Thursday, March 10, 2016

Julia is tiny.  Compared to many girls her age, she's a good bit shorter and lighter.  And she doesn't make herself known.  She sits back, does her thing, and allows her actions to speak.
When this basketball season started, she was completely unknown by the coaches.  I knew she was a good player.  But they didn't.  For several weeks I watched her sit on the bench, observing her teammates in the games, just waiting. She wasn't upset that she wasn't getting put in.  She was patient.  She went to practices, gave her best on the court, shot baskets at home to refine her talent, and waited. She watched other players receive recognition for their skill and effort and performance. She knew she had it in her to shine as they did, if only given the chance.  But she didn't become discouraged when the opportunity did not arise, and she didn't resent the girls who were given a place in the starting line-up.
Then one day, they saw it.  Someone suddenly noticed her speed, agility, and healthy aggression.  In just a matter of days she went from sitting on the bench in a clean uniform watching the clock run out, to becoming a starter and spending entire games on the court.
They began putting her in the game for the main purpose of stopping the ball.  Because although she is small, she is quick, and tough, and can steal a basketball before her opponent even realizes she's there.
And though she still isn't the player who makes the most points or receives the most attention, she is the only one who can fill that particular role with such consistency and effectiveness.
She went from unassuming, unnoticed, and sidelined…to recognized, respected, and chosen.
Julia was a dark horse.
I was reading from 2 Samuel this morning, about David and his exploits in battle.  He was revered as a mighty warrior, an honored king, and a man after God's heart. The guy screwed up a whole lot.  But at his core, he was a man of strength, courage, and nobility. He was an elite among men. Among his warriors, there were also some elites.  The most superior elect were "The Three", whose skillfulness in the fray were renowned and esteemed above all others. 
Then there was Abishai.
Abishai was likely a well-known warrior in his own hometown, and he was even a part of a select 30 who were recognized among David's men.  However, he never earned a place in The Three.
But Abi was eventually recognized and trusted with a very important role.  He became deeply valued for his resilience, performance, and talent.  So he was given a position for which he was the only qualified candidate.
Though not included among The Three, Abishai rose to be the chief of this trio of "MVPs". 
His commitment to his craft of battle and his bravery led him to step out of the shadow of these revered warriors, to emerge as their leader.
Abishai was a dark horse.
So as you watch others around you rise to positions to which you aspire, or you see God using someone in a way that you think you could be used even more effectively, remember that you don't have to be revered and elite to be relevant and essential.
And consider the possibility that God is biding His time with your talents.  Shaping you.  Refining you.  Changing you.
So that when He chooses to open the gate and set you loose to run with all the talent and training He has given you in the shadows, you burst forth into the light with the energy and passion to rise to the occasion, fill your unique role, and finish the race strong.
Maybe, just maybe, YOU are a dark horse.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I found out I was pregnant on the fourth of July.  
I wasn't thrilled.  To be honest, I was pretty upset.  The 4th was on a Saturday.  On Sunday, I laid in my bed and cried for three hours. I feared the extreme first trimester sickness.  I dreaded the weight gain and muscle loss.  I worried about the emotions that come with pregnancy hormones and how it all affects my family.
As the months went by, it didn't get much better.  I just couldn't get my mind right about this pregnancy.  I resented what it was taking away from me more than I appreciated the gift I was being given.
I loved this baby.  But I didn't love what was required of me to have her.
I prayed a lot.  For my attitude.  For thankfulness.  For perspective.
Slowly, my heart changed. But I still struggled with being excited about what I had been given, rather than merely accepting it.
Then one day, something completely shifted.
Over the past few months, my Instagram followers have been steadily growing.  I use Instagram to write and photograph about life, faith, lessons, struggles, and victories.  There are many people I don't personally know who follow along and are so gracious in their comments about my stories.  On this particular evening, a user tagged another user in her comment on one of my pictures and said to her friend, "I thought these words might help you".  I don't always do this, but I clicked on the name of the person who had been tagged in the comment.  It led me to the account of a beautiful, precious mother who had recently lost her baby at 37 weeks pregnant.  A daughter whom she clearly had anticipated with immeasurable joy and excitement.  A baby this mama still loved immensely.  A little girl lost.
It was as if God had taken hold of my shoulders and spun me around to face this grieving mama, look into her eyes, and see what I had been taking for granted.
Then He slowly turned me back to Him, cupped my face in His hands of grace, wiped my tears of repentance, and opened my eyes wide to the miracle still growing inside me.  My heart became swollen with love and thankfulness for my baby girl. I began to cherish each moment I had with her, knowing that every day is numbered for each of us, and there was no promise of feeling her precious kicks and hiccups in my belly.
When I went past my due date, it almost felt like I had been given a whole new gift.  Freedom from time and expectations of when she would arrive.  
Then, early Monday morning, when there were still hours left of darkness, I awoke with signs of impending labor.  Such clear signs that I became sure that we would have a baby by midday.  I began to pray for peace and rest and the preparation of my mind and heart for what was to come.  I slept and woke restlessly for the next few hours.  By the time the sun appeared, everything seemed calm.  Contractions had stopped and I just felt tired.  I told Justin what was happening and, despite my pressing him to go on with the day as planned, he decided to stay home from work.  Absolutely nothing interesting occurred over the next few hours.  No contracting.  No evidence of changes in my body.  At 10:30 we loaded the kids in the van and headed to the gym for an 11:00 workout.  I contracted every few minutes during the workout, but that's pretty normal for me in late pregnancy.  They were uncomfortable, but didn't feel like anything to get excited about.  We took our time and visited with gym friends when we were done, joking about the possibility of giving birth on the gym floor, then headed out to lunch.  By the time we arrived at the restaurant, contractions were coming every 4-5 minutes.  I was having to stop and breathe through them, but I told Justin I thought we had time to go ahead and eat there. When our food arrived, I was uncomfortable enough to refuse my salad.  Then, minutes later, I admitted that we may be cutting it close and told Justin that I needed to head home.  He quickly packed up the food and hurried the kids out.  In the 20 minute drive to the house, I had six good hard contractions.  Between each one, I calmly reprimanded Justin about texting while driving.  But he was almost frantically trying to get word out to everyone who planned to attend the birth.  He may have known better than I did that they all had very little time to get to the house if they were going to make it before baby arrived.
When we got home around 1:00, my mom had just pulled up. I immediately went inside and took up residence in the shower, my favorite place to labor.  Justin changed the bedsheets, double checked the birth supplies, settled the children, and began greeting the friends who quickly assembled to support, encourage, love on our family, and pray this new life into the world.
It was an unseasonably warm and gorgeous day, so when I emerged from the shower I decided to spend some time laboring outside.  I put on a long loose skirt and a sports bra, leaving my bulging belly exposed to the beautiful sunshine, and walked our land with bare feet, taking in the calm of nature, and stopping every few minutes to breathe and sway through the strong and steady waves of birthing progress. Children, some my own and some those of friends, eagerly followed me through the grass, watching with excitement.  Justin stood strong and steady while I leaned on him for physical support as the contractions became harder.  And my dear friends spoke gently to me, attended to the children, checked baby's heart rate with the doppler, and quietly made all the preparations for her arrival.
Knowing it was still too cold in February for baby to be born outside, I went back to the shower around 2:00.  As the contractions grew longer and stronger and closer together, I prayed.  For a relaxed body, a focused mind, a tender rather than angry heart in the pain, and protection over my baby as she made her way from my body to my arms.  My support team read scripture over me, prayed with me, reminded me to keep my muscles relaxed and my birth song (the unmistakable moaning of many women in the late stages of labor) low and loose.  I talked to my baby girl, urging her to come down gently.  I pictured her, fresh and pink, sleeping against my chest.  
When I began to feel the pressure of her descent, I left the shower to rest on the bed before the work that was coming very soon.  Justin pressed on my back.  Worship music filled the room.  The quiet voices of family and friends surrounded me.  
Soon, I knew it was time for the final work to start.  I forced myself onto my knees on the bed and worked through several hard contractions.  As the pressure intensified, I began gently pushing her through. The pain became more than I thought I could bear, as it always does in those final moments.  Tears filled my eyes as I felt my strength and will to press on faltering.  I knew I had to dig deeper to finish this.  So I did.  I prayed for strength, rose to standing on the bed, and allowed my moans to shift to guttural yells and my mind to shift to overcoming the obstacle of pain.
Julia planned to catch the baby, so when it was clear that birth was just moments away, she moved into position beside me. I stood, with the brave and strong hands of my 12 year old daughter hovering beneath me, awaiting the emergence of her baby sister.  When the moment came that I simply could not hold back any longer, I pushed with an equal measure of force and control.  
Her head came out, pressed and purple, with a rush of amniotic fluid pouring over Julia's arms.  And on the next push, at 3:42pm, the rest of her body came.  A friend unwrapped her cord from around her neck, I slowly lowered myself to the bed, and we all touched her and encouraged her to clear her lungs and breathe deeply.
And she did.  Sweet and beautiful breaths of life filled the room.  Every prayer had been answered.  Our wonderful baby girl had arrived.  And she was perfect.
The next hour were full of the glow that always comes with new life.  Her big brother cutting the cord, smiles, laughter, tears, admiration of the fresh little one, photos, and lots of kisses.
My heart had come full circle.
From mere acceptance to inexplicable joy.
Through pain, work, the gently leading hand of Grace, and the tender expression of His love through the gift of this baby girl, I was made new again.
Because He makes all things new. 
New hearts. New perspectives. And brand new lives to mold and cherish.
Maple Clementine Truly is our "new".  
We are so thankful for the privilege to unwrap the gift of her precious life and witness the gentle unfolding of God's plan for her.