6) You let me explore my interests. You sat through an untold number of dance recitals, piano recitals, and volleyball games (cheering for my teammates when I was sitting the bench).

7) You always treated my friends so well. You were genuinely excited about their lives, and I loved bringing them home to hang out with you too!

8) You are perhaps the most selfless servant I know. You have volunteered to teach Cubbies, Sunday School, and VBS. You never seek to draw attention to yourself but rather serve quietly where there is a need.

9) You are an excellent teacher! You care about the students other teachers write off, and you have a way of making everyone feel so good about themselves. I love hearing your former students say how much you meant to them.

10) You have good taste in music. You helped shape my own tastes as I listened to your old records (James Taylor, Supremes, Beatles).

11) You love animals! You brought in a stray off the street when you were eight(?) months pregnant with me and have loved and cared for a long string of animals ever since.

12) You are passionate about reading. You modeled what it meant to read for fun.

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13) When I was in first grade, you commissioned a portrait of me as a gift for Daddy. I love those paintings so much, even though I wasn’t a huge fan of sitting for them.

14) In elementary school, you rewarded me for good citizenship grades, not my academic grades.

15) You taught me to respect leaders and teachers, but you didn’t always blindly take their side. If I was in the wrong, you made me own up to it, but if something was unfair, you stood up for me. (10th grade Spanish book, remember?)

16) Speaking of being in the wrong, you made me confess to your principal after I threw soap in the fishpond at your school. I was terrified of going to the Mr. Stoval’s office (I hadn’t even started school myself), but you made me face my fear and tell him it was me. I learned so much about honesty and responsibility through that experience.

17) You are a morning person. I am absolutely not. However, for many years you modeled what it meant to have a consistent quiet time … in the morning! Talk about inspirational.

18) You chose all my teachers in elementary school but never told me you did (until I was in college, maybe?).

19) You gave me the best present after eleven lonely child years … Joseph Daniel Reed!

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20) You coordinate doggy reading days at your school. Kids who struggle with reading find a nonjudgmental listening ear in those pups. How fun are you?

21) You let me volunteer with you in summer school. I learned so much about special needs students those summers and hopefully gained a bit of your compassion.

22) You love Designing Women as much as me!

23) You got us season tickets to the Philharmonic, and you took me (and often a friend) out for Sonic cherry lime slushes afterwards.

24) You made me stick with piano lessons until seventh grade. You once played a duet with me at my recital, not knowing as you walked to the front of the church to join me that your shoulder pad had become dislodged giving you a small hump on your back.

25) You and Daddy read me Bible stories, prayed with me every night, and took me to church.

26) You took me to the Paramount for the first time to see Gone with the Wind and pointed out the moving clouds on the ceiling.

27) You made “take your daughter to work day” a blast. No wonder I ended up becoming a teacher!

28) Almost every Friday night you took me to Hastings to rent movies.

29) You introduced me to the Beaches soundtrack and didn’t laugh in my face when I told you I wanted to be a singer.

30) At the end of each semester, you made my teachers cookies. I’m pretty sure you did this all the way through twelfth grade.

31) You gave me boundaries and “unfair” rules when I was younger so that by the time I was in high school, I didn’t really need them anymore.

32) You shipped me off for two weeks every summer to visit Kaye and Jay.

33) You have a small group that you’ve met with consistently for years. You’ve developed deep friendships because you love your friends so well.

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34) You are a fabulous aunt! You have driven an untold number of miles to support your nieces and nephews in sporting events and artistic endeavors.

35) Gingerbread houses! You are the master! You sold them every Christmas season to make extra money (which I’m sure you ended up spending on my Christmas presents), but best of all, each year you gave one to my class. For at least one day I was the most popular girl in school because no one could wait to devour that candied house! As I got older you allowed me to invite a friend over for a gingerbread tutorial.

36) You let me spend a whole summer in DC when I was in high school. You encouraged me to follow the Lord’s direction, even when it meant my leaving for weeks at a time.

37) You took me to see The Princess Bride and Troop Beverly Hills in the theater.

38) You organized my first grade talent show debut … Miss Adams’ Apples! I remember practicing at your school and having the coolest sponge painted apple shirts.

39) You make fruit cups.

40) When I decided to give up sugar for Lent (forgetting that my birthday happened to fall in the Lenten season), you made me a sugar free cheesecake.

41) You took in your grand-cat when we moved to Indonesia. I know Hassan has given y’all all sorts of headaches, but you love him as your own.

42) You gave me good advice and didn’t let me be a “mean girl.” When I complained about my friends (or my perceived lack thereof), you encouraged me to find someone who needed a friend and be a friend to her.

43) You make the best fruit salad (as all of the cousins will attest).

44) You never fought (at least not in front of me) with Daddy. The one time y’all had an argument over a Rook game, I was so shocked I was convinced you were getting divorced. 😉

45) When I won tickets to Don Henley, you flew to Chicago to go with me.

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46) You killed Daniel when you were mafia when he simultaneously saved you as the angel.

47) You were a wild child. I love hearing stories of Kaye and Jack’s “cool big sister,” whether it be sneaking out and stuffing your bed with a big stuffed dog or pulling into a ditch to smoke and not get caught. Knowing you now, I still can’t believe you did those things!

48) You’re a great mother-in-law. You have always made David feel so welcomed and loved. You crack him up, too.

49) You are funny! As you have gotten older, you are more prone to speak your mind (kind of like Grandmommy). I can’t imagine the things you’ll say in the next few years …

50) You are one of my best friends. There are times that there is no one I’d rather talk to more than you. You always listen well but also try to help me see things from the other person’s point of view. We don’t have to do much when we’re together. It’s enough to just sit around and talk.

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51) You steal my perfume. I love that we have similar tastes in many things and that I can introduce you to things you end up loving (like Andrew Peterson).

52) You watched The Wire for me. I love talking to you about the characters on whatever series we happen to be watching at the moment.

53) You let me take all your West Wing DVDs to Indonesia.

54) You stuff the best Christmas stockings. Besides including a note saying that I was going to be a big sister in July of 1993, you always filled them with the coolest girly gear.

55) You took me to get pink thumbprint cookies when I was a little girl.

56) You gave me my dream wedding. Everything about that day was absolutely perfect. You even took dance classes with Daddy to help him get ready for the father/daughter dance!

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57) You talk to strangers. Or I should say, you’ve never met a stranger. You can’t help but be kind to any and everyone you meet.

58) You often took me to the original Taco Bueno. I remember always ordering frijoles and strawberry Fanta. I also remember accidentally using the men’s restroom because I didn’t know the Spanish word for men.

59) You have begun wearing a picture of your granddaughter every day. (Thankfully you drew the line at my cousin’s wedding …)

60) You are the best Gran! You overcame all your flight fears to be here to help me take care of Clementine the first month of her life. She loves you so much. She got quite spoiled by Gran’s early morning day care. 😉

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Birth Story (Part 3)

July 9, 2015

12:00 AM – As I mentioned before, at this point I am miserable and exhausted.  I’m dilated to a six, and one of the nurses asks if I want an epidural*.  She tells me that if I can handle the pain now, I should be fine and wouldn’t need one.  This would be as bad as it would get.  What a liar!  I waver for about 15 minutes before deciding that yes, I do in fact want the epidural.  I can’t imagine trying to labor unmedicated for who knows how long and then push a baby out on no sleep.  I need my strength.

1:00 AM – Sill no anesthesiologist.  I feel more tired than I’ve ever felt, and I begin to get desperate.  The nurse tells me that she can give me some Gozali approved drugs until the anesthesiologist can get there.  Desperation wins, and I give consent.  The meds help me sleep, although the contractions wake me every five minutes or so.  I can’t stop thinking about the epidural.

1:30 AM – “Where’s the anesthesiologist?”  “She’s at another hospital.”

1:45 AM – “Where’s the anesthesiologist!?”  “She’s maybe on her way.”

2:15 AM – “Tell me the truth.  She’s not coming, is she?”  “Probably not.”

2:45 AM – “The anesthesiologist is on her way!  She’ll be here in 15 minutes.”

3:00 AM – Epidural relief.  It’s pretty hard to be still for them to insert the needle in the midst of contractions, but the anticipation of no more pain is a great motivator.  I feel immediate relief and am able to sleep for more than five minutes at a time.  The delivery room is tiny, and the only place for David to sleep is hunched over in a small wooden chair.

6:00 AM – I wake up to pressure.  Whereas before I couldn’t feel the contractions at all, I begin to notice them again.  They’re not painful, but I can tell when they’re happening.  I explain this to the nurses, and they “top off” the epidural.

6:30 AM – No relief.  I can now feel everything except my left foot, and the contractions are quite painful.  I get up to go to the bathroom and am able to walk unassisted.

6:30 – 8:30 AM – Blur.  Worst pain of my life.  I surprise myself by my need to vocalize through the pain.  The nurses try again (twice) to fix the epidural, but nothing works.  At one point I lean over and tell David I want the “Betty Draper delivery.”

Mad Men's Betty Draper just after waking from her "twilight sleep"
Mad Men’s Betty Draper just after waking from her “twilight sleep”

8:30 AM – Dr. Gozali arrives, checks me, and it’s time to push.  I never feel the urge to push, but I defer to his expertise.  A plus to the epidural wearing off is that I can push in whatever position I want, which was one of my biggest reasons for wanting to avoid one in the first place.  I start in a squatting position, but I’m too tired to do this one for long.  I move to my hands and knees, but again I need a break and just want to lie down.  I end up doing the majority of pushing on my side. I’m not exactly capable of thinking clearly at this point.  Evidently I’m not pushing hard enough.  I feel like nothing is happening, and I am SO. TIRED.  The pre-transition contractions are bad because they’re inescapable pain, but pushing is worse because you can’t be passive.  It’s not just happening to you; you have to work, and this after you’ve spent hours in agonizing pain.  I get better at following Gozali’s directions and apparently my pushing is more effective (although I still don’t feel like I’m doing anything).  I’m told to “use the pain” and that with each contraction I should aim for two long pushes.  Gozali’s tone is much more encouraging and less chastising as I conform to his pushing instructions.  I’m still not convinced anything is happening.  The doctor offers to give me a “small cut” to help speed things along, but I decline.  Somehow I am able to hold to my “no episiotomy” conviction, even when all else has gone out the window.  More effective pushing.  Baby is crowning.  David assures me that something is happening even though I feel like it’s still going to be forever.  We’re almost there.  Gozali says if he does the episiotomy, the baby’ll be here on the next push.  I ask for two more contractions worth of pushes, and he consents.  On the second contraction, her head makes it out with no episiotomy needed.  I finally feel a sense of accomplishment as I feel her coming out.  The last two pushes are the most difficult and most painful, but then it’s over.

9:37 AM – Baby H is here!  I ask if it’s a boy or girl, thinking I already know the answer**.  David sees her before the announcement, and his brain has a hard time putting together what he sees.  When the doctor says, “You have a healthy baby girl,” I cannot believe it.  David sneakily films our first few moments together as mother and daughter, and I look to him in disbelief, whispering, “It’s a GIRL! … Clementine!”

All goopy and cone-headed and already breaking out of her swaddle!
All goopy and cone-headed and already breaking out of her swaddle!
I cannot believe I have a girl.
I cannot believe I have a girl.
Almost 24 hours old
Almost 24 hours old
Getting to know each other
Getting to know each other
Sweet sleep
Sweet sleep
Hall, Party of Three
Hall, Party of Three

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*I tentatively had planned on an unmedicated birth.  I was an emergency C-section baby, and I wanted to do everything in my power to avoid the same fate.  I also wanted to minimize potential problems with breastfeeding early on.  That being said, I also was a realist.  I didn’t know how I would respond to the pain or exhaustion, so I remained open to the possibility of needing drugs/an epidural as a last resort.  It wasn’t my preference, but I wasn’t going to feel guilty if I ended up using them.

**At our 20 week anatomy scan, we told the doctor we did NOT want to know the sex of our baby.  The appointment was a series of measurements: “Head, normal.  Heart, normal.  Arms, normal.  Legs, normal.  Sex organs, VERY normal.”  At that comment we both yelled out, “We don’t want to know!” to which the doctor seemed to do some back peddling.  I was so bummed!  Why would he say that if it were a girl?  Every subsequent ultrasound we reminded the doctor that we didn’t want to know, but I was convinced I saw a penis every now and then.

Birth Story (Part 2)

Water breaking.  While in the movies it’s always portrayed as this huge gush immediately followed by super intense contractions, this was a bit more tame.  Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly a dramatic event, shocking even.  I had expected to experience contractions first, and then my water would break as the delivery drew nearer.   Nope.  This moment induced much the same stupor as when the two lines appeared on the pregnancy test.

David was in the kitchen when it happened, and according to his retelling of events, I said, “Oh my gosh, my water just broke.  Wait, did I just pee myself?”  For the record, I do not remember saying the latter portion.  I do remember being very concerned about observing the color of the liquid because I knew if it weren’t clear, that could indicate infection, which could be serious.  Thankfully from what I could determine, everything seemed okay, and our next step was to call the doctor.

I mentioned in the last post how we had just begun to prepare for the baby’s arrival, but at this point neither of us had packed hospital bags.  The forums I followed were full of “What’s in your hospital bag?” posts, but I hadn’t yet seriously considered it.  I think it was my way of “postponing” the birth until I was ready.  Surely the baby would hold off coming until I had at least packed my bag, right??

I called my doctor’s office and was told to come in immediately.  I explained that I wasn’t ready for “immediately” just yet and that I needed to shower and pack my bag.  I could definitely be ready in a couple hours.  They weren’t exactly thrilled with that response and encouraged me to get there as soon as possible.  Dr. Gozali would see me before sending me on to the hospital.

We scrambled to gather the things we would need, praying that in the commotion of the moment we wouldn’t forget anything important.  I grabbed the tiniest onesie we had as Baby H’s “coming home” outfit.  She was supposed to wear the same elegant white gown David had worn home from the hospital when he was a baby.  However, the little orange and blue tiger outfit (that didn’t look quite as unisex once it was actually on my daughter) would have to do since the gown was coming with my mom.

Reality coming home outfit vs. Ideal coming home outfit
Reality coming home outfit vs. Ideal coming home outfit

We made it out of the house with everything except some of the paperwork we would need to get her birth certificate rolling.  Our next stop on the way to the doctor’s office was an expat friendly grocery store for snacks.  My mom was bringing Twizzlers, pretzels, and trail mix, and I was sad to anticipate laboring without these essentials.  We ended up spending way too much money on American snacks, but those Goldfish and Twix were worth every single Rupiah.

Getting ready to leave
Getting ready to leave

Traffic was getting bad at this point, and it took us over thirty minutes to go three kilometers.  We made it to the doctor’s office (still not really contracting at this point) a little before 3:00 PM.  I was dilated 2 cm, and Dr. Gozali said everything looked good and he’d be surprised if we didn’t have a baby in the next 24 hours.  Off to the hospital we were.

At this point I still wasn’t really contracting, or at least the contractions were very minor and erratic.  I tried timing them on an app, but I wasn’t always sure that I was even having one.  I gave up timing them until we got to the hospital.  Traffic wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.  It took us about an hour to go nine kilometers, which is pretty normal for the beginnings of rush hour.  I was very thankful not to be in active labor at this point.

Traffic on the way to the hospital
Traffic on the way to the hospital

We got checked in fairly quickly, and I was sent to one of Medistra’s two labor and delivery rooms (the larger one) and immediately put on a monitor.  Not much was happening, but because my water had already broken, they put me in a recovery room instead of sending me home to progress a bit more.  I felt pretty good at this point.  I ate dinner and bounced around on the exercise ball.  I did some stretching, and David and I watched cat shows on TV.  (Seriously guys, “My Cat from Hell”? TV Gold.)  As I began to get ready for bed, however, I started to feel the contractions more.

Wait, who's the one giving birth here?
Wait, who’s the one giving birth here?

I didn’t have all my “labor Scriptures” ready, but I asked David if he’d read Romans 8 to me again.  For a long time our prayer had been that God would give us the right children at the right time in the right way.  He was in the process of answering that prayer, and our new prayer was that he would prepare us for this baby and prepare the baby for us. I tried to let the following words ruminate in me as I struggled to fall asleep:

“For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.  We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”

Amidst the contractions I fell into a shallow sleep until the nausea hit around 9:30 PM.  I. Hate. Throwing. Up.  Soooooooo much.  Honestly, the thing that prepared me the most for Clementine’s birth was not running a marathon, but my horrific food poisoning incident in Malaysia.  Seriously, the nausea and vomiting were worse than the contractions (at this point).  I threw up twice and told David to go get someone because I felt so terrible and wondered if we were getting closer.

Around 11:00 PM, they put me back on the monitor, which this time showed much stronger and more frequent contractions.  They moved me back to labor and delivery (the small room this time), where I proceeded to throw up again even though at this point there was nothing left to throw up.  I was miserable and exhausted, and I dreaded the next who knew how many hours.

When the clock struck midnight, we at least knew one thing.  Baby H would be born on the 9th of July.