Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lessons in Patience and Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude


Thanksgiving is at the top of my list of favorite holidays.  I love the time with family, the food, the warmth, and the focus on thankfulness. I love the way the house smells with all the delicious things in preparation for all the festivities.  This time of year, our family reflects on all that God has done in our lives.  It is humbling for me to think about how little I truly deserve, and yet how richly I am blessed--beyond measure!  Recently, however, I have had a slight discontent brewing in my heart which has caused me to want to reflect more on what the Lord has done in my life.  We moved to our wonderful property over 7 years ago, into the structure that was going to be our garage.  The plan was that we would live here for around 1 year, while we built our "dream home."  Then we got the idea that it would be prudent for us to be debt free, so we worked to pay off the small mortgage we had on our land, and finally reached that goal a couple of years ago. This whole process has been a hugely humbling experience for me, and I have learned much about cultivating a heart of gratitude through it all.  As I reflect on this holiday when we come together with family and friends to thank God for all He has done in our lives, I have been thinking back on everything I have learned so far and how I think it has affected our children as well.

First off, though I might have described myself several years ago as being somewhat patient person, my patience has been tested and tried so much during these years of waiting to see my "dreams" for my home and the property come to fruition.  Our previous home, which was large, and finished, and on a really nice property of 1 3/4 acres, took us 14 months to sell!  Talk about trying my patience!  I thought we would never sell that place!  The funny thing is that at the time, I couldn't wait to get out of that house and over to where we are living now.  Looking back, I see that I was living in a beautiful home that many people would have loved to have as home.  I was so focused on getting to the next place, that I could only see what was "wrong" with my really nice, beautiful home.  Now, I'm not saying that I regret our choice to move, but now I see my attitude at that time in a different light.  We still have pictures of that house on our computer and sometimes I see them scroll by when the computer is on "sleep" mode.  It was truly a beautiful place, and we really loved our neighbors there, an older couple who became like another set of grandparents to our young children.  Sometimes, we miss the beauty and blessing of where we are right now because we are so busy trying to get to the next great thing.

Finally, after the 14 months of trying to sell the house, we sold it and had to be out in 3 weeks! The garage-house on our 20-acre property wasn't quite finished yet, but we had to get out of the house we had sold.  The kids and I went to stay with my dad in Florida for 2 weeks while Todd and his dad finished some things here that needed to be done before the house could be considered "livable, i.e., put in at least 1 working toilet, air conditioning (September in Texas is hot hot hot!), and a bath tub (no shower yet) in one of the bathrooms.  When the kids and I returned from Florida, we moved into our little place, which really wasn't finished yet, and the real adventure began.  Our former house was over 3500 square feet, and this house is under 2000 square feet, with very little storage space.  Here, also, began the real lessons in thankfulness, patience, and cultivating a heart of contentment in my own life and the lives of our children.

At first, we had no kitchen, adding a microwave shortly after we moved in, and putting in the fridge and oven/stove as well.  The cabinets and counter tops were not in yet, either, which meant we had no sink in the kitchen.  We washed our dishes outside in a large plastic tub I purchased at Walmart. I decided to start teaching the children from the Prairie Primer, which focuses on lessons around the Little House on the Prairie books!  I felt like I was a pioneer woman.  The funny thing is, as difficult as this was, especially with 6 young children, I began to see the benefits, at least in my own heart, to living this way.  I was learning valuable lessons about what is truly necessary to live and even thrive.  I learned that having to wait on things, even the things that we in America consider "necessary" or "standard" in a home, was helping me to appreciate every little luxury as they were added to our home.  It was 2 months before we finally got our kitchen sink installed, mostly because the counter tops kept being broken by the workers as they tried to install them.  Once we got our counters, sink and dishwasher in the kitchen, I felt like a QUEEN!  What an impression that made on me!  These are "basics" to us here, but honestly we did fine without them for such a short time, and when I did finally get them "back" in my life, I was humbled and grateful for such a simple, common comfort.  Even now, 7 years later, I often thank God for my kitchen, sink, and of course, especially the dishwasher!  We didn't get around to installing the tiles in the downstairs bathroom, which was the only working tub for a while, until several months after we moved into the house.  There were always other pressing matters, and it just didn't top the list.  Baths were fine, though, similar to my feeling when I finally had a dishwasher again, I was thrilled to take my first shower in our little house!  I can think of many other things like this that have been slowly added and for which I am so much more thankful than if I had not had to live without them for a while.

Besides these kinds of basic luxuries, we had moved into a place that was totally unfinished inside. The walls were not primed or painted, there was no trim or baseboards, no carpet anywhere, and the floor in the downstairs rooms was basic concrete, polished a little so it wasn't quite as rough as a driveway, but still pretty rough.  These little things bothered me a lot.  I was living in a house that was definitely not "nice" or "pretty" like my old house was.  I knew these little things would eventually get done, but we had to move along slowly because Todd was doing all the work to save money, and of course, he does have a paying job!  The house was built cash, so we felt every little expense.  Over time, we have added trim, door frames, baseboards in most places (though there are still places that don't have baseboards!), etc.  I have come to realize that though it can be a little humbling to not have everything finished perfectly, these things aren't necessary.  There is an appearance we feel we need to put on, mostly for others, and it can become such that we feel we "need" it for ourselves as well.  For me, I have had to think often about why this would be important to me, why it's ok to not have everything instantly, and to learn to wait.  When we painted, I felt so happy.  Every little "appearance" thing we add does make me really appreciative, but I know for me deep inside that these are little vanities.  There is nothing wrong with wanting them or having them, but they certainly aren't necessary, and definitely aren't important.  I have struggled with the idea that as a wife I am to create a "haven" for my family, especially for my husband.  Sometimes, I have felt that is hard to do in this little garage-house.  I am still learning that the "haven" is in the atmosphere I create, not in how outwardly beautiful (or sometimes, neat and organized) things are, but mostly in how I set the tone.  How do I treat my children?  How am I relating to my husband?  I create the "haven" in the heart of the home, the love and warmth from within, the life that radiates from my heart to the heart of those for whom I am trying to create that "haven."

Todd and I have always enjoyed entertaining, and having people in our home.  When we moved into our little "diamond in the rough" as we sometimes call our place, I found that more humbling to do.  Todd was really good at keeping the flow of people coming in and out of our home.  This wasn't always what I wanted, as I was humbled by the way things were/are in our home.  We live in a very unconventional way, and it was challenging for me to have people over to our home especially at first, when we didn't have the same things in terms of luxury or appearance that others we know possess. It sounds so awful to put it that way, when I look at those words on the page.  It's all in the thinking of what I have or don't have in comparison to what others have.  We have chosen to live here and we have a beautiful property, lots of space for the children to grow and play.  I can get wrapped in the vanity of still comparing this to what most of my friends have in their homes.  So ugly.

What I have learned about this over the years is that what truly matters are the people inside this house, and how we welcome and love those who set foot in this place.  We bought 20 acres, and have been building from the ground up, everything from the water, septic, driveway, etc.  We have dreamed mostly of blessing our family through this, and blessing all those who walk through our door.  Whether we have painted walls, trim, beautiful decorations, or unfinished, roughness in the home, with dirty little fingerprints everywhere that I just can't seem to keep up with, what truly matters is how we make people feel when they are here.  This includes our own children.  I don't want them remembering that all I cared about was how our house looked to others or how nice things were here.  I want them to have a happy place to live, where there is laughter and love and where the little messes that come with simply living are just ok sometimes.  I want them to feel that this house, big or small, furnished in luxury or furnished with items that are a little beat up from all the life here, is the place they really want to be.  I want people who come here to feel that this is a happy place, where they are loved and accepted, and where we care about them and not about impressing them.

We have reached the point where we are ready to build, the money is there to begin the addition to our home, and we have started the process.  This is where I have felt a heart of discontent creeping back up in me.  We started the foundation two months ago, and due mainly to the very, very wet weather we have had in Austin this fall, we have made pretty slow progress.  I find myself at times looking out that back door at what will someday be more living space for our family, complaining. Why aren't the workers here when it's dry and sunny?  How long is this going to take?  Wow, I thought it was messy here before, but now with all this dirt and new mud from the construction....! Grumble, grumble, gripe, gripe, gripe.  What is my problem?  I am looking at what will eventually be a really nice addition to an already wonderful place we have to live.  I have so much compared to so many, and I can't wait a couple more months to see even more blessing added to my life? So, again I am humbled, and again I learn.  This is the art of learning contentment.  The art of looking at the blessing already realized instead of focusing on what I may not have (yet or ever).  I have learned most importantly that this is an exercise, an ongoing discipline.  I may never arrive at the perfect place of contentment, but I must daily choose to cultivate a heart of thankfulness.

I think the final lesson I have learned is a simple one.  I know we as parents all should know this. Yet, I am reminded that Todd and I are the models of contentment and gratefulness in our children's lives.  If I am not content with the many, many blessings that I have in my life, I am modeling to my children to be dissatisfied and ungrateful for what they have.  In our home right now, 8 of our 9 children share a large room, kind of like a bunk house.  There is a girls' closet and boys' closet, and each child has his or her own bed and a place to keep their personal things.  I always laugh when people ask me if we have a big house and how many bedrooms we have (since we have 9 children, we must have a 10-bedroom house, right?).  Is this perfect or ideal?  Maybe not.  Is this what all their friends have?  Well, probably not.  Is this going to damage them for life? Most definitely not!  In fact, I think it is teaching them valuable lessons.  They are learning to live with others in harmony, respect others' things and space, be considerate of others, and so much more.  When they compare themselves to their friends, they are learning to focus on what they do have rather than on what they don't.  We share with our kids that we don't have to live this way, but that we have chosen it in order to be financially free, and also because the trappings of this world aren't really what's necessary in life to be happy.  We wanted the land and space, and we have chosen this lifestyle for ourselves.

I'm not writing this to make anyone feel that they need to live the way we have been living or choose what we have chosen in order to have a grateful heart.  What we are doing isn't "better" than what someone else is doing.  That's the point. We are all different.  I am reflecting on what I have learned, and I hope it blesses you wherever you are in your walk in life.  The universal truth in this post is that this world is fleeting and what really matters has nothing to do with all the material things in our lives such as our homes, the contents therein, the cars we drive, the gadgets we own, etc.  What matters in life is relationship, knowing our LORD and being satisfied in Him. When all the things of this world fade, what will remain is how we lived our lives, how we treated those with whom we came in contact, and how we reflected the Lord through it all.  I am so thankful today that I can say that I have learned so much from some difficult choices and some humbling experiences.

I love that today, we will make thankfulness the centerpiece of our day, as we gather, share the special meal, and remember what the LORD has done for us.

May your Thanksgiving be BLESSED!

I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
Pslam 9:1

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth!  Serve the LORD with gladness.  Come into His presence with joyful singing!  Know that the LORD, He is God!  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!  Give thanks to Him; bless His name!  For the LORD is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100

Friday, November 22, 2013

Of Loss and the Love God

I was a very blessed mama in that I hadn't experienced the pain of miscarriage with any of my 9 pregnancies.  I always knew that it was a very common occurrence, and that it could happen with any pregnancy.  Honestly, I think I thought it would happen almost every time, especially as I have gotten older.  In April 2013, I found out I was expecting our 10th baby.  I was so excited, as the older I get, the more I feel the reality that my childbearing years are quickly drawing to a close.  I am acutely aware that I may never carry another child in my womb again. So I was thrilled to see a positive pregnancy test that day in April.  I honestly wasn't too worried about losing the baby to miscarriage this time.  I was busy with my bustling household of growing children, homeschooling, helping with the animals on our farm, and spending time with my husband.

Things seemed to be going well for the first trimester.  I went in for a pregnancy confirmation with my OB at 9 weeks, and I even got to see our little one's heart beating away, very strong.  I was at peace.

Shortly after the 9-week visit with my OB, I did actually begin to feel that something wasn't right.  I felt like my belly wasn't growing as quickly as it should be at that stage for my 10th pregnancy.  I have a Doppler fetal heart rate monitor, with which I had been able to hear Hezekiah's heartbeat at 10 weeks.  So, at around 10 weeks, I decided to try and find baby #10's heartbeat.  I was aware that it was kind of early to be able to hear the heartbeat, but I tried anyway, remembering that I had found it with a little patience during the same time in my pregnancy with Hezi.  This time, I tried for a really long time, and all I heard was static or my own heartbeat.  I mentioned it to Todd, and he reassured me that it was really early and I shouldn't worry.  I waited a week and tried again, thinking that surely this time I would hear it, since I was a whole week further along.  After searching longer and harder this time, I was discouraged by the sounds of static and again just my own heartbeat.  I began to feel that something was definitely wrong.  By this time, the children knew that I was expecting, and they were beginning to tell people.  They all get so excited about a new baby in the family.

Right around 11 weeks, we had a field day at our house for a homeschool group in which we have been involved for years.  While we were introducing families to new members of the group, Enoch excitedly announced that we not only had the 9 children present but were going to have #10 in December.  I had a strange feeling about announcing the pregnancy to so many people.  I just had that gut feeling that something was wrong.

That weekend I kept trying to find the heartbeat to just reassure myself that all was ok.  I never found it.  On Sunday, June 2nd, while we were at church, I started to spot just a tiny bit.  I felt so sick and shaky.  I had never spotted with any of my previous 9 pregnancies.  I just knew in my heart that the baby had passed away.  We decided to head right to the hospital.  Someone from our church took our kids home for us after the service, which was a blessing.

I kept trying to think positive thoughts, like spotting is pretty common in pregnancy, and I wasn't really bleeding.  Maybe it was nothing serious, and we would find out the baby was just fine.  Deep inside, though, I knew our baby was dead.  A couple hours later, I was told that everything seemed to be fine, and we could go home and follow up with my OB the next day.  I insisted upon having an ultrasound while we were there.  They wheeled me back, and I had a very detached ultrasound tech coldly measure a bunch of things, all the while telling me nothing.  I could see what I knew was the form of our baby, still and lifeless, no familiar little heart beating as I had seen so many other times in ultrasound rooms.  The tech wasn't supposed to say anything, but I wished she could tell me everything was fine.  I knew for sure then that it wasn't all fine, but we still had to wait for the doctor to come tell us.  To me, the doctor was cold and unfeeling, not even saying he was sorry for our loss.  I cried on Todd's shoulder, and we waited to be released.  The nurse who discharged me was the only sympathetic person in that whole experience at the hospital.  She was very sweet, and looked at us saying, "You're still young!  You can have more babies in the future!"  Todd and I kind of chuckled and thought, "You have no idea!" Still, our loss was very real to us.  A child would now be missing for our family, and I felt that ache I know so many women have felt--women I have known and tried to comfort when I knew really nothing of what they were feeling.  Now I did know.  Even though it was our 10th child, it was still very difficult for me.  We went home to wait for the miscarriage to happen.  I had had what they call a "missed miscarriage."  My baby had died around 9 weeks (must have been right after I had seen the ultrasound) but my body was holding onto the baby.  We decided against having a D&C, hoping everything would happen naturally.  I also really wanted to have something to bury, as odd as that might sound.  This was my baby, a little sibling of my children, and I didn't want him or her to just be thrown away in a hospital.

As I waited to miscarry our baby, I wondered what I had done wrong.  Had it been dragging our new dairy goat to the shed every morning and struggling to get her on the stand?  Was it the running I had been continuing to do even after I found out I was expecting?  Maybe I hadn't eaten the right things.  Maybe I didn't get enough sleep. Had something I'd done or not done killed my baby?  Those feelings of guilt were unlike anything I had ever felt before.  I cried a lot, but I was ok a lot, too.  It was definitely an emotional roller coaster.

We had planned a trip that week to go to Dallas to see my niece graduate from high school.  I had bought a cheesy shirt that said, "Baby on board" to wear so we could announce the pregnancy to the family when we arrived in Dallas.  The shirt arrived in the mail the day after I started spotting.  I dreaded going to Dallas and having the miscarriage happen there.  I just wanted to stay home.

We left that Tuesday for Dallas, and I still hadn't started to even have any cramping.  During this time, also, Todd's beloved grandmother was nearing the end of her life in Pittsburgh, PA.  We heard upon arriving that she had stopped eating and was no longer conscious.  Everything seemed so sad.  Getting there and being around family, however, was just what I needed.  Everyone was so wonderfully supportive and loving.  Todd's sister, who had experienced a miscarriage with her second baby (who was due just a month after our first child), was such an encouragement and comfort to me.  I was so glad to be there surrounded by our wonderful, loving family. Instead of the dread I had previously felt, I was relieved and blessed to be there.

All day Tuesday passed, as well as all day Wednesday. I didn't even have the slightest cramp.  As sad as I was for our loss, I began to just hope and pray that my body would begin to work to get the baby out so I could move on with my life.  I knew I could be waiting for a while.  The doctors had said it was ok to wait for my body to take care of things, but I really didn't want it to go on and on.

Early Thursday morning, June 6th, I began severe cramping and heavy bleeding.  I desperately wanted to find the baby as the miscarriage progressed, so as morbid as it sounds, I searched for it.  I was bleeding so heavily I wasn't sure I would be able to find the baby.  I began to panic in the middle of that night as I seemed to be bleeding quite a bit.  We thought about going to the hospital, but waited to see what  would happen.  Todd's mother came in around 6 am to tell us that his grandma had passed away around the same time I had started bleeding that morning.  It was devastating, but I could imagine in my mind sweet Grandma Beighey holding our little one on her lap in heaven.  What a comforting picture that was to me.

All that day, I felt like I was in labor, with contractions coming every few minutes, back pain, and leg pain.  I was able to rest and lie down, even sleep as most of the day went by.  The graduation was Thursday evening, however, and I began to think I wasn't going be able to be there.  That would have been a huge disappointment to me.  Miraculously, just about an hour before we were supposed to be ready to leave the cramping let up a lot, and I felt ok enough to get up, bathe and get ready to go.  I was so thankful to The Lord that I hadn't had to miss out on this special event.  I could really see the hand of God in everything.  I was sad but thankful and blessing The Lord through it all.

My bleeding started to really lessen by Friday. I was disappointed that I hadn't gotten to see the baby, but I had accepted that perhaps God didn't want me to.  Maybe it would have been too upsetting.  I was glad to be able to begin to move on a little.

We returned home Saturday, and the worst of the cramping and bleeding was over.  Looking back, it was such a blessing to have had the miscarriage happen in Dallas where I had lots of support and help.  Todd had to fly to Pittsburgh very early Sunday morning for his grandmother's funeral.  I thought about how awful it would have been if I had had the miscarriage while he was gone.

Todd came back Tuesday evening.  The miscarriage seemed to be pretty much over.  Two days later was Todd's birthday.  That morning, right after he left for work, the baby passed out of my body.  Since I had mostly stopped bleeding, it was unmistakable. I was floored by the goodness of The Lord in granting me this desire to have my baby to bury properly and be remembered.  We had a little funeral that evening.  Though it was Todd's birthday, and really not the most uplifting thing to do on his birthday, it was such a blessing to be able to gather the children, read scripture and pray together. We buried our baby on our property and we plan to plant a tree over the place where he or she is buried. Doing this, we were able to give everyone some closure.  We named our baby Shai Jordan Erdner.  Shai means "gift."  I don't think all of the children really felt the loss until we held our little funeral for their baby brother or sister that they would never meet this side of heaven.  We all cried together, and some of the children cried quite a bit.  Poor little Enoch cried for probably 2 hours after the funeral.

A couple of weeks later, I went to a movie and dessert with Nina and a friend and her mom as a reward for the girls timing a lot during the speech and debate regional competition in May.  While we were eating our dessert, we began talking about the miscarriage, and my friend mentioned a book she had read entitled Heaven is for Real.  She said I should read it because it would encourage me.  There was mention of a miscarried baby being seen in heaven by a little boy who was given a vision of heaven (his older sister, miscarried before he was conceived).  Nina looked at me and said, "I wonder if the baby would have looked like you, Mom."  Then she cried for about 10 minutes.  A little girl missing the sibling she wouldn't get to know on earth.  I cried with her.

I kind of forgot about the book until August, when Todd and I got to visit some dear friends as we traveled to Oregon for a few days.  As I shared with my friend about our miscarriage, she ran and got a book and said, "You have to read this!"  It was the same book my other friend had mentioned to me.  I began reading that evening and finished it on the plane ride home.  It was an amazing book.  I loved reading about the sister of the little boy who had been miscarried before he was conceived.  She introduced herself to the boy and said she had no name because her parents hadn't given her one since she was miscarried early in the pregnancy.  I was so happy we had chosen a name for our baby.

Just a few days later, I found out I was pregnant again!  I was so surprised and incredibly humbled and blessed.  I had not expected that The Lord would bless us with another baby so soon after our loss.  I have to admit that these first few months of pregnancy it has been extremely difficult not to worry.  I really am not a worrier, but I couldn't help but worry about everything.  I wasn't feeling too sick, was something wrong?  Was my belly growing fast enough?  Would I find the heartbeat this time width my Doppler?  What if I couldn't?

This time, I tried to find the heartbeat right at about 9 weeks, which is extremely early.  I searched for a while, and just when I was thinking it was just too early, there it was! Thank you, Lord!  Very faint, but most definitely the baby's little rapid heart beat.  I checked again several days later and couldn't find it.  I worried and cried and begged The Lord to spare this baby.  When I tried again later that night, I easily found it.  I felt like my baby had been resurrected!  It was a strange experience, and I don't really know what happened, but I know God has given us a gift that He can freely choose to take away at any time, even later in the pregnancy, as I've seen happen before to several women I know.  After that day of panic, I have resolved to just lay this baby at the Lord's feet, fully trusting Him for the outcome. He is so good.

I am just about 18 weeks pregnant, with this 11th baby, and I am feeling wonderful.  The children are so excited. It is such a blessing and an honor to be carrying another little one.  I am older, and these childbearing years are soon fleeting away, but I am trusting fully in His plan for me and my family.  I can't wait to see what He has in store for us.  I have seen such LOVE in the midst of the LOSS that we experienced this past summer.  I have a very real and loving God who has made Himself so very present and so very gentle and caring with me at such a time of pain and grieving.  How blessed I am to know Him!  And I know with full confidence that I will see our precious missing baby #10, baby Shai Jordan, someday when I get to heaven!  How wonderful will that be!

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD."  Job 1:21