Halfway There

Tah-Dah! We are twenty weeks people (twenty-one by the time this posts), and therefore halfway through this thing called pregnancy!

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Us at 20 weeks

My morning sickness is almost completely gone! I’m finally starting to gain weight. I stuff my face with spinach, eggs, and avocados. I still have an aversion to butter (most dairy actually), toast, and white flour tortillas.

Last Monday, Timothy and I went for the BIG ultrasound. They call it an Anatomy Scan, and they measured and checked out our baby from her adorable head to her sweet little toes. She’s healthy and beautiful and I’m on target for my due date of August 18th.

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Daddy’s favorite picture of his baby girl

Even before I met Timmy, whenever I pictured my future family there was always a little girl there. I pictured boys too, sometimes lots of them, but even in a family with 6 kids, there was always at least one little girl. Sometimes she was fair, sometimes dark, sometimes with blonde curls, sometimes with two brown plaits laying against her shoulders. She was sporty. She was a fairy princess. Her nails were dirty from digging up worms. She hated mud and slime. No matter what form she took, she refused to leave my imagination.

I had a laundry list of worries walking into that ultrasound, but the one that upset me the most was, “what if it’s not a girl.” Yes, it mattered more to me that the heart and brain and feet and hands were all looking healthy and strong. I say “upset me,” because I didn’t want the baby’s gender to matter to me at all. I prayed so many times, “God, just let me not care. Please, give me peace.”

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possible early evidence of thumb sucking?

Looking back, I think he answered that prayer the first time around. I think he was telling me, “Rachel, stop worrying, because I’m giving you your girl,” but I was too scared to believe that it was His voice speaking and not just my own desires. My mother-in-law later said to me, “Maybe God gave you that desire, because he wanted you to have it.” God didn’t have to give me my little girl. He chose to. He has control over the whole cosmos, and knew which soul to put in my womb because he has a purpose for her life.

One of the wacky theological teachings I heard a lot growing up was a kind of “be careful what you ask God for,” strain of belief. Ask God for patience, He’ll give you trials. Ask God for contentment, He’ll burn your house to the ground. But the HUGE thing always missing from these sermons was the truth that God isn’t sitting on his throne rubbing his hands together with glee because you’ve asked for the wrong thing, like a cosmic genie who grants your wish for a million dollars by handing you your loved one’s life insurance policy. True, ugly things will happen to us, but as I learned through my miscarriage, by His grace those ugly moments are never too much to bear.

Whatever he takes, he replaces. Sometimes materially, sometimes with more of Himself. Either way, he will satisfy.

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I prayed for God to take away my desire for a girl or to change my desire to meet his plans for my life. He answered my prayer. He kept my desire there, strong as ever, and waited for me to take hold of the peace he offered me because of the ernest nature of my prayers. I never took that peace, but at least now I’ve got the lesson.

And a baby girl. 😉

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Perfect Timing

While my pregnancy was a planned pregnancy, it was still a shock to me. I just figured it wouldn’t happen when it did, and while it’s still overwhelming at times, it’s become just another one of those times in my life where I can see how perfect God’s plans are when we submit to his will.

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17 weeks

First: My Crazy First Trimester

I mean, I was sick for my first pregnancy, but all these people kept saying to me that what I was feeling “wasn’t normal.” Since they never specified what part of it was so abnormal, I guess I just assumed that a heathy baby would be less horrible to carry. As wrong as I was, the miracle of it all was the impeccable timing of my bedridden stage. My morning sickness began the week of finals, but most of my finals were papers I’d already drafted and merely needed to hand in. After that I had the entirety of winter break to do nothing but rest and vomit.

Second: Returning to school

The oncoming spring semester was looming in the background like the malevolent flaming eye of Sauron. Every day that I spent laying in bed, incapable of anything more than watching Shawn the Sheep, the soft voice of anxiety whispered, “And how do you think you’re going to manage that?”

My early religious education emphasized the idea that once you’re a wife or mother the Bible allows for you to be nothing else. I’ve come to believe this as not accurate Biblical teaching, but I wrestled with what I was supposed to do next. Was God trying to tell me through illness that being a wife and mother was all he wanted from me?

No longer wishing to blindly follow the teaching from my youth, I prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted from me: finish my degree or quit for the baby. Maybe he’d let me finish my degree later, who knew? Only Him, and I just needed to know clearly what step to take next, one semester at a time.

There were so many times when I was leaning over the toilet bowl with Tim rubbing my back when I’d gasp out the words, “I think I should drop all my classes.” Tim, ever patient, ever wise, always said, “Just wait and see. There’s still time. Just wait.”

I waited. I saw. God provided me just the right amount of miraculous strength I needed to get to every class. Even the week before my first day I was too sick to go, but despite the fact I was still throwing up to and from school, and napping on a foam mattress between my classes, I have remained on my 15 credit class schedule.

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And Tim? Well, who could expect him to be anything but my guardian angel. He walked me to all my classes, carried my books, and for several weeks sat right outside the door to my class in case I needed any help, even though it made his butt fall asleep. Speaking of blessings from God, let’s not forget the man I wake up next to every morning. Him. Always. ❤

Third: The Due Date

The baby is due August 18, 2017. Even if I go late, I will still give birth this summer, before classes can start for next semester.

Fourth: Online Classes

One night, just out of curiosity, I looked over my degree evaluation at WPU to see what else I needed to graduate on time. The idea of returning to school with a two week old infant in tow is daunting, even if your husband doesn’t mind looking after him while you’re in class. I worried if it would even be healthy for the little one.

As I looked through what I needed to graduate, I saw a lot of online courses being offered. I grabbed a notepad and began to jot down courses. Soon, I had over 7 online course options I could take in the fall, all of which were perfect for keeping me on track to graduate Spring of 2018. I now fully believe that God will allow me to take most if not all of my courses online for my first semester after giving birth. My heart nearly burst with thanksgiving for this.

Fifth: Our Living Situation

I’ve never really been in close contact to infants before, except for bits of exposure during my time working the nursery at church. Basically, I’m terrified, and given my penchant for panic attacks and overreacting due to my struggle with anxiety disorder, I know that I’ll be as neurotic as any three new mothers locked in a dark tight space for 48 hours.

First on the emergency contact list will (of course) be my dear husband, eldest of 7 and widely recognized “baby hog.” His relatives know that when they bring their little one into the room, my husband will make puppy eyes at whomever is holding the baby until somebody lets him settle down with the little one so he can snuggle and play with it.

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Timmy with our nephew Emmett

But if even he should fail to calm me and the infant (both of us probably screaming), we will still be living with his mother, grandmother of my child and veteran parent of 7 children. Honestly, watching my husband’s parents raise the two little ones at home (6yrs and 10yrs) has grown me tremendously. Their grace and patience is something I pray I’ll have in my parenting, and it is truly a privilege to watch. If I could be half the mother Mrs. Svendsen is, my children will never suffer for love and acceptance, the two things I found most lacking in my own childhood.

I will have one full year under her roof, blessed by her wisdom and tutelage before my husband and I pack up and move across the country for him to complete his seminary training.

There is too much perfection in all the timing of this baby for me not to step back, look up and say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you so much.” ❤

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“It’s Braver to Have Climbed…”

Flushed from my successful six-hour road trip to Williamsburg, I decided to tackle the next fear on my list, driving alone. I used to be able to drive by myself for an hour, so that’s all I’m really shooting for. I figure an hour is enough to get me to my parents house or to visit the friends I left behind after our recent move.

I’ve been working on it in stages. I began with driving myself to the library, which is about 20 minutes away. I lengthened that by ten minutes when I started taking the long way home. It was two days since we got home from VA, and I was on my way home from the library. I’m not usually spontaneous, but as I passed the turn off for route 80 I thought of the scenic overlook three minutes down the highway. I imagined myself pulling in, taking a picture of the valley and texting it to my husband with the words:

Guess where I am! 😉 ❤

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I pulled off onto the highway. Pride flushed in my cheeks as I easily merged into traffic. I turned up ABBA and looked for my turn off. It came quickly. I slowed and began the circular assent to the parking lot. It wasn’t until I pulled in that I began to regret my decision. I felt alone and exposed, like standing naked in a den of convicts. I quickly snapped a photo of the view and ran back to my car. I locked the doors (presumably to keep out the invisible convicts), dialed my husband, then hung up after several rings because my GPS wouldn’t tell me which way home was if I was calling someone at the same time. My GPS connected. My vision blurred, and my heart melted and dripped into my stomach, making it churn.

Home was 22 minutes away. 22 minutes of highway driving. The kind I most despise. 22 minutes after I had already been alone in the car for over 30.

I exploded.

My husband called me back at about this moment. I told him I was stranded. That I was a fool. That I needed him to come get me and to stay on the phone with me the whole time until he got there. I cried and shook. Adrenaline surged through me, making me feel simultaneously chilled and hot.

The first panic attack passed as soon as Timothy was on the way. I decided to start driving, knowing that he would only be about 5 minutes behind me and I could always pull over if I needed to. He made me describe the scenery I passed, mostly wet barren trees and massive tractor trailers thundering around me at 70 miles per hour, leaving my little white Honda shuddering in their wake. When I pulled off at the next exit, my GPS decided it would be better not to turn around and get back on the highway, but to go home via strange back roads.

I exploded again.

“Pull into the shoprite,” Tim said. “I’m right behind you. Just wait for me.”

So I did. He pulled in and I threw myself into his arms, pressing my jittering adrenaline fueled hands against his chest. I let him kiss the top of my head and shush me for a minute, then I stuttered, “Do you need anything from shoprite?”

Tim laughed. We went in and picked up potatoes and apples. I was still trembling when we got out of the store and my heart was full of tears. I squeezed his hand.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“For what?” he asked.

“For failing.”

Without pausing for thought, he replied, “A man who climbs a mountain and needs to be rescued, is braver than the one who never even tried to climb.”

I stopped and pressed his lips to mine, kissing him hard and long in the middle of the parking lot, not caring who saw or whose way we were in.

He’s so kind and patient and wise.

Living with anxiety and depression can utterly demoralizing at times. But I’m so thankful that God gave me this man as my copilot. Even on days like this one, when I have to fly solo,  it’s nice to know he’s in the control tower with gentle words of wisdom to help me navigate home.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Depression and Anxiety 101

I am one of many that suffer from anxiety disorder and depression. I’ve been told by friends and family that this is something you don’t talk about, but I am going to talk about it. I am tired of the forced shame from others who don’t understand what it’s like.

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I love birds. I think they’re beautiful and graceful and fun and cute, but I would never want one as a pet. How can something born to fly be truly happy in a cage? The ones whose owners shower them with love must be content, but I always imagine they know something is missing. That beyond those bars is a wide open space where they could spread their wings and feel fresh air lift them to the home they truly belong to.

When my anxiety is at its worst, I feel like a bird in a cage. It’s like I’m a prisoner within my own body, trapped where I’m forced to watch the world move, breathe, and interact without me. Depression is very similar. I’ll wake up with the inexplicable feeling that I am incapable of living today, or sometimes with the wish that I wasn’t living at all.

I spent years doing “the natural thing.” I read books on what to eat and not to eat. I cut out processed sugars, caffeine, and white flour. I tried just ignoring how I felt. (That should have worked because I wanted so badly to be well. I hated everything about how I felt and how it made me behave.) I went to pastors and preachers who encouraged me to “find my joy in the Lord” and exhorted me that anxiety is sin. All I needed to do was confess my sin and the Lord would heal me. Some of my panic attacks took place facedown on the floor, screaming aloud for God to forgive and heal me. Spiritual leaders would shake their heads and say, “You’re not truly letting go.”

I avoided medication like poison. People told me, “You can’t go on medication! You’ll get addicted and live the rest of your life doped up.” I was even trained to mistrust councilors and psychiatrists because they would just tell me it was, “all your parent’s fault.”

By the time I turned 27, my life was pathetically reduced to a sort of weary day to day drudgery. I never spent more than 10 minutes by myself. I refused to go anywhere without my husband or my mother beside me. Some evenings I would wake up choking with tears, unsure when they could have even started. My husband would hold me while I screamed and shook, rocking me gently until my body gave out and I dropped back into an exhaustion induced sleep. My friendships dwindled and died because I couldn’t give them quality time and was too ashamed to tell them why. I had an imaginary bubble of protection with a 45 minute radius from my house. Anything outside it was impossible to perform.

I was a bird in a cage.

I hated it. I hated my body. I hated what I was doing to my husband and my marriage. I hated being a burden to others and constantly demeaned myself for how selfish I was behaving. I hated being friendless. I hated the secrecy and shame. I even stopped trying to get council from other Christians, especially when I moved to a church where if someone mentioned anxiety and depression, allusion was often drawn to pill popping sinners who escaped conviction through medication. I gave up, and sat down to silently watch others live through the bars of my prison.

I was very sick. But I got sicker.

Because that’s when the depression hit, doubling in force after my miscarriage. I now hated living in general. I was too much of a burden on others. I wanted to set them free. I wanted die. I told my husband this, over and over. That I wished he hadn’t married me and had married someone normal. If it hadn’t been for my relationship with Jesus Christ, I would have attempted suicide. God and my husband’s never-ending, patient love were the only things that held me back from believing the world was better off without me.

My husband convinced me to ignore the voices and get help. I went to a councilor. I went on medication.

That was a little over a year ago. Since then, my life has filled and blossomed, slowly but beautifully. I have driven three hours from my home with my husband. I’ve seen and done things that I never dreamed I’d have the courage to experience. I’ve spent lovely long hours at home and rested in the blessed peace of being entirely alone to read and write. I rediscovered my love for life because I had the tools I needed to participate in it with everyone else.

I am not ashamed of those tools. I was sick. I am getting better now. People with Cancer should not be ashamed of chemotherapy. People with diabetes should not be ashamed of insulin.

I still have bad days and weeks and months, but they are so much better than the bad days of before. And frankly, I would rather spend the rest of my life on Prozac then crawl back into that wretched ever shrinking bubble. God gave me life to use it, for him and others. God made me because he loves me and wants to give me true joy.

This post has two audiences.

For the first: I understand how you feel, but please don’t wait to get help. Talk to someone who loves you enough to support you and just do what you have to do. Don’t wait. Never wait. Take it from someone who waited far too long.

For the second: Don’t fight against people like me getting the help we need. You don’t realize how flippant comments like, “SSRI’s are the real reason for gun violence,” do more than sting. They can tear gaping wounds into the spirit that fester and bleed for years. You don’t know who your cruelty and ignorance is preventing from getting help. And if you claim to be a Christian, it is flat out ungodly to deny help to the suffering and needy.

I would give anything to have those 27 years back, to have gone to Chris and Sarah’s wedding, to have toured Israel with my father, to not have cancelled the original plans for my honeymoon. I can’t change the past, but NO ONE is going to prevent me from living the rest of my life.

I am a bird who tasted freedom from its cage and, as God is my witness, I swear I am going to fly.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

What She Needs, Is What I’ll Miss

IMG_3229 From the moment I came to my in-law’s house that weekend, I’d been avoiding her room. Aunt Lori warned me that she’d been packing all week. It made sense, we were getting down to the wire. Now I stood on the threshold looking in. It was everything I expected to see, but that didn’t make the sight more palatable. The pictures were down off the walls. The bible verses tacked to her mirror were removed. All that remained of her worldly possessions were piled neatly on the floor of her room. She looked up and smiled at me, blinking her glittering blue eyes.

“Where should I sit?” I asked.

“I’ll make a place for you here.” She cleared off her desk and pulled up the chair. She pointed at a pile of clothes. “This is it. I’ve always wanted to be a minimalist.”

I chuckled and said, “You know when you get there you’re not going to come back.” I was only half joking. The expression that crossed her face made me think she half hoped I was right.

The Philippines. It already looks far on a map, long before you calculate miles or flight times or time changes. Two years. It already sounds long before you break it down to months or weeks or days. But it’s hard to hold onto my selfish desire to keep her here when she’s glowing like this.

“Rachel it’s been crazy lately,” she said. “I mean through this whole thing, God has just been changing me. Like, all these little things in my life. I feel God putting his finger on everything. ‘You need to give this to me’ and ‘You need to give this to me’. Even my desire to become a missionary. He said to me, ‘What if I don’t want you to be a missionary? What if I want you to stay in New Jersey forever?’ I’m like, ‘God, why can’t you just let me be a missionary?’ But he wanted me to give him everything, even my desire to be a missionary. And when I did, he gave it back to me. Now there’s no fear. I’m sad, I mean, I know I’ll miss a lot, like Ben and Chelsea’s baby, but if this becomes permanent there will be a lot more of that.”

I’m listening with all of me, while still acutely aware of how easily I could burst into tears and how much I wish I could stealthily record our conversation. I want to be able to remember what she said word for word. I want to be able to absorb it into me, along with her confidence in Christ’s plans and ways, the lessons she’s learned and learning, and her abiding peace.

I eyed the clothes she laid aside for her journey ahead. For some in this world it would still be a lot, but for the average American in our area, not so much. But she won’t need a lot of things where she is going. What she will need is the bit of her that I will miss the most. The part I most hate to lose.

The beauty of her gracious heart. The gentleness of her christlike spirit. Her compassion. Her wisdom. Her strength. Her passionate desire to answer God’s call. That is what drew her across the ocean, with a suitcase full of love for the newborn babies she will deliver. That is what she will bring to the poor and needy mothers at the clinic God has sent her to.

Those are the things that make her beautiful, and that is what I will miss the most.IMG_0918

If You Do Not Go With Me

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If you do not go with me,
Do not send me up from here.
I cannot bear to go alone.
I need your hand to bring me home.

If you do not go with me,
Do not send me from this place.
Be the lamp who guides my feet,
Through laughter and the bittersweet.

If you do not go with me,
Do not send me from your side.
Carry me, or hold my hand.
Be the footprints in the sand.

If you do not go with me,
Do not send me up from here.
I cannot do this on my own.
God, please, don’t make me go alone.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

The Storm

The winds raged. I won’t say the volume of the storm didn’t shock me. It was a lot more than I expected when I set out with only light grey skies above me. Just a little rain, I thought, no more than a drizzle. Besides, the sea is small and I’ll be safe on the other side before anything can go wrong. Now I was grumbling curses at myself as I took down what was left of my shredded sail. My only option was to hit the oars. There was little light left, save the occasional flashes of distant lightning, and I was too absorbed in steadying my boat in the swell to worry about where I was headed.

“Can I help now?”

I started at the sound of His voice. I entirely forgot He was sitting there. I bit my lip stubbornly and shook my head. “Nope,” I said. “I’ve totally got this. You just relax okay?” I think my voice sounded convincing but just in case it didn’t, I averted my eyes from his face. The last thing I needed was criticism. I started up my mental recording of self help mantras and dug the oars beneath the waves with each one: I am brave. I am strong. I am capable. I know with time and effort I can achieve.

The waves were growing, it’s the natural outcome of the storm, but what I really wanted to know was why on earth my boat was shrinking. It definitely looked smaller. I thought I set out on a yacht. Where had this rickety old rowboat come from? Perhaps I had just been too arrogant to realize how unprepared I was for the journey ahead.

A heavy wave crashed over the side and snapped the rowlock off the frame. The force sucked my oar with it. I reached for it with two desperate hands, thereby dropping my remaining oar into the dark churning waters. They were both out of my reach before I could decide which to go for first. I watched them dip and bob, as though waving goodbye, while bucketloads of water rolled into my splintering wreck of a boat.

“Now can I help?”

I just flat out ignored Him this time. I hadn’t invited Him anyway, He just seems to show up everywhere I go. Besides, if I didn’t concentrate we would sink. I bailed with my hands, hoping against hope that there was an extra oar hidden at the bottom of the boat. The next wave knocked me off my seat almost out into the sea. Why wasn’t I wearing a lifejacket? What possessed me, a lousy swimmer on a good day, to drop themselves in the middle of a large body of water sans life jacket?

I struggled in vain for as long as I could. Perhaps those desperate hours were all packed into five minutes or maybe my floundering lasted as long as it felt. It wasn’t until the splintered wood around me had cut my hands and I was half drowned and choking that I finally dropped to my knees. The water came up to my chest. I wrapped my arms around His legs and buried my face in His knees.

“Okay,” I whimpered. “Okay please, help me. Please I give up. I can’t do this alone anymore.”

He was on his feet before the words came from my mouth. He didn’t need my words. He was only waiting for my heart to relent. He raised a hand over the sea.

“Peace be still.”

Instantaneous silence. The wind purred like a kitten as it ruffled the still waters, rippling reflections of bright sunlight across the glassy surface.

I cried and shook. My salty tears mingled with the water that dripped from my drenched hair down my wet face. He lifted me to my feet and took my face in his hands. I had to look in his eyes then. I always expected to see bitterness, anger, or rebuke when we came to this point, but I never did. The same tender expression he always wore when he looked at me calmed my trembling heart. The only change was the hurt I could see in his eyes, but the love that flowed from them made it almost invisible in comparison.

“Oh my little child,” He whispered. “Your faith is so small.”

“Forgive me,” I said then added with a soft choke of bitter irony, “again.” We’d been here before, same scene different setting.

He smiled and pulled me into his arms. I cried against his chest while the wreckage of my boat sank beneath our feet.

“Daddy, will you grow my faith?” I asked.

His gentle voice hummed against my ear. “That’s what I’m doing now. Walk with me.”

My tiny fingers locked securely in his strong hand, we walked across the still, peaceful waters to the other side of the sea.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015